Saturday, 29 April 2017

Totta - Riikka Pulkkinen

'– Nainen tarvitsee elämässään kahta asiaa: huumoria ja punaiset korkokengät, äiti sanoi. –Tohtorintutkinto on hyväksi, mutta ei välttämätön.'

'– A woman needs two things in her life: a sense of humour and red high-heeled shoes, mum said. – A doctorate is for the good, but not necessary.'
Surely my aunt isn't missing this book yet // Featuring
orienteering gear in the background.


I nicked this book before I left home. And by nicked, I mean that my mum had borrowed it from her sister, and surely she won't miss it before next month, when I'm back again?

Anyway. I read this and you might be asking, "why do you bother when you'll probably be complaining afterwards how it just wasn't good enough?", and I'd be wondering the same thing. I seemed less than impressed with Paras mahdollinen maailma, and here we are with a 3/5 again. On the plus side, these things are very addictive and I just had to know what was going to happen (even though what happened wasn't good enough for me in the end).

Totta ("True") is a weird book. It sounds from the blurb to be a story about a dying woman, Elsa, but actually focuses more on the affair her husband, Martti, had with a different woman, Eeva, fifty years ago, from this third wheel's point of view, told by Elsa and Martti's granddaughter, Anna. Confusing? Yes. Interesting? Sure. But it is also a bit jumbled and doesn't always tell me all the details I want. I'm not sure if this multi-layered, strange sort of storytelling worked all that well for this story, when I would have been just fine with Eeva and Martti's POVs. Martti's point of view wasn't actually included; instead it did this annoying thing where Eeva could supposedly read his mind at all times. It was quite annoying.

In general, Eeva's life was very interesting to me. In the 1960s, she is a young woman from the countryside, studying French at university and working as a maid for a wealthy family. The relationship between her and the husband (whom she exclusively refers to as 'the man', interesting enough) quickly turns into something more, and she also starts to really care for their daughter. Of course, there's the marriage she didn't come to wreck and the wife whom she doesn't dislike enough to take everything from her.

Also, me being me, I was constantly confused since this book had too many characters whose names started with E; Elsa, Eeva and Elsa's daughter Eleoroona, whom they also called Ella sometimes. It was weird and sometimes I'd be confused whether the husband was kissing Elsa or Eeva (or Ella, even).

Style-wise, Pulkkinen is clearly skilled. I'm just worried she might be running out of new tricks. Out of her five books, this is the second one, and the ingredients seem to be the same ones as in the one I've read; someone's dying, there's something they didn't have the time to say, someone else is an all-seeing, all-understanding oracle of sorts, telling someone else's story for them. Add in a disappointing ending and a lot of strings of story that were never really explored, and you have this.  In general, it's a 3/5 from me; it wasn't all that great and I feel like I preferred Paras mahdollinen maailma, if only because when I read that, all of the author's old boring tricks still felt new.

For the Helmet 2017 reading challenge I put this in category 28: You have read only one book by this author before!

Thursday, 27 April 2017

The Lady in the Van - Alan Bennett

'I ask her if she would like a cup of coffee. 
'Well, I wouldn't want you to go to all that trouble. I'll just have half a cup.''
I was sat by the window reading this and
by the time I finished it, it was getting dark.


I read this since the previous tenant left it in my old flat and I thought it would be fitting for me to pass it forward - but of course I would do well to read it myself first. So I sat down by the window and read it in one sitting - it's only a hundred-ish pages with a reasonably big font. It also helped that it was a fun read.

So anyway, The Lady in the Van is a memoir by the author, Alan Bennett, of the 15 years an older lady lived in her van on his driveway. It's written in journal entries that the author had mentioned her in over these years, and I thought that worked brilliantly for this story. Kind of amazing how interestingly you can write about life if you just take note of things like this.

Mrs. Shepherd seems like an awful lot of work (see my chosen quote) and I don't think I'd ever be able to treat her with the casual kindness the author offers her. It's part of the message of the book however; she also offers him with insight and character that he would have never come across in life otherwise. He treats her like a human being, and in return she cares about him, in her own, incredibly eccentric way.

Eccentric is the exact way I would describe Mrs. Shepherd. Since I didn't bother to read the back cover before starting the book, I was at first very confused as to what I was even reading. It doesn't include any sort of a foreword, instead just plunging into a journal entry. And maybe the lack of a foreword does this book a service (it didn't feel like that at the time) since it adds to the authenticity of the story.

Go out to the world and make someone
happy, little friend!
Maybe I don't do this book justice either. It's difficult to explain, I noted yesterday, how you can write an enjoyable piece about such a fully weird subject matter, let alone when it's so heavily based on reality. It might seem easier or even preferable to have the strange van be a gateway to another dimension or the lady be a seller of strange curiosities and magical items. As always, reviewing a memoir feels a it strange, but my 4/5 comes more from the effort and inspiration to write something like this.

I left this book on the beach today for Bookcrossing - wish me luck that it'll actually be registered on the website! Potentially if it got picked up by a nice person, you could follow its adventures here!

For the Helmet 2017 reading challenge I put this in category 37: A book by an author who has written more than 20 books! (Honestly, that's a pretty impressive feat. The reason this works so well is that it was written by an author, who thus was capable of taking note of all these little details and comprise a book like this. Naturally, it must have helped that as an established professional, his work would actually be noticed by others.)

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Thirteen Reasons Why - Jay Asher

'I'm listening to someone give up. Someone I knew, someone I liked. I'm listening. But still, I'm too late.'
This cover put me off this book for
a while because I thought it looked
a little childish and I expected the
same from the story itself.


As you might know, I was supposed to be studying reading other stuff, but the hype is high and I had bought this earlier... So I thought I'd read a bit of it. And I ended up reading all of it over three days of mostly doing other things. It was very gripping, one could say.

The premise of this book is this: High school student Clay Jensen receives a package of tapes, and finds out they were a suicide note of such by his crush, Hannah Baker, who committed suicide two weeks prior. These tapes tell the story of the thirteen reasons and thirteen people who drove her to kill herself, and Clay received them because he's one of them. (The notes in the book tell me this is a pun on the Baker's Dozen, which I found quite funny)

The style works quite well; Hannah's voice on the tapes is in italics, Clay's thoughts in normal text. It's all woven quite tightly together, and it works. Clay follows in Hannah's footprints along the places she talks about, offering some of his knowledge to fill in the gaps. I think this might also work quite well as an audio book, provided whoever read Hannah's parts was very good at what she does.

In a way, this book is a horrible read. All of the horrible things that have happened to Hannah, I've heard them all before. These things happen to people, because we are careless and can never think enough about the consequences of our actions and words on others. In its heart, Hannah made these tapes not because she blames these people, but because she wants them to know how even smaller actions can destroy you. She even acknowledges that this decision was ultimately hers and hers alone, even if the actions of others made her think of it.

I didn't think I would like this since I don't really agree with suicide as an option, but I thought the situation was handled quite delicately here. It didn't preach or claim to tell anyone else's story. Regardless, I would never recommend this to anyone who's had problems with depression or suicidal thoughts or anything. This isn't a helpful book in that way. What I didn't like about this book was that some story points didn't really come across that clearly, and I would have wanted to know more.

The ending, I thought, was quite clever and nice. I really liked that. I also liked how all the different stories were quite different. I also liked Clay, even though he was a bit flat. Like Nick in The Great Gatsby, he was an onlooker of sorts, and everything happened around him, not necessarily to him. That's all cool though. This story isn't about Clay, but about Hannah.

Through the tapes, the book handles with many difficult subjects for teenagers, like drinking, relationships, depression, bullying... It was sobering in how real it felt - I didn't leave that time all that long ago, after all.

All in all, I'd give this a 3.5/5, rounded up. It was an easy read in a way, and succeeded in what it set out to do.

For the Helmet 2017 reading challenge I put this in category 19: A "one day story" book! (This does have like a three page epilogue from a different day but I thought it's still good enough... If I read a better one this year, I might change that!)

I think I'll check out at least the first episode of the Netflix original show based on this and let you know my thoughts later under this post. I'm very curious.

Thoughts on the TV show (Edit from 22th April)

I admit - this thing looks pretty
cool. Better than the book cover,
So I watched that pilot like I said I would. And while I can say that I totally would have enjoyed it had I not read the book previously (this thing heavily relies on the mystery of who did what to Hannah), it's a bit drawn out. Of course it would be, considering that in the book Clay listens to all the tapes in one night - to me this even made sense, considering he felt like he should do it as quickly as possible. In the Netflix series however, it's a 'monster of the week' type of thing, with each side of the tape - one story - given a whopping 50 minutes. If the book has 336 pages (it does, by the way. I checked!), it would be around 25 pages per tape. So you can imagine how drawn out this thing feels to me, in comparison.

There's all this added drama. From what the first episode gives me, Hannah's parents are filing a lawsuit against school (why?), everyone who has had the tapes before tries to contact Clay, and Clay has to ask people about obvious things which in the book were treated like just that - obvious. Also, Clay is some crusader vigilante who has decided to bring Hannah justice.

Also, from my brief online reading, this thing ends on some cliffhangers so they're planning a second season? Now why in the world would they do that? I thought the book ended really gracefully and a second season, well, if this was drawn out already... On the bright side, however, what's on the tapes seems to be very faithful to the book. There have been a lot of direct quotes spoken by Hannah, and I appreciate that.

Having watched this one episode and pretending like I watched the whole show, I'm starting to believe that most of the problems people have with this thing are actually added just for extra drama. That's a shame, and I find myself thinking that if you're on the fence about this, please just read the book instead. Except if you're depressed! It's not a happy story when someone's died.

Never mind all that. More importantly, why did I think Hannah was a blonde? I have real problems recreating characters in my mind from their descriptions, it seems. I just make up whatever I want instead. Welp.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Carry On - Rainbow Rowell

'You have to pretend like you get an endgame. You have to carry on like you will; otherwise, you can't carry on at all.'
I think it turned out really pretty! (Though after reading it I
should have maybe gone for darker tones...)

I bought this book from Glasgow on the prettiest spring day last year purely based on the fact that you could colour it in yourself and I thought that was the coolest thing ever! (Also, it's signed by the author, which helped...) So last week I decided to get to it and actually colour it in and then read it. That's pretty much the whole story. I've not read Fangirl or Eleanor & Park but this was so good I definitely will, both of those.

I feel like this is one of those books where knowledge adds to the pain and you're better off knowing as little as possible. (Though if you've read Fangirl first you definitely know something I didn't) So I'll not tell you much of the plot but maybe hopefully enough so that you'll want to read it!

Simon Snow is The Chosen One - the one that will save the Magickal World. However, he's not able to control his magic, and everything else in his life is currently a bit of a mess as well. His girlfriend breaks up with him, and maybe they were never really in love anyway. The Insidious Humdrum is out to kill him, lobbing all sorts of monsters at him, and his horrible roommate is gone, probably also plotting his demise.

Blank book and mismatched woolly socks
The book is clearly inspired by Harry Potter, but I think it's in a very tasteful and inspired way. (Though some people seem to disagree, and that's okay too!) It has "all of this happened in our previous years" sort of recaps sometimes, and skips straight to their last year at Watford School of Magicks. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure it would've been cool to read about Simon Snow, from the Normal World, learn about the magickal realm at the age of 11... but that would have been a bit too on the nose. This book is very meta, but at least it doesn't pretend that it's not the case.

The take on magic itself is also really interesting. They use words, but they're words that become more powerful the more they're used. Like nursery rhymes, which are mentioned as some of the most powerful spells, because they're forever stuck in your brain. Or sayings, lyrics, metaphors, that sort of a thing. They're very innovative and fun, and they're bolded and in italics in the book so you can always tell easily when someone's using their magic. I had to wonder how you'd make that work in an audiobook, since it's not like these words are always yelled or boomed or stuff, either.

I really liked how the Magickal World was portrayed with variety and depth, and the story managed to touch many different lives. It's also told through the eyes of many different people, which makes it even better. The only thing that doesn't get much coverage is the Normal World, but I think it's, like in Shadowmagic, an 'imagine your own life here' sort of a thing. It works just fine, since Normal isn't all that exciting in comparison anyway.

Work in progress!
I also liked all the characters for different reasons! I liked Simon because he was really caring and even though he was clearly important, he didn't try to make everything about himself. I liked Baz because he was misunderstood, but he didn't wear it like a cape. I liked Penny because she was helpful and smart and a really good friend. And Agatha because she was the most human out of all of them. I liked Ebb because I thought she was like Ilia from Twilight Princess. (too meta?) And even the characters who didn't get all that much page time all added to the experience, to the life and heart of the world.

This story is a very good portrayal of growth and what it's like to accept yourself even when it feels like you don't want to. It deals with a lot of important themes in a way that was surprisingly mature and not at all pointed. The romance (that's a thing) was cute and important but not overpowering. My main problem was probably with the ending - a lot of characters didn't find out things that I as the reader knew, and it bothered me because I was really hoping that all these loose strings would be tied up in a neat bundle in the end.

Also, did I mention that this book is very British? You guys know how I love that - it makes me feel at home. It's by an American author but regardless, she does a terrific job at showing the different places and mannerisms and the language. It might be a bit less posh British than Harry Potter and more... Northern, almost. It made me feel quite fuzzy and warm inside.

So anyway, easy 5/5, I really liked this but I see why some people haven't (it's that Harry Potter thing, they see plagiarism where I saw inspiration). I'm going to read Hän sanoi nimekseen Aleia (She said her name was Aleia) next, because my mum was really nice and bought it for me in Helsinki!!

For the Helmet 2017 reading challenge, I put this in category 6: A book with many storytellers!

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Senlin Ascends - Josiah Bancroft

"“I still recall a line from that feckless Everyman’s guide. It said something like, ‘the Tower’s real trade is in whimsy, adventure, and romance.’ I cannot imagine a less accurate trio. Though, who in their right minds would’ve come if the editors had said, ‘the Tower’s true trade is in tyranny, dismemberment, and heartbreak?” - Every Man’s Tower, One Man’s Travails by T. Senlin"

I think this cover looks amazing.

I started reading this book while in Brussels because Daniel was taking so long with The Unknown SoldiersSenlin Ascends has been getting a ton of hype lately, and for a change, I feel like it was every bit deserved. 

Thomas Senlin, a school headmaster, goes with his wife on a honeymoon to the prestigious Tower of Babel - a place for the cultured, the luxurious, the ones who need nothing more in life.

It all goes bad within minutes, as fate would have it. Senlin and Marya get separated in the market, and Senlin is left with their money and train tickets back home. He decides to climb to the third ringdom of the tower that reaches to the skies, and meet her at the Baths, where they were going to go.

Only the Tower isn't what he thought. It's full of criminals, corruption, dictators and straight-up torture. He meets what he believes to be friends, only can you trust anyone in a place where everyone is indebted, threatened and alone?

The writing and the characters are both incredibly strong in this book. Senlin is very intelligent and capable of sharp wits and analysis, and everyone he meets feels like a person even before you find the burden they might be carrying. I loved most of the characters in this, but also the way they were all so different and in the Tower for their own reasons. My favourite was probably Edith, though I will tell you nothing about her because you shouldn't know too much. Even as I say this, I liked all of the characters and their backstories a lot. Senlin himself has a tremendous amount of character growth and it still feels believable and not like an awkward level up.

The setting is also excellent, not necessarily 100% real but something I can still imagine, with an old-school steampunk vibe but with added bits of intrigue from everywhere. It felt East more than West, but in a believable way. The different ringdoms of the Tower are very creative and different from one another, but the book never forgets about the ones it's already gone through. That's really cool. Each chapter also open with a quote from a book, at first from "Everyman's Guide", which is Senlin's trusty guidebook from the beginning. Later it becomes "Every Man's Tower", which Senlin writes himself. These quotes are often witty and sometimes downright ironic, and they're a lot of fun to read.

Senlin Ascends is the first in a four-book series, the last two not being out yet. I think I'll give it some time before reading part two, but at the same time I am so excited to do it! Meanwhile, I recommend this so much!! Please read it!! It's amazing and I want everyone to get this sort of experience of a great book that feels fresh and engaging. While writing this review, I bought physical copies of this one and Arm of the Sphinx, the sequel, on Amazon. Whoops. How did that happen.

All in all, a strong 5/5 because I wouldn't even dream of trying to change anything in this amazing little masterpiece. I'm definitely in love.

For the Helmet 2017 reading challenge I put this in category 2: A book discussed in book blogs!