Posts filed under ‘Reviews’

The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars is pretty hot right now. It’s been very popular, not to mention the fact that the movie adaptation is being released tomorrow. I read the book firstly because I’ve been wanting to for a while now but I was also rushed by the fact that I hate having books spoiled for me, even in small ways. With all the chatter surrounding the movie, I wanted to read it for myself before I saw or heard something that I would wish that I hadn’t. It was also helpful that my sister owns a copy that I was able to borrow.

I found that I enjoyed the book quite a bit, especially the beginning. The first few scenes after each of the major characters are introduced were particularly good and solidified my affection for them. As you may know if you’ve been following this blog, if I like the characters, it’s much easier for me to enjoy the book as a whole, and this book didn’t make that difficult for me in any other department either.

Although the subject matter was serious, the writing itself didn’t feel overly heavy or relentlessly depressing. In fact, there were several times when I found myself laughing, but the extraordinary thing was that the lighter moments didn’t overwhelm the story, either. They didn’t at all detract from the more serious events of the plot by lessening their gravity in any way. The balance this book managed to achieve was absolutely fantastic.

Speaking of the more serious subject matter, the way it was depicted seemed absolutely true to life. It’s obvious that the author did his research well when it comes to the medical aspects of cancer, but I’m talking about more than that. The characters’ emotional and mental states as they worked through the reality of their conditions and the events of their lives in general felt real in a way that not all books can manage. It didn’t oversimplify or fall back on common tropes or put a gloss over any harsh realities. It strove to tell the story as it really was (or would have been if it actually was real and not a work of fiction), and I think that it succeeded in that.

Personally, I could have done without a few of the explanations of that, though, like those times when the narrator Hazel actually talks about how stories about kids with cancer normally go and what she sees as being wrong with them. It just felt to me like the author stepping in to point out that he was telling his story “the right way”, which I think the reader could have concluded, or not concluded, for him/herself. I was also a little disappointed by the included explanation of the novel’s title, although, to be fair, it is a YA novel and not all young adults would have caught the Shakespeare reference in the same way that I did or would have analyzed it to the same extent.

These things, and a few other moments that felt just a bit “writerly” to me are probably just a result of me being the sort of person I am– an adult (as opposed to young adult) writer who has taken quite a few college-level literature courses. Of course, that did also mean that I was able to pick up on quite a few of the other literature references in the text. It’s not that they were really hidden, but I did smile a bit seeing familiar poems and other things like that. Perhaps in the end it balances out.

I would definitely recommend giving this book a try. Yes, even if you plan to see the movie. Do I plan on seeing it? To be honest, I’m not sure. It’s not high on my list of priorities, especially because I almost always enjoy the book much more than the adaptation to begin with, but we’ll see what happens. For now, I’m rating this book at four stars.

Four Stars

June 5, 2014 at 10:08 pm Leave a comment

The Drowned World

Another one I’ve been meaning to read for a while. The Drowned World takes place in a post-apocalyptic future in which the world has heated up to average temperatures of well over 100 degrees as a result of solar flares. The ice caps have melted and drowned out the cities of the world, rendering them almost completely uninhabitable. In order to escape the heat, the survivors have moved to the Arctic and Antarctic circles. The novel follows Robert Kerans, a scientist with an exploratory team studying the lagoons that have sprouted up over the remains of the city of London.

I found this book very interesting because I really liked it without completely understanding why. Something in the way it was written just appealed to me. I can’t remember the last time something like that has happened, but I’m really enjoying it.

I can tell you that I enjoyed the level of detail and description, particularly when it came to the images of the fantastical mixing of decaying modern cities and natural Triassic landscapes. I also thought the slow transformation the character’s undergo was handled particularly skillfully by the author, especially the psychological aspects. I know that for myself, as a reader, it really put me into an interesting and unusual perspective on the events, particularly those near the end of the novel.

Another thing that I noticed was strong symbolism, which was sometimes even stated explicitly. In my opinion, this made the story easier to follow and to engage with. Plus I had so much fun trying to catch as much of it as possible as I read. Although that may just be me.

As far as the characters go, I thought that they were fine overall, but I was kind of disappointed with Beatrice. I was just expecting her to… do more. You know, actually do something to help instead of letting the male characters control basically everything. I don’t know if it’s because of the year it was published (1962) or if it’s just weak character development. Or maybe it’s supposed to be some kind of huge character flaw? It’s hard to tell since she’s the only woman in the novel, but she seems more like a token woman than an actual rounded character. Kind of like Erewhon‘s Arowhena.

But all of this is a bit secondary to me. When I think of my enjoyment of the book overall, I just keep going back that thing I mentioned in the second paragraph. I can’t explain it, but I liked it.

three and a half stars.

August 6, 2013 at 7:57 pm Leave a comment

The House of the Seven Gables

As you can see, my copy is a bit used, but I got it for really cheap!

As you can see, my copy is a bit used, but I got it for really cheap!

If you’ve been following my reading this summer (which, I’ll admit, you probably haven’t been), you may have noticed that The House of the Seven Gables took me a bit of a long time to read. The truth is that I just had a bunch of trouble getting into it. And that about sums up my opinion on this one.

It started out promisingly enough. A drama of Puritan greed and witch hunting, a terrible curse and a sudden death. I was hoping for murder. Or a ghost. Or a family plagued by dramatic and terrible misfortunes at the hands of the dead wizard’s curse! So many possibilities, and, instead, there were pages and pages about an old woman running a cent shop with the help of her young cousin while taking care of her brother. And we learned about their personalities and their daily routines and how they got along with each other. We learned about the customers in the shop and the people who passed by the house and a whole lot of other things that made me wonder where exactly this plot was going.

Granted, The Scarlet Letter, which I enjoyed reading, didn’t have a whole lot of action, either, but at least there was a sort of tension. From the beginning we know the trouble that Hester is in, we see that her husband is out for revenge on the unknown father of Hester’s child, and basically that all is not well in Puritanville (disclaimer: this is not the town’s real name, although it should be). So as we learn about the internal struggles of Hester and see what Chillingworth is up to, we know why these things matter. In The House of the Seven Gables, I just wasn’t getting it.

I did like the ending when I finally got to it, and I will say that this may be one of those books that is better on the second read. For now, though, if I speak truthfully, it kind of bored me. And in my rating system that almost automatically equals a rating of:

Two Stars

July 28, 2013 at 4:01 pm Leave a comment

Invisible Man

I have to say, this book surprised me. When I decided to pick it up, I was expecting something heavy and depressing that I would refrain from complaining about this time because I knew what I was getting myself into. Except, apparently, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into because I rather enjoyed it.

Now, I’m not saying that it’s a happy book or even a book where everything is pretty much ok. Certain scenes were absolutely horrifying, particularly the battle royale scene that takes place near the beginning in which the white characters find entertainment in watching the pain and humiliation of the black characters. It really is one bad thing on top of the other, and, when it ends with the main character delivering a speech in between swallowing down blood and receiving a college scholarship, it seemed absolutely surreal.

I left that scene thinking how monstrously injust it all was, and I feel that’s the key to the entire book. It didn’t seem to be aimed at making the reader feel sorry for the main character, although I certainly did at times, but instead at revealing the grave injustices in the world and examining their many forms and effects.

The main character moves through a wide variety of experiences and undergoes many personal changes in these 500 pages, and this allows him to gain a deep understanding of the world and the racial injustice that exists within it. It unfolds more and more with each revelation he experiences until he reaches the point at which he concludes that he is really an invisible man: “when they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination– indeed, everything and anything except me.”

I only wish that I could have understood everything that he does. Don’t get me wrong, I followed the plot of the story perfectly. The trouble came when the narrator got into these deep reflections. I understood just enough to make me really want to understand, if that makes any sense.

I wonder if perhaps my age and my experiences are my enemies here. This book was first published in 1952. I was born in the nineties. And I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin, where I honestly never saw much racism. My own mindset was already vastly different from the main character’s at the beginning of the novel, and I think this might be the reason that I understood without really understanding. I picked up on the meaning of what he was saying but only in a shallow sense. I feel bad that I don’t know how to fix that.

I do recall, though, one scene in the book where the main character’s grandfather leaves him a final message. The words have a great effect on him, but he doesn’t understand what his grandfather meant. And then somewhere around page 500, he remembers the advice and realizes that he could try it. He doesn’t know what his grandfather meant by it, but he after all he’s gone through he finally see a way that it might make sense for him. Maybe all it takes is time.

I realize that this isn’t much like an ordinary review, but I feel that it does do a good job of showing what my experience with this particular book was like. In the end, that’s what really matters to me, and it may give you a better idea of what you might expect than you would get from a normal review. Take it or leave it, this is the way I do things.

Three Stars

June 27, 2013 at 10:07 pm Leave a comment

The Hobbit

My general impression of The Hobbit? It’s a nice little fantasy adventure. Not very deep or complex in terms of the plot or the characters, but I don’t think that it set out to be.

I did end up enjoying it more than I enjoyed Lord of the Rings things that annoyed me in that book didn’t seem so bad in this one. The songs and poems that I found incredibly boring in LOTR didn’t really bother me in The Hobbit. Maybe they were shorter? Or had more relevance to the plot? It’s a bit hard for me to remember exactly how they were in LOTR now that it’s been a while since I read it. There was another battle scene that I didn’t care for, but it was thankfully short.

Towards the beginning, I wished that it could be more descriptive, but then something occurred to me. Some sentence or other popped out at me in a way that made me wonder how it would sound if I was reading this out loud, perhaps to a child. And then it clicked. That would be the perfect form for this story. I really could picture myself reading this book to my kids someday and adding all the little bits of tone and emphasis in my voice that would make it come to life. And now I actually look forward to doing that. You know, if I ever have kids.

I also ended up rather liking the character of Bilbo. He comes to enjoy the adventure, but he never lets it go to his head. He doesn’t become full of himself or become driven by greediness for the gold. He’s stays loyal to his friends and hopes that everything will turn out for the best for everyone. And he always does what he can. That’s really something to admire.

So, yeah, it was a good book. Not great, but pretty good. Really just a nice little story, which, in my opinion, is just fine.

Three Stars

June 10, 2013 at 8:05 pm Leave a comment

Castle Rackrent

I actually have no clue whether the Castle Rackrent looked anything like this at all. For all I know, it might've just been a really big house. But, hey, look! A castle in Ireland! It fits! Because I said so.

I actually have no clue whether the Castle Rackrent looked anything like this at all. For all I know, it might’ve just been a really big house. But, hey, look! A castle in Ireland! It fits! Because I said so.

While short, this book took me a while to read, really because it failed to draw me in. It has a simple plot. As I mentioned before, it goes through the stories of each of the Rackrent heirs– how they came to inherit the estate, how they managed it, and how they died, leaving it to the next heir. The narrator is a servant of the Rackrents who seems to really love the Rackrents, although why he does is completely inexplicable given that we see all of their worst traits through his narration.

Well, given that all of the Rackrents have glaring flaws, I didn’t really care for any of them. I especially disliked the one who locked his Jewish wife in her room for years on end because she refused to give him a very expensive cross she owned. I felt kind of bad for her because she was being mistreated, but it struck me as very odd that, upon learning of her husband’s death, she kisses it joyfully. I found myself wondering what the author was trying to say here in having a Jewish woman show such affection for a Christian symbol. Anyway, the point is that this little plot point was really the only highlight of the book for me. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: it’s very hard for me to enjoy a book where I don’t like or even care about any of the characters.

I’m glad this book was short because I got bored with it towards the end. It wasn’t really a bad read, but, apart from the historical importance it must have, I didn’t see much in it. 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die said that “the ironic comedy of the old butler’s tale is easy to appreciate.” Well, I don’t know about that because I must have missed it.

Two Stars

May 30, 2013 at 1:33 pm Leave a comment

A Star Called Henry

I mentioned before that I found this story very depressing at about 100 pages in. I also mentioned that it was very well written and provided a very realistic picture of Dublin in the early 1900’s, especially in the poor areas. These things continued to be true throughout the course of the novel.

It may have gotten slightly less depressing, but that’s really hard for me to say objectively. That’s because of the thing that I talked about in my last post. I just didn’t feel anything at all towards the end, unless you count interest in the writing-related aspects, like appreciation for Doyle’s style and techniques. It was, as I said, very well written, and I developed a kind of appreciation for it in that respect. My favorite scene is related to that aspect of it, but since, it comes near the end, I’ll share that in a separate post under my Spoilers section.

Beyond that, I honestly can’t say that I enjoyed it that much. I didn’t really like any of the characters, although I did feel sorry for Melody (Henry’s mother) and for Henry in the beginning because they had such hard lives.

This is another book where it would help to know a bit of Irish history, particularly Easter 1916 and the Irish Civil War. If you’re interested in reading historical fiction dealing with Ireland during this time, you may enjoy it more than I did. It’s not a bad book at all, it just wasn’t for me personally.

Star and a Half

May 6, 2013 at 1:58 pm Leave a comment

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