Friday, September 28, 2012

Bloggiesta Fall 2012: Goals and Updates

bloggiestalogo_thumb 
Suey from It’s All About Books and Danielle from There's a Book are hosting Bloggiesta Fall 2012 edition September 28th through the 30th.

Bloggiesta is your chance to (copied from Suey's post):

  • spiff up your blog
  • try something new on your blog, fix something, add something or delete something
  • catch up on reviews, Google Reader, email, or anything else that's out of control
  • work and party together with other bloggers
  • learn new things from blogging experts
  • join several mini challenges and win prizes
    have fun for three days blogging and connecting with your blogging friends!

    MY GOALS:

    What I should do:

    • link and cross-post the majority of my hundred and something book reviews to Goodreads (a task left over from the last Bloggiesta)
    • come up with a way to more prominently display my ratings and update the reviews accordingly or at least use it in my future reviews (currently my ratings are only displayed as labels, and I've noticed through the comments I get that a lot of people seem not to notice them. My bad, so it's time to correct it. Also, after two years, I only yesterday (*head desk*) realised labels don't show in Google reader, so people who read my review there have no idea about my rating)

    Instead, I want to:

    • make a new blog header and a matching button, finally
    • change my blog theme to something more autumn-ish
    • learn how to make drop-down menus and make at least one

    Anyway, I will:

    • back up my blog
    • update review policy
    • try to participate in one twitter party (probably the Saturday one, because the time suits me most)
    • see what the challenges are about and maybe do some
    • see what is with this feedburner going away and do something about it

    UPDATES:

    I will update on Twitter (@StrangeNewWords) and below for the previous day:

    Friday, September 28:

    Things done: 0

    I didn't have much time, but I did play around with making a new header. I figured out some solutions for what I want. However, it's quite a time-consuming task, so I'll leave it for sometimes in the future.

    Saturday, September 29:

    Things done:

    I gave my blog a fall makeover and updated my review policy. I read some mini-challenges posts, but I didn't officially do any. However, I learned a lot and made a mental note of some ideas for the future.

    Heidenkind's (as well as Ivana's) post on the feedburner issue was very informative and helpful, but after some consideration I decided to wait a bit. I backed-up my e-mail subscriber's e- mail addresses and I'll keep an eye on the situation and in case feedburner shuts down completely I'll most probably switch to FeedCat.

    I also researched making drop down menus; there is a ton of advice, tutorials, etc. on the Internet, and some of it is really comprehensive and easy to follow, but as the task requires quite some time, patience and focus I'll also leave it for the future, too.

    Lastly, the twitter party was lots of fun, although I had to quit somewhere in the middle because I had some things to do around the house. I met some nice people and learned a few things, too, so it was great.

    How was your day two? Have you accomplished what you wanted and had fun? I hope so!

    Sunday, September 30:

  • Things done:

    I basically finished making new rating graphics, I only need to polish them a bit to make them look all pretty.

    WRAP-UP:

    I actually got quite a lot of things done. However, I still have to do the big and tedious task of linking/cross posting/updating the reviews. I think I'll just have to do a little bit each day and I can get it done in a week or two.

    Overall, I really enjoyed bloggiesta. I managed to do some work on my blog and I got some ideas for the future.

    Most of all, bloggiesta gave a huge boost to my enthusiasm for blogging which has been a little low lately.

    So, thanks to Suey and Danielle for hosting and all the mini-challenges hosts for great post, and all my fellow participants for making this such a great experience. I'm already looking forward to the next bloggiesta!

    Wednesday, September 26, 2012

    Second Glance by Jodi Picoult


    820226SUMMARY (from Goodreads): From the moment Ross's fiancée Aimee was killed in a car accident, he's been trying to die too. But life won't let him go. His only hope now is that Aimee will come to him.

    So when he hears of strange happenings at an ancient Indian burial ground near his sister's home, he heads to Comtosook, desperate for the rumours of a haunting to be true.

    What he finds there is not Aimee's ghost, but Lia, a very real woman whose life is filled with as many troubled secrets as his own

    MY OPINION:

    The main topic in Second Glance revolves around the questions of what makes a life worth living, what kind of life is a good life, and who defines that. It also questions the perception of an individual about what is real and what is not, and, finally, shows how people with seemingly no connection whatsoever may influence each other's lives.

    The American eugenics' movement of the 1920s and 1930s plays a big role in Second Glance. Prior to reading this book I had not even heard of the eugenics and their 'program for the betterment of human race' which included 'voluntary' sterilization to prevent carrying on undesirable traits, such as 'immorality', 'feeblemindedness', etc. I was shocked to learn about it and the fact that the Nazis' plans for racial hygiene were actually based on the ideas of the American eugenics.

    The worst thing about it was that these people did not think they were doing anything bad. They really believed that they were good people trying to do the best thing for humanity. To me what is the most horrible is their belief that they wanted a certain kind of people gone not because they hated them but because they thought it was for the greater good.

    The centre point of the novel is a seventy years old murder case reopened due to the sale of a piece of land claimed to be a burial ground of the Abenaki tribe on the skirts of a small haunted Vermont town. This is what ties ten main characters who each tell parts of the story from their point of view. Despite so many characters and point of views, the novel reads smoothly as the transitions between different POVs are natural and placed in all the right spots.

    Each of the characters is multi-layered, telling their own story of success, failure, and self-discovery. From Ross – a man longing for something he thinks life cannot give him, his sister Shelby – a single mother living solely for her child, Ethan – a kid with a rare disease which dooms him to almost never seeing the sunlight, to Eli – a cop who had tried to push his roots to the back of his mind, and even Spencer Pike – the antagonist of the novel who realises his errors too late to repent, all of the characters present their views upon life, so very different and yet so similar in some parts.

    There is quite some science involved in the novel, and since I am not really a science person, I really appreciated that Picoult explained all the medical, forensic and genetic things in a comprehensive, science-for-dummies kind of  way.

    At last, I have to mention the absolutely brilliant writing. I mean, this book is quotable in its entirety.

    Overall, in Second Glance, Jodi Picoult presents a story about how the past influences the present and how a person's actions influence the lives of others. I loved how she intertwined the stories of a number of characters both from present an the past into a single beautiful emotional story.

    RECOMMENDATION: Second Glance is a book that will stay with me for a long time, I think. It is a wonderful, thought-provoking mix of mystery concerning both the present and the past, entwined with a couple of beautiful, although not always happy, love stories. If you like a complex, well-written read which makes you think and feel and want to learn, I certainly recommend Second Glance.

    Wednesday, September 19, 2012

    Dracula by Bram Stoker


    draculaSUMMARY (from Goodreads): When Jonathan Harker visits Transylvania to help Count Dracula purchase a London house, he makes horrifying discoveries about his client. Soon afterward, disturbing incidents unfold in England – an unmanned ship is wrecked at Whitby, strange puncture marks appear on a young woman's neck, and a lunatic asylum inmate raves about the imminent arrival of his "Master" – culminating in a battle of wits between the sinister Count and a determined group of adversaries.

    MY OPINION:

    I find it difficult to review Dracula because it is a classic, and not only that, it is a classic about the vampire of all the vampires, and you all know how much I like reading about vampires. That said, I cannot say I enjoyed Dracula, although I liked and appreciated some elements.

    One of the reasons for my lack of enjoyment was that I was familiar with the basic story from the movies and a retelling of the novel (Dracula, My Love by Syrie James) I had seen and read beforehand. Therefore, I was not interested in the plot, because I knew what happens next. So, it took me ridiculously long to finish the novel. However, this was not the book's fault.

    But then, there were a whole lot of things that bothered me in the book:

    • I was horrified by all the chauvinism in Dracula. I realize it was published in 1897, and written by a man, but that is no excuse – there are plenty other, older male authors whose writing is much less sexist than Stoker's. Unfortunately, this book is a sharp reminder that chauvinism is not something from the past, and that is even more disturbing.
    • Dracula is terribly condescending towards women. Women are called unworthy of men, because men are so intelligent, good, kind,…and women cannot possibly achieve their greatness. Yet, all those strong and brave men weep, yes, weep (what a paradox!). Women are weak and fragile, and they obviously have women's brain, since Mina has "man's brain" (oh, and Dracula has "child-brain"). Naturally, the women are utterly happy to attend to men in every way, there is nothing they could possibly be dissatisfied with.
    • Stoker is similarly patronising towards the poor, the uneducated, and the foreigners. Hence, their characters are full of stereotypes and are always looked down upon by the main protagonists. The main characters are conceited and snobbish, but they think of themselves as noble and kind. At one point Mina openly expresses her delight about "the wonderful power of money" and how fortunate they are to be rich. I found it disgusting.
    • Everybody in the group of the main characters is so kind and sweet and they trust each other so completely the moment they meet and see how fine people they are. The level of sweetness made me sick.
    • All the men are in love with Lucy (and Mina, I think, although it is not  explicitly said in the book), but surely in a purely innocent way, because Lucy is so beautiful and, again, sweet. Of course, they always behave as perfect gentlemen. I am not completely sure of social conventions of the time, but I found it strange how often Lucy is alone in the presence of men and is perfectly all right with it. Even in this day and age I would find it very uncomfortable if men I barely knew were watching me sleep. I would find that much more creepy than some intangible monster that may or may not be somewhere outside.
    • Another thing that bothered me was Lucy's treatment. I recognise that from Stoker's standpoint blood transfusion was a fantastic medical progress. It is so even now. I recognise that mistakes happen on the way towards any kind of achievement, this is after all the way of making progress. But, from the present point of view, performing transfusion with unsterile instruments and without any blood-type knowledge seems stupid.

    Finally, there are also things I liked in Dracula:

    • The writing is beautiful.
    • The descriptions are so vivid the places come to life before your eyes.
    • I liked that Stoker's Dracula is an old-school vampire, a powerful creature who can change form and manipulate weather.
    • The traditionally Slavic way of killing a vampire. (Although, I don't like the sacrilegious usage of the Host and religious prejudice Stoker employs in this book.)

    Overall, I am giving Dracula 3 stars, because it is a classic and I feel like I should appreciate it more, but as for the level of enjoyment I would give it 2 stars only.

    RECOMMENDATION: Even though I did not enjoy Dracula because of many things I found disturbing, I can see the value of some of its elements. After all Dracula is the predecessor of modern paranormal fiction, and you know how much I love that, especially with vampires in it. So, if you like paranormal and  a beautifully written classic, I do recommend you to give Dracula a try.

    Saturday, September 15, 2012

    Book Nook #27



    Book Nooks
    *Every weekend*
    Founder: Sasha Soren (Random Magic)
    Show us something pretty!


    Commentary: Does it need commentary? What a gorgeous idea for a library room! I love the antique furniture with a dash of exotic. I imagine there would be enough room for a comfortable sofa you can lie down on in front of the room and this would be a perfect place to read and perhaps invite some friends over and chat (about books and other things).

    Details: Location and artist unknown, not given in the original post. 

    Friday, September 14, 2012

    Albert Nobbs (2011)


    AlbertNobbsDIRECTOR: Rodrigo García ; CAST: Glenn Close, Mia Wasikowska, Aaron Johnson

    SUMMARY (from IMDB): Albert Nobbs struggles to survive in late 19th century Ireland, where women aren't encouraged to be independent. Posing as a man, so she can work as a butler in Dublin's most posh hotel, Albert meets a handsome painter and looks to escape the lie she has been living.

    MY OPINION:

    Albert Nobbs is a sad personal drama about a woman who does everything she can in the struggle for survival. She experiences a terrible trauma as a young girl, which makes her deny herself even her own identity.

    She puts up a tremendous effort to find safety and financial security and perhaps a little bit of happiness. When it finally seems her luck will turn around and her little dream might come true, all her hopes are dashed as the one person she loves exploits her and betrays her trust.

    I felt so sorry for Albert and the injustice of it all made me angry. Albert is a person who has never harmed anyone or done anything wrong (except for the pretending part). It is awful how none of that helps her. The thing that got to me the most was that the film reminded me that this is happening in the world all the time – good people suffering at the hand of others simply because they are too good, too helpful, too trustful, etc.

    Glen Close, who also co-wrote the screenplay, does an amazing job in the main role. She plays Albert in such a way you really believe she is male, and brings all Albert's emotions out, making it easy to connect with him/her.

    Thematically, the film revolves around determinism (one cannot get out of what one was born into) and the rich taking it out on the poor. I want to believe that a person can make his/her own fortune, so I did not like this aspect/message of the film.

    All in all, I cannot say I enjoyed this film, because it is so tragic, but I felt a lot of sympathy for the main character. Nevertheless, Albert Nobbs is a good, thought-provoking and emotional film with outstanding performance.

    RECOMMENDATION: If you like emotional films that make you think, Albert  Nobbs could be a good film to watch.  

    Wednesday, September 12, 2012

    A Trick of the Dark by B. R. Collins


    SUMMARY
    (the blurb, find the book on Goodreads): Zach and his sister Annis have been uprooted from their home in London to live in a half-built barn in France. It is a desperate attempt by their parents to salvage not only their marriage, but a family as well.

    When Zach chooses to defy his parents' wishes and visit a nearby ruined building, things really take a turn for the worse. A terrible accident leaves him crushed and broken beneath a collapsed wall. Annis can't believe that he could still be alive – but then Zach moves.

    How on earth could Zach have survived such a terrible accident? And who is the sinister boy who appears out of nowhere? The boy who starts shadowing Zach, drawing ever nearer, ever closer…

    MY OPINION:

    When Zach survives an accident that should have killed him, strange, sinister things start happening around him. As it is common for YA novels, the only person he can count on is his younger sister Annis, as their parents are clueless, too absorbed in their marital problems, and unwilling to actually listen to Zach and Annis.

    So far so good. The main issue of the book, namely what happened/is happening to Zach, revolves around an unique and intriguing idea concerning avoiding death and the price that comes with it. However, I think it would be better explored through the eyes of more mature characters. It seemed to me as if Collins could not decide whether to focus on Zach's and Annis' teenage angst or on the mortality issue.

    Zach and Annis are typical teenagers: they defy their parents, they behave stupidly and sometimes selfishly, and they quarrel for silly reasons. Of course, they love and help each other and cover for one another. I do not want to say too much about them lest I spoil the book for you. Let me just say, they have their problems, Annis' poor self-esteem being one of the most important ones. Additionally, there are some things about them I would like to know which Collins does not provide. Due to the holes in characters' presentation, I did not really care about what happens to Zach and Annis.

    The thing that annoyed me very much was the discrepancy between their behaviour and age. Only one third into the book we learn Zach and Annis are 17 and 15, respectively. But, they talk and think like children aged perhaps 12 – 15, and they parents boss them around like that, too. However, in contrast to this, they allow them to drink coffee and wine (!), and expect them to be responsible like adults. This combination of behaviour/treatment is very confusing, and it ruins the exploration of an otherwise interesting topic.

    Overall, A Trick of the Dark is based upon a fascinating idea. Unfortunately, it is not thoroughly explored.

    RECOMMENDATION: A Trick of the Dark has some intriguing elements. It could be an interesting read if you like YA characters and if you don't mind the fact that both the topic and the characters are dealt with somewhat superficially.

    Tuesday, September 11, 2012

    Teaser Tuesday #19

    Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

    • Grab your current read
    • Open to a random page
    • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
    • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
    • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!


    MY TEASERS:


    "They walked from the car past the drummers and the bulldozer and the construction crew, and Ethan noticed that each person they passed seemed to freeze in the middle of whatever they were doing. One old Indian guy stared so hard at Ethan he thought it might leave a mark on the back of his head."

    Second Glance by Jodi Picoult, p 59.

    Wednesday, September 05, 2012

    Bloggiesta Fall 2012 Edition

    bloggiestalogo

    Suey from It’s All About Books and Danielle from There's a Book (where you can also find the sign-up linky) are hosting Bloggiesta Fall 2012 edition September 28th through the 30th.

    Bloggiesta is your chance to (copied from Suey's post):

    • spiff up your blog
    • try something new on your blog, fix something, add something or delete something
    • catch up on reviews, Google Reader, email, or anything else that's out of control
    • work and party together with other bloggers
    • learn new things from blogging experts
    • join several mini challenges and win prizes
    • have fun for three days blogging and connecting with your blogging friends!

    I'm so excited! I already know some things I want to do:

    • link and cross-post the majority of my hundred and something book reviews to Goodreads (a task left over from the last Bloggiesta)
    • come up with a way to more prominently display my ratings and update the reviews accordingly (currently my ratings are only displayed as labels, and I've noticed through the comments I get that a lot of people seem not to notice them. My bad, so it's time to correct it.)

    These are two really big tasks, but I'm sure I'll think of some more things to do when I see the challenges and other people's posts.

    If you want to work on your blog and have some fun while at it, you can sign-up here.

    Saturday, September 01, 2012

    Book Nook #26



    Book Nooks
    *Every weekend*
    Founder: Sasha Soren (Random Magic)
    Show us something pretty!


    Commentary: Another one in my collection of ideas for a spacious and comfortable porch I'll have if I get rich. I can just imagine spending hot summer days reading there

    Details: Location and artist unknown, not given in the original post. 
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