Thursday 7 November 2013

Fangirl - Rainbow Rowell

Oh Rainbow… you don’t just have a fabulous name. You also write the kind of books that make *me* want to write. I did not expect this, especially after loving Eleanor & Park so much. I loved the book and I adored the characters, but I could hardly identify with them. At least not as deeply as I did with Cath.
Fangirl is basically a book about Tumblr people. I feel like it belongs to the whole community and indeed it has been appropriately chosen as Tumblr’s first bookclub read. In a way, it manages to condense in one single character so many young women (and boys? Probably boys too but not as visibly) who are struggling with their awkward self, with anxiety and self-acceptance, with not fitting in and feeling different from anyone else. Young women who are (sometimes quietly, sometimes less so) proud nerds and enthusiastic fans of certain TV shows or books or celebrities, and feed their passion with endless rewatches/re-reads, cosplays, gif/graphic making, comic-cons, and of course, fanfiction writing. 

Also, a lot of this.

 I’m amazed at the amount of people who don’t know what fanfiction is. It’s just something that I’ve always been aware of. At least I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know what it was. Even before ever reading one, I’ve always liked to imagine different or longer endings for movies, alternative situations for TV shows, and of course, better and more satisfying scenes for my “ship” (the two people I want to be together, in layman’s terms). So, when I first came across fanfiction, I must have regarded it as a natural product of fangirling, which I’ve always done. I’m terrible at writing it myself. I tend to just imagine situations where I’m in the show/book, interacting with the characters, normally ending up making out with one. Basically the kind of thing that’s shunned by the fanfiction communities. So I just read it, every now and then. I’m not a regular fic reader, but I do like to look for one, when I’m in need of something that the show (let’s just be honest, it’s mostly a TV show thing, for me) can’t give me. Mostly crackships, like Magnacarter (Sam Carter and Helen Magnus) which you probably wouldn’t think would be a perfect pair, on account of them being played by the same actress, but you’d be WRONG. Wrong, wrong, wrong. They’re made for each other. You just need to look harder. But also regular ships, like the mighty painful Sam/Jack (Jam) from SG-1. Since the writers forgot to give us a proper onscreen resolution for these two poor souls, one needs fanfic to fill the hole and to sooth the pain caused byhardcore shipping.

So yeah, Cath is one of them. One of us. I felt like Rainbow nailed her character. I didn’t think she represented a stereotype. And even if she did, she used one that could be easily embraced and loved by a lot of young women. A lot.Cath is somehow special, though. She has the gift of storytelling. In her online world, she’s famous. She has fans of her own. People read her fics every day and regard her as their favourite writer. Not many people can say that. And yet, IRL, she’s painfully shy and awkward. She hates parties and drinking and would rather live off energy bars than venture into the dining hall of her new campus. Because Cath is a freshman and has to face the terrifying prospect of going through a whole academic year on her own, without her twin sister, who up until then, had been her inbuilt BFF. This being a YA story, things don’t stay the same for long. Slowly Cath starts making friends who are not her twin sister Wren (whom for most of the book behaves like a douche and whom I disliked wholeheartedly, but this being YA, she redeems herself at the end, which we liked) and even gets a boyfriend. The one I had been shipping her with from the start. Yay! Not the other useless, annoying, self-absorbed jerk (also, for the record “Second person is never the answer. Nothing good has ever been written in second person. Second person is for twenty-year-olds in creative writing classes who like beat poetry and have finger-mustache tattoos”©Raych
With Cath and her boyfriend (not gonna say who because slight spoilers but it’s pretty obvious) Rainbow throws another Eleanor & Park. Their romance is just as adorable and passionate and cute, and did I say adorable. The only thing that was slightly annoying was this whole Starbucks glorifying thing. What is it with Americans and Starbucks? Somehow it always manages to become this magic, mythified place where wonderful things happen. I don’t get it. I actually tried their much hyped Pumpkin Spice latte this year, just to see what the whole fuss was about, and it was disgusting. I couldn’t even finish it. The most expensive, undrinkable coffee I’ve ever bought. I know they can have (sometimes) nice coffee, but so do a lot of other cafes who are not multinational, anti-union, independent-cafes-killing machines. So that was my pet peeve. But it was quite pettish, as it didn’t stop me from ADORING thing book and going all  

Also, as I said at the beginning, it made me want to go back to writing. Which is something that happens on a regular basis, and it doesn’t mean it will last, but it’s a good feeling. Right now I’m not thinking that my writing sucks and that there’s no point in trying. I’m thinking that it can be good, and all I have to do is try.

So, yeah, I really really liked it. I loved the humour, I loved how it’s written as if Cath was writing it in her head instead of just narrating. I LOVED Reagan, but I loved Cath’s dad even more. I mean, how can you not love a dad who says stuff like  “Honey, I’ve watched a lot of 90210. The parents weren’t even on the show once Brandon and Brenda went to college. This is your time – you’re supposed to be going to frat parties and getting back with Dylan”.  I loved that they kept referencing Battlestar Galactica even though I haven’t seen it yet. I loved that the mother wasn’t just simply redeemed at the end, because NO. And finally, I loved the whole Simon Snow idea, and even thought that it could be even better than Harry Potter and that I’d love to read it (but I’d like to read Carry on, Simon more so I think Rainbow should publish it somehow as a sort of extra feature for the book. Just a thought). 

Basically, I loved it. Rainbow Rowell has officially ascended to the “Authors I would read anything they’ve ever written” list.

Friday 1 November 2013

The new policeman - Kate Thompson

Yet another one of those books that have been waiting on the shelf for years and that I enjoyed more than I expected I would. I wasn’t even sure what it was about, just that once someone told me it was good. And yet, the right time for it only came now. I devoured this in less than two days. It was that good. It’s also about everything I love. Ireland, for starters. It’s set in a delightful little village I’ve visited more than once, in county Galway. It’s about traditional Irish music, and even though I’m not the biggest fan of trad, or diddly aye as my friends from the wesht call it, I do enjoy a session every now and then. It really shows the true heart of Ireland. And finally, it’s about magic, folklore and mythology. About the Tuatha de Danann and the great Irish heroes of the old sagas.Only, not like you’ve read them before.
Life in Kinvara seems to go as usual, except it isn’t. Time is slipping away too fast and people never seem to have enough of it. There is a new policeman in town, but he’s not so sure he’s right for the job and he’d rather play his fiddle in the pub than investigate crimes. Then there’s 15-year-old JJ Liddy who bears his mother’s family name with pride (The Liddys have been for their music and their ceili for years), until one day his friend tells him his great-grandfather murdered a priest, and he’s not sure about being a Liddy anymore. He doesn’t know anything about his family’s past and now his mother realises it’s time to tell him the truth. But soon JJ realises there’s more at stake than his family pride. His determination to buy more time for his mother, as she asked for her birthday present, brings him to the edge of reality in a quest to fix time and fulfil his mother’s wishes.
This was a multi-layered story that was satisfying on many levels. It was filled with humour, with characters instantly easy to love, with an almost tangible love for music and for dancing and for communal traditions carried forward for generations with love and pride. And then there was a not-so-subtle criticism towards the present times, or the present at the time of the novel, when Ireland was at the height of its economic boom, which happened so sudden and so fast that it had earned the name Celtic tiger. No one had time for anything anymore, except making money, buying houses and cars and climbing the career ladder. This was not a huge part of the story but it did linger there, understated, until the ending, when it becomes more obvious.
 But what I loved the most was the new take on the Irish “Gods”. I especially loved Angus and the Dagda, and Bran the dog, and everything that had to do with them. I was slightly concerned about JJ, because unlike him, I did remembered what happened to Oisin in the legends. But still, you don’t need to know too much about old Irish sagas to enjoy this. If anything, it’d make you want to read more about them. But even if this was the only book you’d ever read about them, I think it’d be a good one.
The ending was the cherry on the cake. You find out who the new policeman really is and even though I had an inkling, I hadn’t guessed the full story, and it’s brilliant!

Tuesday 29 October 2013

The earth hums in B flat - Mari Strachan

This one deceived me from the start. I was led to believe that it was going to be about this little girl flying at night. I thought that would be the main theme, but I was so so wrong. Nevertheless, I kept reading. I’m not sure what it was that kept me reading so fast, but I finished it in less than three days, and I’m not a fast reader, usually. Partly, it was because I wanted to know what happened, but also, I kinda wanted to finished it quickly, so I could move on to another book, which is not the best thing that can happen when reading. I’d normally leave a book unfinished if that is the case, but with this one, I just couldn’t, so it’s saying something. I didn’t love it, for reasons I’ll explain later, but it made me want to read it till the end, so I mustn’t have hated it either. So it’s about Gwenni, a welsh girl living with her family in a small village in Wales, in the 1950s (but I only know this because it says so on the back of the book, it could have been the 60s or even the 70s, it’s never really specified). Gwenni is what her mother calls peculiar, or odd. She doesn’t do things like everyone else does. For starters, she claims she can fly, but only at night in her sleep. Then she sees things, like the Toby jugs blushing or sighing. She also loves reading, especially detective stories. When someone goes missing in the village, the husband of Mrs Evans, her teacher and the mother of two girls who Gwenni sometimes babysits, Gwenni decides to investigate his case. But when the body is found and the case is declared to be murder, things get complicated, and Gwenni is left to figure out secrets that no one else could ever know. This is not just a murder mystery. It’s not even simply a murder mystery. The murderer is easily figured out, even though Gwenni takes longer as she’s missing some bits of crucial information. She’s a little older than Flavia de Luce, but Flavia could have thought Gwenni a thing or two about solving mysteries, I’m sure. The settings are indeed very similar to the The sweetness at the bottom of the pie, but the themes couldn’t be more different. Also, Gwenni’s voice is a lot younger than Flavia’s, even a bit too young for her age. So it’s not just about the murder. It’s about secrets, things that families keep hidden for fear of being shunned or talked about behind their backs. Or about secrets that everyone knows but no one talks about because they’re too painful or embarrassing or because people would rather forget about them. But Gwenni wants to find out about all of them, to understand what is going on in her family, why is her mother always crossed with her, and why she would never talk about her grandmother… Slowly Gwenni finds out. She asks around, she listens, and sometimes she’s told, even when she doesn’t want to know. But all the time, she never gets angry or frustrated. She just keeps going. My heart ached for her when her mother blamed her for every little thing that happens in her life. To her, Gwenni can’t do anything right. She’s one of the reasons I couldn’t love this book. As you read on, you realise that her mother is slipping slowly into madness. But even before she does, you can’t help but hoping that Gwenni would say something back, rebel, get angry, ask why it’s always her fault. But she doesn’t. She seems to either accept the blame, or forgive her mother and love her no matter what. And this kind of behaviour made me love Gwenni even more but sometimes made me frustrated, as I can remember what being 12 and angry at your mother means. You don’t just swallow up and get on with it. You kick and scream and cry. At least that’s what I did. But not Gwenni. She has her Tada by her side. He seems to be the kindest, sweetest father a girl would want, and a caring, loving husband. But even though he sounds like a saint, he’s not without blame either, even though it’s only hinted at, and never fully explored. I think I would have loved this book a lot of more, if we had spent more time with Mrs Evans. There’s always a character in a book that I crush on and this time it was Mrs Evans. She’s kind and beautiful, she’s understanding and intelligent, she’s a teacher and has hundreds of books which she offers to lend to Gwenni. Her only fault is to put up with an abusive husband. What happens to her is almost inevitable but too sad to even think about it. The flying aspect is almost marginal, even though Gwenni talks about it all the time. We’re left to decide whether it’s her way to escape the reality of the situation, or if she can truly fly at night. It’s not too relevant, though. Which is one of the reasons why I was a bit disappointed.

Tuesday 22 October 2013

The ocean at the end of the lane - Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is not just one of my favourite authors. I look up to him. I agree with almost every he says about life and about reading, about art, about writing. I haven’t always enjoyed everything he’s written, but I’ve always taken a sort of comforting pleasure knowing that he exists and he’s still writing, still being a wonderful human being. And yet, I always approach his new works (as I do any other work by a beloved author) with a certain degree of caution. I suppose it’s the fear of being disappointed, of having to admit that, even though you love the man, you didn’t love the book. Or that you did like it, but weren’t blown away by it like you wanted to. In Neil Gaiman's case, anything short of that, would be a slight disappointment  I’m so glad to say that this wasn’t the case.[ warning: slight spoilers ahead]
 It started out quite slow for me. Well, slow for the first 3 or 4 pages. But remember, expectations! Then it got interesting and gripping, but still not completely AMAZING, and so it stayed until almost half way through it. I was prepared to give it 4 stars on my Librarything, which is the rating I give to books I enjoyed quite a lot, but had just a tiny bit of awesome missing. Then I kept reading and Lettie Hempstock saves our young narrator’s ass one more time, but this time it’s a lot more impressive and I’m like OK this is definitely a 4.5 stars at least! And then all of a sudden the awesome button was switched on, and I was swept away by it. I’m not sure when it happened. It could have been when our little one is plunged into the ocean pond and is filled with the knowledge of the universe and of all things. Or when the Hempstocks work the snip and cut magic on the narrator’s father. Or basically everything that happens until the epic finale. OLD MRS HEMPSTOCK, people. Oh my crackers, I didn’t expect to love her that much. But she totally had a serious case of Kicking Ass, what with all the glowing and the silver hair and the commanding voice and the baddies going all scaredy cats in front of her and going fuck this shit we’re out of here. It reminded me of my favourite moment of an anime I used to watch when I was little, about this group of travellers who went around medieval Japan and encountering all sorts of shenanigans, and at first the baddies always went ha ha you can’t stop us, you’re only a bunch of misfits losers, but then at the end the old man in the group always took out his Shogun symbol, a talisman or something, the theme music played and all the baddies went “oh shit, it’s the Shogun” and bowed in front of him. Except Old Mrs Hempstock is even better then the Shogun as the power is within her. We don’t know exactly who she is or how she came to be. Just like we don’t know how old or exactly who is Lettie or Ginnie. Old Mrs Hempstock claims to have been there when the moon was being made, and I tend to believe it’s true. But I like that we’re not told exactly who this wonderful family is. They could be called goddesses, a triad of powerful beings, that are essentially one single being represented in three forms, the maiden, the mother and the crone. But even to think of defining their identities feels like diminishing their power as characters. Their farm is as bit like Rivendell, the last homely house in the Lord of the Rings. Nothing bad can happen in it. Everything and everyone feels welcoming and safe and comforting. Food is always ready and is the most delicious food you can think of, there is always a full moon shining on your bedroom, and you don’t need to worry about anything. Outside, they still exude power, but they’re not invincible. At least, Lettie isn’t, even though the seven-year-old narrator would have trusted her to bring him safely out of hell. Which she does essentially, but at what cost…
 I loved the epilogue. I did wish we could have had another encounter with Lettie. I want to know if she’s really OK. I wanted to see her. But it’s probably more perfect this way. Melancholic like the beginning, but a little bit more hopeful. I agree with Ana that it felt like home, like knowing to be in safe, known territory. This is what I love and I can’t get enough of it. It also felt a lot like reading another author I love and whom I should read more, Charles de Lint. He’s also fond of powerful women with strange powers, or scary beings and wonderful otherworldly atmospheres.
Now that it’s over, I wish this isn’t the end for the Hempstock family. I need more of them. I want to read a whole series about them. And read their adventures on comic books and any other form. And why isn’t there more fanart out there?
 To conclude, I’d like to point you out to this post about the female representation in the book. It’s really quite good.

Monday 14 October 2013

Eleanor & Park - Rainbow Rowell

So I read Eleanor & Park because all the cool kids are reading it. Bookwormy, nerdy, Internet  cool kids, obviously. It’s all over the interweb, you couldn’t miss it even if you tried. Also, John Green is a fan. Him and the whole Internet. But anyway, I read it and 

Damn you book, why?

Everything about this book is precious (OK, except the ending, or everything that leads up to the ending, because WTF happens AFTER the end? Is it like one of those ending where you get to decide? Can I decide? Well, I’d scrap the last few pages and rewrite the whole thing. But if can’t do that, I’ll just write a proper epilogue where it ends like I want it to end, OK?)
So, yes, everything is precious. Eleanor and Park are the absolute adorbz. With all their nerdy love and their music and their comics and their shyness and insecurities and the whole I-can’t-breathe-when-you’re-away-so-it-feels-like-I’m-always-holding-my-breath-all-the-time thing and the I-don’t-like-you-I-need-you thing and their Star Wars references and basically EVERYTHING.
Some parts were painful to read, but mostly  it was a constant source of feels. Good feels. Lots and lots of good feels.Until the thing happens. Yeah, there’s always A THING that happens. It’s not as gut-wrenching as The Thing in Code Name Verity but it’s still pretty awful, and unexpected because eww and nope. I didn’t realise this person could get even more horrible than he was already. I was actually almost hoping he would turn up not to be this horrible, but no such luck. My only problem with the book is Eleanor’s mother. How can she even look at her daughter without slapping herself. I am aware that awful persons exist, and that’s Richie’s role. I get that. But people who on paper aren’t awful but put up with awful people and get their children hurt in the process? How is that a thing?
And then, on the opposite side of the spectrum, you have Park’s parents. They aren’t perfect, but they’re pretty awesome. Especially Park’s dad towards the end. I did love him a lot. First he throws a fit about Park’s eyeliner and soon after, when they’re getting ready to go to some boat show, he hurries his son up saying “Come on, Park, get dressed and put your makeup on”. How can you not love him.
So yeah, Eleanor and Park are the cute, but also smart and sarcastic and both beautiful in their own unique, special way, and they’re so perfect on their own but even more so when they’re together. The writing is up there with John Green’s standards, but it also has its own personal flavour which I loved. The secondary characters were brilliant too, even though I didn’t get some of them. And then the ending was asdfghjjksdffggh SHIT NO WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS TO THEM, keeping with the tradition of great books that will break your heart, stomp on it, and then eat it for breakfast.
But the cover. Can we talk about the cover for just a minute? I know there are different covers out there, but I had to deal with this one. I do like it as its own piece of art. It’s really pretty and definitely my style, I’m not discussing its artistic merits. My problem is its depiction of the two characters. Anyone, ANYONE, who has read the book would know that it’s not them. For starters, when has Park ever gone on a skateboard? If he has, the author has kept it from us. And then for the biggest culprit, the girl who is supposed to be Eleanor. Straight hair and super skinny? 

But at least it’s pretty, right?

So, anyway, if you don’t know what else to read after The Fault in Our Stars and want to be punched in the feels with more cute romance than you can possibly handle, go for it. You can shake the fist at me later.

Monday 7 October 2013

Code Name Verity - Elizabeth Wein

What can I say about this book that hasn’t been said already? Only my experience of it, my reaction, which is much the same as everyone else who has read it. First utter horror at the barbaric methods of interrogation by the Gestapo, then the growing feelings of affection toward the characters, for both Maddie, woman pilot extraordinaire and her friend, the first narrator, who is confessing everything to her capturers to avoid being tortured again. She was supposed to be a Special Ops agent, undercover in occupied France, sent to do some special operation that Special Ops agents do. But being British (not English! Scottish) she crossed the road and looked the wrong way, almost getting killed by a van in the process. So she’s captured and detained in the Gestapo HQ for information. But she doesn’t just confess. She writes everything down like a memoir, that buys her time and also kind of makes her feel better, by remembering the good times with her best friend Maddie. So this is the first part. Then comes the second part, told by Maddie and you’re like hold on a second… really? Whoah, this is brilliant, lemme go back and check on that thing again. It keeps being brilliant like this until THAT AWFUL THING happens and then you’re like no that can’t be this is a trick it’s not real these things don’t happen at the end of YA books they just don’t. But then you keep reading and bloody hell, it did happen. Damn you Elizabeth Wein *shakes fist at author* how could you do this to me after everything we’ve been through. It’s just not fair.  It was quite romantic though, in a tragic, movie-like kinda way, but I would have been happier without it, thank you very much. So, yeah, you should read it if you haven’t yet, because it’s clever and original and brilliant and the main characters are two kick-ass BAMF with a beautiful sisromance kinda bond but keep in mind that they’re gonna get your heart broken so hold on to it, until THAT THING happens.

Monday 30 September 2013

The Observations - Jane Harris

Oh Bessy, I love you and I miss you and why did this book had to be so short? OK, I admit that five hundred pages do not constitute a short book, and yet, I could have read another five hundred EASILY, because Bessy. 
I loved her instantly and quite unexpectedly as I had no idea she was going to be so flipping funny and adorable and smart and sweet… I was only looking for another Historian kind of book, something that had the same atmospheres, the same power to grab you. Little did I know.The Observations couldn’t be more different than The Historian. There are elements of gothic in it, but Bessy’s voice changes everything and it’s what makes this book so special and so addictive. It’s true that I have a weakness for Victorians maids stories. It probably started with Jane Eyre, even though I’ve always liked stories told from a working-class point of view. With their accents and all. So beware, if accents and bad grammar are not your thing, you might be bothered by Bessy’s narrative. Although I find hard to believe ANYONE would dislike Bessy.

So what happens in this book aside from Bessy being awesome? All sorts of things. It starts with Bessy, only 15 or thereabouts, being taken in as a housemaid by the beautiful Arabella Reid as soon as she finds out that Bessy can write and read, although she’s useless at actual housework stuff. She asks her, in return for her job offer, to write down her thoughts in a journal every night, but she doesn’t tell her why. Soon, Bessy finds out that her “missus” requires her to do a lot of other peculiar things, which have no apparent reason. Although Bessy is dumbfounded by her new mistress’ behaviour, she’s also almost instantly fascinated by her, and soon enough she develops this GINORMOUS and hopeless crush on Arabella. Seriously, Bessy has it really bad for her missus, so much that I had high hopes the book would soon veered toward Leztown, although I had never heard that was the case so I wasn’t realistically hoping it would, just quietly daydreaming about it. But then something happens and BAM, the book takes a completely (or so it seems) different turn. I still stayed on Bessy’s side all the way, all the time, especially then, when all I wanted was to give her a hug and tell her she didn’t deserve all that shit. I cheered for her and supported her even though I knew something awful was bound to happen, but still, she had her reasons. And then, little by little, her past is revealed and THE POOR CHILD OH MY GOD. It was almost a little too much, a little too tragic. It would have been completely over the top if, once again, Bessy’s voice didn’t level it all up. Or maybe, by that time I was so enamoured by her, just as much as she was by her missus, that I could have accepted anything she threw at me. What happens after is an almost inevitable avalanche, except I can’t say that what happens next (especially to Arabella) was so obvious. That I didn’t predict. But a lot of other big revelations could have been easily guessed. But does this make the book less addictive, less fun, less engrossing? No, it doesn’t.

So, yeah, I devoured this chunkster in less than 4 days and now I am at a loss because I can’t bring myself to be as invested in a book, and it’s all Bessy’s fault. 

Thursday 26 September 2013

The Historian - Elizabeth Kostova

I’m quite surprised at myself for being able to finish this whopper of a book (704 pages in tiny, tiny – and sometimes even tinier – print). Only until a couple of months ago I could hardly finish ANY book, let alone a mighty chunkster of these proportions. But then I got myself out of the slump by reading John Green (The Fault In Our Stars) and it all went smoothly thereon. The fact that I can’t look at a computer screen anymore without hurting my eyes for hours on end has helped my reading craving too (as well as  my ukulele-playing skills). And the fact that sometimes I can’t even read because my eyes hurt too much, makes me want to read even more. So yeah, even though it’s going to hurt, I really REALLY want to talk about this book. It’s such a perfect time for a book like this now. I look outside the window and it’s the mistiest weather I have even seen. It’s drizzly and eerie and mysterious and atmospheric exactly like how The Historian feels. On such a day, I’ve gone and read its last page. So, what is this book about? It’s about many things, but mostly it’s about Dracula. I didn’t even realise it was, when I started it. If I did, I might have put it aside, to be honest. The only way I like my vampires is when they’re slain by Buffy (or when she occasionally shags them). I wouldn’t want to read 700+ pages on them. I have never even read Dracula! So I started reading unaware of anything(I did have a vague notion that it was a horror/gothic story but nothing more than that) except that the beginning sounded promising. The first couple of pages were enough to draw me in. Then on chapter 2, the narrator’s father finds a Mysterious Book that doesn’t have anything written on except for the word DRAKULYA and the picture of a dragon in the middle and it’s old and smelly but he puts it away because he has more important things to do but the book doesn’t want to stay away and keeps reappearing MYSTERIOUSLY on his desk until he can’t ignore it no more. That’s what did it. I simply had to keep reading to find out what this book was and where it came from and why it wanted to be with our guy so bad. From then on it’s a roller-coaster of page-turning. But not in a fast-paced-thrilling-race-after-the-bad-guys kinda way. The book manages to take its time to build up tension and atmospheres but also – especially - characters and places. Its tone is quite gloomy and foreboding throughout, but there are many beautiful moments of tenderness and warmth and even happiness scattered around. I especially loved Paul and Helen’s developing relationship. I shipped them from the start, even though I didn’t need to work too hard on my shipping as it was quite obvious they were endgame. Still, I can’t resist my shipper heart, especially with two characters like them. Paul is gentle and kind caring and a great scholar to-be, but he’s also quite awkward around Helen, who is admittedly intimidating at first. But maybe that’s one of the reasons why I loved Helen the most, out of all the characters. She’s harsh and stern, but also extremely clever and resourceful, with a sharp sense of humour. In short, she’s irresistible. To me and to Paul, as well. Except, I had the persistent feeling that he was more in love with her father, Prof. Rossi, than with her. Or at least, equally as in love.Beside Helen, my other favourite characters are all secondary ones. I LOVED Mr and Mrs Bora. More as a couple than individually, still, they are both the absolute adorbz in their own right. Also, Mrs Bora made me salivate over all those magnificent dishes she kept serving. Now that I think of it, I salivated quite a lot over all the delicious things these people got to taste around the world. They might have been in danger of being turned into vampires any minute, but they sure kept themselves well fed. Another character who stole my heart and made it ache like nobody’s business is Helen’s mother. The tragedy of her story is almost unbearable. That she remained so kind and loving even after all that is a miracle and it makes me love her even more. Then there was Baba Yanka, with her mighty, ancestral singing voice. Such a striking character. I really enjoyed learning about those traditions and folklore but most of all, I loved meeting her and wished we had had more time with her. Except there was Dracula’s tomb to find, so there wasn’t much time to waste.
Of course, being called The Historian and all that, there was quite a lot of history talk. I learned a great deal about the Byzantines and the Ottoman Empire and its sultans, not to mention Wallachia, which I didn’t even know it was a place that existed, before. It certainly made me want to visit all those places, not to retrace their history as I’m no historian, but to experience even a little of all that beauty described in the story. Budapest, Bulgaria, Istanbul, the Romanian woods… they weren’t places I necessarily wanted to visit before, but now they have acquired a certain mythological resonance. I don’t believe I’ll be able to experience them the same as they are described in the book, but I’d be interested in going anyway, even if only to taste all that amazing food!

There are a few minor criticisms that don’t take away from my enjoyment of it, but do need to be mentioned briefly. One is the suspension of belief I had to force on me anytime I read Paul’s narrative, which supposedly was written as a letter to his daughter. Those letters were way too detailed and way too personal to feel authentic. Especially as they were recounting facts happened so many years before, and that he mentioned at the beginning how he was in an awful hurry. I am grateful that they were told this way, as I experienced them as a narrative and not real letters, but because of that I had to forget that they were supposed to be letters. Another small thing is how Helen refers to herself as “Helen” as opposed to “Elena” which is how she’d been called all her life, prior to going to America. Especially later, when she’s talking to her father, or to anyone else for that matter. One does not change name so easily just to suit an American audience. And lastly, and a little sadly, I never managed to grow fond of the first narrator, Paul’s daughter. It started out promisingly, I was ready to invest on her, but then as the story drifts away from her and focuses on past events, I found myself resenting the bits about her, as the past was a lot of more intriguing and I was impatient to go back to it. I was glad we got to spend more time with her parents, but at the same time, we lost the opportunity to care for another character, who initially promised to be worthy of being cared for.

Even though I mentioned earlier that it's a book mostly about Dracula, i've hardly mentioned him. That's because, even though the vampire story is the drive that brings the story forward and it was fascinating and morbid just enough to keep you interested, what made me love the book were the other "many things" the book is about. The love for knowledge, and the curiosity that fuels this love. The strong bond between the characters, may it be romantic feelings or deep, pure friendship or simple motherly love. They are so enduring and absolute, possibly to counteract all the hatred and cynicism and cruelty emanating from Dracula.  
So what I'm saying is, don't worry if you're not into vampires. And don't worry if you are into vampires. There's something for everyone. Now go read it.

Wednesday 9 January 2013

Fire Spell a.k.a. Splendors and Glooms - Laura Amy Schlitz

Fire spells is a wonderfully creepy book that has all the charm of a classic and the originality that comes with skillful storytelling. It’s the perfect read for cold winter nights spent curled up on the couch, wrapped in a blanket with a cup of hot tea in one hand and your book in the other.

Set in 1860 London, it’s the story of three children, a wicked magician and a cursed witch.

When rich but lonely Clara disappears the night of her birthday party, the prime suspect is Gaspare Grisini, the puppet master who enchanted Clara with his spellbinding show at the party. But her parents and the police are helpless. It’s up to Lizzie Rose and Parsefall, the two orphans who work for Grisini, to unravel the mystery and save Clara from her fate.

The two main characters, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall are easy to love, both for different reasons. The youngest, Parsefall, is a little grumpy rascal, who loves working his puppets despite resenting Grisini’s  power over him.  Lizzie Rose is more mature and responsible, but she also has to rely on Grisini for work and shelter and hates it. Because the puppet master is clearly not a loving guardian. The two children fear him and they have good reasons to. As soon as Clara disappears, they know that Grisini has something to do with it, when they find a puppet scarily similar to Clara in their master’s box. In fact, Parsefall is convinced that it is Clara, and somehow Grisini has managed to turn her into a puppet.  

I loved how the story unravels. The pace is quick, but not too quick, so that it gives you time to get to know the characters and care for them. The villains are really creepy. Grisini is perfect as the wicked magician. He’s scary and horrible just as he should be. And the witch is a surprising character with an interesting, multi-layered personality who plays a very important role in the lives of the children. 

The American title is Splendors and Glooms, which, I think, reflects the story very well. The splendors of Clara’s richness and the glooms that hide behind the surface of her sheltered life; the splendors of the puppets show and the glooms of the life behind the curtains; the splendors of the witch’s castle full of jewels and servants, and the glooms of her unhappy life. 

I really recommend this read to anyone who likes a good story. There was magic, there were great characters whom I was sad to leave at the end, there was an intriguing plot and a beautiful ending. There was everything I look for in a book.  

Tuesday 8 January 2013

Books I've read - 2012

  • 29) The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
  • 28) Lyra's Oxford by Philip Pullman
  • 27) I shall wear midnight by Terry Pratchett
  • 26) The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
  • 25) My swordhand is singing by Marcus Sedgwick
  • 24) We have always lived in the castle by Shirley Jackson
  • 23) Paper Towns by John Green
  • 22) The Visitor by Maeve Brennan
  • 21) Affinity by Sarah Waters
  • 20) Extremely loud and incredibly close by Jonathan Safran Foer
  • 19) I was a teenage fairy by Francesca Lia Block
  • 18) The privilege of the sword by Ellen Kushner
  • 17) Mr Vertigo by Paul Auster
  • 16) Hope for the Flowers by Trina Paulus
  • 15) Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce
  • 14) The woman in white by Wilkie Collins
  • 13) Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
  • 12) Catching fire by Suzanne Collins (re-read)
  • 11)The hunger games by Suzanne Collins (re-read)
  • 10) Eleanor Rigby by Douglas Coupland
  • 9) Laugh it up! by Tina Ogle
  • 8) A wrinkle in time by Madelein L'engle
  • 7) The hairdresser of Harare by Tendai Huebu
  • 6) Sabriel by Garth Nix
  • 5) Briscola in cinque by Marco Malvaldi
  • 4) La trilogia della citta di K by Agota Kristof
  • 3) Due di due by Andrea de Carlo
  • 2) Starter for ten by David Nicholls
  • 1) Il maestro magro by Gian Antonio Stella