Amados Gatos by José Jorge Letria

Rating: *** (3 out of 5)

Review: Amados Gatos, or “Beloved Cats”, is book of short stories inspired by the cats of various famous people, mainly writers. The stories portray a deeply intimate, symbiotic relationship that I suspect people who don’t have and love cats will have trouble understanding. I adore cats and have felt exactly what it means to have them as companions, so while I enjoyed reading this book, I do wish the author had balanced the nostalgic, sometimes tragic tales with a little bit of the happiness he would sometimes mention, but which remained largely unexplored.

For those that are interested in the relationship between writers and their cats, I recommend this website: “Writers and Kitties“, which is sort of like this book in pictorial form, while also showing that look of pride and love most people have when they’re with their cats.

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Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Rating: ***** (5 out of 5)

Review: After reading this I realized one thing. It is much easier to write a review about a book you didn’t like than about one that deeply touched you.

For once I’m not going to describe the plot, since I can’t think of a way to do it without over simplifying it. Suffice to say that “Life of Pi” may not be for everyone – it’s not, after all, just a simple story, and at times it’s closer to philosophy than fiction – but in the right state of mind, it can be breathtaking. It certainly was for me.

This book is about transformation, faith, humanity, survival. The writing is beautiful, equal parts crude and delicate. I honestly can’t think of anything else to say other than “read with an open mind”. Highly recommended.

The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks

Rating: **** (4 out of 5)

Background: You may be wondering why anyone would spend money on a book that teaches you how to survive a zombie outbreak. Maybe, on the contrary, this makes all the sense in the world to you, and if so, feel free to skip my little paragraph on background. To the former, I assure you I am not crazy. Do read on.

I have spent many nights in my life suffering from insomnia. I’ve tried everything from medication to self-relaxation techniques, but when it hits you hard, there’s little you can do but wait until sleep arrives. As I’m usually too tired to read or watch videos, I resort to leaving my mind free to wander to whatever it feels like at the moment. As it turns out, zombies are often the subject of my late night musings. I’ve spent countless hours wondering what I would do in the case of a zombie outbreak: where I would go to, how I would get there, what kind of supplies I would need to survive, etc. I’m not even sure why – I don’t particularly care for zombie fiction or even actually believe in them – but there you have it. Finally, I did what I always do with my obsessions: find books written on the subject. And that’s how I came across this one.

Review: This is a small, but comprehensive guide against the living dead, that covers everything from symptoms (and how to recognize an outbreak), to weapons, to types of terrain, to starting over in the case of a complete zombie domination. It is by no means a detailed guide, since most topics only get a superficial treatment, and I doubt it would be enough in the case of an actual outbreak but it’s a start.

A little piece of advice. If, like me, you’re thinking about getting this book in order to feel a bit more prepared and less obsessed with zombie attacks… Don’t pick it up. Really. I actually had nightmares with zombies while reading this book (talk about being suggestible!) and I couldn’t stop obsessing at how ill-prepared I was for dealing with an undead attack. In the end, my advice would be to live life to the fullest until the zombies come out… Because chances are you won’t be able to survive.

I haven’t decided what to read next. Duty calls for an art book, while my mind craves some nice fiction to get my creative juices flowing… Maybe I should start practicing reading two books at the same time.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Rating: ***** (5 out of 5)

Background: I found this book through some of Goodreads‘ best-of lists. People seemed to like it a lot, and the premise sounded interesting, so I gave it a go.

Review: In a post-apocalyptic future, a country has been divided into thirteen Districts (each focused on a specific industry), and ruled by a government based on the Capitol. When the districts decide to rebel against the tyranny of the Capitol, a bloody war ensues, and, following the defeat of the insurgence (and the destruction of District 13), the government creates the Hunger Games as an annual reminder to the districts of who is truly in charge. In these Games, twelve boys and twelve girls, aged from 12 to 18, are randomly selected from each district, and set loose in an arena to kill each other, while the rest of the country watches. Only one can be the winner.

Katniss, the protagonist, is a sixteen year-old girl from District 12, the poorest of the districts, who has learned from early on the hardships of life, and hunts illegally to keep food on her family’s table. When her little sister’s name is called out at the selection, she steps forward and volunteers to take her place, knowing that by doing so she is signing her own death sentence.

This was an incredible book. For once my expectations were met, and exceeded. This is young adult in tone, but asks for more maturity than most YA books out there, since this is a very cruel, realistic world. The Games are of such a macabre nature that is hard to explain, but in the context of the world makes complete sense. The betting of rich people on each contestant, the way everyone tries to manipulate sympathies, the devices the gamemakers use to force contestants to go where they want and confront one another… It’s a very sick game, but one that is easily imaginable, considering all the horrible reality shows that already exist out there. I’m pretty sure something like this would exist if it wasn’t illegal.

The plot is good, though not entirely unpredictable, but the characters are excellent. Katniss is believable as someone who knows what she must do to survive, someone who understands the rules of the game, but is still not cynical enough to be immune to the perversity that permeates everything. The author does a very good job of presenting the world through her eyes, fleshing out the other characters while still being able to leave the question of whether they are a friend or a foe in the air.

The premise may not be the most original (I’ve heard it was based on Battle Royale), but it’s such a well-written book that it doesn’t matter. It’s sure to keep you glued to the pages, suffering for the characters, until the very end. Highly recommended.

P.S. I couldn’t find the cover of the book I own, it’s similar to the one I posted here, but it shows someone who I assume to be Peeta, the fellow contestant from District 12 (since it’s a blond boy with blue eyes). The one at the top of this post shows Katniss, highly distinguishable with the mockingjay pin in her jacket. A nice touch.

What’s Next: I added Battle Royale to my wish-list. Also, the next book in the Hunger Games series is coming out soon, and I will definitely want to read it.

Well, I didn’t start Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell after all. It’s such a huge book that I found it too daunting to get started. Instead I’ll try to get through some of the smaller books in my to-read shelf fast so that I don’t have to feel so guilty while buying new books. 🙂

Os Devoradores de Livros de António Victorino d’Almeida

Rating: *** (3 out of 5)

Background: This was an impulse buy based entirely on the book’s title. I knew nothing about it and had never read anything by this author (a well-known Portuguese musician / composer / director). This book is only available in Portuguese (so far).

Review: This is a collection of short stories that, according to the blurb in the cover, pertain to readers, reading, philosophers and poets (loosely translating). However, this description only applies to the first (and longest) story. Incidentally, this was the story that I liked best – it was a bit long-winded and confusing, but it’s easy to see that’s the author’s style of writing, and there are a few moments of brilliance that make up for it, if you can make it through to the end. That being said, the rest of the book fell short for me. It’s not that it’s badly written, it just wasn’t to my taste.

In short, there were some things that I really liked and managed to surprise me, but I can’t say that I liked it. It’s an ok book, just not my cup of tea.

What’s Next: I can’t say this has made me feel more confident in buying books by Portuguese authors. This year I had decided to start reading more stuff from my own country, but… I’m trying, I really am, but the books are much more expensive than the English ones and it’s hard to find something to my tastes. I don’t know if the problem is in me, maybe I just don’t know where to look.

Next on my reading list is Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke.