Monday, 26 April 2010

Book #28

Petite Anglaise by Catherine Sanderson

Living in Paris with her partner, the workaholic Mr Frog, and their adorable toddler, Tadpole, Catherine decides to alleviate the boredom of her metro-boulot-dodo routine by starting a blog under the name of Petite Anglaise. Writing with disarming honesty about Paris life, about the confines of her hollow relationship with Mr Frog and about the wonder and pain that comes with being a mother, she finds a new purpose to her day. As Petite Anglaise, Catherine regains her confidence and makes virtual friends, including one charismatic and single Englishman who lives in Brittany, James. And after meeting James one evening in a bar, Catherine feels she has regained her ability to fall in love, too.

This was okay, quite a bit better than I had expected it to be. It was obvious almost immediately that it was complete chick-lit, and although this isn't normally my cup of tea, I was okay with this as I was in need of something a bit light-hearted after drenching a complete box of tissues at the end of The Book Thief.

Apparently, Petite Anglaise is quite a popular blogger. I had never heard of her, and had in fact thought the book was fiction until I started to get properly into it. I've now had a look at her site, added it to bookmarks, but only managed to get through one entry before hitting Escape. I may go back to it, who knows.

My favourite part of the book was most definitely the setting. Paris, La Ville-Lumière, was my home in 2008 and I miss it quite a bit. The descriptions of the streets, the views and the landmarks that the novel gave me were gorgeous and brought back some lovely memories. Sanderson's descriptions of the beginning of her life in Paris, and her love affair with the city that turned into more of an infatuation, were so akin to my own experiences of Paris that I had to love her.

My love of Sanderson, and her words however, quickly faltered as soon as she began to detail her life, rather than her surroundings. Not only is her writing far emptier when writing about the ins and outs of her life, I began to despise her as a character due to the choices she was making, and the subsequent reasons she gave for these. These led me to take her for a selfish idiot, vowing to myself that I'd never be as ridiculous as she, throwing major things in her life away in order to focus on fleeting, unimportant things such as pathetic lovers.

I wished that Tadpole, Sanderson's daughter, had featured more in the book. The entries about her cute little actions and comments are what made me read on, I wanted to know what was going to happen to this lovely little girl's life after her self-indulgent mother had turned the poor thing's world upside down for the purpose of an illicit romp with a guy she met on the internet.

I'd recommend the book to people who have visited Paris a few times, or lived there like myself, as the descriptions of the city truly are well thought out and gorgeous. However, the rest of the story completely infuriated me, and I'm not even a person who is particularly moralistic. Don't read it if you like to be in sympathy with the narrator. She is a complete loon.

28 / 66 books. 42% done!

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Book #27

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

HERE IS A SMALL FACT - YOU ARE GOING TO DIE. 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier. Liesel, a nine-year-old girl, is living with a foster family on Himmel Street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall. SOME IMPORTANT INFORMATION - THIS NOVEL IS NARRATED BY DEATH. It's a small story, about: a girl, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. ANOTHER THING YOU SHOULD KNOW - DEATH WILL VISIT THE BOOK THIEF THREE TIMES

This was absolutely extraordinary. I've only just read the last page a couple of seconds ago, and my face is still streaked with tears. I've never read anything that could evoke so much emotion in me. It is such a treasure.

I absolutely devoured this book. It was a good 550 pages, and I soared through it in a couple of days. There would be times when I wouldn't stop reading for hours and I'd end up shocked at how many pages I had gotten through.

As with all of my favourite books (and this has definitely been promoted to one of my favourites), I feel slightly strange writing reviews, as I always feel I can never quite put into words just how remarkable they really are. I'll try my best here.

The plot is so, so strong. There must be thousands of books written about World War Two, the holocaust and Hitler, but this one really is something else, something different. The writing is incredibly lyrical and almost poetic. The way it moved me has revealed Zusak to be a genius in my eyes, I feel he's accomplished a true work of art.

The book has every reason to be dark and morbid, but it somehow dances away from labels like these. There's humour, there's the glorious descriptions, and best of all, there are the characters. I cannot think of many characters that I have fallen in love with as much as I fell for Liesel and her papa, not to mention Rudy, Rosa, and the whole damn lot of them. I've read many a book where the author has concentrated fully on one or two main characters, and has left the remaining minor characters to dissolve into the background, lessening their importance and depth by doing so. All of Zusak's characters here, however, are round and interesting. This was wonderful, everyone was strikingly believable and I adored every single one of them.

My favourite thing about the book was that it was essentially about the power of words and language, touching on the idea that Hitler's power was derived solely from his use of language. The way the book was written fit perfectly into this theme, with the language constantly evoking some kind of emotion from me as I read.

Zusak has done a remarkable job here in keeping the memory of the holocaust alive, and I believe it was Elie Wiesel who said that, "anyone who does not remember betrays them again."

It's beautiful and painful all at once, it's tragic and wonderful, and I want everyone I know to have read it.

(As a small aside here, I'd like to note that this book was given to me anonymously by someone who believed I would love it. I did, I do, and it was a wonderful gift. If you're reading this, thank you so much for opening my eyes to this, you have made me very happy)

27 / 66 books. 41% done!

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Book #26

Ring by Koji Suzuki

Asakawa is a hardworking journalist who has climbed his way up from local-news beat reporter to writer for his newspaper's weekly magazine. A chronic workaholic, he doesn't take much notice when his seventeen-year-old niece dies suddenly -- until a chance conversation reveals that another healthy teenager died at exactly the same time, in chillingly similar circumstances. Sensing a story, Asakawa begins to investigate, and soon discovers that this strange simultaneous sudden-death syndrome also affected another two teenagers. Exactly one week before their mysterious deaths the four teenagers all spent the night at a leisure resort in the same log cabin. When Asakawa visits the resort, the mystery only deepens. A comment made in the guest book by one of the teenagers leads him to a particular vidoetape. When he watches it, instead of a movie he finds an odd collection of disparate images with a portentous message at the end: Those who have viewed these images are fated to die at this exact hour one week from now. Asakawa finds himself in a race against time -- he has only seven days to find the cause of the teenagers' deaths before it finds him. The hunt puts him on the trail of an apocalytpic power that will force Asakawa to choose between saving his family and saving civilization.

I really enjoyed this, and I think this was a lot to do with the fact that it differed greatly from the film (the Hollywood version, at least, I've never seen the Japanese one). In the film it's a female reporter who does all the investigating into the videotape, but in the book the protagonist is male. Many things are the same or similar, but I definitely preferred the book overall. It seems to me that the film was hugely overdramatised for cinema audiences, but that's irrelevant here.

It's not as scary as the film is. It reads more like a mystery novel than a horror, so if you're looking to be scared then you'll be disappointed. It's interesting to see where the idea for the film came from, though, and it is creepy in places.

The description of the videotape was my favourite part of the novel. Although I can't remember much of how it appeared in the film, this tape seemed creepier and a lot more melancholy than anything that cropped up in the film adaptation. It also gave a bit more depth to the story and provided the reader with a bit more of an understanding of the reasoning to everything happening in the way it did. It was also exciting to read the description of the scenes shown on the tape, knowing nothing of why they were there, or their meanings, and then throughout the pages of the novel being given a slow understanding of the tape's motives.

The book was extremely atmospheric and sinister. I found myself with a horrible feeling of dread every time I sat down to read it, and the suspense was absolutely electric. Suzuki's writing was wonderful and I'm already seeking out another of his novels to buy. Since this is a trilogy, I'm going to look into getting the second in the series.

I really enjoyed it overall, and I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys a bit of mystery, or even supernatural reads. It's a good one to read if you've seen the film, but I imagine it'd be even better if you hadn't.

26 / 66 books. 39% done!

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Book #25

The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld

THE INTERPRETATION OF MURDER is an inventive tour de force inspired by Sigmund Freud's 1909 visit to America, accompanied by protégé and rival Carl Jung. When a wealthy young debutante is discovered bound, whipped and strangled in a luxurious apartment overlooking the city, and another society beauty narrowly escapes the same fate, the mayor of New York calls upon Freud to use his revolutionary new ideas to help the surviving victim recover her memory of the attack, and solve the crime. But nothing about the attacks - or about the surviving victim, Nora - is quite as it seems. And there are those in very high places determined to stop the truth coming out, and Freud's startling theories taking root on American soil.

I wanted to read this book originally because it was a work of fiction based on real events. Although some of the characters are real historical figures, the story is entirely Rubenfeld's creation. I had never read anything similar to this before, so I decided to give it a bash.

I mostly enjoyed the plot. There were a great deal of things going on all at once and I appreciate calamity like this in novels, but because of this very reason I feel that a lot of these threads weren't properly tied up at the end, and I was left feeling quite disappointed in this.

There wasn't a great deal of character background provided, and where there was, it was quite sparse. We learn that a main character's father has killed himself in the past, but are given no more information on the subject at all.

The book was extremely well-researched in order to be historically accurate, but it seems to me that Rubenfeld has concentrated mainly on this, rather than other aspects, such as giving his characters some more meat on their bones. His author's note at the end goes into great detail about how much research he did and so on. I doubt anyone cares.

Due to Freud being an integral character, there was a great deal of psychology dialogue throughout the novel. Although it was interesting in places, the majority of the time it became incredibly tedious. I am a massive fan of Shakespeare, but the lengthy analyses of Hamlet and his Oedipus complex tired me too, and I felt the length to which Rubenfeld details this was slightly extreme.

I enjoyed the mystery in the novel until it all went a bit Scooby Doo at the end, which ruined the whole thing for me. Those pesky kids!

I'd recommend it to anyone who is looking for a murder mystery, and particularly anyone who has an interest in psychology, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, but for anyone who is just looking for something brilliant to read, give it a miss.

25 / 66 books. 38% done!

Monday, 5 April 2010

Book #24

Air Mail: Letters From The World's Most Troublesome Passenger by Terry Ravenscroft

Terry Ravenscroft is the world's most eccentric air traveller. He is the only man who has ever wanted to buy aeroplane lasagne for his personal consumption; been concerned about the likelihood of being sucked out of the window of an aircraft; lost sleep over the meaning of the name 'Aer Lingus'; or wanted to enjoy his flight with his inflatable rubber woman on his knee. "Air Mail" is a comic anthology of letters that demonstrates how one man bamboozled and exasperated over forty international airlines, from British Airways to Air Malta.

This was terrible, and failed to amuse me.

Many of the letters seemed far too fantastical to believe that they had actually been sent and replied to. Ravenscroft tried too hard to be hilarious, and failed miserably to get even a tiny smile from me.

Also, I'm not sure if I'm being a bit of a prude here, but I found some of the letters to be quite racist and patronising. I understand it was all in jest, but surely there are better ways to incite laughter in someone than to mock their mistakes when using a language that isn't their mother tongue?

I had planned to read another of Ravenscroft's letter-based novels, but have decided against it. Please avoid him at all costs if you value your time.

24 / 66 books. 36% done!

Book #23

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Orphaned Jane Eyre grows up in the home of her heartless aunt, where she endures loneliness and cruelty, and at a charity school with a harsh regime. This troubled childhood strengthens Jane’s natural independence and spirit - which prove necessary when she finds a position as governess at Thornfield Hall. But when she finds love with her sardonic employer, Rochester, the discovery of his terrible secret forces her to make a choice. Should she stay with him and live with the consequences, or follow her convictions, even if it means leaving the man she loves?

This book has just surpassed Wuthering Heights in the My Favourite Book list of my mind. It's beautiful throughout, and deserves every single piece of praise it's received over the years. I almost think that by writing a review of the novel would be somehow belittling Brontë's obvious masterpiece, so I'll try my best to make this a fitting tribute.

It's certainly not an easy book to read, but it is one which will make you feel somewhat enlightened when reflecting upon it. This surprised me as I hold a general sort of contempt for romance novels and love stories, but this has to be one of the truest love stories ever written. There is so much more to it than just love and romance, though. Jane is the type of person who will continually do the right thing, rather than the thing she'd most like to do. You find yourself wondering why she enables herself to suffer so terribly, but soon realise that all of it had a purpose, which was to shape her into the person she was in the end.

Mr. Rochester was a favourite here too. He gave the novel a kind of Beauty and the Beast feel to it, with Jane being the innocent, loving, plain and ordinary girl, and Rochester being the dark, scarred, insanely flawed fiend.

I find a lot of classic novels to be quite linear, but this had so many twists, and I loved each of them! The mysteries within these pages were elegant and exciting.

I feel like I'm not reviewing this as properly as I could, I can't seem to get all of my thoughts and feelings about the book into proper sentences, but it is now definitely in my top five, and Jane now has the place of favourite heroine in my mind's eye.

23 / 66 books. 35% done!