Anna's Bibliotheca

... I'd rather be reading ...

Still Alice - Lisa Genova

Book blurb: Alice is just fifty when she finds herself in a downward spiral, increasingly disoriented and forgetful. A university professor, wife and mother of three, she has books to write, places to see, grandchildren to meet. But now a tragic diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer's disease is set to change her life - and her relationship with her family and the world - forever. Losing her yesterdays, living for each day, her short-term memory is hanging by a frayed thread. But she is still Alice.

 

What I thought: Having watched and appreciated the film adaptation, reading the novel was like reading a screenplay with few minor changes. However, it doesn't take away from the gravity of the novel's topic -- dementia and how it affects people. Dementia, specifically to this book Alzheimer's disease, is never an easy topic to talk about, but the book intelligently points out some prejudices and awkwardness around the disease. One has to appreciate that the novel is written from Alice's perspective and how she experiences the changing world around her - it is not easy. I appreciated that the book not only raises awareness of the disease, but gently nudges us, the reader, to see beyond the disease and appreciate the person who is still an individual even though they are being slowly "devoured" by it.  I recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about Alzheimer's and dementia, but also those who are affected by it - directly or indirectly. 

Lermontov's Ironic Vision - Marie Gilroy

The Ironic Vision in Lermontov's A Hero of Our Time is a streamlined version of Marie Gilroy's PhD thesis. I will have to admit it is not an easy read, but I would definitely recommend to anyone who is interested in Russian Literature, especially Lermontov. In it Marie explores Lermontov's use of irony in his works that made him controversial among his contemporaries and ahead of his time for later readers like us.

 

Lermontov lived and wrote at the height of the Russian military expansion to Caucuses and other parts of the world. Through his works and the use of irony - whether intentionally or not (it's not known) - he was acknowledging issues and challenges of being a military man (which he was himself) that were not widely acknowledged in his time - making him controversial.

 

However, to later readers his ironic vision 'mirrors the problems of Our time - anxiety, despair and lack of faith'. So, to use the author's own words - "this study represents a new way of seeing A Hero of Our Time and, as such, tries to resolve some of the controversial problems the novel has posed. It may also represent a challenge to those who may disagree with the proposed definition of irony and the approach to, and interpretation of [the novel]."

Down in Demerara - Mike Manson

Book blurb: Thirty-three year old Felix Radstock unexpectedly finds himself in the remote South American country of Guyana. In Guyana, Felix confronts 'shrunken heads' in the rainforest, thinks his life is being threaten by smugglers, and makes love to the disturbingly beautiful Tallulah on a rock overlooking the Kaieteur Falls. During a visit to a remote gold mine Felix sees the destruction of the rainforest and witnesses the death of an Amerindian miner. It is only when Felix returns to England that he discovers the true purpose of his assignment. Set in 1999, Down in Demerara is a funny and quirky tale of self-realisation through love, friendship and fear. 

 

What I thought: Down in Demerara is definitely a quirky tale, but not as much as 'laugh out loud' one. Sure, there was a chuckle or two throughout the book, but I did find its humour too dry to make a toast.  The book reminded me of Voltaire's Candide - the heroic misadventures, a satire. I think Down in Demerara is not as fantastical as Candide, but definitely satirical.

I finished reading the book with mixed feelings: I was slightly bored in the beginning of the book as Felix, the protagonist, constantly finds himself confused and disoriented in the new country. At this point, the story wasn't developing with any excitement. Perhaps, it is due to my own impatience with the western travellers to less developed countries. Then, Felix decides to go to Kaieteur Falls - which is an actual place by the way! - then things get going and story line becomes interesting. It's about half-way through the book. This is where Felix meets interesting characters and sees first-hand the devastation to the natural habitat by global corporate greed that leads him to write the report and gives him a new purpose in life.

Overall, if you persevere through the first half of the book, the second part makes up for it in its denouement. Xavier and Billy are colourful characters who balance out Felix's blandness and naiveté. The book also "acts" as a travel book to Guyana: revealing its geographical, political and cultural aspects, some of which were new to me. So, the only thing you need to know if you decide to embark on this journey is that Guyana is not in Africa, but in South America. Bon voyage!

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Shaffer, Annie Barrows

Book blurb: The war is over. Juliet Ashton is grappling with writer's block when she receives a letter from Dawsey Adams of Guernsey - a total stranger living halfway across the Channel, who has come across her name written in a second-hand book. Juliet begins writing to Dawsey, and in time to everyone in the extraordinary Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society. The society tell Juliet about life on the island - and the dark years spent under the shadow of German occupation. Drawn into their irresistible world, Juliet sets sail for Guernsey, changing her life - and theirs - forever.

 

What I thought: The book is simply delightful. It has become my second favourite book of this year. The novel is written using letters between Juliet and the society. It is quick-witted, unassuming and charming. It introduces you to the island of Guernsey, its life under the German Occupation and, yes, you do want to visit it when reading the book. The characters are so rounded, believable and lovable, I wanted to actually meet them, but on second thought I realised that the book is set in 1946 and the characters are fictional. Aw! I would highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a break from all those heavy-going crime/thriller/drama novels that inundate our bookshelves these days. Don't miss this gem!

Changeling  - Philippa Gregory

Book blurb: Accused of heresy and expelled for his monastery, handsome seventeen-year-old Luca Vero is recruited by a mysterious stranger to record the end of times across Europe. Commanded by sealed orders, Luca is sent to map the fears of Christendom, and travel to the very frontier of good and evil. Seventeen-year-old Isolde, a Lady Abbess, is trapped in a nunnery to prevent her claiming  her rich inheritance. As the nuns in her care are driven made by stranger visions, walking in their sleep, and showing bleeding wounds, Luca is sent to investigate and all the evidence point to Isolde's criminal guilt. [...] Forced to face the greatest fears of the medieval world - [...] - Luca and Isolde embark on a search for truth, their own destinies, and even love as they take the unknown ways to the real historical figure who defends the boundaries of Christendom and holds the secrets of the Order of Darkness.

 

What I thought: Surprisingly, I enjoyed the story line despite the style of writing being so basic, it felt dumbed down somewhat. The book is not quite historically accurate and Gregory uses English names for secondary characters in an Italian village - hmmm... The title doesn't quite match the gist of the book either, but being the first instalment in the series - it might make more sense in the following books. Overall, it was an enjoyable read.

Brideshead Revisited (TV Tie In) - Evelyn Waugh

Book blurb: Evelyn Waugh's best-loved, most passionate and most poignant novel of a doomed aristocratic Catholic family - now recreated in Granada Television's once-in-a-lifetime production.

What I Thought: Well the book blurb doesn't give you much to go on by. It assumes that you have heard of the book and would dash off to read it. I thought - well, it's a classic, must read. I'm glad I did and I can say, "Don't dash. It is not as exciting it is made out to be."

 

The full title of the book is Brideshead Revisited: The Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder. Just like its long title, the book is pompous and over-promising; a laborious read about entitled aristocrats who have never known a day of hardship, so they busy themselves with talks of religion and stuporous drinking. Charles Ryder loves them and has fond memories of them. So, in gist you will be reading about his love for Sebastian and Julia, and his desire to be part of the Marchmain family, but not to be completely sucked in to the ridiculousness of their existence. 

 

Of course, the book is not wholly bad. In Brideshead Revisited, Waugh uses conversation and dialogue skilfully to quicken the pace of the book, but - oh dear - when he comes to paragraph passages, Waugh takes you on a long-winded walk of words, long sentences and their complicated structures. Remember, 'pompous' just like the title. If Waugh's purpose of the book  was to show even just a smidgen of the aristocratic life - he has then achieved the goal in reflecting what a waste of resources and human lives that is aristocracy. 

 

Overall, the book was okay. I'm glad I read it, but will not be returning to it any time soon. 

"Dictionary Corner":
inviolable - never to be dishonoured

idiosyncrasy - peculiarity

penurious - extremely poor; unwilling to spend money

breviary - a book containing the service for each day to be recited by those in orders of the Roman Catholic Church

internecine - destructive to both sides in a conflict

cumbrous(ly) - inconvenient in size, weight or shape; unwieldy

lubricity - the measure of the reduction in friction and or wear by a lubricant

prurient - having or encouraging an excessive interest in sexual matters, especially the sexual activity of others

obsequious(ly) - servilely compliant or deferential; fawning; dutiful

dipsomaniac - a drunkard or alcoholic: someone who drinks alcohol to excess

wolfram - tungsten ore; a native tungstate of iron and manganese

tungsten - a steel-grey dense metallic element with a very high melting-point, used for the filaments of electric lamps and for alloying steel

manganese - a grey brittle metallic transition element used with steel to make alloys

climacteric - a critical period or event; having extreme and far-reaching implications or results; critical

prevarication - a fancy way to say "lie," skirting around the truth, being vague about the truth, or even delaying giving someone an answer

suffragan - a bishop appointed to help a diocesan bishop

 

Best sex scene description by far: some authors need to take notes from EW!
"It was no time for the sweets of luxury; they would come, in their season, with the swallow and the lime flowers. Now on the rough water there was a formality to be observed, no more. It was as though a deed of conveyance of her narrow loins had been drawn and sealed. I was making my first entry as the freeholder of a property I would enjoy and develop at leisure." 

RatBurger - David Walliams

Book Blurb: Meet Zoe. She's got a lot of things to be unhappy about... Her stepmother is so lazy she asks Zoe to pick her nose for her. And the school bully loves flobbing on her head. Worst of all, the dastardly Burt has terrible plans for her pet rat. I can't tell you what those plans are, but there's a clue in the title of the book...

 

What I thought: Having read his book now, I can understand David Walliams's appeal to the young readers - he is a clever narrator with a wicked sense of humour. There is a clear right and wrong, good and disgusting; bad people get punished and the good - rewarded. There is a level of shock and grossness in the story line that is always appealing to children, and of course a happy ending! Ratburger has all of the above and makes it for an entertaining read. 

Things A Bright Girl Can Do - Sally Nicholls

Book Blurb: 1914 The worlds stand on the edge of change. But women still have no vote. Evelyn is rich and clever, but she isn’t allowed to go to university. Life is set out for her, but Evelyn wants freedom and choice, even if it means paying the highest price alongside her fellow Suffragettes. Meanwhile, May campaigns tirelessly for women’s votes with other anti-violence suffragists. When she meets Nell, a girl who’s grown up in hardship, she sees a kindred spirit. Together and in love, the two girls start to dream of a world where all kinds of women can find their place. But the fight for freedom will challenge Evelyn, May and Nell more than they ever could imagine. As the Great War looms, just how much are they willing to sacrifice?

 

What I thought: It was a good read. You can tell that the book is well-researched. I did find it, though, a bit PC-ish that the book was trying to represent homosexuality, for example, and still managed to cotton-wrap the issue – I don’t think many people were yet as understanding in 1910s as the author makes it out to be. The book plot also missed the edginess for me with the issues it covers. It is written with YA in mind and yet I was taken aback that Nicholls describes sexual relationship of two fifteen year old girls. As an adult reading the book, it did make me feel somewhat voyeurish. There was no need for that at all in the story line. Overall, the book offers a wide range, perhaps somewhat lighthearted, introduction to subjects of the fight for women’s suffrage, the Great War and homosexuality.  Not bad, give it a go.

Agatha Raisin and the Love from Hell - M.C. Beaton

Book Blurb: Now she’s a wife – there’s more trouble than strife! Recently married to James Lacey, Agatha quickly finds out that it’s not all ‘happy ever after’ – before long the newly-weds are living in separate cottages and accusing each other of infidelity. And after a fight down the local pub James vanishes completely, leaving a bloodstain as the only clue to his fate. Naturally Agatha is Prime Suspect. Determined to clear her name and find her husband, Agatha begins to investigate, and promptly discovers a murdered mistress!

 

What I Thought: The book is simply delightful. Old-fashioned type of sleuthing on high heels. No gory details of murder, no forensic description of a decapitated body – simple snooping around and looking for clues. The Love from Hell is the eleventh book in the Agatha Raisin’s series, but it didn’t throw me off since I’ve watched the recent TV adaptation so I was acquainted with the characters to enjoy their interaction. I liked it a lot. The style of writing is so intelligent, MC Beaton uses words like truculent, psychosomatic, fulminating, myopic, lurid, stentorian, acidulous and auberge*. I love it when a novel makes me reach for the dictionary and discover new words. After reading this book, I have decided to embark on reading the whole of the series. Bon voyage to me!

 

*truculent = quick to anger
psychosomatic = (of a physical illness or other condition) caused or aggravated by a mental factor such as internal conflict or stress
fulminating = criticising angrily
myopic = short-sighted
lurid = sensational
stentorian = very loud (of voice)
acidulous = sharp-tasking; sour
auberge = an inn in a French-speaking country

The Martian - Andy Weir

Book Blurb: I’m stranded on Mars. I have no way to communicate with Earth. I’m in a Habitat designed to last 31 days. If the Oxygenator breaks down, I’ll suffocate. If the Water Reclaimer breaks down, I’ll die of thirst. If the Hab breaches, I’ll just kind of explode. If none of those things happen, I’ll eventually run out of food and starve to death. So yeah. I’m screwed.

 

What I thought: Loved it, loved it, loved it. Even with my limited knowledge of science (especially, chemistry) and space travel, I found the book entertaining as well as educating and thrilling. By the way, The Martian has the best opening lines I’ve come across lately: “I’m pretty much fucked. That’s my considered opinion.” This set me right into enjoying the adventure with Mark Watney on Mars. One of the things the protagonist says in the book is that “he’s going to science the shit out of the planet” and he did – the book is very sciencey, but it didn’t hinder me to enjoy the book over all. I won’t remember half of the science stuff that Mark did to survive on Mars (well, maybe the fact that he grew potatoes using his own shit, eww! :D), but the humour and the intelligence of the book will have me coming back to it time and time again. It is also a different kind of book: it’s the first book I’ve read in years that does not focus on romantic relationships or solving crime/murder, but focuses purely on intelligence, professionalism and working together to achieve a common goal. My verdict: a must read to all. Even you don’t get the science part of it, The Martian will leave you feeling positive, even hopeful.

Into The Water - Paula Hawkins

Book Blurb:  Just days before her sister plunged to her death, Jules ignored her call. Now Nel is dead. They say she jumped. And Jules must return to her sister’s house to care for her daughter, and to face the mystery of Nel’s death. But Jules is afraid. Of her long-buried memories, of the old Mill House, of this small town that is drowning in secrecy…

 

What I thought: Entertaining enough, but it didn’t have me turning pages and enthralled as Hawkins’s debut book. The story line is slow in the first half of the book, but picks the pace up in the second half.  I found Jules character’s wallowing in self-pity in the beginning overwhelming and there is too much anger in other characters. The ending was frustrating to me because Hawkins allows loose ends remain loose – as a reader I don’t particular like it. With the rest of the characters, I felt like the author placed dust sheets over their stories to wrap them up quickly. Overall, give it a go: it’s a quick summer read, but not for must-keep-in-my-library category.

The Second Blast of the Trumpet: The Second Book In The Knox Trilogy - Marie Macpherson

Usually in trilogies, novels start losing their pace during the second instalment. However, this is not the case with The Second Blast of the Trumpet. It picks up right where the first instalment ends.

 

We re-join - the not so young by now - John Knox soon after he was set free from serving his sentence as a galley slave. His fervour and his determinations to bring about a reformation to his beloved Scotland are stronger than ever and he is ready to preach. But he continues to come across political and religious boulders that obstruct his way to glory. We follow him on his journey through England to Switzerland and back and watch him develop into the man who will bring about the Protestant Reformation in Scotland. 

 

Marie MacPherson skilfully continues to lift the curtain on the not so well known part of John Knox's life and his influence on people around him, especially women.  The novel is not short of historical characters such as Marie de Guise, William Cecil and John Calvin and the political intrigue that took place behind closed curtains. I will admit - it was refreshing to read a novel that expresses what the other side thought of the Tudors and their politics. :D

 

I had a privilege to read the book in its draft form and thoroughly enjoyed it in its print form as well. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction.  

Too Many Murders - Colleen McCullough

Could I just simply say, 'Wow!' I have discovered Colleen McCullough.

 

The novel is a thoroughly enjoyable read. I didn't realise Too Many Murders is the second instalment in the Carmine Delmonico series until some point in the book, but it works well as a stand alone novel. The language style is fast-paced, intelligent and frank. It doesn't hinder on the gruesome details of murders, but focuses on finding who's done it - and there are plenty of suspects to go about guessing.

 

I also liked that the novel doesn't overwhelm the reader with too many description of places or clothes, etc. Everything in the novel is to the point and every word/sentence is relevant to the plot - I didn't feel like or wanted to skip any paragraphs to keep me going.

 

Everything from the opening line of the novel to the last sentence had me involved and I am very surprised that it hasn't been snatched for a film/TV adaptation. I will be definitely reading the rest of the series and other Colleen McCullough's works. 

 

I would recommend. 

Book Excerpt

Too Many Murders by Colleen McCullough

 

"... Your questions, Captain Delmonico, go beyond the limits of acceptable behavior! I intend to report you to everyone in a position to discipline you, is that understood?" He was beginning to splutter. "You're a-a-Gestapo inquisitor!"

 

"Mr. Smith," Carmine said gently, "a policeman investigating murder uses many techniques to obtain information, but more than that, he also uses them to learn in the small amount of time at his disposal what kind of person he's questioning. During our first interview you were rude and overbearing, which leaves me free to tread heavily on your toes, even though your toes are sheathed in handmade shoes. You imply that you have the power to see me - er - 'disciplined', but I must tell you that no one in authority will take any notice of your complaints, because those in authority all know me. I have earned my status, not bought it. Murder means that everything in your life is my business until I remove you from my list of suspects. Is that clear?"

 

#MikeDrop #GotSchooled #NiceOne

The Virgin Suicides - Jeffrey Eugenides, Nick Landrum

The Virgin Suicides just like Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's pleasantly surprised me. I have seen the film many years ago and I remember the feeling of nostalgia settling in after the film has ended. (I think Josh Hartnett's dreamy eyes played a part in it. ;) ) I found the book does the same. A well-constructed storytelling draws you into the adolescent impressionable world - dealing with growing up, falling in love and dying. The novel doesn't answer questions. Instead, the novel makes you want to cross the street from the boys' spying place to the Lisbons' house, knock on the door and ask, 'What is happening inside?'

 

The story is a reminisce of a grown man and is told from the collective first-person of teen-aged boys (I think there are 7 of them, I tried to count) who are obsessed with the enigmatic Lisbon sisters: Therese, Mary, Bonnie, Lux and Cecilia. Cecilia is the first one to attempt and complete suicide setting in motion series of various responses from neighbours and schoolmates. Her suicide stirs up the sleepy neighbourhood, confronts them and makes them deal with emotions and feelings that are suppressed due to being unacceptable in social circles. While the remaining sisters are attempting to move on with their lives - they too are confronted with social pressure and parental restriction. How do they escape?

 

The novel's narrative is stylistically flowing. This uncomplicated language adds to the emptiness of the beautiful world around when dealing with macabre events. The novel does not claim to be omniscient, but its memories are fragile just like the sisters.

 

One can discuss and draw so many different issues and themes from the novel that I think it would be perfect for any literary essay. One thing did surprise me that at the end, after having walked the reader through the story, the author calls the act of suicide "simple selfishness". My understanding that even as an adult, the narrator is still dealing with personal guilt and consciousness. 

 

Brilliant read. A must.

 

Go Set a Watchman: A Novel - Lee Harper

The book was handed to me as a follow up from a quick discussion with a colleague. I decided to read it straightaway as I don’t like borrowing books from someone and keeping them for a long time. I honestly didn’t know what to expect: the title is ambiguous and the hype around the time of its release was quite substantial. All I knew is that it was by Harper Lee, the author of the famous To Kill A Mockingbird. I didn’t even read the blurb for the book. So, for some reason I was expecting another court room drama based on racial tensions of the American South. My advice: read the blurb.

 

Despite not reading the blurb, I was able to immerse into the book quickly enough. If you haven’t read To Kill A Mockingbird it won’t play to your disadvantage as this novel can stand alone on its own feet. The writing is not complex, but intelligent enough to engage the reader. The theme of the book is politically charged – I can understand why it would not be printed back in the 1950s. It is set in the 1950s and feels more autobiographical, personal rather just another novel about the history of segregation in the South. The novel is threaded with Jean Louise’s reminiscence about her childhood. These memories where everything for her as a child was black and white, right and wrong serve as juxtaposition to the her adult world where nothing is black and white and some things may seem wrong, but motives might be right. 

 

A quick overview: Jean Louise ‘Scout’ Finch is now twenty six years old and live in New York City. She returns home to Maycomb, Alabama on her usual annual visit, but this time something is off. She secretly follows her father and her friend to a Citizens’ Council where one of the guests is permitted to give a racist speech. Shaken up that her father did not do anything to stop this man, Jean Louise is devastated. As she looks around her, she begins to notice increased sympathy with these kind of sentiments. She finds herself on the road of self-discovery and making a hard decision: to either stick to what she believes and leave her family or stay with her family and submit to the growing feeling of the place.

 

The novel does not answer any questions, but presents the day-to-day tensions and decisions that many American citizens had to live with in the 1950s. I would say that it is even relevant now. I found that the author’s call in this book is to reason. That reason will prevail above all. For me the book was summarised on page 270, “But the white supremacists fear reason, because they know cold reason beats them. Prejudice, a dirty word, and faith, a clean one, have something in common: they both begin where reason ends.”

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