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Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Wrinkle in Time | Madeleine L’Engle

A Wrinkle in Time is a young-adult fantasy novel about three kids (Meg, an awkward, impatient, mathematical genius; Charles Wallace, Meg’s younger brother who is a child genius that reads minds; and Calvin, their new older friend that is looking for a family to accept him) that go searching for their missing physicist father. They get the help from three bizarre older women who take them on their journey traveling through time and space. 

This was a pretty quick read and I really liked L’Engle’s descriptions. This is one book where I could feel myself really picturing the new worlds and the situations. That is a quality that’s hard to find in books. I also enjoyed her explanation of time travel. She utilizes complex physics and mathematics in a way that even a child reader could understand—at least on the surface-level. I was also impressed that a book from the 1960’s featured a strong female heroine who is gifted in mathematics—but that’s where my admiration for this book stops. 

I get annoyed with books where all of the important information is revealed via dialogue, but it is only revealed a little at a time. Our impatient heroine, Meg, keeps asking the same questions over and over again. The responses are usually along the lines of, “Well I know the answer, but I cannot tell you right now for some unknown reason. Let’s wait until we walk over to this other room in two more chapters before I reveal the answer.” It seems like a pathetic attempt to drag the reader along. I much prefer books where the hero/heroine discovers the answers on their own, not from another character. I also get annoyed with books that have a subtle-but-not-so-subtle religious undertone. I have no problem with religious books, but they should own up to it. I hate books that go on acting like a fantasy story, but in the last few chapters they’re like, “Oh, by the way, this whole book was religious…we just didn’t tell you until now.” It makes me want to roll my eyes by that point. 

I think this book has a great overall concept, but it lost me in the execution. It has one of the most easily understandable forms of time-travel, so I think that children would get a lot of enjoyment from it. I would probably recommend this book to middle schoolers who are intrigued by time travel or mathematics. It wasn’t a horrible book, but I did have to force myself to finish it. Therefore, I can’t give this book any more than two stars. 

Let me know what you think if you have read this book!

 **   2/5 Stars

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Gone Girl | Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl is a mystery/thriller novel about a women who goes missing on the day of her fifth wedding anniversary. The clues seem to point to a murder by her husband, but things don’t seem to be adding up. 

Yes, yes, yes! THIS is the book that I have been so desperately waiting for. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book that completely consumed me from beginning to end. I kept saying to myself, just one more chapter…okay maybe just one more… This was literally a book I couldn’t put down. I read all 400+ pages in less than a day. I usually guess the endings to books, but this one had me blindsided at each and every turn!

The chapters go back and forth between the husband and wife’s perspective. At first the marriage seems pretty normal, with just some slight troubles. As the book goes on, Flynn expertly peels back the many layers to this complex story. You start to realize how bizarre and messed up their marriage really was. You think that you know who to trust and what’s going on, but that kept changing throughout the story. Also, I thought that the characters were relatable on the surface level—even though you may not want to relate to any of them. Each chapter had me surprised and wanting to read more.

I don’t want to say too much about this book, because it is better the less you know going into it. All you need to know is that it is disturbingly haunting, yet intriguing. I am planning on watching the movie version now, but I assume that it will not come anywhere near as epic as this novel. I also just added all of Flynn’s other novels to my “must read” list. 

I would recommend this book to adults. There is a lot of disturbing and sexual content that may be not be appropriate for younger audiences. This is a book that I will definitely be raving about to everyone! 

Let me know what you think if you have read this book!

 *****   5/5 Stars

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Wizard of Earthsea | Ursula K. Le Guin

The Wizard of Earthsea is the first fantasy novel in the Earthsea series. It follows a young wizard as he gets recognized and selected to be a part of a grand wizarding school. While in school, competition gets the better of him and he ends up releasing an evil spirit that leaves him horribly scarred and haunts him through his journeys. This book follows his adventures as a wizard healing the sick, tricking dragons, and fighting off the evil spirit. 

At first when I was reading this book I thought it lacked originality—wizards, dragons, good versus evil, a long journey, etc. It seemed to be similar to every fantasy book that I’ve ever read, but then I learned the history of the book. This book was written in the 1960’s, a time before fantasy books became popular literature. This was the book that inspired writers, such as J.K. Rowling (ever wonder where Rowling got her idea for a school for wizards? This is it). It was also one of the first books to feature dark-skinned main characters in a fantasy (which still seems to be a rarity). It was also one of the first books to explore how old wizards learned their powers in the first place. Those facts made me appreciate this book a lot more.  

However, I still think this book was just…okay. It was a pretty quick read that had a lot of events moving at a decent pace, but the first half of the book was a lot of build up. It took place in a school for wizards and I felt like I was reading a “How to be a Wizard” manual. This is a part of a series of books, so I suppose that it makes sense that the first book is setting up the world and background for the rest of the novels. I got this book based on rave reviews from several classmates, so I had high hopes going into it. I guess the book just didn’t live up to the hype to me. I would assume that the remaining books are more interesting than this one, but it didn’t hook me enough to want to continue on. Even though Rowling got her main premise from Le Guin, I still think Rowling did it better. I didn’t feel connected to the characters that much in The Wizard of Earthsea. They were all kind of lackluster and melancholy. Even the main character, Ged, was supposed to be a young wizard, but his personality him seem like a tired old man.

This book would be a good introduction to fantasy for middle schoolers. It is easy to read and has a pretty surface-level meaning. It is also good for someone who is looking for a new series to commit to. 

Let me know what you think if you have read this book!

 ***   3/5 Stars

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Golden Compass | Philip Pullman

The Golden Compass is about an orphan, Lyra, who lives with scholars on a college campus. One day her friend, and many other children, get kidnapped by evil Gobblers. After overhearing her uncle tell the scholars about a mysterious “Dust” that is causing problems in the North, Lyra decides to set on a journey to rescue the kidnapped kids and help her uncle solve the mystery of the Dust. 

Well…this book was a tough one to get through. I am always leery of starting trilogies since they are such a big commitment. You are basically committing yourself to 1200+ pages if you want a complete story, but typically the second and third books are rushed to get published and are therefore never as good as the first. I was definitely not in the mood for that long-term relationship when I started this book. Honestly, I wouldn’t even have had the strength to finish it if it wasn’t required for my Folklore and Fantasy class. I normally love high fantasy novels—which are basically books that create their own universe. This one just didn’t do it for me. Usually fantasy trilogies are so long because they spend a lot of time creating their own universe and allowing the reader to feel immersed in this new world. The Golden Compass spent very little time describing the setting. I had a hard time picturing this world. It is essentially still our world, but just a parallel dimension of it—or rather our world if we had talking animals, witches, and polar bears with thumbs and human-like skills. I wish that Pullman had spent less time on dialogue (which consumed the majority of the book) and more time on descriptions. This book also took a very long time to build up to the climax. Nothing really happened in the first hundred pages. 

Supposedly this is a controversial book because of its religious/anti-religious undertones. There was no mention of anything related to religion until the last few chapters. By that point I was so fed-up with this book that I was disgusted by Pullman’s attempt to relate the whole theme of the book to an issue of religion and sin. The only part of this book that I really enjoyed was that each human had a daemon—no not an evil creature—it’s actually an external representation of each human’s spirit that takes the form of an animal. Children’s daemon’s can constantly change their forms, but adults’ daemons are stuck in their “true” form. I think it would be cool to have this sort of “spirit animal” as a full-time companion, but at the same time, I wouldn’t want my inner feelings to be displayed to the world via my daemon. 

This book would be good for people who like long-winded adventure books with religious undertones. However, I will not be recommending this book to anyone. I actually will not even be finishing the trilogy. I made no connection to any of the characters and I honestly don’t care how the story continues. I try to be fair in reviewing books, but I really just didn’t enjoy reading this book. Reading should be pleasurable, not dreadful. I started this review thinking that I would give the book two stars, but after relfecting more about the book, I really think that one star is more appropriate. 

Fun fact: the movie version of The Golden Compass did so poorly, that they decided to not even film the last two movies in the trilogy. 

Let me know what you think if you have read this book!

 *   1/5 Stars

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

A Certain Slant of Light | Laura Whitcomb

This is a book about a ghost, Helen, who is stuck in a purgatory-like state. She figures out how to attach to living “hosts” and haunt them to stay away from hell. They don’t see her or know she’s there, but she has to stay in their proximity. When one dies, she moves onto a new host. After about 130 years, Helen notices a human, James, that can actually see her. It turns out that he’s actually a ghost like her that took over an empty body that a teenage drug-addict left behind. They fall in love and James convinces Helen to take over an empty body too. She finds a body of a girl with really overbearing Christian parents. This is a love story, but it is more so about accepting your past and finding happiness and resolution. 

A Certain Slant of Light is a pretty creepy story. From a superficial perspective, its about two humans that get their bodies possessed by ghosts who are avoiding eternal damnation. However, from a deeper level its about analyzing the simple parts of human life. The story is told from Helen’s perspective. Her observations highlight how strange some of our daily actions may seem to outsiders and how we take for granted certain things, such as smell and taste. It is an interesting perspective and really made me think about who we are in today’s society. It also made me think about how hard some people’s lives are and how some people have shut down mentally. They just go through the daily motions, almost like their body is there but their souls aren’t. The descriptions of the Christian family were perfect. I could feel how controlling the parents were. I felt stressed reading those sections just thinking about how suffocating it must feel to live like that. 

I always have a slight issue with books that include a whirlwind romance. Helen and James fall in love immediately and then quickly cannot live without each other. I just don’t think that romances happen that way in real life—but it always seems to in books. However, I’m okay with it in this book because I think that love was what caused Helen to start “living” again. I also have a problem with the idea of possessing human bodies and basically using it for their own benefit. I think that the whole idea just horrified me more than anything. 

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It was a really quick read that I couldn’t put down. The descriptions and observations were beautiful and enchanting. I would recommend this book to teens or older. Its great for people who love spiritual or ghost stories, romances, or books with a deep meaning. There’s supposed to be a sequel, but I think some stories are just meant to end and leave the rest to your imagination, especially this book. 

Let me know what you think if you have read this book!

* * * *  4/5 Stars

Also check out my Q & A session with Laura Whitcomb!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Scorpio Races | Maggie Stiefvater

The Scorpio Races is based on the hard-to-pronounce mythological creatures capaill uisce (copple ooshka), also known as water horses. These aren’t the beautiful and sweet horses that you may be picturing. No—these are man-eating, dangerous horses that live underwater. The people of this island capture these ferocious, but majestic beasts and try to tame them long enough to race them in the annual Scorpio Races. Most people end up getting trampled, eaten, or drowned in the races each year, but the promise of wealth makes the risk worth it for many islanders. The main characters, Puck and Sean, have different reasons for competing, but a common interest and love for the island creates an unlikely pair. 

Wow, this book was intense. It honestly would have given me nightmares if I read it as a kid. It is meant for young adults, but it even might be too intense for some preteens. There is a pretty long build up to the final races in the novel, but I think that it gave Stiefvater enough time to really develop the setting and characters. Her descriptions made me feel like I was actually on this island. I was terrified, but also captivated by the idea of these water horses. She really makes you feel the struggle between wanting to leave the island, but also being enchanted by its beauty. The whole premise was haunting and fascinating at the same time. It took me a few chapters to really get into the characters and plot, but after that I couldn’t put the book down. The overall premise is fantasy, but the general idea isn’t too far from reality. It would be like people trying to capture and tame wild cheetahs to be able to race them—maybe some people would hold on long enough to be cross a finish line and maybe people would get pulverized by the hungry cheetah. 

The chapters switch back and forth between the perspectives of Sean and Puck. I enjoyed getting two different motivations for competing in the races and realizing how different, but also how similar, both characters were. At first I thought Puck was a boy and I was excited to have a book that wasn’t about romance. However, Puck is actually a girl and there is somewhat of a romance. Luckily, the romance is slow developing and it isn’t the main point of the novel. My only complaint about this book was how long it took to reach the climax, but I don’t think that putting it earlier in the book would have made the book any better.

I finished this book a few weeks ago, and I still can’t stop thinking about it. I would definitely recommend this book to high schoolers or older. It is great for people who love stories about competition, character development, and a hint of fantasy. 

If you read The Scorpio Races, let me know what you think!

* * * *  4/5 Stars

The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat | Edward Kelsey Moore

This is a book about three African-American friends in their fifties, known as “The Supremes”, in their small town in Indiana. They spend every Sunday after church at the local diner, Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat. This book chronicles their lives together from the 1960’s to present day. Above all, it is a book about friendship.

If there was ever a book that was a perfect example of how to do character development, this would be it. Moore makes me feel as if I know each of the characters on a deeper level than most other books. I can even picture the supporting characters and their mannerisms. The characters unfold throughout the chapters without feeling drawn out or forced. While this book deals with many serious issues such as racism, child abuse, death, cancer, infidelity and more, it never feels too heavy. The characters are full of enough wit and humor to make you forget how devastating their pasts are, and realize how beautiful their present is. It is a perfect balance of heartache and heartwarming. This book leads you through the three women’s separate stories, but friendship is the theme that ties everything together. I found myself wishing that I had a group of friends like The Supremes. They are so different from each other, but they feel so real and complement each other perfectly. This is one book that I really hope becomes a movie someday. I want to see Odette and Clarice and Barbara Jean and Big Earl all come to life. The book did such a great job of describing the characters and scenes that I can already picture how the movie would look (call me up Hollywood!). 

I only have two complaints about this book. First of all, the story jumps around in time periods from 1960 to present day, so it can be a little confusing at times. Secondly, the chapters are sometimes in first-person (from Odette’s perspective) and sometimes from a third-person perspective. I think that the book would have been successful if it stayed in third-person the whole time. However, neither of these things were too distracting or took away from the overall appeal of the book. Halfway through the book I barely even noticed anymore. 

I think this book would be a good read for any adult. It deals with real life issues that will touch every reader on some level. I didn’t think that I’d be able to relate to a group of fifty-something-year-old African-American ladies who grew up in a time of segregation and racism, but I sure saw pieces of myself and my life in a few of the characters and stories. I will definitely recommend this book to anyone I know! 

Let me know what you think if you have read this book!

* * * * * 5/5 Stars

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Double Bind | Chris Bohjalian

The Double Bind is a novel about a rape survivor who ends up working at a homeless shelter. After one of her short-term residents dies, she is in charge of taking care of his old photographs. The content of the photos leads her to believe that there is a mystery involving her hometown. This leads her on a drastic hunt through the Northeast to solve this puzzle. 

I’ll be honest, this is not a book that I would normally pick up on my own. The only reason why I read it was because it was chosen by my book club. I’ll admit that I usually only read a book because it is recommended to me or because it has a catchy title/cover (I know, I know, that’s exactly what you’re NOT supposed to do). I don’t like to know anything about a book before going into it. I find that even the basic descriptions of books reveal something that you may not know until halfway through the book. The only thing I knew about this book was that it was supposed to be a book that you wouldn’t want to put down, and that it has a big plot twist. I had really high hopes for this book after the first few pages. The prologue was really intense and action packed (the first two lines were: “Laurel Eastbrook was nearly raped the fall of her sophomore year of college. Quite likely she was nearly murdered that autumn.”). The rest of the book was the complete opposite…dry and long-winded. I almost wish that the introduction wasn’t so enticing, because it just raised my expectations and increased my overall disappointment with the book. 

The book is advertised as a literary suspense, but I really didn’t feel any suspense in the book. The overarching “mystery” was only a mystery to the main character, Laurel, but was revealed to the reader in the first chapter. I found it hard to stay focused on the book since the author gave way too much background information on each character with very little actual story development happening. That’s ironic because I didn’t feel any attachment to any of the characters. When a story spends the majority of the time on character development, you would expect to be connected to at least one character, but that wasn’t the case. The only characters that I enjoyed were two little girls that added some innocence and comic relief to an otherwise serious book—but they were only in small snippets of the novel. The chapters also felt VERY long, even though most were less than 15 pages. I think it was because of all of the long descriptions. I can usually sit and read for hours at a time. This was not the case with The Double Bind. I would get bored a few pages into a chapter and half to stop and take a mental break. Halfway through the book I finally started to get a little more drawn in and it was easier to read for longer periods of time. The last hundred pages of the book somewhat made up for the boring middle. It started to pick up pace and I actually got interested in the story. The front of the book advertised that there was a big twist at the end, so I spent most of the book trying to figure out the twist. I guessed it for the most part, but it still had me a little surprised and scratching my head. I am glad that I finished this book since the ending was redeeming. 

I think this is a good book for a book club so you can talk with other people to make sense of what it was that you just read. I wouldn’t recommend it to someone for a pleasurable read. It seemed like too much effort for the amount of gratification I got from reading it. If you do read it, I would recommend reading The Great Gatsby first, since this book draws some parallels to that book. I haven’t read Gatsby, so I am tempted to read it to make sense of some of the plot in The Double Bind. 

Let me know what you think if you have read this book!

* * 2/5 Stars

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone | J.K. Rowling

Ok—let me start off by explaining why it took me so long to read this book, as I realize that most people have either decided to read, or not read, the Harry Potter series by now. The books first came out when I was six years old (I guess you could do the math if you wanted to figure out my age). I remember Scholastic book fairs hyping up this new and exciting series. When it first came out, I was too young to be looking into chapter books. As I went through the grades in elementary school, more and more Harry Potter books came out and the popularity skyrocketed. In third or forth grade I picked up the Sorcerer’s Stone to see what the hype was all about. It was too complicated for me at the time and I just couldn’t get into it (too many crazy names and made-up words). I couldn’t seem to wrap my mind around this whole fantasy universe, so I stopped after a few chapters. I always had planned on picking the book back up when I got older, but by that point, the books were so popular that it seemed almost cliche to read them (and I was too cool in middle school for that…). By that point, all of the Harry Potter movies started coming out too. I got dragged into the hype and ended up watching all of the movies. I liked them, but I found it hard to follow once it got to the fourth movie. I just felt that there were some important pieces that I either missed or never really caught onto. I didn’t understand why it was such a huge phenomenon. I guess I just never felt invested in the series.
Fast forward to 2015 when almost everyone and their grandmothers have read all of the Harry Potter books. I am in a graduate school class about folklore in children’s literature, and there’s a list of books to choose from for the semester. The Harry Potter books were an option under the “Physiological Roots” category, and I figured there was no better time to pick up the book gathering dust on my book shelf for the last fifteen years. As I started reading it, I immediately regretted watching the movies first. I usually will delay watching a movie if it has a book counterpart, because the movie is never as good as the book and I want to read the book first. While reading, even though I knew what was going to happen next, I found that I couldn’t put the book down. I felt as though I got to know all of the main characters in a whole new way. The book highlights certain nuances in characters that you just don’t get from a movie. I felt as though I could picture Hogwarts and the Forbidden Forest and even the plump and annoying Dursley family (though I’m sure that seeing the movie first skewed my mental pictures). I found myself really appreciating the story and catching on to subtleties in the plot that I never realized in the movies. I see now why so many people fell in love with this series, and I am already planning on reading the rest of the books. 

I don’t think this book requires a summary from me since most people already have a general idea of what it’s about (wizards and magic and you-know-who). To all the people out there who have already seen the movies and think that they don’t need to books: you still need to read them. These books will reignite a part of your childhood that you somehow missed out on. You’ll get thrown into this magical world that you wish you could visit. I found myself relating to these characters and feeling a connection with them (obviously I’m the Hermione in my group of friends). I am now invested in their lives and stories and have become a part of this cult classic. This is a book that I could see reading with my future children before bed so that they can dream of a magical world (as long as they don’t have nightmares easily, of course). 

Let me know your opinions of this book, whether this is your first or hundredth time reading it! 

* * * * * 5/5 Stars

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