Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Rikinkeltainen taivas - Kjell Westö

'What's happened in the book?' Daniel asked me many times while I was reading this.
'Nothing much,' I responded, every time.


I downloaded BookBeat on my phone mostly so that I could listen to more Finnish books (looking at you, Audible) and this was the first book I picked up, mostly because it's one of my mum's recent favourites and also rather popular otherwise.

Rikinkeltainen taivas ('Sulfur-Yellow Sky', free translation) is Helsinki-based author Kjell Westö's seventh novel. Like his previous works, the original text is in Swedish ('Den svavelgula himlen') but I read the Finnish translation. The book is set in Helsinki and spans from the 1960s to the present day. It's the story of the Narrator (he never gets a name, how cool is that? Fight Club feelings.) meeting the wealthy Alex and Stella Rabell and their lives both together and apart. And honestly, that's all that really happens in this book - the rest of it is just life.

It's a little weird, granted. There's no real drama arc or really anything else. However, Westö writes these characters so real and genuine, I found myself really enjoying the real life of someone who doesn't even exist. This is because you rarely get a real person you don't even know telling you about their life this honestly.

I didn't give this a full 5/5 because... well. I hear a lot of people say this wasn't Westö's best work and I feel like he can probably do a little better still, and I want to leave some space for that. Maybe he could do all this, but also have something happen in it?

I hope one day I'll be able to read Westö's works in Swedish (don't laugh at me for this, mum!). Sometimes in this book people specifically speak Swedish and sometimes Finnish, and that just doesn't really translate.

Thursday, 12 April 2018

A Darker Shade of Magic - V.E Schwab

''Do you trust anything?' he countered, rubbing his wrist. 'Or anyone, for that matter?'
The queen considered him, her pale lips curling at the edges. 'The bodies in my floor all trusted someone. Now I walk on them to tea.''


Hello again!

Daniel got me this book in London last December!! I wanted it because it looked and sounded exciting, and it definitely turned out to be that way too. And it's also set in London, sort of.

A Darker Shade of Magic is a pretty complex book, so bear with me. The main character, Kell, is one of the last Antari. The Antari have magic powers that allow them to travel between Londons: White, Red, Grey and Black. White London is a powerhungry country torn by civil war, while Red is Kell's homeland, where magic still thrives. Grey is 'our' London, without magic, and Black London has been destroyed by magic. When Kell makes a foul trade and meets pickpocket Delilah Bard in Grey London, they have to fix things and save all of the Londons from dark magic.

This book was a little heavy to get into because of all the lore and how the story spends a lot of time at the beginning establishing all of it. When I did get into it, it was a very innovative and unique take on this kind of a magic fantasy story. I don't know if the beginning could have been handled somehow a little better, since later on I regretted not paying enough attention to the little details that were thrown at me early on.

Lila Bard was a great character, and probably one of the most relatable female characters I've ever read of. She was both strong and weak and proud but also honest, and it was easy to imagine I would do the same things, if I were in her shoes. She's also the kind of female main I'd write in my story too.

Kell himself was also a well-written and quite balanced character. The 'one of the last magical beings' -thing could easily get a little overpowered, but he didn't feel that way to me. He doesn't flaunt his specialness around. A side mention also to Kell's brother Rhy's, the heir to the throne of the Red London - he was just such a precious character and I want good things to happen to him.

The thing I'll mark this down for is the heavy beginning, and also the fact that I didn't necessarily fall in love with this book as heavily as I could have. Also, there was a plot twist I think I foresaw that didn't happen yet - that's going to bother me until I read the sequel. I will read the sequel, though, so that's saying a lot!

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Every Day - David Levithan

'It's one thing to fall in love. It's another to feel someone else fall in love with you, and to feel a responsibility toward that love.'



Hello!

Every Day by David Levithan is the story of A, who has spent their whole life living in a different body, a different life every day. A has gotten very good at changing and not getting attached, until one day he's in the body of Justin and meets his girlfriend Rhiannon. Soon A starts wanting to be with Rhiannon, not just a day, but every day.

This book is one of those books that you can't think too much on or it all falls apart. Like, why does all of this happen? Why is the jump contained geographically and through A's age (they are 16, so will only jump to people who are the same age)? If you want to enjoy the book for what it is, you kind of just have to roll with what it is.

Through the jumps, Levithan takes the opportunity to tell many little stories with topics such as suicide, being transgender, illegal immigrants, religion and the like. Some of these were pretty cool while others were a bit half-hearted, more there for the sake of talking about it than actually needing to talk about it. In the end, only maybe one or two of them were actually relevant to anything else in A's life, which was a bit of a shame. To be a book with so many characters but only two of them mean anything, it's kind of poor.

Rhiannon is very likeable, and I could see what A would see to make them fall in love, but on the other hand A does fall head over heels for her very suddenly and a little bit for no reason, something Rhiannon calls them out on. That being said, their relationship hardly seemed functional to me. Rhiannon doesn't feel like she can be with someone when she can't be sure who and where the other person will be the next day. A wants Rhiannon to see behind the body and love A for who they are. But really? There isn't much 'A' to speak of, because they've never had a life of their own. And yes, that's cruel and unfair, but it was a little difficult for me to relate to A because of this. They felt a bit like they had given up, and Rhiannon becomes their whole life in a way that was a little annoying.

The writing of this book was rather good, and I felt like it described the different lives and people quite well. Even though I didn't necessarily relate to A, I still felt for their struggle to just exist. There's some honestly heartfelt moments throughout the story.

This book was maybe more like a 3.5 for me, but I rounded it up because I quite liked the ending. I was wondering how it was all going to tie together in the end and I thought it may have been going one way, but what happened was much better than what I had imagined. I will definitely check out Levithan's other works too.

Oh, and there's a sequel from Rhiannon's point of view, which I'll probably pick up sooner or later since she was pretty likeable and I could've lived with some more of her. There's also another sequel coming up, but I don't fully understand what it's about? Well, anyway. Hear from you soon!

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

'But I'm tired of coming out. All I ever do is come out. I try not to change, but I keep changing, in all these tiny ways. I get a girlfriend. I have a beer. And every freaking time, I have to reintroduce myself to the universe all over again.'



Hello!!

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (I'll just call it 'Simon vs.' after this, I think) has the titular Simon in an online relationship with 'Blue'. When Simon comes out as gay to the world without his own decision, he has to figure out what is that he wants to do next.

As far as the characters go, Blue was my favourite. Simon I liked also. But the others - the sisters, parents, friends... They all stayed quite distant to me throughout the journey, even though they seemed like nice people and their interactions with Simon definitely brought something to his character.

I don't think this book needs to be a gay story (even though it definitely is, a rather good one too), because it's definitely something feel most people can relate to. Referring to the quote I picked to start this review with, Simon is bothered by how he feels like he's constantly changing, and such is the case especially when you're growing up and constantly growing out of yourself from yesterday. Hence I'd like to contest almost everyone has at some point struggled with the hassle of 'coming out', which is one of the stronger aspects of this book.

Unfortunately, Simon vs. is another one of those very American young adult books that are starting to wear me out. It's probably very relatable to people who live there and do things Simon does every day, but to me it felt alien and kind of killed some of the immersiveness. Is that a problem that has to do with me, or the book? This time, I'm going to say it's the book.

Here's the reason: I feel like in another culture, this bombardment of information would possibly be done in a more thoughtful way. For an example, when I read 'The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane', there wasn't much pre-existing knowledge of Chinese culture required of me. But Simon vs. is constantly speaking about Poptarts and bleachers and Reese's - things I know in passing from all the times I'm assumed to know them in American pop culture, but also things I'm never fully explained. I never gain a confidence that I fully understand what they mean. Maybe it means that the book assumes it's written primarily for an American - a fair assumption, to be fair - but it's just a bit of a shame.

On the bright side, Simon vs. is set in Atlanta, Georgia, just like Gone With the Wind. It's mainly so exciting because I would never have recognised is as the same place if it wasn't named. as such It's weird what can happen in 130 years or so.

I will definitely read Albertalli's books in the future as well (this autumn, there will be a collaboration effort between her and Adam Silvera, which sounds so exciting!). Even though this one wasn't my favourite, I still found it quite enjoyable.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Gone With the Wind - Margaret Mitchell

'I'm tired of everlastingly being unnatural and never doing anything I want to do. I'm tired of acting like I don't eat more than a bird, and walking when I want to run and saying I feel faint after a waltz, when I could dance for two days and never get tired. I'm tired of saying, 'How wonderful you are!' to fool men who haven't got one-half of the sense I've got, and I'm tired of pretending I don't know anything, so men can tell me things and feel important while they're doing it.'

Hello!

Now that all my 2017 books are reviewed, here's the first book I read in 2018, from my Christmas break spent in Finland. I think I can safely say it's also the best book I will read this year. What a
terrible idea to get a jackpot on the first book!
I had the absolute pleasure to read mum's beautiful copies
from the 1970s!!
Anyway, the spoiler is that I really liked this book. My mum's been telling me to read it for a while now and I can only speculate why I haven't read it before. Well, to be honest, I think I know why. 
You see, Gone With the Wind clearly has a reputation of some sort. I've heard it being called one of the greatest love stories of all time and all that, and I think it's really downplaying the importance of this masterpiece. It is a love story, sure, and it is a great one. But it's also a story about war and misfortune and death and misery and unfairness and inequality and racism and patriarchy and a million of things that I find should be mentioned before it's just branded a romantic book for women.  Heck, Margaret Mitchell herself stated that the primary theme of this book is 'survival'. That's not really anything we should outright label as a women's silly little pastime.

The books had these lovely pictures from
the movie!!
'Life's under no obligation to give us what we expect. We take what we get and are thankful it's no worse than it is.'

Scarlett O'Hara is without a doubt one of the best-written characters I've met in any book. She's self-centered, spoiled and shallow in the beginning and she's still all of these things in the end, but the growth of her character is so well-written and believable. She's stubborn and she refuses to give up when her world turns to ash around her, unlike most of the other characters who just cling to the past. She's the most beautiful girl and she knows it, but she's also so sincere in just wanting to live her life having fun that she's hard to not like. She's also much more intelligent than she's allowed to be for a woman in her time, which I really enjoyed as well.

'After all, tomorrow is another day.'





All of the other characters are so good as well. There's Scarlett's crush Ashley, attractive and artistic and incredibly unsuited for Scarlett and probably so attractive to her because of it. The Tara household also has a black caretaker called Mammy, who's incredibly difficult not to like. Scarlett's sister-in-law Melanie is basically the kindest person ever and everything else Scarlett doesn't even
want to be but she still thinks the world of Scarlett, and Rhett Butler is a charming scoundrel who doesn't care to even try and gain the approval of the Southern nobles. He's also the only one not to fall for Scarlett's charm, and the two of these are the main romance of the book. I must say that it was impossible for me to not smile every time Rhett was around, because his character was so enjoyable to have around and such a great fit for Scarlett, insofar as anyone could be.
Melanie on the left and Rhett and Ashley on the right

Scarlett and Rhett's relationship is probably so memorable and iconic because it's not the standard love at first sight -kind. These two characters challenge each other and dance around each other constantly, and never quite settle into a comfortable relationship. In a way, even the aspect of this book that you should be able to take comfort in is a constant battle.

'No, my dear, I'm not in love with you, no more than you are with me, and if I were, you would be the last person I'd ever tell. God help the man who ever really loves you. You'd break his heart, my darling, cruel, destructive little cat who is so careless and confident she doesn't even trouble to sheathe her claws.'

The historical setting of this book is the American Civil War. What I knew about the war beforehand could be summed up in the following two points: 1) the South wanted to keep slaves and 2) the South lost. And while that's kind of the gist of it, this book made me understand how it was much more complicated and many-sided. Margaret Mitchell was from Atlanta, Georgia herself, and much of the historical aspects are based in her own experiences and the stories she heard. You could probably argue that the story takes sides, but to me it felt rather sincere about what it was trying to get across. This war is not part of my heritage, but I cared and weeped for the characters going through the hardships regardless, because it all felt so real.

So yes, 5/5, I loved it, I want to go back in time to not having read it but I also don't want to not have read it. Please read it and talk to me about it.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

2017 in Books

Hello!


Happy 2018!! (I don't know when I'll get used to that, if ever)

So this post is a little bit overdue maybe, so I'll just get right to it. I read more books in 2017 than any year before it, so it's only fair I do some statistics / recap of them et cetera.

In total, I read 56 books. According to Goodreads, that's about 18,606 pages but I'll take that with a pinch of salt since I might have logged in some different editions and so on.

Out of those books,
17 were Finnish (30.3%)
20 were in Finnish (35.7%)
36 were in English (64.3%)
18 were British (32.1%)
32 were written by women (57.1%)
24 were written by men (42.9%).

11 were on the Kindle (19.6%)
10 were audiobooks (one was a podcast!) (17.8%)
35 were traditional books. (58.9%)

7 had main LGBT relationships (I excluded token gays from this because bleh) (12.5%)
4 were from outside North America, UK and Finland (7.1%) (This is something I'd really like to improve in 2018, I'm rather tired of all the US-centric literature especially)

I rated 15 books 5/5 (probably the easiest way to see them is here)
and only one book 1/5 (it was Charisma by Jeanne Ryan).

I also participated in, and completed, the Helmet 2017 reading challenge, which was 50 books in different categories such as 'animal on the cover', 'a book about faith or religion' and 'a book where nobody dies'. It was a lot of fun and had me picking up a lot of books I probably wouldn't have read otherwise, so it was a very good experience.

I also completed my Goodreads Reading Goal, which was set at 30 books. That was mostly due to the former reading challenge, of course. While both of these challenges were really fun and, well, challenging, they did make me pick up a lot of books that were short and probably ignore a lot of great ones. Because of this, I decided not to take on any reading challenges this year. It's kind of nice, for a change.

I also personally wanted to read more Finnish books, which was questionably successful(?) because living in the UK, it's kind of difficult to get my hands on as many of them as I'd like. Still, 17 isn't too shabby. I'll definitely continue with my challenge in the future too!

So that's that for 2017! Hopefully this year I'll have more specific stats for you, I'll try to make them as I go this time.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Suomen historia - Petri Tamminen

'Sotalapset

Me oltiin siskon kanssa niin pieniä vielä, että suomen kieli unohtui meiltä Ruotsissa nopeasti. Kun palasimme sodan jälkeen kotiin Kajaaniin, äiti ei ymmärtänyt meitä eikä me äitiä. Istuttiin siskon kanssa kammarin pöydän alla ja itkettiin. Lopulta äiti keksi, että mennään apteekkiin. Apteekkari osasi ruotsia. Ne ensimmäiset kuukaudet käytiinkin sitten melkein joka päivä apteekissa. Hymyiltiin jo ovelta, kun nähtiin apteekkari, ja apteekkari hymyili, kun se näki meidät.'

'War Childen

We were still so young with my sister,that we forgot the Finnish language quickly in Sweden. When we came back home to Kajaani after the war, mum didn't understand us and we didn't understand mum. We sat with my sister under the chamber table and cried. Finally mum came up with us going to the pharmacy. The apothecary knew Swedish. Those first months we went to the pharmacy almost every day. We would smile already at the door, when we saw the apothecary, and the apothecary too smiled when they saw us.'



Hello!

Suomen historia ('History of Finland') is a nonfiction book with little every day stories in a chronological order from Finnish people throughout the last 100 years. The timing is natural as it came out to commemorate our 100 years of independence. My brother actually got this book for my mum as a Christmas present, so naturally I picked it up to give it a read as well, and it became the last book I read in 2017. (I bet mum still hasn't read it now!)

The stories are quite short, one or two little pages each, like the one I picked to showcase you at the top. Some of them were really cute and heartfelt, some of them were a little less easy to understand. As a whole, on the other hand... Well, I don't really feel like there was a 'whole' to talk about here. The stories were cute and Finnish and about Finland, but there wasn't really a connecting thread going on.

Something nice about the book was also that it went through so many important Finnish events - the wars, The Unknown Soldiers, the presidents, Nokia and all that. There's so many things in this book that I think any Finn can find something relate to.

That being said, if I had compiled this book, I would have definitely found more stories so that the least strong ones could have been left out. It could also maybe have benefitted from talking to younger people as well, because a lot of the stories felt to me like they were a bit... 'Kekkonen-era'. Regardless, it was a nice little book with some really lovely stories that made me really happy and proud. Happy hundred years and many more hundreds to go, Finland!

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

History is All You Left Me - Adam Silvera

'There's an alternate universe where we're a crew of three, so tight and unbreakable we don't need a fourth to even it out for me. Where a fourth would only be trouble. Jackson drives, you're sitting shotgun, I'm yelling at you both to turn up the volume when our anthem comes on, and we all sing so loudly the radio doesn't stand a chance against our slightly off-key, comfortable chorus. But that's not a universe any of us lives in, unfortunately.'

Hi again!

Here's another book by Adam Silvera, who wrote They Both Die at the End. I was so impressed with that one I picked this up for the Kindle pretty much right away (even after I said I'd wait). And I guess it's safe to say that I was much less impressed with History is All You Left Me. In this one, our OCD-ridden main character has to deal with the death of his ex-boyfriend, best friend and the one he thought he'd be with forever, Theo. He becomes friends with Theo's new boyfriend, Jackson, in an effort to collect all the remaining pieces of Theo's life. And there may even be something Griffin's not even admitting to himself...

I think the main plot of this book, as described above, is solid enough. The execution, however, was a little... sloppy? I found myself skimming through the latter two thirds of this book because I wasn't really invested in Griffin and Theo's relationship, which was mostly told in flashbacks. There's also not all that much happening in this book, plot-wise. I also didn't like most of the characters - the main three came across as somewhat horrible people and also kind of removed from everyone else.

The book is beautifully written, though. I picked up many nice quotes like the one I used at the top. The book also started out very thought-provoking. Towards the end the plot just got really weird, and I found it difficult to remain invested. 

Regardless of how this wasn't really the book for me, I'll be reading Adam Silvera's other works too whenever I come across them.

Monday, 26 February 2018

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane - Lisa See

Hello!



Another one of my December 2017 reads was the audiobook The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane (I'll just call it Tea Girl in the future!) by Lisa See. The book is about an Akha minority girl called Li-Yan who has to abandon her baby, which is then adopted to America and raised in Pasadena. It's also about tea, heritage, beliefs, minorities and ancestry.

I'll be the first to admit I had never heard of the Akha people before. I guess it would be naïve to suggest that a country with the sheer size of China wouldn't have ethnic minorities living especially in the rural areas, and the Akha are but one of them. The book does an excellent job describing their ways of living, their beliefs and traditions, and I do feel like I know a lot more now. Li-Yan doesn't even speak the Han majority language (Chinese) at the beginning of the book. Tea Girl also taught me a lot more about, well, tea. Like, a lot. I had never before thought so much about the different qualities of tea, the processes and their value... That was one of the strongest aspects of the book for me. Unfortunately these two of my favourite things I could have just as easily gotten by reading a nonfiction book (insofar as those exist) about these topics. The more fictional aspects of this book I found lacking, to say the least.

Li-Yan was mostly likeable. She was okay. There's not that much to say about her, because she was mostly defined through other people; as a daughter, as a wife, as a mother. Her daughter Haley on the other hand was unbearable. She was given an awful American whiny voice in the audiobook, and she was an ungrateful brat. First she whines about not being able to be in touch with her Chinese heritage, then her parents take her to China(!!!) and she whines about what horrible people they are for doing so(???). Rich people problems, I tell you.

And really, I'm aware Lisa See is American and she's famous for her portrayal of China/America, but I would have enjoyed this book at least 75% more if it wasn't so awfully American. I don't only mean how the story eventually migrates to the US, but also how even before that it feels a lot like rich white people trying to 'go down to the level of less intelligent ethnic minorities', if that makes sense. What I mean is, even the China portion felt somehow talked down to, and as if the characters weren't allowed to be all that smart just because they weren't Western. And of course, we have the white savior trope. 

So, all in all I was divided about this book. Half of it I really enjoyed and half of it I really disliked. I cut it neatly in half and gave it 3/5 for that.

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Juurihoito - Miika Nousiainen

'Ilta jatkuu hilpeänä ja seurueemme pitää valtavaa älämölöä. Ympäröivistä pöydistä vilkuillaan paheksuvasti. Nautin tilanteesta. Vihdoinkin minulla on perhe jota hävetä. Kyllä ihminen läheisiltään rakkautta saa, mutta nämä hetket jolloin saa hävetä läheisiään, ovat korvaamattomia.'

'The evening continues to be cheerful and our entourage is making a huge racket. From the surrounding tables they are glancing disapprovingly. I enjoy the situation. Finally I have a family to be ashamed of. Sure a person gets love from their relatives, but these moments when you get to be ashamed of them are irreplaceable.'

Heyo!

I realise I read this book in December... Where have I been? At home and at uni and reading books and just growing my backlog of reviews to do. Hopefully in the next (couple of) week(s) I'll have reviews up for my last four 2017 books and then I'll move on to the seven(!) I've already reviewed this year. Whoops!



My brother borrowed me this book to 'read for my blog' - thank you! I finished it on Independence Day, so it really has been a while. It joins Metsäjätti in the books I've reviewed on this blog by the author, but my favourite is still Vadelmavenepakolainen, to which I'll probably forever be comparing the author's other works.

Juurihoito ('Root Canal Therapy') is a story of two long-lost brothers who meet by chance and find out that their father is a serial family leaver. They set out to find out more about their father, and along the way, meet new siblings across the globe, each with a similar story. The first two siblings are Pekka and Esko, the first works in advertisement and the second a dentist. The first is happy and has a child and an ex-wife, the second is very serious and a little lonely, and the group only grows with every trip to the other side of the globe.

The siblings were definitely one of the better things in this book - they were all so similar, yet different, and their interactions were an absolute delight to follow. I think anyone who's ever had / witnessed siblings will relate to it in some way.

As mentioned previously, I think Miika Nousiainen is at his strongest when he's describing Finland and being Finnish. This book has that too, even though it's set largely abroad. It also talks about some more global issues but while these were really interesting, I felt the visits were too brief to really get into it. Maybe if it was a little more selective (or longer), the book would have been able to really focus on them better.

I think I'd have to put this one under Metsäjätti on the scale of the author's works, not because it was necessarily worse in any way, but because it just didn't give me that many feelings during its course. I kind of think of it fondly now, but I still don't remember much of what happened. It's a solid 3/5 but I probably wouldn't really read it again.