Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Vampire Diaries: The Awakening - L. J. Smith

1991, 254 pages.
This is the first book of “The Vampire Diaries” series. I was curious after watching the tv series so I decided to read the first book. It should be clear that the tv series does not follow the plot of the book. It is a different story. Some of the characters of the tv series are based on some characters from the book or a combination of more than one character, and some plot line ideas were used and changed. But the book is very different than the tv series.
In the book’s main plotline there’s Elena, a high school student, blond with blue eyes, the queen of her school, “the girl all the boys want and all the girls want to be”. She can get anyone she wants, but she doesn’t want anyone, until she meets handsome and mysterious Stephan, a new student in the school who prefers to keep to himself and stay away, especially from Elena.
The story goes between Elena’s point of view and Stephan’s, and when we get to his part, we learn that he’s a vampire, he tries to feed off animals and not humans, and he stays away from Elena both because she is a too big temptation for him to drink her blood, and because she has an amazing resemblance to Katherine, the girl he used to love in Italy a few centuries ago, in a love triangle with his older brother Damon, a love triangle that ended tragically.
The plot continues in two parallel times, in the now – the story of Stephan and Elena, in the past – the story of Stephan, Damon and Katherine.
I wasn’t really drawn into the story. Though it was written long before Twilight, it felt like a pale imitation to it. The story tries to be frightening and mysterious right from the beginning, starts with the sentence “Dear Diary, Something awful is going to happen today.” Before we know anything about the characters or the story. It just doesn’t work.
The characters are very shallow, with no depth to them, and they do not develop throughout the story. It is also not easy to like them. Elena is the bitchy queen of the school who hurts the boy who loves her and uses the girls who admire her.
It is a very easy and quick read, a short book that’s written in a simple and non-complicated way, so if you need a readable book that doesn’t take too much effort and concentration this could work for you. I decided not to go on to the next books in the series and settle for the tv series.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Road – Cormac McCarthy

2006, 256 pages
A father and son wander through a ruined country, all burned and empty of almost any resources, trying to find their way to the sea, to the south where it’s warmer, not really knowing what they hope to find there. All they have is a cart with some groceries, a gun with two bullets and each other. Usually they don’t meet any other people. When they do, they are very careful, because they are probably of “the bad” people.
Usually when I read a book I expect to identify with the characters, to feel what they feel, to fear what they fear and hope what they hope. In this case, the only way to make it through the book was to keep myself detached, to remind myself this is only a book, these are not real people and the events are not really happening. The book is like a parent’s worst nightmare, and worse. Not only does civilization ceases to exist, so there is no way to rely on society to provide the basic needs, but also the nature is all ruined, the water dirty, the vegetation all dead, and all animals are gone. The colors are only a far away memory, all is black and gray, the sun is not visible and even in the middle of the day light is dim and poor. The father cannot provide the basic needs of his son – food, shelter, security, hope for the future, trust of order and justice in the world. He has to see him going thinner, quieter, sadder. When they talk, he tries to give him a reason to go on, to survive, and teach him how to do this in the tough reality they live in. The boy clings to the fact, or desperate hope, that they are the good ones, they hold the fire, they will not turn to evil ways even if it means they will not survive. He insists on helping the less fortunate than them, even if that means getting closer to starving.
Though the book is short it draws the reader right in. It describes this hopeless apocalyptic world in a very realistic and believable way. Their reality is vividly described, if it can be said on such a colorless world. I wouldn’t recommend it to someone, especially a parent, who cannot detach himself from a story he reads, because it can truly be haunting and heartbreaking. But it is a great book, though it is short it remains in the mind of the reader long after it is done.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Red Pyramid (The Kane Chronicles, Book 1) - Rick Riordan

2010, 528 pages
I enjoyed a lot reading the Percy Jackson series and I was looking forward for the next series by Riordan. The Egyptian mythology always fascinated me as much as the Greek one or even more and I expected a lot from the Kane Chronicles which is based on the Egyptian mythology. The book was cute, fast-paced and full of action and humor, but I wasn’t dawned by it as I was by the Percy Jackson series.
In this book we have Carter and Sadie, brother and sister. Their mother died when they were 8 and 6, and since then Carter travels around the world with his Archaeologist father, while Sadie stays with her grandparents in London. They only see each other twice a year.
When Sadie is 12 and Carter is 14, Carter and his father visit Sadie, and they all go together to the British Museum. But the father has more than educational intentions, and things go terribly wrong. Carter and Sadie have to fend for themselves, save themselves and by the way also the world, while learning surprising facts about themselves and the Egyptian mythology, that turns out to be more than just old stories.
The story is told by Carter and Sadie, in turns. I always prefer one teller, and a story has to be really good to make me identify with only character (did someone say “Song of Ice and Fire?”…) . It did not happen here. The story starts with the action right away, with no chance to learn about the main characters before they start running for their lives and fighting scary monsters, and that also interfered with the process of falling for the characters and feeling for them before the action starts.
Just like in Percy Jackson, the colliding worlds of 2000’s teenagers and an ancient mythological world is a source for many funny situations and jokes, but it all seemed a little recycled and tired, and I didn’t find it as funny as I found the previous series.
One part really disturbed me at the beginning of the book, where it was explained that the existence of the “gods” does not contradict the one and only “God”, because they are all His creation. I found it a redundant flattery to the believers among the readers, and I don’t remember anything like that in the Percy Jackson series, nor do I remember any problems for believers to read and enjoy Percy Jackson.
All in all it was, like I said, cute, a nice read, but I do not think I will go on to the next books of the series.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Twilight - Stephenie Meyer

2006, 544 pages
It is very embarrassing for me to write the next sentence: I loved the book. Why embarrassing? Because it is a young adult book. The heroin is a 17 years old high school student, and it talks about first love. My interests should be a little more… mature, shouldn’t they? And if all that isn’t bad enough, I didn’t just love the book. I fell in love with it. I was completely submerged it in. I couldn’t let it out of my hand. I read all of its 500+ pages in two days. I can’t remember too many times such think has happened to me.
So what’s going on in this book – Bella comes back to Forks, WA to live with her father. Her mom left the town with her when she was a baby, but now she decides to go back there, for reasons that become clear later in the book, though she despises this green and rainy place, and much prefers hot and arid Phoenix where she lives with her mother since the divorce. In the new small-town school a group of extremely good looking boys and girls catches her attention. They sit together in the cafeteria and don’t socialize with the other kids. She gives special attention to Edward, who is good looking, and as she finds out soon enough, also smart, brave, strong, with some more surprises. It all looks too good to be true, and indeed she finds out he is not exactly human. But this will not stand in the way of such strong first love.
It was very easy for me to identify with Bella. She is addicted to reading. She loves literature and biology in school and does not need to work too hard to do well in them. She suffers from lack of coordination, and that makes her something between a total failure to danger to the surrounding in ball games (reminds me of the bowling game when I threw the ball backward, to the horror of my friends who stood behind me), and always feels like an outsider.
Wuthering Heights is Bella’s favorite book and it shows well in the story, with her romantic attraction to the mysterious, dark and dangerous.
The writer said in an interview she didn’t read almost any vampire book or watched any vampire series of movies and she tries very hard not to be influenced by them in the vampire world she built in the saga. And I am so glad she did it. Forget the disgusting smelly creatures of “The Historian”. Meyer’s vampires are divinely gorgeous, smell great, show special talents mentally and physically. If they only solve the problem of thirst to human blood, they will be perfect.
It is only the first book of the series. I already uploaded the next one to my kindle. It’s night, everybody’s fast asleep. In the quiet and dark it is easier to believe unnatural things than in daylight. Perfect time to cuddle on the reading recliner and start the second book. If it is as good as the first, I will probably not be seen for the next couple of days, and in the meantime, please do not disturb.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A Mercy - Toni Morrison

2008, 178 pages.
US of the 1690s. Florence is an African slave, separated from her mother and baby brother as part of a debt settlement between her previous master, Senor, to Sir, her new master, and arrived to what will become New York state, a wild country, forested and full of wild animals, to help the mistress and the two other slaves to hold the house and the ranch.
The story alternates between Florence and the other two slaves, when she goes to find someone whose identity we find later in the story. Florence tells the story in her own unique language, faulty English since it was not her mother’s tongue. She learned English only when she arrived to her current location when she was a child. The story starts with Florence’s monologue in the present, and the exact circumstances of how she get there, and what happened in the past, we find out gradually during the story, so I will not spoil them here.
The story sounds very intriguing, but the myriad of characters in this short book, and also the associative and confusing at times style of the book, where explanations to things that are said arrive much later, stopped me from identifying with the characters and get into the story, and I ended it with an indifferent feeling. The same feeling I had in her only other book that I read, “Beloved”, and I think her style is just not for me. In spite of all the prizes she got, her books are just not for me. I also lacked some context and historical background. The story is told through the eyes of the characters, which lived in this period and obviously didn’t feel the need to explain their surroundings. This was another reason it was difficult for me to get into the story and “live” it.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Brodeck – Philippe Claudel

 Brodeck – Philippe Claudel
Original French name: La Rapport de Brodeck

Brodeck came back to his little village after the war. He spent the war in a terrible camp, surrounded by cruelty and death, and hardly survived, gaining strength from thinking of coming back to his wife, Emilia, who stayed in the village.
Though he misses his village and sees it as his home, he wasn’t born there. He escaped death as a child in a faraway place, saved by an old woman, and arrived to the village with her. He is different, forever the stranger.
Brodeck is given an assignment from the village people. He has to write a report about a terrible thing that happened to a mysterious man who appeared in the village after the war. Brodecks writes the report, but he also talks about the nightmare he went through, going back and forth in time between the story of the stranger in the village and his own story.
There are no names to the places and events in the book, but it is clear it takes place in a border area between French and Germany, the war is the Second World War, and that Brodeck is a Jew.
This anonymity is not accidental. It is a big part of the message in the book. The evil can be found within anyone. Anyone can find himself as the murderer and the torturer. And anyone can find himself as the outsider, the victim, the other that is to blame for everything.
I found this book very important in a time when there is a tendency to treat these terrible times as a unique event, caused by non-human creatures, and targeted toward only one group. The lesson should be universal, and everyone should be very careful from being the victim or the torturer at the same time.
The book is not easy to read. It has some very disturbing descriptions, and very sad parts. Yet I find it worth reading. It’s interesting and thought provoking.

If you buy the book from the link at the top, I may get a small fee.