Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History by Rhonda K. Garelick

I asked and received this book through NetGalley for free. This review is not sponsored nor influenced in anyway. Thanks to Random House for the book.

First impression 

I've always been interested on the lives of women that had somehow (for good or for bad) changed the course of history. Coco Chanel is one of these women. I've already read The Gospel according to Coco Chanel and loved it, so given the opportunity to get to know more of her life beyond the pearls I couldn't let it pass. As I finished reading Mademoiselle I have for certain learn more about the person she was and how she got to the position she ended up, however I was not expecting so much information on the lovers she had and other people around her.

Final thoughts

I really enjoyed the first chapters, where we learn about her childhood, shedding a lot of light on her character as well as her perseverance to become a success. However, as the she grew older and hence started having men in her life, at times it felt like this was the only subject. I understand that being who she was it is hard to separate her life from that of her companions but since I was expecting a bit more of the world around her and no the men around her this came as extra information that, while well researched and interesting at times, would not help me know the character of Chanel better. And then again, when it came to Igor Stravinsky it almost felt like a brushing by for him. All other men got almost full chapters and him? He felt like an extra thought.

With a title such as "The Pulse of History" I was expecting to learn (or re learn at times) about her role during the wars, and in this I was not disappointed. The book shows a whole different Chanel than the elegant, always poised woman I've had in my head for long time. Reading about her being ruthless not only with herself, but everyone around her, particularly with her own family made me see her on a completely different light. I assumed that rising to as much as she did was not easy, and I assumed she had to step on a lot of toes...but man, she was so cruel at times.

The book, as I mentioned, it is very well researched. Unfortunately, since this was only a uncorrected proof the footnotes were not already inserted on the corresponding page, but they are all there, along with a complete bibliography. It also includes a fair amount of graphic information, not only with pictures but documents and other.

The other reason why I gave this book only 3 out of 5 is because several times it felt repetitive and even redundant on its views and anecdotes about Chanel. While I understand that with a nonfiction book is not an option to have plot twists, repeating the same story in several chapters gets boring. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

First impression

So many people around me read and love the book! So I figure I should try it and see what the fuss was about. As it turns out I enjoyed the book quite a lot. This is not a book about zombies per se, but more about the effect the zombies turning up on a lot of levels, including politics, economics and even religion. The zombies make a bit of an apparition on people's memories, but is not scene after scene of people running from them, which would've killed the book for me.

Final thoughts

The concept of the book was very interesting. From the beginning we are put in the context, that is would be the "human" side of an after war report. Everything that didn't make it into the official, everything with too many feelings involved, would be the base of this book.

We start with the apparition of the Patient Zero in China, told from the point of view of the doctor that first confronts it. From there on we jump to different countries and different people that managed to survive the war. Soldiers that hated being part of what the war become; kids that are now grown ups and that survived thanks to their parents difficult decisions; regular people that even realized the moment to flee had passed under their noses and were then forced to use all the knowledge they gathered into practice; politicians deciding who survives and who doesn't; movie directors that deliver the films that helped with the morale.

The way the interviews are portrayed really delivers the feeling of the "oral history", of a documentary if you want. It also makes it that you can read tiny bits of the book here and there and without a direct thread you get to build a full image of what was going one globally. Extra points for it not been US only, something that bothers me often with dystopias, but that is another topic completely.

But, and I am afraid this is the reason why I cannot give a 5 to this book, there is no science approach at no point. Every couple of pages you would have someone referring to how weird the physiology or biology of the zombies was: they can survive being frozen; they can resist high pressure under water; how do they do that??? So naturally I though a bit of light on this item was going to be discussed maybe at the end of the book. I don't mean a full item on the zombie inner workings, no, no because then it could've ended up on ridiculous "fake science". But I didn't get anything of it. None. Zero. That would've given it a full 5. Just a bit of an explanation or speculation even.

That said, it was a very fun read, gave me what I was expecting from it and it easy to recommend to anyone looking for a different take on the zombie trope. 


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Life of a Blogger: Clothing

Jessi, from Novel Heartbeat has this feature since a while ago, and I've been meaning to join and then I forget and...anyway, you get my point. This week however, I remembered! So here I am, to talk to you about: Clothing. 

 For a long time, mostly when I went to University in Colombia, I did not wear that much dresses or skirts. Not because I didn't like them, but because sadly, dressing too much like a girl over there can get you the wrong kind of attention. But then I moved to Canada and since I've been feeling more and more comfortable with my body, well, I've been wearing dresses a bit more. Here you can see one of my latest favorites, the dress I used to one of my friend's wedding.
Now, another thing I avoided before were heels. It is important to let you know that when I am at the lab, wearing heels is not a great idea. I have my best friend who does it, and she rocks it, but since a lot of the time I have to run around, I stick to comfy shoes. However, when I go with heels...well, I go high! This ones here I believe are above 4 inches, but I love them.

A lot of my very girly stuff comes from ModCloth like the green dress with the Owl or the navy blue shirt. They have a very nice selection in sizes and so far I have not been disapointed with the quality. They all have a retro feel, which I really like, and I think it suits me :).

Off course living here in Canada, wearing a skirt is not a year thing, because, well, winter. And once again, at the lab I am supposed to wear pants if I am doing an experiment (even though you have to wear a lab coat, you want to have extra protection) so I only wear dresses/skirts to lab when I now I won't be putting myself in danger. So I do wear jeans quite often, but lately I've tried to pair them not only with T-shirts, but a bit more blouses or, in this case, a long sweater dress. 

Also it is very important to protect yourself from the weather, so coats! This one here was a gift from my mother-in-law. It works during spring and autumn only, but boy do I use it. 

Last but not least, I love tights! Well, I love socks in general, but tights I can only wear for a very short period of time during spring and then in autumn. I like them because they can add a lot of color to a simple outfit and the designs can be very amusing indeed.

There you have it!, I hope it wasn't too boring for my first entry for this feature, I will do my best to keep with it:)

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Why I am grateful for Book Challenges

I have to tell you guys, this has been the year of he bookish challenges for me and I am so happy about it. Thanks all the challenges I've been participated have helped me expand my reading, not only in numbers, but also in authors and genres. 

Diversiverse is one of the new challenges I joined this year. I thought I was doing a good job diversifying my reading, but the sad truth is that I haven't as much as thought. Joining this event gave me an appreciated push to look for even more diverse authors, consciously. This challenge goes a bit in the same subject that Where are you Reading, but the latter is more concentrated on where the book takes place. However, when it is a Fantasy or SciFi book, taking place outside the real Earth, I tag the county of origin of the writer and that expands those reading limits even more.

The Sequel and Prequel Challenge has "forced" me to finally tackle several series that I started and might've left to the side, and this is a good thing because with so much to read, sometimes you loose track of all the series going around.

This year I also joined NetGalley and sooner than I thought I had a lot of Galleys to be read and a very low NG ratio. This is where ARC August and NetGalley Month helped me tons.

And off course, my favorite events/challenges the Dewey Read-A-Thon and the seasonal Once Upon a Time and Readers Imbibing Peril. Thanks to these events I have met en become part of the awesome blogger community which incidently took me to the wonderful Bloggiesta. This is the best event I've seen to Get. Things. Done!

So now is your turn! What are your favorite challenges/events? Any suggestions for 2015?

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Adulthood Rites (Xenogenesis #2) by Octavia E. Butler

First impression

After I finished Dawn I knew I had to continue the trilogy. The world that Butler built in for this story is full of complicated, rich characters, both human an alien. Xenogenesis explores the union or fusion of these two groups through the main character Akin, the first human-Oankali male construct. Butler continues to explore human nature, a contradiction in itself, this time seen from the eyes of someone that is not fully human, nor fully alien.

Final thoughts

Butler touches so many subject in such a swift, seamless manner that you don't realize you are thinking about social issues until you put the book (or headphones in my case) down and have this feeling of "wow"

Lillith takes a secondary role in this installment; as I mentioned it is Akin who takes center stage trying to merge the two points of view: a very guttural, visceral one coming from his human side and partners, and a more logical, cold one from this Oankali side. He represents, to me at least, the struggles a lot of immigrant kids have during their life time, Of course, Akin's struggle and his definitions will affect the future of what is left from humanity and the future of the trade.

Racism is also a constant subject so far in this trilogy; while Dawn dealt a bit more with sexism, in this case I felt this point was left aside, but not ignored. The rage against Lillith, the prejudices against her and whatever might come through her is still present, not only with those who actually met her, but her "legend" has grown, to a point that there is even talk of her being possessed. That said most of the women present in the rebel camps are delegated to secondary roles all the time and most of the men turn to "macho" behavior.

Seeing Akin grow, not only physically but in his mind was so interesting. The approach of him being a teenager in both communities puts him in multiple situations where he was feeling frustrated and has to learn not only to be an adult but to express as one and be able to share and convince his piers of the changes he is bringing.

I think that doing this trilogy in audio has given me the opportunity to identify the different Oankalis better and to sort of pin point their personalities; I've read several reviews mentioning that it is hard to differentiate between them.

From a biologist point of view I think the concept of trade, the way the Oankali see it, is fascinating. The concept is mostly explained on the first book, but is always present during Adulthood Rites.

I would totally recommend this series so far to anyone who loves SciFi and society construction. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Violin by Anne Rice

First impression

I bought this book one day when I found myself without a book (I know, the horror) but it took me a while to re start it. I have only read 5 books from the Vampire Chronicles (the first 4 and then Merrick without knowing it made part of the same series) but in general I've liked Rice's style so I figure, why not. The truth is, as I finished this book I was left with a disappointing feeling. I enjoyed the idea of using music (such beautiful music) but I never managed to really get into this story.

Final thoughts

It is the first time I read a book by Anne Rice that does not involve vampires. In here the supernatural is represented by the tortured ghost of a violinist, Stefan. He has come to the main protagonist, Triana, when she is in great pain due to the lost of her husband; pain that awaken other loses in her head and heart.

The description of the book talks about Triana as "a uniquely fascinating woman" but she felt rather bland to me as a character and so did her sisters. And Stefan...besides being mean, supposedly due to the fact of him being a tortured soul, for me he didn't feel that much interesting either.

The best parts of the book, for me at any rate, were the several references to beautiful pieces of music as well as the moment where the ghost of Beethoven was present. That said, I don't know if someone with less love for classical music would have the same reflex I had to look for each piece and listen to them while reading. I feel that if it is not the case, the references and momentum of certain scenes are completely lost.

While The Vampire Chronicles are not terrifying I certainly agree with them being considered as part of the horror genre. In this case, if you remove the fact that Stefan is an angry ghost, it doesn't really feel scary at all. It has a good pace and at no point did it feel like a heavy read, I would say it was mostly entertaining.

Unless you are very adept to Rice's style I wouldn't be able to recommend this book to you. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

The One (The Selection #3) by Kiera Cass

First impression

After I finish the second book in this series I thought maybe the series could end on a good note (it was supposed to be a trilogy, but now I learnt there is a new one coming) so I decided to read the third one. Oh boy was I disappointed! America goes back to being helpless and most all the stuff that happened was predictable. It felt like a long teenager fight with some tiny unexpected moments here and there.

Final thoughts

First a rant: 2 more books? Seriously? Why? Well, no I know why but still...ugh

Now for the review. The reason why I gave an extra star to the second book was because America was finally showing some guts, seemed like she was going to stop being the "My life depends on a boy" face and more of "well I've learned some serious stuff about the country, maybe there are bigger things than having a boyfriend" but then this book is her fighting with Maxon over and over. "Oh I love him, oh maybe not, oh actually yes, but I won't say it first"

There are a couple of moments related to the rebels during most of the book, but this seems to be pushed back more than a notch , which saddens me because giving an actual development to the political side of the story was what, for me, would've set it apart from the ton of similar stories being published.

There were 2 things I didn't see coming, and while I will not discuss them at length to avoid spoilers I will tell you that for me were charged with forced sadness and it didn't add much to the story. While some may argue that the first sad event does bring something extra to the background I would counter that there was no need for the sad part.

Anyway, that's it for me with this series. I have one of the novellas that I got for free through Kobo, but I don't think I will read it anytime soon.


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang

This was the September pick for the Sword and Laser book club

First impression

I have to admit that I was reluctant at first to give this book a try. First because I haven't read a lot of short stories so I wasn't sure this collection would grab me. Second, I went with the Audio version because my library didn't have it and I decided just to go with my Audible credit. The only other collection of short stories I've read recently was METAtropolis (also in audio) and while I enjoyed it, it didn't amaze me. Let me tell you, Stories of Your Life and Others might be the book that convinced me to try short stories more often.

Final thoughts

The collection is fantastic, I wasn't even finished and I kept telling people they had to give it a try. While very different, the short stories flow nicely. The fact that this time there were all written by the same person is really evident, even though the voice on each story changes quite a bit changing point of views and even presenting one as a documentary.

Goodreads describes the collection as multiple stories where the characters encounter sudden change. However, more than just sudden change, I believe that the common thread that this collection has is preconceptions and destroying or debunking them. From the concept of beauty to mathematics and even procreation, Chiang gives a new light to all of these subjects with touches of science fiction and even a bit of fantasy.

All the worlds presented are beautifully constructed; at no point did I get the feeling that what was being presented made no sense in the respective universe, and this is extremely important to me. This is not to say that the elements that made these stories feel outside of our world weren't there. They are obviously there without making it feel overdone and so my mind entered each story smoothly.

As might be expected, I liked some of the stories better than other, my favorites being Story of your Life and Others, which deals with the concept of language and physics, and Liking what you See, which deals with the concept and perception of beauty. Extra points for Understand not using the "we only use 10% of our brains" trope and actually going with something different.

Both narrators did a terrific job. Only at Liking What you See do we get to hear them at almost the same time, but I think they were perfect choices all the way through.

Fall Bloggiesta To-Do List

I can't believe that fall is almost here. While I love fall styles, up here in Montreal it gets cold so fast that sooner that you think is winter styles. I want to, once again, use the bloggiesta to organize a bit my blog. There is quite a lot of events happening during this time of the year and I want to tackle them with a fresh blog.

So here is my To-Do List:
  • Update my reviewed archive as well as my challenge related tabs
  • One review to post over the week-end
  • One non-review post
  • Participate in the Twitter party, now that I have a Twitter account 
  • Change my banner to the autumn one!
Unrelated...I am hoping I will pass my driver's exam on the 18th. Wish me luck!
    Update: Didn't make it you guys, but is ok, I can take it again soon.

So that's it. It looks doable, don't you think? If you are interested in joining Go HERE to read all about it and sign yourself up.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Late-Starters Orchestra by Ari. L Goldman

I asked and received this book through the LybraryThing Early Reviewers program for free. This review is not sponsored nor influenced in anyway. Thanks to Algonquin Books for the book.

First impression

When I first read the description of this book for some reason I put it in my mind as fiction so when I finally got my copy it was a nice surprise to realize it was indeed a non-fiction part memoir. The author decides to take back his learning of the cello when he is approaching his 60s. It is not the first time he tries the instrument, since he had his first lessons in his 20s, but then for some reason or another wasn't able to continue. This book tells us about his new reconnecting with the instrument, the memories this brings as well as the challenges.

Final thoughts

I started my violin lessons when I was 12, and I was already considered a late starter. I didn't continue after I turn 17 because my last year of high school was busy enough. Reading this memoir made me think that maybe eventually I will take it back.

As I mentioned, we follow the author through his journey of getting back in the saddle with his instrument with speckles of his daily activities, his son's Judah's love for the cello, his past and the reasons why he wanted to do this so wholeheartedly. With a very sincere voice and a very easy to follow prose, the author shows us not only his journey but also those of fellow musicians that he encounters in the different orchestras and courses he takes. He also gives a bit of information on how an orchestra works and the specifications of a learning cello.

The book reminded me of A.J. Jacobs a bit with less of a humoristic view of the situation. Maybe because of this fact I was not fully blown away by the story. It is very sweet to sees his interactions with Judah and how differently they approach the music. I think maybe if I would've read other books from the author before, I would be more used to his family (which is the case for me with Jacobs) and hence I wouldn't feel a lack of info for the other children and his wife.

The book itself is very pretty, with darling illustrations. I would recommend this to anyone like me, that still keeps their instrument in the closet, hoping to one day use it again :)

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Better World (Brilliance Saga #2) by Marcus Sakey

First impression

This is the second installment on the Brilliance Saga. I really enjoyed the first one (you can find my review here) and so it was a no-brainer to get the second one. Sakey continues to tackle the subject of how society reacts to difference from the status quo, and since we were already introduce to the concept of brilliance, A Better World leans more towards the political part of the equation. How would science deal with a new phenomenon, how would the oppress minority counter react to such oppression, how would the government and the anti government institutions play their cards? All of these questions and more are discussed in this series and certainly with more depth in this second part. I can only hope there is a third one.

Final thoughts

First thing I have to commend from this book is how it tackles science. Sometimes books, particularly on science fiction, go into such an elaborated push of science or even worst, state things that are in no way possible; both situations are hard for me to digest, particularly when the deal with biology. I did not get that from this book. Every scientific explanation was well constructed and made sense in accordance with the world that was being built by the author, without being so overly complicated that would made me lose interest.

Another thing that I really enjoyed was the multiple layers of every character. Every time I think I am starting to know the character and will be able to know what he/she is going to do another facet appears and it changes the result beautifully. They are very...human characters if you want, they are not all bad not all good. Characters that you were rooting for in the first book, you might want to slap them in this one and the other way around.

And Sharon, she is a great character; she is a bad ass all the way through. The scenes of her commanding attacks, for example; she has an imposing, determined personality, but can also be very sweet and endearing at times.

The rhythm of the book is good and I would say fast enough for an action book, without omitting details, or passing through them in a blur. Once again, enough detail to make it interesting, without making it into a dissertation. At times I will admit that I could do with a less description of people's intents through Nick's eyes, but at the same time, these scenes go so fast that they don't necessarily bother me, and it gives the book a movie feeling; I feel this would be a great series to make into a TV series or even a movie, and if I am not mistaken there is already talk of it happening.

So with all this praise, why am I not giving it a full 5? There is still something missing but I haven't been able to pin point to what it is. At the end I get what I was expecting and it was very well delivered, but I can't say with certainty that I got more than that.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Sunday Salon: Getting ready for September

Ok, ok, so September is already here but I was away on vacation so bear with me. This is going to be a very busy month, both in my reading life and my personal life, so I figured I will tell you a bit about it.

First off, we have the Readers Imbibing Peril IX. You can check my sing post here and there you will also find the titles I plan to read. This gives me my first September read: The Haunting of Hill House. My dearest Andi from Estella Society is hosting the readalong. I will also have to at least tackle on of the books from my list. Since the R.I.P Challenge coincided with the Read-a-Thon in October I am not ├╝berly nervous about managing my reading for this challenge, but still, I cannot leave the 4 books for October only.

Now, September is also NetGalley Month, an event hosted by Tay at Chicks that Read. For this event I want to read and review the following books: Sudden Light, Mademoiselle both coming out on September 30 and maybe The French Executioner, but this is a maybe, since I have a bit more time for it. Right now my NG ratio is 62.5% and that's with Sudden Light already reviewed. I would love to increase my ratio, but since I am certainly not lacking books to read, I won't be asking anymore books from NG until October probably.

This is also the month for A More Diverse Universe or Diversiverse, an event organized by Aarti from Booklust.
For those who have not heard about #Diversiverse before, it's a very simple challenge. For those of you who have participated in the past, it's even easier this year. The criteria are as follows:

Read and review one book

Written by a person of color

During the last two weeks of September (September 14th - 27th)
I have two candidates for this being: Stories of your life and Others by Ted Chiang, which incidentally is the month's pick for the Sword and Laser book club and Adulthood Rites by Octavia E. Butler, but once again, the second one is a maybe IF I manage to get to it.

That takes us to at least 4 books this month doesn't it? Well, the thing is I've been a bit behind with all my reviews, and this off course affects future reviews. So after trying it 2 times I've decided to start doing some Mini reviews. I believe there is always something to say about a book, but sometimes since I have very little to say (for example with certain sequels) I postpone the review in hopes I will get more to say later...but I don't. I don't think I will go back to write mini reviews for some of the books I've finished but haven't reviewed but you never know.

In the matter of my 2 year long challenges "Where in the world are you Reading" and "Sequel and Prequel Challenge" I think I am doing well. You can see my general progress in their respective tabs.

So that's it for the Blog life. Now for the personal part. This month A and I will celebrate 5 years together. I am so very lucky to have him, he is sweet and supportive and a big geek. It is also the first month that he is officially out of the lab. He still has to finish writing up his thesis and we are waiting for news on a job he interviewed for before we left for a week.

It will also be (hopefully) the month when I finally get my driver's license...well, I have mine from Colombia, but it took me a while to do the process to change it for a Canadian one because...I really don't like driving, guys. But with A no longer going to the lab with me, and the winter coming, we both agreed it will be who might be needing the car more often and so, here I am, getting ready for my driver's exam.

Now I am off to read. Happy September everybody!