Saturday, 30 April 2011

The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald

It took me a while to get through this one. I’ve been super busy in University but I’m glad I kept on reading. I’m sure most people had to read this book at some stage in school. But having gone to an all girls' school we stuck to Wuthering Heights and Pride and Prejudice.

Synopsis: The story of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, of lavish parties on Long Island at a time when The New York Times noted “gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession,” it is an exquisitely crafted tale of America in the 1920s.

The story is told from Nick Caraway’s point of view. Nick lives on the tip of West Egg and knows only what he sees or is told about Gatsby. It doesn’t take long for him to finally meet the mysterious Gatsby and the story unfolds beautifully from there. Fitzgerald presents us with the American Dream and how it does not become reality for all. His excellently crafted characters put their faith and their trust in unstable things such as wealth, social superiority, commercialism, the power of culture and their typical American idealism.  Essentially The Great Gatsby is a tale of a man endeavoring to win back a lost love.  Nick, unlike the other characters, is the only person to show human compassion and to grieve the tragedies that befall others.  Each character is believable and distinct and the writing is beautiful. 3/5

Describe it in two words: Tragic and Beautiful

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Made My Week!!

I could not be anymore excited!! The new Harry Potter movie trailer was released by WarnerBros this morning!!! I was in the library 'studying' when I discovered it. It was a serious challenge not to scream out in pure joy! I have been studying 10 hours a day this week so this is just what I needed to cheer me up :)

Although, on the down side I am hugely distracted now. I find myself in a routine of study for a while, watch the HP trailer, study, trailer, study, trailer! Once these exams are over I see myself re-reading the Harry Potter series :)

Sunday, 24 April 2011

4x4 meme

I just saw this meme on Amused By Books and think it’s a great way to get to know more about everyone! 

Four jobs I've had in my life:
  1. Working in the Alamo Mexican Restaurant in Dublin
  2. Chipotle in Madison WI
  3. Aware helpline Volunteer (This I am currently doing while studying for my finals in Uni which start next week...eeps)
  4. World Wide Kids ( a little kids boutique clothes shop)
Four books I would read over and over:
  1. Can you keep a Secret by Sophie Kinsella
  2. Any book from the Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon
  3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K Rowling
  4. One Day by David Nicholls
Four books I would recommend:
  1. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  2. The Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly
  3. Into the Wilderness by Sara Donati (Especially if you like Diana Gadaldons books)
  4. The Four books in the above section!
Four places I have been:
  1. Paris, France (Went with for my birthday recently, Beautiful!)
  2. Madison, Wisconsin (Spent last summer there living with American students, great place, great people)
  3. Portugal (Used to go every summer with my family)
  4. New York
Four of my favorite foods:
  1. Mexican and anything spicy (My family owns a Mexican restaurant in Ireland)
  2. Red or Green Thai Curry
  3. Butlers chocolates
  4. Cheese
Four of my favorite drinks:
  1. Orange Juice
  2. Tea (no milk or sugar!)
  3. Coca Cola
  4. Club Orange
Four places I'd rather be right now:
  1. I would Love to be back in Paris!
  2. Or at a music festival!!
  3. On a sunny beach in Australia
  4. In bed with my book but it’s a bit early!
Four things that are very special in my life:
  1. My Boyfriend
  2. My family
  3. Friends
  4. Toby my dog :)
I actually left out one question, Four places I have lived, as I have lived in Dublin all my life! Let me know if you do this meme so I can check it out :) Better getting going and read my book. I have been so busy this week and as a result it is taking me far too long to read The Great Gatsby. I’m going to start Beyond the Highland Mist - Karen Marie Moning after Gatsby. I feel like a little romance to help get me through my exams! Happy Easter guys!

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby

Annie’s put fifteen years into safe, slightly obsessive Duncan and now she’d like her money back, please. It’s time to move on. But she lives in Gooleness, the north’s answer to a question nobody asked. Is she really going to find real, proper, feel-it-deep-down-in-your-boots love on a damp and windy seafront? Or perhaps she should follow her heart and pursue Tucker, the reclusive American rock star, who keeps emailing her his smart advice.
But between Annie and her second chance lie a few obstacles. There’s Malcom, the world’s most judgmental therapist, and Barnesy, the north’s most extrovert dancer. There’s what men and women will do and won’t do for love. And, of course there’s Tucker…

Well the synopsis pretty much explains everything so I’ll keep this short and sweet. Annie is a fan of the reclusive musician Tucker Crowe while Duncan is a little more than obsessed about him. The story begins with Annie and Duncan going on a tour of places associated with Tucker Crowe including the public bathroom where he allegedly decided to pack in his career as a rock star. The story focuses on relationships, ageing and kids.

I have to say that I really enjoyed this book and there were moments when I laughed out loud. The characters are well developed and a little wacky. The story touches on regrets and what a person should do when they find that they have wasted the last 20 odd years of their life. This may sound depressing but it is told is the humorous fashion that is Nick Hornby. It’s a light but meaningful book. An easy and enjoyable read. 3 ½ out of 5

Describe it in two words: Funny and Honest

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Savage Lands by Clare Clark

It is 1704 and, in the swamps of Louisiana, France is clinging to its new colony with less than two hundred men. Into this hostile land comes Elisabeth Savaret, one of twenty-three women sent from Paris to marry men they have never met. With little expectation of happiness, Elisabeth is stunned to find herself falling passionately in love with her husband, infantryman Jean-Claude Babelon.
But Babelon is a dangerous man to love. And when Elisabeth finds her love challenged by Babelon’s duplicity, the consequences are devastating.

This is the first book from my list of summer reads. And I found it very frustrating. I could barely contain my excitement when I first read the synopsis. The 18th Century, a foreign land, Indians, marrying a man she has never met and then falling in love with him, where I could I wrong with this one?

Well for one thing, and this is probably the thing that annoyed me most, I didn’t have the slightest idea as to how she really met her husband, what drew them together and why she fell so passionately in love with him. Jean-Claude is away for most of the year negotiating with the Indians so we never really yet to see them interact as a couple. I found it very difficult to like Elisabeth as some of her actions are beyond belief.

The author also covered pivotal events in the story in a very ambiguous way and it left me thinking, what exactly just happened there…? I found this deeply frustrating and often had to put the book down and come back to it later.

I frequently found myself a bit lost in the time line of the story. Time moves along quite fast yet the characters stay the same.  We follow a very interesting character called Auguste.  At just 12 years of age he is billeted to an Indian Village where he must learn their language and customs.  As time passes Auguste continues to be referred to as a boy when he should be around 18 years old, which is clearly a man in those times.

This story has so much potential but unfortunately, to me, the characters’ were not well developed and just didn’t seem to click together well.  From a historical point of view I found it very interesting. The reader learns a lot about how hard and brutal life was in Louisiana in the early 18th Century. Overall I was disappointed as it was not what I expected.

There is a bad mistake in terms of the writing and editing in this book. Auguste is thinking of a blue silk tablecloth that matches Elisabeth’s blue eyes and on the following page he remembers her brown eyes. I know I’m being petty now but in my opinion no author should make a mistake like that about their main character. What do you think? Am I overreacting?

If you like historical novels and want something light to read then give this go. 2 ½ out of 5

Describe it in two words: Disappointing and Lacking

Sunday, 17 April 2011

The Exile by Diana Gabaldon

The Exile is Diana Gabaldon’s first graphic novel. It gives the readers a fresh look at the original Outlander (or Cross-stitch if you’re living in Europe).  It gives us Jamie Fraser’s side of the story and is illustrated by Hoang Nguyen. For anyone who is unaware, a graph novel is a story told in pictures and speech bubbles.

Being a die-hard fan of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, I was a little worried that a graphic novel would distort the view of Claire and Jamie in my head.  But I found that after reading seven books, the Claire and Jamie I imagine are deeply rooted in my mind and no graphic novel can take that away from me!

While it retells the story of the first book in the series it also contains diverging storylines. Events involving both Jamie and his Godfather Murtagh; events that Claire is totally unaware of.  I should also mention that it only covers the first half of Outlander.

A few of the drawings made Jamie look childish and, dare I say it, a bit on the ugly side! But other than that I think the artist did an outstanding job and really brought the characters to life.

It is hard to rate this as I’ve never read any other graphic novels. But if you are a fan of the Outlander series then I would recommend you read The Exile.

Describe it in two words? Fun and Different

Saturday, 16 April 2011

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

Synopsis: Set in the turbulent times of the twelfth-century England when civil war, famine, religious strife and battles over royal succession tore lives and families apart, The Pillars of the Earth tells the story of the building of a magnificent cathedral.
Against this richly imagined backdrop, filled with intrigue and treachery, Ken Follett draws the reader irresistibly into a wonderful epic of family drama, violent conflict and unswerving ambition. From humble stonemason to imperious monarch, the dreams, labours and loves of his characters come vividly to life.

I actually read this almost a year ago but since World Without End is on my reading list I felt it would be right to start with this review.

Set in the 12th Century, this is an incredibly well researched, historical novel. If, like me, you love historical novels, then this is one you can get lost in. It sat on my shelf collecting dust for months as 1076 pages about building a cathedral just seemed a bit daunting to me. It is not a subject that you would expect to be very exciting; but set against a medieval backdrop of knights, earls and family politics it makes for riveting stuff.

The story follows Prior Philip as he fights a seemingly never-ending number of obstacles to keep his dream of building a magnificent cathedral in Kingsbridge. Tom Builder, the master-mason, and his gifted stepson Jack, take on this enormous and daunting task. It touches on all human emotions – love and hate, loyalty and treachery, hope and despair.

The characters are very well developed. But I found some of them, namely William Hamleigh, to be so cruel and vile I almost wanted to tear the pages from the book. Some things that occur are so unjust that it was just too much for me to bare and I had to put the book down for a few days! This story is a real struggle between good and evil. It took me a good month to read. But don’t let that put you off; it is definitely worth the time invested.

After reading it I can really appreciate how hard it was to build a cathedral like this in the 12th Century. It can take several life times. I had the incredible good luck of going to Paris last January for my birthday. When I went to visit Notre Dame this book immediately came to mind. I can’t think of a worthy word to describe how beautiful Norte Dame is. When you think about how much work went into creating a building like this… it just blew me away.

I’m giving this 4/5 stars. It loses a star because the injustices that occur were sometimes too much for me. But that is just me being soft! I invested a lot into Phillip and Tom and so it was hard for me to see them draw the short straws all the time. A brilliant novel that I would recommend to everyone.

Describe it in two words?  Monumental and Gripping 

Friday, 15 April 2011

Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year old girl, is taken with her parents by the French police as they go door-to-door arresting Jewish families in the middle of the night. Desperate to protect her younger brother, Sarah locks him in a bedroom cupboard – their secret hiding place – and promises to come back for him as soon as they are released.
Sixty Years Later: Sarah’s story intertwines with that of Julia Jarmond, an American journalist investigating the roundup. In her research, Julia stumbles onto a trail of secrets that link her to Sarah, and to questions about her own romantic future.

The story follows Julia’s investigation of the horrific Velodrome d'Hiver Roundup in Paris 1942. The author effortlessly weaves the present day with the tragic events of the past.
Taken from her home in the middle of the night Sarah manages to innocently lock her brother in the secret cupboard in order to protect him. She is then taken, with her parents and hundreds of other Jewish families, to the Vel’ d’Hiv.

Meanwhile in the present day Paris, journalist Julia Jarmond is assigned to cover the 60th anniversary of the Vel d'Hiv-the round up. While doing research for her article, Julia discovers the story of the Starzynski family and soon becomes deeply involved in a quest to find out what happened to Sarah Starzynski and the connections involving her own family. These connections cause Julia to re-evaluate things in her life and her relationship with her husband.

One negative point…Julia’s research into Sarah’s life almost took over her own life. I found he passion she had for researching at the end a bit unbelievable. I also found the ending was quite predictable, but this does not take away from the book. In my opinion the story is about finding out what happened to Sarah.

I definitely lost sleep over this book. Sarah’s key is a remarkable and shocking story. I couldn’t put it down until I discovered what had happened to her. 4/5

Describe it in two words? Tragic and Moving

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

A story of impossible love and a way of life lost forever.

Orphaned, penniless, Jacob Jankowski jumps a freight train in the dark, and in that instant, transforms his future. By morning, he’s landed a job with the Flying Squadron of the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. By nightfall he’s in love.
In an America made colourless by prohibition and the Depression, the circus is a refuge of sequins and sensuality. But behind the glamour lies a darker world, where both animals and men are dispensable. Where falling in love is the most dangerous act of all…

This is another book I bought after seeing the movie trailer in the cinema. If there is a good movie coming out I always read the book first because chances are, the book is better and I don’t want to miss out on a good book. Because it has been made into a movie I did have high expectations for this one and sadly I was a small bit disappointed.

Water for Elephants is not the most challenging in terms of literature but is an entertaining and easy read.  The exciting prologue and the historical aspect quickly drew me in.
Ninety ‘or Ninety-three’ year old Jacob lives in a nursing home where he spends his days sitting in a hall way staring out the window. With the arrival of a circus he starts to reminisce about his youth. Orphaned and penniless he literally runs away with the circus where he meets and falls in love with Marlena, the star of the show. However, in a cruel twist, she turns out to be married to Jacob’s boss, August, a brutish and dangerous man.

Present day Jacob is a sad, melancholic character. He is fading fast and has been virtually forgotten by his family. The periodic returns to the present interrupted the flow and suspense of the story and were unnecessary. The 1930s story alone would have been excellent.

Gruen remarkably captures the essence of circus life in the 1930s. Running away with the circus is not the clichéd fairytale you would expect. It is a harsh life full of cruelty and deceit. There is a strict hierarchy and those who step out of line get ‘red lighted’ (thrown from the moving train at night).

Overall it is an enjoyable book. The love story is intriguing and August’s character adds a sense of danger and excitement. I also grew very fond of Rosie the elephant who was often the target of August’s rage. I would recommend this book if you’re looking for something light. 3 ½ out of 5.

Watch the trailer on YouTube for the film adaptation, click here It doesn’t contain any spoilers!

Dare I say…I think the movie is going to be better than the book??

Describe it in two words?  Entertaining and Imaginative

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Synopsis: I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep. My name is Kvothe. You may have heard of me.

I was in a bookshop recently where people seemed to be congregating around a stand of books. Upon investigation I discovered the book was called The Wise Man's Fear. The second in a fantasy trilogy. It seemed to be in high demand so I went home with the first book, The Name of the Wind. And so began the tale of Kvothe. The story is in two parts. Present day Kvothe who runs an inn and tells the story of Kvothe from the past. 

The majority of the book focuses on Kvothe’s experiences and struggles as he grows up. You can’t help but admire Kvothe’s intelligence and resilience in the face of hardships that no 12 year old boy should experience. The book is peppered with eccentric and mysterious characters that draw you further into its pages.
In my opinion the best years of Kvothe’s story so far are those when he is attending the University. This is where you learn about the magic in the world and just how powerful Kvothe has become.

It is a coming of age tale with a focus on the painful realities of not having food, money or social status to get you by in life. Rothfuss’s ability to take magic and fantasy and turn it into something completely believable makes this an exceptional novel. The unanswered questions at the end leave the reader wanting more!

I have since gone and bought The Wise Man’s Fear. But alas, I have to force myself to save it for awhile. Once I am finished reading it I will have to wait for the third book to be written and published. Who knows how long that will take!  4/5

Describe it in two words? Humorous and Epic

One Day by David Nicholls

You may have seen this book in the bestsellers section of the bookshop recently and deservedly so!

Synopsis: You can live your whole life not realizing that what you’re looking for is right in front of you. 15th July 1988. Emma and Dexter meet on the night of their graduation. Tomorrow they must go their separate ways. So where will they be on this one day next year? And the year after that? And every year that follows?

Where to start with this one…? I was totally gripped by this book. This is a story that manages to wrap its arms around you and hug you close after the first few pages. The story flows effortlessly; it easy to get into but very hard to put down.

 One Day follows the lives of Emma and Dexter. It covers the same day every year over a twenty year period. It is a tale of love, life and friendship and is a truly funny and heartwarming read.  The characters are well drawn; flawed and complex and at the same time easy to relate to. Emma is witty and idealistic, while Dexter is vain and self centered (but don’t let that put you off). Dex and Em are two people who stay with you long after you finish reading. One piece of advice: Don’t skip to the end to ‘quickly’ see what happens. I urge you to read it as it comes.

One of the most moving novels I have ever read. It affected me more than any other book and it stayed with me for days.  This is a book that will never see the inside of a charity shop. 5/5

Describe it in two words? Gripping and Bitter-Sweet

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

I bought this book because the movie trailer looked pretty good, although I never got around to seeing the movie. Ishiguro has also written Remains of the Day, a book and film I'm sure you have heard of. 

It is difficult to describe this book without giving the plot away so I'm going to share the synopsis from the book to start with!

 Ishiguro imagines the lives of a group of students, Kathy, Ruth and Tommy who grow up together at Hailsham, a seemingly idyllic school deep in the English countryside with a dreadful secret at its heart. Now thirty-one, Kathy attempts to come to terms with her childhood at Hailsham and with the fate that has always awaited her and her closest friends in the wider world. A story of love, friendship and memory, which is charged throughout with a sense of the fragility of life.

The story is narrated by Katy as she remembers her life at Hailsham where she was raised with her friends. Ishiguro manages to capture beautifully both the fragility and loyalty of childhood relationships along with the petty jealousies. From the start the atmosphere surrounding Hailsham has a sinister air about it.  It was this that drew me in as I needed to find out more. As the story progresses you learn more about the characters and their relationships with each other. There is always a sense of foreboding; an evil fate awaits them and its implications slowly become clear as the story progresses. This fate that awaits them is incredibly shocking and moving.

There were times when I felt the narration rambled on a bit too much. The author frequently uses the line “But what I wanted to talk about was”, after having gone off topic for a few pages. I found this quite irritating. But perhaps I’m just not used to that particular style of writing?

Overall it is a story about density and fate. It evokes the chilling sense of our lives never having been what they could have been. It is an extraordinary novel which I highly recommend.

Describe it with two words? Haunting and memorable

Here's the movie trailer if you are interested. But BE WARNED it may spoil the book a bit!
Click here