Tuesday, 27 December 2011

My favorite books of 2011.

It's this time of the year. Everything is closing up and reading statistics are a fine way to do so. And The Broke and the Bookish asks for our top ten reads of 2011 this week.

2011 has been another exceptional year readingwise. I read over 40 books this year, although I wanted to crack those darn 50 but obviuosly it was not meant to be or something. I'll try again next year.

In no particular order (links will show you my review):

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell
Suite Francaise by Irène Némirovsky
The Likeness by Tana French
Atonement by Ian McEwan
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Miss Timmin's School for Girls by Nayana Currimbhoy

I'll do another post with statistics about the amount of books I read during the year, adding things like if they were library books, e-books or written by male or female authors and stuff like that. So stay tuned.

Have you read some of the books mentioned above? Did you like or even love them like I did?

Monday, 26 December 2011

Thoughts: Alison Wonderland by Helen Smith

Alison Wonderland suspects her husband to cheat on her and so she decides to ask a private detective agency to help her spy on him. The disturbing truth about her unfaithful man comes to light and Alison decides to leave him and become an investigator for the agency herself. There she works on a case that soon becomes threatening to her and her loved ones.

Because of the title I suspected a somewhat strange story in terms of Alice in Wonderland. And weird things are happening indeed. Alison is suspected to have found out more than she did, her neighbour Jeff, who is in love with Alison, is kidnapped and questioned by the company Alison investigates about and she helps her friend Taron to find a baby to keep.

It's all very quirky and though the book starts out promising it never really has a point. The characters' mindset is mostly grotesque and following their thoughts was often hard because those too never went somewhere. The characters and setup of the story could have been more enjoyable if there was an actual plot.

But the development of the relationship between Alison and her neighbour Jeff is a nice part of the story. Though this relationship is rather odd because it is actually a love affair, both, Alison and Jeff don't seem to acknowledge, it is pleasant to read about. I wish Helen Smith would have concentrated more on it.

All in all it was not really my cup of tea as I would have hoped for more plot and mystery, be it strange or not.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Santa, please bring me BOOKS!

With Christmas only a few days ago The Broke and the Bookish asks us about the Top Ten Books We Hope Santa Brings.

Giving books to a person who reads much is difficult. Especially if you don't know what books are already on the person's shelves. That is why I ask for books I have on my wish list or gift vouchers for Christmas.

This year I asked Santa to bring the following books:

1. The Marrige Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides - I love Eugenides. He is an incredible author and wrote two of my favorite books The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex. I don't know much about this book, because I wanted to save the reading experience all to the time I settle down with this book in a cozy place, hot choclate in one hand book in the other and cat purring near me.

 2. The Secret History by Donna Tartt - This book was recommended to me by some shelfari friends who knew how much I enjoyed The Likeness by Tana French (review here). They compared the book to Donna Tartt's The Secret History, which I knew existed but not what it was about.

 3. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern - I know the book gets a lot of hype lately and sometimes reading a book when the buzz slows down makes for the better reading experience... but I WANT this book. I am somehow very excited to read it and own it. I have the feeling that the book and me could become close friends in the future.

Have you read the books I mentioned above or have you listed books on your wish list? Which ones do you want for Christmas?

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Thoughts: Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby

About: Tucker Crowe, ex-rock star and icon of a small passionate fan crowd, lives a secluded life in small-town America. Annie and Duncan, who live across the pond, question their relationship because of him. Duncan, a big Crowe-worshipper, won't admit Annie the understanding it needs to form an opinion on Crowe's songs, for which one needs to be an expert like Duncan. Annie is no expert, but she decides to put a review of Crowe's latest album Juliet, Naked in the Internet. When the musician reads the review, he feels understood for the first time - and contacts Annie...

My thoughts: Nick Hornby already wrote a couple of good books about obsessive men and their music fanaticism. This book too seizes a man, Duncan, who seems to stand in his own and his life's way. For him, analyzing the music of his idol and it's meaning is the most important thing in life. He doesn't recognize that his life just  passes by without him taking part in it. Annie tolerates Duncan's passion until he degrades her opinion on Crowe's newest album. But who would have thought that the musician himself sympathizes with Annie's views. Maybe Duncan is now able to realize, that though some things we do with passion, we are not above them.

The book is also about the weariness two people feel for each other, when day-to-day life already outrun them. Duncan meets another woman and Annie suddenly becomes the feeling that she wasted her precious time with Duncan. She is anxious to compensate some of the lost time, but she does not yet know how.

I think that the emotions and thoughts of the characters somehow felt real and tangible. I mean they are not pompous and  exaggerated like in the most romance books. Though I like a good romance once in a while because they work great for the soul, they seldom reflect reality. Juliet, Naked is no romance but it does not leave the reader hopeless.

My favorite quote:

“For the best part of 40 years she had genuinely believed that not doing things would somehow prevent regret, when, of course, the exact opposite was true.”
I got this book from my local library.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Thoughts: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

This book is a tome. It needs a lot of commitment to get through it, but in my opinion it was very much worth it. I started reading this book in English but it was extremely hard to follow for me (not just because nearly every other character's name is Thomas) and thus I got a German copy from my library. It still was a lot of work but at least I knew what was going on.

Hilary Mantel is a breathtaking, witty and sophisticated writer. I loved reading about the distribution of power, intrigue and manipulation at the British royal court in the 1620s. King Henry VIII is in need for a male heir, that's why he wants to get a divorce from Queen Katherine, but the pope wouldn't let him have one. So Henry needs to become not only head of state but head of church in Britain to marry Anne Boleyn. The man helping him to get what he wants is Thomas Cromwell, an eloquent  and persuasive man, who does not only represent the King's interests but his own, too. Though Cromwell is a manipulator I got the impression of him as an amiable character. Being the son of a blacksmith, he worked his way up to court, gaining more and more influence, enemies and friends.

The writing was also very amusing and entertaining. I often found myself laughing or wanting to read passages to my partner to share the fun or to discuss things that were going on. We enjoyed talking about the book and some times (evenings, weekends) he asked me to read out loud for us.

I think Mantel found a bold but all new sight on British history. Wolf Hall is not a piece of historical fiction from the rack but a work of epic force, sharing new ideas, which very well deserved a prestigious award like the Booker prize.

My favorite quote:
“It is all very well planning what you will do in six months, what you will do in a year, but it's no good at all if you don't have a plan for tomorrow.”

Monday, 5 December 2011

It's Monday! What are you reading?

Since my last Monday post in Mid-November I finished reading:

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel - Thomas Cromwell gets Henry VIII his divorce and the opportunity to marry Anne Boleyn.
Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby - Duncan is a big fan of Tucker Crowe's music. He does not think that Annie, his girl friend, is able to build a proper opinion about Tucker's music. She decides to write a review and gets in contact with the musician herself.

Both books will be reviewed soon.

Now I am reading Alison Wonderland by Helen Smith. I got it from the author as review copy and so far I enjoy the book. I am curious about it and am excited to take it up again.

Next I will read some books belonging to series. I want to read Faithful Place by Tana French, Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling.

It's Monday is hosted by Book Journey.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

2012 TBR Pile Challenge

I don't easily commit to reading challenges, because usually it goes like this: I love to make up my mind about the books I want to read for a particular challenge, I enjoy coming up with a list of books I want to read, I am overly enthusiastic about reading the books in the next year. BUT as soon as it comes to reading I get distracted, something different strikes my fancy and I wander off reading everything else except the books on my list.

It's no big secret that this is the same with books I bought with the intention to read them "next". What I need is this challenge hosted by Adam. I commit myself to reading 12 determined books I owned for more than one year but have not read yet. Here is my list (incuding 2 alternates and year of publication):

1. The Rain Before it Falls by Jonathan Coe (2007)
2. The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood (2009)
3. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (2010)
4. Blindness by José Saramago (1995)
5. The Gathering by Anne Enright (2007)
6. The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai (2006)
7. I know why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (1970)
9. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (2000)
10. Shanghai Girls by Lisa See (2009)
11. The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant (2003)
12. Lizard by Banana Yoshimoto (1993)

My two alternates:
1. Two Caravans by Marina Lewycka (2007)
2. Wildthorn by Jane Eagland (2009)

As I make progress I will link the titles to my reviews. Wish me luck because I will give away one book from those I managed to read in 2012. Egligable for winning will be readers of my blog who comment on my reviews of those books as I go.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Thoughts: Geisha of Gion by Mineko Iwasaki

This is the memoir of Mineko Iwasaki, one of Gion's most famous Geishas. She introduces us to her story starting at the very beginning of her childhood, still living with her parents and siblings. Soon she learns that some of her sisters have been adopted by an okiya, a Geisha house, because her parents were not able to feed so many hungry mouths.
But Mineko decides to follow her sisters into the okiya, because she is spellbound by this secretive world, which is inhabited and ruled by women only. She is to become first a maiko, an apprentice Geisha, and then a real geiko, which is the name of a Geisha in Gion, the best known Geisha district not only in Kyoto but Japan.

I have read Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden and this book was in many ways similar to Golden's book. But there are differences especially in the way the story is told. Though Iwasaki claims to be the first Geisha to tell her story, I felt like she was holding back, I felt like she wasn't giving me the whole thing. That is because she tells the reader all the training was hard, or she decides to be adopted by the okiya and leave her family, or that all the other girls were jealous as she became a well-known geisha but she never tells what it felt like, she never says she was sad, lonely or exhausted.
On the other hand I am fascinated. Geishas are exotic strangers who are paid to be perfect entertainers with skills in music, dancing, singing and conversation. They live in a secretive world full of intrigue and jealousy, which makes it all the more interesting to read about.

If you are interested in the training of a Geisha in our modern times, I recommend the BBC documentary Geisha Girl, following 15-year-old Yukina as she leaves home and moves to Kyoto to embark on the arduous training needed to become a geisha. Here is a link to the first part on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KrDGTUm2vBc

If you can't get enough of the Geisha world read this book.

I read this book for the JLC5.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Venice in February. I'm in!

Venice in February is a new Reading Challenge not unlike Paris in July. It's all about reading books about Venice, a doomed but magical place. The challenge is hosted by Snow Feathers and Dolce Bellezza, who already put a lot of work into this project as they created a site for the event with book suggestions. For all of us readers who wouldn't know where to look for books about Venice that's the place to go.

So I'm planning to participate in February. But what am I going to read? It turns out I already have a book in my tbr pile that would fit.

In the Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant

And this one sounds intriguing. It's about a woman who leaves her grown up kids and job as a food critic to follow her love. My library has it, too.

A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena de Blasi

If there is time and a way I can lay hands on this book, I would love to read this one, too.

A Venetian Affair by Andrea de Robilant

What do you think? Are you going to participate? Have you read any of the books mentioned above?

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Thoughts: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Louis Zamperini was a promising tracker in his young age. Already successful during the Olympic Games in 1936, he was determined to get gold in the next Games. But in 1942 the world faces second world war and Louis serves in the Air Force. The Us and Japan are fighting over authority in the Pacific Ocean. One day in 1943 a US bomber crashes in the ocean, leaving only debris, a raft and three crew members among them Louis Zamperini. As they are drifting in the ocean they face leaping sharks, thirst and starvation and enemy aircraft. But beyond all that only a greater trial awaits the men. Louis and his friend Phil have to endure imprisonment in a Japanese POW camp and suddenly all that counts is to get through unbroken.

The book served as an eye-opener for me. I was not aware of the cruelty and the dehumanizing treatment the Japanese inflicted on their prisoners of war. And I was not aware that a human body, soul and mind is able to live through it.

Laura Hillenbrand doesn't hold back. I was overwhelmed by her writing as she made a perfect little package in form of a book, filled with Zamperini's story, which is a true one by the way, and hurled it at the innocent me. I was hit hard and am not willing to forget very soon.

Monday, 14 November 2011

It's Monday! What are you reading?

Since my last Monday post I read:

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (click for review)
The Bone Garden by Tess Gerritsen (click for review)
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (will review tomorrow)
Geisha of Gion by Mineko Iwasaki (will review this week)
The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox (click for review)

Now I am reding Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, which won the Booker Prize in 2009. I am a little obsessed with reading the Booker Winners as a personal challenge. So far I like the book but I'm sure it will still take me some time to finish as it is a real chunk. My edition has over 650 pages.

As soon as I have finished Wolf Hall, I plan on reading Juliet, Nacked by Nick Hornby. I adore Hornby and make sure to read his newest books occasionally.

After that (or even before) I'll be reading Alison Wonderland by Helen Smith, who was so kind to send me the book for review. Thank you, Helen.

Have you read or plan on any of those? Did you enjoy them?

It's Monday is hosted by Sheila from Book Journey.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Thoughts: The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell

Iris Lockhart is a young and independent woman who has both feet firmly on the ground. Nothing points to a dark family secret that could affect Iris' life until a letter arrives asking her to come and get Esme Lennox, Iris' great-aunt, from a mental hospital because the institution is going to close. But Iris doesn't know about a great-aunt who lived like a prisoner, locked up in a psychiatric ward, for over sixty years. The alleged mistake soon turns out to be a family tragedy that began in Edinburgh in the 1930s, when Esme and her sister Kitty, Iris' grandmother, were still girls in a marriageable age.

Esme was a wild, unsociable girl with lacking manners, perturbing Kitty's chances to find a husband. Is it really possible that under those circumstances the family got rid of Esme institutionalizing her? Or were there some more disturbing reasons for this decision?

I enjoyed reading Esme's story and getting to know what really happened to her from her early childhood living in India with her parents and sister until her being locked up back in Scotland. O'Farrell cleverly divided the narrating of the story between her characters. The reader gets an insight in Iris' private life as well as Esme's routine in the ward and as Kitty is supposed to be an old woman with Alzheimer's disease now, we get snippets of her recollections in no chronological order always accompanied by a tone of guilt.

It is really amazing how much this little book has to offer. Apart from a family mystery and betrayal, the author fit in a (I'll quote Linda) "holy cow ending". First I wasn't sure I really got what happened but after rereading the ending I made up my mind. I think this book would really work well in a book club because I feel the urge to discuss it myself. It seems that it was quite common for family's to edit out the life of certain family members if they didn't fit in anymore, just like in Jane Eyre. The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox is like a Victorian novel but set in present.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Thoughts: The Bone Garden by Tess Gerritsen

A little bit of crime, a little bit of mystery, a little bit of sentiment and you have this: a suspenseful page-turner, faster read than you can say "The Bone Garden".

Julia Hamill, a 38 year-old divorcée, is working in her garden when she thrusts on bones. Those turn to belong to a female long dead, the fractured bones suggest murder. Julia is intrigued. Who was that woman? Why was she murdered? Boston 1830: Norris Marshall is a student at Boston Medical College, but unlike his classmates he is a modest young man, forced to support himself with one of the most secretive jobs. He is a 'body snatcher' at night, a robber of cadavers to ensure his further study of human anatomy and because medical institutions pay well for corpses as they are always short of research objects. Soon Norris is hunting one of the most notorious killers of his time, not recognizing that the reaper is closer than he thinks. And what about the bones in Julia's garden?

One could not fight about the literary merit of this book. Because there is none. Which does not mean that it isn't entertaining and fast-paced. But this novel also crams a lot of human suffering in only 400 pages, which I didn't like too much. As this is one of Gerritsen's newer, stand-alone books I would opt to read one of her older books, as they are sad to be cracking reads.

Final words: Solid thriller with cleverly plotted mystery. Just too corny for my taste.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

I write like ...

Today on Leeswamme's blog I read about a page that analyzes your writing and compares it to the writing of other famous writers. It's called I write like. I analyzed three different reviews I wrote, one from this week and two I wrote about one year ago. All three came back with the same result:

I write like
H. P. Lovecraft

I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!

He is known for his horror writing and especially a subgenre called weird fiction. Well what do you think of that? I haven't read any of his work and am not sure I am going to.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Thoughts: The Immrotal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

The story about Henrietta Lacks cannot be complete when it isn't told along with the cancerous cells taken from her cervix, which proved to be immortal, and thus changed science. The HeLa cells were cultured and distributed all over the world bringing forward a new era of cellular research and advances in scientific technology as well as medical treatments. They were used in many experiments, such as vaccine research and cloning, the cells even went to space. Yet, very little is known about the woman, her life or her family. Rebecca Skloot attempted to change this.

Now I know that the real sad part of the story is the devastation of a family when its unifying force, a mother, a wife or a sister is taken away. And though the valuable cells should be a source of pride for the family they got to know about it far too late. Not to mention any monetary compensation. Millions or even billions of dollars were made out of the HeLa cells but still the family couldn't afford to pay their own medical bills.

I also learned about informed consent and that it wasn't 'law', which means it wasn't necessary to inform a patient about the medical procedures he or she is going to take in the 50s. Very much has changes since.

The book was light on the scientific side, everybody can understand what is going on in this book. I struggled with the cell's importance, of which I was remembered every other page although I already grasped it with the first chapter.

It is remarkable that Skloot was finally able to get Henrietta's story, because of being persistent, calling the family over and over to get them spill the beans, but I can't get rid of the feeling that she might have been a real pain in the a.. by doing so.

Final words: I learned about 'them' cells.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Wonderful Wednesday #8 Gothic Reads

Do you like books which give you the creeps or which make you feel uneasy? Well then gothic fiction is for you! Those books are all about atmosphere and the building of suspense and a good handful mystery and madness thrown in. Today I'm going to share with you my top reads in this genre.

The Monster's of Templeton by Lauren Groff which I reviewed here. This one is a bittersweet, melancholy read. I very much fell for one of the last chapters about Flimmy, Templeton's lake monster and how it comes that it died, it was sad but beautiful.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier which I have reviewed here. I won't give away anything. Du Maurier is a remarkable narrator and I think the best recommendation I can give is to grab the book and start reading immedietly if you havent't done so yet.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. That's my all-time favorite book we are talking about here. I haven't reviewed the book becuase I read it prior to blogging. But still. I love the atmosphere and the epic style of Zafon's writing. The characters harbor dark secrets which are not easily revealed. Ever since I read this book I want to visit Barcelona. It must have been amazing in the 1920s.

Which are your favorte gothic books? Do you have recommendations for me? Have you read any of those I mentioned? Did you like them? Discuss.

Wonderful Wednesday is hosted by Tiny Library.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Announcing winner of the Literary Blog Hop

Drumroll please for readingmind. You have won A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian. I have contacted you via Email. So please get in touch with me to arrange the shipping of the book.

Thank you all for participating! It has been a blast.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Wonderful Wednesday #7 Favorite Authors

Everybody has some favorite authors. Often a passion starts with an innocent crush for one specific novel. Soon one wants more and is determined to read all there is by this particular author.

Today I want to share three authors of whom I'm determined to read every book they have published or are going to throw on the market in the future.

Jeffrey Eugenides - I read The Virgin Suicides for a book project in school. I loved his writing and I was interested in the fate of the five suicidal sisters. As soon as I read the last page of this, I dashed out chasing for more. I found Middlesex, which is to date one of my most favorite books. I lost myself in this epic story about Greek siblings immigrating to the US and falling in love on the ship that brings them there. I'm looking forward to reading The Marrige Plot which was released most recently.

Banana Yoshimoto - Yoshimoto's stories are sad ones. But she uses language and style to make it easier to endure. Her protagonists are young and lusting for life as well as anxious for it. I discovered Yoshimoto early this year and have reviewed Kitchen and Goodbye Tsugumi in January. Sitting on my shelf I have Lizard and The Lake.

Margaret Atwood - I have only read one book by Margaret Atwood but I am going to go for more. I think she is a fascinating woman with an even more fascinating mind. I have reviewed Oryx and Crake this year and have The Year of the Flood as well as The Blind Assasin waiting on my to be read shelf.

Have you read any of them? Have you got recommendations?

Wonderful Wednesday is hosted by Tiny Library.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Thoughts: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

I finally managed to read the sequel to The Hunger Games. And I can report that it was a pleasant undertaking. Catching Fire introduces the reader to background information on Panem as well as its cruelty.

After Katniss' glorious return to District 12, life gets back to "normal". Her relationship with the boys she most cares for, Peeta and Gale, keep being complicated. But soon the next Games are up and life gets complicated again.

I didn't foresee the plot twist coming for the reader. It was like being hit by thunder when I read and I was hooked again. I can barely describe the pleasure I get out of reading the Hunger Games. It's a page turner, a real good one. Can't wait to make time for the last part of the trilogy The Mockingjay.

Have you experienced similar feelings for The Hunger Games? Maybe like me because I have only praise and no criticism.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Literary Blog Hop, Oct 15 - 19

It's time for another giveaway here on Thinking About Loud! It's the second time I participate in the Literary Blog Hop. It's just amazing how many wonderful blogs are giving away cool, literary stuff.

To keep things simple, I will give away this book, which I reviewed here:

You can win A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka by simply posting a comment stating that you want it. Please leave me a possibility of how to reach you like an email address. The giveaway will be closed on Wednesday October 19th. I will pull the winner on Thursday June 20th and contact you via email. Please make sure you are going to respond within 48 hours. Once I got in contact with the winner I will put the book in the mail. I cannot be hold responsible in case of loss.

This is an INTERANTIONAL giveaway. Anybody can join. Please be aware since I already read the book it is not new and will arrive in a gently used condition.

Now make sure to visit all the other lovely blogs taking part in the Literary Giveaway Blog Hop. Thanks to Judith from Leeswammes for hosting this.

  1. Leeswammes

  2. Devouring Texts

  3. The Book Whisperer

  4. Seaside Book Nook

  5. The Scarlet Letter (US only)

  6. Rikki's Teleidoscope

  7. Bibliosue

  8. Curled Up With a Good Book and a Cup of Tea

  9. The Book Diva's Reads

  10. Gaskella

  11. Lucybird's Book Blog

  12. Kim's Bookish Place

  13. The Book Garden

  14. Under My Apple Tree

  15. Helen Smith

  16. Sam Still Reading

  17. Nishita's Rants and Raves

  18. Ephemeral Digest

  19. Bookworm with a View

  20. The Parrish Lantern

  21. Dolce Bellezza

  22. Lena Sledge Blog

  23. Book Clutter

  24. I Am A Reader, Not A Writer (US only)

  25. The Blue Bookcase

  26. Book Journey (US only)

  27. The House of the Seven Tails (US only)

  1. In One Eye, Out the Other (US only)

  2. Read, Write & Live

  3. Fresh Ink Books

  4. Living, Learning, and Loving Life (US only)

  5. Bibliophile By the Sea

  6. Laurie Here Reading & Writing Reviews

  7. Amy's Book World (US only)

  8. Teadevotee

  9. Joy's Book Blog

  10. Word Crushes (US only)

  11. Thinking About Loud!

  12. Kinna Reads

  13. Sweeping Me

  14. Minding Spot (US only)

  15. Babies, Books, and Signs (US only)

  16. Lisa Beth Darling

  17. Tony's Reading List

  18. SusieBookworm (US only)

  19. Tell Me A Story

  20. Close Encounters with the Night Kind

  21. Nerfreader

  22. Mevrouw Kinderboek (Netherlands, Belgium)

  23. Boekblogger (Netherlands)

  24. In Spring it is the Dawn

  25. No Page Left Behind

  26. Elle Lit

So now it's time to hop! Have a wonderful weekend! I for sure know what I am going to do.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Wonderful Wednesday #6 Historical Fiction

This weeks theme is historical fiction.

As this is about spotlighting books, which we loved but may be not so well known to other readers I decided to write about The Blindness of the Heart by Julia Franck this week. The summary is partly taken from shelfari.com.

Originally published as "Die Mittagsfrau" in German, this book won the German book prize in 2007. The Blindness of the Heart is a dark and gloomy novel set in the 20th century, spanning two world wars and several generations of a German family. In the devastating opening scene in 1945, a woman named Helene and her seven-year old son find themselves at a provincial German railway station, amidst the chaos of war refugees fleeing west. Having survived the horrors of the war years, Helene now abandons her son on the station platform, getting on a train and never looking back for him.

The story now goes back to the burdens of Helene's childhood with her sister Martha in rural Germany, which abruptly comes to an end with the outbreak of WWI. Helene's father is send to the Eastern Front and her Jewish mother slips into mental confusion over the hostility her surroundings now show her. Helene and Martha are going to live with their aunt Fanny in Berlin, where they grow to become young women. Aunt Fanny is a rich and cocaine-addicted lady, who introduces the sisters to the entertaining society of the 1920s Berlin. Helene falls madly in love with the young medicine student Carl, who wants her to get to know his family but dies in a car accident. Helene is devastated.

Now we have to watch how the hard years of survival (Helene is of Jewish descendant, due to her mother) and the ill-fated love make her capable of the unforgivable.

I hear you cry out loud: "The war is over but she leaves her son behind at a crowded railway station, though she struggled hard to keep him alive during those hard war years? Why? How could she?"

This is what the book is about, the things that must happen to a woman to make such a cold-hearted decision as to abandon her only child.

Julia Franck's English language debut novel throws light on a time, revealing the breathtaking scope of its citizens' denial - the "blindness of the heart" - that survival often demanded.

What do you think? Are there explanations for such a behavior?

This meme is hosted by Tiny Library (clicky-clicky).

Monday, 10 October 2011

It's Monday! What are you reading?

During my last post I read and reviewed:

Suite Francaise by Irène Némirovsky (click for review) - a suitcase first opened in the 90s revealed Némirovsky's unfinished master piece.
A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka (review one click away)- story about an old Ukrainian immigrant marrying a thirty year old woman, wanting his money and a visum.
The Likeness by Tana French (click for review) - a psychological thriller featuring the detectives from the Dublin murder squat.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett (clicky clicky)- revealing the life of maids during segregation in the 1960s.
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins - soon to be reviewed.

Now I'm reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, which is a page turner at first but somehow slows down a bit now. Although it is amazing how the HeLa cells improoved the research on cancer and cells in general, I can't stand to read on every page how important the cells were. I'd like even more about Henrietta and her family.

I plan on reading The Bone Garden by Tess Gerritsen, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand and The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver this month. I'll pick up which ever book I fancy reading next.

It's Monday is hosted by Sheila from The Book Journey.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Literary Blog Hop: Oct 6-9

This week's question: If you could invite any three literary figures from different eras to a Sunday Dinner who would they be?

I would love to have a tea party actually. One like in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. And I would send invitations to Lewis Carroll first of all. It could be no spectacular tea party without him and maybe he could bring Alice, the Mad Hatter and March Hare with him. I'd also love to have Jane Austen at my table. I'm sure she wouldn't turn down an invitation for tea. Maybe C.S. Lewis could join us and please us with a sentence like: "You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me." That would make a perfect round for me.

How about you? Would you like to join us?

Thoughts: The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Finally I picked up The Help and it wasn't hard to get through because it's one of those book where you keep turning the pages compulsively although the topic is so heavy. I absolutely wanted to hear what the maids had to say, it only troubles me that Stockett did feel the necessity to rely on a young, white woman, Skeeter, to carry their stories. Because she is the one, who one morning has the idea to give the maids a voice, telling their stories in form of a book and how they are treated by their white, female employers. Every page in the voice of Aibileen or Minny was a treasure, taken away during Skeeter's parts.

When thinking about this book and the rating I wanted to give it, I asked myself a few questions. Is The Help an easy and enjoyable read? Yes. Does The Help imply an interesting and important topic? Yes. Is The Help great literature? No. I think the writing is far from brilliant. That's why I only give it four stars. Stockett introduced characters and never quite understood to use them, most of them remained shallow and didn't add to the story, like Skeeter's boyfriend Stuart, the senator's son, or Miss Lou Ann and her mysterious illness. I wondered why Stockett set plot points like this going nowhere. And why did she create Miss Celia and let her go waste? A tough girl from the country who couldn't even boil water doesn't make sense but a fool of herself. Still I liked her and would have loved to read more about her forming complexity.

I don't see The Help overcome time like To Kill a Mockingbird, but all in all I quite liked it. Four stars.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Lisbon. Get yourself started.

I have been in Lisbon in September for one week. And let me tell 'ya I had a jolly good time.

First of all, if you visit Lisbon in the summer beware of the constant heat or the real nice weather. The time you step out of the airport you should have your sun glasses ready. If you go by bus to the city center take line 44 or 745. You pay 1.75 € for a single ride, whereas you pay 3.50€ in the aerobus. You can buy your ticket from the bus driver and don't be shy, most of Lisbon's people you'll get in touch with can speak English. A friend told me that is because they get all their TV-series only in English with Portuguese subtitles.

If you plan on using public transport you can either buy your ticket from the bus or tram driver, which has the disadvantage that you should always have some change at hand or you get yourself a 7 colinas card with the option zapping at a cost of 0.50€. Thus you can load for example 10€ on your card and get around Lisbon using tram, bus, metro or even train. You only have to validate your card at the entrance of each vehicle. You can get the card at the tourist information at the airport or at each ticket autmomat in metro entrances. For me charging the card once with 15€ was more than enough for my one-week stay. Although I challenged myself, walking up and down the city's steep hills. But hey, even the old Lisboetas can do it, so I can do it, too. And it makes for perfect muscles in ass and legs. Also necessary to know is that when you wait at a stop you have to indicate the driver you want to get on. So stretch out one arm or otherwise the driver will not hesitate and somewhat coolly drives by. And if you have trouble reading a timetable. The number in a circle means that a bus or whatever is coming by every "circled number" minutes (this is at least different from German timetables).

For people who have never been to Lisbon before I wholeheartedly recommend a Lisbon Walker Tour (clicky clicky). They have fantastic guides who know to give a lively tour and tell funny anecdotes. I joined the Lisbon Revelation Tour with Inès, a friendly and knowledgeable tour guide. She showed us around town about three hours including a ride on the Santa Justa Lift and a ride in the famous Number 28 tram. As a student I only had to pay 10€, whereas a normal adult ticket costs 15€. Tours start at Praca do Comercio nearly everyday (check the timetable at their site) at 10 o'clock. You can get free maps of the city at every tourist information. But you can't miss Praca do Comercio it is next to the river Tejo, in the heart of the city.

I plan on two more posts about Lisbon. One about the top five things I did in Lisbon like Europe's biggest aquarium and a post about trips out of town like swimming in the Atlantic Ocean.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Thoughts: The Likeness by Tana French

Cover story: "Six month after a particularly nasty case, Detective Cassie Maddox has transferred out of Dublin's murder squad and has no plans to go back. That is, until an urgent telephone call summons her to an eerie crime scene.

It's only when she ses the body that Cassie understands the hurry. The victim, a young woman, is Cassie's double and carries ID identifiying herself as Alexandra Madison, an alias Cassie once used on an undercover job. Suddenly, Cassie must discover not only whokilled this girl but, more importantly, who is this girl?"

Tana French is on her way to become my favorite author concerning murder, mystery and psychological thriller. Her characters are versatile and have personality. I love to flip through the pages and would have actually never minded if there was no last page to the book. I can loose myself in the story, just like Cassie who steps in as Alexandra Madox again to find out who the other girl's killer was. She must be careful, especially around her four housemates who knew the dead girl very well. Soon Cassie gets used to her new life and wouldn't mind never leaving it again. But there is this case to solve and Franck Mackey, who supervises the undercover work, is watching every single step Cassie makes.

I can't wait to grab Faithful Place from the shelf, the third novel of the Dublin murder squad series, in which Franck Mackey will narrate the story.

Final words: Alarmingly thrilling.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

I am rereading whatever I like.

I reread whenever I feel like it. I reread The God of the Small Things by Arundhati Roy, The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides just to name a few. Those are extraordinary books I wanted to enjoy more than once. In fact every time I reread a book it's a whole new experience. Because I am older, because I recognize new things, because I feel like visiting old friends, because I can't get enough of them.

Today I share my top ten books I plan on rereading in the future.

1. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer - It whirled up my emotions. Love, love, love it.
2. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden - Personally I think there is nothing more interesting than this old Japanese tradition.
3. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer - Mount Everest is fascinating as well as Krakauer's encounters there. My favorite non-fiction until now.
4. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Aidichie - The beauty of Aidichie's writing combined with Nigerian history. I have to pick it up again sometime.
5. Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann - My favorite book by a German author. A sheepish murder mystery. Funny and touching.
6. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini - I don't know why but I will pick it up again.
7. The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende - I think I might have been to young to grasp the whole concept of the book when I first read it.
8. Set This House in Order by Matt Ruff - A story about a man with a multiple personality. Highly interesting.
9. On Beauty by Zadie Smith - One of the first books I read in English, which really stuck with me.
10. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon - because it is my absolute favorite and I expect I will reread it from time to time my whole life.

Do you think rereading is a waste of time? Or do you occasionally pick up an old loved one?

This meme is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Thoughts: A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewcycka

I picked this book up in a used book store in London one year ago because I already recognized it, always being prominently displayed in every German book store. Now it took me nearly one year to finally pick it up from my shelf. I expected something humorous or possibly hilarious. This I expected quite rightly because every praise on the cover used the word 'funny'.

Unfortunately I didn't find the story or the characters particularly amusing. Valentina is a 36 years old Ukrainian woman, who wants to live in the UK. So she marries Nikolai Mayevsky, a 84 years old Ukrainian immigrant. Valentina makes life to hell for Nikolai, that is where his daughters come in. They want to help their father out of his desperate situation and Valentina out of their mother's kitchen.

The language Lewycka used is the only thing that caused me to giggle from time to time, because it's a lively mix of English used by Ukrainian immigrants. Otherwise there is very much dark humor spread over the pages, mainly a greedy woman abusing an old man, making fun of him and his daughters trying to help him out of a tragic situation he doesn't acknowledge being in, more often than not bitching at Valentina, who seeks a better life for herself and her son.

The fifty years of darkest European history which were meant to be uncovered weren't as insightful as I hoped for. I would have liked a little input about Siberian labor camps, but as Nikolai's family seeks to keep the past under tight wraps, not much insight is allowed.

Somewhat generous 3 stars.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

My favorite books, never reviewed!

My Shelfari shelf displays 23 favorite books. Those are the ones I marked with a heart because I enjoyed reading them more than all the other books on my shelf. And reading them made me happy and sad. Those books were able whirl up the most extreme emotions. That is why I love them.

As I started blogging a little over one year ago, I never wrote a review for all the lovely books I read prior to blogging. Here is a shout out for my ten favorite books for which I never wrote a review.

On the list from top left to bottom right:

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Set this House in Order by Matt Ruff
What I loved by Siri Hustvedt
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann
ExtremelyLoud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Thoughts: Suite Francaise by Irène Némirovsky

Irène Némirovsky died in Auschwitz in 1942. A suitcase which harbored the manuscript of Suite Francaise was opened in the 90s for the first time. An unfinished masterpiece came to light. Némirovsky purposed a book build like a symphony made of five pieces. But there was only time for two pieces before she was deported.

The first part Storm in June deals with Parisian war refugees. Germany is up to take Paris and people see themselves forced to flee their homes, hastily pack their dearest belongings, catch a train or a car, or if that is not possible walk. On the streets reigns chaos, heavily packed cars have come to a halt because of a lack of gas, guest-houses are overcrowded and the refugees are hungry, especially the children. Nobody knows how long this, the war, the hunger, the misery, is going on. Those are the miserable conditions in 1940 in German-occupied France.

Némirovsky already introduces us to a varying set of characters in the first part, who all seem so real and whose problems are touching. There are the Michauds, an elderly couple, whose son fights in the war. Poor Madame Michaud keeps looking for the face of her son in the stream of passing soldiers. The Perrins, a rich family with a grumpy old grandpa on whom lays the hope of a rich heir and lots of children; one a young priest, who is killed by the orphan boys, which were entrusted on him and Hubert, who is only sixteen but wants to fight and therefore leaves his family. There is also Corbin, the owner of a bank, the Michauds are working for him, he has got an affair with a young dancer and now wants to safe her as well as his wife and the very important documents of the bank.

The second part Sweet deals with the young German soldiers occupying the villages. Each French family, be they aristocrats or peasants, has to take at least one enemy in. But the young Germans are polite and cheerful, they make a positive impression. Here and there gentle bonds are flowering. Quite a few are torn between the human beings those soldiers are and the enemy they represent.

Lucille is one of the main characters in the second part. She is meant to be a young and beautiful but cold woman. But the German officer living in her house stirs up some forgotten emotions.

Némirovsky's language mediates feelings and a sense for the surroundings. I especially loved that. Her linguistic pictures overwhelmed me now and then. One example would be the raindrops on the window panes running down like tears. I think everybody should read this and be swept away by the author's genius.

The story ends with the soldiers leaving for Russia. Némirovsky planned to take up a third part about imprisonment from here.

5 stars, of course!