Teaser Tuesday: Jan 8

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teasertuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly book meme originally featured at Should Be Reading. To participate, just open the book you are currently reading to a random page, and choose two ‘teaser’ sentences from somewhere on that page. (no spoilers!)

Changing gears with this one a little bit, and I am torn whether I want to write an actual book review on it as it’s exploring the human mind, non-fiction book. I’m not even sure how I would go about reviewing it, as I don’t have much to compare it to. Might just be a quick review, or no review!

So far I am really enjoying it, however it is a bit of a challenging read as to get the most out of it, it feels like I need to read it slowly, and underline and go back through and re-read previous concepts discussed to follow along. Hope that you enjoy the extract below!

” The various causes of ease and strain have interchangeable effects. When you are in a state of cognitive ease, you are probably in a good mood, like what you see, believe what you hear, trust your intuitions, and feel that the current situation is comfortably familiar. You are also likely to be relatively casual and superficial in your thinking. When you feel strained, you are more likely to be vigilant and suspicious, invest more effort in what you are doing, feel less comfortable, make fewer errors, but you also are less intuitive and less creative than usual.” (60)

Book Review: The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald

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Published: 1995

Finally I have broken my streak of disappointing novels – just in time for the new year! I remember hearing good things about this when I did some research on the internet, and after reading a quick synopsis about this book online it sounded quite interesting and appealing to me – particularly the fact that it’s a historical novel. A nice change from the dystopian and fantasy books I have been reading.

I was also quite intrigued by how the author came across the subject and idea for this novel. From what I had read about the author, she became interested in knowing more about the history of philosopher and poet Friedrich von Hardenberg after reading Hymns to the Nightand Heinrich von Ofterdingen, particularly when the latter mentioned the ‘Blue Flower’, which was an idea of profound importance to the philosopher-poets of that mind-crowded period. I don’t normally get this sort of explanation or back story to author’s so this appealed to me quite a bit.

The other element that grabbed my attention, was the fact that Penelope Fitzgerald loved writing stories and biographies of people that were outsiders or misfits – she was drawn to unsettled and imperfect characters; characters that seem profoundly lost and doomed. You can definitely see this theme permeate in this novel, and I couldn’t help but appreciate that as well.

The novel is based on true events and life of Friedrich von Hardenberg (1772-1801), before he became famous under the name Novalis, with his Hymns to the Nightand Heinrich von Ofterdingen(the novels that inspired the author). The novel takes place from the years from 1790 to 1797, and follows primarily the life of von Hardenberg (eldest in his family) as he finishes university and as he embarks in his professional life. We also get snippets into his siblings’ lives as well, and it plays a nice contrast to that of our main protagonist. This novel is unique in the sense that there is no real antagonist in then novel – perhaps one might argue that death takes on this role.

I absolutely loved the way that the author, Penelope Fitzgerald, really embraces the Romantic period of the day and makes an effort to keep German diction throughout and where possible – making the story feel much more authentic. She doesn’t shy away from bringing about the realities of life in that time – she dedicated paragraphs to highlighting how poor hygiene was back in these years when she talks about the washing day:

Dietmahler’s own mother supervised the washing three times a year, therefore the household had linen and white underwear for four months only. He himself possessed eighty-nine shirts, no more. But here, at the Hardenberg house in Kloster Gasse, he could tell from the great dingy snowfalls of sheets, pillow-cases, bolster-cases, vests, bodices, drawers, from the upper windows into the courtyard, where grave-looking servants, both men and women, were receiving them into giant baskets, that they washed only once a year.  (1)

The novel is heavily character driven – with little actual plot taking place (you know this is fine by me!). Each character is carefully described with beautiful diction, and you can’t help but feel like you understand these characters on a deeper level.

The author also cleverly employs the role of diaries to not only fast forward, and quickly sum up days and weeks, but also to highlight the different character’s personalities. Before we don’t know much about Sophie – the apple of von Hardenberg’s eye – but after reading through her diary entries we get a sense that she’s not particularly astute, and rather a simpleton considering she is meant to be of noble standing:

Tuesday September 11

Today the painter did not come down in the morning for breakfast. My stepmother sent up one of the menservants with this coffee, but he said through the door, namely that he wished to be allowed to think.

Wednesday September 12

We began pickling the raspberries.

Thursday September 13

Today was hot and there was thunder and nothing. (149)

Fitzgerald is clearly a very talented writer and I absolutely love her writing style. She is able to paint so vividly such a wide range of sensory details. Take this sentence for example:

In her mouth was something bitter, that tasted like the waters of death. (165)

Such rich and vivid imagery and sensory details are absolutely brilliant. Especially as they are cleverly woken into the text, and not over powering. Sometimes authors can take this too far and make it feel heavy and complicated, but I think Fitzgerald chooses very wisely and poignantly the best times to sprinkle this in, which makes it stand out.

I wasn’t a massive fan of the main character, von Hardenberg, which is a shame as that’s who inspired the author to write this historical novel in the first place. I love imperfect characters that have flaws and weaknesses, but his weakness, or I should say obsession, with Sophie is very annoying, and diminishes my respect for him a little bit. I find the characters of Caroline Just, Jacob Dietmahler, Bernhard and Erasmus von Hardenberg more interesting.

Overall, I was really pleased with this novel and enjoyed reading it. The short chapters (there are only 282 pages with 55 chapter) keep you interested, as the author makes each one quite to the point. Again, thanks to the authors rich writing she can do this and get away with it I think. I would definitely recommend!

Teaser Tuesday: Jan 8

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teasertuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly book meme originally featured at Should Be Reading. To participate, just open the book you are currently reading to a random page, and choose two ‘teaser’ sentences from somewhere on that page. (no spoilers!)

This is a book that I received from my Secret Santa from work last year, and have been meaning to get through for a little while, reading bits here an there as I’ve had time. I’ve heard this book was a little different in writing style and genre (historical fiction vibes) then I have read recently, and in the last year, so I thought I would give it a go.

So far it’s an intriguing read, but does require a bit of attentiveness, not really an adventure book that you can just blitz through. So far, I am enjoying it so look out for the review of this one soon!

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” ‘I thank you for your advice,’ said Fritz. ‘I think, indeed, that women have a better grasp on the whole business of life than we men have. We are morally better than they are, but they can reach perfection, we can’t. And that is in spite of the fact that they particularise, we generalise.’ ” (126)

Book Review: Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor

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Published: 2013

My luck with picking up good books is clearly on a bad streak. What is wrong with me? This was a book that was on my reading list for 2018 as I loved the idea of reading a book where Historians are portrayed as heroes, and history is seen as cool not only nerdy. However, I could not come to grips with the author’s writing style, lack of character development and overall plot.

I think what annoyed me most was the first person narration and overall writing style of the author. So sorry Jodi, international bestseller and all, but it was not gripping and I would gladly put your book down, I’m afraid. Her writing was choppy and didn’t feel well written out at all. I understand that as first person it was what the character was meant to be thinking, as she was thinking it, but I felt she went too far and the writing style really began to irritate me. Here’s a fun little challenge for you, count the number of periods in this single paragraph:

“I tried to pull myself together. There would be extensive loss of life. There wasn’t anything I could do. There wasn’t anything I should do. Well, so that for a game of soldiers. Maybe I wasn’t very important in the scheme of things, but there’s always something you can do.” (97)

That’s literally just a randomly chosen paragraph from the book. If you like. The start and stop effect. You would really. Enjoy this book.

Secondly, I wish to discuss the lack of character development, as well as the general lack of character variation as well. I think by now you know that for me characters are the main driver of books and therefore they can make it or break it. After reading the book I just don’t feel there was any character development at all. The main character Madeleine Maxwell, is the same when she started – stubborn, confident and courageous – and ends with having learned nothing new. She is the absolute be all and end all of the book.

There is absolutely no complexity in the characters to make them interesting and stand out. They may have different names, but their mannerism and behaviour feel identical, with no defining features. Likewise, none of the other characters do anything memorable or interesting besides the main character, they feel extremely incompetent given their titles and roles. This might be with the only exception of Sussman who we find out plays a different role to the one initially assigned. The role of Max’ lover aka Leon Farrell is absolutely cringeworthy. His entire purpose is to love Max unconditionally, and ask her how she feels every time she gets back from one of her adventures. That relationship also doesn’t feel authentic at all, and is missing the depth and believability that would make it successful in my eyes.

In terms of my second point about characters, they have no individual personality traits. The protagonists tend to all be hilarious, smart and want-to-be-hip, and the antagonists are evil, rude and ruthless. I was so grateful for having the dramatis personae at the beginning because I used that extensively throughout the book to differentiate the characters by their roles in the book, as you couldn’t distinguish them based on their personality or language.

Last point about characters – sorry this book has just properly butchered it! – is that everything exciting happens to Max, the main character. Every single time she goes on an mission in a pod, it always goes wrong. Everything she does is always a novelty and exception to the “norm”. As the norm was never properly established anyway, her uniqueness just guides the whole book and makes it all very predictable and therefore not entertaining to read.

Okay, I just really needed to get those points off my chest as they were suffocating me! Now I did give this book some stars, so it wasn’t all completely bad. I still really appreciate the author trying to make History trendy and fun. She does warn on the first page that she did make all this up and that she’s not to be held accountable for the historical accuracies within the book. I liked that she added that because it didn’t make her pretentious, and right away set the tone for the book – adventure and humour are the key themes here, so don’t get bogged down by the details.

I also liked that she put in red-headed characters in the book – that’s right multiple, not just one! I do feel that we (yes I fall into the ginger camp!) are somewhat underrepresented in novels and media, and the author displayed that she wasn’t afraid to take risks and pave her own path by choosing unique characters instead of the stock ones.

I also appreciated her attempting to give reader some back story to the historical events that took place, for example Manchester’s Peterloo Massacre:

“In August 1819, sixty-thousand demonstrators assembled in St Peter’s Square, Manchester. They were anti-poverty and pro-democracy which did them no favours at all in the eyes of authority…equally looking forward to the day, but for completed different reasons were the local Yeomanry, led by Captain Hugh Birley. The protested linked arms to prevent this and were struck down by the Yeomanry…the crowd panicked; this was seen as an attach and six hundred Hussars went in. Eighteen people, including one woman and one child, were killed.” (p73)

I actually did not know about this, and as I reside in Manchester this hit home and I thought was really neat to include – particularly as for the rest of the book characters would go on adventures in the bigger scenes of the Cretaceous and Egyptian periods.

So overall, I have been left rather disappointed and underwhelmed. Needless to say I will not be reading the other 7 novels in the series.

Q: Have you ever been stuck on a bad reading streak?

 

Teaser Tuesday: July 3rd

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teasertuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly book meme originally featured at Should Be Reading. To participate, just open the book you are currently reading to a random page, and choose two ‘teaser’ sentences from somewhere on that page. (no spoilers!)

So I decided to go away from magic and dystopia, and instead educate myself a little bit with this read 🤓 Don’t mind if I do! I find that many non-fiction novels can be very poorly written, and just a bombardment of names, dates and time. But I am loving already about this book is there is a clear structure that Matthew Kneale follows. Each chapter has three parts: introduction to the enemy that is about to sack Rome at different points in it’s life, then part 2 talks about what the enemies would see in Rome at that period, followed by the conclusion of the sacking and how it took place. So far so good!

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“What kind of Rome awaited Henry IV and his army? Of the seven incarnations of the city that will be examined in this book, that of 1081 was certainly the strangest. It was a kind of Gulliver’s Travels town, where tiny houses existed among the ruins. Many Romans lived actually inside the ruins, which they called cryptae, making their homes in the broken remains of thousand-year-old apartment blocks, in long dry baths, and in the storerooms and corridors of abandoned theatres and stadiums. The Colosseum was now the city’s largest housing complex.'” (123-4)

Book Review: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

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Published: 2011

I must say that his novel got a lot of a positive reviews on both Goodreads and general rankings I saw on multiple book reviewers here on wordpress. I was really intrigued, as the plot sounded really interesting. Taking on the Trojan war through a completely new perspective? Yes!

But I must say I was very uninspired. For a long time I tried to determine why I felt like this because in theory I should really like it. The history seemed very well re-searched (found out that Miller actually did her BA and MA in Latin and Ancient Greek), and it was a well planned out storyline during a fascinating time(took her 8 years to write this novel!).

So why on earth did I not love this book as well?

Then I realized that I felt nothing towards the narrator, Patroclus. He was extremely weak, his entire life was just consumed with loving, looking at and following Achilles around like a lost puppy. It was literally unbearable. I just found him really unlikeable. It did ger a little better in the second half where he actually spent a few hours not stalking Achilles, found a hobby (healing wounded soldiers) and actually found other friends (don’t get too excited it was really just one friend; Briseis). Understandably, the author wanted to re-write the famous tale of Troy through a new perspective, not one of other powerful figures but someone a bit more “average”. Sadly, the narrator was below average and didn’t possess any likeable feature in my opinion.

The writing style also suffered. The one word that I would probably used to describe it is uninspiring. Miller spent too much time repeating herself and going on and on about how obsessed Patroclus was with Achilles. Scenes of him marveling at Achilles probably make up about ¾ of the book, easily. I don’t really want to read the same thing over and over again, especially when nothing new is added to the repetitions.

Maybe I am missing something…

Verdict: Still confused why this book had so much hype, failed to be inspiring, I would read if you like ancient history and obsessive lovers.

Have you read this book? I would love to hear your interpretations, and maybe shed some light so I could grow to like this book!

Book Review: Danubia- A Personal History of Habsburg Europe by Simon Winder

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 Published: 2013

I’ve been working through this book for the past two and a half weeks, and to be quite frank I read 75% of the book in three days. Why did it take so long for me to get into it?

I think there are a couple reasons. One, it is non-fiction so it takes a bit more focus on my part, especially when dealing with the Habsburg decades of rule, hence I can’t skim pages. True, Simon Winder makes clear that he is choosing to focus on a handful of monarchs instead of drowning the reader with names and titles spanning over multiple centuries. That I could appreciate. Nonetheless the reader must focus on each phrase to make sure that you don’t miss a key name-drop of a person and then get lost for the next 10 pages (I think this is what happened to the first 25% of the book and the reason it put me off a bit.)

What could have made this book so much easier to read is to have photos of the main monarchs discussed. Aside from a couple of maps at the beginning and the blurry pictures at the beginning of every chapter, the book lacked visual images to compliment the writing. There are several very strong paragraphs by him, that have me really intrigued, yet when he’s discussing artists instead of trying to describe a painting or place for a few pages, he could have just put in a photo.

The biggest reason why it took me so long to get into this was also because I had juxtaposed it with the brilliant One Summer in America 1927 by Bill Bryson. And to be honest, he is no Bill Bryson. This is not to say that it was a boring, draining read. Not at all. And the author did try to add some unconventional person touches into the book to make it lighter, like this passage:

“I realize with a chill that this section could go on almost indefinitely and it would be possible to bludgeon the reader with items from page to page of my notes, which should perhaps just be quietly binned.” (456)

I did really enjoyed the topic, and it was such a relief to come across a book about central Europe instead of always reading about WWI, WWII, French, British and American history. Certainly, I will go further with this, and there are several intriguing characters that I would like to spend some time reading up on thanks to this book.

Verdict: I can’t think of a better book for central European history in English as this, however, not as awestruck as I was with Bill Bryson’s non-fiction writing.

Teaser Tuesday: October 21

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teasertuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly book meme originally featured at Should Be Reading. To participate, just open the book you are currently reading to a random page, and choose two ‘teaser’ sentences from somewhere on that page. (no spoilers!)

Again, apologies for last week. Alas, the fruits of my labour at work were blossomed as my team and I pulled off our company’s biggest event of the year. Needless to say, we stayed up until 10pm Tuesday night, and it took me all weekend to recuperate from the craziness. The good news is that I sunk my teeth into this pleasant read. Another non-fiction account, seemingly similar to Bill Bryson’s One Summer: America 1927 ,which I enjoyed tremendously. This one doesn’t have as flawless and engaging of a narrative but I am just at the beginning so who knows.

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“Through cunning, dimness, luck and brilliance the Habsburgs had an extraordinary long run. All empires are in some measure accidental, but theirs was particularly so, as sexual failure, madness or death in battle tipped a great pile of kingdoms, dukedoms and assorted marches and countries into their laps.” (1)

Any good non-fiction books that you would recommend? Really starting to enjoy these!

Book Review: My Promised Land by Ari Shavit

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Published: 2013

Ari Shavit traces the conception and birth of Isreal along it’s zionist routes. In chronological order, he traces the founders of Isreal who believed that one day the Jews would have their own land to call home. Outlining the problem of diaspora for the Jewish peoples, focusing on how their careful surveying and searching brought them to Isreal.

I must say he did not convince me. It felt like a very one sided view of the situation in Israel. He is careful to never shift blame solely on the Palestinians surrounding the current tensions in that region, but he also doesn’t warrant them enough attention. A brief chapter on them would have made it an equal playing field. To be fair, he is condemning the approach that the Israeli took when first planting their roots in Israel, the force that was applied and the lack of at least consideration for the Arab populous. Not too much though as this would have strayed from the purpose of the book. However, it is clear that he supports the idea that Israel belongs to the Jews.

I felt that a lot of excluded from the book, or rather glossed over. I wish he would have discussed more about the tensions. Failing to properly disclose the case of the other side makes this book weak. Rather he chooses to focus on the introduction of oranges to the region by the Jews and it’s prosperity. I mean that’s an interesting fact but does there need to be an entire chapter dedicated to it? I’d rather read about something more meaningful.

Verdict: A great read about one side of the coin, and I feel he tries to be mindful of the Palestinians however could have been written in a more engaging style.

Review: The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

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Published: 2009

It has been purely unintentional but in the past couple of months I keep getting my hands on Swedish authors! Not complaining though, as Jonas Jonasson’s first book The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared was another pleasant read.

Jonasson was a journalist before he decided to settle down and write his first novel in the beautiful village of Ponte Tresa, Switzerland. Perhaps it is that background which explains the heavy political, historic and media presence in his novel.  As a history student, I really enjoyed the historical references to Mao, Kim Il Jung, President Johnson, President Truman, and even Spanish dictator Francisco Franco.

There is a huge sense of internationalism which I really enjoyed. Allan travels from Sweden, to Russia, to North Korea, South Korea, China, Bali, Tibet, Iran, America, and France just to name a few places. He takes on wild professions from physicist, bomb specialist, ambassador, CIA agent and bridge bomber, all which seemingly just arrive on his lap every time. All this with only three years of schooling in his entire life!

Jonasson pokes fun at certain country’s stereotypes, but since he does it with everyone it is accepted and is meant for comedic effect. For example, the Boss, of the secondary characters, wanted to start a dubious gang called Never Again, which he struggles to take off.

“At first, the Boss thought of abandoning the whole idea of Never Again, but Caracas happened to have a Columbian comrade with a flexible conscience and dubious friends, and after one thing and another, Sweden (through Never Again) became the transit country for Eastern Europe for the Colombian narcotics trade.” (53-4)

This quote also highlights how a single small idea, could have drastic affects on history and the world.

The story follows a centenarian named Allan who  escapes from an old-folks home. As the story takes off we learn about his past as well, from his childhood to his adult adventures bringing us eventually back to the present. The chapters rotate from past to present and it allows us to learn more about the main character.

I can’t believe I am pointing this out, but because it has such a strong presence in the novel it is difficult to ignore; vodka. There is a huge presence of vodka, and drinking spirits in general. It is vodka and tequila that allows Allan to bond with President Truman.

“As a child, Allan had been taught to be suspicious of people who didn’t have a drink when the opportunity arose.” (135)

Allan stays true to his father’s advice and really has a drink at any and every occasion.

It was really difficult for me not to compare/contrast this book to Jonasson’s second book, The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden. Without a doubt the picaresque style remains heavily present in both. Also, the humour and sensational plot line is ever present. The heavy presence of internationalism, politics, and money are undeniable, and even the main characters share that rational, calm and intelligent composure under very stressful circumstance. I did feel for some reason that this book had a couple of tedious parts, especially near the end when Allan and his comrades are lying to the police commissioner about what really happened since Allan has escaped. It got a little too sensational for me at that point.

Verdict: Definitely give this one a read if any of the topics above would interest you. Expect nothing less than the picaresque from our author. Funny, filled with interesting historical figures and very sensational novel. Cleverly written.

Have you read any of Jonasson’s books? Any other great Swedish authors you would recommend?