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The Mysterious Flame Of Queen Loana: An Illustrated Novel
The Mysterious Flame Of Queen Loana: An Illustrated Novel
by Umberto Eco
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mixed thoughts., 14 Oct. 2009
I thought a lot about how many stars I should give 'The Mysterious Flame'. I thought two stars would be unfair, given the intellectual value of its content. On the other hand, it is not the kind of narrative I would personally give four stars.

'The Name of the Rose' was a masterpiece, a true gift to world literature; it was atmospheric, and exciting. It had a plethora of unique characters, and a great story to tell. 'The Mysterious Flame' is personal, focusing on the identity search of a man suffering from amnesia. It offers a unique journey to Italian culture and the events of the years of the dictatorship, through the illustrated comic books and stories a whole generation loved. At times it offers vivid pictures of the narrator's childhood, and even certain moments of suspense.

But that's as far as it goes. 'The Mysterious Flame' is far too literary for my personal tastes, I'm afraid. It is more like a sophisticated sequence of self-analytical and self-exploring thoughts, than an actual story. That said, there is a character arc to be completed; but it's subtle. You really need to become one with the narrator in order to follow every idea, to feel every bit of anxiety and hope in his skin; to understand not just the necessity of re-establishing his identity, but rather the reasons for why this is so. And that's where the problem lies, in my opinion. Eco's narration stays on the mental level throughout the whole book. The protagonist's emotions derive from his thoughts, they are not given on a parallel level.

Let's take a moment to think about James Joyce's 'Portrait'. What was it, that despite the endless philosophical approaches to self-determination, placed it sublimely among the greatest autobiographical works ever created? It's simple: Joyce used words to describe what was going on inside him. He narrated the exterior events as he experienced, rather than saw them. He felt, and he made sure we knew what he felt. Eco, on the other hand, is far too intellectual. You want his hero to regain his memory, but only after you've finished your day's workload, and should you have some time before going to bed. It's curiosity you feel; about his fate, and about historical information. But it does not affect you emotionally.

I can't say I'd definitely recommend 'The Mysterious Flame', but I would not put it on a 'don't' list either. Chances are, if you enjoy plot-driven, well-structured linear fiction, this is might not be the one for you. It's nothing like 'The Name of the Rose', content and narrative-speaking. It's not of a lesser quality, but it's different. On the other hand, if you are an avid James Joyce or Virginia Woolf reader, you may find yourself actually enjoying this book.

Three stars it is, then.


One Hundred Years of Solitude (Penguin Modern Classics)
One Hundred Years of Solitude (Penguin Modern Classics)
by Gabriel García Márquez
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

5.0 out of 5 stars The work of a genius, 12 Oct. 2009
When I finished reading the book, I said to myself that this was probably the most ingenious political, social and ethnic ethography I have ever read. The author's purposeful use of magical realism works in perfect juxtaposition with the cynical denudation of human weakness, as exquisitely incarnated in the plethora of his characters. It is truly amazing how Marquez presents us the essence of the soul and troubles of Latin America, narrating at the same time indisputable universal truths.

His language is brilliantly descriptive and funny, and the overall narrative gives the novel its multidimensionality, and a true identity among the world's classics. This feels like an epic rhapsody, only in prose and the colours of great parody.

As for the incredible amount of characters Marquez is introducing, it is spectacular how each and every one of them manages to maintain a distinguishable individuality.

The greatest novel of one of my favourite authors, undoubtedly. A true book lover's collection of some standard would be incomplete without it.


Wuthering Heights (Wordsworth Classics)
Wuthering Heights (Wordsworth Classics)
by Emily Brontë
Edition: Paperback
Price: £1.99

9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not my cup of tea., 11 Oct. 2009
Before I proceed to the actual review, I have to underline three significant parameters that have influenced it: one, I am a great fan of realism; two, I am not such a great fan of old English literature, perhaps as a consequence to fact number one; and three, I pay more attention to technique than to language. So, if you disagree with any of the above, this may not be the review for you.

Now, to the point. I could not give the book anything less than three stars, because a) I have read far worse novels and b)I do have a certain respect for anything that is being considered 'a classic' (and classic does not necessarily mean earth-shaking).

As many people have mentioned, Emily Bronte is good with language. If for anything else, you will enjoy her descriptions; they are so vivid, I could actually walk through the moors, in and out the rooms I could go.

But this is as fas as it went for me. I truly felt some of the time dedicated to landscapes should have been instead given to characterisation, especially since this is clearly a character-driven narrative. We know that the story is about Catherine and Heathcliff's tumultuous relationship, yet I never saw the reasons for why it was so. I would have truly appreciated a few scenes of character exposition, long before Catherine ends up wounded in the Linton house. It felt as if the sentiments were there because the author said so, than as a natural development of plot and character interrelations. There are scenes of immense emotional explosions between them two, yet I just can't see the tension being built up, merely indicated. None of my emotions went underneath the surface, I'm afraid.

I also found it very difficult to identify with either of them. It was difficult for me to understand Catherine's exasperation against Heathcliff, since her passion for him is not visible until his return- she does choose to marry someone closer to her social circumstances, without any inner struggles (her confession to Nelly seems more as if she is looking for reassurance in order to overcome her guilt). Heathcliff, on the other hand, initially the wronged hero, is developed to become the dark antagonist seeking his own catharsis, yet he is so persistently inhuman and evil, that not only you can't understand him, but you can't understand Catherine's passion for him either. There was an incident, a word, a gesture missing from the picture; something that have bonded untamed (and selfish) Catherine to dark Heathcliff.

I understand, and frankly appreciate Bronte for her intention to commend on the ethos of the time; however, her characters remained mere strangers to me until the end of the book. I failed to accept their thoughts or experience their feelings, and so the story became something I witnessed from a distance.

I can't say read it or not. It is not the ultimate torture (although this also depends on age, tastes and gender), but it's not the sort of 'Les Miserables' classic either.

I'm glad Bronte wrote it though. After all, it did inspire Kate Bush to offer us a fantastic ballad.


The Shadow Of The Wind
The Shadow Of The Wind
by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Breathtaking, full stop., 10 Oct. 2009
This review is from: The Shadow Of The Wind (Paperback)
This, ladies and gentlemen, is simply and plainly an exquisite piece of fiction; in all possible respects.

Zafon's prose is impressive, his intelligence and talent too obvious in his craft. His descriptions are brilliant enough to be taught in creative writing master classes throughout the world. His language rich and meaningful without unnecessary, flamboyant jabbering. We are immediately enveloped in the cinematic ambience of a post-war Barcelona, losing ourselves in its Gothic grandiosity and the vast, misty streets of Barri Gotic. We smell the time-warn pages in the book cemetery; we hear the jingling of the shop doors opening and closing, the footsteps on Las Ramblas, the frozen breaths in Placa Reial. We see, we hear, we smell. And we feel.

We feel, and sympathise, and identify each step of the way with the protagonist; given that he is a teenage boy, this is perhaps Zafon's grandest success. I am a woman, between 25-30, and literally lived inside Daniel's skin throughout the whole book. The author goes on to introduce a plethora of characters, each one serving a pretty distinct purpose, and well-placed in his/her interrelated subplot (I am dumbfounded that some reviews state otherwise. Characterisation and structure follow certain rules; thus they cannot be subjective like personal tastes). I read the novel more than a year ago, and if I close my eyes this very minute, I can recall each and every one of them, enthroned in their surroundings (Clara sitting at her piano), talking with their unique voices (Fermin is a brilliant example), gesturing like they only do (think of Nuria Monfort), and so on. The author makes the most of a fundamental rule in characterisation, blending harmonically plot-driven and character-driven fiction: that characters, according to their pre-established backgrounds, attributed habits and external stimuli, are led to certain actions. These actions have a significant impact on other characters (either unintentionally or by motivation), and so the reader is offered well-crafted conflicts that will bring the plot to its next level yet (Zafon's experience as a screenwriter surely helped in this?)

Moving on, the author achieves to magically combine three different genres (crime thriller, mystery and romance), seducing men and women of all ages and tastes alike. The book contains earth-moving erotic moments without one single graphical description, or pseudo-poetically cheesy insinuations for that matter. One phrase alone by a female character shook my world crazy (and I am not the kind of person to claim that I find sexuality in literary symbolisms; I love a good sex scene when appropriate in time and purpose.) Furthermore, as someone pretty involved in women's issues, I loved the way Zafon belauds the greatest aspects of female nature. Penelope, Bea and Nuria are all heroines whose persistence, mental strength and stubborn refusal to submit to authoritative male control, offer the story its most crucial turning points.As far as the mystery is concerned, well, what can I say? Your heart beats as fast as Daniel's, Zafon's storytelling leaves you breathless.

I could not but recommend this contemporary masterpiece. Carlos Ruis-Zafon is undoubtedly one of the greatest story-tellers of our time, and I have placed him sublimely among favourites such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Gilbert Sinoue and Vladimir Nabokov. It has been my standard gift to people, who in their turn always tell me they loved it and passed it on to someone else.

Sure, for the avid readers of literature of some standard, sales don't always guarantee content of substance. It is not every day though that a book gains praise from critics, public figures and readers alike; or from authors such as Stephen King. It's worth its millions of sales, and every bit of kudos it gets.


Las Cinco En El Astoria [Us Import]
Las Cinco En El Astoria [Us Import]
Price: £9.73

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Most mature work to date., 5 Oct. 2009
A lot has been said on Amaia Montero's departure, but I do not intend to refer to that. She is now a solo artist, so I am going to focus on LOVG's work solely based on the music and lyrics, rather than the differences between the old and the new vocalist. In regards to that, I am only going to say that Leire's voice (octave and texture) was a great, compatible choice.

I found this album to be their most mature work to this day. The strong pop elements are gone, and their place have taken subtler pop-rock/ soft-rock sounds. At times, it even reminded me of lovely bands of the past like Simon & Garfunkel, or Belle & Sebastian.

I also loved the variety of lyrics and different themes. 'Europa VII' is a brilliant example of this maturity, as it talks about a possible future where humanity have ceased to exist, due to our very own lack of lucidity and wisdom. And what could one say about 'Jueves'? 'Jueves' is a simple yet exquisite love ballad, about a girl who chooses the slow train instead of the direct, in order to sit opposite a guy she never ever met. And she does meet him, on the 11th of March, that special day when 'he takes her hand and they enter a tunnel, where the light goes off'. And it would be just another love song, if the 11th of March was not the day that the terrorists blew up that train in Madrid to retaliate for Spain's participation to the war of Iraq. What a breathtaking tribute to the victims, a tribute created with a piano and a wonderful, angelic-sounding choir.

Then of course you do get the ever so representative LOVG vibrant song, in this occasion being the colourful, nearly cinematic 'Inmortal'.

What can I say, I loved the album. It was a really pleasant surprise, especially now, that La Quinta Estacion have chosen to turn commercial and poppy. One of the two best albums of the genre for this year, the other one being Amaral's 'Gato Negro, Dragon Rojo'. Would recommend.


Flores De Alquiler
Flores De Alquiler
Price: £10.69

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Musical Wonder, 20 Sept. 2009
This review is from: Flores De Alquiler (Audio CD)
This is, and I suspect will always be, my very favourite album. And the main reason for this is mainly the very first track, an ingenious work by wonder-guitar-man Angel Reyero, an exquisite rock en espaniol song with Mexican folk elements (that accordion makes me deliriously happy every single time), witty self-sarcastic lyrics and the unbeatable vocals of Natalia Jimenez. Even if the rest of the songs were inaudible, I would still give the album five starts thanks to this wonder-song.

But the thing is, every single track in 'Flores de Alquiler' is a small miracle. It contains ten vivid, perfect rock en espaniol songs, two ballads (Algo mas and Ninia) and a flamenco-style track (Rompe el mar) exquisitely delivered by Natalia. They write their own music and they sing their own music and they are charming, melodic, wonderful. Each song stands out from the others, the themes of their songs range from self-sarcastic isolation (El Sol no Regressa, No hay Perdon) and self-exploration (Daria, A Cada Paso), to subtle (Ninia) and not so subtle (Si yo fuera mujer) social messages, as well as the classic yet so originally executed amor and desamor track always enlaced with the rock philosophy (Flores de Alquiler, Busco tu piel).

If you are collecting folk rock music, this is a must have. If you're looking to offer a great present to someone, this is also a great choice. This is the kind of work that encourages us not to give up on the modern music scene, indicating that not everything out there is garbage, that there are in fact music geniuses out there, like Angel (oh, muchas gracias!), Pablo and Natalia, who were born to make music, and making music is what they will do.


This Is the Life
This Is the Life
Offered by Qoolist
Price: £3.51

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Amen., 11 Jun. 2009
This review is from: This Is the Life (Audio CD)
This album contains a fresh, original, notable, enjoyable medley of well-written folk-rock songs, performed by a young musician with talent and nerve. It is also one of the rare occasions that the artist does not bore us to death with love/"un-love" lyrics but rather storms in a quest of witty self-discovery, often pointing an inquisitive finger to society and its false trends, and even dare to say things that not everyone would agree with.

In fact, I'm quite perplexed to hear people say that Amy has nothing new to offer and she sounds like this and that artist, because I've been on an endless mission to discover worthwhile yet vivid (as in, non-hypnotising) folk rock music in the English-speaking world recently and have failed- a plethora of artists fall under the category of folk-rock/pop-rock lately, and as it turns out, apart from the guitar, there's nothing similar to their sounds. Amy's album was literary music to my ears. It simply lacked the conventionalism, unbearable sense of boredom, pretentious pseudo-shocking lyrics and identical instrumentation her supposed counterparts have.

Anyhow. I'd recommend the CD. If anything else, I'd rather buy the work of a musician who is actually a musician, than of a by-product of photoshop.


Infinito
Infinito

5.0 out of 5 stars Why isn't she more famous?, 11 Jun. 2009
This review is from: Infinito (Audio CD)
If only there were more musicians like Belen. Spanish singer, guitarist and songwriter, she has the voice of an angel and the talent of someone that was born to make music. Notwithstanding, she does not get the promotion she deserves.

"Infinito" is the second of her three albums so far, and has received a Latin Grammy nomination for best rock album. It's a powerful medley of rock sub-genres, the themes varying from powerful social messages and self-exploration tunes, to witty love songs and melancholic ballads. It also contains "Y llore", a Spanish cover of Aerosmith's "Crying".

The tracks I have distinguished are "Infinito" (perhaps my favourite in the album), "El chaval", "No habra mas perdon", "Y llore", "Omnipotente" (which contains an anti-war powerful message for world leaders), "Sola otra vez", "Gata" and "No quiero ser idiota".


Gato Negro Dragon Rojo
Gato Negro Dragon Rojo
Price: £19.00

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Muchas Gracias a Amaral..., 11 Jun. 2009
This review is from: Gato Negro Dragon Rojo (Audio CD)
... for giving us not one, but two wonderful CDs containing 19 beautiful rock tracks.

This is their most solid and pure rock work to date. The lyrics, the music, the instrumentation, the engineering, their guitar and vocals are only representative of real musicians'. In a world that is sinking under the unbearable weight of meaningless garbage, Amaral give us the hope to believe that there are still credible, talented artists out there, whose thoughts and ideas and philosophies are similar to people's that bother to open a book or two every once in a while.

Best tracks in my opinion are "Kamikaze" (pure musical perfection),La Barrera de Sonido', "Esta noche", "Puertas del Infierno", "Rock & Roll", "Perdoname" and "Artista del Alambre". Mind you, there are no b-side tracks in this album. I'm just mentioning my personal favourites.

This would also be a good present for someone interested in folk rock/ world good music.


El Mundo Se Equivoca
El Mundo Se Equivoca
Price: £16.86

4.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful in all aspects, 11 Jun. 2009
This review is from: El Mundo Se Equivoca (Audio CD)
Although not as perfect as their previous work, 'Flores de Alquiler', La Quinta Estacion's third album is no less complete and fulfilling than expected. Sure, they've inserted pop elements to their sounds but not to the extend that their rockero estilo and identity are blurred, not at all. And if 'Flores de Alquiler' contained thirteen flawless tracks, 'El Mundo Se Equivoca' has at least nine to brag about.

This is a great album of nine vivid pop-rock tracks and four ballads, one of them continuing the band's tribute to Mexico, the first Spanish-speaking country that accepted them so enthusiastically and wholeheartedly(their homeland, Spain of course was soon to follow).

Their lyrics remain poetic and sophisticated, although the self-sarcastic themes have generally given way to more melancholic verses, also more amor and desamor oriented (with the exception of the more personal 'Asi Eres' in the end, which is truly one of the album's jewels).

I especially loved 'Ahora que te vas', whose poetic lyrics, filled with cinematic sadness and a touch of exasperation, and beautiful pop-rock tempo have placed it sublimely among my very favourites of their discography; I've also distinguished 'Para no decirte adios' and 'Asi Eres'.

And although Grammies are not necessarily guaranty of an album's quality, in this particular case, so early in their career, they guys indeed deserved it, and thus gained it.

I would indisputably recommend this album, yet if you're new to La Quinta Estacion's work, I would advise you first purchased 'Flores de Alquiler', which is simple musical perfection and their purest rock en espaniol work so far.


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