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hanne

Hanne, reading on Cloud 9

Avid book reader. Lover of fantasy, contemporary fiction, short stories and non-fiction. This blog is a work in progress - and it will likely always be that way.

Review: Allegiant

Allegiant  - Veronica Roth

And just like that a promising series ends with a … pooofff.
To give her some credit: I actually liked the general theme that our genetic make-up doesn’t make us any better than others. It’s a nice message to give to our young adults in a world where things like skin colour are still playing a role, when it really really shouldn’t.

But the delivery? It leaves a lot to answer for.
First of all, how a sixteen year old is so clear-headedly dealing with all of this is beyond me. Even a highly trained, ever so slightly messed-up CIA agent like my dear Carrie Mathisson (Homeland y’all?) wouldn’t be able to deal with it this quickly. The whole things moves with the speed of light against a brick wall – it’s all utterly unbelievable, and leaves a pretty big mess behind.

The changing point of views is enormously confusing: she swaps between Tris and Four talking in first person, but both actually sound exactly the same. Must be weird, being a relationship with someone who thinks and observes the same way as you do. I get that she needed two characters to tell this story, but Tris and clone-Tris-aka-Four don’t really work here.

Then: holes in the plot. Big ones (and I won't even start about why there was a closed-off city in the first place, which is probably the biggest and most questionable hole. Which reminds me, does Veronica Roth know how genetics work? Little hint: inbreeding usually doesn't improve matters).
So how do you avoid people doing bad things to your people? Easy, just do the same thing to them. Very ethical, and really, it’s all properly done – let’s cheer for our brilliant group of world changers. Get a little stuck with your overall plot lines? Easy, just grab something from the dystopian deus-ex-machine destruction tool box! Sounds unrealistic? Who cares – she’s the evil villain anyway. Oh wait, let’s soften our evil villain a bit with some fairy dust. And, *pom pom pom* - how will we end this book? Let’s do something fluffy, really fluffy.

I don’t know what happened here. Was the book pushed forward too much, to make sure the hype wouldn’t go down before it was out? Didn’t they care anymore because whatever they did it was going to sell? Did she just write herself in a corner? I’m not sure, I’m way too frustrated to even think about this properly and write it all down.

Review: A Little History of Literature

A Little History of Literature - John Sutherland

For a while now I’ve been on the hunt for a book to refresh and feed my knowledge on the history of literature. I’ve been taught this obviously in school, but that’s a long time ago. So far, nothing quite delivered. Either it was too vague and superficial to teach me anything new, or it was way too detailed and felt like something I would actually have to study.
This book balances very nicely in between the two: I felt it gave me all the information I wanted to, without leaving me exhausted or with a head-ache.

The scope of the book is quite good: it takes you from ancient myths and dramas, to medieval tales, all the way to current literature. In general, it is rather focused on Anglo-Saxon literature, but still covers the great French Fin de Siècle authors like Baudelaire and Proust, and the Latin-American magical realists like Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

The passion and knowledge of the author on this topic is very obvious. As a child, I had a music teacher who at the end of every ‘official’ course, talked about one of the great composers, a titbit of their life and how it impacted their work. That’s how this book reads: like the last part of the lecture, done spontaneously and effortlessly and I bet all the students are on the edge of their seat. He shares the important context of the book, like the time it was written or some background on the author and how that influenced the book itself.
The chapter on the Brönte sisters for instance was absolutely terrific. You feel that pinch of sadness that they hardly sold a book in their lifetime (not to mention everything else that happened in that family), but you also learn why Anne Brönte was able to describe the effects of alcoholism so accurately.

You wouldn’t believe the amount of notes I took while reading this book: I wrote down authors, titles, background, interesting things to consider when reading something else next time. Books I have to re-read now that I’ve gained a glance from behind the curtain.

This is an excellent starting point for anyone who wants to brush up on their knowledge of literature.

 

Disclaimer: This book has been provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Degrees of Nakedness

Degrees of Nakedness: Stories - Lisa Moore

This is a peculiar collection of short-stories. Gorgeously written, but tough to crack, but I think I stumbled on a decoding clue that Lisa Moore hid in the very last story.

 

“I read,’ the haiku is like a finger pointing at the moon. It’s important that it’s not a bejewelled or perfect finger. It only points to something.’”

 

The description of that haiku sounded like how she wanted her stories to sound. These stories aren’t about the moon. It never is about perfect people doing a set of perfect things. It is about the pointing, the writing itself, the journey while reading, rather than the end point.

 

Lisa Moore uses language like the painting grandmasters used their colours: there are some sentences you just want to capture and re-read a few times because the flow of the words, and the stunning image behind those sentences. Like ‘Houses digging their heels into the hill to stop from tumbling into the harbour’.

 

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Atonement, by Ian McEwan

Atonement - Ian McEwan

I have never read a book that captures guilt and consequences so brilliantly, and heartbreakingly at the same time. It’s absolutely gorgeous. And just in case you’ve seen the movie and think you’re all set: the movie is good, but the book is so much better yet.

Briony, the lead character, is a girl aged 13, very much living into her own head, authoring stories and plays. Her mother describes her fittingly: “[Briony] had vanished into an intact inner world of which writing was no more than the visible surface, the protective crust which even, or especially, a loving mother could not penetrate. Her daughter was always off and away in her mind, grappling with some unspoken, self-imposed problem, as though the weary, self-evident world could be re-invented by a child.”

There are many examples of that, most of them beautifully executed, but the scene with Briony flaying nettles when feeling utterly frustrated is one of the best. Here she is, destroying nettles, and all of a sudden that act becomes something grander, much more impressive than it is:

 

"No one in the world could do this better than Briony Tallis who would be representing her country next year at the Berlin Olympics and was certain to win the gold. People studied her closely and marveled at her technique, her preference for bare feet because it improved her balance—so important in this demanding sport—with every toe playing its part; the manner in which she led with the wrist and snapped the hand round only at the end of her stroke, the way she distributed her weight and used the rotation in her hips to gain extra power, her distinctive habit of extending the fingers of her free hand—no one came near her. Self-taught, the youngest daughter of a senior civil servant. Look at the concentration in her face, judging the angle, never fudging a shot, taking each nettle with inhuman precision. To reach this level required a lifetime’s dedication."



McEwan introduces the characters slowly and carefully, so we have very solid mental sculptures of who these people are before the story really unfolds. And then you hit chapter 13. Opening sentence: “Within the half hour Briony would commit her crime." The crime she’d spent the rest of her life trying to atone for.

 

"She would never be able to console herself that she was pressured or bullied. She never was. She trapped herself, she marched into the labyrinth of her own construction, and was too young, too awestruck, too keen to please, to insist on making her own way back.”

 


Because McEwan build his characters so well before going to the main action, what follows is utterly believable, and gut wrenching at the same time. This is no feel-good book, but it shows how powerful fiction can be. I’m absolutely kicking myself for having bought this book years ago, and leaving it unread on my shelves. It deserved so much more.

Challenge Day 16 - Favourite female character

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone  - J.K. Rowling

There is no doubt about this one, and yes self-projection is in order here: it's Hermione Granger!

 

She had bushy hair as a young teenager - so did I.

She spends her time doing background research, reading books and trying to somehow keep the guys in line - so did I

She's bossy - I've been known as Mrs Bossy

She's smart - I'm not stupid either

 

She got a ticket to Platform 9 3/4 - though sadly, I never did.

Challenge Day 15 - Favourite male character

Pawn of Prophecy  - David Eddings

Favourite men in my books, there are quite a few options here! Robin Hobb's Fitz came to mind spontaneously, especially as I just finished the Tawny Man trilogy yesterday.

 

But I think I have to go with one of my all-time crushes since age 14 when I first read  David Eddings: it's Garion. I even contemplated naming the son-i-potentially-ever-could-get Garion. I know, i know, that's silly, but unless someone stops me it might actually still happen. As a second name or something - i'll just have to get creative. :)

Challenge Day 14 - Book turned movie and completely desecrated

Falling - Anne Provoost

There are a few here, but one that particularly stands out: Falling (or in the orginal Dutch version: Vallen) by Anne Provoost.

 

The book: marvelous, painful, you can feel that the character has to choose between evil and evillest, he does not have a choice, but gets burned by that choice afterwards anyway.

 

The movie: disaster. The main character became a sad, pathetic person. The other character a mean bitch. And all the wonderful atmosphere of the book disappeared. Plus while building the set and scouting for locations, they didn't even try to stay in the spirit of the book. I imagined it all very different.

 

And that's exactly why I'm always hesitant to read the book before the movie - if I'm planning to look at both. Like now with Atonement, I saw the movie first, so while reading the book I have the images of the movie and I find that a less disturbing order of things

Challenge Day 13 - Favourite writer

The Love Object: Selected Stories of Edna O'Brien - Edna O'Brien Too Much Happiness - Alice Munro Mad Hope - Heather Birrell Best Served Cold - Joe Abercrombie Kingkiller Chronicle: The Wise Man's Fear - Patrick Rothfuss Love in the Time of Cholera - Edith Grossman, Gabriel García Márquez

I'm ridiculously behind here! (I'm sure that means I lost the challenge, but I'll continue anyway). This though is the question I dread the most. Whenever people discover you love reading they ask you about your favourite author, or favourite book.

 

As if it's humanly possible to pick one!

 

I cannot, I simply cannot. I have a dozen or so, and depending on my mood or what book I just read that might change. Some of them become a favourite author after one book, though I know that some people think you have to read the entire oeuvre before you can consider them favourite.

So i'm not answering this question as it is, and I will just talk about some fabulous writers.

 

When it comes to short stories, Alice Munro (duh!) and Edna O'Brien are still the people who have the ability to mesmerize me as of the first sentence. I still have a huge tbr-pile for both though. I also enjoyed stories by Heather Birrell or Karen Russell.

 

Contemporary fiction in general. All time favourites are Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Milan Kundera, though it's been a while since i (re)read their books.

In the world of fantasy, I adore Joe Abercrombie, I still have large weakness for David Eddings and I have tremendous respect for Robin Hobb. But the book I'm currently treasuring the most is my next Patrick Rothfuss - which i keep postponing, just like you might wait to finish that last piece of pie.

All my friends are Superheroes, by Andrew Kaufman

All My Friends Are Superheroes: Tenth Anniversary Edition - Andrew Kaufman

If you’re ever nostalgic for bedtime stories, the ones that made you float to another world that was both sweet and sad but made you smile all the same, than this is the book for you. Reading this book felt like spending time with some of the best books of my childhood, but then the adult version.

The story is about Tom, a regular non-superhero, who married a superhero (‘The Perfectionist’). On their wedding day however, a mean ex-lover of hers who has the power of Hypnotization made sure that he would no longer be visible to his wife. She thinks Tom has disappeared, and for six months Tom has been trying to undo the damage, but time is running out when she decides to move away and start life anew somewhere else.

What makes this story so brilliant is that there are so many layers to it. You can chose to which depth you want to read the book. You can just read the story for what it is, and enjoy it. But given the way it’s written, it’s not very hard to go a level deeper and realize that being unique is just one small step away from being a superhero – it all depends on your definition.
Although it’s interesting to note that we might look at others and realize they have some superhero-skills, we keep seeing ourselves as ‘a regular’.

There are some special superpowers but most of them sound quite everyday. I had a good laugh though with many of them. I thought Andrew Kaufman got very creative and witty with these, being very imaginative but still describing them in such a way that they are utterly recognizable and so very, very human.

‘Mr.Late’ is always late, but something of great importance will happen to you while you’re waiting for him. It is however still extremely annoying.”
‘The Jumper’ has jumped aboard, ahead and to conclusions. He’s jumped into love and out of the frying pan.
‘Someday’ has red hair, a compact frame and two superheroes: an amazing ability to think big and an unlimited capacity to procrastinate.


Another theme is the Power of Love, and what it in the end can pull of, no matter what the odds and obstacles are. Or how perfect it is, because she’s called the Perfectionist, not so much because of her perfectionism (though she is that too, she even gets frustrated for not being able to organize snow), but because she has the uncanny ability to make things perfect for him (On cue: 3…2…1… Awwwww).

Challenge Day 12 - Book that you love and hate at the same time

Sookie Stackhouse 8 Volume Set - Charlaine Harris

Sookie Stackhouse....

I really liked the first few books: Sookie was witty and clever and I loved the storylines and the characters. I devoured those first few books. But then somewhere after book 4, the level went down with every book and i heavily disliked the latest books.

 

And yet, I read all of them. Every single one, even after I stopped liking them. I just had to know how it would end - even though I suspected I wouldn't like the end.

 

If there is one thing i cannot forgive an author, it's character-suicide. Especially if you spent 12 books building the characters so carefully.

 

Shame on you, Charlaine Harris, shame on you.

Challenge Day 11 - A book you hated

Baudolino - Umberto Eco, R.C.S. Libri, William Weaver

Ooooo Mr Eco, always trying to be smart and complex; always showing off your encyclopedian knowledge of history and philisophy. I liked you well enough in 'The Name of the Rose', but I couldn't stand you in 'Baudolino'.

 

Never has an author made me feel so stupid, unknowledgeable and insignificant. As if someone who doesn't know everything you know, isn't worthy of walking the planet and reading your books. As if you know everything you wrote about by heart! You probably had to look it up, so please give your reader some help.

 

Trying to get through the first 100 pages was like the most complex history exam I ever had.

And I did not enjoy it.

Challenge Day 10 - A book that reminds you of home

The Silent Shore (Sisters of the Quantock Hills) - Ruth Elwin Harris

The silent shore is the first book of a family quartet, by Ruth Elwin Harris. The first book is told by Sarah, the youngest of four sisters, the other books are always told by one of the other sisters.

 

I read these first as a young teenager and i loved them. I always felt I could connect with Sarah, probably because i'm the youngest at home too, and I thought that Harris did a brilliant job of making that 'youngest kid' feel very tangible. The unfairness, the joy when you got to stay up late, the things you just don't understand yet which make you an outsider.

But then, she wrote the oldest sister feel brilliantly too though in book #2, so I'm not sure which sister Harris is in real life, but whatever she is, she has the empathy to imagine both very well.

 

Book 3 was just ok, and unfortunately book 4 bored me to death - but I read the first two books a bizillion time. Very often in winter, in the sofa in front of the hearth.

 

Cosy, and very homely!

Alice Munro!

Too Much Happiness - Alice Munro The Moons of Jupiter - Alice Munro The Beggar Maid - Alice Munro

Just got back home from a long long day, and this is on the cover of the online paper: Alice Munro getting the Nobel Price for Literature - I'm ecstatic !!

 

 

Day 9 - A book you thought you wouldn't like but ended up loving

Lonesome Dove - Larry McMurtry

I just got active in to reading groups, and they chose Lonesome Dove so I read along. I had no idea what to expect, and not being a fan of Westerns in general I kind of expected myself to read 200 pages of this monster and call it quits.

 

But i didn't. I loved it. Every page of it.

This book is a classic, and i can only hope that 50 years from now people will still be reading it.

 

It's so good I refuse to read the sequels of this book. There's just no way they'll ever be as good and I don't want the experience ruined.

Challenge Day 8 - Most overrated book

The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald

I could just never get the hang of this one. I tried, more than once, but I can't.

 

And yet I know that many of the things why I dislike the book are probably exactly what's supposed to make this book great. The completely disconnected, passive narrator who is utterly blinded by adoration.

 

The story could just as well be told by the oak tree next to the pool. One that is mesmerized by Gatsby though. It takes one very special oak tree to pull that one off.

Eight motivational challenges, by Heidi Grant Halvorson

The 8 Motivational Challenges - Heidi Grant Halvorson

This is a 50 page introduction to the topic of motivation. Its size is a bit peculiar: 50 pages is remarkably short to go in depth, and yet remarkably long for those who might need info on this topic but don’t like to read.

Generally speaking there are many elements in the book that I liked. There were things I recognized and that got me thinking about my own and others’ behaviours, both when I am highly motivated and what changed when I am not.
It’s very true that people cannot be motivated the same way, and that there’s no one-size-fits-all. I thought her division in Be-Good versus Get-Better and Promotional versus Prevention focus was spot-on, and it was interesting to look at others with that mindset.

And yet there were a few things that baffled me a bit: some structural things, like having an explanation about 8 different profiles and a prognosis where most of the profiles are called ‘disastrous’ or ‘problematic’. At that point there is no advice on how to motivate them. That only comes afterwards.
The content is there so it’s not a major problem, but while reading I actually started wondering why the subtitle reads ‘A Short Guide to Lighting a Fire Under Anyone’ when the majority of profiles are considered disastrous and problematic and it looked like she wouldn’t tackle them at all for that particular reason.

Secondly, with some of the language used, I also felt that this book was very focused on motivating others, and not really yourself. I doubt most of us want to think about ourselves as underperformers, problematic or a stick-in the-mud (no matter how accurate that perhaps might be).

Net, for a short guide this was an interesting introduction – Heidi Grant Halvorson got me thinking about this topic and she created interest to check out her other work. But unfortunately, it wasn’t a home run either. It was ok, but it wasn't what I had expected.