An Elusive Hero in 2013 (Recap)

As 2013 ends tomorrow, I’d like to wrap up the year with a short review of my posts this year.

First of all, I want to thank everyone who has followed and read my posts since I started writing on “An Elusive Hero” in March. The feedback and support I’ve received has been invaluable for me to improve. Wednesday will look forward to the plans for 2014. But until then, let’s recap some of the most interesting posts from this year.

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Vlog #1: The Beginning of Everything

This week I don’t have the usual post about Switzerland. Sorry about that! Instead, I’ve finished working on my first ever Vlog entry. The title has two meanings, after all it is my first video ever and also, my favorite book of the year.

As this the first time I’ve made a video, I’m very grateful for any kind of feedback, so I can improve my video logs in the near future. It was a lot of fun to plan, film and edit the vlog. I hope you enjoy it!

Have a great start to the week and a merry Christmas to you all!

Sincerely yours,

Albert

Swiss Classics as Holiday Gift Ideas

With Christmas approaching rapidly, I sincerely hope you’ve got all your presents ready or ordered. If you haven’t, I’ve prepared a little post about literary classics either playing in Switzerland or by Swiss authors that you can put under the Christmas tree for your loved one.

Gottfried Keller – Kleider machen Leute 

Gottfried Keller is one of Switzerlands most important writers, poets and politicians. Living in the 19th century, he became famous by writing a collection of novellas about the people from Seldwyla. One of his best known stories is “Kleider machen Leute”, which can be translated as “Clothes make the man”. The novella is about Wenzel Strapinski, who despite his poor heritage, always dresses and composes himself elegantly. Due to this fact, he is mistaken for a wealthy Polish count and makes his way up the social ranks.
The story is often read at Swiss high schools and is an interesting example of the style of the 19th century.

Friedrich Dürrenmatt – Die Physiker (The Physicists)

Die Physiker (The Physicists) by Friedrich Dürrenmatt is a fantastic play. Dürrenmatt, one of the most influential Swiss writers of the 20th century, sets his story in a Swiss sanatorium. Two of its patients believe to be Einstein and Newton respectively, whereas the third scientist is Möbius, who claims he hears King Solomon talking to him. At the beginning of the plot, the murder of a nurse brings the three physicists to a room together to discuss and unravel their many secrets.

Friedrich Schiller – Wilhelm Tell (William Tell)

While Mr. Schiller was a German who never set foot in Switzerland, his account of Switzerland’s most famous hero, William Tell is a fantastic read. Set in the early 14th century, the people in central Switzerland are being oppressed by the tyrant Gessler. William Tell, a huntsman, draws the ire of the lord by helping a man escape his capture. His reluctance to greet the hat of the tyrant leads to the world famous scene where Tell shoots an apple of the head of his son. Mr. Schiller’s play may be difficult to read, but offers a glimpse into the history of Switzerland.

If you’re interested in reading books from Swiss authors or set in Switzerland, hopefully these tips will give you an interesting place to start. Have a great week!

Sincerely yours,

Albert

My favorite Books of 2013

As 2013 draws to an end, it is time to look back at the year. So starting today and in the next few weeks, I’ll talk about my favorite books (today), movies (next week) and video games (in two weeks) of the year just before Christmas comes around.

I read a lot of brilliant books this year and not all of them were published in 2013. The majority of this post will cover the 2013 releases, but I’ll also mention some of the great books which I read for the first time this year.

Let’s start with my favorite book of 2013, “The Beginning of Everything” by Robyn Schneider. I wrote a lot about this book in this post and not much has changed since then. The coming-of-age story features a great main character, infinitely relatable problems, a wonderful supporting cast and the very special Cassidy Thorpe.

In the same post linked above I mentioned “Night Film” by Marisha Pessl, which is breathtaking and spectacular. It’s a book that pulls you in and refuses to let you go. The Cordova family and their story is expertly constructed and endlessly fascinating. For any fans of well-written thrillers, this is a must read.

Neil Gaiman and Patrick Ness, who are two of the most imaginative writers out there, both released new novels this year and I immensely enjoyed both of them. “An Ocean at the End of the Lane” by Mr. Gaiman is a fascinating tale about memory and imagination, whereas Mr. Ness creates a suspenseful story centered around reality and second chances in “More Than This” .

And among the many dystopian YA novels coming out on the heels of the Hunger Games trilogy, “The 5th Wave” by Rick Yancey stood out. Earth has been overrun by an alien race decimating humans in waves. The story is told from the perspective of Cassie, a teenage girl fighting for survival in the ravished world. It’s fast-paced and inventive with sequels sure to follow.

These were just my favorite books that were published in 2013. As I made reading books a priority this year, I was able to read a whole bunch of other outstanding stories this year.

Monsters of Men” and the whole Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness, which I wrote about in this post, were probably the books I enjoyed the most this year. The story of Todd and Viola is beautifully told, masterfully constructed and extremely intense.

2013 was also the year I discovered John Green and his excellent “The Fault in Our Stars” is a heartbreaking and beautiful story. It also shows an immense development from his earlier books, which seemed to follow the same formula at times. (I still enjoyed them a lot)

Among fantasy books, “The Name of the Wind” by Patrick Rothfuss was a spectacular read. The main character Kvothe has everything one looks for in a hero: wits, strength and the right touch of arrogance. I’m looking forward to getting to the sequel soon and very excited for the third tome of the Kingkiller Chronicle to arrive next year.

I didn’t read that much Science Fiction this year, but “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline was funny, imaginative and full of pop culture references I adore.

This year I focused a lot on fiction books, so I didn’t get to read that much non-fiction. However, the book I enjoyed most was “My Life”, the extremely long, but ultimately rewarding autobiography of Bill Clinton published in 2004.

All in all 2013 was a fantastic year in reading for me as I had the pleasure to discover the works of Patrick Ness, Neil Gaiman, John Green, Veronica Roth and Suzanne Collins. They all took me on a journey to wonderful sights and allowed me to connect with inspiring characters, fascinating tales and classy writing.

What were your favorite books of the year? Which books are on your Christmas shopping list and what are you looking out for in 2014? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter!

Sincerely yours,

Albert

Weekly Reviews: “Catching Fire” and “Special Topics in Calamity Physics”

This week I’m taking a look at one of the hottest blockbusters of the winter and the debut novel of Marisha Pessl. Both of them captured much of my imagination and attention over the last week.

Catching Fire

I touched upon Catching Fire a bit in last week’s news post and was able to see the movie twice, first on Thursday and then in 4K on Sunday. And I didn’t mind seeing it twice at all, as the second time around I was able to focus on tiny details such as the height difference between leads Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson and the attempts of the director to hide it.

The movie itself did not disappoint (otherwise I wouldn’t have watched it twice). It stays very true to the book with some understandable omissions. The cast, headlined by Ms. Lawrence, is fantastic and extremely well cast. Woody Harrelson, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Donald Sutherland have remarkable screen presence, while Elizabeth Banks and Lenny Kravitz shine in their roles as members of “Team Katniss”. The other tributes, especially Sam Claflin and Jena Malone, portray two of the most beloved characters, Finnick Odair and Johanna Mason, very much in line with the novel.

A big reason for the faithful adaptation is the inclusion of author Suzanne Collins as an executive producer. Director Francis Lawrence does a great job in the pacing of the movie. He gives important scenes in the build-up to the 75th Hunger Games enough time to develop and breathe. However, when the actions picks up in the second part of the film, it is gripping, frightening and dangerous.

The third novel, “Mockingjay”, will be split in two motion pictures (as seems to be normal now) with the first part arriving next November. If it reaches the quality of “Catching Fire”, the wait will be well worth it. Definitely catch the movie in cinemas if you’re able to.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics

First off, Marisha Pessl is extremely talented. I adored her second book “Night Film” (mentioned in this post). We will be discussing it with the Uncanny Bookclub this Sunday at 5pm, so if you’ve read the book and are in the region of Zurich, feel free to stop by the Cabarat Voltaire!

The protagonist of “Special Topics in Calamity Physics” is Harvard undergrad Blue Van Meer, who starts to recount the events of her senior year in High School. After moving around a lot with her intellectual, Swiss-born father Gareth Van Meer, they settle in Stockton, North Carolina. In the little town, Blue, who lost her mother as a young child, catches the eye of the extravagant teacher Hannah Schneider. Blue is invited into a group of students, who meet with Hannah once a week and seem to adore her. But not everything with Ms. Schneider is as it seems. When she dies, inexplicably hanged, Blue tries to find out how and why it happened.

The book is not as accessible as it would seem and it takes a while to get used to the millions of references and footnotes Ms. Pessl includes in the novel. Readers and Movie buffs will find obscure references to movies and books long forgotten. Some of them are real and some are fictional.

Blue is a likeable, but ultimately very self-centered character with an interesting and annoying father. However, I found the intellectualism of her father to be tiring at times.Ms. Schneider and her group of students (Jade, Leulah, Milton, Nigel and Charles) are far more intriguing. Finding out their story drives the book forward until the death of mysterious Ms. Schneider. From there, the book focuses more on Blue and picks up its pace considerably, which I enjoyed a lot.

I had troubles getting into the book, due to the constant references and the difficulty to grasp the ideas of Blue’s strange father. But with every page I read, the more I got entranced with the story. The book is very gripping and very well put together. The highlight for me was how well it all unfolds in the end, which I’m not going to spoil here.

I believe her second book is more polished, but I can only recommend “Special Topics in Calamity Physics”, because it’s combines thriller and coming-of-age elements into a gripping story that manages to be both funny and sad.

These are my two reviews for the week. With December coming up next week, it’s time for my best of lists, starting with my favorite books of 2013 next Wednesday! My story “An Elusive Hero” returns on Friday with chapter 25. So if you’ve liked my writing so far, please like, share and subscribe!

Sincerely yours,
Albert

A Halloween to Remember

The highlight of last week definitely was Halloween on Thursday. This was the first year I’ve participated in the festivities and I did so for one big reason: A major discount on books at my favorite Bookshop.

As you might know, I’m a huge fan of the Harry Potter series, so it was clear from the get-go that I’d portray the boy that lived.

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Decked out in Gryffindor gear, I made my way to the Bookshop, where I then spent a few hours reading through books and mulling over some very difficult choices. How much money should I spend? Would I be spending too much? Which YA novels are truly worth buying? Which book about Kennedy should I get?

I had made a list of books I absolutely wanted to get beforehand, but I swapped some of them out to save for another time. I ended up buying six books for myself and in hindsight, I probably should have bought some more. Oh well. So which books did I get?

Of course, I tried to buy books of different styles and genres. In the fantasy genre, I bought the fourth book of the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R Martin. “A Storm of Swords”, the third book, was my favorite book of the series so far, as I found many of the storylines to get more interesting. “A Feast for Crows” will probably lie around for a few months, before the HBO series will make me want to read it.

I also got the debut novel by Marisha Pessl, “Special Topics in Calamity Physics”. I loved her thriller “Night Film” (described in this post), so I’m eager to read more from the talented American author.  The novel is written from the perspective of a young Harvard student reliving her last year of High School and built up as a curriculum. I’m sure I’m in for another thrilling ride.

With the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination nearing, an avalanche of books on his life (and death) are being released. I’m not interested in conspiracy theories about the nature of his murder. So I was extremely pleased to find a wonderful book titled “Letters of JFK”, which is a collection of letters sent to and by him. I’ve read a few chapters and they make me long for the time when people still sent each other elegant and classy letters.

The most interesting book I bought was “S” by J.J Abrams and Doug Dorst. If you have the chance, you should definitely check it out. The book is home to various stories, one of them playing in the margins, where an undergraduate and a grad student exchange notes on the nature of this novel written by the elusive (and fictional) novelist V.M Straka. The first few pages were extremely gripping and I’m looking forward to immerse myself in the beautiful book as soon as I have more time.

And last but not least is the one book I’ve finished reading from my impressive haul, the dystopian YA novel “Allegiant” by Veronica Roth. The book ends the immensely popular “Divergent” series (which I’ve written about here) and what an ending it is. It’s fast-paced and gripping. The ideas portrayed are fresh and personally, I loved the ending. It is definitely my favorite book of the three.

I hope I’ll be able to talk about these books more after I’ve read them. But otherwise, how was your Halloween? Which books would you have gotten with a 50% discount? Let me know here or on Twitter!

I’m back on Friday with Chapter 23 of “An Elusive Hero”.

Sincerely yours,

Albert

A Great Time for Booklovers in Zurich

It’s a great time to love books in Zurich. In today’s post I’ll look back at the reading I attended last Friday and introduce two events in the next two weeks that might prove interesting for readers in the region.

Zürich Liest: A Reading with Stefan Bachmann

Last Friday, Stefan Bachmann, the young Swiss-American writer, was at the Orell Füssli Bookshop to read from his new book, “The Whatnot”. Around fifty guests gathered in the store to listen to him and they had no reason to be disappointed. Mr. Bachmann was very engaging, funny and surprisingly critical of his own works. How he would change certain things about his debut novel “The Peculiar” and how he strived to improve on his work in his newest book stood out to me. He read out the prologue of both books and answered some very interesting questions. I definitely became a fan of his after attending the reading, having not read his books before.

The Uncanny Bookclub: More Than This

I’ve written about my great experience at the UBC here and am delighted to see them host their second event this Sunday (November 3) at the Cabaret Voltaire. The official link to the event can be found on their Facebook page.

The book we’ll be discussing is the brilliant “More Than This” by Patrick Ness, easily one of my favorite books of the year. The story of young Seth, who wakes up in a deserted world not knowing exactly where he is and what has struck him, is breathtaking, fast-paced and wonderfully innovative. If you want to meet some young and passionate book lovers in Zurich, you should come by this Sunday at 5pm. I’ll definitely be there!

The Bookshop’s Bookclub: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

And just a week later, the Bookshop’s own book club will talk about another fantastic book, Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. This event takes place November 14 at 8.30pm at the Bookshop. Details can be found on their official website.

Mr. Gaiman’s book is highly imaginative and a wonderful storytelling experience. I felt drawn into the world immediately, as it is a fantastical and extremely charming story of a middle-aged man thinking back to his childhood and his adventures with the weird family living in a farm at the end of the lane.

So, book lovers have their fair share of events to choose from during the wonderful month of November, coincidentally also known as “National Novel Writing Month” among internet aficionados. I’ll be writing and reading a lot the next weeks and hopefully, you will too!

Have a great week.

Sincerely yours,
Albert

Every Story needs a good Nemesis

A recent Facebook update from the Uncanny Bookclub (read about them here) asked their fans about their favorite villains of all times. This motivated me to think and write about my preferred bad guys. My list includes one adversary from a video game universe, one of the most famous film villains of all time and one literary nemesis.

I’ll start off by talking about Arthas Menethil from the Warcraft Universe.

In the video game Warcraft 3, Prince Arthas Menethil, son of the king of Lordaeron, starts out as a paladin and a beacon of light. When an undead plague overruns his homeland, he ventures out to stop it. But his actions know no boundaries. When he plans to purge a city from all infested citizens, his friends turn his back on him, pushing him further down his doomed path. Desperately clinging to the faint hope of saving his hometown, he seeks the cursed blade Frostmourne. When Arthas acquires the doomed weapon, his soul is lost forever…

The story of Arthas Menethil is the main reason I love the Warcraft universe so much. It starts out in Warcraft 3 and continues on in the add-on “The Frozen Throne” before finding its ultimate end in World Warcraft and its add-on “The Wrath of the Lich King”. Saving his homeland motivates his character and playing the game, you feel his frustration at his failure to stop the scourge. He literally gives his heart and soul for it. Fascinating about him is his transformation from a human paladin to a more powerful and evil being.

Arthas’ story is similar to the one from our next villain. Of course I’m talking about the legendary Darth Vader from the Star Wars universe.
Anakin Skywalker is the “Chosen One”. He is insanely gifted and talented, but also very ambitious and temperamental. Anakin falls in love with Padme Amidala, even though Jedis are warned not to attach themselves to closely. He fears she will die. The Emperor Palpatine, revealed to be the Sith Lord Darth Sidious, convinces him that he can save Amidala by joining the Dark Side. Anakin becomes his apprentice and turns against the Jedi. In his new quest to kill every Jedi he faces off against his mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi. The Jedi Master defeats Anakin and leaves him to die after severing his body. However Palpatine recovers his body and places him in the iconic suit…

Darth Vader’ story is the perfect example of how prodigies can fall and how ambition can lead to the dark side. The second part of his story, told in the original trilogy, however is also a great redemption story. I love Anakin/Vader because he feels real. He is immensely talented, but unable to see his faults and limits. He is powerful, but easily manipulated.

The third villain on my list is from one of my favorite childhood books, “The Three Musketeers” and is the cunning Cardinal Richelieu.

The enmity between Cardinal Richelieu and the Duke of Birmingham is one of the larger threads in the story of d’Artagnan and his companions. Richelieu tries to start a war between England and France and comes up with multiple plans and intrigues to do so.

He is one of my favorite villains, because even though the main characters know he is the person responsible for the intrigues, they can do nothing about it. Richelieu is a master at using pawns and making everything untraceable to him. Acting from a position of power, nothing can get to him. When his plans are thwarted time and time again, he actually starts to appreciate the quality of his foes, even handing the three musketeers a promotion to lieutenant.

So, these are three of my favorite villains. Of course, there are many more to choose from.

Which nemesis have you enjoyed in books, games or movies? Let me know on Twitter or in the comments!

I’m back on Friday with the return of “An Elusive Hero”. Stay tuned!

Sincerely yours,

Albert

 

Tennis, Books and more!

This week is quite a busy week for me, so my post today will be a bit shorter than usual. A few interesting events are going on in Switzerland in the next few days, so I wanted to give you a quick overview of all the interesting experiences you can gain.

Let’s start off with some sports, as the ATP Swiss Indoors Tournament will be played in Basel this week. The tournament is one of the most important indoor tennis tournaments and will host some of the greatest players around this year. Roger Federer, one of the greatest players to ever hold a racket, will be appearing in his hometown as well, hoping to keep the title in the country. Stanislas Wawrinka, who has played an amazing season thus far, will try to do the same. Other fantastic players fighting for glory are Richard Gasquet (FRA), Juan Martin del Potro (ARG) or Nikolai Davydenko (RUS). For anyone interested in sports and tennis specifically, the tournament is the best chance to see it in Switzerland!

As everyone reading this blog regularly knows, I read a lot. And this weekend a fantastic event for book lovers takes place in Zurich as the city hosts “Zürich liest” (Zurich reads).
Over 100 events can be visited in Zurich, Winterthur and the adjacent regions. It starts this Thursday and runs through Sunday. I’ll be visiting a reading from Swiss-American author Stefan Bachmann on Friday at 8pm at “The Bookshop by Orell Füssli”, so maybe I’ll catch you there. Other notable events include the opening of the festival on Thursday at the Kaufleuten and a reading by the nominees for the Swiss Book Award on Friday at the Literaturhaus Museumgesellschaft. However, it is a predominantly German-speaking literature festival, so it might be difficult for non-German speakers to follow all of the action. A lot of the events are aimed at children, so families will find their fair share of opportunities to learn more about the magical world of books. For a full schedule, check out their website.

And last, but not least, the Basler Herbstmesse starts on October 26. The traditional fair has been around for over 500 years and offers it’s 1 million visitors various events. There will be Basler specialties, fun rides and the whole city will be full of interesting booths. The fair runs until November 10. I’ve never visited it before, but plan on checking it out this year, if I find the time. For more information, check out this website.

So that’s it from me for today. If you have any other events to recommend, please let me know on Twitter or in the comments!

Have a great week.

Sincerely yours,

Albert

Autumn Book Recommendations

Even though summer is scheduled to reappear for one weekend and one weekend only, autumn has finally engulfed Switzerland. With the season comes the perfect time to relax at home with a good book. So today, following my posts for summer and August, it’s time for my Autumn book recommendations. The books featured here definitely rank among my top ten for the year, so they’ll probably pop up again on this site come December.

I’ll start off with my favorite book of the year: The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider.

2013-10-16 19.17.44The book follows Ezra Faulkner, a cool and popular High School student, who gets his leg shattered in a car accident after his girlfriend cheats on him. Unable to continue as the captain of the tennis team, he feels he doesn’t belong with his old friends among the “jocks” anymore. So he reconnects with his old friend Toby and meets his group of outcasts and misfits. And then there’s Cassidy, the mysterious new girl he can’t help but fall for…

The Beginning of Everything is a wonderfully told coming-of-age story with real characters. Unlike many YA books and series, where characters can be firmly placed among the “jocks” and “nerds”, it’s refreshing to see a character who fits in in both worlds. I liked the description of Ezra’s old tennis friends as superficial and arrogant, but ultimately they’re not bad kids. And it was refreshing to see that there are also mean kids among “nerds”, who are often portrayed as so pure and awesome in books. Cassidy, his love interest, is definitely among the best manic pixie dream girls in YA fiction. She’s intelligent, kind, daring and you never know what exactly is going on with her. I loved every page of this book and couldn’t put it down. I can only recommend it to anyone who loves coming-of-age novels.

My second recommendation comes from a totally different genre: Night Film by Marisha Pessl.

I don’t read many thrillers. In fact, the last thrillers I’ve read were probably the books by Dan Brown and that was before they were made into movies. But Night Film is an unbelievable page-turner.

Ashley Cordova, the daughter of the reclusive horror filmmaker Stanilas Cordova is found dead after an apparent suicide. Investigative reporter Scott McGrath, whose initial foray into the life of the famed director led to him ruining his career, feels there might be more to the death than appears. With the help of Hopper, who met Ashley as a teenager and Nora, one of the many girls living in NYC with dreams of making it big, he begins to uncover the secrets of the Cordova family.

Ms. Pessl has created a superb book. It’s fast-paced, extremely gripping and full of unexpected twists. Unique to Night Film is it’s use of internet webpage screenshots. They’re full of articles about Cordova, which let the reader feel like they’re participating in the hunt for the truth. The characters are easy to root for and extremely multi-dimensional. The most special of them all is Ashley Cordova, whose life is tragic and haunting. Wanting to find out more about her and what role her family played in her suicide, pushes the book forward and makes Night Film a fantastic ride.

The next book I’m recommending is the last book I read: A Really Awesome Mess by Trish Cook and Brendan Harpin

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First off, I don’t think this book is as good as the other books mentioned in this post. I would say, the first two are five-star books, while this one is a typical 3-star for most people, but 4-star for me book.

Justin and Emmy are the new kids at Heartland academy, a reform high school where kids are sent to get better. School in the morning, Therapy in the afternon. In their Anger Management session, they meet a diverse group of teenagers. Together, they just want to find a way to enjoy life again. After all, living takes a lot more guts than giving up.

A Really Awesome Mess is a surprisingly light-hearted and highly sarcastic book, considering the characters’ problems. However, it focuses on giving the teenagers a positive outlook. It does a decent job of showing the struggles the characters are going through. However, for some readers, it might not be enough. I can understand if readers think some of progression feels too easy. But all in all, I think the authors found a balance between their heavier themes and their hilarious ideas.

The book is also full of Harry Potter references, which I obviously enjoyed a lot. My favorite scene was a game they play, talking about which house they’d belong to. Slytherin, Gryffindor and Ravenclaw all get some love, but the seriously underrated House Hufflepuff never gets mentioned (but yeah, for those wondering, I’m still a Gryffindor).

Also highly recommended are the new books from two of the most imaginative authors around. Neil Gaiman’s “The Ocean at the End of Lane” is a fantastical and quiet book, full of brilliant descriptions and understated action. Patrick Ness’ “More Than This” is a unique blend of afterlife experience, survival scenario and dystopian thriller, which leaves readers wanting for more. I’ll definitely talk about them more in a future post, but I didn’t include them here because I’ve written about them in my recent posts.

On Friday, my post will feature one of the new projects I’m taking part in: collaborative fiction. So stay tuned!

Until then, please like, share and subscribe.

Sincerely yours,
Albert