The House at the End of Hope Street got on my radar only recently, when Wendy mentioned the book as one of her top favorites. The premise of the bookThe House at the End of Hope Street got on my radar only recently, when Wendy mentioned the book as one of her top favorites. The premise of the book sounded fabulous and my library had a copy as well. I started reading this book shortly before leaving for my Canada trip and what I thought would be a fast read ended up taking about 2-3 weeks total. Not because the book was hard to read or boring. On the contrary, it was quite entertaining, but it was not a book I could race through.
Distraught from a tragic experience, Alba was walking through her hometown when she comes across a house she had never seen before. The owner of the house, Peggy, invites her in but tells her that she can only stay for 99 days and has to turn her life around before then. Alba is glad for the offer - she didn't think she could face her family just yet. Over the next few days, Alba finds that this is no ordinary house. Indeed, the house seems capable of sending messages to its inhabitants, hiding or revealing things depending on whether anyone in the house needed extra motivation to get their life sorted out.
Along with Alba, there are two other inhabitants who discovered the house just like she did - Greer, an actress whose acting career never really took off, and Carmen, who seems to have run away from something terrible, away from her husband. As these three women try to find out what they really need in their lives, Peggy is dealing with matters of her own. Apparently, the house wants her to retire and find a successor. Retirement usually meant death for the owner of the house but Peggy loved a man and wasn't sure how to live the rest of her life with death looming in front of her.
I picked up The House at the End of Hope Street mainly because it sounded charming. And it sure did live up to its charm. The plot is mostly predictable, at least towards the ending, and that could be part of the reason why I couldn't read more pages in a sitting. It also took a long time for the plot to develop and the frequent change of narrators didn't help it much. But, my reading experience did not suffer despite those issues. There is something to love about a house that was magical - a house that suddenly revealed a whole wardrobe full of gowns, a house that gave plenty of inspiration when the going gets tough, a house where past inhabitants lived in its pictures and often talked to Alba, a house that had its own ghosts - a cat named Mog and a woman named Stella who was bent on helping Alba. Alba had a secret ability that made her extra sensitive to the house's secrets. Although Greer and Carmen were privy to some of these secrets, they didn't really know the full gamut of the house's powers.
There is much I loved in this book - it's one of those feel-good books that leaves you with a deep contentment. The house revealed itself only to women who needed a pick-me-up, and anyone else who walked through its doors were invited by the inhabitants. The past clientele includes several incredible women - great thinkers, writers, and poets. Chief among them were Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Agatha Christie, Dorothy Parker, and Beatrix Potter. Books also play a huge role in this book. I can see how you could want to read every book and writer mentioned in this book - that would make for a great women's fiction reading project. Overall, definitely charming, though predictable - this is something to read when you are looking for a whimsical read....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
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
I have been hesitating for a long time to put this review together. But although it's been two months since I finished The White Tiger, I still have sI have been hesitating for a long time to put this review together. But although it's been two months since I finished The White Tiger, I still have such strong feelings about it that I had to try and write my thoughts while the memory is still fresh. So, a lot of my thoughts below are still just coming together and every time I read someone's thoughts on this book, I find myself thinking, oh yeah, that's a good perspective.
I can think of one other book that made me feel this strong about it - The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. I didn't like it too much but was there a lot to say about it. I found my thoughts sashaying back and forth, even days after posting my review. This is actually a very good thing - when a book makes you think so much that your thoughts constantly rebel with each other. I like it when I don't reach a consensus instantly, or ever. Unfortunately though, both books have left me not eager to read more works by these authors (John Boyne and Aravind Adiga).
The first word that comes to my mind when I think of The White Tiger is "crude". This book is not pretty in its choice of words or its plot, and I mean that in a good way. It's refreshing, albeit very unsettling, to read a book that doesn't try to beautify its settings or characters. Bad stuff happens, there are cunning people in this world - better show things as they are and not as one wishes them to be. That seems to be this book's motto. The protagonist, who in the course of the book, ends up having four different names for different reasons, starts off very poor, the son of a rickshaw driver. He is pulled out of school very early and made to work in a tea shop to help contribute to the family income. At this age, he is actually very innocent and gullible, though deep inside, he has a desire to have a good life. He is also an ambitious character who doesn't want to do just any kind of work to keep his life afloat. He only wants jobs that pay well and don't require him to keep scrubbing floors.
He finds a person to teach him to drive and pretty soon gets a job in the city as a chauffeur (a word too elegant for his actual status) for a family related to a landlord back home. But when this book begins, we already know that he has murdered his master* - the same master who is portrayed as considerate and respectful towards his servants. How our protagonist gets from this My master is great phase to eventually killing him forms the crux of the story.
The White Tiger is written in a strange format - our guy is actually writing a letter to the Chinese Premier, who is scheduled to visit India soon and who has expressed an interest in seeing how entrepreneurship works in Bangalore. Our guy sees himself as the best example of an entrepreneur (what his job actually is isn't revealed until the end) and wants the Premier to learn the true nitty-gritty story behind entrepreneurship in India, not some glossed-over version that will be shared by the Indian Prime Minister. This then is why the tale he narrates is so sordid it made me sick.
Yes, this book has a lot of cheating and conniving characters with low respect for anyone (their peers, women, their masters, people poorer than them, and their families). The story, as the crow flies, is relatively straightforward. Guy gets job, guy works for his new master, guy kills master - this much we kind of know at the beginning. But condensing the story thus will take away what this book really is about. The social strata in India is complex - personal experience has taught me that much. That's not to say that other countries don't have such complex social hierarchies but that just doesn't fall in the scope of this book. Every person in India has a place - trying to jump across social layers is heavily frowned upon and discouraged. So, if someone was born poor, say a fisherman's daughter, she is likely to be viewed as such even if she came into riches later. The White Tiger portrays this social strata extremely well. I have to warn you - there is nothing pretty about this picture. I have many times felt angry and upset reading this book although really, the author is probably right. I say probably, only because I don't have much hands-on experience with India's social structure and so will not try to validate what the author says.
In The White Tiger, because of this stark separation of people into their own strata, we as the reader see the unpleasant aspect of such a society. If a rich person (remember - rich, poor, powerful, weak, it's all relative in this book) runs over someone, he immediately gets his driver to take the blame. There is no way for the driver to refuse because he doesn't know how to read or write, all the police folks have been bribed anyways, and besides, the richer person in this game has already pocketed one or two lawyers. When the drivers of all these rich and shallow masters meet up, they waste no time in dishing out the dirty laundry from their masters' house. Despite how much he struggled at the beginning of his "career", our protagonist treats his subordinates with scant respect when they are starting out. It's really all a means to an end - the means can be very disgusting pills to swallow.
I liked The White Tiger for being so brave in its depiction of an India that is disgusting, divided, and biased. I haven't read many (any?) books this bold. But, that doesn't mean I liked it. One of the things that annoyed me so much was how much the author tried to make me hate the narrator. Sure, he is a jerk, even if he is poor and trying to make do in a world designed by the rich and for the rich. I wouldn't have minded a gray shade to his character - people aren't black or white anyways, they are all gray with varying degrees of good and bad characteristics. But Adiga was insistent that we not like anyone in this book, even by a tiny fraction. So if I cannot like anyone, what was the point of the book - who do I support eventually? The rich landlord who will kill anyone who messes with him? The misunderstood foreign-bred Indian who had righteous opinions only to cave in to the corruption of the people around him? Or the poor man trying to get somewhere in this world and stepping over any impossible stone on his way to his destination? The ultimate message from this book is very shaky. That people are innately corrupt and could care less for positive virtues is something I refuse to accept. There are people like that and if The White Tiger was just trying to narrate the story of a few such people, it would be a better book. But branding an entire group of people as corrupt is like writing a dystopian story without hope.
In this weird motley of characters, there is no middle class. There is only the powerful one and the meek one. (The meek becometh the powerful, and this vicious cycle continues.) Adiga's book focuses so heavily on what's wrong with the Indian society that he doesn't speak anything about her good facets. Because there is good. There are people who will go to any length to provide water supply to their poor town. There are rich people who will speak loudly for the many silent meek people who are forever trampled. There are times when the country will come together, the maid holding the engineer's hand, the eunuch holding the politician's hand, however rare this may be. By not talking about this positive side, The White Tiger feels very one-sided eventually. For that reason, I hesitate to recommend this book. Ultimately, I would say - Read this book for an insight into the dark underbelly of India, but remember that this book shows just one side of a coin - there is a whole lot missing that makes this book itself very biased.
* I deliberately use words like master, servant, and meek in this review to stay with the spirit of the book and the relationships between its characters. ...more
Growing up, Kathy lived at a private boarding school in Hailsham, along with several other students - all secluded from the outside world and made toGrowing up, Kathy lived at a private boarding school in Hailsham, along with several other students - all secluded from the outside world and made to believe that they were special. Often though, they came across hints that there was more to the picture than met the eye - for instance, when a certain teacher always asserted vehemently that the kids need to know what was coming. Right from the beginning of the book, Kathy, now in her thirties, talked about Donations and recovery centers as if they are the norm, so as the reader, we know there's something not quite right with this world. Kathy is now a "Carer", someone who looks after "Donors", and during her stint as a Carer, she comes across two of her closest friends from school - Ruth and Tommy - from whom she didn't exactly depart on the nicest of terms. But now, she gets an opportunity to fix things while they are dying and during the process, she relives her school days and the things they learned.
Kazuo Ishiguro can certainly write a beautiful hand. Even though I didn't love this book or connect with it, I loved losing myself in the pages and just reading them, no matter what. I have read a short story by Ishiguro a few years back and there is a very detached and dystopian quality to his writing. He revels in the strange world and I have since heard that most of his books are similar so it can get a little tiring reading his books after a few of them. His writing also has a sense of nostalgia, almost as if I, not Kathy, was reliving my memories.
Never Let Me Go is narrated as a series of memories and anecdotes, through a long continuous prose. This style bothered me quite a bit because I couldn't quite understand where the story was going. Besides, I am not a fan of books that have a higher proportion of past experiences versus what is happening in the present. The present is necessary to show how the character has evolved since the events of the past. Kathy spends the first three-quarters of the book sharing her childhood experiences and for the most part, they weren't directed towards understanding their dystopian world. This is where this book differs from most other dystopian novels, in which someone is always trying to beat the system and win their freedom. There is no rebellion here or any major uprising intended to overthrow a corrupt practice. Instead, the characters easily settle into their way of life (they do have some minor quibbles) but a chunk of the story is dedicated to Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy - their dystopian world just happens to be incidental.
When you look at Kathy's world from that perspective, the story feels more purposeful. Kathy and her friends appear as just any other bunch of youngsters. But they have their misunderstandings, and it is at the end of one that Kathy leaves to start her training as a Carer. While at the school, they have frequent exhibitions, where every student puts up something he or she created for sale. Some of these items are taken away by a mysterious Madame and the students all assume that she has a secret Gallery where all those exhibits are stored. It isn't until later in the book that the significance of the Gallery is revisited. But throughout their days at the school, there is no parent or sibling who comes to visit them, they are never taken outside on a field trip, and the school feels as isolated as can be.
There isn't any major moment of revelation when they learn about their place in the world. I did expect a little more fanfare because I am sure if I were one of them, I would be immensely depressed with the news. The characters in Never Let Me Go easily accepted their fate and went about their responsibilities with very little opposition. For this reason, I couldn't care too much about the characters. I spent most of the last quarter of the book questioning the morals of the situation and feeling offended on part of the characters, but Ishiguro stressed more on the triangle relationship of Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth, which I could care very less about.
Ultimately, I was disappointed with this book. The writing made it worth it but the book had a depressing feel around it, even though I couldn't connect with any of the characters. I was honestly fed up of Ruth, and I could never understand why Kathy wanted to stick with her. And while I appreciated that Ishiguro chose to show a world where the victims go with the flow, almost as if they were trained not to oppose, we all know that isn't the way with the real world....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
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
I first started listening to The Martian on a road trip with the husband in May last year. The audiobook was around 8 hours long, and our road trip waI first started listening to The Martian on a road trip with the husband in May last year. The audiobook was around 8 hours long, and our road trip was 16 hours total. We figured we will be able to finish this book, even though we were going to have extra company on the return drive. But we only managed 4 hours of audio - blame it on the traffic, the many directions by the GPS lady, and the horrible rainy weather for a good part of the drive. We loved the book thus far but never got time to go back to the audiobook. Finally, in December, I borrowed the ebook version from my library and raced through it.
By now, everyone should know what The Martian is about - an astronaut, Mark Watney, is presumed dead and left behind on Mars after a freak storm sends the rest of the crew packing away. Eulogies are being sung everywhere in Earth and the remaining crew is distraught, but Mark is neither dead nor dying. How does a man, left for dead, on a planet that's not our home Earth, let the universe know that he is alive and kicking? Especially, when his communications systems won't work since the spaceship they all came in has left Mars boundary. More importantly, how will he survive on the planet long enough to establish contact or wait for the next crew to arrive years from then?
I loved The Martian. Mostly. If you love science, there is a lot to enjoy here. Even if you do love science, some of those facts could still be flying over your head, because there is A LOT of that. I admit to reading past them occasionally, but I appreciated that the author had all that information in there, because even if you don't understand any of it, you will 1) be wowed by how well this guy uses his brains (and just his own brains) to apply science to the Mark Watney survival project, and 2) be impressed that much of the science he applies are really basic high school science that we could also apply if only we had paid more attention in class. I don't think I would have been that impressed by Watney's daily routines, if some of those oh-so-dreary facts weren't paraded around.
The book is also very visual. I could picture most of the details in the book, and for that reason, I am super excited about the movie coming out later this year. Sure, Hollywood is going to spin it even further to make it feel more dramatic and heroic, but I can live with that after having read the book. The only problem I had with the book was the ending. Don't get me wrong - I couldn't imagine any other ending either, but it was a typical Hollywood-style ending - over-dramatic, 11th hour nail-biting moments, several edge-of-the-seat minutes. I wish the author had written the ending less like a scene from a movie, and more like a scene from a sensible book. After all the good scientific stuff in the rest of the book, the last part just felt more driven by luck and a Hollywood director than whatever set the tone in the book until then.
Despite that awkward ending, this is still a book I will strongly recommend. I didn't even mention the best part yet - Mark Watney is a seriously hilarious guy. The kind of guy you want to hang out with all day. The humor could, however, rub you the wrong way, because most of the time it is of the sarcastic kind, but hey, the guy is stuck on Mars alone, let's cut him some slack, shall we? It's amazing how despite the heavy odds stacked against his survival and all the dangerous things he does on the planet, he still manages to keep his humor hat on and say something funny....more
Ever since I read Gone Girl, I have been looking forward to reading more of Gillian Flynn's books. Not that Gone Girl was the perfect read, but it wasEver since I read Gone Girl, I have been looking forward to reading more of Gillian Flynn's books. Not that Gone Girl was the perfect read, but it was certainly a hard-to-put-down book with so many twists and turns that I had to see more of what Flynn could deliver. In Dark Places, Libby Day lost almost her entire family in one night - two sisters and her mother murdered by her brother. For the next twenty-four years, Libby lived on donations from people who wanted to help her and some money earned through the sales of a self-help book. But now, that money pond has dried up and Libby needs to find a way to survive. She doesn't want a job because she cannot be depended upon to do anything that involves routine or responsibility. Right when she is close to giving up, she receives a letter from someone named Lyle who has a monetary offer for her, in exchange for some help.
Lyle is part of a group of people who are like groupies for famous murders. They analyze and cross-analyze clues, visit the persons who were arrested for the crimes, and in the case of serial killers that are still at large, they try to locate where the perpetrator's next crime would be. Lyle and some of the group members have long believed that Libby's brother, Ben, wasn't the murderer that night, but Libby isn't having any of that. When the murder was happening outside her bedroom, she heard Ben's voice, or thought she did. Moreover, she doesn't want to revisit the events of that night - they have destroyed enough of her life. But Lyle has promised Libby some cash for anything Libby would do to help them solve the mysteries of that night. And Libby complies - she needs the money. But she ends up getting more than she asked for.
Dark Places has a very gruesome murder at its core. The events of that night are revisited quite a few times from multiple perspectives and they aren't pretty at all. There are plenty of twists and turns in this book too, not as much as in Gone Girl, but that shouldn't be a matter for comparison. However, the twists in this book felt pretty lame and predictable. Libby's investigation in the present and the actual events of that dreadful day are told in alternating sections from multiple perspectives. The murders happened during the 80s, at the height of the devil worship era. There is a lot of devil talk and and beliefs floating around in the flashback sections of the book. In addition, there is one ghastly devil worship scene, which I thought was even more disturbing than the actual murders. (It's a sad fact that I saw a similar scene in a movie recently. Once you read/see stuff like that, you pretty much want to swear off all meat for the rest of your life.)
Dark Places was a fast-paced book, which is usually a good thing for thrillers, but unfortunately, this book suffered because of it. For one thing, I struggled to understand why, after years of deliberately staying away from the events of that night, Libby would give in so easily and take in all the new knowledge without any hesitation. It just seemed too convenient.
The ending of this book was a big disappointment however. After all the buildup, and the possibility of something having gone very very wrong that night, it was quite angering to read what actually happened. Gillian Flynn certainly has a tendency to come up with very What? That's what happened after all this drama? endings. I won't spoil it for you, and besides, a lot of people on Goodreads have enjoyed the book, so maybe you will too. To me, however, the ending wasn't just unbelievable, it was also too convenient and too coincidental. It seemed like a bad enactment of Murphy's law. Everything that could go wrong went wrong that day, and some of the characters who were part of that day, came out of it dumber.
Honestly, I was very disappointed with this book. It made for a nice quick read and it is easily something I could read while on a plane, at the beach, or when I'm looking for something very light. But I expected something more clever and stimulating, and unfortunately, didn't get that....more
I need to read more of José Saramago's books, so that I never forget what a brilliant writer he is. His writing always leaves me in awe. How can someoI need to read more of José Saramago's books, so that I never forget what a brilliant writer he is. His writing always leaves me in awe. How can someone write in such a non-conversational style and still produce a masterpiece? Blindness is the second book I am reading by this author and it reminded me instantly why I loved his The Elephant Journey.
In Blindness, an epidemic is brewing. A man is struck blind when he crosses an intersection, but nobody believes him. But very soon, almost everyone who comes in contact with him are falling blind too - the man who takes him to his house and also steals his car, the wife of the first blind man, the doctor who examined him, all the patients who were in the doctor's clinic when the first blind man arrived, the policeman who interacts with the car thief, and so on. The doctor first figures out that an epidemic is happening and alerts the authorities. The government in return houses all the blind people and everyone suspected to have come in contact with the blind people, in an unused mental hospital, in separate wings. How these people thrive in such a world is the focus of this book.
If you are not familiar with Saramago, then you will be very surprised by his writing. His is not what I consider an approachable style, because if you read a paragraph or two to gauge your interest, you are most likely going to abandon it. Blindness has no quotation marks or "he said" / "she said" to indicate conversation, nor is there any overuse (or even normal use) of punctuation marks that lend a book visual clarity of organization. Instead, Saramago depends entirely on language to tell his story. There are paragraphs that are longer than a page or two. A whole paragraph can be part of a dialogue and abruptly someone else would start speaking. You have to be submerged in the story to follow who is saying what. For these reasons, audiobook versions of this book may not work, nor will distracted reading. That is not to say that his books are difficult to read or follow. Once you get past a few paragraphs, Saramago will suck you into his prose with such ease that you will probably wonder what took you so long to read his book. Honestly, that happened to me both times I read his works.
In Blindness, he has created a very interesting situation. How will blind people live in a world they have only known through their eyes? There is a saying that in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is the king. In Blindness, there is no one-eyed man. There is a woman who is living in the hospital with her husband and hasn't yet lost her eyesight. However, nobody else knows this so she can't rule this land of the blind. There is also another man who has been blind for years and knows his way around very well. But he is still a blind person. What makes Blindness so brilliant is that this isn't just a story of how one blind person is dealing with his new condition but rather, a world where everyone is now trying to do things like use the bathroom, find food, and look after loved ones. Outside the mental hospital, everyone has abandoned their homes and instead travel together daily when looking for food, because once a person leaves a place, there is probably no finding that place again. Besides, how do you know if something is food or poison?
Blindness doesn't name any of its characters. They are all called the first blind man, the wife of the first blind man, the doctor, the thief, the old man with the eye patch, the little boy, the old woman, and so on. There is also no mention of where this epidemic is unfolding. It could be the author's native Portugal, but it could also be the United States. There is nothing in the characters's mannerisms that seem to indicate their culture. This makes the book more powerful because any reader can easily identify with the characters and the setting. What's ironic is how visual this book is, despite filled with characters who cannot see! The deaths, the suspense, and the rapes are all very descriptive.
Blindness talks about a dystopian world but doesn't glory in the world it creates. Rather it focuses on the people and their actions in this world. I felt as forlorn as the characters did when yet another day goes by without escape from this illness. The government tries to stay on top of things but very soon, everyone is blind. A lot of the world is seen through the one person who is still to lose her sight. But in this new world, sight has no meaning. There is no more use for eyes, since there is no one else to see the world with you....more
Jojo Moyes is one of those authors I would never have read or tried to read. When I first attempted Me Before You, I closed it after the first chapterJojo Moyes is one of those authors I would never have read or tried to read. When I first attempted Me Before You, I closed it after the first chapter, because it smacked of a fluff novel with a rich good looking guy with a vapid girlfriend and who knows which predictable direction this novel would take. Months later, I found myself without an audiobook to listen to, and Me Before You was what I chose. I very rarely go back to a book I abandoned. But, Me Before You worked. It more than worked. It rocked.
One Plus One fared similarly. I wouldn't go as far as to say that it was as good as Me Before You. One Plus One was more predictable. But it was also funny, witty, and filled with misfits.
One similarity between these two books is that her male protagonists start off as men you hate at first glance. They are too self-important, too rich, too brainless, and too shallow. Over time, they reveal a side of theirs that was, for whatever reason, hidden in the first few chapters. Also, it took a poor working-too-hard woman to save them from their egos.
Apart from that common formula, the two books differed in every other possible way. In One Plus One, Jess Thomas works as a cleaner by day and a barmaid by night, trying to make ends meet and put two kids through school. Her husband, who doesn't contribute a dime, had moved away whining that he needs to fix his health and look for a job. Ed Nicholls is a rich-guy-done-bad-thing who is staying low after he took part in insider trading. His house is one of those that Jess cleans, and as is the wont with novels (and movies) like this one, the two start off on the wrong foot. Jess's husband's son, Nicky, is constantly bullied by some boys at school and in his neighborhood. Her daughter, Tanzie, is a math genius who just got the opportunity to study at a rich but great school on a scholarship, if her family can cough up five grand to cover up their share of the costs.
The problem? There is no five grand in their house, or money bag, or piggy bank, waiting to be used. So Jess decides to drive her brood and their dog all the way to Scotland where a Math Olympiad was being held in a few days, in her husband's ragged old Rolls Royce, hopeful that Tanzie will win the prize that will send her to the school of her dreams. But then, the car breaks down, a cop writes her a ticket, and Ed chances by. He volunteers to take them to Scotland. Besides, he needs to visit his dying father anyways.
What follows is a few days of fun, irritation, temper flares, and plenty of outbursts. It's amazing how much can be written about a car journey, even if it spanned a few days. I was half-wishing for a similarly eventful car-ride, but the only long ones I've had have usually been full of dramas. What I liked about One Plus One was how much I ended up caring for some of the characters. Misfit or not, there was something about each character that made you want to sit next to them. Sure, the story is very predictable, and sure, it reminded me a little about Maid in Manhattan (which I didn't like at all), but at the end of the day, Moyes's characters had a lot of personality and presence that made you read the book just to stay with them. I didn't want the book to end and move on. I didn't want anything bad to happen to them, which was what I was anticipating after reading Me Before You.
One Plus One is what I wish Sophie Kinsella's novels were more like. Light women's fiction with a rich-guy-meets-poor-gal script, but where the girl has brains and can hold her own kingdom....more