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The Eleven

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I was a little stunned when I found out this book was awarded a prize from l'Académie française, although upon reflection, it does fall in the tradition of the very pedantic vieille France, so it seems a good fit.I struggled from the start and was relieved that it was a short book. As much as I tried to be interested in events and characters, the pretentious address, the distancing from the characters (their feeling, emotions, growth), the glimpses into history with no context and continuity constantly rebuked me. I just didn't care.When I saw that the painting didn't exist, it further alienated me from the story though it did give me an appreciation for the literary quality: I really was taken by the authenticity of both the painter and picture (made me feel better that I couldn't remember it from my numerous visits to the Louvre!).Overall a disappointing read. Not one that I would recommend due to its lack of an engaging quality.
The Black Dahlia

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A creepy tale with a weird cast of characters, I had a hard time identifying with any of the characters. While the plot was vivid and the twists compelling, I found the moral darkness and turpitude made this book a difficult read. Whether it's Lee, Bucky or Kate, none seem to fit 'the good guy' profile making the entire story navigate in murky waters - which is the point.I did love the style, however. Ellroy does a terrific job of conveying the late 40s swag attitude which fits right in with Raymond Chandler or Dashiel Hammett mysteries.
Breaking the Code

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It's always a bit of a challenge to read a play without having seen it. This one is particularly difficult because it skips in time from childhood to war efforts and post war events and back again; visual cues from the stage would make the transition easier than on the page.This said, this 'time warping' is an effective ploy to recount not only Alan Turing's professional contributions (computing and cryptography) but also his personal difficulties. It gives a very tight account of the man in his research, his personality and the main events of his life. Despite the very technical nature of his work, it is explained in an easily accessible fashion, with a sense of wonder. Generally a precise look at a man's extraordinary contribution.
For Whom the Bell Tolls

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What struck me most in this novel was the language. Hemingway of course is known for his journalistic style, but there it was his willingness to mirror the Spanish language, making the distinction between the thou and the you to demonstrate familiarity and ultimately emotion.The politics were well explained without being burdening; the cultural aspects and the horrors of the war are very moving and bring the readers into the story, especially at the end, where we are left alone with Jordan. Finally, I liked the flashback to the American Civil War - it made me better understand why Jordan was there in the first place, so all ties in well from a historical and psychological perspective. Definitely a tour de force.
419

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There are many things that I liked about this novel, but as many that I disliked. I found that the descriptions of Nigeria were outstanding, from life in the Delta, to Lagos and the various adventures, there is a true sense that the author did much research and imbibed himself in the culture and geography. I also enjoyed the contrast between Canada and Africa, flipping from two points of view. But that's about it.I thought the structure was laborious and sometimes downright dull (Amina's introduction as the girl in the Sahel felt pointlessly long); there were too many gaps and asides to consistently keep my interest up. The main characters, apart from Nnamdi, were unpleasant and downright callous; I had no sympathy for Laura who was both selfish and cowardly. Despite lengthy descriptions, I didn't feel the characters grow or change, in fact I felt that they were fickle (Nnamdi getting into shady dealings and Winston wanting to turn a new leaf). Not to mention the plot that was full of holes and inconsistencies.I enjoyed reading it from the African perspective but would not recommend it.
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do, and How to Change

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I thoroughly enjoyed this analysis of habits on a personal, organisational and social level. Very descriptive and engaging, it gives both theory and concrete examples of how little habits and little changes can turn into big results. Although the premise is very simple, the analysis is not, as demonstrated in his various scenarios and requires a clear and, as much as possible, objective outlook. Because we are engrossed in our habits, we often fail to detect them.The research in the field is absolutely fascinating and one can only wonder at the applications it can have beyond the commercial examples Duhigg gives. I'll be curious to try out the simple five question survey he gives in the annex to see if I can actually detect certain habits I may have, and see if they are applicable in a wider context of, say, a family or a team.An intriguing and compelling read.
The Cider House Rules

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Years ago, I discovered A Prayer for Owen Meany and loved it. I've read other books by Irving since, always happily but never with the same degree of passion. This novel carried the same passion. Discussing abortion is not easy, but Irving masters the topic: discrete, passionate, convincing, respectful, he does a tremendous job of bringing his point across without dismissing the seriousness of the decision and its implications.The storyline itself is delightful, full of ambiguities and deep emotion, tact and subtlety. It carries, of course, Irving's trademark humour and stamp of tall tales. It's compelling and intrinsically novelistic: there's just no putting the book down. A book that will stay with me for a long time.
Sutton

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I thought the author did a terrific job pulling all the different strings of Willie Sutton's life: it stays sensational through the descriptions of his adventures, daring escapes, and infallible love, but through the eyes of an old man, his life is tainted by nostalgia making it human and emotional. I was on edge until the very end as we are brought through the twists and turns of Sutton's memories clashing with reality and hearsay, further perfecting the myth of an unknowable man. I was enchanted and intrigued, transported in a new world and completely wrapped up in the story. Marvelous.
A Week with Fiona Wonder: A Novel

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A very poignant story told by a young girl who wants to believe in kindness and wonder but is in alternation too protected or too bullied to find her place. Caught between her mother's illness and dreams and her best friend's greed and selfishness, she struggles to find her voice, come to terms with a harsh reality that spares no one. The feelings are potent and described with sensitivity - one cannot help but relate to Mercy and feel for her pain and disillusionment.There is also a strong social message about poverty and economical waste, a society that let greed and power strangle a nation and crush its people to the point where even dreams are shattered. I found the conclusion a bit succinct, but with it lives my hope that Mercy will succeed despite what she thinks.
1984

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I admit: I had a hard time getting to and through this book. There are times when one feels obliged to read something and, well, this time, it didn't feel like I accomplished much - probably because so much literature has stemmed from it that it doesn't feel new anymore. In fact, certain passages were so dull (notably the reading of Goldstein's tract) that I put down the book for weeks. I didn't feel that it had the originality of Animal Farm nor its adroit structure.The book is saved by its ending - so distressing in its cruel minutia, a look at the layers of the human soul and intelligence both in its resilience and horrible thoroughness. Ultimately, it gave me a better understanding and appreciation for the movie Brazil and for the legacy this book has left in our culture.
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