Thursday, February 1, 2018

January Wrap-up

Hello hello! It's the first of February, so it's time to make the first wrap-up of the year. January was a really great month for reading, probably because I had a lot of free time and was in the reading mood most of the time. I am very happy that I'm more than on track with my challenge. I read 6 books this month, which means I'm roughly one book ahead, although Goodreads is telling me it's 2. None of these books was massive, but some of them were pretty thick. I read half of them in Romanian and half in English, depending on how they were available to me. Let's see what they are!   

The Accusation: Forbidden Stories from Inside North Korea by Bandi

The Accusation is a deeply moving and eye-opening work of fiction that paints a powerful portrait of life under the North Korean regime. Set during the period of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il’s leadership, the seven stories that make up The Accusation give voice to people living under this most bizarre and horrifying of dictatorships.*

This was the first book I finished this year, mainly because I was really curious about it and took a break from the other book I was reading to finish it in just about a day. When I first heard about this book I was quite intrigued and wanted to get it immediately. It' a book of short stories that was smuggled out of the country. The author is anonymous, Bandi is a pseudonym that means "firefly" in Korean. To be honest, I was really disappointed by this book. Yes, it has a lot of historical value and it teaches people about life in a totalitarian regime, especially if they have no idea about it, but the writing is not great at all. It's very simple and doesn't have literary value from my point of view. There were a few shocking moments in the book, even for somebody that lives in a previously communist country, like myself. The characters seem to accept their fate most of the time and at the same time have very dramatic reactions without trying to rebel against the regime. I guess this is a valuable read for many people and it's a really quick one, so you should give it a chance if you are interested in the subject. Compared to the other books I have previously read, I didn't like it and couldn't give it more than 3 stars. 

From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the stunningly beautiful instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.*

I suppose this one needs no introduction. It's a huge bestseller with many awards, including the Pulitzer Prize. I am a big fan of historical fiction, so it was on my list for ages and I finally got to it. I liked it a lot and gave it 4 stars. The writing style is great and even though it's broken off in short chapters, jumping through the different time periods and characters, it didn't feel broken and had a nice continuity to me. I feel that the pace is a bit slower throughout the book, without major events but rather important moments being described. A thing that is very important to me in a historical fiction book is the atmosphere and this book did a great job creating that. The characters are also great and you really feel like you know them by the end of the book. The only reason I gave it 4 stars is that I always compare my reads and I didn't like this as much as my 5 star reads. 

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

From prize-winning, bestselling author Colson Whitehead, a magnificent tour de force chronicling a young slave's adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South
Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape.*

Another historical fiction and another Pulitzer Prize winner, this time the one from 2017. Again, I really liked this book, but it wasn't a favorite so I gave it 4 stars. I think it's very important to point out that this is a work of fiction with a historical setting, rather than a true account of historical events. For people like me, who don't know a lot about slavery and that time period in America, it's really had to know fiction from reality. Other than that, I liked the writing style and the character of Cora was really well built, although I feel like the other characters weren't. I guess the author wanted to focus on his main character and not so much on the rest. All in all, this was a really entertaining read for me, but I'm not sure if it actually taught me something about the true history of those times. 

 Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante

In this third Neapolitan novel, Elena and Lila, the two girls whom readers first met in My Brilliant Friend, have become women. Lila married at sixteen and has a young son; she has left her abusive husband and now works as a common laborer. Elena has left the neighborhood, earned her college degree, and published a successful novel, all of which have opened the doors to a world of learned interlocutors and richly furnished salons.*

This is the 3rd part in the "Neapolitan Novels" series, also known as "My brilliant friend" ("L'amica geniale") series. Now here we are talking favorites. I had to give this 5 stars, even though I liked it a bit less than the first two parts. Nonetheless, it's still an amazing book. I read the first two parts last December and even though they have about 400 pages, I flew right through them. These books are so well written that any words of mine about them would not be praise enough. They are books written by a woman about women, but I don't think they are intended to be exclusively for women at all. The story is full of authenticity and the characters are so real that you really feel that you know them. The third book has less action than the first two and I feel it's more introspective, but I didn't get bored at all and actually am behind on sleep because I stayed up late every night to read it. I only have one book from this series left to read but I'm trying to postpone it so it doesn't end so quickly. Really great writing! 

The other two books that I read this month and don't have a picture of:

The Castle of Otranto is a 1764 novel by Horace Walpole. It is generally held to be the first gothic novel, initiating a literary genre which would become extremely popular in the later 18th century and early 19th century. Thus, Castle, and Walpole by extension is arguably the forerunner to such authors as Ann Radcliffe, Bram Stoker, Daphne du Maurier, and Stephen King.*

I listened to this one as an audiobook and it was quite short, so it's another quick read. I'm trying to get more into Gothic novels this year, so I started with this one and also purchased The Monk and Dracula (which would be a re-read). This one was one of the first Gothic novels, being written in 1764 so it should be interpreted according to its period. Many people have rated it really low because of the cheap intrigue it contains, but I gave it 3 stars because I quite liked the writing style, which made it really great as an audiobook. I also found myself laughing quite often and I'm not sure if that's what the author intended, but a little amusement while reading a book can never hurt. All in all, I think it's good to read this if you are interested in the genre, especially to see the evolution of the Gothic novel and what people regarded as a bestseller at the time. 

Nine-year-old Oskar Schell is an inventor, amateur entomologist, Francophile, letter writer, pacifist, natural historian, percussionist, romantic, Great Explorer, jeweller, detective, vegan, and collector of butterflies. When his father is killed in the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Centre, Oskar sets out to solve the mystery of a key he discovers in his father's closet. It is a search which leads him into the lives of strangers, through the five boroughs of New York, into history, to the bombings of Dresden and Hiroshima, and on an inward journey which brings him ever closer to some kind of peace.* 

I read this one in a paperback format in Romanian but forgot to take a picture before I gave it to my mom. I liked it back when I read it and gave it 4 stars. The reviews on Goodreads are very one sided, people either loved it or gave it one star, so it's really hard for me to not get influenced by what I read there. If i had to define this book with one word it would be "intense". For most of it I had the impression that somebody was shouting it at me in a very quick pace. So yeah, the title is quite fitting. There are parts of this book that are incredibly touching and others that seem fake or just nonsense. I'm not a fan of gimmicks like pictures or empty pages in books, so that's why I couldn't give this 5 stars. If you are in the mood for an easy read that has also a bit of meaning go for it. 

I'm really happy with my January reading month. Hopefully the next ones will be just as good and I will meet my goal at the end of the year. I also started another audiobook, The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, which is very long and will take me ages to listen to, and an e-book of The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells that I'm reading on my phone so only sporadically. I think it's important to have options so you can do your reading while out and about or while doing your house work. And now it's time to pick my first read of February. Hope it's a good one!

*Source: Goodreads

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