Gagarin: the smiling cosmonaut

book coverOn 12 April 1961, Yuri Gagarin, aged 27, became the first man in space – orbiting Earth aboard the spaceship Vostok 1. Gagarin’s time in space lasted 89 minutes, reaching a maximum altitude of 327 kilometres, and a maximum speed of 28 260 kilometres per hour. That’s 7.85km per second. His first words in space were: “I see Earth! It’s so beautiful!”. After his historic flight, he wrote:

Orbiting Earth in the spaceship, I saw how beautiful our planet is. People, let us preserve and increase this beauty, not destroy it!

12 April 2011 is the 50th anniversary of Gagarin’s historic flight, the world community is celebrating Yuri’s Day to commemorate the event.  A free film to download and share, first orbit, will also premiere on YouTube.

Some interesting facts about this space pioneer:

  • Gagarin wasn’t a tall man – 1.57 metres. This was an advantage as there was limited space available in Vostok 1;
  • His wife didn’t know he went on the first man-into-space mission until she heard it on the radio the following morning;
  • Gagarin was apparently selected from  candidates because of a distinctive part of his character – his lovely sunny smile. The flight supervisor said that he would succeed because of it;
  • A smile of God: according to ancient Sanskrit Ga =  go,  Ra = Sun, the family name Gagarin is translated as: Go, go up to the Sun.

Everyone is very welcome to give himself a taste of real space exploration mission.

Victoria’s Challenge: Steampunk

coverI’ve decided to “throw my fishing net over the huge amount of a variety of New Titles we are receiving daily.” I’ve ventured into the unknown genre of Steampunk with Dexter Palmer’s The Dream of Perpetual Motion.

This is a bright example of Steampunk genre in modern literature. It’s inheriting steam power elements in the form of a zeppelin that floats high above a fantastic metropolis and fictional technological inventions, such as the cryogenically frozen body of Prospero, the genius and industrial magnate. This is Dexter Palmer’s  debut novel, that combines the best traditions of H. G. Wells, Jules Verne and William Shakespeare.

Victoria’s Challenge: Vampires

coverI’ve decided to “throw my fishing net over the huge amount of a variety of New Titles we are receiving daily.” My next choice was:

Seth Grahame-Smith Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

After I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula  at the age of 15 I never thought I would be so scared by another vampire novel in my life, but here it comes again in the form of Lincoln’s secret diaries detailing his life as a stalker of vampires.

As a boy, Abraham Lincoln loses his mother to the undead (actually he is witnessing the whole thing!) and swears lifelong vengeance, so he adopts the axe that he hides inside his signature long black coat to use it for vampire hunting. The thrilling part of this newly emerged vampire novel is that the fictitious elements are  intricately interwoven into real life history of American Civil War period and while reading, most times, it’s hard to separate the fiction world from reality.

Victoria’s Challenge: Wilbur Smith

coverI’ve decided to “throw my fishing net over the huge amount of a variety of New Titles we are receiving daily.” Next cab off the rank was Wilbur Smith’s  The Seventh Scroll.

I  really fell in love with Historical Fiction/Adventure/Mystery all over again! (The last time I read this kind of literature was my intermediate school days). Now I find it’s hard to stop myself from reading it, whenever I have a spare minute or two. Very dynamic, exuberant and full of real adventure flavour, plus gives you the real taste of cultural reality of Egypt and Africa, honestly, one of the best adventure authors I’ve read.

Victoria’s Challenge: Saga

coverI’ve bravely decided to ” throw my fishing net over the huge amount of various New Titles we are receiving daily.” My next pick was a Saga –  The Affair by Santa Montefiore.

The story asks you straight if you would risk everything for love: your exciting career of children’s book writer, stable and even successful marriage and your children’s happiness. Angelica has to deal with all of these nasty questions when she meets Jack – a romantic womanizer and the owner of a vineyard in South Africa. Will Angelica follow the footsteps of her sadly known literature predecessors: Anna Karenina or Madame Bovary? Being a huge fan of Leo Tolstoy and Gustave Flaubert myself, I savoured this highly emotional and sensual modern British novel with a very curious twist at the end.

Victoria’s Challenge: Memoir

coverI’ve decided to throw my fishing net over the huge amount of a variety of New Titles we are receiving daily. My next pick was the memoir The Dancer from Khiva by Bibish.

I’m not a particular fan of Memoir genre, but a challenge is a challenge, so I followed Clare’s kind reference and read this one practically overnight.

Being familiar with Uzbekistan’s culture from my friends’ travelling experience and newspapers and magazines articles, I wasn’t really surprised to learn the real life story of the brave Uzbek woman who found enough courage to let the whole world know how cruel life was – and still is for a Muslim girl, born in a poor Uzbek family.

This book will be very helpful for someone studying a cultural differences topic.

My Very Versatile 5 Book Challenge Experience

I guess it’s time to share my 5 Book Challenge experience.cover

Firstly, I’d like to list down the books I selected for the challenge:

  • Bibish The Dancer from Khiva (Memoir) (just in case Bibish’s Memoir genre wouldn’t count towards the Popular Team choice)

Secondly, I’d like to contemplate on the mode I was reading these 5 (6) challenging books. Instead of picking up the one genre I’ve never read before or liked to read the least, I’ve decided to throw my fishing net over the huge amount of a variety of New Titles we are receiving daily. My efforts were not in vain and I’ve pulled out quite an impressive amount of new titles (The Affair, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), or even new authors (!), like Dexter Palmer, or Bibish.

My choice of: “Let it be one book from each particular genre” was really paying off during my reading hours and this is why: if I found some authors to be extremely challenging, like Dexter Palmer, for instance, to the point when I wanted to return the book back unfinished (sounds like a real blasphemy for the librarian!), I would simply switch onto reading a book from a more pleasant genre to me, like Adriana Trigiani’s Brava Valentine, which is considered by many literary critics, including me:), “the tiramisu for the soul”. After  having a slice of a “tiramisu for soul”, I’d return back to the least favourite author. This method worked very well for me, saving me from committing a real crime of throwing the least favourite reading back into Returns boxes before actually finishing with them!

Brava Valentine is the second in the series of  Valentine  books. What I really enjoyed about this book is that one can find everything (or almost everything) in it: family, drama, love story, adventure, contemporary American fiction in its best embodiment! If you are a big fan of Jane Austen translated into today’s environment plus  a bit of  You’ve Got Mail  movie type of person, then, Valentine is your next stop.

All in all, I’ve greatly enjoyed myself during the 5 Book challenge, practically, because you turn your attention to the writers, titles or genres you’ll never think of reading first place and, when you are finished with these readings, you cannot help the feeling of complete satisfaction with yourself, similar to the Olympic champion’s feeling when he finishes his marathon. Bouquet to Bronwyn – now I am not feeling uncomfortable when I hear the mysterious word Steampunk any more!   I would gladly take part in the next 5 Book Challenge. Would you?

Read more of Victoria’s Challenges.

Moonlight in Odessa – a real taste of Ukrainian life

Recently I was interested to find a character in a novel whose background was very like mine. Daria, the heroine of Moonlight in Odessa at Christchurch City Librariesthe recent novel Moonlight in Odessa is an Odessan girl, growing up at the same time as me.

Daria faces the dilemma of applying her skills and education in the dramatically changing world of post-perestroika life in Odessa. Because she is smart and well-educated, and also kind and attentive to people surrounding her, Daria’s journey to a new, more quality life gets a reward at the end.

The author Janet Skeslien Charles spent two years living in Odessa and I would highly recommend Moonlight in Odessa to anyone who is planning a trip to Ukraine or, who like me is learning the ways of a new country.