Every summer, Rose and her parents stay at a lake house in Awago Beach. Once there, Rose and her friend, Windy, who also visits there with her motherEvery summer, Rose and her parents stay at a lake house in Awago Beach. Once there, Rose and her friend, Windy, who also visits there with her mother and grandmother, explore the Beach and spend a good amount of time swimming, shopping, or watching movies. Except this time, things aren't going to be quite as fun as Rose wants it to be. Her parents have been fighting, her mother has not been getting along with some company, and Rose has been a little too interested in one guy at the only store at the beach.
I had mixed reactions to This One Summer. On the one hand, I really enjoyed the story. Rose is at that age when she is extra sensitive to triggers around her. When a girl comes to the store crying about something, she and Windy go to great lengths to find out what the deal was. When her mother starts behaving strangely, she worries that she could be part of the problem. And Windy being an exuberant and lively character, Rose struggles to share anything with her because the two girls truly are opposites. There is a lot of teenage angst in this book!
While the story itself was engaging, I wasn't much a fan of how it was executed. There were occasional leaps in the story that I found disconcerting - as if a panel or two was missing in between. Unlike most other readers of this book, I wasn't a fan of the artwork. I think I didn't like the overwhelming blue of the illustrations - they worked great for drawings set at night, but for others, they appeared somewhat whitewashed. I'm probably in the minority though - many others have loved this book, so you may enjoy it too, if you haven't yet read it....more
Last weekend, I was browsing through my bookstore, when I came across a copy of Haruki Murakami's The Strange Library - all shrink-wrapped and lookingLast weekend, I was browsing through my bookstore, when I came across a copy of Haruki Murakami's The Strange Library - all shrink-wrapped and looking like a book-lover's toy. Seriously, how do you resist a book like that? Even if I didn't like Murakami, I would probably walk out of the store with that book.
I love books (and food) that are interactive. It feels almost four-dimensional to me. There's the mental pleasure of being lost in the book and there's the physical pleasure of just wrapping that treasure open and wading in with excitement. The front of the book has two flaps that snap together, very much like your typical cereal box. And then you flip the pages to read.
As for the plot, The Strange Library was... well, strange. A boy goes to a library to borrow some books, instead he is sent to the mysterious basement where he had never set foot in. There he meets a strange man who have some twisted devilish motivation for running that place. The boy is trapped in his evil scheme and comes across a sheep-man and a mysterious girl who sort of help him.
There is more to the story but I don't want to go too much into it because this book is a nice little gem to read. There is some strangeness to the book, and it feels more like being lost in a nightmare. But it is nowhere near strange as some of his other books. It reminded me more of Neil Gaiman's Coraline than a Murakami book. If you have been unsure about reading Murakami, this is probably the good one to start with. It has a lot of his tell-tale narrative style and some of the strange stuff he is famous for, but it is not a full-fledged Murakami book, both in size and content, so you'll probably not feel too dazed.
That said, this is a short book, more a short story than a novel. His novels have felt more complete, if you know what I mean, despite any amount of fantastical themes. This is more like a fable, so if you do want to sample a full Murakami, I would try one of his novels, maybe Kafka on the Shore, which I enjoyed a lot....more
The Cellist of Sarajevo has been a book I wanted to read for quite a while. Every time I read a review of this book, I feel compelled to read the bookThe Cellist of Sarajevo has been a book I wanted to read for quite a while. Every time I read a review of this book, I feel compelled to read the book itself but then pretty soon I forget all about it. When I saw this book at my B&N store early this year, I picked it up almost on a whimsy, and a few weeks later, I dived into it.
This is a very short book, but it is by no means a fast read. I found myself wanting to stop often, to ponder the passages and their meanings. There is so much depth in this book, which is interesting because plot-wise, there isn't much. I wouldn't even say that this is a character-driven story, which it is. To me, it felt more like an action-driven story - how something you do ends up having a lot of consequences and can change the path of your future, how you give the impression of being a certain kind of person but deep inside you are nothing like that vision, how you never wanted to be involved in something but life and war brings you to the exact spot you swore off. The Cellist of Sarajevo is a very interesting study of humans and war, specifically humans in war, with the Bosnian War as the backdrop.
At the center of the story is the titular cellist, who is a minor character of this book. He has just resolved to play the cello at the site of a bombing for 22 days to mourn the 22 people who died there. (This cellist is inspired by Vedran Samilović, the real-life cellist who used to play in ruined buildings.) The arcs of three other characters, Arrow, Dragan, and Kenan evolve around the cellist's resolution. Arrow is a sniper who never wanted to kill people, and yet here she is, targeting the rebels and gunning them down. She is so good at what she does that she has thus far escaped capture. However, her newest assignment - protect the cellist at all costs - is likely to be far more dangerous than aiming her gun at remote rebels.
Dragan is one of the lucky few who still had a job. Every day, he makes his way from his house to the bakery where he works but there is one intersection that he needs to cross which is occasionally the focus of some sniper's fire. This particular day, the sniper has his scope focused on the intersection making Dragan unable to cross for a long time. It is here that he learns some valuable lessons about the indomitable human spirit even in the eyes of real danger.
Kenan makes a trip every few days to a water reservoir to fill his six bottles with enough water to keep his wife and kids sated for a few days. He also takes two extra bottles for his elderly neighbor whom he doesn't like and who doesn't give him any gratitude or appreciation. So far, he has been lucky although there is plenty of danger that he needs to face during this journey. But this time, he isn't so lucky.
There is so much to love in this book. Galloway's portrayal of what war does to people is interesting. Two of the characters identify themselves more as cowards than heroes. I would hesitate to call them cowards because they are really just scared. Kenan, the father, appears stoic, in control of himself, and confident in front of his family but the moment he steps outside for one of his frequent trips to get water, he crumbles to the floor because he doesn't want to die nor does he want to go out and walk in front of the enemy. Dragan doesn't try to help a friend who gets shot when she tries to cross the intersection but he does get embarrassed when a total stranger helps this woman over to the other side. Arrow, on the other hand, is more of a self-righteous person. She doesn't want to kill a weaponless person just because they seem to be in enemy territory. She would rather die than lose her principles.
I loved The Cellist of Sarajevo more than I thought I would when I first started it. The best comparison I can get for this book is any of José Saramago's books, which are incredibly difficult to plow through but by the end you are rewarded with an excellent story, wonderful characters, and plenty of wisdom to ponder. This isn't a book you want to rush through. It would make for an excellent night-time reading - the chapters aren't long, the characters are very identifiable, and despite how sad the circumstances are, you can't help but feel uplifted by the positive aspects of the book....more
Letters in the Attic was another quick read I found on Scribd. Lizzy McMann is secretly happy that her father wants to leave her mother. She never likLetters in the Attic was another quick read I found on Scribd. Lizzy McMann is secretly happy that her father wants to leave her mother. She never liked him anyways and besides, he rarely acknowledged her, unless he wanted something. But her mother wasn't taking it too well. They eventually decide to move out of Phoenix to upstate New York, where her grandparents resided. Lizzy didnt even know she had grandparents so she was looking forward to meeting them.
The stay at New York turns out to be completely different from what she imagined it to be. Lizzy's grandmother has been very hostile and wouldn't even look at her. She also took every opportunity to ridicule her daughter. Lizzy also ends up learning certain secrets about her mother that makes her initially excited and later very angry. Along the way, she ends up learning that she likes girls and that fact scares her, especially since everyone she knows considers that a very bad thing.
Letters in the Attic was a sweet read but I think younger readers may appreciate it more than I did. I wasn't super thrilled by how the characters evolved through the book. The mother was someone who never learned from her mistakes, and most characters aren't fleshed out too well. It bugged me a lot how every chapter started in the present and then flits back to something that happened a few days or weeks ago. I don't mind flashbacks generally, but this style of narration just seemed too distracting and tiring. Besides, I am not a fan of characters who live too often in the past. Other than these odd hiccups, this was a nice book. All Lizzie wants is a dream home, with parents that would form the perfect family portrait. But more importantly, she wants her mother to be happy and often ends up taking care of her mother....more
I chose to read Penelope Fitzgerald's The Bookshop almost on an impulse. I was browsing through Scribd and came across this title. I find it always diI chose to read Penelope Fitzgerald's The Bookshop almost on an impulse. I was browsing through Scribd and came across this title. I find it always difficult to resist books with bookish titles - The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, The Strange Library, The Bookshop, just to list some of them. In The Bookshop, Florence Green risks everything she has to open a bookshop in the seaside town of Hardborough, which does not have any other bookstores. Despite many expecting her to fail, she actually succeeds and makes more money than she expected to, enough to hire an assistant and start a lending library. But her prosperity invites a lot of negative attention from the owners of nearby stores - none of them happy about the smaller number of people coming to their stores - all content to blame Florence for their woes. Florence also ends up crossing Mrs. Gamart, who, as soon as she becomes aware of Florence's plan to open a bookshop, wants to make it known that the building Florence wants to buy is better suited for an arts center. To top it all, the building is very old and has plenty of maintenance problems, including something that feels haunted.
I was pleasantly surprised by The Bookshop. It's a really tiny book - just 190-odd pages and reads very fast. It was also very interesting and not just because it has a bookshop at the crux of the story. The ending wasn't what I expected at all, and for a good while, it left me feeling sad overall, but it also hints heavily at all the brouhaha that happens when the playing field is not level, and you have some influential people dictating terms. This was my first brush with Penelope Fitzgerald and I would certainly like to read more of her books....more
I've been trying to review this book in my head for a week and I always get stuck with the summary. This is not an easy book to review, not because itI've been trying to review this book in my head for a week and I always get stuck with the summary. This is not an easy book to review, not because it is deep or mysterious or happens to have a spoiler you absolutely should not reveal, but just because this is a book more about the journey of two beautiful characters, and a journey cannot be summarized in any easy way.
I had wanted to read Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, ever since I saw this gorgeous cover and spunky title. But like many other books I want to read, it found its place in the dusty never-trodden folds of Mt TBR. Until I found myself in a rut for most of December, and remembered Jenny's review of this book. I found it on Scribd and settled down with the book, hoping it would save me from a rut. It did more than that.
Aristotle, or Ari, as he likes to be called, is a somewhat-angry teen who is more like his quiet, soft-spoken, PTSD-suffering father than his cheerful happy mother. He wants to understand his father better, but his father isn't keen to talk much. Dante, on the other hand, is a know-it-all, who makes up rules for everything in life and expects things to go his way. When the two boys meet one day at a swimming pool, they hit it off immediately, and become best friends. But when Dante moves to Chicago for a year, Ari doesn't quite behave as if he misses him. He is mostly confused by how he feels.
If I didn't know anything about this book, I would have been even more wowed by how Benjamin Alire Sáenz tells the story of Aristotle and Dante. But, this was still a seriously awesome book. Aristotle and Dante are at the age when boys are exploring their sexuality. They think about dating and meet girls, and learn things along the way about themselves and their friendship. Dante, being the more open person, reveals his feelings easily. Ari, who is the narrator of the book, isn't much into understanding himself, even in his own thoughts. He doesn't believe that he could be a great person that other people love and respect.
But Ari made for the perfect narrator. His confusion is our confusion too. At times, I could see what his thoughts were hinting at, but since our narrator refuses to pursue those ideas, I doubted my theories. When I finished reading this book, I wanted to reread it - this time, armed with complete knowledge of the characters, so that I could look at their behavior better.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a satisfying coming-of-age story. By the end of the book, they learn one of the most important facts about themselves that they wouldn't have learned without each other, or at least not until much later. Moreover, I was super happy to come across two teens who obviously and openly loved their parents. I know real-life teens who adore their parents, but the teens in many books either hate their parents, think their parents are not important, or love their parents but don't ever share that opinion....more
Kate Philo and her expedition of scientists, technicians, divers, and one reporter are looking for icebergs in the Arctic that could potentially contaKate Philo and her expedition of scientists, technicians, divers, and one reporter are looking for icebergs in the Arctic that could potentially contain frozen small creatures like shrimp, plankton, krill. These scientists work in a private research lab headed by Erastus Carthage, who has managed to successfully bring back to life such frozen creatures, though they managed to live only for a few minutes. During this particular expedition, however, they find a human body in one such berg. Nobody believes they will be able to animate such a large and complicated specimen, but science prevails and our frozen man is alive again, more than a 100 years after he was presumed dead.
But Carthage doesn't care much about the social or ethical aspects of bringing such a person back into this world. He wants to see if the man can be made to live longer than the projected time based on past experiments (21 days), and also whether he can use this project to get as much private funding as possible. The reporter, Dixon, is thrilled to be the only media person to have exclusive rights to the project. While these two people remain focused on furthering their career ambitions, Kate and the frozen guy begin to bond.
The Curiosity was a very interesting book with a fascinating premise, though not without a fault. It is narrated by four protagonists - Dr. Kate Philo, who is not only scientifically invested in the project but also personally; Dixon, our news reporter who callously basks in his exclusive rights to watch and report on the project; Dr. Erasthus Carthage, the self-absorbed arrogant conceited scientist who focuses only on what can make himself tick; and our frozen man, lost for 100 years at sea, and suddenly awakened in a lab that is futuristic to his time.
I've often been fascinated by how much our world has changed in the last decade but I probably did not delve too deep into that because watching the world through our frozen man's eyes was a treat. During his heyday, the idea of landing on the moon was not even an idea much less a laughable one. There hadn't been a world war yet, no computers, no food industry. And when this guy comes along and sees the world, he is overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude by which it has changed. His chapters were, therefore, the most enjoyable ones for me.
While this past vs present comparison was very well done by the author, his character developments left much to be desired. All four characters struck me as highly one-dimensional shallow people. Dixon is too whiny and has zero respect for women. Carthage is egocentric and focused only on money and fame. Kate is too considerate and empathetic. Our frozen man is too just and gentlemanly. Nobody seems to have an other characteristic and that made the narrative very predictable and boring. Dixon annoyed me the most, though probably because of how many thoughts of his revolved around women (all sordid). Even Carthage's malevolence was a pleasure to read, in comparison.
There were a few things that were very unbelievable to me. For instance, the frozen guy's ancestry is never properly studied. The press of today will go crazy trying to scrounge as much as they can about this man, and there doesn't seem to be any of that in the book. When one reporter belches out that the whole thing is a scam, a lot other news agencies buy the story, when pretty much every evidence pointed the other way. Sure, people like to believe only what sounds reasonable to them. Not the press, though. I also did not enjoy any of the romance between Kate and our frozen guy. I did think that they were very companionable but when it was being taken further, it just left me very annoyed.
The Curiosity was also a very long read. I got the impression that the whole story could have been told just as well in half the book size. The book being too long, however, clearly established the amount of the time that passes between the beginning and the end, and also what that time did to the characters within the pages. I do think that if this book had been shorter, some of that sense of time and place would have been lost, but there were a lot of pages we could have done without. Kiernan, however, writes a beautiful hand and for that reason, I would love to read more of his works. I don't know if it was because at the same time, I was myself pondering the idea of writing more, but I enjoyed a lot of his literary devices and language expressions.
Poor character portrayals aside, this book is a complicated book, especially since it is a hotbed of ethics, morality, and decency. When Kiernan wrote about reanimation, I almost believed that such a technology existed. I was surprised to learn that it did not. Yet. He also raised several ethical questions - would the man even want to be alive again? How should he be cared for afterwards? The most fascinating question for me was about his freedom. The man was born in a free America and is now brought back alive in a free America. Yet, he has no rights, he is locked in a room in a lab, and he is not free to do or eat as he wishes. These were the intriguing aspects of this book, and which Kiernan investigated well. If only the characters had more depth, and the book a little less words and romance....more
If you wanted to buy only one bouquet for 25 bucks but had to pay 3 bucks extra for using your credit card (because you don't have cash on you), wouldIf you wanted to buy only one bouquet for 25 bucks but had to pay 3 bucks extra for using your credit card (because you don't have cash on you), wouldn't you just pay 28 bucks for the whole thing? If you were Ove, you would be so angered by the idea of paying the extra 3 bucks that you would buy an extra bouquet you don't want, for a total of 50 bucks, simply on principle.
A Man Called Ove is the story of an angry grumpy irritable yet very lovable man. He doesn't like people or technology. He will let you know immediately if you ignore or violate a rule, and you will not hear the end of it. All he wants to do is die, that's such a simple thing. Except someone always keeps interrupting his plans. Either they want his help or his opinion. Most of the time, these interruptions come in the guise of his new neighbors, the pregnant foreigner and her lanky husband who cannot reverse a trailer. Pretty soon, his former good friend's wife joins in because said former good friend now has Alzheimer's and the city is talking about taking him to a home. As if that is not enough, there is a cat that frequently hangs around near him and guilt trips him into helping it. Ove doesn't even like cats, so it's very infuriating to be bossed around by a cat. Still, he is persistent to die in his nice jacket. Tomorrow is the day he will manage to do it, for sure.
If you liked The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, you will adore this book. If you didn't like it, you will still adore this book. Ove is such a gem of a character. The kind of person who can annoy you with his old man grumpiness but you will get charmed reading about. I don't even want to compare Ove to Harold Fry because the latter's book was quite somber while A Man Called Ove is the most delightful book I've read since Where'd You Go, Bernadette. So if you liked the Bernadette book, you'll love this one.
I am not even sure how to coherently phrase this review, because really I want you all to just get your hands on this book. So forgive me if I sound a little like a bumbling stammering person. I promise you, it's awe for this book that's causing it.
Ove is very eccentric. He hates Japanese cars. He also hates American cars and French cars. In fact, the only car he approves of is the Saab. He has never owned any other car. Whenever he sold his current car, it was always to buy another Saab. He moans that people don't even make cars like that. A good friend of his used to drive a Volvo. But when he bought a BMW one day, that was it. Ove did not talk to him again. According to Ove, there was no coming back from that. Every morning, he had a routine. Even if he was going to die that day, the routine never changed. He went around his neighborhood making sure that bikes were in the shed (if they were not, he put them there), cars were in the garages, dumpster bins were in order, and that everything was exactly the same everyday, just as it should be.
Ove was also a Mr. Fixit. He pretty much did everything by himself, including building his own home. He has zero respect for today's generation that does not know anything about bleeding radiators or driving a real car. But he is a person who values souvenirs. He is not a materialistic person but give him a squiggly drawing made by your child and he will pin it to his refrigerator. All his eccentricities are funny to read about, but Ove has a reason for each. Why he loves Saab, why he hates white collar people. He is a very righteous man who has had his share of hard times, but he has come back a stronger person because of it.
A Man Called Ove is probably my favorite book this year. It's funny, charming, heartfelt, and moving, not to mention a very nicely paced readable book. It has a very unmixable mix of characters who somehow come together really well. Each chapter title begins with "A Man Called Ove..." and it's fascinating how the author has managed to say so much about this man who initially appears as if he couldn't have any backstory. Most importantly, this book is like someone you can hang out with just to have a really good time....more
Somewhere in my reading journey, I seemed to have picked up a stereotype that screenwriters are poor novelists. I think it started with reading a bookSomewhere in my reading journey, I seemed to have picked up a stereotype that screenwriters are poor novelists. I think it started with reading a book written by a screenwriter and finding it very immature. That was probably followed by a few other such books until this stereotype stuck in my head. One example that comes to mind is Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. That was one of the most exciting books I read in 2011 but it was also poorly written and clichéd. So when I came across David Benioff's City of Thieves, I was very hesitant to read it. I've been hearing about this book for years, ever since I started blogging. In those days, I wasn't aware that David Benioff is a screenwriter. It made its way into my TBR on the merit of its rave reviews (seriously, everyone loves it) and its unique premise (two guys forced to find eggs in war-torn Russia if they wished to stay alive). Every one I know has said that this book is a must-read, but I say the same thing too about Ready Player One.
Still, I decided I could sample a few chapters before coming to my aforethought conclusion that I was going to be proved right.
258 pages later, I was sitting in awe. Have I ever been so wrong? Probably.
City of Thieves is my read of the season. Set in wintry Russia, this book is filled with people who have barely anything to eat nor any decent shack to hide from the cold. To them, even the idea of eggs is a luxury. But when Lev and Kolya are caught, separately, by the Russian authorities - the former for stealing from a German corpse, and the latter for being a deserter, they are given a rare chance to save their lives. The Russian police is not usually that generous - severe physical labor or death are its usual verdicts, but a certain Colonel's daughter is going to get married soon, and war or no war, she wants the wedding of the century. Which means, cakes and pastries and what not, and plenty of eggs to save her day. That's Lev's and Kolya's homework - bring a dozen eggs in four days and walk away from prison like free men. As collateral, the Colonel keeps their ration cards with him.
Not that the idea of escape did not cross their minds. They could have walked away, maybe into another country, with new identities. But without their ration cards, they can only get so far. A letter signed by the Colonel will help in keeping them away from Russian authorities but other than that, they are on their own.
Over the next few days, Lev and Kolya see the best and worst that humanity has to offer. There is only so much generosity that a war-shattered human can offer, but some go out of their way to keep Lev and Kolya fed, even if that means somebody in their house will have to go hungry. But these vignettes are few and far between. Most of the time, horrors are what they see - from the couple that lures kids into their house, kills, and eats them, the dogs that are trained to run towards the enemy in anticipation of a hot meal only to trigger mines that rip apart their bodies (oh god, this broke my heart so much I had to stop reading the book for a while), to the girls whose families and fellow-villages were killed and made to prostitute themselves to a member of the Nazi death squad.
So much horror, and yet the horror isn't the final taste I walk away with. City of Thieves is an incredibly funny book. It's surprising when you can feel so much sorrow one minute and then laugh your guts out the very next. Lev and Kolya share a rare camaraderie that provides more than a few laughs for the reader. Lev has not slept with a girl yet, a fact that Kolya loves teasing him about. Kolya himself walks around quoting a certain writer that he considers very famous but Lev hasn't heard about. Kolya insists he is not a deserter but the story about how he came to be arrested is about as hilarious as it is ridiculous. David Benioff's characters come so vividly to life that it isn't hard to relate to them. Moreover, his writing is very beautiful as well as atmospheric. It isn't hard to feel the cold of the season or the fear of frostbite, the hunger gnawing your insides, or the deliciousness of stale bread or potatoes when you haven't had a bite in ages.
When this book begins, a man is trying to write a book and interviews his grandparents to learn more about their lives in Russia. Moreover, Lev has the same surname as the author's. That got me wondering how biographical this book could be, but a few interviews with this author squashed that thought down. I'm certainly disappointed that I ignored this book for so long, but I'm glad that I eventually read it. I'll admit that part of the allure of this book was the fact that Benioff is producing one of my favorite shows - Game of Thrones. It's certainly reassuring to know that he can write a book as well as he can produce a show....more