July–September Book Haul

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New books equal new adventures. During the past summer I read a lot of books (30 to be precise) and, consequently, also acquired a ton of new books. A total of nineteen books is definitely more than I had planned for, but as fellow bloggers and avid readers, you probably recognise the telling signs of a book junkie. Nevertheless, it’s hard to feel truly guilty about the new and exciting stories that now habit my shelves. Here are the new tenants of my bookshelves, moved in between June and September.

IMG_7778Firstly, I’m extremely happy to finally possess a copy of perhaps my favourite book, Animal Farm by George Orwell. The lovely kainzow from Eye of Lynx was so kind to gift me this stunning Folio Society edition. I’ve only seen pictures of these editions and they all look wonderful, but now that I also have the chance to hold one in my hands, I can vouch that they are truly crafted with love. All of the Folio Society editions are illustrated by a different artist, and what better combination that George Orwell and Quentin Blake! This, ladies and gentlemen, is true love.

Aside from writing Animal Farm, George Orwell was also a brilliant essayist, and one of his most known essays is Politics and the English Language. Having read that last year, I was left with a longing to explore more of his essays. Hence when I saw this handy Penguin edition of George Orwell’s Essays in Shakespeare & Sons in Berlin, I knew it would be coming home with me. During my four day trip to Berlin, I did actually visit Shakespeare & Sons twice, because from the moment I stepped into the shop, it became one of my favourite bookshops. I could easily spend hours upon hours just browsing through their collection, then order coffee and lose myself in my choice of a book. And each visit to the shop naturally had to be christened with a new purchase; the second time around I brought home a copy of The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I’ve heard great things about The Road and my boyfriend remembered that the film adaptation was very good, so I’m curious to see the secrets that this book holds.

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Contrary to my two book purchases in Berlin, the third book I bought during that trip was in German. I’ve been meaning to read more Kafka and thus when presented a chance, I decided to challenge myself to read Kafka’s The Trial in German. My German friends told me they had to study the novel in school from these school print editions, so I naturally went and bought one in the same edition. I’ve only read Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, but I’ve heard some rumours about The Trial and its absurdity. I will report back on how my language skills faired with this one.

The next three books I purchased all within one day. Firstly, there was a big bookshop sale that had a lot of interesting titles sold for the price of a big cup of coffee. I picked up two books from that sale: Down the Rabbit Hole by Juan Pablo Villalobos and A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra. Down the Rabbit Hole is translated from Spanish and it follows the Mexican drug cartel through the eyes of a small boy. Jean from Jean BookishThoughts recommended this a long time ago, and because I can’t remember when was the last time I read some Spanish literature, I decided to give this a go. The other title, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, is a big blogger favourite and I’ve seen this book receive lots of love from some of the bloggers I follow. Anthony Marra’s newest novel is coming out in October (I believe), so I’m really looking forward to discovering Marra’s writing style.

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After the book shop sale, I went to visit my favourite second hand bookshop, Arkadia International Bookshop, where I came across Simon Rich’s Ant Farm and Other Desperate Situations. Simon Rich is an American humorist who launched to fame with this particular collection when he was still an undergraduate. Rich is to date the youngest person to have been hired by Saturday Night Live and has also worked for Pixar. I heard about Rich through Veronica from Ron Lit and having later read a couple of short stories and columns written by him, I was excited to find his debut collection at the shop.

At the end of August, I realised that I had gone from reading four Tove Jansson novels and a biography in one year (aka. my Tove100 project) to reading none – and that was depressing. Perhaps it was the slow onset of autumn, but I began to desperately crave for Jansson’s writing. So I did what I usually do and picked up a library copy of The Winter Book. However, about three days later I was visiting my local bookshop and they were selling a boxset of four Tove Jansson novels for five euros – an offer which I most definitely could not pass. The boxset includes Sculptor’s Daughter and The Summer Book (both of which I read last year) but also two new-to-me novels: The True Deceiver and The Winter Book. It should come as no surprise that I returned the book to the library in record time. Moreover, I adore these colourful cover illustrations!IMG_7780

IMG_7800The Winter Book was not, however, the only acquisition somehow foreseen by a library haul. I picked up a copy of The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne during my latest library haul thinking that I should probably try to read this classic during the autumn time. Then the next day I came across a wild copy of the same book when I was running past the Free Little Library shelf at my university campus. I was in a bit of a hurry, so I picked it up out of curiosity, and only remembered later that I already had a library copy at home. My book collection is slowly reaching the point in which I soon begin to buy second copies of books because I forget that I already own one. Help!

And then there were the ebooks. Compared to the amount of physical books I’ve hauled in during these three months, my ebook selection has stayed relatively within the limits of normal. In fact, four of the seven ebooks were review copies, one I’ve been highly anticipating, one was a spur of the moment purchase and one… well, let’s just say that I’m still trying to get into this author’s work.kesäkirjat15

First off are Half Bad by Sally Green and A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan. Both were provided me for review through Netgalley and you can find my reviews of them through the links. I’m generally more of a backlist reader, but I do sometimes get curious about the up-and-coming titles. In the case of Half Bad, the book has been out for a while now, but it is still making the rounds in translation. Overall, I enjoyed Half Bad, although not as much as I had hoped for, and was very pleasantly surprised by A Window Opens.

Evelina by Frances Burney is yet another recommendation from the lovely Veronica from Ron Lit – she blurbed it as “one of the books that influenced Jane Austen”. That alone makes the book interesting in my eyes, but considering that it is 18th century literature (something that I’m completely unfamiliar with) and with a fascinating premise – uncultured country girl colliding with the rules of high society. I hope Evelina turns out to be as wonderful as it sounds!

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel took the blogosphere by storm last year (or was it the year before that?). The story of post-apocalyptic world with touring theatre group performing Shakespeare and the infamous “Survival is insufficient” quote pulled me in, but due to many circumstances, it took me until August to actually purchase a copy. I am aware that my expectation for this novel are soon about to hit the roof, so I should just get to reading this instead of thinking about it!

Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. Many adore everything that Neil Gaiman writes (it’s almost like the legend of Midas touch). However, Ocean at the End of the Lane seems to be one of the few books that divides Gaiman fans. I’ve so far read three books by him and, with the exception of The Sandman, I’ve mostly found them to be ‘okay’, but not earth-shattering by any means. Thus I’m interested to see how this book compares to the other books that I’ve read by him.

Lastly I picked up two books for the upcoming dark and chilly autumn evenings. Both The Black Tongue by Marko Hautala and Lithium-6 by Risto Isomäki are upcoming titles that have been translated from Finnish.Both translations are published by AmazonCrossing and I’ve received them from the publisher (via Netgalley) for review. The Black Tongue (pub. September 22nd) is promised to be a dark psychological thriller about an urban legend of a hatchet granny, and it has received raving reviews from other Finnish book bloggers. Horror isn’t one of my go-to genres, so I hope that The Black Tongue will enrich my reading experiences. Lithium-6 (pub. October 6th) on the other hand is a science fiction mystery featuring nuclear terrorism from the same author who wrote one of my favourite books of last year, Risto Isomäki. I was super impressed by The Sands of Sarasvati, so I cannot wait to read this one!

I think my shelves are now fully stocked for the upcoming months, and my bank account could definitely use a bit of a break from book shopping. My goal is to hold off from book buying until the end of October when I’ll be attending the Helsinki Book Fair 2016!

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Review: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (Flavia de Luce, #1)

EBOOK; 386 P.
DELACORTE, 2009
SOURCE: PURCHASED

Fans of Louise Fitzhugh’s iconic Harriet the Spy will welcome 11-year-old sleuth Flavia de Luce, the heroine of Canadian journalist Bradley’s rollicking debut. In an early 1950s English village, Flavia is preoccupied with retaliating against her lofty older sisters when a rude, redheaded stranger arrives to confront her eccentric father, a philatelic devotee. Equally adept at quoting 18th-century works, listening at keyholes and picking locks, Flavia learns that her father, Colonel de Luce, may be involved in the suicide of his long-ago schoolmaster and the theft of a priceless stamp. The sudden expiration of the stranger in a cucumber bed, wacky village characters with ties to the schoolmaster, and a sharp inspector with doubts about the colonel and his enterprising young detective daughter mean complications for Flavia and enormous fun for the reader.

Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce series has been making rounds in the blogosphere for the past five years or so, but still it wasn’t until last year that I really heard about the series for the first time. The Finnish translation of the first book in the series, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, hit the book shops and the first reviews all seemed to be more or less positive. As part of the promotion campaign, Alan Bradley visited Finland during the Helsinki Book Fair in October 2014, and now, about a year after the first book was released in Finnish, the translation of the third book is coming out. All in all, Alan Bradley seems to have taken the Finnish readers by storm. But despite the positive reviews, I haven’t really been actively seeking out the first book. Thus, I decided to add it to my 20 Books of Summer TBR to push myself to get on with it.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie begins with a regular day in the de Luce residence – an emotionally distant single father who focuses more on his own hobbies than his three daughters, and a slow-building state of war between the oldest, Ophelia, and the youngest, Flavia. But Flavia is no ordinary 11-year-old girl as she has inherited her uncle’s passion for chemistry, with a special interest in poisons. The everyday monotony of the household is, however, broken by a surprise visit from her father’s old acquaintance, whom Flavia then discovers the next morning lying in the garden, dead. Everything about the man seems to be a mystery, but Flavia has an inkling that it has something to do with the dead jack spine that was found holding a small postage stamp on its beak. Flavia decides to solve the mystery, because it seems that the past has come back to haunt the de Luce family.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is a monster of a title, but at the same time it is delightfully vague enough to intrigue the reader. Alan Bradley has certainly taken his lessons from The Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie, whose novels feature similarly fascinating titles, such as N or M?, They Do It with Mirrors, and 4:50 from Paddington. The intriguing title of the novel also comes to reflect the slightly quirky and quaint style of the novel. The book is a mystery novel spun from strange, but unassumingly homely incidences that only the main character, Flavia, seems to observe. This presents yet another similarity to Ms. Christie, who with her Miss Marple series epitomised the traditional British country-house mystery. But instead of an elderly woman, the detective is a headstrong 11-year-old. As a character Flavia is curious and observant, but also a tad selfish and self-involved – an element that, in my opinion, made her come to life. However, I found some of her quirks and her way of talking very unrealistic. For one, I couldn’t imagine a 11-year-old proclaiming someone to be “a man after my heart” spontaneously. Another aspect of the novel that had me second-guessing was the time period. Having jumped into the book without reading the back, it took me several pages before I could place the novel in time – and even them my guess was about 30 years off. As an outsider, it is hard to say whether Bradley’s description of English countryside in the 1950s is accurate, but it sometimes felt like I was looking at a sepia-coloured photograph instead of the one in full colour. It just felt too quaint.

Nevertheless, there are also many great things in The Sweetness of at the Bottom of the Pie. For a debut novel, it is well-crafted leaving room for imagination as well as further development of both characters and surroundings. I also think that for a first book in a series it stood well on its own. Bradley’s writing creates the lovely atmosphere of the story, with alternating intensity points and good hooks, and makes the story flow. It’s perhaps too much to compare Bradley against Christie, but I still wished that the book would have balanced the quaintness of the story with something truly gritty. To reach four stars, the book would have needed more than just atmosphere.

I would, however, recommend The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie to readers looking for a cosy autumn mystery with quirky characters, unconventional family relations, and a bit of school mystery. Plus it’s always refreshing to read about female characters who take interest in “unconventional topics”, such as chemistry and sciences!

3/5

Review: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

PAPERBACK; 367 P.
PENGUIN CLASSICS, 1994/1859
SOURCE: PURCHASED

From Goodreads:

It was the time of the French Revolution — a time of great change and great danger. It was a time when injustice was met by a lust for vengeance, and rarely was a distinction made between the innocent and the guilty. Against this tumultuous historical backdrop, Dickens’ great story of unsurpassed adventure and courage unfolds.
Unjustly imprisoned for 18 years in the Bastille, Dr. Alexandre Manette is reunited with his daughter, Lucie, and safely transported from France to England. It would seem that they could take up the threads of their lives in peace. As fate would have it though, the pair are summoned to the Old Bailey to testify against a young Frenchman — Charles Darnay — falsely accused of treason. Strangely enough, Darnay bears an uncanny resemblance to another man in the courtroom, the dissolute lawyer’s clerk Sydney Carton. It is a coincidence that plays a vital role as the story unfolds. Brilliantly plotted, A Tale of Two Cities is rich in drama, romance, and heroics that culminate in a daring prison escape in the shadow of the guillotine.

Aside from Jane Austen’s Pride and PrejudiceA Tale of Two Cities has one of the most quoted first sentences:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.

And if you’ve read the book, you know that the ending is no less memorable. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves! Charles Dickens is one of my favourite authors and before starting this book blog, I had read Little Dorrit, Nicholas Nickelby and Bleak House. I try to read at least one of his novel a year and last year it was A Christmas Carol. A Tale of Two Cities might not be considered as Dickens’ most renowned novel, but it’s definitely one of the most popular ones. The combination of history, excitement, and beautiful prose also make it very readable.

A Tale of Two Cities begins with an journey from London to Paris where an old man, Dr. Manette, is reunited with his daughter Lucie. This reunion is arranged by Mr. Lorry, a gentleman of the Bank, but during their return to London the group becomes unknowingly involved in the fate of a young Frenchman, Charles Darnay. As the father and daughter are set to testify against the treason accusation against Mr. Darnay, the connection is once again refreshed and gradually develops into friendship. However, a deeper, hidden connection lies between the old man’s unjust imprisonment and the young man. In the meanwhile, the air of Paris is simmering with discontent as the poor are grow hungry. The spark of a revolution is relatively easy to ignite, but like fire, it cannot always be contained.

First of all, I have to gush about the way Dickens manipulates language in A Tale of Two Cities. It is amazing, wonderful, sublime, enticing, comforting, harrowing and riotous. I’ve usually considered Dickens to be more of a plot- and character-based writer whose forte is characterisation. However, this time I was almost instantly enthralled by the language of the novel. I don’t know if it’s a specific aspect of A Tale of Two Cities or if I’ve just grown more attune to beautiful writing, but the way the sentences flow and the imagery is presented just stunned me. The story itself is also fascinating as it gave me new insight to the French Revolution, and I think Dickens’ intention was partly to remind people that despite the beautiful ideals behind the Revolution – Liberté, égalité, fraternité –, the revolution itself involved lots of violence and cruelty from both sides. A Tale of Two Cities is said to be one of Dickens’ more depressing novels, and its portrayal of cruelty is oddly juxtaposed by the stunning use of language; similar juxtaposing is present in the first sentence of the novel. This balance – or should I say imbalance – only occurred to me only after I had finished the book, but it’s made me view the novel in a new light.

I believe A Tale of Two Cities is/has been mandatory reading for many, but if you haven’t read it, I’d highly suggest you do so. It’s also one of Dickens’ most accessible novels, making it a great place to start with him (another one being A Christmas Carol). Also recommended to people who want to know more about the French Revolution. A Tale of Two Cities has beautiful language, historical interest, and a mixture of mystery, romance, and comedy à la Charles Dickens. It’s now one of my favourites.

5/5 

Waste forces within him, and a desert all around, this man stood still on his way across a silent terrace, and saw for a moment, lying in the wilderness before him, a mirage of honourable ambition, self-denial, and perseverance. In the fair city of this vision, there were airy galleries from which the loves and graces looked upon him, gardens in which the fruits of life hung ripening, waters of Hope that sparkled in his sight. A moment, and it was gone.

What Edith Södergran taught me about reading poetry

PAPERBACK; 361 P.
SLS, 2014/1990
SOURCE: PURCHASED

I was contemplating on following my typical format of book reviews for this bind-up of all Edith Södergran’s works until I realised that I had no idea what to write. I cannot summarise the plot, for there are too many; I cannot compare Södergran to other poets, for I haven’t read many; and I most certainly cannot pretend to understand what the poems are “really about”. Instead I offer you my scrambled thoughts on reading – or at least trying to read – Edith Södergran’s poetry.

Edith Södergran (1892–1923) is considered to be one of the greatest poets of Finland. Similarly to the creator of Moomin series Tove Jansson, Edith Södergran was Finnish-Swedish and wrote all of her poems in Swedish. However, Södergran was educated in a German school and read both German and French, which gave her access to the literature of the time and partly contributed to Södergran being one of the first modernist poets in Finland – as a movement, modernism became more prevalent in Finnish literature in 1950s. Especially remembered from her post-humous collection Landet som icke är (‘The Land that Does Not Exist’), Södergran is a name often referenced in the Finnish literary scene. My first encounter with Södergran’s poetry was the title poem of Landet som icke är printed in my high school textbook, which sparked an interest to read more of her works. Fast-forwarding several years to the end of last year, I came to realise that despite the fact that I was reading a variety of different genres, I didn’t really read different forms – and should give poetry a honest try. Thus when I came across this beautiful paperback bind-up of all Edith Södergran’s published and unpublished works (in Swedish, might I add), I knew where I wanted to start.

Now, some of you who are more seasoned poetry readers might be shaking your heads at this. Typical beginner’s mistake: I knew next to nothing about Edith Södergran, I wasn’t fluent in Swedish, and I didn’t realise that tackling a 350+ paged poetry collection wouldn’t be as easy as reading a novel of the same length. However, I was motivated to give it my best try and everything was working fine – for the first month or so. I started reading the bind-up in March and read the first two collections in few weeks –  often in bouts. My process would begin by reading the first ten poems with full-on concentration, re-reading the poems again and again until I got some sense out of them. Then, having spent a lot of energy on a few poems, I often ended up skim reading the next twenty or so until I found something that really spoke to me and hit me so hard I had to stop reading just to think about them. I savoured those poems, committing long passages into memory, and they also gave me the sense of gratification – I finally understood poetry! However, as March transitioned into April and then into May, I noticed that I didn’t look forward to the moments that I dedicated for poetry. Although I enjoyed most of the actual reading of the poetry, taking the steps to do so felt taxing.

Edith Södergran was one of the first poets that embraced modernism, aside from T.S. Eliot, and according to Tavern Books, her poetry shows influences also from French symbolism, German expressionism and Russian futurism. Except in her earlier poems, Södergran rarely uses rhyme schemes or other traditional poetry formats in her poems. Her poems move in the realms of fantasy, myths, and nature, and the latter is particularly prominent in all of her collections. Gosh, we Finns really do love to write about nature. Many have described Södergran’s poems as lovely daydreams, but for me, her best poems were those that dealt with our relationship with ourselves as well as how that self interacts with other people. It’s simply stunning. But confession time: most of the time I honestly didn’t know whether Södergran was really talking out flowers, or if it was just a metaphor. And that’s what hard about poetry – sometimes you really don’t know. With novels you often have several hundred pages of text from which you can try to deduce the intention of the writer, but with poetry you often have only one page. It’s seems that more than anything, poetry is about reading between the lines.

As I mentioned above, I read Södergran’s poems in the language that they were written, namely Swedish. This was because 1) the bind-up was only available in Swedish and because 2) I’ve been actively trying to read more fiction in Swedish in order to improve my skills in said language. However, I was wholly unprepared to the change in language that has happened between Swedish in 1920s and in today – the language of the twenties was almost greek to me. There were many times that I had to read a single poem again and again and hope to find a lead that would pull me in. Sometimes I found it, and sometimes I didn’t. All in all, it was a rather tiring process and reading in small bouts, it took me from March to mid-July to read through the entire bind-up. The few poems that completely won me over, however, made the struggle worth it and reaching the end of the book made me feel at least a tiny bit accomplished. And what did I learn from this? Don’t read poetry in a language that you don’t fully master, unless you’re intentionally studying it – the sense of enjoyment will diminish every time you reach for the dictionary.

I hope I haven’t scared all of you off by now, because despite my struggles with poetry, I still think that Edith Södergran was on to something great. If you’re interested in modernism, feminist poetry, or Finnish authors, here are few places where you can read Södergran in English. For starters, Edith Södergran has her own Poetry Foundation page, which features five of her poems. Translator David McDuff has translated two books of Södergran’s poetry – her debut collection Poems (1916) and an edition called Complete Poems – but you can also read some of his translations online at http://englishings.com/nvinprint/sodergran-poems-1916.html. From Goodreads I spotted Stina Katchadourian’s translation Love and Solitude: Selected Poems, 1916–1923 and On Foot I Wandered Trough the Solar Systems, translated by Malena Morling and Jonas Ellenstrom. The most recent collection is We Women, which is translated by Samuel Charters and was published by Tavern Books in 2015.

As for the future of my poetry reading, I will continue to persevere for those small ‘heureka’ moments and hopefully one day I can return to Södergran with much more understanding of the language that she speaks.

Vierge Moderne (tr. David McDuff)
I am not a woman. I am a neuter.
I am a child, a page and a bold resolve,
I am a laughing stripe of a scarlet sun…
I am a net for all greedy fish,
I am a toast to the glory of all women,
I am a step towards hazard and ruin,
I am a leap into freedom and self …
I am the whisper of blood in the ear of the man,
I am the soul’s ague, the longing and refusal of the flesh,
I am an entrance sign to new paradises.
I am a flame, searching and brazen,
I am water, deep but daring up to the knee,
I am fire and water in free and loyal union …

September Plans

Hello again, fellow readers!

Yesterday, I wrapped up my summer reading, so today it’s all about what I’ll be reading next. The morning air is getting that slow-settling chill and the leaves in trees are turning first yellow and then red. This September I’m also starting my final year at university, which is a bit sad but at the same time I’m super excited about some of my final courses. My free reading time will probably be cut to half of what it was during the summer, so don’t expect me to reach the same 9–10 books a month pace that I had during the past months.

Books on my September TBR:

  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (currently reading)
  • Pomes All Sizes by Jack Kerouac
  • Ariana: An Epic Science Fiction Poem by Harry Martinson (Swedish)
  • The Tenant of Wilderfell Hall by Anne Brontë
  • Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
  • Hamlet by William Shakespeare
  • King Lear by William Shakespeare
  • The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  • The Brothers by Asko Salhberg
  • The Black Tongue by Marko Hautala

My September TBR is almost 100% library books, with the exception of The Tenant of Wilderfell Hall, which got left over from my 20 Books of Summer list, and The Black Tongue, which is an ARC of the English translation of a popular Finnish crime novel that’s coming out in November. I’m currently reading The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, which has been on my radar for quite some time. I can’t say too much about it at this point, but I’m definitely intrigued by it. Unlike my summer list, which had more than few books that were over 500 pages, in September I have a lot of poetry and plays, which are quite short compared to novels. I have no idea what to expect from the two poetry collections, but from the first pages that I read in the library, Jack Kerouac’s poetry is curious. Ariana was recommended to me by one of my friends who is an avid science fiction reader – according to him, this Nobel Prize winner is among the best. As for the three Shakespeare plays, I’m pretty sure I’ll end up reading either just one or two of the plays, but it’s good to have variety, right?

The Scarlet Letter and Slaughterhouse-Five might seem like they have nothing in common, but they are both texts that I’ve heard so so much about that it almost feels like I’ve read them – which is why I really do need to read them. And finally we have yet another Finnish novel translated by Emily and Fleur Jeremiah and published by Peirene Press – The Brothers. I’ve loved the previous two Peirene Press novels that I’ve read – White Hunger and Mr Darwin’s Gardener (both by Finnish authors) – so I trust that The Brothers to be wonderful. Peirene Press is quickly becoming one of my favourite indie publishers, and that’s just based on their selection of Finnish fiction!

That’ll be all for my TBR. I’ll keep on trying to catch up with reviews, and I hope to share my summer book haul with you soon! So many new and exciting books. In the meantime, let me know what you’re looking forward to reading this month! Cheers! x

Summer Reading in Review: BONTS Bingo, 20 Books of Summer and Extras

Summer is finally at an end, which means that it’s time to pack away summer clothes, bring in the sweaters and return to university. And saying goodbye to summer also means it’s time to wrap up my summer reads in preparation for the new season. This past summer has been very prolific for me in terms of reading, and it took me few recounts to verify that I really read 30 books during the three summer months. One explanation this is that I set myself two rather ambitious reading challenges in the beginning of June: Books on the Nightstand Summer Bingo and the 20 Books of Summer list. Choosing books for these challenges motivated me to read things I otherwise might not have picked so readily, and I was also happy to finally read some titles that had been sitting on my shelves for quite some time. In the end, I got 21 squares and 4 ‘Bingo!’s in my BONTS bingo chart and read 17 out of 20 from the 20 book challenge – the only books I didn’t get to were A Storm of Swords, The Tenant of Wilderfell Hall and Hägring 38. However, all three are ones that I can see myself reading during the autumn months.

Because I read so much, I am still quite a bit behind with my reviews – I hear it’s a common problem among the 20 Books of Summer participants. I do plan on writing full reviews for most of these books, but for the purpose of this wrap-up post, I’ll share my quick thoughts on each individual book here. Make sure you have something to drink, because this ride will be a long one!

June 2015

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
Set in another country – Riveting and super fascinating read about the 21st immigration experience, on carrying both the past and present with you. Set partly in Dominican Repulic.

Mr Darwin’s Gardener by Kristina Carlson
BONTS Free square – Hauntingly beautiful and thought-provoking novel set in a Kentish village in 1800s. One of the most beautiful writing I’ve read in a while.

Just Kids by Patti Smith 
Set in a place you want to visit & 1/20 –Patti Smith’s memoir about New York in the late 60s and early 70s is truly as good as everyone says it is. It inspires you to create things and to work for your own art.

The Beggar and the Hare by Tuomas Kyrö
Has an animal in the title & 2/20 – “Hare-raisingly” funny romp across Finland with a sort of roadtrip slapstick plot. Also very clever satire on modern Finnish society.

Saving wishes by G.J. Walker Smith
Extra – Recommended by a friend. YA contemporary with insta-love. Lots of eye-rolling.

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride
About a disease & 3/20– Haunting story about growing up in a stiflingly religious environment. Strangely luring writing style and anonymity that gets under your skin.

Tähtikirkas, lumivalkea (Snow White, Star Bright) by Joel Haahtela
4/20 – Interesting novel about a young man driven away from his home country and making a new life for himself in the cusp of 20th century.

20booksofsummer2015

Ambitious summer reading plans is the way I roll.

The Sandman, vol. 1 by Neil Gaiman
That “everyone” but you has read – My latest dip into the works of Neil Gaiman proved to be very successful and I very much enjoyed the twists that Gaiman and co. have put to the legends and myths.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
5/20– A modern classic dealing with mental health and anxiety of a young aspiring female writer. Very poignant and harrowing read.

July 2015

Dracula by Bram Stoker (illustrated by Becky Cloonan)
Written for adults, but with illustrations & 6/20– Surprisingly accessible and exciting gothic classic about Count Dracula. The illustrations fit the book well and made it truly an object of beauty.

Ich bin kein Berliner. Ein reiseführer für faule Touristen by Wladimir Kaminer
Nonfiction – Read in preparation for my second trip to Berlin. A collection of tidbits and experiences that Soviet-born Kaminer has had through his years of working as a broadcaster in Berlin. Funny and surprisingly easy to read!

The Princess Bride by William Goldman
About books, bookstores or publishing & 7/20– A cult classic that makes fun of all the fairy tale and fantasy tropes. Partly about writing the book and being a writer. Didn’t enjoy it as much as the film.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
Popular Science & 8/20– Interesting look at introversion and extroversion, their biological and psychological sides as well as how culture plays a part in forming ourselves. Well research and accessibly written. A must read for introverts.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Science fiction & 9/20 – YA science fiction and fantasy novel retelling of Cinderella. Loved everything aside from the retelling part and was hooked enough to want to continue with the series.

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Travel reads à la Berlin. (The colourful one is my calendar.)

Half Bad by Sally Green
Extra – YA fantasy novel that came highly recommended. Interesting premise and some promising points, but overall a bit of a let down.

Dikter och aforismer by Edith Södergran
Poetry collection – My first foray into the world of poetry was perhaps a bit over-ambitious as I chose to read a complete collection of a poet and in a foreign language (Swedish). It took me months to get through this entire collection, but there were some moving pieces that I’ll never forget. I think I enjoyed the later collections in this bind-up more than the earlier ones.

Blog by the book: blogiopas by Miki Toikkanen & Noora Kananen
By an author who shares your first name – A Finnish non-fiction book about blogging. My expectations going in weren’t high, but I quickly realised that despite the effort that the writers had put to this book, it read quite poorly. The writing needed editing and the claims had no factual backing. Came close to DNF’ing.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Published before 1900 & 10/20 – I don’t know why I haven’t read Dickens’ possibly most well-known novel before because it is a beautiful, beautiful treat of literature. I adored this from start to finish; the language is swoon-worthy. Published in 1859.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of a Pie by Alan Bradley
11/20 – Again, I had heard nothing but great things about the Flavia de Luce series and really wanted to enjoy it. However, I just didn’t find the story and the characters believable and that bothered me a lot. Perhaps a bit too quaint for me?

August 2015

Nineteen Eight-Four by George Orwell
A classic that you should have read in school & 12/20 – The first time that I tried to read this, I couldn’t get into it because life was too hectic. And I’m glad I put it down then, because this book really requires you to let go of everything else and immerse yourself in this dystopian world and its functions. Excellent book and one that I didn’t expect to love as much as I do.

Books on the Nightstand - Summer Bingo Card

Colour coding: red for June, purple for July and mustard for August

Arvin kieliopas (Arvi’s Language Guide) by Arvi Lind
Extra – I picked this up on a whim at the library after having talked about it with a friend. A short collection of column from the newscaster Arvi Lind that don’t really focus on how language works, but more on how you should pronounce certain words and some cases where people’s grammar tends to slip. I expected more and better.

The Egyptian by Mika Waltari
Longer than 500 pages & 13/20 – My big and daunting classic book challenge of the summer (last year it was Moby Dick), The Eqyptian is a surprisingly easy to read. Intriguing intertextuality and research shines in this historical fiction novel set in the 1300 BC Egypt. 779 pages.

The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh
A novella & 14/20 – My second Evelyn Waugh, and I loved it more than the first one! Waugh fears nor spares no one in his satirical look at British expats in Hollywood in the 1950s and the absurdity of funeral arrangements. Stretching the definition of a novella with its 127 pages, but sometimes rules are meant to be broken, right?

The Bees by Carol Ann Duffy
That you chose because of the cover – I checked out a bunch of poetry collection from the library after finishing Edith Södergran’s work, and this was luckily one of them. Absolutely stunning pieces that I kept reading over and over again. Became one of my favourites for the year.

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith
15/20 – Next book in the Cormoran Strike series proved to be as good as the first one, but I’m still not really sold on the concept. I will probably continue reading the series, but will be checking them out from the library instead of buying. The publishing industry gave an interesting premise to the mystery.

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson
Reread something – I bought a boxset of Jansson’s short story collections and wanted to re-experience the quaint vignettes of The Summer Book. Rereading the collection was very strange but very familiar at the same time.

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The best mornings are ones with a good book, a nice view and a cuppa.

Atonement by Ian McEwan
Was turned into a movie or TV show & 16/20 – Beautiful and sad story about war, young love, misunderstandings and terrible mistakes. McEwan’s writing carries the feel and sense of the pre-war Britain and the desperation of the approaching tragedy wonderfully, and though slow at places, Atonement was a pleasure to read. Movie adaptation (2007) starring Keira Knightley – with that green dress.

A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan
Extra – A hearty story of a part-time working mother-of-three switching to a full-time position to plan a e-reading lounges and having to rediscover her work-family balance. Slightly different from what I usually read, but I enjoyed reading a book that was both bookish and all about the importance of family.

Rakkaus on ruma sana – valikoidut lauluteksti (Love is an ugly word – collection of song lyrics) by Ismo Alanko
Extra – A collection of song lyrics from 1980s to the 21st century. Reading the lyrics instead of listening to them being sung was a curious experience, and Alanko’s lyrics tell strange tales. Entertaining, but I’d exchange it for a live concert in a heart beat.

Kiinalainen puutarha (The Chinese Garden) by Markus Nummi 
About a religion with which you are unfamiliar & 17/20 – A charming but terrifying story of cultural collisions, love and terror in Kashgar, China. Set in the 1930s, it’s a bildungsroman of a young muslim boy growing up in the midst of Christian missionaries from Sweden.

– – –

Phew, this wrap-up post ended up a lot longer than I anticipated! Nevertheless, I am grateful for all the three book-filled summer months and so glad to have been able to discover so many new favourites. Because this post is already too long, I’ll be sharing my September TBR in a separate post tomorrow. If you’re interested to know what will be on my nightstand for the upcoming weeks, keep your eyes open for that! x

Review: Half Bad by Sally Green (Half Life #1)

EBOOK, 417 P.
PENGUIN, 2014
SOURCE: FROM THE PUBLISHER VIA NETGALLEY

Half Bad by Sally Green is a breathtaking debut novel about one boy’s struggle for survival in a hidden society of witches.

You can’t read, can’t write, but you heal fast, even for a witch.
You get sick if you stay indoors after dark.
You hate White Witches but love Annalise, who is one.
You’ve been kept in a cage since you were fourteen.
All you’ve got to do is escape and find Mercury, the Black Witch who eats boys. And do that before your seventeenth birthday.
Easy.

Having been positively surprised by Cinder, I decided to bite the bullet and read a second YA fantasy novel in a row. Half Bad is also Sally Green’s debut novel and the first part in the Half Life trilogy. This book has received a lot of praise both online and in the press, and I’ve also spotted the Finnish translation of the book prominently displayed in bookshops. The cover definitely draws in your attention invites you to pick it up and read the blurb. And according to the Guinness World Records, Half Bad is the “Most Translated Debut Book, pre-publication”. Hence you can probably guess why I was excited that Netgalley had a galley that you could request for review.

Half Bad is a story of Nathan, a young witch trapped in a cage. At least that’s what where we encounter him first, listening in on his thoughts as he goes through the motions of his prisoned life, watching and plotting for escape. You don’t really know why he is in there or who is keeping him, but slowly you get more glimpses of his life before the cage. Nathan lives in a society where there are white witches and black witches, and the latter are evil. The white witches run the secret witch society, organise their training, and supervise the Half Codes, who are half black and half white. Nathan is a Half Code, which means that instead of leading a nice and comfortable childhood like his other siblings, he has to go through yearly examinations, and his freedom is limited. And it’s all because of his notorious father who he has never met.

I had relatively high expectations for Half Bad, simply because I’d heard so much praise for it. From the first page, I realised that Sally Green’s debut novel isn’t a straight-forward one and that it employs some very clever and interesting storytelling techniques. As a reader you experience the pain and trouble that Nathan has to go through, which means that simultaneously you begin to feel for him as a character. However, Nathan is not the most likeable character out there and as the story progresses, you begin to question whether Nathan is good or bad – white or black. Similarly, Green subtly makes you question the order held by the white witches – in hunting down the black witches, the whites take no hostages. The world of Half Bad is not just black and white, but mostly grey.

The beginning part of Half Bad had me first confused and then interested, but as I read on, my interest levels started to slowly drop. The story seemed to be flitting around too much and towards the end, I could clearly see that the book was a first part of a trilogy from the way it seemed to be stalling at the end. There’s much promise in Sally Green’s writing and the ideas behind the story are fascinating, but I just didn’t click with the story. The story is at times quite gritty and gory, which I personally didn’t mind, but I wouldn’t recommend it to younger readers. However, I do recommend Half Bad to everyone who enjoys a bit more experimental young adult books and books that make you to doubt what the characters are telling you. In that Sally Green is world-class.

3.5/5

I thought that exile meant you had to leave your country and you could go anywhere–somewhere in the sun, a tropical island, say, or America. But exile doesn’t mean that; it means you are banished to a specific place, and guess what, that place isn’t in the sun and is no paradise, it’s not even America. It’s some cold, miserable place like Siberia, where you don’t know anyone and you can barely survive. It’s another prison.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Review: A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan

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EBOOK; 416 P.
SIMON & SCHUSTER, 2015
SOURCE: FROM THE PUBLISHER VIA NETGALLEY

From the beloved books editor at Glamour magazine comes a heartfelt and painfully funny debut about what happens when a wife and mother of three leaps at the chance to fulfill her professional destiny—only to learn every opportunity comes at a price.

In A Window Opens, Elisabeth Egan brings us Alice Pearse, a compulsively honest, longing-to-have-it-all, sandwich generation heroine for our social-media-obsessed, lean in (or opt out) age. Like her fictional forebears Kate Reddy and Bridget Jones, Alice plays many roles (which she never refers to as “wearing many hats” and wishes you wouldn’t, either). She is a mostly-happily married mother of three, an attentive daughter, an ambivalent dog-owner, a part-time editor, a loyal neighbor, and a Zen commuter. She is not: a cook, a craftswoman, a decorator, an active PTA member, a natural caretaker, or the breadwinner. But when her husband makes a radical career change, Alice is ready to lean in—and she knows exactly how lucky she is to land a job at Scroll, a hip young start-up which promises to be the future of reading, with its chain of chic literary lounges and dedication to beloved classics. The Holy Grail of working mothers—an intellectually satisfying job and a happy personal life—seems suddenly within reach.

Back when I was transitioning from young adult fiction to adult fiction, chick lit (or women’s fiction as many prefer it to be called) served as my go-between genre. I guess the attraction lay in the fact that the main characters where often in their twenties or thirties, the tone of the books was mostly humorous and the writing was pretty straightforward. The latter mainly because those books and Agatha Christie were also among the first adult books that I read in English instead of picking up the Finnish translations. So despite having now grown apart from the genre, I still have fond memories. And for that reason, I made a spur of the moment decision and requested A Window Opens from the publisher.

The story of A Window Opens follows Alice Pearse, a mother of three children who works part-time as a books editor in a women’s magazine. Alice is satisfied with her life as she can be there for her children and drive them from school to after-school activities, help them with school projects, participate in the PTA, help her aging parents, enjoy cups of coffee with other mother-friends, host bookish events etc. However, when her husband informs her that their financial situation is about to change drastically, Alice feels ready to take charge and become a full-time working mother – especially when she’s presented with an opportunity to work for an innovative start-up company that’s establishing literary lounges for e-books. However, transitioning from a full-time mom to a full-time career woman is not as easy as Alice initially thought and life has many surprises in store for her as she tries to find a balance between work and family.

A Window Opens is a novel about motherhood in the 21st century and to be honest, it’s a bit scary – all those playdates, extravagant hobbies, PTA commitments, mommy-friend squads just seem too much. As a twenty-something university student, reading about the everyday life of Alice was like listening in on my aunts’ discussions – I can’t completely relate to it or contribute to it, but it got me wondering if I’d go down the same road eventually (hope not). However, what originally got me interested in this novel was its bookishness. The main character is voracious reader and A Window Opens is sprinkled with references to books, both classics as well as new popular titles (mentions include Gone Girl and The Snow Child). Moreover, I really appreciated the fact that Egan chose to write about e-books and the changes they have brought to the book industry. Way too often books about books tend to gloss over the e-book era and focus on those cute, cosy and quirky bookshops that stay unaffected by online shops like Amazon. There are lots of fears and prejudices against e-books and although I don’t think e-books are by default a bad thing for the book industry, it’s good to acknowledge the fact that e-books and online shopping are changing the way we consume books.

A Window Opens is essentially a hearty and warm story about the importance of family, about work-life balance and how, in the end, we are all just humans. I think some working mothers might relate to the main character’s dream to “have-it-all” and others will relate to her work shenanigans. I personally didn’t relate to either, but I found the writing entertaining and that despite its saccharine parts the books had also something to say. I’d recommend A Window Opens to readers who enjoy chick lit/women’s fiction, like to pick up literary references or want to read about work-life balance in the 21st century. Whether Alice Pearse is the new Bridget Jones is an open-ended question.

3.5/5

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.