April 24, 2013

Review: The Skin Map - Stephen Lawhead

I received this book through BookSneeze ("Books are contagious" loved the slogan!), which has a slight focus on religious books, but also has other non-religious books, and The Skin Map, by Stephen Lawhead is a work of fiction - non religious, but aparently from a Christian publisher or something? It seems to pop up on Christian sites around the web.

I was sure I knew that author, but I couldn't place the feeling. I'm pretty sure it's about the "Taliesin" books, I think I wanted to read them, but haven't yet. Now, however, I want to read the sequel to The Skin Map because, as I was very frustrated and excited to find out at the end of The Skin Map, it is only book 1 of a 5 books series. Frustrated because I would have to get more books to find the end of the story (and wait for them to get ready) but excited because it's a great story and I'd be able to savour it for another 4 books (if that makes sense at all).

In The Skin Map we meet Kit Livingstone (real name - Cosimo) who is... No one. Has a sad life, a not-interesting job and an apathic girlfriend Willhelmina (Mina).

Kit goes out to meet his girlfriend one day and, after missing the train, takes a different path, only to stumble into the weirdest of storms and his great-grandfather who had been missing for generations. Cosimo, Kit's great-grandpa, shows him the way to a Ley Line, close by, and they jump into another world, another time and another place. It's a gift, of sorts, and Cosimo needs Kit's help for a quest.

When he goes back and finally gets to his girlfriend place it's late, several hours later that day, and he tries to show her the ley and the jump, so she believes him and doesn't get angry. However, they get separated and, I must say, I like Mina's story much more than Kit's. Mina wasn't a great character at first, I didn't like her, she was whining and complaining and ... Being annoying. But after she makes the jump and ends on her own, she becomes someone else - she becomes an independent, smart and interesting woman, someone with will to live and such fun character! You'd never think they're the same.

Kit, on the other hand, as many pointed out, is not a... Compelling character. He is, sad to say, quite dull. His narrative voice is full of fear and confusion, like he's not quite sure of anything, while Mina's is much more interesting.

Kit and Cosimo start looking for Mina, because being lost, she may endanger the whole universe by creating disturbances in time - when you travel through a Ley Line you end up in another universe, anywhere in time, but if you change something (as a Doctor Who fan, I'd say "if you try to change a fixed point in time") there are consequences and they can be terrible and possibly rip off the universe apart or something. However, the Burley Man (the enemy!) always seem to know where they are and follow them around, looking for The Skin Map.

I don't want to open up more of the plot, but I can tell that Time Travel, Universe Travel, different cultures, we have ALL of those and I really liked it. However, the ending is very frustrating. I only found out then that it wasn't a standalone work, so I was depressed to know that I would have to wait some time to get all the books as only 3 out of the 5 total books were released, although there has been one release each year, so I'm guessing Book #4 comes out this year. Still...

You can buy The Skin Map at Amazon.

The Skin Map's trailer is very well done, so I'll leave that for you here:

April 19, 2013

Review: The Travel Auction - Mark Green

Today we're going to discuss "The Travel Auction" a wonderful book by Mark Green. I had the most amazing time reading it, really liked it, and I believe you are going to like it too, so read on and then read the book!

On one side we have Jonathan who just broke up with his long time girlfriend, Kate Thornly, because of a nasty cheating shortly before they would leave for a three months' trip to South America. The agency refuses to change the name on the ticket and he can't go alone because of a very severe nut allergy that can kill him (specially in places with new food, different languages, all that). Jon decides to do an Ebay auction, looking for a Kate Thornly willing to travel with him in exchange of being ready for nutty emergencies (no pun intended. Ok, maybe a bit).

On the other side we have Angel. Kate Angela Thornly. Angel is pretty, young and a nurse. Perfect! Jon chooses her... Except she's blind, well, pretty much, can't see more than shapes from very close by. And she didn't really enter the auction or submit her picture, her friend Maria did it for her. They set off to adventure either way, it's not like Jon has much of a choice after KT2 (Kate Thornly the Second) proves she's quite able of both handling herself as well as a possible nut allergy reaction.

They head off to Buenos Aires and, as we can guess, of course they don't get along well at first... It's not easy to adapt to a different place or different people, but adapting to another continent, language, people AND someone with impared sight, that's a very tough job.

KT2 is bubbly, cheeky, funny and likes to use her blindness to laugh at people. Jon is a cold analyst, someone who likes to plan things, organize and follow strict rules and plans. KT2 makes him rethink that.

After their first moments, they start to get more at ease with eachother, with Jon having to describe everything he sees, KT2 having to trust someone she doesn't know and who is, by her book, a very boring person and not at all someone she would choose to be around. Jon didn't know how he felt about the trip before he went on it. His mother incentived him, before she died, and so he, an uptight analyst, goes on a spontaneous and barely planned trip.

What we see, later on, is two people learning with each other and working their differences out. It's a book about boundaries and trust, about seeing the wonderful world around us and not just passing by. It's a book about a blind girl climbing the Inca Trail, up to Machu Pichu, and making me incredibly jealous. I love traveling and I live much closer to Machu Pichu than England and yet -I- have never been there. I would love to live on the road, seeing the world, meeting new people, learning new things, eating different foods. So far, I'm left stuck here, waiting for the start.

What really touched my heart, though, was that the Inca Trail is real (I SO want to climb it someday!) and that there was a blind girl that finished it and inspired the author to write the book. Inspired me to do a lot, too.

You can buy The Travel Auction at Amazon or Smashwords. (real cheap, guys, it's worth every cent and many more!)

April 11, 2013

Anna Karenina - The Movie

Anna Karenina

Well hello there! This is very unusual! I don't think I've ever reviewed a movie, but this one, oh, this one I simply must. It HAS been based off of a book, so I think it's a good excuse, right? ;)

I've watched Anna Karenina during Easter and I thought it was AWESOME. The story, of course, being a huge classic, was to be expected - happy and sad, passionate, beautiful, tragic, impressive, emotional... Tragic and sad. Like, double, triple, tragic and sad.

The story is both simple and complex. On a trip to her brother's house in Moscow, Anna meets Count Vronsky and feels this weird and amazing attraction, borderline crazy. Although I can't understand why, maybe on the book he's described in a more... Attractive manner, but the actor, not so much - specially the mustache. Anna (Keira Knightley) is married to Karenin (Jude Law), who is an important senator or something, at the government (sorry, I'm not sure about the proper position/term) and they have a son. Anna resists temptation for two reasons - one, the obvious, she is a faithful and loyal wife in the 1870's Russia, second, her brother's wife's sister is in love with Vronsky and was expecting a proposal for him on the very night he meets Anna at a ball.

Anna goes back to St. Petersburg and Vronsky goes after her, follows her around all parties and get togethers where she goes. Eventually, everyone is noticing. He's getting ridiculous. He's offered a promotion and asks her if she wants him to go... But no, of course. She can't accept and can't give in. It's a beautiful, terrible and heartbreaking decision. When her husband confronts her saying that, maybe, without noticing, she's given people reason to talk she replies "it's too late", because (and she doesn't say that, but you can feel it) she didn't only give people reason to talk, she's given her heart, her mind and soul to Vronsky (despite the terrible mustache - no really, what's with the mustache?).

I won't go into more detail on the story, but I have to say, I haven't felt this passionate about a movie in a while, I'm usually very drawn to musicals (Rent, Chicago, Phantom of the Opera), but I managed to even dream about Anna Karenina.

Keira Knightley is amazing, beautiful, passionate, crazy. She can translate the character so beautifully, with her faces and looks and the way she can change from rage to love.

I didn't like Vronsky, I must say, the mustache bothered me, but more than anything, he felt... Conquering. I mean, Anna was always doubting him and thinking he was going to find someone else, but he wasn't exactly emotional. I felt like he was only worried about defying the other people, trying to be a rebel, in love with a married woman, but decided to get her all to himself. When she surrenders to him, he still seems to be defying the whole world that thinks they don't belong together... But when all the new wears off and Anna starts getting a little bit ... Off. He seems to distance himself - he isn't judged by society, he is a man after all - his friends don't distance themselves, he's still invited to parties and all that, people still want to marry him. He's not disgraced, but she is.

Karenin is a complex character. Even after knowing his wife's lover, he's still with her and refuses to divorce her. It's a shame for him, he tries to pretend all is normal out of love. For her, for their child, for everything. Without marriage with him, she would be disgraced and would never see their son again. Jude Law is fantastic as Karenin, the emotion he tries not to show but does, the shame and confusion, the pain.

I'm eager to get to the book, I'm sure it'll be beautiful, but I'm glad I watched the movie first, as I'll never be able to forget Keira and Jude's performance as Anna and Karenin.