Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Review: Cosmopolis by Don DeLillo

A book that never really grabs you by the throat, but definitely leaves scratch marks after you're done reading it. A book that never really feels like a wonderful, interesting read, but nevertheless, you feel like you're gaining so much for simply reading it. A book that to some people felt like 9/11 premonition. Don DeLillo's Cosmopolis.

The story is easy. Set in one day, it follows a rogue capitalist, Eric Packer, on an Odyssey around New York City. He spends most of the book in his limousine, which serves as his office, his medical examination room and his house. He meets a variety of characters, including his associates, his doctor, his wife and his lover, none of which are very interesting. He witnesses a protest. He contemplates about linguistics, literature and the modern world. And then the ending happens.

To those interested in plot lines, fascinating characters and emotional roller-coasters that many novels offer, stay away from Cosmopolis. It lacks a natural plot, the characters are even less than archetypes and the whole experience is decidedly frigid. On the other hand, if musings about the nature of space and time are your thing, if you think you'd enjoy a clever rant on the philosophy of capitalism disguised within capitalism itself, then by all means get this book.

I certainly appreciated the many things Cosmopolis had to offer. The nature of language that DeLillo talks about, for example, rang completely true for me. Why use the word 'skyscraper', he muses, if the very notion of a skyscraper is that of another time. The word should retire, just as taller buildings have made skyscrapers obsolete. It's similar with society, he implies. A simple ride to the barbershop, something that seems so obviously quaint in the universe of Cosmopolis, must end tragically, as it is definitely a thing of the past. The vision of the world in Cosmopolis is far from peachy.

I could never honestly recommend this book to anyone, but I do recommend you try and read it for what it's worth. And if you like it, if you see yourself responding to the massive ideas that DeLillo throws your way, Cosmopolis is a great place to start exploring such concepts as hyper reality, chaos theory, creation of space, rogue capitalism, etc.

Plus, there is a Robert Pattinson movie adaptation in the works.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Teaser Tuesday #8

Teaser Tuesdays are hosted by MizB at ShouldBeReading.

Here are her instructions:
Grab your current read, turn it to a random page and share two teaser sentences from somewhere on that page.

BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! Make sure that what you share does not give too much away. You don't want to ruin the book for others! Share the title and the author too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR lists if they like the teaser.

I'm reading another romance novel, and the one I've been wanting to read for quite some time. So far, I really like it. The book in question is Raziel, book one of Kristina Douglas' The Fallen series. I'm sure you've at least seen the yummy cover! Anyway, here's a little sample of the relationship between the macho alpha male and the spunky heroine:
Asshole. He knew I didn't have much to fight back with. Little did he know that I'd always been wickedly inventive. Maybe that was why I'd been sent to hell. Hands sliding down my body, beautiful hands, his mouth following, on my breast, sucking...

"Stop it!" he said with complete horror, pushing away from me as if burned by the sultry image in my brain.

I smiled sweetly.  "I've got a hell of an imagination, Raziel," I sadid, calling him by name for the first time. "Stay out of my head or prepare to be thoroughly embarassed."

Review coming soon!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Help needed!

Dear fellow bloggers, book lovers and readers, I have a big favor to ask from you. I don't know whether you have ever heard of Empire Magazine, but it is the biggest movie magazine in the world (at least to my knowledge); the Vogue of movies. The latest copy, as some of you may know, includes the exclusive, collectors edition, Harry Potter: The Perfect Farewell supplement.

It is a 36-page mini magazine, as far as I can tell, and being a HP fan this huge, I would just love to have it. You can check it out here and see the prices here (it's 5£ in the UK with free shipping). Problem? Here in Serbia, I could only find it for 15 pounds, and that is way beyond what I can afford. So, here's the deal. Would it be possible for anyone who can get it cheaply (those from the UK particularly) to buy if for me and then send it my way? Here are some books that I would be willing to offer in return for the magazine.

Margo Lanagan - Black Juice (paperback, definitely shows wear): Lanagan's 10 fantasy short stories are set in cultures both familiar and unknown and are peopled with empathetic characters who battle nature, individuals, and events. The stories begin slowly, but Lanagan gradually draws readers into each brief, fresh reality. It would work especially well in a classroom setting, as it is full of teachable moments.

Beth Fantaskey - Jessica's Guide to Dating on the Dark Side (hardcover, like new): Jessica Packwood is a normal teen attending Woodrow Wilson High School. Her mathematical nature has even given her a slightly geeky reputation, which is about to change with the arrival of Lucius Vladescu, who seems to be stalking her. She tells her mother about him and learns that she is really a Romanian vampire princess who has been betrothed to Lucius at birth. 

Geoffrey Chaucer - Canterbury Tales (paperback, good condition): The Modern English version of Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales is a reader-friendli(er) edition of a beloved classic. On a spring day in April--sometime in the waning years of the 14th century--29 travelers set out for Canterbury on a pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint Thomas Beckett. Travel is arduous and to maintain their spirits, this band of pilgrims entertains each other with a series of tall tales that span the spectrum of literary genres.

Freya North - Pillow Talk (paperback, good condition):  What keeps you up all night? They were high-school sweethearts who hadn't seen each other for seventeen years. And suddenly they're in front of each other - in a tiny sweet shop in the middle of nowhere. These days, Petra works in London as a jeweller while Arlo has left his rock-and-roll lifestyle for the wilds of North Yorkshire. Out of the blue, their paths have just crossed. But what are the skeletons in Arlo's closet, and just what causes Petra to sleepwalk? 

Thank you so much for reading through this and considering my offer. I think it's pretty cool if you'd like to read one of these books. We could either go through book mooch, or like this. If somebody is willing to buy and send me the magazine, but is not interested in either of these books, I would probably be open to sending you a book of your choice from the BookDepository (around £5) - then you'd get a new book! Anything goes.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Interview + Giveaway: Matt Dunn

Today we have a special treat on the blog. Matt Dunn, a British novelist living in Malaga, Spain (lucky!) has stopped by for an interview and a giveaway. His novel Ex-Girlfriends United, the premise of which includes a website with reviews about people which people can check before they go on the date with them, has just been released in the US by Sourcebooks!

Welcome to Nikola’s Book Blog! We are so happy to have you here.

Thank you for having me!

You write fiction that has, if I may say so, traditionally been reserved for women, if you don’t count certain bestselling authors like Nick Hornby, Dan Begley or Tony Parsons. Have you felt any anxiety of authorship? Do you think men and women write differently?

I don't feel any anxiety, perhaps because I don't feel I'm writing for any particular gender, and while I'm aware that more women than men read my books, I actually enjoy the fact that I'm 'different'. I've been told that one of the reasons women like my books is because I give the inside track on what men really think about life, love, and relationships - if that's my 'USP', then I'm happy to oblige. 

As to whether men or women write differently, I think they often write about different things, mainly because they're often interested in different things, but good writing is good writing whatever sex the author is.

Your novel Ex-Girlfriends United is coming out in the US this month. You must be pretty excited, even though you’ve already had the book come out in the UK like three years ago?

I'm very excited. The prequel, The Ex-Boyfriend's Handbook, came out in the US last year and got a good reception, so I'm interested to see how this one does.

The premise of Ex-Girlfriends United doesn’t seem very far-fetched. Were you inspired by any websites that really exist? Do you think this instant-getting-to-know-someone is typical of relationships nowadays?

No – I wasn't aware of anything like SlateYourDate, although it's a mystery to me why a website where people can rate their exes doesn't exist yet. Surely it'd be an ideal add-on to some of the bigger dating websites – it'd save people a lot of time and effort! And yes, internet dating in particular has meant that people know an awful lot about each other before they've even met – assuming what's written on their profile is true – meaning the early fun part of relationships, the 'getting-to-know-you' bit, is accelerated, and in some cases bypassed. It adds an interesting dynamic, but I think it also makes people feel relationships are a lot more disposable. Which isn't a good development.

Do you read chick or lad lit yourself? Do you have any favorite or inspirational authors?

Nick Hornby's High Fidelity was the book that made me want to write in the first place, John O'Farrell's The Best A Man Can Get was the book that almost made me want to stop, it was so funny. In terms of chick lit, Sophie Kinsella is hilarious (and was kind enough to give me a quote for the cover of Ex-Girlfriends United) , but I read a variety of authors– most recently, I've enjoyed David Nicholls' One Day. David Mitchell is possibly my favourite writer – Cloud Atlas is the most amazing novel I've ever read. I also love Haruki Murakami, Jay McInerney, Iain Banks, Douglas Coupland... Too many to mention, really. I've just read my first Jonathan Tropper – How To Talk To A Widower – which was excellent, so I'm looking forward to reading more of his work. 

You write on your website that From Here to Paternity may become a movie! How do you feel about this? 

I'd love it if it happens – but I know a lot of authors, and while many of them have had their books optioned, only one  - Sophie Kinsella's Shopaholic - has actually made it to the big screen, so I'm not holding my breath. Of all my books, I'd love  The Ex-Boyfriend's Handbook to be made into a movie – not only because I've already written two sequels – but because I'd love to see Ed and Dan brought to life. So if any producers are reading this, feel free to get in touch.

Thanks for stopping by the blog! And a big thank you to Beth from Sourcebooks who graciously offered one copy of Ex-Girlfriends United to one lucky reader!

Here are the rules of the giveaway:
To enter, simply leave a comment below and make sure you include your email address! The giveaway ends on June 25th. You can win extra entries by doing the following:

+2 follow my blog
+2 tweet about the contest (leave a link)
+2 link to the contest anywhere else (leave link(s))
+4 visit Matt's website and come back with the title of the book of his you'd most like to read and why!

The giveaway is open to US and Canada residents only.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Review: Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Here comes a long-overdue review of a book I absolutely LOVED. Yup, it's the book-blogging favorite, the soon-to-be-motion-picture-blockbuster, Hunger Games!

Seriously, have you read this book? After I got burned a couple of times with certain YA books that everybody seemed to love (Eclipse? Hush, Hush?), I was just not that sure about Hunger Games. The unusual cover certainly drew me in, as it seemed to promise an actual plot, and I caved in and read it.

In like one day.

Here's the layout, although I'm pretty sure you already know what this book is all about. The protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, lives in a dystopian country of Panem, in it's poorest area, called simply District 12. Soon, she is selected to participate in Hunger Games - a gladiator-style combat between children, where there can be only one winner, seeing as they fight each other to death. Each district sends two contestants - a girl and a boy - and Katniss' companion/enemy is the sometimes-adorable, sometimes-despicable character of Peeta. There is also the character of Gale, Katniss' best friend and possible love interest.

Okay, so before we continue, go and buy the book. Seriously. Okay, all done? Let's continue with the review.

I was shocked and amazed by the level of trust and respect author Suzanne Collins seems to have for her young readers. Not since J. K. Rowling have I seen a young adult book so frank when it came to not only violence, but poverty, oppression, politics, and any other uncomfortable topic. This book will not play it safe or sugarcoat, and I believe this is highly commendable. And just so you know, the book packs a powerful punch - it is emotional, scary, exciting and often very violent. On the other hand, its aim is never to simply shock and, given its unorthodox topic, it is never exploitative.

The character of Katniss is a make-it-or-break-it kind of character, since the book relies mostly on her. I am happy to say she is one of the most impressively written characters I've ever read in YA. Other characters are equally good, if somewhat marginalized, and I particularly enjoyed the character of Peeta and his arch. The novel ends in a cliffhanger of sorts, so I am very excited to read the sequel sometime soon and see where these characters are going.

I hear they are making a movie based on the first book in the series, and obviously I am interested in seeing it, if only to see if they have done the book justice. The book itself closely resembles a novel entitled Battle Royale by the Japanese author Koushun Takami (never read it), as well as its movie adaptation (never seen it, though there is a trailer on YouTube - beware, it's not for the faint of heart).

All in all, I could not recommend Hunger Games more. It's an honest, smart and intriguing start of what is surely a fantastic series and I am looking forward to reading the rest of the books, starting with the sequel, Catching Fire.



This review was entered in the "Book Review Wednesday Party" Competition

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Sex and the YA

As you may know if you've read my #amazonfail post, I get very, very angry if someone tries to censor books in any way, which for me includes saying that if someone is to read something (say, Harry Potter), then one is of a lesser moral standard (say, demonic) than the one who doesn't read the damn thing. If that makes any sense.

So, naturally, I was kinda pissed off when I read the blog post by this fabulous up-and-coming author, 'Quinn'. Quinn is the second-place winner of a competition for unpublished authors, and the prize is a professional critique on his first 10 pages. How cool is that!?

Unfortunately, he has gotten a lot of harsh comments from people in the comment section under the post that announced these winners, because, well, his novel starts with a sex scene. And there's talk about a right breast being seen and the sudden tightness of the boy's jeans in the crotch area. You know, an erection. Apparently, the people who commented would never give this sort of YA books to their teenagers to read, which I guess is okay, since different parents parent differently (though I can bet my own right man-breast that your teenagers have gone further than simply feeling the tightness in their pants from time to time, but whatever).

The problem here is that they feel like they have the right to comment under the post announcing Quinn's victory (and there was a judge, I mean, he didn't just get it randomly) to give their two cents about why they think he shouldn't have got it. I mean, who cares about your f-ing standards!? How dare you assume that your standards and no-one else's should be the norm?

Head over to the post I'm talking about and read the winning paragraph (which I think is sexy, non-exploitative, non-pornographic, as well as wonderfully written), as well as the comments. And obviously, let me know what you think - am I overreacting? What do you expect to read in your YA books? Should there be a standard? Did you blush when Edward and Bella, you know, did it?

Finally, congratulations to Quinn and don't let these people rain on your parade!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Review: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave

Definitely not a pleasure read by any means, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass is nonetheless one of those books that will always stay important and valuable, even though the readers' reactions and perceptions of it may change.

In a nutshell: Douglass was a 19th-century African American slave who not only managed to escape the brutalization he endured under several masters (sometimes described rather graphically, as they should be), but also learned how to read and write, ultimately writing three (!) autobiographies and becoming a prominent member of the abolitionist movement.

There are a number of great literary elements in the Narrative that are worth discussing, but let's get one thing out of the way here - this is first and foremost a valuable historical artifact, one of the very few 19th-century first-hand slave stories in existence (I believe there were around seven written, though I may be wrong, but it is an incredibly small number compared to at least 60 million slaves who lost their lives at the time). As such, it does not go particularly well with 21-century literary mindset - it is too linear, way too descriptive and although a lot happens in a relatively short book, it never feels particularly exciting or page-turning. Don't let this distract you.

For it packs an incredibly strong punch, not just with the story itself (which should definitely be enough). It is not a black-and-white account by any means, as it manages to criticize certain attitudes of enslaved Negroes as well as show that slavery was not easy even for some white people to comprehend. It shows Douglass's journey from slavery to freedom as his acquisition of masculinity, as this is something that he never was allowed to have (although in this respect, I feel that Harriet Jacobs' narrative is far superior). His description of slavery transcends time and manages to speak for all the oppressed, even today, and it really makes the reader think about such issues as violence, disrespect, humanity and, of course, love.

Make sure you pick this up, especially if you've never read a slave narrative before. These narratives may be outdated and too simplistic for our perceptions of literature, but there is no reading, say, Alice Walker or Toni Morrison without them!