REVIEW: The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxiere

I’ve put this book on my TBR years ago. I don’t remember why I did it (although, knowing myself, the cover tempted me), but I can only thank my past self. This book is beautiful.

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Alone in a country they do not know, Molly and Kip are in desperate need of a job. So desperate they accepted to work for the Windsor, the family living in the haunted Sourwoods. Once settled as servants, they begin to uncover the secrets of the family, the house and the tree that grows in it: what do they lock behind the strange,old green door? What does master Windsor do in there? What sickness is the family suffering? And who is the nightman the youngest child speaks of?

I liked almost everything about this book: the rounded characters you come to sympathize with (Kip is a real sweetheart, he’s probably my favourite), the compelling story that pushes you to go on reading to find out what’s going on. It has an eerie atmosphere about it, but being a book for 9-12 years old don’t expect it to scare you too much.
The only thing I didn’t like was how long the book began to feel toward the end. That’s when the pacing of the story, not the fastest but anyway flowing, started to feel a bit off. There is a particoular event (no spoilers!) that although required to end the story, really seem to cut the pace. Furthermore, the last chapters are short and some might have been merged as the switch serves only to change the character from whose point of view the story is told.

Despite this little flaw, however, it still is a beautiful story: it’s filled with magic, it tells about love, life, courage and the need to do what’s right; how sometimes what we want to do and what we have to do are very, very different things.

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T5W: Books Featuring Witches

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To begin October (one of my favourite month!) in the proper way, here’s a collection of various witches of every kind that I gathered for this week’s topic. And no, no Harry Potter because that would be rather predictable 😉

Stardust by Neil Gaiman
Stardust is a modern fairytale, or at least it reads as such. It seems appropriate then that the “evil” characters – Ditchwater Sal and the Lilim – have so many traits in common with the classical witches you can find in tales: evil, wicked and hungry for power.

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
The birds talked to Patricia when she was little. She doesn’t know how they find her, she doesn’t know how to contact them again. What she knows is that she’s a witch and that she wants to attend a magical future. What she doesn’t know, though, is that together with her childhood friend, she’s going to save the planet.

Dreamwalker By J. Oswald
The mother of the dragon protagonist (Benfro) is your friendly village witch: cottage at the outskirt of her society.? Checked. Collecting herbs? Checked. Helping people with her concoctions? Checked. Her practices reminded me of the modern hedgeriders or traditional witchcraft. Plus, she’s a dragon and this makes her even more cooler.

Wizard’s First Rule by T. Goodkind
I know, I know: Kahlan isn’t a witch and her powers aren’t magic or spells. However the sisterhood she’s part and head of, as the Mother Confessor, made me think about the one in the Mists of Avalon. She loves people, she’s devout in serving her community and fights for her people. Not very witchy-like in the usual sense of the term, but there’s more to the archetype of the witch apart from the cauldron and the incantations.

Off to Be the Wizard by Scott Meyer
Okay, okay: the character isn’t really a witch. She’s just one of the other humans to discover how to bend reality through a computer file. And she isn’t more that a side-character in this book, although she’s featured in the sequel (where she flees to Atlantis to be with other reality-bending women). I liked the character, though, and I liked this concept of magical world that…isn’t that magical.

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T5W: Books You’ve Read Because of Booktube/Blogging/etc

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Since I started lurking following the book community, especially BookTubers, I found a lot of great (and not-so great) titles to put my hands on. These are the books that I’ve been pushed to read the most, for a reason or another.

Furiously Happy, a Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson
I saw this book in a wrap-up, I thought “I have to read it” and after three or four days I had finished it. It’s that good. It’s a collection of essays about basically everything that happens in the author’s life, told with a big dose of humor. I appreciated Mrs. Lawson being open about her dealing with mental illness: she has a way of with words that make you laugh even when you’d like to cry (which isn’t bad) and describes her experience in such a way that you can’t but relate. We’ve all been through horrible things, after all.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
Saw on a YT channel, I thought I was going to read an eerie story and got…nice vintage photographs. Don’t get me wrong, the story and the writing aren’t bad, they’re just not what I was told they were: horror or at least creepy. It really wasn’t to me, so it felt like a bit of a letdown (and no, I’m not intendioned to go on with the series: it didn’t catch my attention).

The Princess Saves Herself in This One by Amanda Lovelace
Written by a girl whose booklr I used to follow, this is a collection of poetry. I gave in to buying it when I saw it was listed for the 2016 Goodreads award and it didn’t disappoint: the poetry, modern in style, is touching and some poems are so relatable to my own experience in adolescence that I almost cried here and there.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
I saw this book multiple times on multiple YT channels as the “must read” for every nerd and videogame lover. I bought it and…it was a huge disappointment. The story is boring and the main character is too. Overall it seems like a whole book was written just to show the knowledge of 80s pop culture of the author. Which is amazingly vast, but unfortunately not enough to write a novel about.

The Long Way to A Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
The best way to describe this book is: “it’s like reading Mass Effect”. I really liked it and I’m soon going to re-read it to get into the companion novel, too. It’s set in space, but it’s more of a character-driven novel than a space opera. The various humans and aliens that populate the pages are well thought of and I appreciated the effort put into creating different alien species. However, the writing sometimes feels a bit off, although I couldn’t say exactly why.

Special mensions go to Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire and All the Birds in the Sky by C.J. Anders! Both of them wonderful books that I recommend you check out.

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REVIEW: Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss

I do not love grammar. For all the love I bear to languages, grammar is always my least favourite part. That thing that stands between you and expression. Unfortunately, rules are what make us comprehensible to others.
In my almost 20 years of studying English – my, do they sound a lot! – I’ve learned about verbs and sentences and tenses, but never (not properly) about punctuation. It seemed sensible to me, when our professor gave us a list of books to choose from, to pick this one: first, because the subject matter is one I’m weak in. Secondly, because I want to learn to write properly. Punctuation is as essential as words, in that regard.

truss_book-a7ef04dc51ca66b0ffa7b6e403faa170e627455a-s6-c30I begun the book with great expactations, as it is (apparently) well known and well loved. I enjoyed the introduction, although I found some bits…uncanny. I read pleasantly of the various mistakes, the horror of the author at misplaced apostrophes, the history bits.
I must say that I did found interesting rules for the semi-colon and some for the comma; apparently they escaped my formal education. However, much of what is written is ridiculously…predictable. Maybe it’s because usage resamble a lot that of the Italian language, or maybe because I studied a lot of grammar. Either way, that part didn’t give me what I was hoping for (superior punctuation powers, that is). However it did help me point out mistakes I make regularly, so I call it a win.

The problem that became apparent all through the reading is the obnoxious insistance of the author on herself: I get it, you illustrate stuff that happened to you by recalling a life event. Many non-fiction books of this level do. Many bloggers do, too. It gets annoying, however, when there’s a continous stream of insults of any kind masked as “humor” or those very self-centered part that are meant to point out how superior you are.
I still need to understand what statements like: “I bought a book on grammar while every other girls was having dates and abortions and were at the isle of Wight, and wrote rude letters to a teen-ager” really give to the book. To me, it sounded like “I was not like other girls” discourse; meant just to underline, once again, the stupidity of others or the abyss between the stickler and the non-sticklers.

The constant pointing to the internet as the Devil, come to destroy the world, is something I still have to understand. More specifically, the claim by Truss that punctuation will disappear because it was invented for the printed medium of books and not the interwebs is absurd. There exist tumblr, with its uses of language that are meant to convey tone and allow people to write in a way that is more similar to speech (and yes, it does take a linguist do appreciate this), there are the facebook status updates of people who forgot how to use a comma; people that don’t care because “it’s the internet”. And then there are websites like Wikipedia, scholarly institutions like universities, companies and a whole lot that use punctuation because it will never cease to be usegil.
I really don’t see why a person can hate the old : – ) emoticons because they’ll make punctuation be forgotten, and be taken seriously. By the time the author made this claim, it was the end of the book; I was seriously done with these amount of absurdities and obnoxious tone though.

I gave the book 3/5 stars: it’s good, it’s not bad written, it gives information. You need to be really good at ignoring the author’s voice, though. I honestly hoped for it to be better.

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February wrap up

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100 days of solitude by Daphne Kapsali
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I bought this book on a whime, back in December, because it was on sale (I think it’s still is in the Amazon’s monthly deals section or somewhere). It was 0.99€ and…it sounded intriguing. It’s a collection of essays, wrote during the 100 days the author spent on a Greek island, writing. She wanted to be a writer and never did anything to achieve the goal, and then left her life to see if she could make it. I must say that like every story that aims at being motivational, is interesting: will she make it? What will she learn along the way? I find the writing style breezy and it’s an entertaining book…up to a point. Around half of it, the topics were more or less the same and it got a bit slow.
It was an enjoyable reading, though, and it’s definitely a good one if you like memoirs.

Se una Notte d’Inverno un Viaggiatore (If on a Winter Night a Traveler)
by Italo Calvino
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Italo Calvino is one of the few Italian authors I’m interested in. This book was a compulsory reading for one of my uni courses and I must say I enjoyed it a lot. It’s a book that celebrates book, literature and the joy of reading (and of being a reader). It has a very peculiar way of telling the story, a story that unfolds rather unexpectadly. You could say it’s a bit experimental (although not the modernist kind of experimental novel). Although the story in itself is extraordinary and the storytelling clever, I must say that it wasn’t the story in itself that I liked. It was everything else.

The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About the Good Life by Micheal Puett & Christine Gross-Loh
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I’ve recently started to be interested into Daosim and subsequently Chinese philosophy, so I looked for a quick and easy introduction on the subject. This book is very short and shouldn’t be taken as more than it is: a brief, concise – although wonderful – introduction to the idea of the major chinese philosphers (Confucius, Lao Tsu, Zuangzhi, Mencius, etc.). It is so short I finished it in 24 hours, but despite the size I believe it’s a useful read, as it points out the core ideas of each philosophers in a clear and understandable way. It gives a very basic, very general knowledge that won’t change your life, but it is surely a good starting point. I found considerable food for thoughts into these pages and a very good bibliography to continue my researches.

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January wrap-up

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Adulthood is a myth by Sarah Andersen
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Sarah Scribbles is a famous web comic series, written by Sarah Andersen, of which this volume is a selection.
It’s all about becoming adults, and sometimes not being really good at it. It’s about the anxiety you sometimes feel, hidden truths about life and the idea that we’re all on the same boat here.

Poorly Drawn Lines by Reza Farazmand
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Poorly Drawn Lines is my favourite web comic ever. It surpassed also Cyanide & Happiness. A lot. It’s about non-sensical humor, space bears, mice with knives attacking boys with big ears and bad puns.
If you’ve never looked at them, please give them a try. Maybe it’s not your kind humor, but the author is so creative! I enjoy them so much! (and it’s the perfect volume for bibliomancy, I swear).

Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman
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This book is probably one of the best introductions on the subject and not only because it’s written by one of the doctors who theoriesed the existence of an EQ. It provides basic knowledge on how the brain and emotions developed, explaining how the brain physically works its way around emotions. It gives data on researches and studies, as well as drawing from the experience of the author himself. It defines emotions very clearly, giving also a variety suggestions on how to handle them, and last but not least it’s also very detailed on how important it is to give our children emotional support and educate their emotions along with their logic.
I loved it. It took me a month to be read and I still go back to it when I need to understand something better. The language is simple enough for non-experts in the field and the writing is linear and clear. I strongly recommend this one to everyone, but if you’re interested in understanding how the brain works it’s a must read.

The Fox by D.H. Lawrence
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I like foxes, which is why I picked up this book while in the library. It’s the first work of Lawrence that I read (although Lady Chatterley waits for me) and I wasn’t impressed that much.
I liked the idea of a manly female protagonist (for the age, must’ve been quite crazy!) but these modernist depictions of love I really don’t like, and the male protagonist was an contradiction of himself.
It surely started like an uncanny and pleasant read, but when I reached half of it I was already a bit deluded. I gained interest toward the end again, I must say. 

Dionea e altre Storie Fantastiche bye Vernon Lee
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A collection of fantastical stories by Vernon Lee, but there is no correspondant edition in English so I’m going to assume this was a mash-up made by the Italian publisher.
I haven’t enjoyed them much: it’s too much…ninetienth century flavoured both in writing and in the depiction of history and mythology.I know how much the victorians were fascinated by such subjects, but it’s an obsolete way to look at it.  Plus, I haven’t found really anything particularly outstanding in the stories, which is a shame because I really wanted to enjoy them.

“I need to see a psychologist”, my list of fears:

Mom, I want to go to the shrink

  • “I’m sorry sweetheart, we have money enough to cure only one person in this family and that isn’t you”
  • “You don’t *need* a doctor, this is something you can sort out on your own”
  • “Why haven’t I learned of this sooner? You always keep things to yourself and never, never share anything, are we even family to you or what?!”
  • “You don’t seem to have a problem, just waisting your time instead of graduating and doing real stuff”

To the shrink

  • “You are mad. Absolutely insane. You see, I’m not even here. I don’t exist. Nothing exist, it’s all you hallucination”
  • “The results of the test is that you’re a douchebag and there’s no cure for that, sorry”
  • “You have a very real, very concrete psychological problem (probably inherited by someone in your family) and you’re going to struggle with it your whole life and never get anywhere”
  • “Take these pills*”

My head

  • “I can do this on my own” I tried, it didn’t make it better, did it? “That’s because you’re a useless idiot who can’t do anything”
  • “You’re a terrible person. Terrible person deserve nothing”
  • *crying myself to sleep*
  • *the horrible sensation I’m getting more insane as seconds go by*

 

*this is not a critic to pyschopharmaceuticals, I’m just scared by them