January 16th, 2016

Books

Юность, Л. Н. Толстой. (Youth by Leo Tolstoy).

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Title: Юность (Youth).
Author: Л. Н. Толстой (Leo Tolstoy).
Genre: Fiction, literature, bildungsroman.
Country: Russia.
Language: Russian.
Publication Date: 1857.
Summary:

My rating: 9/10.
My Review:

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Books

Morality by Stephen King.

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Title: Morality.
Author: Stephen King.
Genre: Fiction, novella, philosophical fiction.
Country: U.S.
Language: English.
Publication Date: July, 2009.
Summary: A character study concerning a married couple, Chad, who's trying to write a book based on his substitute teacher experiences and Nora Callahan, a nurse, who are suffering from financial difficulties brought on by lack of employment and low-paying jobs, though they remain largely optimistic. They get approached by Revered Winston, one of Nora's patients, with a proposition that would solve their financial problems forever, only if they'd be willing to sin on his behalf, for his desire, and do something horrible.

My rating: 8/10.

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Books

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

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Title: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.
Author: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Genre: Fiction, literature, short stories, mystery, detective fiction.
Country: U.K.
Language: English.
Publication Date: October 14th, 1892.
Summary: A collection of 12 short stories featuring his fictional detective Sherlock Holmes. In A Scandal in Bohemia, The King of Bohemia engages Holmes to recover an indiscreet photograph showing him with the renowned beauty, adventuress and opera singer Irene Adler, and she may just be the first woman who'll prove a match for his sharp intellect. The Adventure of the Red-Headed League is about Jabez Wilson, a pawnbroker, who consults Holmes about a job he gained only because of his red hair and required him copying the Encyclopaedia Britannica seemingly without sense, and which is suddenly cancelled. In A Case of Identity, Holmes is approached by Miss Mary Sutherland, who against the wishes of her stepfather becomes engaged to Hosmer Angel, who bids her to be forever faithful to him and then disappears without a trace. In The Boscombe Valley Mystery, Holmes is called to assist Lestrade after Charles McCarthy is murdered, and his son, James, looks like the only person who could have done it, until Holmes looks closer at the scene of the murder. In The Five Orange Pips, Holmes becomes involved in investigating mysterious deaths that start with the later-deceased receiving a picture with the letters K.K.K. inscribed on it, and five orange pips. In The Man with the Twisted Lip, Neville St. Clair, a respectable businessman, has disappeared, and his wife claims she saw him at the upper window of an opium den, though upon pursuing him there she inexplicably finds a completely different person. In "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle, a "blue carbuncle" is stolen from a hotel suite, and a former felon is soon arrested, however an acquaintance of Holmes discovers the carbuncle in the throat of a Christmas goose. In The Adventure of the Speckled Band, Helen Stoner worries her stepfather may be trying to kill her after he contrives to move her to the bedroom where her sister had died two years earlier, shortly before her wedding, under mysterious and seemingly impossible circumstances. In The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb, an engineer, Victor Hatherley, attends Dr Watson's surgery after his thumb is chopped off, and recounts being hired, for an exorbitant price, to repair a machine he was told compressed Fuller's earth into bricks, until things go awry and he discovers the real purpose of the machinery and the people who hired him. In The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor, Lord Robert St. Simon's new American bride, Hatty Doran, has disappeared almost immediately after the wedding and Hatty's wedding dress and ring have been found floating in the Serpentine, though as Holmes quickly discovers, nothing is what it seems. In The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet, a banker asks Holmes to investigate after a "Beryl Coronet" entrusted to him is damaged at his home, and though he finds his son, Arthur, holding the damaged coronet, Arthur refuses to either admit guilt or explain himself. In The Adventure of the Copper Beeches, Violet Hunter consults Holmes after being offered an extremely highly-paid governess job subject to a number of unusual conditions, and quickly follows up on Holmes's offer to contact him again if the job begins to bother her after more bizarre demands and discoveries are made.

My rating: 8.5/10.

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Books

Казаки, Л. Н. Толстой. (The Cossacks by Leo Tolstoy).

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Title: Казаки (The Cossacks).
Author: Л. Н. Толстой (Leo Tolstoy).
Genre: Fiction, literature, philosophical fiction, romance, psychology, war lit.
Country: Russia.
Language: Russian.
Publication Date: 1863.
Summary: Dmitri Olenin, a cultured Russian nobleman, is disenchanted with his privileged life in Russian society and joins the army as a cadet, in the hopes of escaping the superficiality of his daily life. On a quest to find "completeness," he naively hopes to find serenity among the "simple" people of the Caucasus. He falls in love with the young Maryanka, in spite of her fiancé Lukashka, and learns lessons about his own inner life, moral philosophy, the nature of reality, and the intricacies of human psychology and nature.

My rating: 8/10.

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Books

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

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Title: Little House in the Big Woods.
Author: Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Genre: Literature, non-fiction, autobiographical, Western, family saga, children's lit, YA, survival lit, bildungsroman.
Country: U.S.
Language: English.
Publication Date: 1932.
Summary: Told from 4-year-old Laura's point of view, this story begins in 1871 in a little log cabin on the edge of the Big Woods of Wisconsin. Laura lives in the little house with her Pa, her Ma, her sisters Mary and Carrie, and their dog, Jack. Pioneer life is hard for the family, since they must grow or catch all their own food as they get ready for the cold winter, but it is also exciting, as Laura and her family celebrate Christmas with homemade toys and treats, do the spring planting, bring in the harvest, and make their first trip into town. And every night they are safe and warm in their little house, with the happy sound of Pa's fiddle sending Laura and her sisters off to sleep.

My rating: 9/10.
My review: I really loved this book in a very personal way. My great-grandmother's family and neighbours, like much of the aristocracy around the time of the Russian Revolutions, were dumped in a forest in Siberia and had to settle it much in the way Laura's family does. I often joke that thus pioneering is in my blood, though jokes aside I have such an intensely strong emotional response with anything to do with the pioneers, survival, or living off the land, that it wouldn't surprise me if it is my very genes that echo it. In a more personal way, when I was growing up I have spent every 3 months of summer in a dacha with my grandmother living a life quite similar to Laura's (although of course much, much more modern from the necessity of those days) - a wooden house, work in the garden, growing our own food and tending it, then preserving it for winter, minimal electricity and no running water etc. Those memories are some of the happiest of my childhood, which is probably why I identify so strongly with the book. Of course, this being a children's book, told from a perspective of a toddler, it does offer a very idealized and over-simplified view of pioneering times. Whilst I have heard of the books being criticized for this, I do find it very accurate in as much as a girl that age would know and understand - there are certainly much darker and much more horrifying aspects of being an American pioneer that she would not have been exposed to, and you even begin to get a glimpse of some of them if you look behind the innocence with which some of them are described. What I do like about the book quite a lot, though, is that even with all the aforementioned considered, one can still learn quite a bit from this book as far as living off the land goes, just from Laura's detailed descriptions - smoking or preserving meat, making cheese, making sugar, harvesting wild honey, reinforcing a house, etc. All in all, a beautiful and poignant book that, to me, captures something of childhood and its comforts. The last scene, where Laura describes being cozy and warm with her entire family safe around her whilst outside the blizzards, wild animals, and many other dangers lurk, captures perfectly what I, too, considered the epitome of safety in childhood. To this day, my favourite and safest moments come from being comfortable and warm with everyone I love around me, safe, divided by a sturdy wall from the dangers just outside.

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Books

Анна Каренина, Л. Н. Толстой (Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy).

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Title: Анна Каренина (Anna Karenina).
Author: Л. Н. Толстой (Leo Tolstoy).
Genre: Fiction, literature, romance, social criticism.
Country: Russia.
Language: Russian.
Publication Date: Serialized from 1873 to 1877, novel published in 1878.
Summary: The book tells of the doomed love affair between the sensuous and rebellious Anna and the dashing officer, Count Vronsky. Tragedy unfolds as Anna rejects her passionless marriage and thereby exposes herself to the hypocrisies of society. The parallel story to Anna's is the story of Konstantin Levin, a wealthy country landowner who pursues to marry Princess Kitty, though he must take his time to woo her, his consequent family life, his moral dilemma over his dying brother, and his disdain of the wealthy city life. The novel plays out the contrasts of city and country life and all the variations on love and family happiness.

My rating: 9.5/10.
My Review:

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Books

Mark Twain in Hawaii - Roughing It in the Sandwich Islands: Hawaii in the 1860's by Mark Twain.

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Title: Mark Twain in Hawaii - Roughing It in the Sandwich Islands: Hawaii in the 1860's.
Author: Mark Twain.
Genre: Non-fiction, travel, satire, mythology, history.
Country: U.S.
Language: English.
Publication Date: 1866.
Summary: The noted humorist's account of his 1866 trip to Hawaii at a time when the island were more for the natives than the tourists.

My rating: 7/10.

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Books

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.

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Title: Brave New World.
Author: Aldous Huxley.
Genre: Fiction, literature, dystopian fiction, futuristic fiction, science fiction, social criticism.
Country: U.K.
Language: English.
Publication Date: 1932.
Summary: Set in London of AD 2540, the novel anticipates developments in reproductive technology, sleep-learning, psychological manipulation, and classical conditioning that combine profoundly to change society. The World State is a benevolent dictatorship headed by ten World Controllers, where people are genetically engeneered into their intelligence and social castes, and controlled by excessive pleasure and entertainment. The society is illuminated by the activities of two of the novel's central characters, Lenina Crowne and Bernard Marx. Lenina, a hatchery worker, is socially accepted and contented, but Bernard, a psychologist in the Directorate of Hatcheries and Conditioning, is not. Bernard takes a holiday with Lenina at a Savage Reservation in New Mexico and takes John, raised in "primitive" pre-World-State conditions, and through John's struggle to understand it, the true horrors of the perfectly happy society come to light.

My rating: 9/10.
My Review:

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Books

Popular Hits of the Showa Era by Ryu Murakami.

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Title: Popular Hits of the Showa Era.
Author: Ryu Murakami.
Genre: Fiction.
Country: Japan.
Language: Japanese.
Publication Date: 1994 (translated in 2013).
Summary: Murakami creates a rivalry of epic proportions between six aimless youths and six tough-as-nails women who battle for control of a Tokyo neighborhood. At the outset, the young men seem harmless, their activities limited to drinking, snacking, peering at a naked neighbor through a window, and performing karaoke. The six "aunties" are fiercely independent career women. When one of the boys executes a lethal ambush of one of the women, chaos ensues. The women band together to find the killer and exact revenge. In turn, the boys buckle down, study physics, and plot to take out their nemeses in a single blast. Who knew that a deadly "gang war" could be such fun?

My rating: 7.5/10.

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Books

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.

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Title: Cloud Atlas.
Author: David Mitchell.
Genre: Fiction, literature, science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, romance, politics, political dissent, philosophical fiction, multiple narratives, dystopian fiction, futuristic fiction.
Country: U.K.
Language: English.
Publication Date: 2004.
Summary: The book begins in 1850 with Adam Ewing, an American notary voyaging from the Chatham Isles to his home in California. Along the way, Ewing is befriended by a physician, Dr. Goose, who begins to treat him for a rare species of brain parasite. Abruptly, the action jumps to Belgium in 1931, where Robert Frobisher, a disinherited bisexual composer, contrives his way into the household of an infirm maestro who has a beguiling wife and a nubile daughter. From there we jump to the West Coast in the 1970s and a troubled reporter named Luisa Rey, who stumbles upon a web of corporate greed and murder that threatens to claim her life. And onward, with dazzling virtuosity, to an inglorious present-day England; to a Korean superstate of the near future where neo-capitalism has run amok; and, finally, to a post-apocalyptic Iron Age Hawaii in the last days of history. But the story doesn’t end even there. The narrative then boomerangs back through centuries and space, returning by the same route, in reverse, to its starting point. Along the way, Mitchell reveals how his disparate characters connect, how their fates intertwine, and how their souls drift across time like clouds across the sky.

My rating: 8.5/10.
My Review:

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Books

A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams.

Streetcar Named Desire

Title: A Streetcar Named Desire.
Author: Tennessee Williams.
Genre: Fiction, literature, play, romance, mental health.
Country: U.S.
Language: English.
Publication Date: December 3rd, 1947.
Summary: After the loss of her family home, Belle Reve (Blanche DuBois to creditors) travels from the small town of Laurel, Mississippi, to the New Orleans French Quarter to live with her younger, married sister, Stella, and brother-in-law, Stanley Kowalski. Blanche is shocked the violent relationship between her sister and her husband, and immediately develops an antagonistic relationship with Stanley. Haggard and fragile, Blanche makes a pathetic last grasp at happiness with a new man, but when her hidden past comes back to haunt her, and her conflict with Stanley comes to a head, the play comes to a shocking conclusion.

My rating: 8/10.
My Review:

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Books

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

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Title: The Book Thief.
Author: Markus Zusak.
Genre: Fiction, literature, WWII, war lit, bildungsroman, romance, books on books.
Country: Australia.
Language: English.
Publication Date: 2005.
Summary: Narrated by Death itself, this is a story about the ability of books to feed the soul. It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still. Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist – books, aided by her best friend Rudy. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids, as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.

My rating: 8.5/10.
My Review: This book is absolutely exceptional - I have never read anything quite like it. I read it in exactly one sitting, simply because I could not put it down from the very first sentence, and it reads like a melody. I was hooked with the idea of a novel being narrated by Death during WWII, but I was delighted to get something very different from what I expected, and it's probably the most remarkable thing about this book - the profound compassion, love, and empathy that is woven into every line. Death narrates without judgment, but with a slight hint of sadness that goes right to the heart. I also enjoyed that the book was told from the perspective of a regular German girl and family, as that is a view that doesn't often get a lot of coverage in Holocaust literature. It's almost not about the Holocaust as much as it is concurrent to it, which makes the details even more chilling. Of course, I absolutely loved the part books play in the novel - the love of reading, the difficulty of getting books, and the way the books help form the relationships between characters like the familiar comfort they bring to Liesel and Hans, the friendship they bring to Liesel and Rudy and Liesel and Max, and the comfort and courage they bring through Liesel to her neighbours during the bomb raids. In the end, this book is as uplifting as it is devastating, and it will haunt you, as is stated so poignantly in one of the most memorable lines of the novel, as humans haunt Death.

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Books

A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas.

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Title: A Child's Christmas in Wales.
Author: Dylan Thomas.
Genre: Non-fiction, literature, prose poetry, autobiography, YA, children's lit.
Country: Wales.
Language: English.
Publication Date: Recorded in 1952, published in 1955.
Summary: The work captures a child's-eye view, and an adult's fond memories, of a magical time of presents, aunts and uncles, the frozen sea, romanticized version of Christmases past, a nostalgic and simpler time, and in the best of circumstances, newly fallen snow.

My rating: 8/10.

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