Thursday, February 27, 2014

Phoenix Island-John Dixon

 Phoenix Island-John Dixon

the facts
satisfaction: side
pages: 168
gender: M
nationality: USA
year: 2013

"A champion boxer with a sharp hook and a short temper, sixteen-year-old Carl Freeman has been shuffled from foster home to foster home. He can’t seem to stay out of trouble—using his fists to defend weaker classmates from bullies. His latest incident sends his opponent to the emergency room, and now the court is sending Carl to the worst place on earth: Phoenix Island."

I was just not the target audience for this book. I felt like I was reading a bit of Lord of the Flies translated into a more modern YA feel with a somewhat puzzling mix of dystopia and “our society”. Everything just seemed to be an extreme stereotype of itself. The leader is A LEADER. The protagonist is really AN OUTLIER. The villians are really EVIL. The island is really ISOLATED. Life is really BRUTAL and VIOLENT. Obviously I enjoyed it enough, my disbelief was definitely suspended, to read to the end but the dedication to violence was hard for me to swallow and endure at times.

Nevertheless I recognize this was a strong novel. It is clearly aimed more at the male segment of YA who is so rarely written for and as such, it is definitely a triumph. Carl is a good protagonist-he is strong, develops into a different person under circumstances, and he has compassion to temper his violence. Dixon lets his own boxing experience shine as Carl's fighting calculations are brilliant and show an attention to detail that you don't often get from YA.

So even though it was not for me, it is a strong enough book that I'd recommend it to others.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Traveler's Tales of Old Cuba-John Jenkins ed.

Traveler's Tales of Old Cuba-John Jenkins ed.

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 168
gender: M&F
nationality: mostly English-descent
year: 2002
edited anthology

"Creating both a literary project and an historical mini-course on the early nineteenth to middle twentieth century, the editor has gathered writings mostly by Americans in Cuba who have tended to have a complex 'love/hate relationship' with the place. . . . In the end, most reveal their fondness for Cuba. . . . Those with a committed interest in the region will be grateful that this book takes them beyond the dissertations on Che Guevara and Fidel Castro."

I surprised myself by actually liking this anthology. I suppose it was the heavy emphasis for the earlier history of Cuba (instead of just the mafia-run bits) but the variety of ideas and aspects of society represented was broad so that even if it was a section I didn't enjoy so much, it was relatively smoothed over by the next section. To my delight, as well, there was no contribution by Hemingway, instead you have Anais Nin who hated Havana. I guess, I found it was bit Havana-centric but in general, it told the history of Cuba as seen by travelers (from english-dominated countries primarily) in a well balanced way which makes it seem more like a history of the country rather than as propaganda.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Germinal-Émile Zolá

Germinal-Émile Zolá

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 500
gender: M
nationality: France
year: 1890
novel in translation

"Zola's masterpiece of working life, Germinal (1885), exposes the inhuman conditions of miners in northern France in the 1860s. By Zola's death in 1902 it had come to symbolize the call for freedom from oppression so forcefully that the crowd which gathered at his State funeral chanted "Germinal! Germinal!""

Are you looking for an uplifting short read? This is not it. Are you looking for an account of abject misery and poverty written in strong language? Look no further.

This is centred around a cast of characters who have such flaws that I'm not sure I really liked any of the characters. But then again, I actively disliked few of them too so really, that's just a sign that the characters are all too human. This is just such a bleak view of a coal mine village's chances to effect change among both the lower and middle classes. I mean, they're all helpless and while the middle classes aren't exactly passively stuck in a horrific cycle of misery (wife beatings, too many children, guarantee of sickness, awful working conditions), they're not exactly so well off. This is Zola's true skill-he crafted a novel in which everyone seemed human, everything was tragic, and seemed to pass little judgement on all of the above. I completely see why this is considered one of the best novels of all time.

The writing is lush, detailed without being overwhelming. It guides you from one scene to another without actively holding your hand. It is intense but also betrays a light hand. It is entirely suited to the story and elevates it.

And I loved the earth which was like its own character. It is present in every scene, these pervasive, claustrophobic mines with the weight of the earth and yet absolutely beautiful and precious. Even while the anger of the revolution took over the people, the earth remained constant-both a burden and a blessing.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A Man-Oriana Fallaci

A Man-Oriana Fallaci

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 488
gender: F
nationality: Italy
year: 1980
fictionalized non-fiction/memoir in translation

"Saved from execution through the intervention of world leaders, Allesandro Panagoulis, an implacable Greek freedom fighter, endures years of imprisionment and torture before regaining his freedom and resuming his war against corrupt"

Though I live in Greece, I hear very little about the specific people in its history. When talking to me, Greeks tend to talk about their history in terms of sweeping time periods and huge empires. Understandable, perhaps, for a country that has multiple millennia and so many ethnic groups to talk about. So when I realized this book was about a single character, Alekos Panagoulis, a revolutionary rebelling against the dictator, I eagerly set about reading it.

Written with a very personal and passionate view, this is Fallaci, an Italian journalist, telling you about the man she fell in love with. You get his fallacies, the difficulties of living with the man, as well as moments of beauty. Fallaci is everywhere in this text and as such the reader gets not just the facts about Alekos but an in depth impression of how his life affected those who loved him. Written in expansive prose, it managed to seem like it was too detailed but kept my eyes glued to the prose which wanders from factual and strongly complex political discussions to Fallaci's musings and clear frustrations. It is a dense book that leaves you no space to breathe really, it takes you and forcibly places you in the midst of a maddening situation of a hero bent on self-destruction.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Reading Challenges

Oh boy, apologies for the radio silence on the blog. 2014 has been hard work thus far! I've a long backlog though so I will resume regular posting momentarily.

But First!


I enjoyed having some sort of structured aspect to my reading last year with the Global Woman of Color reading challenge so I decided to thoroughly challenge myself to enter some challenges precisely in a year where I have no public library or budget to draw upon. I'm not really known for my practical sanity.

I don't remember how I found the Eclectic Reader Challenge last year but I did, in September, far too late to join in. As I've always thought of myself as an eclectic reader, it's time to really test that. I've already made some progress

The list of requirements is as follows:
  1. Award Winning
  2. True Crime (Non Fiction)
  3. Romantic Comedy Diary of an Unsmug Married-Polly James
  4. Alternate History Fiction
  5. Graphic Novel
  6. Cosy Mystery Fiction The Garden Plot-Marty Wingate
  7. Gothic Fiction
  8. War/Military Fiction
  9. Anthology
  10. Medical Thriller Fiction
  11. Travel (Non Fiction)
  12. Published in 2014

    These will be tagged as "eclectic" here on the blog.
Given that the Gutenberg Project is my new best friend in terms of reading, it only made sense to join in with the Back to the Classics Challenge.
  1. A 20th Century Classic-
  2. A 19th Century Classic-Agnes Grey-Anne Bronte
  3. A Classic by a Woman Author-
  4. A Classic in Translation
  5. A Classic About War
  6. A Classic by an Author Who Is New To You
  7. An American Classic
  8. A Classic Mystery, Suspense or Thriller-
  9. A Historical Fiction Classic
  10. A Classic That's Been Adapted Into a Movie or TV Series. 

    These will be tagged as "back to the classics". 
I will also be joining the European Reading Challenge, mainly because it is often what I'm trying to do anyway! 

These will be tagged as "Euro reading".

And then it only makes sense to join the Books in Translation Challenge if I'm roaming all over Europe!

These will be tagged as "in trans".

French: Of Fever and Blood
And why, what's this? Around the World in 12 Books? What I'm always trying to do? Definitely joined!
Level 4: The Seasoned Traveller
I've already been to:
Africa: Zimbabwe-The Hangman's Replacement by Taona D. Chiveneko
Zimbabwe- We Need New Names-NoViolet Bulawayo
and Europe so I'm off to a good start. (as well as, of course, The USA)

 These will be tagged "around the world".
So that's the five challenges I've joined in which others will also be participating-three are structured challenges and I'm not shying away from giving it my all. Thankfully, none of them have exclusivity arrangements that one book cannot be used for multiple challenges (just not used for multiple categories within the challenges). I also won't be able to forget my own personal challenge which I'm calling the Challenge with Style aka, reading for my dissertation!