Friday, February 28, 2014

The Cricket on the Heart by Charles Dickens

Why I read this book

For Christmas Audible gave a free book that turned out to be this classic from Dickens.

What the book is about

The book opens introducing John Peerybingle (I had to look the spelling of that one up!) and his wife Dot. Through them we meet the other characters, a lovely woman, engaged to a horrible man that is believed to be charming to the eyes of a blind girl. I know it sounds like a lot of deceive, and there is such, but it sounds less so when written by Dickens

First impressions

Did you know that A Christmas Carol was part of a "collection" of Christmas books? Well I didn't. Turns out that The Cricket is the third book in a series of stories set during the Holidays that Dickens wrote, it just so happens that it was A Christmas Carol that got to be so renowned. This is what poked my curiosity for this story and what kept me going, even though at the beginning it was hard to get into the story.

Final thoughts

It was a good story, but it didn't move as Christmas Carol did. There is a bit of humor here and there, but I don't know if it was because of the language or because of the setting, it just wasn't a fun read for me. Maybe I should've listen to it, near a fire during the Christmas Holidays. I do think however that the comparison of the cricket to the "soul" of the house, feeling the happiness or sorrow of the home owners was a sweet way to give live to the environment.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Why am I happy I joined a book club (and why haven't I joined another one)

At the end of 2012 I joined the online Book Club Sword and Laser (hosted by Veronica Belmont and Tom Merritt). This was prompted after watching them on the Geek & Sundry YouTube Channel. They were reading fun books, they were discussing them and I just figured why not give it a try.

More than a year and 14 books after I am ever so grateful I took that decision. Joining the book club introduced me not only to authors I didn't know before, but to books that have marked the history of the genres. Lately on the Laser months we've been reading that might be considered very old, but they have been appraised by several institutions but most importantly they have influenced greatly other stories that I've read before, felt in love with but never thought of the influences they might had.

Another great thing about the books club (and I will talk about THIS one, since I cannot talk about other ones) is the people. Not just the hosts who are hilarious, but the other members, just like me. Their critics about the book have made my reviews way deeper than at the beginning; there are arguments well established (most of the time) to defend or bring down a point in the story; political comparisons, moral and just fun comments come to brighten my day almost on every day basis, on books that I'm reading right now so the ideas are fresh in my head too. My favorite thread is "What else are you reading" which have let me find people with similar tastes but even better, not so similar and hence shedding a completely different light on books that I might've ignored before.

So yeah, I am very happy I joined S&L. I am also very happy it is an online book club (I think we have established that I am not that comfortable with direct interaction with strangers) since I can be there just reading the comments, nodding my head and I won't feel awkward if I don't jump right into the discussion. As the time passes by I feel more comfortable to do so, and I've noticed that I now talk a bit more about the different topics.

Now, you might ask, how is it that you haven't joined another one? Maybe a non-fiction to try to increase your reading of that genre? see, one of the things I want to do is LOWER the amount of books I own but I haven't tackle yet and it so happens that most of the readings from the books club (and this applies to others I have actually considered joining) are not books I own. Which makes sense, since the idea is to know new authors/books but it seems counter intuitive for my goal, doesn't it?. Also, as much as I want to increase (every year) the amount of books I read, it is getting a bit out of hand already and I still have issues not finishing a book I am supposed to read, particularly if I took it out of the library. I keep thinking, well I took it away from someone else, and if they are suggesting it I have to at least give it a try, no? What has happened is that I don't continue the series unless I LOVED the first book.

So there you have it. Do you guys have a book club? Online? In person? Are you happy you are part of it?

Friday, February 21, 2014

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

Danger must surround power as shadow does light.

Why I read this book

This was the February pick of the month for the Sword and Laser book club. If you need more reasons to read it I suggest that you read the following article from io9: 10 Reasons Why Le Guin's Earthsea Books Can Still Change Your Life

What the books is about

The book follows the life of Sparrowhawk a young wizard that will grow up to be the most powerful wizard of his time. Before that though, he will have to learn how to be a wizard and above all, to control himself; to stop being a kid and become and adult and in the process to confront his biggest fears.

First impressions

The first thing that caught me in this story was the writing itself. The author has a lovely way to turn phrases and construct sentences. It didn't feel dated as I had feel with some of the "older" reads of the book club. I also liked the pace, things happened at a nice rhythm.

Final thoughts

I liked the overall story even though the time spent on him learning the trade was quite short and I would've liked it to be a bit more extensive on this point. I enjoyed the way friendships were forged at the beginning of school and how the author used the typical teenager pride and desire to show off to build on what would shape Sparrowhawk's character.

The book is full of symbolism, which was expected with a book based on magic, but at some points made it hard to stay concentrated, for me that is; when a lot of this is in a book it gets me distracted since I have to start looking up for the meaning of each thing and then I fall in the spiral that is Internet Information.

It has been mentioned in the discussions boards of the book club that the book felt (to some people at least) as if it didn't treat women kindly, and that this was surprising, considering it has a female author. I didn't feel this. It is true that the book doesn't have a lot of female characters, but the ones I read didn't feel as poor maidens in distress or anything of the sorts.

In all I liked the book, but I do not think I will be continuing with the story.

For a word to be spoken... There must be silence

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Insurgent (Divergent #2) by Veronica Roth

Sometimes people just want to be happy, even if it's not real

Why I read this book

I read Divergent on 2013, right after watching the trailer for the movie, since it seemed like an interesting premise. Since I did like the story and the characters I decided to continue with the trilogy.

What the books is about

If you haven't finished Divergent I suggest you stop reading right now. We left Tris and Four right after the attack controlled by Erudite. As a result she has now lost her parents and her faction. The survivors are now trying to build a plan that will allow them to recover control over their life. She will encounter the Candor and Amity factions, confront her guilt and learn about herself and her society more than she was expecting to.

First impressions

At the beginning of the book I was very annoyed at Tris. You see, I have very little patience for the martyr teenager (I've mentioned before how annoying I thought Harry was during the fifth book). When people want to get themselves killed as an impulse, not actually thinking how this would actually affect the rest of people depending on them it is just exasperating and selfish. However what made me continue reading was what was happening apart from Tris, getting to know the other factions and learning about the Factionless was actually interesting.

Final thoughts

Well, this book was not better nor worst than the first one. It was different though. As I mentioned, the interesting part of this one was mostly learning about the other factions and how the system was supposed to work. There weren't a lot of surprises here (the end I think is supposed to be, but in reality for me was more of a ha moment than a WOW OMG moment if you know what I mean)

I still think it is an interesting idea, a society divided according to personality traits and in this every sector is supposed to work for everyone else. Once again I have to applaud the fact that the story doesn't turn around a "love triangle" or around Tris and Four as a couple. Sure, it does affect her story, but is not the main thread carrying the story.

I think we cry to release the animal parts of us without losing our humanity.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Goldfinch by Donna Tart

Who knew it was in my power to make anyone so happy, or that I could ever be so happy myself

Why I read this book 

Once again I have to give thanks to the podcasts I follow for putting this book in my head. I heard so many good things about it that when I saw it available on Audible I just went for it without any hesitation.

What the book is about

The book takes us through the life of Theo Decker, starting from when he was 13. Tragedy struck his life when his mother dies during a bomb attack while they were visiting a museum. In there, right before the attack, his path crosses with an old man and a little girl that will affect his life more than he could've expected from a pair of strangers. From New York to Las Vegas, back again to New York and then to Amsterdam the book follows in a very detailed way the ups and downs of this life and how he himself affects the lives of other

First impressions

I read a couple of reviews before starting the book itself and I saw that most of the negative ones tackle the fact of "over detailing". Alas for me this was not a problem but a plus. When I started listening to the book I was speedily entranced with the descriptions of the city and then the exposition itself.

Final thoughts

What a beautiful book. From the superb similes (comparison of the shapes formed by light to "Parameciums under a microscope) to the lengthy and eloquent artsy discussions about not only paintings but architecture and furniture this book transported me far, far away from where I was listening

Theo is a complicated character, not just because of what happens to him through the story, which is a lot, but because of how he sees himself. From the beginning he has a seemly auto destructive tendency that might be heightened or tamed depending on his companion at the moment but is always there, even during the happiest moments of his life. Guilt is a great part of this since he feels that it is his fault that his mother died. The constant question of "what if she was still here" something that touched me deeply.

But as much as Theo seems to not like himself he does like several people around him, risking more than he realizes for them. Boris and Hobby just to make a case in point are 2 of the biggest influences in his life and as such, he will risk everything he has and more for this two.

There are several love stories in this book, the way I see it. The way he loves his friends, the girls in his life (won't spoil it, though) and off course, the way he loves art. The descriptions the museum are made out of love for details and that is how the author manages to involve you in the story and you don't even realize 10 hours have passed by.

It was a beautiful book, full of sentiment; a book that I have recommended several times already and that I might even re listen too.

David Pittu has a beautiful voice and gives an amazing rendition of the book. 

First rule of restorations: never do what you cannot undo

Monday, February 10, 2014

Smarter than you think: How technology is Changing our Minds for the Better by Clive Thompson (Read by Jeff Cummings)

We are all playing advance chess this days, we just haven't learn to appreciate it

Why I read this book?

I've been hearing about this book in several podcasts I follow. Being in my generation there is no doubt that we are touched by technology and a book that tackles the question to whether this is a good thing or not is always interesting. I got it through Audible and heard it with my boyfriend during commute.

What the book is about?

Thompson shows us in almost 11 hours, how every time a new technology has emerged it has been labeled in very black and white terms, however their whole effect is actually never just one or the other. Passing through cell phones, internet availability and more he defends his thesis that it all depends on the usage you give to the technology you've been given.

First impressions

The book was well researched. It has a nice pace and flow between chapters. In general it has an optimistic view of how we might be using technology. 

Reading makes us a full man, conference a ready man and writing an exact man.

Final thoughts

The book was very interesting, shedding light into several current or recent events, and how technology was used in each situation, such as the Arab Spring. It was funny to hear about TV being the school of the future when it first was invented. On point that Thompson really works on is that one should not talk down or up new technologies right away.

One of the chapters I enjoyed the most it the one about ambient awareness and how social networks can bring change that affect communities in all possible levels of development. Group thinking, the development of "centaur" like creatures (man with computer) were all very interesting ideas that although I somehow knew about in the back of my mind I never sat down to ponder about them. I think the fact that I was listening to this with someone else made the experience even better since at the end of the day we would pause the book and discuss for a good while about it..

Jeff Cummings has a great voice for this non-fiction book. 

Literacy has historically focus on reading, not writing; consumption, not production

Sunday, February 9, 2014

City of Glass (The Mortal instruments #3) by Cassandra Clare

I forgot to take a picture with the book, so here is a picture of my cat "reading" instead

Why I read this book?

This is the Third book in the Mortal Instruments series. The main reason to continue with this series, albeit it is entertaining, is because I started it with my best friend.

What's the book about?

In this book we follow the Shadownters into Alicante where a whole gathering is taking place to decide what to do with the Valentine situation. To get there Clarissa has to go against the Law and in doing so puts her life in danger as well as the lives of people who love her.

First impressions

Clarissa starts this book getting on my nerves so much!, Every single time she does what she was told not to do. While I think that a character going against the current AND getting results usually turns to be an interesting plot, the way she is always whining just bothers me. Harry Potter and the order of the Phoenix? I really disliked Harry for the whole beginning of this book,: "nobody loves me, I am all alone so I'm going to put myself under unnecessary danger just to call for attention". That's what I got from Clarissa this time.

Final thoughts

If you are looking to be surprised with the book...I wouldn't count on it. Most of the things that happened, regarding Valentine and his family were meant to be surprises I gather, but it was quite predictable, at least for me. However I did enjoy the whole world building. Alicante seems like a gorgeous charming ancient city that I would love to visit. I loved the evolution of Alec's relationship, and I think the way the author built it was very nice. I don't know what else can be there after this book, but I know there are 2more books out. We will see what happens I guess.