Sunday, 28 August 2016

What's Left of Me - Kat Zhang

 ‘With other boys, she could craft a mask of smiles and laughter. She seemed to hardly want to glance at this one. Why? Because he wasn’t really one boy, but two? Because hidden inside his body were twin souls, nestled side by side? If so, then Addie looked away for exactly the same reasons I wanted to stare until I memorized the shape of his face. But I wasn’t the one in control.’

I picked up What’s Left of Me because the premise sounded interesting. Each person is born with two souls in the same body, but usually one of these gains dominance by the time they turn ten, and the other one disappears. For Eva and Addie, this doesn’t happen, and they have to live in fear of being discovered, because Hybrids are considered dangerous. It’s a bit Divergent-like, if Divergent was less interesting and the main character even more dull. Yeah. It also starts a trilogy of its own, called The Hybrid Trilogy.

The main character is Eva, who is the recessive soul in her body, the one who was to disappear but never did, putting herself and her sister, the dominant soul in danger. I couldn’t tell you much about Eva even if I tried. She hasn’t been in control of her own body for years and doesn’t have any interests, either. Addie likes drawing, Addie is level-headed, Eva is just there. While it was interesting to see how the recessive soul saw a world she didn’t interact with, she also made for an incredibly dull protagonist.

I was also annoyed with Eva because she knows that in order to protect herself, Addie and their whole family, they have to pretend they've settled - that she has disappeared. Does she do this? No, because freedom is more important than everything else. At a very crucial moment when she's ruined everything, she starts laughing. It's these kinds of things that just didn't make me like her all that much.

The book can be easily separated into two parts by looking at the setting and the pacing, and neither of them did much for me. The first part I was waiting for the other shoe to drop and when it did, I didn’t become very invested. Also, interestingly, the book has zero important characters who aren’t Hybrids, which also reminded me of Divergent; “People like me are rare and dangerous but everyone and my love interest is one of them.” Dull. I would’ve preferred at least for the here unnamed – this is for spoiler reasons – love interest to be “normal” and not “super special awesome” in the same way the main character is, for a more dynamic story.

The writing style isn’t bad but it’s also not good. There’s a lot of disinteresting description and going in circles around the same issues. What’s Left of Me also doesn’t have those beautiful thoughts about life that I often look for in books. Even the parts that I thought were good were only so in context and when I tried to pick a favourite, I ended up pretty much deleting all my highlights because they were so dull. Bleh.

There were some discoveries Eva and Addie made about Hybrids towards the end that were definitely interesting in their own right, but I as wasn’t very invested in the story itself, they didn’t really make a difference to me. Also, can I just say how unrealistic I thought it was that American kids get taught about an American war pretty much every year? I thought they were sheltered beyond common sense from everything they might find frightening. Whatever.

What’s Left of Me wasn’t completely terrible – especially in the beginning I was hopeful it would be a book I could actually like – but it wasn’t good, either. Kind of sucks to leave Addie and Eva (and all the characters who were so disinteresting I already forgot their names) where they are, but I won’t be picking up the other two books in this trilogy.

Monday, 22 August 2016

After You - Jojo Moyes

‘I wore my old dresses, my brightly coloured cardigans and satin pumps, and let myself be enclosed in a bubble of happiness, aware that bubbles only ever existed for so long before they popped anyway.’

I said that I’d read this book, right? Well, I did. I didn’t like it. Prepare for me to rant about it. Also, if you haven’t read Me Before You and want to do so, I’d advise not to read this because… well, it’s the sequel. Apologies for pointing out the obvious. Also, you might be better off not reading this one if you thought Me Before You had an ending you liked, really.

The premise of After You is this: Louisa, after the heart-breaking loss at the end of Me Before You, just kind of stopped living. She tried to escape, lost touch with her family, moved to London and got another boring job after the boring job she has at the start of the previous book. Because try as she may, Louisa Clark is not a person to step out of her comfort zone even if threatened with a pickaxe (unless a hot guy practically forces her to). This changes when she a) falls from the roof (which, surprisingly, has pretty little actual value in the plot and serves more as a gimmick excuse for her to not go to the roof again without two pages of fear every bloody time) b) meets Lily and c) meets a hot guy.

I kid you not but all the other subplots in this book felt flat and uninteresting for me. Also, they were pretty unnecessary, because I was just looking forward to finishing the book. In short, Louisa gets a new hero complex and decides that since she doesn’t want to do anything with her life, she’s just going to take the responsibility of fixing other people’s. Yawn. I feel like I’ve read this before. Does she experience the personal growth I wanted? I don’t feel like she did. Moreover, the book is about healing after the loss of a loved one, of course. But where’s the growth?

I actually quite liked Lily’s character; she’s a wealthy brat, full of teenage entitlement and life and laughter and anger. She storms around and stalks around and brings actual emotions to where Louisa continues to be sad. She was probably the first character I actually liked in these two books, well, along with Nathan who has little to no skin around his bones. All in all, she was a pleasure to have around, at first anyway…

I feel the distant need to complain more fully so let me just say that from here -> on out I’m just going to spoil everything that annoyed me, which is most of the book, so…. If you’re interested in reading it (despite my warnings!!!) maybe stop here. Maybe, however, I can just save you the trouble by laying it out for you. Anyway, spoilers, spoilers, spoilers.

So anyway, of course when I liked Lily (who, by the way, is Will’s 16-year old daughter no one knew he had. Surprise! No but really, I was so unsurprised I thought I had already read that on the back cover), they had to screw that up for me by giving her a tragic backstory that mirror’s Louisa’s. At a party, she is drunk and is taken advantage of. It’s pretty boring and used to explain away her bratty behaviour – she’s just not in a good place. All in all it’s not a compelling plot detail and makes me sort of dislike her. Towards the end she also just up and leaves to live with her grandmother (Mrs. Traynor, yes) in what seems like a hasty, once microwaved but still lukewarm effort to explain everything away to be well.

This same working actually haunts most of the ending; it feels sloppy and quick and not at all like the end I wanted. After all the non-pleasant effort I went through while reading this book, I wanted to be rewarded with an epic end at least. Thanks for nothing, kind of.

Also, of course Ambulance Man Sam (he’s the love interest in this one) gets injured at the end in a faux-interesting near-death experience with didn’t feel like anything when I wasn’t invested in a) him and Louisa’s relationship or b) him as a character in general. The thing they had was built quickly out of pretty nothing but sex, and Louisa spent until this moment questioning it. She leaves for New York at the end of the book (for a job she almost didn’t take, which was when I almost bit her head off through my Kindle) and they think their relationship might last the distance. Spoiler alert, love: I don’t think so.

Additionally, there’s this incredibly weird subplot where Louisa’s mum, eternal housewife, has a “feminist awakening” of some sort and the other characters think she’s clearly off the handle for suddenly wanting a life of her own every now and then instead of taking care of everything 24/7, 52/12. What in the world? It also ends with Louisa’s father waxing his legs, at which point the mum decides that maybe this can work after all. It was all just incredibly weird, didn’t add to my experience and honestly made me feel uncomfortable at the patriotism that was touched at but then made to seem like touching at it was actually stupid and the woman should by all means be in the kitchen. What.

All in all, I think I’m done with Jojo Moyes’ books now. I know a lot of people like them and also these two, but they just don’t work for me. That’s pretty weird because I like romance and chick-lit and heartbreak and healing. Guess you can’t always win.

If you read this far, here’s an interesting thing I learned recently that’s not very related: Did you know that most Kindles use E-Ink technology? Probably. Did you know that that technology has a liquid in the screen and in the liquid a film and in the film microcapsules, in which are positively charged white particles and negatively charged black ones? With a negative field applied, the white particles come to the surface and vice versa. This is how the Kindle can have white without a backlight and with a backlight (usually it’s either or) and also that nice black, also why it flashes when you change pages etc. I just thought this was incredibly interesting!

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Me Before You - Jojo Moyes

‘I just… want to be a man who has been to a concert with a girl in a red dress. Just for a few minutes more.’

I feel like I'm reviewing everything 3/5 nowadays. It's all so mediocre.

Me Before You is one of those books I just had to read before the movie comes out so that I can talk about it to people, but so far no one I’ve talked to has actually seen it. Well, maybe I’ve just chosen my chick flick -hating friends wrong. Anyway, it's the newest tear-jerker, 'have tissues with you when you go' kind of a movie, and it kind of failed to do the trick for me.

The premise has Louisa Clark, a small-town girl (still living in that small town), lose her job of six years at a café and suddenly finding herself really needing a new one to support her parents and sister, let alone herself. She soon finds herself a well-paying six month job as a caretaker for one Will Traynor, a quadriplegic from a wealthy family, who was in a motorcycle accident and lost his whole previous life. Louisa hates her job at first, but she soon starts to bond with Will, because of course she does. That’s really anything I can say about it without going to spoiler territory, in case you don’t already know what happens – the spoilers are pretty difficult to avoid.

I didn’t like Louisa’s character. I’m still debating whether it was meant to happen, if I was meant to dislike her so that I could be proud when she grew as person. For me, that growth was too little too late and overshadowed by other, more likeable characters having been there the whole time. Also, it takes Will forcefully dragging her out of her comfort zone to get her to do anything. Whoopie-do, what a strong female lead. Really, I could’ve liked this more if I could’ve liked her more.

Here are just a few of the things I didn’t like about Louisa, because a list is necessary for me to get my point through:
- She has some tragic traumatising backstory subplot (that was apparently cut from the movie, smart move) that just failed to get me to sympathise with her.
- She, according to her own words, ‘hates films with subtitles’. Because her English privilege allows her to be perfectly comfortable in watching only things made in Hollywood. Yeah. Then again, this makes Will mention ‘Local bloody Hero’, which got a chuckle from me.
- She avoids going even half a step out of her comfort zone, perfectly content in doing the same things day after day. Yeah, that annoyed me a lot, thank you very much.

On the other hand, I liked her sister Katrina, rare as her appearances were. Not because she was apparently always better than Louisa in everything, but because she wanted to tackle any and all problems head-on and also did that. I also liked Will, because he at least lived his life to the fullest while he still could. I also wasn’t bothered in the slightest that he spent most of the book being incredibly mean to everyone only trying to help – he was definitely allowed to, living the pretty bad life he now has.

All in all, Me Before You was pretty predictable, but it did have a few heartfelt moments. I did like the ending as well, as it had a nice setting, almost movie-esque. I think a friend of friend talked to me about the book before I thought I’d ever read it, and somehow she made it seem much more interesting…. well. It wasn’t a waste of my time but I think you could read a better romance with this time, though maybe not a better fictional romance book about taking care of a quadriplegic. It’s a pretty niche thing. I think I’ll read After You, the sequel, at some point. I quite want to know if Louisa is actually capable of some personal growth, if she’ll actually become a likeable character somehow. Also, I already bought it for my Kindle. That review is here now, by the way!

Thoughts on the movie (Edit from 25th April 2017) 

So, since the movie has made its way to Netflix, I took the liberty to make Daniel watch it take a look at it. And it was surprisingly good! For starters, the production values were very high; Emilia Clarke was amazing for Louisa (which I wouldn't have guessed considering how Daenerys Targaryen is very much everything Louisa Clark isn't??) and Sam Claflin was very good for the charismatic male lead. The script is adapted by the author herself and the sceneries are very pretty and fitting. Also, Jenna Coleman was a really good Katrina!

On the other hand, Emilia Clarke didn't do a very good job at pretending not to have a posh accent. Likewise, she didn't seem to be poor at all, considering by the ridiculous collection of high-heeled shoes she had attached to the wall of her bedroom(?). However, these things might well be my only complaint about this movie. Also, can I just complain how the scene set in Mauritius was filmed in Mallorca? Talk about quality.

Some things were cut, naturally, while others were streamlined. I think it made the movie feel maybe even better-paced than the book, since the central themes were clearer when I was watching this. The movie really made the book justice, even though I didn't really like the original work all that much to begin with.

The Last Wish - Andrzej Sapkowski

‘‘Geralt,’ she interrupted sharply, ‘I climbed out of bed for you and I didn’t intend to do that before the chime of midday. I’m prepared to do without breakfast. Do you know why? Because you brought me the apple juice. You were in a hurry, your head was troubled with your friend’s suffering, you forced your way in here, and yet you thought of a thirsty woman. You won me over, so my help is not out of the question. But I won’t do anything without hot water and soap. Go. Please.’’

I’ve been meaning to read this book forever. I mean, it's the book series that inspired a really incredibly great video game - I mean The Witcher 3, obviously. It's a very good game I haven't played half as much as I should have. Kind of like the book, it starts out heavy and difficult to get into, but it's worth getting through it. 

The thing with The Last Wish is, I haven’t bothered to read it in Finnish because olden fantasy translated into Finnish is a little bit meh and I still don’t have a library card in Scotland (J, nudge nudge let’s go get me one), so it’s been one of those “one day I will” –things. A friend of mine convinced me to read it (it didn’t take much convincing, really) so that we could talk about it, and I finally, finally finished it. It took me a while because the language is a bit old and heavy, but at least I learned many amazing words!

The Last Wish is a collection of short stories and it would by all means do them justice to review them all separately. I’m not going to go into that, but let me just tell you right now that it’s worth your time as long as you’re not completely put off by fantasy and adventures. The book is told through many flashbacks, different incidents in the life of Geralt of Rivia, a Witcher who’s shunned but society but kills monsters for a living. It’s mature fairy tales for adults – I think most adults would want to read that kind of stuff – with a lot of fantasy and a lot of insight into life.

'‘I got lost,’ lied the witcher. 

You got lost,’ repeated the monster, twisting his jaws in a menacing grin. ‘Well, unlose your way. Out of the gate, turn your left ear to the sun and keep walking and you’ll soon get back to the highway. Well? What are you waiting for?’'

The Last Wish is also the name of the main story (though it’s not the longest one), the one I’d maybe like to consider more important than the others. It’s a flashback to how Geralt met Yennefer, which is interesting if only because their incredibly stormy relationship is one of the main dynamics you’ll get to witness in the book. The Witcher 3 opens with a search for Yennefer so I’ve always been interested in who she is and what she’s like. She’s pretty awesome.

Pretty much all the female characters in the book (and in the whole series, I’m pretty sure) are described to be very attractive. Maybe it’s because we’re looking at things through Geralt’s eyes or maybe it’s just the fantasy element, but it doesn’t take anything away from their capability to be incredibly cool and interesting and actual personalities. I really, really appreciate that.

Yennefer in particular is great. I’ve probably already made it clear to any friends listening to my Witcher ramblings that I love her character. She’s interesting and balanced; she’s mean but nice but also off the handle. She can’t be controlled, but she has her very distinctive flaws. The quote at the top of the page is hers because I definitely relate liking anyone who'd bring you apple juice. I want to be her.

As far as characters go, Geralt is well made as well, incredibly cool and interesting as a main character. He’s cold and calm but every once in a while you’ll see that he actually does care. Apparently I would already have known this if I didn’t play such a mean Geralt in Witcher 3. Whoops. No regrets though. Anyway, Geralt has interesting dialogue with different people and monsters alike, that old-fashioned “I’d rather die than say what I actually mean” –sort of a thing I simply adore when it’s done well. And The Last Wish does it incredibly well, trust me. If I wanted to give someone a lesson in this fine art, I’d do well to save myself some time and hand them this book instead.

‘There’s no such things as devils!’ yelled the poet, shaking the cat from sleep once and for all. ‘No such thing! To the devil with it, devils don’t exist!’ ‘True,’ Geralt smiled. ‘But Dandilion, I could never resist the temptation of having a look at something that doesn’t exist.’

Every now and then the style gets very ambiguous; the readers are prompted to figure out by themselves what’s going on and what these things mean. Most of the time this worked and made things interesting. I felt like the book thought I was incredibly smart and then allowed me to demonstrate it. Every now and then however, I found myself wanting actual answers, for someone to tell me I was right and to clear up the few details I wasn’t completely certain of. I suppose I might figure something out on a second read (which will happen, yes it will) or reading the other books (also will definitely happen), but every now and then, rare as it was, it annoyed me.

All in all, The Last Wish is great. It’s a very very good book and I can’t think of a single reason why anyone shouldn’t read it and I was really happy to read something I can honestly like for a change. I’ll certainly read everything in the series, but first I’ll chill by reading something easy and light. It was pretty heavy, really.

Edit/ September 15th, 2016 - I came back to up my rating to 5/5. It was so good and I've been thinking about this book since I first read it.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

The Importance of Being Earnest - Oscar Wilde

Jack. How can you sit there, calmly eating muffins when we are in this horrible trouble, I can’t make out. You seem to me to be perfectly heartless.

Algernon. Well, I can’t eat muffins in an agitated manner. The butter would probably get on my cuffs. One should always eat muffins quite calmly. It is the only way to eat them.

Jack. I say it’s perfectly heartless your eating muffins at all, under the circumstances.’

The Importance of Being Earnest is a play, one that’s most definitely removed from its brilliance when written out the way I witnessed it. It’s silly to be reading about people walking in and out and about the snarky tone of voice and the movements they’re supposedly making with their hands. Surely you, dear reader, already knew this.  By the way, I read this whole thing at a lovely Russian café with a wonderful ice tea and a Pavlova. I suggest you pick a similarly pretentious location if you read this; makes it much more authentic. 

Looking past the obvious, it’s that Oscar Wilde quality one has to admire; it has dangerous thoughts that are given to characters so that nobody has to own up to them. It has banter that’s mean at times but also incredibly likeable at others, so that even the characters have to admit that the others are not to be shunned for their masterful use of the language. I quite loved The Picture of Dorian Gray and can by no means claim this piece can be held up there with it, but it’s a funny little thing, a light-hearted snapshot of the higher class life.

The play centres around two men, John Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff, both pretending to be called Ernest to get the affection of their respective girls. Mishaps ensue. Like I said before, it’s very light-hearted and has been critiqued by contemporary readers for not providing proper insight to the problems of its era. I think it reads just fine as what it is, but if you truly want to hear something real about the Victorian era, this isn’t your play by any means.

The characters don’t get much characterisation, but I quite liked the young Cecily and her relationship to the other woman who’s actually in the play, Gwendolen. Somewhere near the end they have this exchange, filled with salt and probably my favourite thing in the book:

Cecily. [Sweetly.] Sugar?

Gwendolen. [Superciliously.] No, thank you. Sugar is not fashionable any more. [Cecily looks angrily at her, takes up the tongs and puts four lumps of sugar into the cup.]

Cecily. [Severely.] Cake or bread and butter?

Gwendolen. [In a bored manner.] Bread and butter, please. Cake is rarely seen at the best houses nowadays, Cecily.’ [Cuts a very large slice of cake, and puts it on the tray.] Hand that to Miss Fairfax.’

….because nothing has more salt than two wounded noblewomen, neither of whom can freely admit just how salty they are. It’s rather interesting, really. And I love people in books communicating with not the actual words, but rather just circling around the actually subject, firing masked insults back and forth.

Once more, The Importance of Being Earnest is a good play, apparently thought to be Oscar Wilde’s best one (though I’d still recommend Dorian Gray over it, if you only want to read one of his works). It’s not amazing but it’s most definitely worth the hour reading it will take you. Most definitely recommend reading it, if only for the amazingly smart wit and the cultural importance. I'll read the rest of his plays... one of these days, definitely.