Anna's Bibliotheca

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

The Martian - Andy Weir

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

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's 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.”

Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury

When a book is compared to a great classic, it’s unavoidable that the reader would have high expectations. In many reviews Fahrenheit 451 is compared to George Orwell’s masterpiece 1984. Sadly, Fahrenheit 451, is not even a little brother to 1984.  So, my review is in this comparison. 

 

In 1984 George Orwell created a world of fear and paranoia, where one has to either comply or die. Orwell is the one who coined the phrase ‘big brother’ that is so widely used these days. He is the one who created pages and pages of brainwashing doctrine that is the core of the 1984 world. 1984 is a story of survival and a failed attempt to love.  1984 is big, ground breaking, full of fear and it leaves you wanting more. 

 

On the contrast, Fahrenheit 451 feels like more a reflection of the writer on what would it be like to live in a dystopian world. It is a struggle of one man to discover and understand his true place in a society that does not accept dissent. The novel is more self-focused; the narrative primarily revolves around the main character, Guy Montag, and the scariest thing is a metal hound that injects people with poison. (Honestly, if one had to really defend oneself against the metal hound, all one had to do is to bash its head with a rock. *eye roll, please*). The only memorable thing from the book is its title. Supposedly, the Ray Bradbury thought it was autoingnition temperature of paper. I’ve looked it up online and, generally, scientists believe that it could be anywhere between 424–475 °F, depending on the type of paper. 

 

Listen, if not compared to Orwell’s masterpiece, Fahrenheit 451 is not a bad [stand alone] novel. A bit drawn out and basic in its form, but not bad. There are a couple of ideas here and there that I could connect with and consider, but that’s about it. The novel is worth reading as it is considered an American classic, but it won’t leave you thinking about it or wanting for more.

Burial Rites - Hannah Kent

“Haunting” is the best word to describe this début novel by Hannah Kent. Set in the nineteenth century Iceland, the novel deals with matter of perception: how do you see yourself and how others see you. The novel also gently introduces the reader to the historical Iceland. 

 

Agnes Magnúsdóttir - central character of the story - is condemned to death for the brutal murder of two men. She is placed under the custody to live out her last days with a farming family in the north of Iceland. At first, the family is horrified and outraged at the prospect of having a murderess under their roof, but come to accept it as a necessary evil and duty to the government. Only the young Assistant Reverend, Tóti Jónsson, is willing to spend time listening to Agnes’s story in hope of bringing her closer to God. As the year progresses and the necessity and needs of everyday life force the family to work harder together, they begin to discover a different side to Agnes that is not shared in people’s gossips and assumptions about the woman. 

 

The novel is inspired by the true life events. Every chapter begins with a related to the event historic evidence or correspondence of the persons involved. You can sense the depth of research that the author has done to convey the authenticity of the story. I appreciated that whilst reading the book. When I, driven by curiosity, started looking on-line about the events set in the book, I discovered contradictory views to the one Kent presents in her novel. However, in the afterword Kent shares that her goal was not to prove whether Agnes was guilty or not. Her concern was that many women at the time ‘were unable to author their public identity’, and any woman who dared to step outside the lines of the accepted standards were seen as suspicious (pp.350-351). Kent’s interest to tell the story of Agnes was to represent the ambiguity and humanity of the woman and leave the judging to the reader.

The Life and Loves of a He Devil: A Memoir - Graham Norton

I like Graham Norton persona. I like The Graham Norton Show. Since I have not had a chance to meet the man or attend the show (can you imagine me as a celebrated guest on the red sofa – I would die!), I got this book. I liked the book. Reading the book is very much like lifting a curtain to take a peek behind the scenes of a glamorous lifestyle on the British television. You get what you see.

 

Truly, I’ve heard of celebrities who create a front stage persona that entertains the public, but in their personal lives they might be reserved or, worst: drama queens. But in his memoir, Graham Norton shows himself as you see him on TV. He is witty, charming, honest and generous. I was surprised to learn that with all of the fame garnered in the past several years, Graham does not let it go to his head. He loves it all (who wouldn’t!), but then remembers (with prompting from his family) to stay grounded. 

 

In his memoir, Graham Norton covers topics such as owning a dog (not a well-behaved one, too!), his growing up in Ireland and what it means to him to be Irish living in the UK. He reminisces about his time spent in New York when attempting to conquer American hearts. He shares his experience of meeting famous divas such as Dolly Parton and Madonna. He discusses things he loves to hate and matters like men, booze and work.

 

The memoir won’t have you roaring with laughter, but will get you chuckle and giggle here and there with an occasional “ooh” and “ahh”, and even perhaps have you wipe away an odd tear.

A STORM OF SWORDS: BLOOD AND GOLD

A Storm of Swords: Blood and Gold (A Song of Ice and Fire #3, Part 2) - George R.R. Martin

by George R. R. Martin

 

Now, this is the second tome of volume five in the fantasy saga of A Song of Ice and Fire (that is if you are reading UK edition of the books). To be honest, if you are just about to embark on further adventure in the Game of Thrones, you really needn’t someone else’s review on the book series. By now, you would’ve formed your own opinion on the style and manner of writing and content. Besides, it would be impossible to review this book without giving away too much. One thing I will say, ‘Goddam it! It is still darn brilliant.’ That’s all you’ll need to set yourself comfortable and start reading the book. And one other thing, at the end of the book, Martin gives a background to the Red Wedding (nice surprise!) and you though Catelyn Stark was a goner… happy reading! :)

UNDER THE WEATHER: STORIES ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE

Under the Weather: Stories About Climate Change - Tony Bradman

edited by Tony Bredman

 

When I picked up this book in the ‘On Sale’ box, little did I realise that the book is put together for children, I’d say, between 10-12 years old. Nevertheless, I was curious to read about climate change from a non-political point of view.

 

The book contains eight short stories written by authors from Philippines, Australia and England. They all talk about how human activities influence climate change in different parts of the world from  melting ice caps in the north, to floods in South East Asia. I found most of the stories slightly condescending and preachy, but then you have to remind yourself that you are reading a children’s book. Although, Moonlight struck a chord with me and I found it sadly beautiful.

 

Overall, the book will work well as a reading supplement to children who are being introduced to the topic of climate change.

 

The stories are:
How to Build the Perfect Sandcastle by Candy Gourlay – set in Philippines and deals with floods due to overharvesting the ocean that takes place in South East Asia.

 

Sea Canaries by Susan Sandercock – the story is about a teenager who is discovering her love for marine biology and what she can do to save the ocean life.

 

As busy As… by Francis McCrickard – obviously – BEE! Yes, the story is about bees and two pen pals: one is from England and the second is from Africa who find that they care about bees.

 

Tommo and the Bike Train by Miriam Halahmy – is set in England and discusses how floods affect our every day life.

 

Climate [Short] Change by Lily Hyde – set in Siberia and focuses on encouraging local people to take care of their environment.

 

Moonlight by Karen Ball. It is set in Sri Lanka and it is about orphaned sister and brother who have to work long hours to feed themselves and sacrifice they have to face in order to make it through the life.

 

Future Dreaming by George Ivanoff is set in Australia and about a girl who keeps dreaming of a boy who asks her for help as he is being swept away by floods.

 

Wasters by Linda Newberry – is set in the post-apocalyptic future and about two schoolchildren who have to write a report about how extravagant and wasteful previous generation has been with the world’s resources.

MISS MARPLE'S SIX FINAL CASES. AND TWO STORIES

Miss Marple's Six Final Cases and Two Other Stories - Agatha Christie

by Agatha Christie

 

It was lovely to return to the queen of crime and her famous spinster (not offensive anymore!) sleuth, Miss Marple. No particular reason is given in the book as to why these are her final cases – Miss Marple does not die here, at least. So, a safe assumption could be made that Miss Marple just retired from sleuthing.

 

The book itself isn’t big – only 140 pages. So if you are fast reader it won’t take too long to page through six cases and two unrelated to Miss Marple stories.

 

Miss Marple’s cases are: Sanctuary, Strange Jest, Tape-Measure Murder, The Case of the Caretaker, The Case of the Perfect Maid, Miss Marple Tells a Story.

 

The two stories included in the book are: The Dressmaker’s Doll, In A Glass Darkly

 

Did I like the book? Yes! It’s Agatha Christie. Her way of storytelling is old-fashioned and classic. Nobody talks or even writes like this anymore. Nostalgic. The detective cases are short, but full of energy to keep you guessing. I have watched many of Miss Marple’s adaptations on TV, but never came across these particular ones. So, it might be a discovery for you too.

 

The two stories were a pleasant surprise for me as I only know and read Agatha Christie as a crime writer. The stories have gothic elements of storytelling and deal with loneliness, loyalty and love. Unregrettable read!

Is It Just Me? - Miranda Hart

I enjoyed Miranda’s antics on her own BBC show ‘Miranda’. But I have to admit, it took me a while to “get into” the book. I blame an acquaintance of mine who told me she was given an audio version of the book (read by Ms Hart herself) and that the audiobook is great. That got me thinking perhaps I should get an audiobook to get me reading/listening. Nay, I stuck with the book. So, soon after I had overcome the block of the ‘audiobook is great’, I finished the book and this is what I have to say about it.

 

Firstly, if you are a big fan of the show, it will be difficult not to hear Miranda’s voice reading to you as you turn the pages. ‘Such Fun’,  ‘Dear Chum’, ‘Rude’ and other well-known Miranda phrases make a come back in the book. The book is more like an extension to the show, just in case you got nostalgic. Is It Just Me? covers various life topics such as Music, Hobbies, Work, Technology, Beauty, Bodies, Exercise, Health and Diets, Holidays and Relationships. Miranda boldly shares her own life experiences (some of them are so outrageous, it makes you wonder if they truly happened!). As Miranda discusses these topics, she also offers alternative solutions if there was such a place as Miranda-land. For example, there will be no gyms in Miranda-land and every adult will be required to gallop in an art gallery. The narrative is often interrupted by the eighteen-year-old Miranda who is either in shock to discover that the older Miranda never got married and never had those children, or seeks the older Miranda’s advice on different matters of life.

 

I found the book entertaining, light-hearted and ‘tell-me-about’ type. It finds a common ground with the reader and one can identify with many points Miranda discusses. In the book blurb, Miranda expresses her wish for a much desired manual to life. So, here is her attempt at making one – a Miran-ual.

 

So, I don’t know about the audiobook, but Is It Just Me? was quite enjoyable to read. Such fun!

Child 44 (Leo Demidov,  #1) - Tom Rob Smith

You are thinking about reading Child 44 .. in that case, Welcome to the State-sanctioned paranoia! :)

 

First of all, if you think that Child 44 is a Cold War thriller – as one of the reviews on the book cover suggests – it’s not. Child 44 is a historical crime fiction, with a very strong emphasis on the fiction. As the author acknowledges in his own book Acknowledgments, “any liberties with the truth or historical inaccuracies in my novel are purely my own doing” (p. 472). And, dear oh dear, did he take those liberties! Tom Rob Smith sets the scene in 1952, uses the chaos and fear of the Great Purge of 1930s, and yet the book itself was inspired by the murders that were committed in 1970s. In the first few chapters, I found it slightly confusing at times as to what era Smith was trying to describe.

 

So, if you are thinking about reading serious stuff about the Soviet Russia and the awful shit that happened under the Stalin’s regime, I am sure there are many authors out there who offer their more educated opinions on the matter. Solzhenitsyn, anyone?

 

Having established that Child 44 must not be read as a history book, I will admit that it is the first book I’ve read up to date that comes close to portraying the Big Brother paranoia of 1984 (George Orwell). The language style is clean and fast-paced, it leaves you gasping for air as the scenes move quickly by. The storyline holds your attention well. It has a tunnel vision, makes you feel claustrophobic and constantly checking if anyone’s watching over your shoulder. There are a couple of plot twists when even I exclaimed, ‘Now, I did not expect that!’ One thing that I did not appreciate as much is Smith using characters’ thoughts to communicate with his reader how much HE himself hates the Soviet regime. In the paragraphs, where he goes on and on about the awfulness of the system, at times the reading becomes uncomfortable as it would be if you happen to read a hate entry in the diary of an adolescent boy whose love was rejected.

 

Overall, I liked it. And I will say to you, dear reader, ‘Go on, give it a go’.

 

Here’s a quick summary: Leo Demidov is a war hero and a successful MGB (secret police) officer. However, his reputation comes to question when he is ordered to investigate his wife as the potential enemy of the state. Having seen how interrogations are conducted, he begins to question the reliability of the procedure. Meanwhile, more and more cases are beginning to draw his attention where children are found dead in similar circumstances. Could they be coincidences? There is no such thing as ‘murder’ in the perfect state. However, Demidov finds his ideals and his life falling apart when he chooses to do what is right.

 

Child 44 is followed by the second instalment titled The Secret Speech.

 

Happy reading! The Big Brother is watching.

Divergent  - Veronica Roth

Now, oh dear, where to start on this review. I love any story post-apocalyptic. There is something redemptive reading about the humankind having a second chance at life. I like 1984 (by George Orwell), the classic that gave birth to this genre. I even enjoyed The Hunger Games, the modern take of it. However, with all the hype surrounding the Divergent book series and film franchise, it is wanting and barely scratches the surface of the potential that the plot possesses.

 

The stylistics of the book is very basic. I had to keep reminding myself that the book is written for teenagers. But then as teenagers we read heavy duty Russian and French classics with complex texts and concepts. I didn’t feel that the author even tried to use a more serious writing style to convey the story and give it a bit of weight. One of the annoying things authors can do to their readers is to keep asking questions in the text. Veronica Roth does it in every single paragraph. There is a point where I though I was reading a quiz book (see my sample of question nuisance in the paragraph below).

 

So, what’s Divergent like and what is the story about? Well, Divergent is a mixture of great stories that have done well for themselves. There is no solid background, no depth of conviction nor its own identity to the storyline. For the first two hundred pages, you cannot help but muse that you are reading a fusion of Harry Potter and The Hunger Games. Here is why: The story is set in Chicago. Actually, if it wasn’t for the film, there is no indication in the book where the story takes place. There was a war (what war? what happened? who fought? who won?). So to avoid another war (who with? who is the enemy?) people divided themselves into five factions (why five only?): Abnegation (The Selfless), Amity (The Peaceful), Candor (The Honest), Dauntless (The Brave), Erudite (The Intelligent). There is an outcast group of people present in this utopian society. They are called Factionless. It is made of people who were not chosen by the Sorting Hat.. sorry, I mean failed their initiation process.

 

Beatrice Prior is at the age when she has to choose whether she stays with her family in the Abnegation faction, or adopts another faction that is close to her heart, Dauntless. Her aptitude tests were inconclusive, i.e. she has natural ability for three factions instead of one. The test proctor warns her not to tell anyone as this result indicates she is ‘Divergent’ and, therefore, a threat to the society. Eventually, Beatrice chooses Dauntless as her new faction and her life takes a new route.

 

Part Two: for the next two hundred pages cue in the Matrix theme. Part of the Dauntless’ training is confronting your fears. The initiates are hooked up to a computer to enter a simulation programme that will help you deal with fears. Sounds familiar? “Tank? Load us up!” And, no, there is no woman in the red dress.

 

During her initiation training with Dauntless, Beatrice (now ‘Tris) is taunted by the sadistic young leader, bullied by fellow initiates and befriends her trainer, Four (yes, that’s his nickname) who plays an important part in the series. Tris soon discovers evil plans of an Erudite leader and sets her mind to undo them, even though it means putting her life at risk.

 

Having noticed weaknesses in the plot and its stylistics, I must give credit to the book for addressing the issues that many young adults struggle with: bullying, negative authority, stereotyping and suicide.

 

As I mentioned, the plot has so much potential, but it is not explored in depth. I give generous 3* for the potential, effort to address adolescent issues through fiction and the level of light entertainment.

Currently reading

Things A Bright Girl Can Do
Sally Nicholls
Brideshead Revisited (TV Tie In)
Evelyn Waugh
Progress: 36/394pages