‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ by Arthur Golden

I am feeling in a romantic, wistful mood so I think this is the perfect book to review. This is a book that I could read over and over again and not get tired of it, sometimes you just need to read something that will cheer you up or make you feel love and romance are possible. It is best read on a cold rainy day under the blankets in bed with a big cup of tea and toast. Something to warm your body and a book to warm you soul.

Set in Japan before and after World War II, ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ follows the life of Sayuri one of Kyoto’s most famous geishas.

After her mother dies Chiyo (later Sayuri) and her sister Satsu are sold/bought to Kyoto where Satsu is sold to a brothel and Chiyo is used as household labour under the pretense of learning to become a geisha. After getting off to a rocky start with the other Geishas as well as a botched escape attempt Chiyo is forced to repay back debts via manual labour and the thought of becoming a Geisha is all but daydream. Thats is until the rival geisha Mameha offers to teach Chiyo the ways of their world.

After I finished reading this book I thought the story line resembled that of  ‘Great Expectations’ by Charles Dickens in that the main characters in both these stories (Pip and Sayuri) begin there lives in less than ideal circumstance and when both characters have a chance meeting with a stranger they end up living their lives beyond their expectations.

I highly recommend this book and I don’t normally say this but if you are too lazy to read the book watch the movie. The movie is true to the story and as enjoyable. If you up for a little romance, betrayal and tradition in an exotic location and era then ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ is a good place to start.

‘The Lovely Bones’ by Alice Sebold

It was a long time ago that I read this book but I thought now would be a good time to talk about it. Later this year The Lovely Bones is being released as movie and although this is a great book to read I am a little apprehensive as to how it will go in cinematic form.

As soon as I picked up this book I knew it was going to be a tear-jerker. Susie Salmon was a young teenage girl with her whole life ahead of her, that was before she was raped and murdered. While coming to terms with her own death she also has to struggle watching her parents and sibling try and deal with it in their own way.

Through this story we see the pain from the points of view of both the victim and her family left behind. We also witness Susie’s frustration knowing who is responsible and not being able to let anyone know. There are so many emotions in this book but each is dealt with in a flowing, coherent way.

Death in any story is a tough subject, to write about or to read about but dealing with it in a first person narrative  sense makes a difficult subject so much harder. Also the fact that the murder victim is also a child is crossing into territories most writers would steer clear of.

This is a very hard book to write about. I want to describe it better but I can’t seem to find the words, I also don’t want to give anything away. I think if you are planning on seeing the movie try and read the book first. I generally think the book is better, plus this movie is going to be a real crier so maybe prepare yourself with the book first or take lots of tissues.

‘World Without End’ by Ken Follett

Can a second novel be better than the first? After reading ‘World Without End’ I think the answer is yes. Although many people may not agree I actually liked this book much better. I thought it showed more maturity and a more satisfying story line.

“World Without End’ takes us back to Kingsbridge Cathedral two centuries after ‘The Pillars of the Earth’. Centered around new characters that almost mimic the heroes and heroines of the first novel this one also adds the exciting historical events of the Hundred Years War and the Black Plague.

With the same backstabbing, power hungry story lines and the constant struggles between good and evil this winning formula works here. However, I found this story much more enjoyable than the first in that unlike T.P.O.T.E. when something good happens and seems to be working in favour of the “good guys” it isn’t automatically destroyed by the “bad guys”. For every up there wasn’t always a down, sometimes the good guys just won. I didn’t find it so much of a roller coaster ride.

If you haven’t read ‘The Pillars of the Earth” don’t stress, you can pick up this book read it and need no background knowledge. That being said, it is still nice to have the advantage of  some history and it was nice to have some sort of closure for such and epic story. If you enjoyed T.P.O.T.E. you might even like this one better. Oh, by the way, I can’t believe I haven’t written a review for ‘The Pillars of the Earth” – talk about slack.

‘The Swarm’ by Frank Schätzing

I think one of the best presents you can give and one of best to receive is a book. That being said most people read slightly different books to me so I make sure they sort of know what I want first but other times you can be surprised by an amazing book that you would never have picked yourself. This book was one of my birthday presents this year.

I had been wanting to read it for a while but because I’m in Germany and this is a German book it is no always easy to find a translation (my German is not that good yet) but my friend found it. After reading it…wow, wow, wow, this book will definitely be made in to a Hollywood blockbuster. The pages just read like a action/scientific movie, think like ‘The Abyss’ just much more modern.

The story centers around Sigur Johanson a Norwegian molecular biologist and Leon Anwak a Canadian Ethologist (study of animal behaviour). After strange animals surface from the deep and wreak havoc on the land dwellers, it is up to them to sort out what is wrong with the world unders our oceans. Using actual scientific terms and facts in this book could make bit overwhelming for some (like the physics mumbo jumbo in Star Trek etc) but the interesting side were the facts about the devastation we cause to the environment. No wonder the world is going out of balance and their is really no one to blame but ourselves. I did find that the book seemed a little anti-American, well not exactly anti, just portraying them as ignorant “shoot first deal with the horrific consequences” later kind of people.

If you enjoy a good sci-fi book then this one might be for you. Like it says on the cover, if you want an easy holiday read while lying on the beach this may not be the books for you. You will think twice before diving into the deep blue and maybe consider what we are doing to our environment before we totally destroy our living breathing planet.

‘Catch-22’ by Joseph Heller

I grabbed this book from the bookshelf thinking it was on the top 100 list, only to get home and discover it wasn’t. I still read it and now I believe it should definitely be on the list. Maybe after I have read all the 100 I will create my own.

This book is laugh out loud funny but the underlying current is one of sadness and madness. Set during World War II a group of American army pilots are faced with the routines of daily soldier life while trying stay sane and perform outlandish mission runs.

What made this book enjoyable and funny for me was the characters. Yossarian and Dunbar are sarcastic and have this repartee with each other. However their conversations generally consisted of the horrors of war and the political correct bullshit that goes with it.

Although the story is set in the final stages of World War II the funny and sad thing is that is book is still so relevant today. Wars are still being fought and young men are being sent either to their death beds or the loony bins. How can we read books like this and not learn anything. Yes the story is humorous at times but there is also much deeper, darker side.

‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ by Tracy Chevalier

It was about time that I got back on track with my list and finally I found one. I read this book in two days, I couldn’t put it down. My boyfriend says that I am cancer for books, I just eat right through them and with this book it was so true.

It is such an easy read with an engaging story. The story is based on the painting of the same name. Tracey Chevalier creates a fictional history for the  creation of this remarkable, well known painting.

Griet is a young women whose family is thrust in to poverty when her father has an accident at work. She is forced to leave her home and cross in to the Catholic quarter and serve in the house of the dutch painter Johannes Vemeer. Griet is curious of her masters vocation and through him she learns to understand his painting visions and techniques.

The relationship that develops between Vemeer and Griet is one of master and apprentice but also the fact that he is master of the house and she a young, female servant cast a sinister shadow. Deeper feelings are developed and tested when Vemeer’s patron commissions a portrait.

I found it fascinate that someone could create a whole world around a simple painting of a young girl looking over her shoulder. It was also nice that the story explained the artistic creation of the painting, the making of paints and the lighting etc. I do wonder though how many people will read this book and take it for fact because it is so convincing.

After reading the book I really wanted to watch the movie. I did watch it and I have to say I was so horribly disappointed. If you don’t have a budget to make the movie long enough to build the characters relationships and fill in all the required details then don’t make the movie. Please if you are thinking about watching the movie, skip it and read the book instead, in that you won’t be disappointed.

‘The Last of the Mohicans’ by James Fenimore Cooper

This is another treasure I unearthed in my local second hand bookshop. I must have been one of the few people not to have seen this movie and decided it best to read the book first. Now my only hope is that the movie lives up to the book.

This was one hell of a ride. When I first started the book the beginning chapters nearly bored me to sleep. The passages about the scenery and the river nearly had me shutting the book but not one to give up I persevered and I am glad I did.

Hawk-eye (no not the guy from MASH…but isn’t he named after this character?) is a white man who feels a stronger connection to his Mohican friends that to his Colonial American society. While hunting with his companions  Chingachgook and Uncas they encounter an English party trying to make it to the safety of the English Fort. Deciding that this is no place for armatures, Hawk-eye and his Indian friends help to escort the party.

This turns out to be a perilous, sadistic road-trip that no one would willingly take. I tore the up pages, I could not read them quick enough. The flowing words and the heat of the battle urge you to read as fast as you can in order to find out what happens next.

Fast moving, bloody and adventurous this is definitely one for the guys and anyone that enjoys a true to life good versus evil story. It does have some horrific scenes but also  some very touching ones. I found myself saddened at the decrease/ loss of Indian culture ended the book in tears. I am glad to have read this story. This should have been on the top 100.

‘The Intuitionist’ by Colson Whitehead

Once again unfortunately this is not a book from my list. I found this book in a second hand shop for the bargain price of 1.50 Euro, cheaper than a cup of coffee. I have to say that is satisfied me for longer than a coffee.

Lila Mae Watson is the first black female elevator inspector in history. Not only is she black and female she is also an Intuitionist. In the elevator inspector trade there are two types Intuitionists who feel the problems without inspection and the Epiricists who believe a thorough inspection is the only way. There is a political war waging between these two disciplines and Lila as some how gotten herself in the middle of it.

Lila is an interesting character, she is quiet and dutiful but to me rather dull. Until an incident occurs for which she gets the blame then her life is turned upside and a little more exciting.  I think if she hadn’t been caught up in the world of double crossing and suspicion she would have just melted in to the background without anyone knowing she existed.

This book is really unusal and surreal. I would never have thought about elevator or inspectors as the scenes and characters for a book. Now whenever I get into and elevator I think of the people behind it. The book has a Citizen Kane, Big Brother vibe about it and combined with the crampness and obsesivness of the elevators and inspectors this book leaves you with an uneasy sort of feeling.

I liked this book but at times I was not so much confused as mystified with how someone dreamed up the idea. It goes to show that eveyone has a story to tell and we just need to find how to do.

‘Vanity Fair’ by William Makepeace Thackeray

I am reading lots of books and yet my 100 list is not shrinking. There are so many books to read and so little time. I need to get back on track, this however is not on the list but an English classic none the less.

This book reminded me a little of  Sister Carrie in the fact that in both books the heroine or female lead is someone that is not particularly nice or easy to warm up to. In Vanity Fair this character is Becky Sharp. She is pretty, quick witted and ruthless when it comes to making her way to the top rung of English Society.

The other leading character is Amelia. As cold and ruthless Becky is Amelia is the exact opposite . Amelia is quiet, loving, a mother like character, soft and round compared to Becky’s sharp pointed edges.

Both of these girls have different goals in life, Becky wants to be known, rich and awed where as Amelia just wants her George. Vanity Fair tells the story of these two women trying to get what they want out of life in very different ways.

I think most women can relate to this book, whether we are a Becky trying to get what we want at any cost or we are the Amelia with a distant friend like Becky. This story can still relate so well to today. I would say it is a must read for every woman. Men can read this two if they want but some how I doubt they will relate.

On a side note after reading the book I decided to watch the movie with Reese Witherspoon as Becky. I was very disappointed, they tried to make her nice and portray that what she did was necessary. The most annoying part was with the Marquise de Steyne but in case you haven’t read the book I won’t tell you what happened you have to find out for yourself.

Book Snob

I fear that I am becoming a book snob. While browsing the bookshelves I turn my nose up at anything that is a romance or a crime novel (the majority of English books available here). I am searching for the book that grabs me, a story that I can relate to. I want something more than a body turning up in a river or the girl meeting guy story. Does this make me a book snob?

I want a challenge, I want,… I don’t know what I want, I guess that is the biggest problem. I dont know what I want but when I find it I will know it. Any suggestions of books, places to find a better selection of English books in Berlin?