Sunday, April 15, 2018

April Mid-month Wrap-up

Hello! It's the middle of April and I already read 7 books! Well, two of them are graphic novels but I still counted them as books. So again, I decided to split this month's wrap up in two to make shorter posts. Here are the books I read so far in April:

The Professor is Charlotte Brontës first novel, in which she audaciously inhabits the voice and consciousness of a man, William Crimsworth. Like Jane Eyre he is parentless; like Lucy Snowe in Villette he leaves the certainties of England to forge a life in Brussels. But as a man, William has freedom of action, and as a writer Brontë is correspondingly liberated, exploring the relationship between power and sexual desire.*

In February, I read Shirley and totally loved it, so I couldn't wait to pick up another book by Charlotte Brontë. This was the only one of her 4 novels that I hadn't read. It was published posthumously but was actually written before the other ones, so the writing is not as great as in her other works. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed this a lot. It was interesting to see her write from the perspective of a man. Some of the thoughts of the main character make him not very likable and the romance doesn't feel that real, so I only gave it 3.5 stars. I rounded it up to 4 stars on Goodreads because it's one of my favorite authors after all. I listened to this one as an audiobook, even though I have the physical copy as well.

Lina is just like any other fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl in 1941. She paints, she draws, she gets crushes on boys. Until one night when Soviet officers barge into her home, tearing her family from the comfortable life they've known. Separated from her father, forced onto a crowded and dirty train car, Lina, her mother, and her young brother slowly make their way north, crossing the Arctic Circle, to a work camp in the coldest reaches of Siberia. Here they are forced, under Stalin's orders, to dig for beets and fight for their lives under the cruelest of conditions.*

This is a highly rated book that I didn't love as other people did. This is a heartbreaking story written very realistically, even brutally I would say. It's a very important book because it teaches people about the Soviet deportations following Western territory annexations during WWII. The fact that it is written as a YA novel is even more important, because it reaches people that would otherwise never find out about these events. I have read many reviews from people that mentioned that it was the first time they heard about what is described in this book. However, I didn't like the writing at all. I realize that YA novels are written in a simpler way but I have read many YA books that are beautifully written. This was just too simple and too distant, which prevented me from attaching to the characters. Even though the events described were extremely painful, I didn't feel too depressed or sad while reading. This could have been a tearjerker but ended up being a 3 star read for me.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

First published in 1939, Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize winning epic of the Great Depression chronicles the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930s and tells the story of one Oklahoma farm family, the Joads, driven from their homestead and forced to travel west to the promised land of California. Out of their trials and their repeated collisions against the hard realities of an America divided into haves and have-nots evolves a drama that is intensely human yet majestic in its scale and moral vision, elemental yet plainspoken, tragic but ultimately stirring in its human dignity.*

The first reread of the year! I'm a huge huge fan of Steinbeck's books and have read pretty much every novel he has written. It's been quite a few years since I've read this masterpiece, so it was time for a reread and this time in English since the first time I read it translated in Romanian. It was a little hard for me because the dialog is in dialect and there were words I've never heard before, but I looked them up so it wasn't too bad. This took me about a week to read because it is a big book, but also because it must be enjoyed in small sips. It is quite an atmospheric read. As Steinbeck said:  "I've done my damnedest to rip a reader's nerves to rags." And he surely did! 5 shiny stars from me!

Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down.*

Another book that everybody loved and I didn't. This was also the winner of last year's Goodreads awards in the fiction category so there must be something wrong with me because I don't understand why. There was nothing special about this book. It was easy to read, with a woven plot that seemed to perfectly adjust itself. Some of the coincidences in the book were almost ridiculous. I can't go too much into detail about the plot because it's sort of a mystery that unfolds itself as you read it. Some of the characters were ok, but I didn't see too much evolution in them. For me Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine  was so much better than this one. I plan on reading a few others from that category as well so we'll see what I think about those. I gave this one 3 stars.

Not in the picture:

Lady Mechanika, Vol.1: The Mystery of the Mechanical Corpse by Joe Benítez

The tabloids dubbed her "Lady Mechanika," the sole survivor of a mad scientist's horrific experiments which left her with mechanical limbs. Having no memory of her captivity or her former life, Lady Mechanika eventually built a new life for herself as an adventurer and private investigator, using her unique abilities to solve cases the proper authorities couldn't or wouldn't handle. But she never stopped searching for the answers to her own past. *

This is a very obscure graphic novel that I came across randomly on YouTube. The steampunk setting intrigued me and the graphics seemed gorgeous so I gave it a try. Since I'm new to graphic novels and comics in general, I don't have any experience with superhero ones but this one seems to be a very unusual one. It's really dark and mysterious, so I love it very much. I can't get enough of the amazing images in this comic! The plot is not bad either and I can't wait to read other stories because there are a bunch of volumes out at the moment and each one has a standalone plot. Did I mention this is steampunk with Victorian outfits and monsters? Definitely my cup of tea! I read it as an ebook and gave it 4 stars.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

It’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place. 
Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets. 

And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune—and remarkable power—to whoever can unlock them. *

With the movie being out at the end of last month, I had to read the book first because that's what I do if I'm interested enough. Again, many people love this book but I did not. It was an entertaining read and I can definitely admire the innovative aspect of it, unfortunately I got bored about half way through and found the second half quite predictable (including the ending). The world building part was amazing, which made me fly through the beginning of the book. I definitely liked the book so I gave it 3 stars. This was an ebook read. After seeing the movie I began to appreciate the book a bit more. I even debated on changing my rating to 4 stars but decided to leave it that way. They changed many things in the movie to make it more action packed and less geeky, things I loved in the book, and while I understand the reasons behind it, I felt a bit disappointed.

For the dark Titan, Thanos, the Infinity Gauntlet was the Holy Grail, the ultimate prize to be coveted above all else. Now, on the edge of Armageddon and led by the mysterious Adam Warlock, Earth's super heroes join in a desperate attempt to thwart this nihilistic god's insane plunge into galactic self-destruction.*

The Infinity War movie is coming out at the end of this month, so I thought I would do something new, namely read the comic it was based on. I have seen many of the Marvel movies and I must say that the Avengers ones are my least favorite. The characters don't seem to be as complex and the back story isn't that interesting. That sort of happened with this comic as well. There are a ton of superheroes showing up here and it's really hard to keep track of all of them. My favorite part were the supreme beings that almost certainly won't show up in the movie. I enjoyed this but not quite as much as Lady Mechanika. It is an older comic though, so it's not as beautiful as the present day ones. This was an ebook and I gave it 3 (maybe 3.5) stars.

That's it for now. I'm not expecting the second half of April to be as prolific but I'm gonna do my best. Happy spring!

*Source: Goodreads

Saturday, March 31, 2018

March Final Wrap-up

Hello! It's the end of March and I'm really pleased to announce that this month I finished 15 books. 15! So that's 3 books more than I read in the first two months of the year combined. I don't know what happened to me this month but I was in a great reading mood. I am now over 50% done with my reading goal for this year after only 3 months. In the second part of the month, I continued with my challenge of only reading books written by women. I found it hard after a while, not because there aren't enough women authors on my tbr, but because I'm such a mood reader and don't really stick to my tbr. It was frustrating to not be able to pick up a book I really wanted to read just because it had a male author. So yeah, the challenge was fun, but I'm glad it's over. In this second part of March I discovered graphic novels, which contributed to the length of this list, because they are faster reads. There aren't many books pictured below because I read many ebooks and listened to a couple of audiobooks as well. Anyway, here are the rest of March's reads!

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Kell is one of the last Antari—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black. *

Oh, how I wanted to love this book! I was really excited to start reading it and set it aside for a weekend so I would have time to binge read it. Sadly, after reading almost 150 pages of it on a Saturday, I got bored, so bored that I had to take a mini break and read something else (Persepolis) for a day or so. This is not a bad book at all, it just wasn't for me. The writing is good and easy to follow, the details of the world are really interesting and stuff does happen in it. It isn't that long either, not like other fantasy books. However, the characters felt uninteresting to me and I was just not curious to find out what happened next. I also feel like most of the action is packed in the last 100 pages or so, with little stuff happening in the first parts of the book. I know a lot of people love this one so I'm glad I gave it a try. It's especially good for people that are new to fantasy because it's under 400 pages and it does have a YA vibe to it (new adult, maybe). I'm not sure if I will continue this series because some people say that this is the best one, although others seem to think that the next books are better. I gave this 3 stars.

The Lost Daughter by Elena Ferrante

Leda, a middle-aged divorce, is alone for the first time in years when her daughters leave home to live with their father. Her initial, unexpected sense of liberty turns to ferocious introspection following a seemingly trivial occurrence.*

Here's a quick read that comes from one of my favorite female writers. This short novel (novella?) is an earlier work of Ferrante's, published before the Neapolitan Novels and in it I can see some of the themes and stories she later developed in those brilliant books. It's basically a meditation, written in first person as her other novels, of a woman who ponders upon her condition as a mother and as an individual. I am not a mother myself, so I couldn't identify with her thoughts, but I can understand her feelings so I really liked this book. As with all of Ferrante's novels, the writing is amazing. It really brings you close to the character that is telling the story, you feel you know her deepest thoughts, even those she is trying to hide from the world. Now I can't wait to read the last of the Neapolitan Novels. I gave this one 4 stars.

 Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Marianne Dashwood wears her heart on her sleeve, and when she falls in love with the dashing but unsuitable John Willoughby she ignores her sister Elinor's warning that her impulsive behaviour leaves her open to gossip and innuendo. Meanwhile Elinor, always sensitive to social convention, is struggling to conceal her own romantic disappointment, even from those closest to her. Through their parallel experience of love—and its threatened loss—the sisters learn that sense must mix with sensibility if they are to find personal happiness in a society where status and money govern the rules of love.*

A few years ago I decided to read all of Jane Austen's works in chronological order and this one is the first. My only previous experience with her books was Emma, read by me in high school and not quite enjoyed at the time. So I tried to read this one as an ebook on my phone, on my ebook reader and I also bought it as a paperback. I kept picking it up and putting it down after one or two chapters, until I finally dropped it for good at about one third of the way. I decided to try again, this time with the help of an audiobook, hoping that it would be easier to get through. It was quite enjoyable to listen to and quite relaxing, but I still didn't like the book, especially the first part. The characters were really annoying and their issues seemed so "first world problem" to me, that I just couldn't get into the story, didn't care about the outcome and felt happy it was over. The only thing that saved this book was the good writing and that's why I gave it 3 stars. I will still continue with the next Jane Austen novel (Pride and Prejudice) because I really want to have an opinion about her books. So far, they are not my favorites.

Also finished, but not in the picture:

The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan

Nina Redmond is a literary matchmaker. Pairing a reader with that perfect book is her passion… and also her job. Or at least it was. Until yesterday, she was a librarian in the hectic city. But now the job she loved is no more.

Determined to make a new life for herself, Nina moves to a sleepy village many miles away. There she buys a van and transforms it into a bookmobile—a mobile bookshop that she drives from neighborhood to neighborhood, changing one life after another with the power of storytelling.*

This is a story about how I got tricked into reading a romance book, which is a genre I don't enjoy at all. I found this book on a magical realism list and since it was a "book about books", I decided to give it a try. There's absolutely no magical realism in this one and it's more of a book about inexistent books. Instead of writing about books she enjoys, the author invents a bunch of books to talk about. Why? There are so many things wrong with this novel that I would have to write an entire post about it. The story is predictable and bland, like a really bad romantic comedy (and not a funny one). There were many cliches that made me cringe, like the character of the librarian that dreams about characters in books or the two romantic interests (of course it's a triangle). Her talent of matching people to the books they like seems to consist in finding a book that is exactly about their life, which I don't think is a talent at all. I mean why do all these people only want to read about themselves instead of escaping to different places and times? I would carry on but I'm only going to say one more thing. The people in this book are British but they all talk like Americans, except for a couple of "knickers" inserted here and there. This was a quick read, I read it as an ebook and I did manage to finish it so I gave it 2 stars to reward myself for the effort.

Persepolis is the story of Satrapi's unforgettable childhood and coming of age within a large and loving family in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution; of the contradictions between private life and public life in a country plagued by political upheaval; of her high school years in Vienna facing the trials of adolescence far from her family; of her homecoming--both sweet and terrible; and, finally, of her self-imposed exile from her beloved homeland. It is the chronicle of a girlhood and adolescence at once outrageous and familiar, a young life entwined with the history of her country yet filled with the universal trials and joys of growing up.*

My first graphic novel! I've heard a lot about this one and since it's written by a woman, it had to be the first one I tried in this genre. Well technically graphic novels are not a genre, because they have their own genres like books do and this one is a memoir so it's non fiction. It has two volumes but I read them as a whole and counted them as one book. I was very interested in the part about the Islamic Revolution in Iran, yet it ended up being my least favorite volume (even though it was great too), while the second part about exile and life after the revolution I absolutely loved. Satrapi's work talks about the condition of immigrants, about the role of women in Islamic society and the way religion shapes their lives in a way that I never thought of before. My first experience with a graphic novel was a brilliant one and it made me look for other ones that are must reads. I read this as an ebook and gave it 5 beautiful stars.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

Meet Alison's father, a historic preservation expert and obsessive restorer of the family's Victorian home, a third-generation funeral home director, a high school English teacher, an icily distant parent, and a closeted homosexual who, as it turns out, is involved with his male students and a family babysitter. Through narrative that is alternately heartbreaking and fiercely funny, we are drawn into a daughter's complex yearning for her father. And yet, apart from assigned stints dusting caskets at the family-owned "fun home," as Alison and her brothers call it, the relationship achieves its most intimate expression through the shared code of books.

When Alison comes out as homosexual herself in late adolescence, the denouement is swift, graphic — and redemptive.*

This was the second graphic novel of the month. There are many I want to read, but since I wanted to only read books written by women in March, I decided to read this one because many people recommended it. It's also a memoir, like Persepolis, but one that talks about sexual identity and the relationship of the author with her father. I quite enjoyed this book. My only issue with it is that the author relies too much on comparisons with classic literature to deliver her message. Don't get me wrong, I love books about books, but this wasn't supposed to be one of those. I would have liked to know more about her feelings without a parallel to heavy books (that I haven't even read). This way the book felt somehow distant and I couldn't get into it properly. It's why it took me 3 days to read, whereas Persepolis took me less than a day. I read this one as an ebook and gave it 4 stars. The graphic part was amazing!

Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding

Bridget Jones's Diary is the devastatingly self-aware, laugh-out-loud account of a year in the life of a thirty-something Singleton on a permanent doomed quest for self-improvement. Caught between the joys of Singleton fun, and the fear of dying alone and being found three weeks later half eaten by an Alsatian; tortured by Smug Married friends asking, "How's your love life?" with lascivious, yet patronizing leers, Bridget resolves to: reduce the circumference of each thigh by 1.5 inches, visit the gym three times a week not just to buy a sandwich, form a functional relationship with a responsible adult and learn to program the VCR.*

First reread of the year! I was sort of in a reading slump and wanted to pick up something light and funny, so I ended up rereading this. I read it many years ago and since I've seen the movie a few times in the meantime, I totally forgot about the differences between the book and the movie. All in all, I really like this book, despite its many issues. I can understand why some people hate it, because it mentions weight and body image issues so much, but I don't see it that way because you don't have to approve of everything a character thinks to like a book. I think in the end the moral of the story is that her weight doesn't matter at all, but maybe people fail to grasp that. I liked this more than the first time I read it, probably because I'm older now. This was also an ebook and I gave it 4 stars.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she's thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy. But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond's big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one. *

Oh man, this book! Even though I expected to like this a lot, it still surprised me. I rarely am impressed by a book and this one impressed me a lot. It was such a breath of fresh air! Both funny and heartbreaking at the same time. The character of Eleanor was extremely relatable, even though she seemed a horrible human being in the beginning of the book. I really feel sorry for the people that started the book and never finished it, they lost a lot. I listened to it as an audiobook and the narration was amazing, but I now wanna get it as a physical book so I can have it on my shelves, reread it and maybe annotate it one day. I gave it 5 stars. One of my favorite reads of the year for sure!

This was March. I am already in the middle of a couple of books that will count as April reads, so I'm not too worried about next month. Hope April is a good one too!

*Source: Goodreads

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

March Mid-month Wrap-up

Hello! We're only halfway through March and I've already finished 7 books! Yes, seven, one more than I read in January and February. Of course this is because I have finished two massive ones that I started before, but who cares? The important thing is that I'm already way ahead (10 books ahead) of my goal for the year, which makes me so happy. I didn't want my March post to be 10 books long so I'm splitting it up in two. Since the 8th of March is International Women's Day, I decided to dedicate this month to books written by women. So except for the 3 books that I started before the beginning of the month, all the books I read were written by women and I will continue this until the end of March. Here are the books!

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

One Thursday lunchtime the Earth gets unexpectedly demolished to make way for a new hyperspace bypass. For Arthur Dent, who has only just had his house demolished that morning, this seems already to be more than he can cope with. Sadly, however, the weekend has only just begun, and the Galaxy is a very strange and startling place.*

I was a little nervous starting this book because I didn't know what to expect. The beginning was sort of boring to me, there was a lot of funny, quirky nonsense that I'm not a big fan of, so I was sure that I wasn't gonna like it and would not continue the series. Since it's a short book, I decided to keep on reading and try to finish it, so I went on and started to like it more and more. In the end, this is a rather deep book with lots of original and smart ideas and even though there is a bit of gibberish that I'm not into, I didn't mind it in the end. I will definitely continue the series because I'm really curious about where this story is gonna go. I gave this one 4 stars.

Under the Dome by Stephen King

It is the story of the small town of Chester's Mill, Maine which is inexplicably and suddenly sealed off from the rest of the world by an invisible force field. No one can get in and no one can get out.* 

I started this massive epic last year but wasn't in the mood and didn't have the patience to continue, so I took a long break. I picked it up again in February and finished it this month, but I actually only read the last 300 pages of it in March. So as you can see, I read a lot more in February than my wrap-up led to believe. Stephen King is one of my favorite authors. The way he writes and tells stories is incredibly comforting to me, his characters always become good friends that I thoroughly miss afterwards. I don't even mind that most of his books are so long, because it gives me time to get attached, plus why would you want something you enjoy to end so soon? I didn't expect this book to be as good as The Stand, but I enjoyed it very very much. If you like dystopian and apocalyptic science fiction, this is a must read. It's such a pity that the TV series based on this book isn't that good, because I would have liked to hang out with these characters again. I gave this 4.5 stars and rounded up to 5 stars on Goodreads.

The Power by Naomi Alderman

In The Power the world is a recognisable place: there's a rich Nigerian kid who lounges around the family pool; a foster girl whose religious parents hide their true nature; a local American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But something vital has changed, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power - they can cause agonising pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world changes utterly.*

I decided to pick this up based on a few people's recommendations, although I felt like the premise was a little too much. I'm happy I did because this was a great book. Naomi Alderman was able to touch some really painful points. This book really made me think. If you are a fan of distopian books, this is an interesting new perspective. The writing is also great and the characters are great. This book was a big surprise for me. I gave it 4 shining stars!

At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier

1838: James and Sadie Goodenough have settled where their wagon got stuck - in the muddy, stagnant swamps of northwest Ohio. They and their five children work relentlessly to tame their patch of land, buying saplings from a local tree man known as John Appleseed so they can cultivate the fifty apple trees required to stake their claim on the property. But the orchard they plant sows the seeds of a long battle. James loves the apples, reminders of an easier life back in Connecticut; while Sadie prefers the applejack they make, an alcoholic refuge from brutal frontier life.

1853: Their youngest child Robert is wandering through Gold Rush California. Restless and haunted by the broken family he left behind, he has made his way alone across the country. In the redwood and giant sequoia groves he finds some solace, collecting seeds for a naturalist who sells plants from the new world to the gardeners of England. But you can run only so far, even in America, and when Robert's past makes an unexpected appearance he must decide whether to strike out again or stake his own claim to a home at last.*

You know I had to include at least one historical fiction book in this month's reads. Tracy Chevalier is an author who's books I always enjoy. I love her writing and I love that her books take me to different places, the atmosphere is so great that they always suck me in. This one had a slower start for me because one of the voices that narrates at the beginning is written in a really broken English. Since I read this as a translation in Romanian, I felt that the many mistakes were very distracting. But after that I totally got into the story and ended up binge reading it for the most part. It's a short book, so that isn't too hard. I have this 3.5 stars but rounded it up to 4 because I felt generous.

Books that are not in the pictures:

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

Harry Potter has never even heard of Hogwarts when the letters start dropping on the doormat at number four, Privet Drive. Addressed in green ink on yellowish parchment with a purple seal, they are swiftly confiscated by his grisly aunt and uncle. Then, on Harry's eleventh birthday, a great beetle-eyed giant of a man called Rubeus Hagrid bursts in with some astonishing news: Harry Potter is a wizard, and he has a place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. An incredible adventure is about to begin!*

OK, unpopular opinion time! When the first Harry Potter book came out in the UK I was 10 years old. But given that I live in a East European country and it was the 90's, the books didn't get translated in my language until a few years later and by the time I found out about them I was already reading classics and felt like I was too old for them. Fast forward until now, when I finally decided to find out what all the fuss was about. I listened to this as an audiobook narrated by Stephen Fry, a really great narration that I sped up to about 1.25 and I still got bored at times. Yes, this is a cute book and I can see why children like it, but for me it didn't feel interesting and at times I actually felt annoyed about some things. It would probably feel different if I had the nostalgia of the people who read it when they were young. I gave it only 3 stars. Sorry, 5 million people that gave it 4 or 5 stars! Right now I don't know if I want to continue the series, if it gets better and if I wanna power through the second and third book to get to the more YA ones that are supposed to be better. We will see!

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.*

Hyped books. Can't live with them, can't live without them. I often avoid reading them early because I then feel disappointed, not to mention that I then feel bad for not liking them. Luckily, it wasn't the case with this one. My YA read for this month had to be this contemporary meaningful novel that doesn't feel like fiction at all. Well yes, the characters are not real and the story did not happen literally, yet I feel that this happened too many times already. It all felt so real that I couldn't help but read on, rooting for these characters, but knowing in the end that there's still a lot of work to be done. I love that this story was written as a YA book, because it can be read by anyone and it reaches the people that really need to learn about this stuff. It's also really well written. I feel like there's so much to say about this book but it speaks for itself in reality. You need to pick this up! I read it as an ebook and gave it 4 (more like 4.5) stars on Goodreads. 

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

In 1815 Edmond Dantès, a young and successful merchant sailor who has just recently been granted the succession of his erstwhile captain Leclère, returns to Marseille to marry his Catalan fiancée Mercédès. Thrown in prison for a crime he has not committed, Edmond Dantès is confined to the grim fortress of If. There he learns of a great hoard of treasure hidden on the Isle of Monte Cristo and he becomes determined not only to escape, but also to unearth the treasure and use it to plot the destruction of the three men responsible for his incarceration.* 

107 chapters and two months later, I'm finally done with this monster of a classic. I listened to this as a Librivox audiobook and only made real progress once I increased the speed to about 1.3-1.4. That's how I managed to get through about half of it in two weeks. If it weren't for audiobooks I don't think I would have had the patience to read this. First off, it was not what I expected. I wasn't familiar with the story since I have never read it or watched the movie, but somehow I expected more at sea action, with pirates and prison breaks. It's a great book, beautifully written, with characters that develop and mature, meaningful life lessons and a few plot twists. But it is also full of long dramatic scenes and intrigue. It was also hard for me at times to follow the characters because there were so many and they were all related to each others in some way. I guess a list of characters with short descriptions at the beginning of the book would help, of course not if you are listening to it as an audiobook. All in all, it's a good story and I enjoyed listening to the book a lot. Totally worth the read if you are a fast reader or don't mind spending a lot of time on it. I gave it 4 stars.

That is all for now. Hopefully I will have some more books to show at the end of the month. We got a Kindle this month so there will be more ebooks showing up, but I still want to read physical books and there are a lot of them on my bookshelf that are unread. See you at the end of the month!

*Source: Goodreads

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

February Wrap-up

Winter is over! Well, not quite because it's freezing outside, but it's the last day of February so it must be over soon. February is a shorter month and I also was away for a few days and couldn't read too much, but I still managed to read 6 books like last month. Or rather I should say that I finished 6 books because I made progress with a few others. I think that this month I read a lot more pages than in January so I'm really happy. I'm trying to finish at least one big book every month, but this is a newer resolution that I didn't have in January so I have to catch up soon. Here are the books I finished this month!

The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro

Newlywed Grace Monroe doesn’t fit anyone’s expectations of a successful 1950s London socialite, least of all her own. When she receives an unexpected inheritance from a complete stranger, Madame Eva d’Orsey, Grace is drawn to uncover the identity of her mysterious benefactor.*

This is another historical fiction novel that has been on my 'to read' list for a few years. It was one of those books that I occasionally checked in sales and I finally bought it, without it being on sale, a couple of months ago. I liked it, wanted to love it, but didn't. I wouldn't call this a disappointment, yet I can't hope but feel that my expectations haven't been met. I don't want to give too many details about this book because mystery is part of it, but I found it a bit predictable at times. The perfume descriptions were quite nice and it had a nice period atmosphere, which made it a quick and pleasant read. One of my biggest problems was that I didn't really like the character of Grace, I found her quite spoiled and flat, nothing special. The other characters I quite enjoyed though. There's also a bit of romance in here if you are interested in that kind of stuff. I would have given it 3 and a half stars, but since there are no halves on Goodreads I rounded it up to 4 stars because I liked it more than my other 3 star reads.

Big Mama's Funeral by Gabriel García Márquez

The first short story collection of the month comes from one of my favorite writers. I am a huge García Márquez fan and have read almost all of his books. One that I hadn't read before is this collection of eight short stories from 1962, one of his early works that hasn't been available in my country until recently. I'm not very keen on short story collections and I've been known to leave some unfinished because I got bored, yet I've always enjoyed this author's short stories. I have two of his other collections in my library that I have read many times and enjoyed. It's probably because they are written in his amazing magical realism style that I love. What I don't like about short stories is that there is no time for the development of characters and the plot is more of a tiny scene that often leaves me unsatisfied. This, however, doesn't happen with García Márquez' stories because his style makes them more of an atmosphere piece and you don't really care about the plot, being distracted by the beautiful descriptions. Somehow he does manage to give the plots meaning also, which often leaves you puzzled and wanting to reread the story as soon as you finish it. For me his books are the escape from reality that no other fiction or fantasy book can give me. Naturally, I had to give this one 5 stars.

Shirley by Charlotte Brontë

Following the tremendous popular success of Jane Eyre, which earned her lifelong notoriety as a moral revolutionary, Charlotte Brontë vowed to write a sweeping social chronicle that focused on "something real and unromantic as Monday morning." Set in the industrializing England of the Napoleonic wars and Luddite revolts of 1811-12, Shirley (1849) is the story of two contrasting heroines. One is the shy Caroline Helstone, who is trapped in the oppressive atmosphere of a Yorkshire rectory and whose bare life symbolizes the plight of single women in the nineteenth century. The other is the vivacious Shirley Keeldar, who inherits a local estate and whose wealth liberates her from convention.*

This was by far my favorite read of the month. My history with Charlotte Bronte started in middle school, when I first forced myself to read Jane Eyre. It took me about a year to finish, I didn't like it and categorized it as a boring book. A few years ago I decided to give it another try and absolutely loved it. After that, I picked up the rest of Brontë's books, read Villette, which was also great and took a big break until now, when the classic mood hit me and made me try this one. It's a big book of over 600 pages and not quite easy to read, especially for a non-native speaker like me, yet I went through this quickly because it was amazing. There's a little bit of everything in here, from romance to politics, history and feminism. Charlotte Brontë's writing is incredible and her commentary is witty, funny and insightful. If you enjoyed Jane Eyre, you will probably love this but if you didn't you should still give this a try cause it might surprise you. 5 out of 5 stars for me.

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

Set in South Carolina in 1964, The Secret Life of Bees tells the story of Lily Owens, whose life has been shaped around the blurred memory of the afternoon her mother was killed. When Lily's fierce-hearted black "stand-in mother," Rosaleen, insults three of the deepest racists in town, Lily decides to spring them both free. They escape to Tiburon, South Carolina--a town that holds the secret to her mother's past. Taken in by an eccentric trio of black beekeeping sisters, Lily is introduced to their mesmerizing world of bees and honey, and the Black Madonna.*

Whenever I'm in the mood for reading YA, I go to my sister's bookshelf and pick something from there. I've been wanting to read this for a while and it also counted for Black History Month, plus it seemed like a cute and quick read. I ended up dragging it for over a week and only finished it because I wanted to have a sixth book finished by the end of the month. Otherwise, I would have probably struggled with it for another week or so. I know many people like this book but for me it was slow, predictable and boring at times. Although I enjoyed the writing style, the story was just not interesting to me. I often felt like I didn't care what was happening next and that's why I had to force myself to pick it up and read from it. I gave it 2.5 stars but rounded up to 3 on Goodreads because I enjoyed the writing style and I learned a few things about beekeeping that I didn't know.

Books not pictured that I also finished:

Ok, so here comes a review that is probably biased. I am a huge fan of Tom Hanks and when I heard that he wrote a book I had to read it. Then I also found out that the audiobook was narrated by Tom Hanks himself, which made me immediately sign up for Audible just to get it. And then I listened to it in about 4 days and loved it. I realize that this book of short stories doesn't have huge value from a literary point of view and I'm also not a big reader of short stories, but I think that the fact that I enjoyed them makes them special. The stories are very different from each other, one recurring theme is the typewriter, hence the title of this collection. It seems that Tom Hanks himself wrote this book on a vintage typewriter. What I really love about these stories is how familiar they all feel. I felt like I knew these characters and that rarely happens in my experience with short stories. The fact that they were also narrated by one of my favorite actors made them even more special. I gave this 4 (maybe even 4.5) stars. 

This masterpiece of science fiction is the fascinating story of Griffin, a scientist who creates a serum to render himself invisible, and his descent into madness that follows.*

I started this (pretty short) novel as an ebook on the first day of the year on my phone. Since I don't read much on my phone, I didn't make a lot of progress with it until I decided to download it to my ebook reader and finally finish it. This is supposed to be one of the first science fiction books ever written, but for me it was very disappointing. Except for two or three pages of (pretty questionable) science, the whole book seemed like a narration of a Laurel and Hardy movie to me. The only reason I finished it was because it was so short and I wanted to see where it ended up, needless to say I didn't enjoy the ending either. I gave this a generous rating of 2 stars, because it has the excuse that it's and old book and it tries to describe something that was probably hard to conceive back then. I still want to try some other H.G. Wells books in the hope of finding something I enjoy more, but this one was not for me.

So these are the books I managed to finish this month. I also made progress with the audiobook of The Count of Monte Cristo, a massive 50 hour listen that I'm about half way through. In terms of big books, I've read about two thirds of Steven King's Under the Dome and will finish it in March. I also started the audiobook of the first Harry Potter today because, believe it or not, I have never read those books in my life. So yeah, I love reading. Happy March!

*Source: Goodreads

Thursday, February 1, 2018

January Wrap-up

Hello hello! It's the first of February, so it's time to make the first wrap-up of the year. January was a really great month for reading, probably because I had a lot of free time and was in the reading mood most of the time. I am very happy that I'm more than on track with my challenge. I read 6 books this month, which means I'm roughly one book ahead, although Goodreads is telling me it's 2. None of these books was massive, but some of them were pretty thick. I read half of them in Romanian and half in English, depending on how they were available to me. Let's see what they are!   

The Accusation: Forbidden Stories from Inside North Korea by Bandi

The Accusation is a deeply moving and eye-opening work of fiction that paints a powerful portrait of life under the North Korean regime. Set during the period of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il’s leadership, the seven stories that make up The Accusation give voice to people living under this most bizarre and horrifying of dictatorships.*

This was the first book I finished this year, mainly because I was really curious about it and took a break from the other book I was reading to finish it in just about a day. When I first heard about this book I was quite intrigued and wanted to get it immediately. It' a book of short stories that was smuggled out of the country. The author is anonymous, Bandi is a pseudonym that means "firefly" in Korean. To be honest, I was really disappointed by this book. Yes, it has a lot of historical value and it teaches people about life in a totalitarian regime, especially if they have no idea about it, but the writing is not great at all. It's very simple and doesn't have literary value from my point of view. There were a few shocking moments in the book, even for somebody that lives in a previously communist country, like myself. The characters seem to accept their fate most of the time and at the same time have very dramatic reactions without trying to rebel against the regime. I guess this is a valuable read for many people and it's a really quick one, so you should give it a chance if you are interested in the subject. Compared to the other books I have previously read, I didn't like it and couldn't give it more than 3 stars. 

From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the stunningly beautiful instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.*

I suppose this one needs no introduction. It's a huge bestseller with many awards, including the Pulitzer Prize. I am a big fan of historical fiction, so it was on my list for ages and I finally got to it. I liked it a lot and gave it 4 stars. The writing style is great and even though it's broken off in short chapters, jumping through the different time periods and characters, it didn't feel broken and had a nice continuity to me. I feel that the pace is a bit slower throughout the book, without major events but rather important moments being described. A thing that is very important to me in a historical fiction book is the atmosphere and this book did a great job creating that. The characters are also great and you really feel like you know them by the end of the book. The only reason I gave it 4 stars is that I always compare my reads and I didn't like this as much as my 5 star reads. 

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

From prize-winning, bestselling author Colson Whitehead, a magnificent tour de force chronicling a young slave's adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South
Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape.*

Another historical fiction and another Pulitzer Prize winner, this time the one from 2017. Again, I really liked this book, but it wasn't a favorite so I gave it 4 stars. I think it's very important to point out that this is a work of fiction with a historical setting, rather than a true account of historical events. For people like me, who don't know a lot about slavery and that time period in America, it's really had to know fiction from reality. Other than that, I liked the writing style and the character of Cora was really well built, although I feel like the other characters weren't. I guess the author wanted to focus on his main character and not so much on the rest. All in all, this was a really entertaining read for me, but I'm not sure if it actually taught me something about the true history of those times. 

 Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante

In this third Neapolitan novel, Elena and Lila, the two girls whom readers first met in My Brilliant Friend, have become women. Lila married at sixteen and has a young son; she has left her abusive husband and now works as a common laborer. Elena has left the neighborhood, earned her college degree, and published a successful novel, all of which have opened the doors to a world of learned interlocutors and richly furnished salons.*

This is the 3rd part in the "Neapolitan Novels" series, also known as "My brilliant friend" ("L'amica geniale") series. Now here we are talking favorites. I had to give this 5 stars, even though I liked it a bit less than the first two parts. Nonetheless, it's still an amazing book. I read the first two parts last December and even though they have about 400 pages, I flew right through them. These books are so well written that any words of mine about them would not be praise enough. They are books written by a woman about women, but I don't think they are intended to be exclusively for women at all. The story is full of authenticity and the characters are so real that you really feel that you know them. The third book has less action than the first two and I feel it's more introspective, but I didn't get bored at all and actually am behind on sleep because I stayed up late every night to read it. I only have one book from this series left to read but I'm trying to postpone it so it doesn't end so quickly. Really great writing! 

The other two books that I read this month and don't have a picture of:

The Castle of Otranto is a 1764 novel by Horace Walpole. It is generally held to be the first gothic novel, initiating a literary genre which would become extremely popular in the later 18th century and early 19th century. Thus, Castle, and Walpole by extension is arguably the forerunner to such authors as Ann Radcliffe, Bram Stoker, Daphne du Maurier, and Stephen King.*

I listened to this one as an audiobook and it was quite short, so it's another quick read. I'm trying to get more into Gothic novels this year, so I started with this one and also purchased The Monk and Dracula (which would be a re-read). This one was one of the first Gothic novels, being written in 1764 so it should be interpreted according to its period. Many people have rated it really low because of the cheap intrigue it contains, but I gave it 3 stars because I quite liked the writing style, which made it really great as an audiobook. I also found myself laughing quite often and I'm not sure if that's what the author intended, but a little amusement while reading a book can never hurt. All in all, I think it's good to read this if you are interested in the genre, especially to see the evolution of the Gothic novel and what people regarded as a bestseller at the time. 

Nine-year-old Oskar Schell is an inventor, amateur entomologist, Francophile, letter writer, pacifist, natural historian, percussionist, romantic, Great Explorer, jeweller, detective, vegan, and collector of butterflies. When his father is killed in the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Centre, Oskar sets out to solve the mystery of a key he discovers in his father's closet. It is a search which leads him into the lives of strangers, through the five boroughs of New York, into history, to the bombings of Dresden and Hiroshima, and on an inward journey which brings him ever closer to some kind of peace.* 

I read this one in a paperback format in Romanian but forgot to take a picture before I gave it to my mom. I liked it back when I read it and gave it 4 stars. The reviews on Goodreads are very one sided, people either loved it or gave it one star, so it's really hard for me to not get influenced by what I read there. If i had to define this book with one word it would be "intense". For most of it I had the impression that somebody was shouting it at me in a very quick pace. So yeah, the title is quite fitting. There are parts of this book that are incredibly touching and others that seem fake or just nonsense. I'm not a fan of gimmicks like pictures or empty pages in books, so that's why I couldn't give this 5 stars. If you are in the mood for an easy read that has also a bit of meaning go for it. 

I'm really happy with my January reading month. Hopefully the next ones will be just as good and I will meet my goal at the end of the year. I also started another audiobook, The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, which is very long and will take me ages to listen to, and an e-book of The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells that I'm reading on my phone so only sporadically. I think it's important to have options so you can do your reading while out and about or while doing your house work. And now it's time to pick my first read of February. Hope it's a good one!

*Source: Goodreads

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Let's do this!

Hello, my name is Mihaela and I'm a book lover, a buyer of (too many) books, a reader of book reviews, but one who doesn't read enough and therefore has a huge tbr pile. Honestly, my "want to read" list on Goodreads has many pages and it doesn't even include all of the unread books in my collection. And if I would add my mother's library to that pile, I would never ever, in a lifetime, be able to finish them all. Not to mention the ones I'm gonna buy, probably starting tomorrow. That's why I want to start this challenge, as a motivation to read more.

Last year was a hard one for me, so my goal was of only 20 books. I had an important exam in October, so after it I was behind but was able to catch up. That's how I realized that I could read so much more than I did in the past. This time I'm gonna set a goal of 50 books. It's a little scary for me, considering the most I did was 30 in a year. For some people 50 is very little, but I have other hobbies and I want to fit everything into my life. Hopefully this challenge motivates me to read more than I usually do.

As I'm writing this it's still 2017 and I already started what will hopefully be the first book I finish in 2018. Here's to challenges and to a good 2018!