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December was a pretty interesting month (as I’m sure it was for you as well), but I managed to read all the books I’d needed to finish both my 2014 reading challenges. I’ll be putting together a wrap-up posts of sorts in the next few days, but for now, here are the books I read this past month:

53. Robert M. Pirsig – Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values (6 Dec)
54. Arnošt Lustig – Lovely Green Eyes (14 Dec)
55. Marcus Pfister – The Rainbow Fish (15 Dec)
56. Barbara Kyle – The Queen’s Captive (25 Dec)
57. Emily Gillmor Murphy – You & I (26 Dec)

53. Robert M. Pirsig – Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values (6 Dec)

53 - ZenBlurb: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance caused a sensation when it was first published in 1974. The story of the narrator, his son Chris and their month-long motorcycle odyssey from Minnesota to California profoundly affected an entire generation. Both personal and philosophical, this book is a compelling study of relationships, values, madness and, eventually, enlightenment.

Plot: This is such a strange book to describe (and also to read!), because it is part narrative, part autobiography, and part philosophy. There are two simultaneous “plots” going on, but not much actually “happens” per se—to me, the book was more about the insights and revelations the narrator introduces and makes. I went into it without any expectations whatsoever, and after the first few chapters wherein the narrator presented quite a few philosophical questions, I happily treated this primarily as a “thinking book”. And it certainly made me think quite a bit!

Characters: As this wasn’t exactly a “story book”, I don’t think there’s much to be said about the characters. I did get a fairly good sense of the narrator and his son Chris, but again, they didn’t feel like “characters”, but more like actual people with certain thought and behavioural patterns that aren’t necessarily conducive to plot progression.

Themes: This might sound like a huge claim, but here we are: the book deals with the themes of existence, knowledge, “Quality”, and basically life in general. I don’t agree with all Pirsig posits, but it was certainly worth a good think.

Language: I loved the way this was written, but I think that’s again due to philosophical and didactic nature of the book. All the ideas are clearly outlined, and the writing is beautifully logical.

Overall: I am so glad I picked up this book as part of the A-Z challenge—there weren’t many other titles beginning with “Z”, and I only decided to read this because of the challenge requirement. And it was such a challenging, thought-provoking read—I very much enjoyed it, and would recommend it to anyone who’s looking for a “modern” work that is a little different.

For those who like numbers: 4.5/5

54. Arnošt Lustig – Lovely Green Eyes (14 Dec)

54 - Lovely Green EyesBlurb: Fifteen-year-old Hanka Kaudersova has ginger hair and clear, green eyes. When her family is deported to Auschwitz, her mother, father and younger brother are sent to the gas chamber. By a twist of fate, Hanka is faced with a simple alternative: follow her family, or work in an SS brothel behind the eastern front. She chooses to live, her Aryan looks allowing her to disguise the fact that she is Jewish.

This is a remarkable novel which soars beyond nightmare, leaving the reader with a transcendent sense of hope.

Plot: The plot is very well-conceived and executed, but eerily so. There are quite a few shifts between different time periods, and both the WWII and the aftermath scenes are haunting. The scenes during which Hanka performs her daily tasks are especially chilling.

Characters: Unfortunately, I didn’t really get a sense of the people in this novel—for the most part, they just felt like generic girls trying to survive. I suppose the stripping away of humanity may have been the point of the novel, but I didn’t get a sense of the “before”, only the “during” and “after”. Some of the soldiers have more of a personality than the girls, and that was a part I appreciated.

Themes: The loss of innocence is such a major, heavy theme here, and I thought it was wonderfully treated in the stark and unforgiving approach.

Language: I read this novel in translation, so I’m unable to comment too much on the language… But I certainly hope the original Czech is just as blunt and brutal as the English translation.

Overall: As with other Holocaust narratives, this is a harrowing book that incites one to spend hours questioning the brutalities of WWII. The particular subject matter, i.e. prostitution in order to survive, is extremely unnerving. I’m certainly glad I read it, but it’s not a work I’d revisit in the future.

For those who like numbers: 3.7/5

55. Marcus Pfister – The Rainbow Fish (15 Dec)

Yes, I decided to pick a children’s book for the “Rainbow” part of the colour-coded challenge—but I’ve never read this before, so this should still count, right? There were definitely lots of sparkly rainbows in the book, too!

55 - Rainbow FishDescription: This mini-book edition contains the complete text of the original award-winning bestseller about a glittering fish who discovers the joy of sharing.

Overall: I absolutely loved this book, and would definitely recommend it to anyone with kids, or anyone who hasn’t yet read it. The illustrations are beautiful, the story is lovely, and its message is one to remember.

For those who like numbers: 4.5/5


56. Barbara Kyle – The Queen’s Captive (25 Dec)

56 - Queen's CaptiveBlurb: England 1554, and twenty-year-old Princess Elizabeth is a captive of Queen Mary. She longs for liberty—and in Honor and Richard Thornleigh and their seafaring son Adam, the young princess has loyal allies. When Mary releases her from the Tower, hoping she will make a false move and condemn herself, the Thornleighs return from exile to help Elizabeth in the fight of her life.

But Honor is playing a dangerous game as a double agent, aware that a false move of her own could uncover her past as a condemned heretic. To save her family and Elizabeth, Honor must turn a headstrong princess into a queen before Bloody Mary destroys them all…

Plot: Well, the blurb basically says it all… No surprises, nothing interesting, just…the twenty-first-century take on Tudor fare, I suppose.

Characters: There was a bit of development for the historicised and fictional characters, so that was a little enjoyable. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough to satisfy me, but hey, brainless books are there for a reason, right?

Themes: Just the usual Tudor stuff about legitimacy and Elizabeth and the crown and so on, but without much engagement with the political and religious situations…

Language: Nothing extraordinary.

Overall: Okay, I think I’m going to write off all but the best-written historical fiction from here on… This book was okay and good enough for a brainless read, but I’m sure I could’ve discovered something better in those couple of hours… I needed a “Q” title—alas and alack…

For those who like numbers: 2/5

57. Emily Gillmor Murphy – You & I (26 Dec)

57 - You & IBlurb: Each September, thousands of students walk through the doors of University College and Trinity College, Dublin. This year, Olive Fitzsimmons and Tom O’Connor will be among them.

Eighteen-year-old Olive is fresh from the country, and her eyes are opened wide by the big-city goings-on of her new crowd. When she starts being pursued by Tom, the scruffy maverick who’s seduced half the girls she’s met, she’s adamant he’s not for her. But then tragedy strikes her family, and it’s Tom who proves to be her best friend—until, that is, she discovers his real motives.

Tom has never thought further than the next party, the next girl, the next drink. But now, with his own broken family about to cast him off and his social habits spinning out of controls, he seems to have destroyed his relationship with Olive. What started out as a stupid dare metamorphoses into something much more serious.

Set against the backdrop of youth on the brink of adulthood, and capturing the contrasts of the haves versus the have-nots and the worldly versus the innocent, You & I will transport readers straight to the rollercoaster experiences of growing up and falling in love.

Plot: It was okay, I guess… Things happened, and so on.

Characters: I didn’t care about any of these characters. I have friends from all over the island of Ireland, and they’re nothing like the two-dimensional people from this book.

Themes: It was supposed to be about growing up, but I gave up thinking and ended up just sipping my tea while doing my best to finish the book.

Language: Pretty awful. But I think it was supposed to reflect the generation, in which case it is quite accurate (which is a pretty awful fact in itself…).

Overall: I read this by the fireplace and my booktastic Christmas tree, so at least there was something enjoyable about those hours… I think the only redeeming thing about the book is that it probably very accurately reflects the current cultural climate of university students and adolescents. I only picked this up because of the “Y” in the title, and… I wish I had found a better book that began with a “Y”.

For those who like numbers: 1.2/5

And that’s me done with both my 2014 reading challenges. Time for a nice glass of wine to celebrate!