I’ve already started with bookish activities in Geneva. Joined a bookclub (discussing Virginia Woolf’s Orlando this week) and this Saturday we went to the Book Festival of Early Childhood and Families. They had activities planned for different age groups and even almost-15-month-old Davidhad the chance to join in.

It was also an opportunity to know more about Geneva’s libraries and the upcoming events they’re organizing. At the moment I’m having an information overload because there’s just too much I want to do, including an informal chat between librarians and readers about books for the summer, a “Read with your baby” atelier, a “Create a photonovel” workshop and several concerts.

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David exploring the books in the Yurt Library.

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André and David listing to stories and songs in the baby tent.

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Something that might interest my librarian readers. At the Festival, organizers were distributing this really interesting publication called “La Ville, mon doudou et moi“. It’s a set of children’s books recommendations about living in the city, including about what are streets, neighborhoods, public gardens, markets and transports,  the homeless (in photo) and infrastructures like libraries and hospitals. Super interesting and useful. Available for download here (in French).

ninetailorsThe Nine Tailors (Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries, #11) by Dorothy L. Sayers

One of my favorites books in the series so far AND there’s no Harriet or major insight into Wimsey’s character. What it did have was a great set of secondary characters and a perfect snap-shot of post-war village life. There was also extensive geeky conversations about bell ringing that were surprisingly fascinating. I didn’t understand most of it, but discovered a whole new world and found myself happily listening to bell concerts while reading the book.

The book blogsphere gave me really high expectation about the next in the series, Gaudy Night. It better be good, you guys!
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13481275Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen

The latest by comfort writer extraordinaire Sarah Allen Addison, which half the world has read months ago, I’m sure. It’s likely that I’ll always have a good time with everything she writes, but within this, Lost Lake felt a bit watered down. It needed to be longer and more focused.

There are many main characters and even more back-stories, too many to go through effectively in only 8 hours of audiobook. A little bit more romance and magic realism wouldn’t hurt the book either – that’s why we pick up SAA in the first place, right?
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nicCaprice and Rondo (The House of Niccolo, #7) by Dorothy Dunnett

Very à propos, this book is mostly set in a Crimea on the verge of invasion. It’s exciting, complex, brilliant and everything else you’d expect from Dorothy Dunnett. I agree with Helen that the sense of place is more tamed this time around, but on the other hand there’s a satisfying focus on character development (Gelis managing the Bank, Julius reaction to the revelation) and a bunch of great action scenes (murder by bees!).

There was also The Letter. Actually, it was just a couple of sentences but I’ll put it up there on Captain Wentworth’s level.

My-Kid-Lies-Nurture-Shock-book-coverNurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman

Together with Caprice and Rondo, this is the only 5-star of the year so far. A sort of Bad Science just about children. It’s written by two journalists in the child psychology field who specialize in reporting on studies that have gone unnoticed. In the different chapters they slowing and steadily dismantled my dogmas about kids and intelligence, lying, praising, race, sleep, only childs and, my favorite, language acquisition.

“Children key off their parents’ reaction more than the argument or physical discipline itself.”
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Abandon the Old in Tokyo by Yoshihiro Tatsumi

Let’s just say that if you want something light for a sunny summer day at the beach you might want to skip this one. Don’t be fooled by the cartoon-ish artwork, there is nothing lighthearted about these short stories. It’s a look at the Japan of the 60s and 70s, full of lonely men trapped in bleak lives, self-hatred, family duty, perverse desires and social expectations.

Some stories are like nothing I’ve read before, and just for that I’m glad I’ve read it. Whatever this book may do, it will not leave you indifferent.

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The blog has been terribly neglected for the last months, but I have good excuses, promise!

Big changes are afoot Chez Sleepless Reader. I got a job offer from the United Nations so, since the world won’t just save itself, we’ve moved. After 9 years in Brussels we’re now further south in Geneva, Switzerland. We finally found an apartment (lovely, close to the Lake), paperwork is almost all done, so I can finally settle down and start obsessing about books and series again.

I’ve been looking forward to a change for a while, but I still have occasional panic attacks: “I loved Brussels, I loved my life there, so many friends left behind… WHAT HAVE I DONE?!” It’ll be ok once the brain makes the click and starts thinking of Geneva as “home”, instead of Brussels or Lisbon. My husband will be a stay-at-home-dad for a while, so that’ll also be a new experience.

We got married before coming south. After a 2-year engagement and not much wedding organizing done, we finally had the excuse courage to do it how we really wanted: informal and cozy.

On a sunny morning we walked to the Portuguese consulate with just our moms and brothers, signed papers, took the subway to a nice restaurant, came back to the apartment, took a nap and then had about 40 friends over for a catered yummy dinner. It was perfect!

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It’s that time of the year again: the Audible nominations are out and the Armchair Audies are open for business! Jennifer and Bob launched it in 2012 and it rapidly became one of my favorite book bloggers events. Glad to see the Audies gaining track in general, so much so that Audible even has a dedicated page.

The last two years I’ve tackled the History category, but this year I’m changing to Non-fiction. Two reasons: this category is almost always overwhelmingly US-centered and once again Audible doesn’t offer some of the nominees to non-US-based costumers (so frustrating!).

On the other hand, lots of good arguments in favor on Non-fiction this year: all books are available, Malcolm Gladwell, cheese, environmental classics and no book too long.

Are you participating? Which category are you “judging”?

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Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape by Jenna Miscavige Hill, narrated by Sandy Rustin
Was always curious about Scientology, it’s good opportunity to know more.
David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants written and narrated by Malcolm Gladwell
I’m a Gladwell fan, so this book sealed the deal for me.

The End of Nature 
by Bill McKibben, narrated by Jeff Woodman
A 10th Anniversary Edition of an environmental classic. I’ve heard good things about McKibben.

The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World’s Greatest Piece of Cheese
 by Michael Paterniti, narrated by L.J. Ganser
CHEESE! This is the one I’m more looking forward to.

Thank You for Your Service
 by David Finkel, narrated by Arthur Bishop
A journalistic-style book about life after coming home from a war.

Republic of Thieves

Oh noes. I was afraid of this. The Lies of Locked Lamora was one of my favorite books of 2011: fresh and with a border-line hyperactive plot. My mind wandered off several times during book 2, Red Seas Under Red Skies, but the clever writing was still there, as well as a kick-ass female character. Unfortunately, The Republic of Thieves continued the downwards tendency.

To be fair, I was disappointed but it was still enjoyable, or not even Michael Page would get me to listen to 24 hours of audiobook. I’ll give it a solid 3.

Two things I enjoyed, and two I didn’t: 

I continued to love the Lynch’s humor. Like the earlier in the series, The Republic is peppered with hilarious conversations and one-liners that Michael Page once again delivers to perfection. Lynch is one of the best when it comes to coarse cursing, right up there with Shakespeare. Also, just by themselves the foul-mouthed Sanza twins were worth the time I invested and I wish they’d be around in the future.

Lynch’s amazing world-building is also still alive and kicking. Every book is set in a different country and you can tell that a lot of thought went into developing separate political systems, manners and habits, architecture, gastronomy, etc. A good world-building goes a long way to make me loyal to a fantasy series.

Now for the down side. The plot interweaves two stories: in one Locke and Jean and hired by the bondmagi to rig an election in Karthain, with the (in)famous Sabetha as their opponent. The interludes are about Locke’s and the Gentleman Bastards’ early years, in particular a play they staged in their teens as a sort of team-building exercise. This supposedly secondary story is given as much time as the main one and even takes over the title of the book (the play is called The Republic of Thieves), which confused me a bit.

I though the details about Locke’s childhood were interesting, but the play became lumbering after a while. I was hoping it would bring an insight into the main story, but it wasn’t the case. In the end it felt like Lynch was just using this book as a platform to realize his dream of writing Shakespeare-style theater (there are pages of the actual play being declaimed, all very meta). This plot line should have been a separate book, like the upcoming The Bastards and the Knives (Gentleman Bastard, #0).

Regarding the “present” adventure in Karthain, I was expecting an Ocean’s 11 or Mission Impossible type of plot. Rigging an election has huge potential for a plot full of baroque twists and turns, but instead Lynch focused on the romance side of the story. I wouldn’t usually defend plot over character development, but here I longed the relentlessness action of the first book. Also, in Camorr Locke and Jean had control over events and the narrative, even when plans apparently didn’t come together. In Karthain they only had a hand full of halfhearted pranks up their sleeves and were mostly puppets in the hands of their employees. I was hoping for a big a-ha! moment at the end, but was again disappointment.

Still, my biggest problem with the book was Sabetha. During the two earlier book Lynch built her up so much that in the end her entrance was just felt anticlimactic. There was no chemistry between the two, and her personality never goes beyond being a repository for Locke’s obsession and emasculation. I understand that falling in love with the leader of your gang must be hard, but it’s still no excuse for just how whinny and annoying Sabetha turned out to be. 

A final aside: at some point I wondered if this book would pass The Bechdel test. Conclusion: the play part would, Karthain, not so much.

On-wards to The Thorn of Emberlain, better times will come I’m sure :)

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Other thoughts: BookLustFantasy Book CriticPat’s Fantasy HotlistThe WertzoneNeth SpaceA Dribble of InkThe Little Red ReviewerScience-Fiction and Fantasy Book ReviewsSpeculative Book ReviewVal’s Random CommentsIn Bed with Books (yours?)

#comicsfebruary

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I never could resist graphic novels with impressive urban architectural landscapes. That’s why I love François Schuiten so much. I’d never heard of Mathieu Bablet (his blog here, in French) until I came across this cover at my local bookshop. It immediately caught my eye: the colors, the perspective, the visual impact of that giant worm!

The story is set in a nameless mega city, home to the (as far as we know) few human survivors of an insect-like alien invasion that all but exterminated the human race. The survivors’ hopeless lives are spent hunting for food and trying to avoid the insects.

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I was completely hooked on the first half of the story, about the survivors’ day-to-day, the change of seasons, their squabbles and survival routines. But Bablet lost me once the action really started. Then things just got weird and went all mystical. I preferred the subtle and slow melancholy of the first part to the existentialist feel and chilling events of the second.

I wished the story had taken another turn, but I wouldn’t change a thing in the illustration, which was amazing. I went back to the bookshop to buy another Babet book the next day just because of it. The spaces seem to be wide and claustrophobic at the same time. The geometry of the huge and repetitive buildings captures the eye and is the perfect scenario to show just how lonely these characters are. It’s like they’re insects themselves.

Certain angles almost caused me vertigo and I loved all the details in the scenery: the thread-bare couches in the abandoned apartments, the aging piping, the growing vegetation. Also, Bablet populated the story with several pop-culture Easter-aggs, that The Dork Review collected. The ones I noticed:

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This was Bablet’s first album and I’ll report of his second - Adrastée Tome 1 - as soon as I finish it. By the way, I was looking around and found no concrete evidence that this was translated to English (I only found a cover with the translated title, but nothing else), so let me know if you know about it.

aisforalibiHad this on the TBR for ages, waiting for one of my inevitable cravings for an old-fashion detective story. It delivered, it was ok, but not great. Everyone that enjoys crime novels and their dog knows this series, so I imagine they improve with the following books?

As it’s not unusual in the first in the series, it felt a little clunky, with little action and even less character development. It read like a report of Kinsey’s (the 30-something, no-nonsense, cop-turned-private-investigator and main character) moves: she talked to this person, then she talk to this other person, she drove to this place to talk to yet another person, she jogged 5 miles and ate a burger, she stayed at this motel and then followed this route to yet another interview, etc, etc.

So. Don’t have much more to say about it…

Have the feeling the series would improve by adding a regular side-kick to spark tension and interesting conversations – a secretary, a partner, a snitch. Does this happen, by any chance?

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Other thoughts: Stacy’s Books, Mervi’s Book Reviews, Mysteries in Paradise, My Two Blessings, The Book Frog, Follow the Thread, Geeky Blogger’s Book Blog (yours?)

Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage

Has it ever happened to you that a book is so understated you’re certain you’ll forget it easily, only to have it haunt you often? Have you ever went thought a slow re-evaluation of a book over time? I can only remember feeling it once before, with Gillespie and I, which I initially dismissed as too long and slow, but was still ardently discussing months afterwards.

I’m going through that process with Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage. It’s a collection of short-stories about unimportant people with unimpressive lives and initially I just couldn’t understand the purpose of it all. It’s all about the details in this book, but it’s about them I’m still thinking about.

You could just as easily argue that little or nothing happens in these stories, or that too much happens, and I’m inclined to think that it take a great writer to pull that off successfully. The seemingly mundane events that Munro focuses on can seem very inconsequential when you first read about them, and yet they are the same events that make your own world turn: small-town pasts often comes back to haunt new cosmopolitans, a one-night stand could become the biggest single memory of a life, it’s hard when the partner of a good friend is a jerk, etc.

Munro is an expert at capturing the small lives that she writes about, but in this case small lives do not equal  sweetness or fluff, on the contrary, most stories leave a bitter taste in your mouth. There’s a vaguely melancholic feel about all of them, a sense of disappointment and disillusionment. It’s only now, almost 3 weeks after I finished the book that I recognise just how complex each story was. It reminds me of Austen’s quote about her bits of ivory.

Just a small shout-out to the last story in the book, “The Bear Came Over the Mountain“, the basis of the movie “Away From Her“, and probably my favorite story of the nine. You can read it in The New Yorker online.

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Other thoughts: A Book A WeekSteph & Tony Investigate (yours?)

toptentuesday

I’m also counting future versions of our world, not just fantasy-worlds-created-from-scratch.

A lot of choices this week. Emily from Reading as Female was just commenting on twitter yesterday on the lack of sci-fi set in a pleasant future, especially in YA. As she very well put it, “Can someone please write a book where the future isn’t a pile of shit?” :) and “I just find it worrisome that the only future we seem to be able to imagine is a terrible one.”

Nice futures don’t sell? No intense social commentary arising from successfully tackling climate change? An interesting challenge for authors.

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1. Oceania, 1984.
If you want a vision of the future, Winston, imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever.

No privacy, no freedom, no love, no independent thought. One thing bothered me in particular: Newspeak. If you don’t know the world for freedom, can you image the concept?

2. World State, Brave New World.
“No social stability without individual stability.”

The sex, drugs and rock&roll of Huxley’s world might not seem so bad compared to other dystopias, but the use of genetics to create a social hierarchy soon becomes the stuff of nightmares. This was one of the most thought-provoking books I’ve ever read: order and predictability are so easily appealing! The scene with the babies and the sunrise still haunts me.

3. Other World, Coraline.
“My twitchy witchy girl I think you are so nice, I give you bowls of porridge And I give you bowls of ice-cream.”

I’ve no doubt I’d be traumatized if I’d read Coraline when I was a kid. How can something as innocent-sounding as buttons for eyes become so scary?

4. Wonderland. Alice in Wonderland.
“You would have to be half mad to dream me up.”

Any book with a surreal vibe make me anxious. I’d definitely not like to live in a world where all rules are off and anything could happen. Wonderland seems so much fun yet I’ve always seen it as ruthless. Also, everyone has a laugh at your expense!

5. Future America, Fahrenheit 451.
“A book is a loaded gun in the house next door…Who knows who might be the target of the well-read man?”

Do you need any other reason to fear this world apart from their hate of books? It’s one of those scenarios that feels too close for comfort.

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6. Republic of Gilead, Handmaid’s Tale.
“Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it.”  

And talking about a possible future. For me, scarier than a government-controlled world, is a religion-controlled world. Is what’s done today to women in the name of religion and morals that different from what’s done in Gilead?

7. Earth, The Windup Girl.
“We are nature. Our every tinkering is nature, our every biological striving. We are what we are, and the world is ours. We are its gods. Your only difficulty is your unwillingness to unleash your potential fully upon it.” 

This one really brought home what raising oceans really means, in practical terms. It’s also a future full of deadly plagues caused by GMOs and mutant pests and viruses. Basically, the (eco-)system is breaking down. 

The book is set in a Bangkok below sea level, protected by a complex system of levees and pumps. I read it while in Thailand and let me tell you, I could almost feel the threat. I don’t know how the Dutch do it.

8. Libria (Equilibrium,the movie)
“Happiness is the most insidious prison of all.”

Equilibrium is very similar to 1984, but here even war was eradicated. Everything that’s negative no longer exists, as well as its possible sources: love, friendship, humor. With a little help from artificial emotion-suppressors, humans are now perfectly content machines.

9. Earth, Never Let Me Go.
“We took away your art because we thought it would reveal your souls. Or to put it more finely, we did it to prove you had souls at all.” 

It’s not so much the twist that’s scary as the peacefulness and niceness of this future. People and gentle and care about you and your well-being. It’s all for the greater good. *shiver*

10. Earth, The Lottery.

I know everyone will include Panem in their list, but before Panem, even before Battle Royal, there was Shirley Jackson’s 1948 short-story (A chilling tale of conformity gone mad.“). Its realism beats anything similar out there.

Fault in our Stars--CoverI wonder if there is anyone left in the world that can be objective about John Green. And if there is, can they be objective about a John Green book about teens dying of cancer?

I struggled with this post because when I tried to pinpoint what didn’t work for me – scenes that seemed unrealistic or stereotypical – I kept thinking: how do you know what you’d do in their situation?

But that’s part of the point of The Fault in Our Starts: it makes us face the possibility. How would I handle the fine balance between protecting my loved-ones and my need to panic, to complain, to revolt, to assign guilt? Would I also just want to watch ANTM re-runs or would I write a book and plant a tree? Just for making me this uncomfortable, I must thank John Green and I give value to the book.

That being said, the dialogues were a major barrier. And by dialogues I mean the characters. I’ve read several reviews of the disappointed minority and this seems a common denominator. The unrealistic way these teens talk (“existentially fraught free throws“; “all of this (…) will have been for naught”), might be put down to how intellectual they are, how they had to wise-up and come to terms with their mortality when they should feel invincible. But that excuse didn’t stick because this isn’t my first John Green book.

If you’ve read him before, you’ll probably also see Hazel as another Miles or Quentin, Isaac as Hassan and Marcus or Gus as Alaska. In general they all sound very much alike and could easily be transposed into each other’s novels without major issues, including all having a road-trip! Also, if you’ve ever seen a Green interview or vlog you’ll know that he is these characters: he’s smart, hip, funny and cynical. So for all the praise it got for its realism and freshness, The Fault in Our Stars felt very much as just another John Green book.

The strange thing is that I enjoy the John Greeness in John Green’s previous books (and other Gilmore Girls-style of stories), but in this one not so much. I couldn’t escape the image of the puppet master, wanting me to cry hard, and think about the Purpose of Life, Disappointing Heroes and Remaining True to Yourself in the Face of Unimaginable Hardship (while reciting Great Poetry).

Because of all the buzz around the book, I expected Green to leave his formulas behind, take risks and make something truly different – the theme alone deserved it! Maybe the perceived freshness relies on the fact that it’s a YA book about teens dying of cancer and that should be enough. I found myself being much harder on Green exactly because it’s a book about teens dying of cancer, while feeling that everyone was giving him a free pass because of it.

It’s not fair to judge a book based only on my expectations and what I wanted to writer to do, but there you have it.

To finish on a high note: dying in these circumstances is not tidy or romantic and that was well reflected in the book. I’ve been there and I’m thankful for Green not to gloss it over. Because of this, the last chapters softened me up towards book, but not without some kinks. For instance, the scene where Gus tries to buy cigarettes is incredibly moving, but then Hazel, while calling 911, goes “I need an ambulance. The great love of my life has a malfunctioning G-tube”. *Smack upside the head!* Didn’t lines like that distract you?

I came late to the TFIOS’ blogging debate and wish I could persuade my bookclub to read it. Maybe talking would help me to better figure out why I feel about the book the way I do.

 

 

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