Niwue's Reads

Ich lese zuviel und denke zu wenig über das Gelesene nach. Dies ist mein Versuch, 2015 nach jedem Buch wenigstens mal kurz inne zu halten und aufzuschreiben, ob ichs gemocht habe - vielleicht sogar, warum oder warum nicht. 

NOT a good book.

Money - Martin Amis

I managed to finish this but only just - I really disliked the protagonist, the story got on my nerves, the language was not enjoyable and at no time did the character development make the ending plausible.


The set-up had some promise, so 2** for that.

The human and the humane...

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves - Karen Joy Fowler

Loved this book.


Thankfully, I did not realize that Fowler had also written the Austen Book Club, a novel that I thought was banal and did not do Austen justice in so many ways. But I am digressing.


Other critics have found fault in the narrator seeming "off" - I thought that was a strength of the book. even before the big reveal, one senses that something is different that cannot merely be explained by having lost two siblings. I also likes the fact that this is in some ways an unwilling narrator who struggles to revisit certain memories. She discusses the quality of remembering, and the way (we all know) a photo of a moment can replace the memory of that moment. The fact that she divulges the details only piece by piece (by others perceived as deeply frustrating) was for me in a way quite satisfying because it allowed me to develop my own theories of what happened, and to examine my perceptions and beliefs.


It's not only memories that are put to the test, but also relationships and what we see in people, how we deal with grief and how we communicate. And humanity - the question of what is human and what is humane.


The language is deceptively simple and very engaging. Even though the narrator puts herself at some distance, I could relate and feel with her. And it certainly made me look closer at my next shopping whether that soap was tested on animals. Could not buy it.


 [edited for spelling]

I'm torn...

The Bone Clocks - David Mitchell

... between David Mitchell's style and talent for beautifully constructing interwoven stories, and the fact that the psychosothingies took so long in getting to the point that they got a little on my nerves by then.


I do like slow stories, and I thoroughly enjoyed the many and varied characters appearing. The story roughly follows Holly's life as told from very different perspectives. These episodes are very well crafted, and each of the protagonists has his or her own voice and style. Now and then there are tantalizing glimpses of people with supernatural abilities, but we are more than halfway through the book before we get to know a little more about them.  When we do meet them (finally!!!!), it is weird but exciting, and very different from the first half of the book.


With Mitchell, a lot of the reward is the journey. I thoroughly enjoyed the very slow ride of teh first half (even though I could not fully relate to Crispin). When finally the psychosothingies came into focus, some of the earlier encounters fell into place. the book completely changed its pace (took me by surprise).


Story could be a little more condensed, storytelling fantastic, style extremely enjoyable, outlook on humanity slightly depressing but probably true.


Not his best, but liked it a lot overall.

A little darkness flowing along nicely

Dark Places - Gillian Flynn


"I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ.

Libby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered in “The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas.” As her family lay dying, little Libby fled their tiny farmhouse into the freezing January snow. She lost some fingers and toes, but she survived–and famously testified that her fifteen-year-old brother, Ben, was the killer. Twenty-five years later, Ben sits in prison, and troubled Libby lives off the dregs of a trust created by well-wishers who’ve long forgotten her.

The Kill Club is a macabre secret society obsessed with notorious crimes. When they locate Libby and pump her for details–proof they hope may free Ben–Libby hatches a plan to profit off her tragic history. For a fee, she’ll reconnect with the players from that night and report her findings to the club… and maybe she’ll admit her testimony wasn’t so solid after all.

As Libby’s search takes her from shabby Missouri strip clubs to abandoned Oklahoma tourist towns, the narrative flashes back to January 2, 1985. The events of that day are relayed through the eyes of Libby’s doomed family members–including Ben, a loner whose rage over his shiftless father and their failing farm have driven him into a disturbing friendship with the new girl in town. Piece by piece, the unimaginable truth emerges."



I liked the book - the story unfolds slowly, you follow Libby researching what has happened and get the story of what had happened in installments in between teh Libby episodes. The past story follows the other Day family members through their last day.


It's a classic whodunnit. very nicely written - you feel with the characters, you even come to like Libby even though she is portrayed as selfish and a slob and using people for her needs. 


All in all, enjoyable even if the end fell a little short (a little too construed for me). Good for a long flight or (in my case) a sick day. Good book for what it is - nice little thiller.


Why use a full stop when you can just write on and on?

The Scarlet Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorne, Nina Baym, Thomas E. Connolly

Set in the harsh Puritan community of seventeenth-century Boston, this tale of an adulterous entanglement that results in an illegitimate birth reveals Nathaniel Hawthorne's concerns with the tension between the public and the private selves. Publicly disgraced and ostracized, Hester Prynne draws on her inner strength and certainty of spirit to emerge as the first true heroine of American fiction. Arthur Dimmesdale, trapped by the rules of society, stands as a classic study of a self divided. [BL synopsis]


I know this is one of the great American classics, but I have to admit that I did not enjoy it all that much.


The language is quite complex - in itself not a bad thing but not quite my style. Where Hawthorne can use a lot of words to describe something in a roundabout way, he goes for it! I had to re-read some passages because the I was too busy trying to process all these words to understand what he was saying.


Hawthorne paints a tapestry of the morals of Puritan times - I feel that this was one of the reasons I could relate to little to the book. Even though Hester Prynne is said to be one of the first heroines of American fiction, the statements on women in general and in relation to individual characters felt deeply patriarchal and were grating. Yes, these have to be read in the context of the time, but I could not but be at times a little annoyed. I don't know if Hawthorne did any meaningful research or if this is just what he thought a Puritan society looked like, but the picture he paints is oppressive for anyone with opinions. Still, due to the heroine's unflinching adherence to rules/morality/general good person-ness, society (or people) relent at the end.


I have to give Hawthorne credit for not making his "fallen woman" weak or despiccable but quite principled and with inner strength. Props (and an extra star) for that. I could not relate to Dimmesdale (weak) or Chillingworth (pure evil/plot device). Pearl is uncomfortably described with too much reference to the circumstances in which she was created (sin/evil) even though she apparently turned out all right in the end.  


Overall, and all the more when setting the writing against some of his contemporaries in Europe, I get the feeling that the success of the book stems in part from the relative scarcity of good American writers at that time, and the scarcity of novels set in Puritan times which did - and still do - provide a reference system for American society.


And the introductory tale is just a small minded revenge for being fired from the Custom House. That cost him some of the goodwill I had when picking up the book.

Engaging, restrained, beautiful.

The Garden of Evening Mists - Tan Twan Eng

Malaya, 1949. After studying law at Cambrige and time spent helping to prosecute Japanese war criminals, Yun Ling Teoh, herself the scarred lone survivor of a brutal Japanese wartime camp, seeks solace among the jungle fringed plantations of Northern Malaya where she grew up as a child. There she discovers Yugiri, the only Japanese garden in Malaya, and its owner and creator, the enigmatic Aritomo, exiled former gardener of the Emperor of Japan. Despite her hatred of the Japanese, Yun Ling seeks to engage Aritomo to create a garden in Kuala Lumpur, in memory of her sister who died in the camp. Aritomo refuses, but agrees to accept Yun Ling as his apprentice 'until the monsoon comes'. Then she can design a garden for herself. As the months pass, Yun Ling finds herself intimately drawn to her sensei and his art while, outside the garden, the threat of murder and kidnapping from the guerrillas of the jungle hinterland increases with each passing day. But the Garden of Evening Mists is also a place of mystery. [amazon]


This is an exquisite novel - elegantly crafted, beautifully written, evocatice.


The story unfolds in flashbacks to different times. The pacing is at times very slow but does not drag - instead, I enjoyed the slow pace, the beautiful language and the vivid imagery. I was drawn into the book and it stayed with me for a long time after I finished.


The characterization of the protagonist is criticised by some readers as flat or impersonal. I did not get that feeling - rather, I had the impression of a very restrained and private person who slowly lets us into her mind and her memories.


The story is full of dichotomies - memory and forgetting, war/violence and the peace of the garden, trust and betrayal, honor and shame. These contrasts do not feel manufactured but part of a whole that beautifully comes together.


It is a multi cultured novel. Sometimes, the Japanese art themes were a little too dominant for me. Eng still manages to evoke the beauty and attention to detail that is its basis in a way that made me look closer at the details and enjoy the attention. And you need to pay attention in order to understand the slow unveiling of the complex characters and their development, and perceive their past actions and at times, questionable choices.


The ending - for me - did not feel open or unfinished. I think that the main threads were picked up and resolved, and if there are one or two still hanging in the air - such is life. We cannot answer every question, and we do not need to.


I thoroughly enjoyed the book and was left sad but very peaceful.


Much better review at

Trauer, Verdrängung, Schuld, Verrat

Der Grund - Anne von Canal

Wie oft kann ein Mensch von vorn beginnen?

"Der Grund" erzählt teils in Tagebuchform, teils in Rückblenden die zutiefst traurige Geschichte des zunächst ziemlich unsympatischen Lorenzo/Lawrence/Laurits, eines früheren Arztes, der als Kreuzfahrtpianist arbeitet. Er hat eine distanzierte bis zynische Sicht auf die Welt und die Menschen, und als langsam Stück für Stück die Vergangenheit aufgerollt wird, versteht man, warum er so geworden ist, wie er ist. 


Er wurde in seinem Leben immer wieder gebeutelt: Er hatte eine schwierige Kindheit mit übermächtigem Vater und alkoholkranker Mutter. Sein Traum, Konzertpianist zu werden, scheitert. Gemäß seinem Versprechen an seinen Vater wird er Arzt, findet die große Liebe und erfährt, dass sein Leben auf Sand gebaut ist. Immer wieder schlägt das Leben zu, immer wieder fängt er von vorne an. Das Buch ist bei aller Charakter-Entwicklung kein Coming-of-Age-Roman, sondern eine sehr erwachsene Tragödie.


Vieles ist an Musik aufgehängt, und ich bekam Lust, diese Stücke, die für den Protagonisten bedeutsam sind, anzuhören.


Von Canal schreibt langsam und dicht. Der leicht distanzierte Erzählstil und die wechselnden Blickwinkel schaffen weniger Distanz zum Protagonisten als eine Perspektive, aus der sich dem Leser vieles erschließt, was der Protagonist erst viel später versteht. Dennoch werden die Motive Trauer, Verdrängung, Verrat und Schuld derart intensiv bearbeitet, dass ich emotional völlig gefangen war.


Zutiefst traurig, sehr lesenswert.


Raising Steam - Terry Pratchett

A new invention has arrived in Ankh-Morpork - a great clanging monster of a machine that harnesses the power of all of the elements: earth, air, fire and water. This being Ankh-Morpork, it's soon drawing astonished crowds, some of whom caught the zeitgeist early and arrive armed with notepads and very sensible rainwear.


Steam is rising over Discworld, driven by Mister Simnel, the man wi' t'flat cap and sliding rule who has an interesting arrangement with the sine and cosine. It is managed by Moist von Lipwig, charmer and scoundrel extraordinaire who is under pressure from the Patrician (not wanting to stand in the way of progress but rather harness it). Moist will have to grapple with gallons of grease, goblins and some very angry dwarfs if he's going to stop it all going off the rails.


Raising Steam is less absurd than many earlier Discworld novels. The world has moved on from the Middle Ages into something akin to Victorian times (that development was already ver pronounced in earlier Lipwig centric books), and Magic is a sidenote and not a major player. The story is ostensibly about technical progress but also includes other subjects that the modern society faces - the coexistence of multiple "races" (human, dwarf, troll, goblin et al.) whcih is a recurring issue, fundamentalists and terrorism.


The story is not a tour de force through the world, through ideas or through a character development like many earlier books of the series. It is more of a nice family outing with nothing much happening. The famous TP humour sometimes glimpses through, but is not a consistent feature. I also miss the depth of character (most notable in Vetinari and Vimes) that the earlier novels had. The main players fall short of their earlier very complex and differentiated build. The obervations of persons and events and the descriptions and statements (ranging from cynic to hilarious) that made it such a pleasure to read and re-read the Discworld novels have made way to a quite straightforward and at times heavy-handed storytelling.


I imagine that the novel will be not very satisfactory either to readers who are not familiar with the Discworld universe. There are many throwbacks to characters and events in the mythology that are not quire explained but are nice for a long time reader who is preparing to say goodbye to this world due to Sir Terry's progressing illness.   


I really wanted to like this book, and I did enjoy reading it, but more out of nostagia for books past than because it is an outstanding read. 

Exciting, rich science fiction

The Windup Girl - Paolo Bacigalupi

The book is set in a dystopian future where nature has more or less collapsed as a consequence of pollution, global warming, abuse of antibiotics, bio-engineering and engineered plagues designed to destroy crops and give power to food companies offering resistant (albeit sterile) seedstock at premium prices. Food is no longer a simple commodity but a valuable resource, and food companies are big players in this world. Humanity is always on the brink of a new plague. This all seems chillingly possible when looking at current times.


The story plays out in Bangkok and is narrated from the point of view of several persons - a Western industrial, a Malay Chinese refugee, a Thai policeman, his female colleague and a bio-engineered woman. All have a different status in society, and that society is exotic, richly painted, brutal and fascinating.


The characters are nicely fleshed out (if not all likeable). I cared a lot about what was happending to them (not always the case for me in science fiction). The story moves at a fast pace without being an action movie in written form. It is brutal, harsh and unjust which corresponds to the society in which it is set. In all its directness, it is seldom voyeristic or violent for the sake of violence. One senses a purpose for the story or the character development. Best of all, and carrying most of the book for me, was this world Bacigalupi invented.


The end felt a little unfinished for me, there are a few points that could still be resolved. It is not a perfect book, and at times I would have liked to see a more in depth discussion of the issues present in this world. However, all in all a very exciting read.


Limit - Frank Schätzing

Die Prämisse ist interessant, trägt aber die weit über tausend Seiten nicht.


Die Geschichte liest sich abwechselnd wie ein Action-Film und ein Besinnungsaufsatz. Rechts und links fallen vorher teils mehr, teils weniger aufwändig eingeführte Figuren um und sind tot. Das ist einerseits nicht schlimm, da keine der Figuren sorgfältig genug aufgebaut war, dass es einem um sie leidtut, andererseits ist es aber sehr ermüdend.


Schätzing hat die Möglichkeiten, die er mit seinem teils dystopischen, teils utopischen Setting gehabt hätte, nicht ausgenutzt. Er hat zwar die eine oder andere meist blutleere Abhandlung zu sozialen, politischen, wirtschaftlichen und Umweltfragen eingeschlossen, aber eine echte Auseinandersetzung oder Einbettung in die Handlung findet kaum statt. Stattdessen hat er einen unnötig langen Krimi mit zu vielen Nebenplots geschrieben, der hin und wieder recht spannend war, alles in allem aber - genau - unbefriedigend.


Ich als erklärte "Wiederleserin" werde das Buch eher nicht nochmal lesen.


Kommt nicht ins Regal, sondern geht in die Tauschbörse.