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review 2017-05-12 15:15
Die So Geliebte (Lei Cosi Amata)
Die So Geliebte. Roman Um Annemarie Schwarzenbach - Melania G. Mazzucco

Die So Geliebte (The So Beloved), originally published in Italian as Lei Cosi Amata, a fictionalised biography of Annemarie Schwarzenbach, on of the 1930s travel writers that I have become a fan of over the last couple of years, really quite surprised me.

 

I'm always hesitant about fictionalised biography because so many authors try to add an angle (usually a soppy romance - blergh!) that wasn't really there, so when I come across a book that does not dwell on this, is researched well, includes a lot of details and dates, and even goes to some effort to describe the research process in the afterword, it is exciting.

Of course, there are still aspects that I could criticise in the book: I still only have a vague concept of what Mazzucco describes as the betrayal of the MC (Schwarzenbach) on her family or the "disgrace" she's brought on her family, or that some of the re-imagined conversations were overly dramatic and sounded somewhat unnatural, or that some of the episodes in Schwarzenbach's life were missing, like her famous trip to Afghanistan with Kini Maillart.

 

However, these small criticisms fade when I look at the intent of the book, which was to tell the story of a young person in the 1920s and 30s who was searching for her own identity and purpose in a world that seemed to be falling apart. It was not the intent of the book to be a factual chronology of Schwarzenbach's life but to give context to it. And in this it really succeeded. 

 

(Btw, it is kinda ironic that the cover of the book is from a film called "Die Reise nach Kafiristan", which is loosely based on the trip with Maillart that is missing from this book.)

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review 2017-01-31 01:24
The Galloway Road by Catherine Adams
The Galloway Road - Catherine Adams

Renna is a young mage on her way to her first job. Her traveling companions include a pair of musicians specifically requested by Renna’s new employer, plus Brett, the mercenary hired to protect them all. Brett is closed mouthed about himself and his past, and Renna has secrets of her own. However, none of that may matter if they can't manage to survive the Galloway Road’s deadly horrors.

This story takes place over the course of 11 days and mostly features the group traveling from one inn to another. The beginning was boring, dull, and a little confusing, although the Galloway Road’s creepy atmosphere eventually grew on me, as did Renna and Brett (sort of). A word of warning: some of the descriptions are gruesome. The Galloway Road is called that because it's lined with gallows and gibbets. Sometimes the people Renna, Brett, and the musicians pass are dead, and sometimes they're not. Honestly, if I had been Renna or the musicians, Galloway Road alone would have had me questioning the wisdom of agreeing to work for Lord Galloway.

Okay, on to the characters. The musicians made so little of an impact on me that I had to check the story just to make sure I had the number of characters right - I had thought there were three musicians, not two. Brett was an intriguing character, apparently competent and yet prone to self-destructive behavior (he’d been banned from at least one or two inns because of his drinking). Renna...was just there. I never felt like I really knew her beyond the most surface level. I did gasp at the big revelation about her, but that was in large part because I hadn’t noticed any sign of it in her behavior or thoughts up to that point. This bugged me a bit, because the event had happened so recently. I suppose it could be explained away as emotional numbness on her part, but still.

The main reason I got this story was because it was one of Less Than Three Press’s recent releases in their “asexual” category. Renna was asexual, possibly homoromantic depending on the specifics of her feelings for her best friend. There was a hint of something that might have been ace-related angst - at one point, Renna wondered if she was “stone-hearted, cruel-hearted” (37). It was a bit ambiguous, though, and might have also been inspired by the thing that happened shortly before she was hired by Lord Galloway. I honestly don’t know.

I appreciated what this story tried to do, but overall my reaction was just “meh.” I didn’t care enough about the characters for the ending to have the kind of emotional impact that it should have had. Also, I hate to say this, but I laughed a bit during some of the events in the tomb. I know that stuff was probably supposed to be horrifying/scary, but I kept imagining B-movie special effects.

Rating Note:

I might have opted to give this 3 stars if I had rated and reviewed it right after finishing it. However, my thoughts have had time to settle, and I think 2 stars is more appropriate. There just wasn't enough there in terms of content, characters, or world-building.

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2017-01-22 22:09
Mélusine (Doctrine of Labyrinths #1) by Sarah Monette
Melusine - Sarah Monette

I am reviewing a DTB version.

Wow! That was the longest prologue I've ever read!
Now I can go back to page 1 and start enjoying the book.
Many reviews that mention re-reads make sense now.

*****

Few thoughts on the book, the writing, the characters, the shenanigans. No spoilers, just want to keep my outrage contained in the spoiler tags.

 

Tho I like it when authors dump you right in the middle of things and you have to start running the moment you hit the ground, this was not the case. I sure did do some legwork, but it was mostly bouncing up and down on the same spot, trying to get hold on my bearings. What? Who? Where? How? but most often than not WTF? were the questions popping into my head every other paragraph.

 

None of the places, politics, history and even characters, including one of the MCs, are explored enough for readers to fully comprehend the magnitude of events that the author is bestowing upon us until it's almost into the second half.

* Felix doesn't get to shine in the beginning of the book; hell, Felix doesn't get to be or do anything before all hell brakes loose. He doesn't get. to. be. Although SM keeps showering us with "Felix is This" and "Felix is That", all we see is a mad, wounded, bleeding dog instead of a shiny pretty thing, and its running, whimpering, to his abuser after being called "a whore". That one word and an unsubstantiated implication to go along does not justify Felix's violent overreaction. I am sure it's all perfect in MS's head, but she clearly prefers not to share any additional bits with us (and there are more to come).
Where is this person who thinks quick on his legs? SM's shiny version of Felix should handle it in no time flat, instead he is seeking out his uber abusive master he hasn't seen in years and loading on drugs like there is no tomorrow.

.........................................

Felix the magnificent, "whose deadly wit is the terror of the court” my ass. Whiny little pup!

* The book is packed with too many elaborate names that mean nothing, people who never show up and have no impact on the events, places we never go to.

Not sure why French rev. calendar was used. To give an instant historical setting? Sorry, it didn't work. You can't use a calendar and a bunch of French sounding names to instantly set the stage, unless its real France and the time is set roughly during the very end of 18th/beginning of 19th centuries. Same goes for Troia/Greece. These tricks confuse, not clarify events or describe places or historical periods in fantasy fiction.

I jam fond of French history and literature, but even then it took me a few minutes to zoom in on Pluviôse, I simply did not expect it. It was one of my first in the long line of WTF moments. I am sure many of us remember the calendar, but then there are many who do not.

(spoiler show)



To SM:
*Please, translate for the overwhelming majority of your non-russian speaking audience, what the hell Morskaiakrov means. Would it kill you to make a footnote: *Morskayakrov (russian) - Sea Blood. In current setting it implies that the family who operates the boat has sea in their blood. They were born into the trade and sea is their home and their life.
Please, quit making people feel inadequate and leaving them tongue-twisted and cross-eyed.


* Too many side stories. For what purpose? Ah.... of course. Page count. But they slow down the flow of the main story and leave loose ends all over the place.
What was the deal with the hidden attic at St. Crellifer's? Great escape route. Great way in. But was it utilized? I really hope it will come handy later, because as of right now it's an opportunity and reader's time wasted.

*POV switching. Two paragraphs here. Half a page there. Past Tense, Present Tense... I am looking forward (not!) to colons in The Virtu, that's on top of Italics and Mildmay's bad and inconstant speech antics.

*Would it greatly burden you to have a glossary of terms and names in the beginning of the book? If anything it will expand your page count.

*Please, mention your septads in the glossary of your quirks. Two septads and six is an amusing take on 20 questions, but - really? Really? Invent your own question game and leave decimals out.

OK, shutting up now. There is more in my updates if anyone cares.

(spoiler show)



This book made me angry. Felix, too, at the very end, with his lack of gratitude and common sense made me angry. BUT. The story held my interest. I am starting The Virtue today. That counts for something, I guess.

3 stars.

PS Shannon. I feel bad for him. Felix is one ungrateful piece of ...work.

 

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review 2016-12-12 12:26
The Birth of Modern America
On the Road - Ann Charters,Jack Kerouac

One of the main reasons that I decided to read this book, other than the fact that it happens to be a modern classic, is because I was reading an article in a Christian magazine that was complaining about how this book, and the motor car in general, is responsible for the promiscuous, permissive, and licentious society in which we now live. Mind you, this particular magazine pretty much made me want to puke, especially when you came across an article by some guy (and it was usually a guy, never a girl) who carried on about how bad he was, and he got so bad that he landed up in a huge amount of trouble, but then he found Christ and all of a sudden his life was turned around. Okay, some might be asking why, if I happen to be a Christian, am I trashing this particular magazine – well, because it happens to be a complete load of rubbish.

 

 

Anyway, enough of the reason as to why I ended up reading the book (and the other reason was because I wandered into a bookshop in Paris looking for a copy of Hemmingway's A Moveable Feast, and upon discovering that there wasn't a copy of that particular book, or in fact any book by Hemmingway, I decided to get this one instead, particularly since upon seeing it I was reminded of that incredibly annoying article that I read) and onto the book itself. Well, as it turned out the person that wrote the article probably didn't read the book at all because firstly it isn't about a single roadtrip, but about four, and also the main character (which happens to be Kerouac) doesn't own a car but rather relies either on buses, on his friends, or simply hitchhikes to get form point A to point B.

 

However, what this book does happen to be is a road trip – in fact it happens to be the original road trip. Sure, Willy Nelson might have written a song about a road trip, however the theory is that if it wasn't for this book the multitude of road trip movies (such as Thelma and Louise, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and of course Easy Rider) would never have come about. Mind you, I personally believe that is rubbish namely because if Kerouac didn't write this book then somebody else would have come along and written something similar, it is just that Kerouac managed to beat all of the other authors to the punch with his classic story of how he travelled from New York to Los Angeles and back again, from New York to San Francisco, and from New York to Mexico City where he landed up with the Mexican version of Dehli Belly, and was deserted by his friend (though this particular friend didn't seem to be the most honourable of people, especially since he seemed to have multiple wives and girlfriends).

 

 

On the Road is apparently the book that thrust the Beat Generation into the lime light, though interestingly enough the Beat actually refers to a group of writers as opposed to a generation as a whole (such as the Baby Boomers, or my generation, that being Generation X). I also suspect that the Lost Generation, that is the Generation of Hemmingway and his cohorts, was also a literary generation as opposed to a generation as whole. However it is interesting how people of an older Generation do tend to have an influence on those of a younger generation – Kerouac was influenced by Hemmingway, who in turn had an influence on the Baby Boomers despite the fact that he was of an older generation. Mind you, when I was young it was the Baby Boomers that had an influence on me, though more the celebrities than my parents. However, we should also remember that writers such as Lewis and Tolkien were from the 'Lost' generation as opposed to the 'Beat' or even the Baby Boomers (of which artists such as David Bowie were members).

 

 

One thing that stands out from this book happens to be how it seems that it was the beginning of the America that we now know, that is the America of the automobile and of the sprawling suburbs. In a way what the car did, or more specifically the cheap car that could be bought by the average punter (though it sounds as if Kerouac and his friends bought the 1940s equivalent of the old bomb and used it to travel about America). The interesting thing is that this is an America before the interstate highways, an America that is still developing and trying to find its feet and its identity. Sure, it had just emerged victorious from the Second World War, and had also emerged as the superpower after Britain was effectively bankrupted (and also saw its colonies, bit by bit, claiming independence), but it still hadn't really developed the identity that it eventually developed by the sixties and the seventies. However, what it also did was effectively became a car culture, which is a culture of individualism – having a car meant one have freedom, freedom to do, and go, wherever one wants to go, however there was a problem, namely that this place never seemed to exist – Kerouac travels from New York to California a number of times, spends his days in Denver, which seems to be the centre of the United States, and then frees himself further by going South of the Border and dreaming of going even further beyond – having the ultimate freedom to travel as far as the tip of South America.

 

However these dreams seem to be stunted – he ends up with Dehli Belly, and is deserted by his friend, Dean, a number of times. However it also seems that Dean seems to drift from woman to woman, from place to place, and from friend to friend, not having any real roots. We see the same with Kerouac as well, especially when he begins to settle down with the Mexican woman in Los Angeles, but then decides to dump her and return to New York. This is a new time, a time where people can pull out their roots and travel where-ever. Before then people rarely, if ever, travelled too far beyond their home. Yet, the interesting thing is that when one travels, when one pulls out their roots, it is very hard to put them back down again. I discovered that when I moved cities, that the roots that I pulled up had a lot of difficulty being planted again – sure, I have made new friends, but there are times and elements that I do not understand because I have not been around. There is a Website – Adelaide Remember When – that sits in my heart because I grew up in Adelaide, yet a similar website for Melbourne, Sydney, or even London and Paris, wouldn't have the same effect on me. Well, okay, London and Paris might be a little different, but I never grew up there so I don't have a personal connection with the past of any of those cities.

 

 

In a way what Kerouac is exploring, even if he it being intentional, which I suspect he isn't, is how we are beginning to become disconnected from place. Sure, he lived in New York, but in reality he come from abroad. However, what the car has done is that it has made it even easier from him to pull up his roots and to travel about. I have been on road trips myself, the longest going from Adelaide to Brisbane via Melbourne and Sydney, and back again. There is something liberating about letting go of life and jumping into a car and simply driving, even if one doesn't even have a destination in mind. In fact piling your friends into a car and going on a roadtrip is a bonding experience, as I have discovered on numerous trips to Melbourne and back again. However, things have even gone further with the advent of the commercial airline – now we can simply jump on a plane and simply anywhere we wish (though of course there are some restrictions, particularly when it comes to obtain a visa to enter certain countries, particularly if you happen to be from a country where the passport really has little, if no, power whatsoever).

 

Anyway, what better way to finish off this post than with a picture of a place where Kerouac seemed to finish off his journeys: Times Square.

 

https://imgs.6sqft.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/21012940/1949-NYC-Times-Square.jpg

 

The Real Hipsters

The funny thing is that after I had posted this review I suddenly realised that there was something that I forgot – the hipster. In a way it is really amusing reading about hipsters in a book written over fifty years ago. Well, that probably shouldn't be as odd as I think it to be namely because hipsters seem to be very retro in character to the point that retro is the new cool. Mind you, the hipsters of Kerouac’s generation weren't the retro lovers that the millenials are namely because the scene itself simply didn’t exist. In a way what the hipsters in Kerouac’s day were doing were setting the trends for the future – they were the members of the Beat Generation that laid the foundations for the sexual revolution and the era of flower power.

 

 

I have to admit that this whole retro hipster move is interesting in and of itself, and there are a lot of aspects about it that I really enjoy – the second hand clothes, in fact the second hand everything, which probably has a lot to do with them living in ridiculously overpriced innercity housing. However, it isn’t just the second-hand fascination that drives it, but also the coffee and craft beer craze and the smashed avocardos and eggs benedict (which is my breakfast indulgence of choice, though I can't stand avacado). Oh, there are sliders as well, but I think there was a time when you wouldn’t get anything like that on a breakfast menu, and people were happy with instant coffee (if you wanted good coffee you would get plunger coffee) – now you can buy your own coffee machine.

 

Yet this wasn’t the hipster movement of Kerouac’s age – they were bohemian, which is a sophisticated way of saying poor. Okay, not every poor person is bohemian since bohemians also tended to be artists, or wanted to be artists but never actually got a break. Even though Kerouac did get a break it wasn’t until at least ten years after he finished his book, and eventually died of alcohol poisoning pretty shortly after. However, the bohemian artist seemed to be driven by their art, but not only that, they also lived the poor lifestyle, as we encounter in this novel. Here Kerouac basically scabs lifts and when he runs out of money panhandles (otherwise known as begging) to get some more, even if only to get home. Mind you, it isn’t as if he is destitute, he still earns a stipend from the government for his military service, so it is enough for him to be able to live the artist’s lifestyle (which certainly isn’t the case today – if you try that you would be labelled with the term dole bludger and the like).

 

While Kerouac may not have introduced the hipster, or more precisely ‘Ned Kelly’ beard, there is one thing that this book has taught me – how to wear a tie and still look cool (not professional, cool):

 

Jack Kerouac

 

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1824214422
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review 2016-12-08 09:29
Eine unrealistische Verkettung hanebüchener Umstände
Wherever Nina Lies - Lynn Weingarten

„Wherever Nina Lies“ von Lynn Weingarten ist ein weiteres Buch, das es dank des Lesebingos 2016 auf meinen Kindle schaffte. Ich wählte es für die Aufgabe „Lies ein Buch, in dem die Hauptfigur wie du heißt“ aus. Da ich einen seltenen polnischen Nachnamen trage, hatte ich keine Hoffnungen, die Aufgabe mit diesem erfüllen zu können. Also konzentrierte ich mich bei meiner Suche nach passender Lektüre auf meinen Spitznamen, unter dem mich alle Welt kennt. Ich war positiv überrascht, als sich herausstellte, dass Lynn Weingarten eine New York Times Bestsellerautorin ist, deren Roman „Suicide Notes From Beautiful Girls“ viel Zuspruch erhielt. Optimistisch, dass ich mit „Wherever Nina Lies“ nicht allzu falsch liegen könnte, begann ich die Lektüre und freute mich darauf, die Protagonistin Ellie kennenzulernen.

 

Ellies Leben ist aus dem Gleichgewicht. Seit ihre große Schwester Nina vor zwei Jahren spurlos verschwand und nicht einmal eine Nachricht für sie und ihre Mutter hinterließ, plagt sie die Frage, was mit ihr geschehen ist. Sie weiß, dass sie sich an jeden Strohhalm klammert, der sich ihr bietet und falsche Hoffnungen zerstörerisch sein können. Doch als sie in einem alten Buch auf eine Zeichnung von Nina stößt, ist sie fest überzeugt, dass ihr Fund kein Zufall ist. Es ist ein Zeichen. Ihre beste Freundin Amanda hält sie für verrückt, aber Ellie weiß einfach, dass Nina gefunden werden möchte. Hals über Kopf stürzt sie sich in eine verzweifelte Schnitzeljagd. Dankbar für jede Hilfe, die sie bekommen kann, zögert sie nicht, Unterstützung von Sean anzunehmen, obwohl sie ihn kaum kennt. Ihr gemeinsamer Road Trip deckt düstere Geheimnisse auf – ist Ellie wirklich bereit, die Wahrheit über Nina zu erfahren?

 

Herrje. Was für ein melodramatisches Buch. Ich bin froh, dass ich mit der Protagonistin neben dem Vornamen kaum etwas teile. Ich möchte nicht sein wie sie. Führte ich mich auf wie Ellie, meine große Schwester würde mir einen Vogel zeigen und mich fragen, ob ich noch alle Tassen im Schrank habe. Vielleicht ist unsere Beziehung anders geartet, aber ich hatte doch den Eindruck, dass die Art und Weise, wie Ellie ihre gesamte Existenz um Nina als Mittelpunkt herum organisiert, höchst ungesund ist. Sie ist regelrecht besessen von ihrer Schwester, als wäre ihr Leben eine Uhr, die in dem Moment stehen blieb, als Nina verschwand. Ist sie denn gar nicht wütend? Würde meine Schwester von einem Tag auf den anderen kommentarlos abhauen, ich wäre stinksauer. Nicht so Ellie. Nein, Ellie verzeiht Nina ihr egoistisches Handeln und ist völlig unfähig, sich ein Leben ohne sie aufzubauen. Bei allem Verständnis für schwesterliche Liebe, ich kann nicht nachvollziehen, wie man sich so abhängig von einer Person machen kann. Das ist traurig, allerdings auf einer anderen Ebene, als Lynn Weingarten es darstellt. Ellie ist ein Trauerkloß, eine richtige Spaßbremse. Ihr Dasein besteht einerseits aus ihrer besten Freundin Amanda, andererseits aus ihrem Job in einem Café. Darüber hinaus hat sie gar nichts. Zur Schule geht sie scheinbar nicht, obwohl sie erst 16 Jahre alt ist und neben Amanda und ihrem Boss Brad hat sie offenbar keine Freunde. Die Beziehung zu ihrer Mutter ist ein Witz, die Nina übrigens auch nie als vermisst meldete. Gleichgültige Koexistenz beschreibt es wohl am besten. Ihr Leben ist leer, sie selbst nahezu paralysiert. Lynn Weingarten wollte mich unbedingt überzeugen, dass Ellie ihre Schwester so sehr vermisst, dass sie bereit ist, alles zu tun, um sie zurückzubekommen. Nach zwei Jahren der Abwesenheit sollte sie eigentlich einen gewissen Grad der Akzeptanz für die Situation erreicht haben und nicht sofort alles stehen und liegen lassen, sobald eine fadenscheinige Hoffnung an ihre Tür klopft. Nun, Ellie empfindet das offensichtlich anders. Als ihr Ninas Zeichnung in die Hände fällt, die sie jeder Zeit hätte anfertigen können, ist Ellie sicher, dass diese ein Hinweis ist – der Beginn einer unrealistischen Verkettung hanebüchener Umstände. Sie lässt sich auf einen Road Trip mit Sean ein, der sich im letzten Drittel des Buches wenig überraschend und wenig subtil als nicht das entpuppt, was er vorgab zu sein. Kann passieren, wenn man zu einem Fremden ins Auto steigt. Man lernt schon im Kindergarten, dass man das deswegen lieber lassen sollte. Nebenbei erkennt Ellie, dass ihre beste Freundin Schwierigkeiten hat, mit einer Verschiebung im Machtgefüge ihrer Freundschaft umzugehen und ist schnell dabei, Amanda als eifersüchtige Bitch abzustempeln, die sowieso nie an ihre Mission, Nina zu finden, glaubte. Oh, wie stereotyp. Wie dumm. Letztendlich findet Ellie natürlich die Wahrheit über Ninas Verschwinden heraus. Diese hat mich vor allem in der Tiefe sehr enttäuscht. Weingarten spricht Nina von jeglicher Schuld frei. Sie vermittelt ihren Leser_innen, dass Nina keine andere Wahl hatte, als fortzugehen, was einfach nicht stimmt. Man hat immer eine Wahl und ihr Entschluss, wegzulaufen, war ganz bestimmt nicht rücksichtsvoll, sondern rücksichtslos. Es stört mich nicht, dass Nina so handelte. Es stört mich, dass Weingarten zu Gunsten eines fröhlichen Happy Ends so tut, als wäre Verschwinden die einzige Lösung gewesen und die emotionalen Auswirkungen von Ninas Entscheidung völlig ignoriert. Küsst euch und habt euch wieder lieb, das ist das Motto zum Ende des Buches.

 

Ich hätte wohl nicht vom Erfolg von „Suicide Notes From Beautiful Girls“ auf die Qualität von „Wherever Nina Lies“ schließen dürfen. Es wundert mich nicht, dass Lynn Weingarten mit diesem Roman nicht die New York Times Bestsellerliste stürmte. Ich fand die Geschichte abwegig und ermüdend berechenbar. Die Lektüre hat sich für mich nicht gelohnt. Glücklicherweise bin ich unabhängiger und humorvoller als meine Namensvetterin in diesem Buch. Manchmal steckt in einem kleinen fehlenden „e“ eben eine ganze Menge Persönlichkeit.

Source: wortmagieblog.wordpress.com/2016/12/08/lynn-weingarten-wherever-nina-lies
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