Review: Cinder by Marissa Meyer (Lunar Chronicles #1)

[ My blogging juju-powers are currently stuck, so apologies for the stilted postings. I’ve been reading like crazy for the entire summer, but for some reason writing reviews of the books I’ve read has felt like a Mission Impossible 1000. However, I believe that the only way to get through a writing slump is to write, as hard as it is. So here’s trying. ]

EBOOK; 400 P.
FEIWEL & FRIENDS, 2012
SOURCE: PURCHASED

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl.

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

Cinder is the first book in a YA science fiction and fantasy series that took the book blogging world by storm a few years ago, and I believe the final book in the series is coming out at the end of this year. So after a few years of dodging the hype train, I decided to buy the first book for my e-reader and see for myself. Call it my attempt at hyped YA books part 251 – Throne of Glass didn’t really hook me earlier this year, so my expectations for Marissa Meyer’s debut novel were moderate.

Cinder is a retelling of Cinderella with a sci-fi-fantasy twist. It’s set in New Beijing in the far future where technological development has introduced a new life form – cyborgs. The eponymous main character, Cinder, is one of them: rescued from a deathly car crash as a small girl, she was saved, transformed and adopted by a scientist and currently living with her stepmother and stepsisters. However, due to cyborgs holding a second class citizen status in the society, she is forced to slave for the family. Cinder works as a mechanic in one of the trade markets, dealing with various technical problems, until one day the heir to the throne, Prince Kai, arrives to her stall with a very particular and secret task. In the heart of the mystery lies the mysterious Lunar people and their ruthless ruler, Queen Levana.

Although fairytale retellings aren’t really my go-to genre, I really enjoyed Marissa Meyer’s take on Cinderella. The science fiction elements of the story complimented the basic structure of the classic fairy tale and allowed me at times to forget that I knew parts of the story. Reading about the society of New Beijing, the technological development, the environmental crises and epidemias was really fascinating, and I also appreciated how Meyer didn’t shy away from the questions of status between humans and cyborgs. Cinder presented an interesting main character and the other characters also had their charm, but in the end, I wished that Cinder had been a completely original work. The failing of fairytale retellings  in my opinion is that they have to follow a certain script, which restrain a promising idea from developing and fleshing out further. Nevertheless, Marissa Meyer’s writing is engaging and the book reminded me what it’s like not be able to stop reading, but to keep going. I got immersed in the world of Cinder, and after finishing the book, I instantly craved for more. Although the book is by no means without a fault (I wish I could have skipped some of the end chapters), I’m honestly looking forward to reading the second and the third books in this series.

I’d recommend Cinder to readers who enjoy fairytale retellings and are not averse to science fiction elements in the story. As someone who for long didn’t think sci-fi to be for me, it’s surprising that I enjoyed those the most! The hype around this book is for a reason.

4/5

“Do your kind even know what love is? Can you feel anything at all, or is it just… programmed?”

Bout of Books 14 – Updates

BoB14-200x200

Let’s get this reading party started!

I was super excited about the Bout of Books 14 before it started (see my ambitious TBR), but I knew that the first two days of the Bout of Books week would be short of reading, because I had to work full days on a large work project. However, I didn’t expect to be presented with a full throttle of cold-like symptoms on Monday, which have now developed into a full-on cold. Work has been a bit stressful (okay, a lot) lately, so I guess needed a reminder to take better care of myself. So I’m now focusing on recovering from the cold instead of reading X amount of pages per day. However, once the project that I’m working on finishes and I’m back to normal, I’ll have more time and energy to read and to blog. I’m honestly doing better already, so no need to worry about me going completely MIA.

Monday August 17th
Number of pages read today: 115
Books finished from today: 1
Total number of pages read: 115
Notes: I devoured almost all of The Egyptian during the weekend in my excitement and so I only had about 30 pages of it to finish on Monday morning. I had a very relaxed mornign with breakfast and coffee, and my plan was to read Evelyn Waugh’s novella The Loved One (127 p.) after work. However, the day started going a bit down hill due to cold and once I wrapped up my work, I could only manage about 85 pages before I fell into bed. However, I was very much enjoying The Loved One with its sassiness and the clever remarks on funeral arrangements, so reading didn’t really feel like a chore.

Tuesday August 18th
Number of pages read today: 69
Books finished from today: 2
Total number of pages read: 184
Notes: I was holding a naïve hope that the symptoms would go away with a good night’s sleep, but unfortunately that didn’t happen. So I wrangled myself up and to get myself going for the day, I finished The Loved One during breakfast. I adored it and its satirical take on 50’s Hollywood with all its quirks and the mock-decorum of the British community. Overall, I think I enjoyed it a bit more than Brideshead Revisited, and now I really want to read the rest of Waugh’s works. Rest of my day passed in a hazy, stress-driven mood and like the day before, I fell into bed almost immediately after finishing work. Slept for a few hours and feeling more energized, I picked up The Bees by Carol Ann Duffy. I’ve heard lots and lots praise for Duffy, but I must admit that I picked this collection of poetry solely based on it’s cover. I’m currently about 12 pages into it, and I’m really REALLY liking it! Who would have known?

Wednesday August 19th
Number of pages read today: 145
Books finished from today: 3
Total number of pages read: 329
Notes: Day 3 – feverish, but feeling better. I tried to take my time with The Bees, and savour its beauty, but I just couldn’t help myself. I’m head over heels in love with Carol Ann Duffy’s poetry, and I just want to wrap myself up in a big cocoon and let it seep into my skin. Before The Bees I never really got what it was that made poetry special, but with this collection I wanted to shout it out to the world and had several ‘Yes! She gets it’ moments. I guess it’s true that with poetry you just need to find the right fit. Now I want to read everything she has ever written.

After The Bees, I decided to pick up The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling). I read the first book in the Cormoran Strike series last summer, and although I didn’t find it to be anything special, I think it makes for a perfectly good summery read. I’m currently about 100 pages in and though it isn’t in any way mind-blowing, it’s good fun and filled with publishing scoops.

Thursday August 20th
Number of pages read today: 221
Books finished from today: 3
Total number of pages read: 550
Notes: Over 200 pages in one day – wow! The Silkworm is a solid mystery novel that keeps you guessing alongside the main character as the investigation goes on. An enjoyable read and one that I can easily read several chapters in a row without a pause. J.K. Rowling certainly knows how to write and if I didn’t know that she was behind the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith, I don’t think I’d ever made the connection. The voice is very different in my opinion, and it definitely shows talent in writing. Overall, it’s good fun and it seems like an okay plot (so far).

Friday August 21st
Number of pages read today: 110
Books finished from today: 3
Total number of pages read: 660
Notes: Friday was a busy day. I read a bit of The Silkworm in the morning, but aside from work my day was filled with running errands, meeting friends for lunch, shopping and driving to the family summer cottage. After settling down in the evening I read for a few hours, but not too much. I still hold on to my opinion that The Silkworm is a great beach (or cottage) read – coincidentally, I also read the first book, The Cuckoo’s Calling, at the summer cottage!

Saturday August 22nd
Number of pages read today: 151
Books finished from today: 4
Total number of pages read: 811
Notes: Weekend at the summer cottage means ample reading time. And read I have. I finished The Silkworm in the evening and didn’t guess the killer – then again, I rarely do. Overall, I think The Silkworm is an entertaining and engaging read that flows well and invites you to immerse yourself in the mystery of a missing writer. I started reading Atonement by Ian McEwan in the evening, but fell asleep after page 6. I blame wine and lots of good food in a good company. More updates later on, but with this pace I might make it to 1,000 pages?!

Sunday August 23rd
Number of pages read today: 119
Books finished from today: 4
Total number of pages read: 930
Notes: Sunday was a day for lots of swimming in the lake and lying in the sun, with a book in hand. Although the air was not as heavy with heat as in Atonement, the warm weather made it easier to fall into the story and to picture in my head the small country estate and its inhabitants. Atonement has that long afternoon drowsiness oozing from it and, in contrast to The Silkworm, you don’t want to rush through it, but to linger and watch all the details – I guess languor is contagious. Nonetheless, I must admit that part of the slow progress is also due to McEwan’s language, which can be at times quite highbrow. So in the end I got only 119 pages read in the last day of the readathon, and thus didn’t quite reach the 1,000 page goal. However, I did manage to read far more than I’d normally read in a week, so my Bout of Books was really quite successful! Now I just need to get a move on writing those reviews…

I hope your Bout of Books week was also successful and that you read some amazing books. Let me know in the comments what was your favourite! (Mine was definitely The Bees!)

Bout of Books 14

Bout of Books

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 17th and runs through Sunday, August 23rd in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 14 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. 

– From the Bout of Books team

It’s here again – Bout of Books! Bout of Books is a readathon that takes place from Monday the 17th of August to Sunday the 23rd of August, and the goal is to read as much as you can during that time. I’m took part in Bout of Books 12 in January, but this is the first time that I’m able to take part in the reading fun also in the autumn! As of now, I’m currently reading – and have been reading for two whole weeks – The Egyptian by Mika Waltari, and if all goes to plan, I’ll be able to finish it at the beginning of the readathon. After that I plan to devour as many books from my 20 Books of Summer list as possible, but also squeeze in some poetry as one of my 2015 goals is to read more poetry. I have four poetry collections checked out from the library, each very different from one another, so I hope to dip into some of them during the week. We’ll see how it goes.

My reading options for Bout of Books 14 are:

BoB14

  • The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith
  • The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh
  • Hägring 38 by Kjell Westö (Swedish)
  • Atonement by Ian McEwan
  • The Bees by Carol Ann Duffy
  • Aniara: An Epic Science Fiction Poem by Harry Martinson (Swedish)
  • Rakkaus on ruma sana – Valitut laulutekstit by Ismo Alanko (Finnish)
  • Pomes All Sizes by Jack Kerouac

Also currently on my nightstand are The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern; The Winter Book by Tove Jansson; Ant Farm and Other Desperate Situations by Simon Rich; A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin; The Tenant of Wilderfell Hall by Anne Brontë; and Kiinalainen puutarha by Markus Nummi.

As you can see, there’s really no lack of option – I just need more time to read! Hence my goal for the readathon is simply to read every day – and if I get super into it, maybe surpass 1,000 pages? I read almost 700 pages during the last Bout of Books, and before that I got slightly over 800, so there’s room for improvement. In addition to reading every day, I plan to write small update posts for each day of the readathon, so if you’re interested to see how my Bout of Books is going, you can follow my progress through those. I’ll also be tweeting about the books that I read during the week, so be sure to check my Twitter (@bookarino).

Are you participating in the Bout of Books 14 and if so, what are you reading? Let me know in the comments and share your post!

Happy reading! x

Review: Quiet by Susan Cain

EBOOK; 370 P.
CROWN, 2012
SOURCE: PURCHASED

At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over working in teams. It is to introverts—Rosa Parks, Chopin, Dr. Seuss, Steve Wozniak—that we owe many of the great contributions to society.

In Quiet, Susan Cain argues that we dramatically undervalue introverts and shows how much we lose in doing so. She charts the rise of the Extrovert Ideal throughout the twentieth century and explores how deeply it has come to permeate our culture. She also introduces us to successful introverts—from a witty, high-octane public speaker who recharges in solitude after his talks, to a record-breaking salesman who quietly taps into the power of questions. Passionately argued, superbly researched, and filled with indelible stories of real people, Quiet has the power to permanently change how we see introverts and, equally important, how they see themselves.

I read Quiet during my week-long trip to Berlin, and found it to be a perfect travel book – each chapter stands on its own and you can dip in and out of the book depending on when you have time to read. I read mostly during plane rides and in public transport (U-bahn), and felt that my reading experience or enjoyment wasn’t at all disrupted by this. In fact, it gave me more time to mull over the ideas and arguments that Cain puts forward in her book. Because there’s a lot to chew on in Quiet.

I think most of you have already heard of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, but it’s essentially a non-fiction about introversion and how it’s treated in modern society. The book is well-researched, well-written and extremely accessible exploration of the introversion–extroversion duality and the Western world’s preference for the later. In her book Cain, a former lawyer and negotiations consultant, studies introversion through different perspectives ranging from biological and sociological to economic. Although Quiet can be classed as a self-help book, it is also a study on personality psychology. The publication of the book in 2012 started the “Quiet Revolution” and as a cause of that it felt like everyone was talking about introverts and extroverts. I think that’s also the first time that I discovered these traits and quickly identified myself as an introvert. And reading Quiet definitely affirmed this. It’s good to note that the book is quite Americentrist; for example the formation of The Extroverted Ideal is painted against the backdrop of notoriously extroverted American society. Coming from the land of many silences, a lot of staring at shoes and almost zero small-talk, I have never really struggled with introversion, but I can understand that the social norms in the States (and elsewhere) are significantly different. Which is why I personally found the section concerning globalisation and the cultural differences between East and West to be the most thought-provoking one.

Quiet offers interesting insight into historically remarkable characters who were introverts, and reveals how behind many extroverted leaders there is often a team of introverts who make the magic happen. Meeting new people or giving a speech is always nerve-wracking for a shy introvert such as myself, but through reading Quiet I came to understand that, although it is important to face the fears and learn from the experience, it is also OK to be who you are. Many others have found themselves from the pages of this book and I have heard several praise this book as a real eye-opener. I think Quiet will by default appeal to those who identify as introverts, but I’d highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in popular psychology. To understand ourselves is important, but to understand others is vital.

Other bloggers who adored Quiet:

4/5

It’s always been private occasions that make me feel connected to the joys and sorrows of the world, often in the form of communion with writers and musicians I’ll never meet in person. Proust called these moments of unity between writer and reader “that fruitfull miracle of a communication in the midst of solitude.”

Review: The Princess Bride by William Goldman

EBOOK; 416 P.
HOUGHTON MIFFLIN HARCOURT, 2007/1973
SOURCE: PURCHASED

The Princess Bride is a true fantasy classic. William Goldman describes it as a “good parts version” of “S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure.” Morgenstern’s original was filled with details of Florinese history, court etiquette, and Mrs. Morgenstern’s mostly complimentary views of the text. Much admired by academics, the “Classic Tale” nonetheless obscured what Mr. Goldman feels is a story that has everything: “Fencing. Fighting. Torture. Poison. True love. Hate. Revenge. Giants. Hunters. Bad men. Good men. Beautifulest ladies. Snakes. Spiders. Beasts of all natures and descriptions. Pain. Death. Brave men. Coward men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passion. Miracles.”

Princess Bride is a cult classic that plays with all the fantasy and fairytale tropes. It was first published in 1973 and about a decade later a film adaptation was made (adapted by William Goldman himself). In my understanding, it was the film that really made the story so well-known and loved around the world. I had never heard of The Princess Bride before saw the film with my friends, and it was absolutely hilarious in its intentional clichéness. And once I discovered that the film was based on a book, I naturally wanted to read it as well.

The Princess Bride is set in the land of Florin where a young girl named Buttercup – the most beautiful girl in the entire kingdom – falls in love with the farm boy Westley. As Westley is poor, he goes to sea to gain a fortune for him and Buttercup, but after a few months the news arrive Westley’s ship fell into the hands of the Dread Pirate Roberts. Around the same time the King of Florin lying on his death bed and his heir, Prince Humperdink, has to find wife to continue the line. Humperdink isn’t keen on marriage, but when he meets Buttercup, he is determined to take her as his wife. Buttercup is grief-struck and has resigned for a life of sadness, so she doesn’t resist the princes proposal. However, on the eve of the wedding, Buttercup is kidnapped by three men who are assumed to be from the feuding kingdom of Guilder. Yet, things are not always as they seem and the mysterious man in black following the kidnappers might have a few ideas of his own.

Now, I am going to confess that my expectations going in to this book were rather high, but that I received a well-timed reality check by the time I began reading the THIRD long-winded introduction to the story. The copy that I had on my Kindle was the 30th anniversary edition which meant that aside from the original introduction by the author, there were also the 25th and 30th anniversary intros, which altogether counted as 17% of the book.  In these introductions, Goldman digresses about his life, his marital troubles, and how he came to write this story. What makes The Princess Bride special is the fact that it is a story within a story – there is no original script penned by S. Morgernstern, and most of the things about Goldman’s own life are also fictional. The main story of the book – that of the fencing, fighting, torture, etc. – is only the centre around which Goldman constructs this book. The story progression is often interrupted by author notes in which Golman points out certain things about the original book or about his writing process or about his wife and son. This serves brings sort of comic relief to the story and builds tension to the story by stalling the reader. However, I personally became quickly quite annoyed with the digressions and thought that in several parts Goldman was trying so much to be funny that the end result was painful.

I appreciated the unconventional structure and the parody of these well-known tropes, but I really didn’t find The Princess Bride to be funny. It has some genius one-liners, but as a whole the story fell flat for me. Perhaps if I hadn’t seen the film, I might be WOW’d by the slapstick, but having seen it, the book just didn’t work for me. I still love the film, but the book was a major disappointment for me. However, it is a cult classic and a dear favourite of many people – in fact, I generally hear more praise than criticism for this book – so if you’re still interested in checking it out, I suggest you do that. However, for those of you who are unfamiliar with The Princess Bride, I’d suggest you watch the film first.

3/5

There have been five great kisses since 1642 B.C…(before then couples hooked thumbs.) And the precise rating of kisses is a terribly difficult thing, often leading to great controversy…. Well, this one left them all behind.

Review: Tähtikirkas, lumivalkea by Joel Haahtela (eng. Star Bright, Snow White)

PAPERBACK; 269 P.
OTAVA, 2013
SOURCE: FROM THE LIBRARY

Disclaimer: This book has, unfortunately, not been translated into English. Thus all the excerpts here have been translated by yours truly.

Tainted by a tragedy in his homeland, a young man writes diary entries in Paris in 1889. The young man succeeds to gain a position as a correspondent in a news agency and takes the reader on a magical trip to sizzling Berlin and its intoxicating nights, and later far far away to the colonialised Far East.

In 2012 in Helsinki a descendant of this young man finds his diaries and discovers that every one of us leaves a mark on the world. But there are those that pay a dearer price for it, and who mourn for the sake of others.

Similarly to Neil Gaiman, of whom I’ve written here previously, Joel Haahtela is one of those authors who I’ve been meaning get into more and to discover what the hype around him is really about. My first try with Katoamispiste (The Vanishing Point) wasn’t really a big hit, but I’d heard much praise for his newest novel, Star Bright, Snow White, that I decided to include it on my 20 Books of Summer reading list. And having now read the novel, it turns out that I still don’t quite get the hype, but do enjoy reading and admire his writing style.

The story of Star Bright, Snow White follows a young man who has been banished from his home country Finland to Paris, France. On his partly self-inflicted exile the young man writes in his diary letters to his lover, who he’ll probably never see again. The book is told in diary entries that slowly reveal what caused the young man to abandon his love, his art studies and his country and how this trauma is reflected as years and decades go by. Despite his Finnish background, the young man speaks rather fluent French and, through his uncle’s connections, he is employed in a French news agency during The Great Exhibition 1889. About a decade later the man has been promoted to foreign correspondent – first to Berlin in 1913–1914 and later on an excursion to the Far East in early 1920s. Star Bright, Snow White is a story of an idealistic budding artist on a crash course with the brutalities of life and in developing an identity.

Like Katoamispiste (The Vanishing Point), Star Bright, Snow White is  a beautifully written exploration of humanity, in which style runs the game. Haahtela describes vividly the historical aspects of Paris in late 1889, The Great Exhibition, Berlin in the 1913, and the self-induced alienation and estrangement that the character feels towards his homeland. It is a puzzle with missing pieces in which the reader has no clear answers. For example, is the main character trying to escape from his past by running away and diving head first into his work, or is it simply his a fear of inadequacy? The journal entries of the book cover short periods of time and can often jump as much as 15 years forward without any explanation. As a whole, Star Bright, Snow White was an interesting and emotional experience – especially the final notes of the diary were heart-wrenching.

Haahtela has a talent for writing historical fiction with his own style and the time periods covered in this book were definitely ones that I haven’t read much about and that appealed to me very much. However, the novel left me questioning whether I had grasped it’s meaning or not. Right when I felt like I got it, it seemed to slip away from my hand and run between my fingers. Also the main character stayed aloof and I didn’t really get a sense of him. As for the present day part, I didn’t really care that much for it except that it brought some sort of closure to the story. I’d recommend Star Bright, Snow White to readers who enjoy complex characters, unanswered questions, and a bit of artsy European history thrown into the mix.

3.5/5

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