Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Solo en Berlín (Every Man Dies Alone) by Hans Fallada

Format: Paperback

Pages: 575

Series: NA

Source: Own

Genres: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Maeva

Publication date: June 2011 (Originally published in 1947 as Jeder stirbt für sich allein)

First impression

Set on Germany on the early 1940s and based on a true story, the author tells the story of the Quangels, a middle aged couple who lose their only child to war. Both were part of the Nazi party as workers but with this shock coming to their lives makes them question the whole regime. It is how they start writing post cards with anti fascist messages, questioning the Fuhrer and his actions and dropping them in places with high traffic in the hopes that their questioning might expand. The book also tells the story of their neighbours: a member of the SS forces, a Jewish widow, a pathetic tattletale with too much greed and even their post lady, who is tired of her drunken husband.

The book was actually written during the war, first published in 1946, which gave it a lot of realistic tones both in the characters and in the events going on. Unfortunately, I believe there was a lot lost in translation, particularly in the dialogues which made it hard for me to fully enjoy the read. I could feel all the important messages and nuances, but they felt buried under the effect of translation.

Final thoughts

Several members of my family read this book and fairly enjoyed it. I was not one of them. The main characters where very well constructed both as individuals and as a couple. When the book was describing what they would do and their thoughts I would be engrossed and amazed at them...but then the dialogues would come and somehow they speech seemed forced or even fake. I feel the need to point out here that the version I was reading was a translation in Spanish from Spain (or Castilian if you prefer) so my brain couldn't overlook the expressions used and the sentence construction so different from my own. Sadly, this carried all through the book and I would find myself wanting to put the book down or even wanting to skip the dialogues.

I also felt, that while the secondary characters gave extra perspectives of the war itself, there were too many of them and while the author certainly tried to give a deeper view of all of them some of them felt (to me) like a half baked idea. You can argue that books as LOTR have tons of secondary characters, and off course you would be right, but they are treated as secondary characters all along, and hence if their story ends, it doesn't feel like someone just turned off a switch all of the sudden. With Fallada's secondary characters, the feeling was that they might actually become main characters so when their parts were over I was left with an unfulfilled feeling.

The other thing that made it hard for me to engage was the pacing of the book; the first ¾ of the book felt extremely slow, while I will admit that there was a lot of build up, but more than once I considered DNF because I could not get fully engaged. My family encouraged me to continue and it is true that when I arrived to the last part of the book, the rhythm certainly picked up but it still felt a little too late.

One thing that set this book apart from other war books I've read is the keen eye Fallada had to describe human's nature, not just in the extremes moments but everyday situations.

The book was put together by the author in 24 days, a bit before his dead at age 81. It is considered to one of the first anti-Nazi novel, and it is particular not only by the fact that it is based on real facts, but because it was written by a German author, right after the war. All of this is still remarkable. However I can't in all honestly say that the book gave me more than I was expected and to a point it was limit to what I thought it would be. I would recommend this book to people that enjoy war stories with a very realistic (and sad I have to add) feel.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Spinster: Making a Life of One's Own by Kate Bolick

Format: eGalley

Pages: 246

Series: NA

Source: NetGalley

Genres: NonFiction

Publisher: Crown Publishing

Publication date: April 21, 2015

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

 First impression
It’s hard to say which is more exhausting: the sheer arbitrariness of knowing that her one true love could appear out of anywhere, anytime, and change hr fate in an instant (you never know who is around the corner), or the effortful maintenance (manicures, blowouts, bikini waxes, facials) that ensures she’ll be ripe for the picking when it happens
These words, set in the very beginning of the book caught my attention and with it set the tone for a book that I thoroughly enjoyed. I was afraid that the book might be a book dedicated to throwing marriage out of the window as just “bad” and how glorious it is to be single, and nothing else. I was very happy to see that Bolick, does not make it sound like being single is the only way, or that women deciding to marry have it wrong or viceversa. Rather it is the telling on how she came to find what worked for her, her inspirations, her questioning on why the connotation of single hood on a woman is immediately associated with “something missing” or why the term spinster has such bad association. Based on her own life experience, Bolick gives a very interesting view on being single for the long term.

Final thoughts

Why is it that there is so much pushing to get married? The whole industry behind weddings, engagements and at the end, marriage sometimes feels overwhelming. Instead, in her book, Kate Bolick talks about wonderful women who were amazing on their own, and at the same time tells the reader how she got to a point on her life where she is perfectly comfortable in her skin, as an unmarried woman, and why, shall it be your decision to do so, you should be perfectly fine with it too.

While women have come a long way in a lot of accounts, it would seem that the idea of you always needing someone else is almost inevitable. Not so much if you area man, although I have seen the pressure on both sides. The idea that you can be happy without being in a couple still feel foreign and somehow, unrealistic. This book make me think so much about single hood, which sometimes felt weird, considering I’ve been in a relationship for more than 5 years now and we are presently engaged. But, the question that kept coming as I read this book, was: Would I be fine if for some reason we break up? Well, off course I would be sad, but I would be ok. Even more telling was realizing how many of my friends might not be, if they would become a “spinster”.

Bolick doesn’t spend the book talking about the evilness of marriage, or even being in a couple. She has been part of a couple and has been happy in it, but she mostly shows how it is perfectly possible to be equally happy being single. With splashes of the rest of her life such as the death of her mother, the big move to New York, and a huge break up, she tells her journey as it is: the journey that took her to love her single hood.

As with any big part of one’s identity, the idea of being single and what it represents changes through her life, and that was probably one of the things I enjoyed the most in the book: how her perspective changed and grew as different moments in her life were taking place and as she met her inspirations. I learned of women I had never heard of, women who were comfortable with themselves and loved their single selves.

I would recommend this book to almost anybody. The only reason I didn’t give it 5 stars is because it can get very academic some times, and hence a bit heavy in certain passages.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Imago (Xenogenesis #3) by Octavia E. Butler

Format: Audio

Narrated by: Barrett Aldrich

Lenght: 8 hrs and 18 mins

Series: Xenogenesis (#3 and Final)

Previous Book: Adulthood Rites

Source: Audible

Genres: Science Fiction

Publisher: Audible Studios

Publication date: May 2nd 2014 (first published 1989)

First impression

What an amazing trilogy. I am so glad this was my first contact with the work of Octavia E. Butler, because I completely loved every book and the series as a whole. In this book we encounter Jodahs, another son of Lilith and her Oankali family; a construct. For the first time, a construct that is turning into an ooloi, the first one to come from human parents. Once again, Butler explores how we deal with the unknown and the changes this brings to everyone including yourself.

Final thoughts

I think I have never encountered and author that makes me question what identity really is like Octavia E. Butler with this series. Not only to what a human is, but all those little labels that we gather through our lives: male, female, foreign, normal, etc. This third book is off course not exception, and it comes in the form of a coming-of-age for the main character, Jodhas, who as it turns out, won't be male or female, since the ooloi are neither. First we see its own struggle it has accepting what he is becoming and at the same trying to explain to others so they will not only understand this new step in the Oankali-Human relationship but also so they will accept it and hopefully embrace it.

Once again, as in the rest of the series, the subject of xenophobia is discussed at large, except that in this book, is not just humans who are afraid, the Oankali don't know what to do with Jodhas, and fear what its presence might mean. I loved that she (Butler) shows so beautifully how the unknown is always scary, independent of our background, but that at the same time, we don't need to be afraid. Acceptance is always present in this trilogy, sometimes reluctantly, but always there.

Jodhas has this ability to modify its appearance to make whoever is around more comfortable, to adapt to others and I found this extremely interesting, as it cannot help but do it, most of the time it wouldn't realize this was happening until someone else pointed this out. This is something so common in relationships, we change a bit, not to much that we lose ourselves, but enough to reflect our new situation. The problem of changing so much that our identity is lost is also addressed, but I don't want to discuss it too much, as I fear it might give some spoilers.

I particularly enjoyed the feeling of family portrayed in the book. While sometimes it would seem like a more complicated structure, at the end it is always a net of support, with all of the members being woven together by love, expectations and belonging.

The other thing that the trilogy addresses in an impressive way is sexuality, and what it might mean to a person (or to an Oankali). What it might mean to feel and identify as male, female, both or neither and how others that might be more accustomed to a more black-and-white perspective would respond to this perspective being challenged. I can only say that Octavia E. Butler was a genius being able to put herself in the skin of so many issues and most importantly being able to transmit these feelings in her writing.

I would recommend this series to anyone seeking a brilliant sci-fi series with a lot of social subtext.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

Format: Audio
13 hrs and 46 mins 
Series: NA
Source: Audible
Genres: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publication date: January 7th, 2014 

First impression

I had heard so many wonderful things about this book, ever since it came about, almost a year ago but hadn't gotten around to reading it. During the holidays, I had some extra time and had an extra credit on Audible, so I went for it.

The story is told from 2 POVs: Sarah Grimcke, the daughter of a plantation owner in Charleston and Hetty "Handful" Grimcke, a slave for the family. The 2 girls grow together, very close on age, and the develop something close to a friendship. Both prisoners in very different ways, both trying to break free from the roles society has imposed on them. They grow up to be strong women still in each other's life, until the end and end up helping the other out in ways they didn't see coming.

The role of Sarah Grimcke is based on a real character of the early abolitionist movement, and the author is very clear about the fact that there was a lot of fiction added to this story, the final product being a very emotional and touching story.

Final thoughts

I haven't read The Secret Life of Bees so this is my first contact with the author's style, but now I want to get my hands on her previous books. Speckled with historic facts, this novel takes the reader through the first steps of the abolition movement through the eyes of Sarah, who is not only fighting against slavery but also against the set ideas against women. On the other hand, Hatty represents the hardest conditions, being a slave AND a woman: the description of punishments, mistreatments and her life in general are heartbreaking, even more so when you think about the fact that this is perfectly realistic to how slaves were treated.

The book is presented in several parts, all of them representing a couple of years of the girls/women story, beginning when they are merely 11 years old, up to their 40s/50s. The author makes a wonderful job at building their characters, showing how these changes with age and with the marking events they bath have to encounter. The constant contrast of where each one of the main characters were is probably one of the strongest assets of the book, in my own opinion.

I don't know how much of the intensity I felt from both characters is due to the narrators, but for me, they were both very charged, full of emotion, particularly Hetty. The flow of the story made for a seamless narrative and so I got carried away with the story, so much that when it ended I stayed sitting in my chair for a couple of minutes savouring the conclusion of it.

I cannot compare this book to any of her previous work, so I cannot suggest to anyone that they should start with this one; however I can say that if like me is your first approach to Sue Monk Kidd, is a good one, with well developed characters and interesting views of the 19th century USA. Both Jenna Lamia and Adepero Oduye do a wonderful job giving a voice to Sarah and Hetti.

Monday, January 5, 2015

What am I reading this month: January

Hello everybody! First of all Happy New Year! I hope all of your wishes/goals come to be realized and that you have lots of health and happiness!

I am starting a new monthly post, telling you what I will be reading for the month! It should also help me to keep better track of my reading :D. So let us start

For my Diversifying 2015 challenge (you can sign up here) I will be reading Lovetorn by Kavita Daswani. This book was recommended on BookRiot and I am very exited to read it.

For my "reading more in Spanish" goal, I will be reading Solo en Berlín (Every Man Dies Alone) by Hans Fallada. While this book wasn't originally written in Spanish, a lot of people in my family read it and loved it and my aunt left her copy here, so I decided to start it.

For my "reading more nonfiction" goal, I will be reading Death in the City of Light by David King. The book is about a serial killer in Paris during the Nazi Occupation and I bought it on a whim after reading the synopsis. 

For the Sword and Laser Book Club, we will be reading The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. I've heard nothing but wonderful things about this one; hopefully I will get it from my library this week.

For my "reading more CanLit" goal, and with the Hello Hemlock book club, we will be reading As for me and my House by Sinclair Ross. Once again, I am still waiting for my copy from the library.

For my "finishing series" goal I will be listening to Imago by Octavia E. Butler, the third and final book in the Xenogenesis series. 

In december I also got The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, but I didn't started it, so I think I will be listening to that one too. 

And finally, from NetGalley I am lucky to have a copy of Spinster by Kate Bolick. 

Out of those 8 books, I own 5 of them, so I am also working on my "reading more of the books I already own" goal. 

Seems like a lot, I know, but particularly the audio books pass in a blur, with commuting, and with the coldest months getting here, nothing better than to have something to curl up with.

What about your reading for this month? what are you reading? Let me know in the comments and have a nice week. I will be celebrating my birthday on Friday, so I am quite exited about that too!

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Spritiglass Charade by Colleen Gleason

Format: Advance Reader's Copy, softcover
Pages: 354
Series: Stoker and Holmes (#2) 

Previous Book: The Clockwork Scarab
Source: LybraryThing Early Reviewers Giveaway
Genres: Science Fiction, Steampunk, Young Adult Fiction.
Publisher: Chronicle Books 
Publication date: October 7th, 2014

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 Chronicles Books for the book.

The candle flames burned straight and steady. Silence reigned. As the stillness went on, I felt a prickle of anticipation instead of my normal impatience.

First impressions

The second book in the Stoker and Holmes series, this book went beyond what I was expecting. In the first book, we meet Mina Holmes, niece of the famous detective, and Evaline Stoker, sister of Bram and as it turns out a vampire slayer. Set in a parallel Victorian Steampunk London, the duo sets to solve yet another mystery, once again asked by Princess Alix. The young Willa Ashton has become obsessed with mediums and paranormal events, in search of her lost brother. But is it really a paranormal thing going on or is someone taking advantage of sweet, naïve Miss Ashton?

Final thoughts

I was under impressed with the first book, to say the least; it felt to me that the author was trying to reach way too many tropes and in doing so, they were not fullfilled and the characters weren't develop to their full potential. 

In this second installment all the main characters get time to grow on the reader and this is a great thing, particularly since the chapters jump from one girl to the other one. I'm still having a bit of a hard time with the steam punk gimmicks, but I think even if they weren't there I would quite enjoy the mystery part.

In this book, while still very analytical, Mina Holmes is not only "logical" and we get to see another side of her. While I could do without the 2 love interests for her, and another 2 (it seems) for Evaline, their interactions with the boys are quite entertaining and luckily the main arc does not revolve around them getting "weak in the knees". Actually that is something I have to applaud in this series: the main characters are strong, intelligent women and most of their interactions are with other similar female characters. They are the ones finding the answers and saving the day!

Now, the mystery, I will admit I did not see who the culprit was, and that is nice,specially when you are having a detective side of the story. It really bothers me when the whole thing is extremely obvious from the beginning. And what is more, the author gave a final twist at the end that makes me really want to get the third book!

I flew through the book during the holidays and so I would recommended for Steampunk fans and for people looking for a fast, fun read.