The true university these days is a collection of books.
-Thomas Carlyle

Sunday, 25 January 2009

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

I had seen this book around the shops but it was when I saw it reviewed around various blogs, and in particular Biblio Brat that I took a serious interest and finally bought it at The Amorous Cat bookshop last year.
I loved the cover and also the first few lines, which draw you in mercilessly. Also I was intrigued to read a book set in Barcelona, which I have visited and is one of my favourite European cities.
The Barcelona of this novel is a dusty, crumbling, post-civil war city, absolutely perfect for a mystery. The young Daniel is taken to the 'Cemetery of Forgotten Books', a subterranean labyrynth of lost titles known only to those in the book business, by his father who is an antiquarian bookseller. He is told to choose a book and he is drawn to The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax. It is here that Daniel's life takes a bizarre and entertaining turn, as he becomes obsessed with finding out more about the author. As he delves deeper he is drawn into a mystery which becomes more complicated and more dangerous at every turn, involving himself and also those around him. This is a plot driven novel that has many exciting sub-plots which come together successfully and in a satisfactory way.
There is a huge warmth emanating from this novel, from the sepia tones of the cover, to the moment the words enter your imagination and take form. A lot of this warmth comes from the characters, all of which are built up with lots of layers making them believable and interesting. I cared about Daniel and his father, I cared about Fermin, the vagrant, and former political activist with an eye for the ladies, who they employ to work in the shop. I also cared about Julian Carax and his story of forgotten love and friendships. By contrast I was rightly repelled by the baddy, Fumero, the corrupt and sadistic Police Chief, and compelled by the shadowy character of Lain Coubert, a character from Carax's book who seems to have come to life.
The settings are fantastic, and there is a walk you can go on around Barcelona to visit some of the fictional and non-fictional landmarks (click here). It also touches on Paris (another of my favourite cities) and Pere Lachaise Cemetary which I love and count as one of my favourite places in the world. So great satisfaction all round here for me.
The thrilling aspects of the story were sufficient without scaring the pants off me, creepy, supposedly haunted and empty mansions, people coming out of the shadows, basement crypts and a run down asylum full of forgotten inmates. All very atmospheric and shiver-inducing to great effect. I found the hairs on my neck standing up more than once in anticipation. I was also moved by some of their relationships, especially the father and son threads that are present in the novel.
There are a lot of surprises along the way, all bound together with humour and a love story or two thrown in. It sounds as if it is trying to be all things to all people but Zafon has pulled it off. I never felt as if it was trying too hard, only that I was enjoying the ride.
A really entertaining, warm and lovely story!
You can read more about the author and his books here.
This book and author complete #7 of the mini challenges for 2009, to read a book by an author you haven't read before. I will include more about the author soon.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Haiku Humor: Wit and Folly in Japanese Poems and Prints

For all of you who enjoy Haiku poetry, this is a book that is well worth a look.
Containing, not just poetry, but some witty Japanese drawings too, it is all about seeing the funny side of life in a snapshot. For all of our differences across the world, diversity that makes us all fascinating and enables us to learn from one another, I have found the ability to laugh together to be one of the strongest and most delightful common denominators. Sharing a good laugh or a giggle at the absurdities of life is one of the pleasures of being human and this book contributes hugely.
It is a combination of traditional and contemporary poems, so spans the centuries as well as the globe, showing humour to be entertainment, a show of intelligence, or a coping mechanism during difficult times.
There are loads of humourous Haiku out there, one of my favourites was the Spam-ku website, yes its all poetry about SPAM luncheon meat! Some of them are hilairious. What I like about this book is that it collects together the more traditional form of the poem, old and new, with a playful slant that we can all relate to. Keep an eye on my Haiku of the week, on my sidebar, for more funny (and not so funny) poems in this form.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

2009 Mini-Challenges: A Novel Challenge

I know I said I was not going to do a challenge because I am a slow reader, but I saw this one over at Caribous Mom and couldn't resist it. You have to complete the 12 mini challenges throughout the year, in any order, and blog about it.
Here are the 12 challenges:
1. Read a collection of short stories and either blog about it, OR tell the group about what you read. Jigs and Reels by Joanne Harris.
2. Read a play. Blog about it, OR tell the group about your experience. The Witch of Edmonton by William Rowley, Thomas Dekker and John Ford, 1658
3. Read a nonfiction book; write a review on your blog or post it to the group.
Somewhere Towards The End by Diana Athill
4. Read 2 essays from the same collection; write a review on your blog or tell the group about what you read. Helene Cixous and Edward Said
5. Go to a book event; blog about it or tell the group about it.
6. Borrow a library book, read it and review it on your blog (or tell the group about it). A Vegetable Gardeners Year by Dirty Nails
7. Read a book by a new to you author. Do a little research on the author…do they have a blog? How many books have they written? Have they won any prizes? Where do they live? etc… Blog about the book you read and the author OR tell the group about them. I have read Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.
8. Make a donation. You can either donate to an organization that supports reading OR make a physical donation of a book (or books) to ANYONE. Blog about it or tell the group what you did. BookCrossing, Oxfam and Book Swap
9. Promote literacy. This is wide open - use your imagination. You could give a child a book, or read a book to someone who cannot read, or volunteer at an event which promotes literacy, or donate to your local library, or write something on your blog with a link to a group which promotes literacy, or anything in between. The only rule with this one is that you must PROMOTE literacy in some way… Book Swap at work
10. Participate in a buddy read or Group discussion. This can be a face to face group, an on-line group or a one on one discussion with a friend who read the same book. Either way, blog about your experience or share with the group. Did the discussion give you greater appreciation or insight into what you read? The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
11. Read a book outside your comfort level or from a genre you don’t normally read. Blog about it, or tell the group about it. The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
12. Read a classic (defined as anything published before 1970). Tell us why it fits the category of being a classic. Write a review or tell the group about the book.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
It sounded like fun and quite manageable so I have signed up and I'll blog about it as I go along. Red text is my completed task for each one!

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Looking back and looking forward...

It is the time of year that lists are compiled, resolutions, plans, and this blog is no exception as I recap 2008 and plan for 2009.
2008 was monumental in itself because I started this blog in May which has opened me up to a whole new world of fellow readers across the world. I also went to Hay-on Wye, the English Second Hand book capital, and also heard Simon Armitage live at the Liverpool Literary Festival.
2008 Acquisitions (the ones I've read are in blue to link to the review)
Hay-on-Wye - Bold
The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan
The L-Shaped Room by Lynne Reid Banks
The Famished Road by Ben Okri
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
A Haiku Anthlogy
Won on 2 giveaways -
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski from Book Group Girl
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows from A Readers Respite
Bought from Reid of Liverpool-
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
Rebbecca by Daphne du Maurier
Bought from The Amorous Cat-
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Amsterdam by Ian McEwan
Bought elsewhere-
Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier
Humourous Haiku
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
Lent to me by friends-
We need to talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver
The Gathering by Anne Enright
An Awfully Big Adventure by Beryl Bainbridge
Atonement by Ian McEwan
Inventing the Abbotts by Sue Miller
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khalid Hosseini
The Memory Garden by Rachel Hove
Three Jacobean Witchcraft Plays
Favourite Books-
And so to 2009...
I am a very slow reader and would find it almost impossible to adequately attempt any of the challenges that other bloggers take part in. I am, however, going to try 2 personal challenges next year.
1) To finally read Hawksmoor by Peter Ackroyd which has been sitting unread on my shelf for over 20 years. I mentioned this in a previous blog post.
2) To read Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke. This is going to take a while, being a snails-pace reader, so I have calculated at just over 1000 pages long I need to read about 3 pages a day to finish it in a year. I intend to update about this about once a month, which brings me to...
3) To do a monthly roundup on the blog, acquisitions, wishlist etc
4) To read as much as possible from my TBR pile which now consists of over 50 titles. Gulp!
So that is about it, a whole year in a nutshell.
Here's wishing you all a healthy and prosperous 2009, surrounded by books!

Hay on Wye

Hay on Wye