More Mini-Reviews!

Since I continue to play catch-up on reviewing books, you know what that means. Each of these lovely books deserves its own full review, but I’m afraid you will have to make do with these lovely, bite-sized mini-reviews.

The Stranger by Albert Camus

My first time reading a work by the existentialist Albert Camus was quite an extraordinary experience. It’s difficult to describe my emotional reaction to the book as The Stranger is quite unemotional throughout. Despite being a novella-length work, quite a lot happens. Meursault, the protagonist, learns that his mother has passed away in a nursing home. He appears unphased by this loss, and immediately begins having an affair with a former coworker. After befriending a shady individual and helping him humiliate his former girlfriend, he spends a weekend at the beach, where he kills a man for no good reason.  After being arrested, Meursault stands trial and is condemned not just for murder but for his lack of emotion at this mother’s funeral. In fact, his apparent callousness seems to hang over him more than the killing on the beach.

The Stranger is the most famous work of Albert Camus, a French existentialist philosopher and novelist. Existentialists believe that we’re born into this world without a purpose. Meaning is unique to the individual’s experiences. While the summary I provided may make The Stranger seem like a rather bleak story, I argue that it actually speaks to the importance of living in the now. Meursault realizes that he’s happy – that living is a privilege, and that no matter when he dies, he will cherish his moments of life. Also, I think this book speaks to how we each deal with grief and loss in our own individual ways. When my mother passed away, I didn’t necessarily show my emotions to others. The Stranger is one of those works that I believe one must read a second time to fully appreciate its meanings, an opportunity I look forward to having someday.

Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen

I haven’t read nearly enough sci-fi this year. Fortunately, Mike Chen’s novel completely satisfied my buzz for the genre. As a matter of fact, this book completely exceeded my expectations. This book is a fun mix of time travel, family drama, and action movie. The amount of technobabble and discussion of paradoxes is kept to a minimum, allowing the book to be both fast-paced and deeply moving. While the book is more fiction than science, I found myself enjoying every moment of the ride. 

Kin is a secret agent from the future. After his latest mission backfires and leaves him trapped in the past, he eventually does what anyone would do. He learns to adapt to his new world, gets married, and starts a family. Kin is living a life of domestic bliss with his wife and teenage daughter when his associates from the future arrive to rescue him. In order to protect his loved ones, Kin agrees to return to the future. However, Kin broke the cardinal rule of time travel: he got involved and in a very big way. When the life of his daughter is threatened, Kin will do whatever it takes to make sure her future is secure. One of the main reasons this novel stands out is in its depiction of the relationship between a father and daughter. I look forward to more creations from the mind of Mike Chen. Thank you, Natalie Getter, for this fantastic recommendation.

Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle

This debut novel by John Darnielle was recommended by my bestie. If roleplaying games, Choose Your Own Adventure books, and examining the darkness of the human psyche are areas of interest, then this book may just be right for you. Yes, it is quite dark and covers some disturbing content. However, the author’s writing is so beautifully polished that you will find yourself unable to put the book down. 

Wolf in White Van follows Sean, who creates mail-in roleplaying games that help him generate a modest income. The most popular of these slow-burn games is called Trace Italian and is set in a post-apocalyptic United States. The setting is the early 2000’s, and while the growing use of the internet is making Sean’s business nearly obsolete, he figures there will always be some people who enjoy this type of old-fashioned gaming. As the book progresses, we learn that Sean is horribly disfigured due to a botched suicide attempt as a teen. As a result, he is unable to live a normal life due to the facial damage, requires a caregiver, and has a strained relationship with his parents. Tragedy once again enters Sean’s life when two teenage players of his game die in a suicide pact. 

The story moves in a non-linear fashion, mirroring the chaotic nature of Sean’s own thinking. Due to the bleeding together of several of his memories, it leads to a rather surreal reading experience. Throughout the story, we slowly gain more information into the events that led to Sean’s attempted suicide. The narrative is also interspersed with text from the game featured in the book. I thought this novel was a thought-provoking look into how our imaginations often are our only escape from the harsh realities of life. 

On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden

My next read was easily one of the best graphic novels I’ve had the pleasure of reading. On a Sunbeam operates on so many levels. While it is a fantastic story set in space, it is also a beautiful story of young love. The protagonist is troubled Mia and is interwoven between her time as a rebellious schoolgirl at a boarding school in space and her time as crewmember aboard the spacecraft Aktis, where she travels the deepest reaches of space to help restore broken-down structures. As the past and present slowly come together, we learn of Mia’s lost love and how her current circumstances may give her a second chance.

One of the best qualities of this book is in the way you are immediately immersed into the story. All the characters of this world are female, with the exception of one who defines as non-binary. No explanation is provided for the lack of males in this universe. It just works. The characters are fleshed out to perfection, and many of the interactions are so priceless. I also appreciated the artwork as I felt like I was part of an intimate story set within a huge space opera. The dialogue sparkles, but my favorite chapter is the one where there is no dialogue at all. If you are looking for a good graphic novel, check this one out as soon as you can.

Tillie Walden, “On a Sunbeam”, and other Graphic Novels | by Natasia Patel  | Medium

The Classic Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke

Now it is time to bring this post full circle, as I consider Rainer Maria Rilke to be one of the greatest existential thinkers of all time. While I’m not the world’s biggest poetry buff, I know what I like. In fact, love would most appropriately capture my feelings about this collection. Rilke is complex, his images interweave and play off each other magnificently. There are too many individual favorites to name here, but if I have to pick some favorites, I would name “Let this Darkness be a Bell Tower,” “Archaic Torso of Apollo,” and “Lament.” However, so many others resonated with my spirit. I also enjoyed Rilke’s thoughts on writing poetry in general. 

Rilke champions the inner strength of the individual. While some may find his poetry to be a tad on the depressing side, I found a lot of comfort. Actually, I found his work to be quite transformative. His poetry was perfect reading during my pandemic experience. So I leave you with the following lines:

Have you read any of these books? I’d love to know your thoughts! Let me know with a comment below. 

Thank You, I Will Have Another

I’m really happy that The Classics Club has revived the tradition of the monthly meme. Although I’m a little late to the party on this one (fashionably late), I figure the old adage better late than never applies. Here is the most recent question:

Which classic author have you read more than one, but not all, of their books and which of their other books would you want to read in the future?

As I perused my shelves of unread classics, I found four authors that I love but have only read a handful of their stories.

Joseph Conrad

Number of books read: 2 (plus a few short stories)

While Heart of Darkness remains one of my all-time favorite classics, I haven’t spent a lot of time on the works of Joseph Conrad. I wouldn’t mind rereading HoD as well as Lord Jim. I actually have these two on my Classics Club list for rereads in addition to Chance. If anyone has a recommendation, please feel free to comment. 

Charles Dickens 

Number of books read: 4

To think, I have the audacity to call myself bookish! The last Dickens I read was Hard Times back in the early days of this blog. This surprises me as Great Expectations is another favorite book. I haven’t even read Oliver Twist, although I did see the Wishbone episode. I love that literary pooch! There are several of his books on my shelves, so I would probably go with the aforementioned Oliver Twist, or possibly Bleak House as that one is highly regarded.

Oliver Twist – What the Story Was: Wishbone, Reviewed

Ernest Hemingway

Number of Books Read: 3 (plus several short stories)

At least, I’ve gone beyond Old Man and the Sea. Outside of a collection of short stories, I’ve read zero Hemingway since starting this blog. While I remember enjoying both The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms, I would fail a quiz on either of these books. I just bought a copy of Garden of Eden so probably that would be my next original read from him. 

Kurt Vonnegut

Number of books read: 2

I remember reading both Slaughterhouse Five and Breakfast of Champions back-to-back. This event occurred long before this blog was ever conceived. Fortunately, I’m rectifying that right now by reading Welcome to the Monkey House, which is my Spin book for September. I’m only a few stories in to this collection, but I am really loving it. Few authors capture that perfect blend of bleak with the absurd like Vonnegut. 

scooby doo hello GIF by Boomerang Official

Which classic books are next on your list? Let me know with a comment below!

 

 

Mini-Review Madness!

After a prolonged hiatus from writing book reviews, I have returned to enlighten you with some of my thoughts.  These reviews go back a few months and span a number of genres. They also span a number of ratings, from “I flipping love this” to “Why am I still reading this?” Welcome to another round of mini-reviews; they’re like full reviews but with fewer calories!

Let’s begin these reviews with an exciting double feature from the Queen of Mystery!

CHRISTIEDOUBLE

Crooked House and After the Funeral by Agatha Christie

Wealthy patriarch Aristotle Leonides lives under the same roof with three generations of his family. When he is found poisoned, his granddaughter Sophia enlists the help of her fiance Charles Hayward in discovering the identity of the murderer. Could it be the much younger wife who is possibly having an affair with the grandchildren’s tutor? Perhaps it is Aristotle’s oldest son, who is a complete failure as a businessman. Maybe it is the younger son, who has always been jealous of the love his father gave to his older brother. As usual with Agatha Christie, expect plenty of red herrings and misdirection.

While Crooked House (1949) initially felt like a standard Agatha Christie mystery, my opinion completely changed with the reveal of the murderer. Although the ending may not be as shocking to this generation of readers, I imagine that it was considered quite a revolutionary twist back in its day. As with the majority of her fiction, the writing is so smooth and compelling. Charles Hayward was not my favorite narrator ever, but I found each member of the victim’s family so interesting. Crooked House is such a fun read. Treat yourself to this book and follow it up with a viewing of Knives Out. 

After the Funeral (1953) also features a dysfunctional family whose closets hold plenty of skeletons. Following the funeral of Richard Abernethie, the surviving relatives gather for the reading of his will. While it appeared that Richard died of natural causes, his sister Cora announces to the family that she knows he was murdered. When Aunt Cora is found viciously murdered the following day, it would appear that dirty work is afoot.

This novel features the return of everyone’s favorite Belgian sleuth, Hercule Poirot. However, Poirot doesn’t appear until much later in the novel. Most of the initial investigation is performed by the family solicitor, Mr. Entwhistle, who calls on his old friend when he finds himself reaching a dead end on the case. I thought it was interesting that Poirot doesn’t appear until much later in the book. This was also the first Poirot novel I’ve read where he goes undercover under a false name (although that quickly falls apart).

I normally don’t read back-to-back from the same author, but in this case it worked nicely. Both novels were written post-World War II and each had an interesting commentary on the breakdown of the old social order in Britain. On another note, I’ve become fascinated by how many of Agatha Christie’s works have undergone title changes. After the Funeral was originally published in the United States as Funerals are Fatal. A 1963 UK paperback changed the title to Murder at the Gallop to match the film version. Another fun fact is that the film version Murder at the Gallop replaced Poirot with Miss Marple, another of Christie’s sleuths.

Now that I’ve blown your mind with random Agatha Christie trivia, let’s move on to my next mini-review.

MOSHFEGH

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

Let me start out by saying that I really wanted to like this book based on all the buzz it received since publication. I really wanted this to be one of the high points of my reading year. But it just didn’t work for me. This is Ottessa Moshfegh’s second novel and features an unnamed protagonist who attempts to take a year off from life by constant sleep. Through the increased use of various prescription medications, our narrator finds herself escaping more and more from reality, or perhaps getting a little closer to it.

While the concept of this novel is bizarre, I also think that it a perfect reflection of our feelings about 2020. The coronavirus pandemic has taken such a toll on our lives with enforced disengagement from society. The increased insanity of the state of this country could perhaps make the idea of a drug-induced coma seem appealing. Imagine going to sleep for twelve months and waking up at the end revitalized and reborn. The hope of the narrator is that all of her past pain and grief will be eradicated, allowing her a fresh start in the rat race called life. Was she successful? I felt the ending was rather vague, and I don’t think the ideas came together properly in the end. I also felt the protagonist was so unlikable as she was so narcissistic and self-centered. Moshfegh is quite a talented writer who is unafraid to show us the darker side of humanity. Her ability to craft a dark comedy is similar to Chuck Palahniuk. My own emotional turmoil at the time of reading this novel might have affected my opinions of it. I would be willing to give Moshfegh another chance, but I highly doubt I will ever read My Year of Rest and Relaxation again.

MINIREVIEW

The Daydreamer by Ian McEwan

It has been some time since I’ve read anything by Ian McEwan. Truth be told, I find him to be hit and miss. However, I so enjoyed his attempt at telling a beautiful story for children (in fact, he read each chapter to his own kids to get their approval). The “daydreamer” is ten-year-old Peter Fortune, who is viewed by adults as a bit strange for his reserved nature and his incredible imagination. This book is comprised of seven of Peter’s daydreams that are all beautifully told.

Some of the stories are quite funny, such as Peter switching places with his baby cousin or discovering a vanishing cream that will make you actually disappear. Other daydreams will pull on your heartstrings. My favorite was the second story when Peter switches places for a day with his pet cat. As a feline lover who has lost a precious fur baby, I’ll admit to shedding a few tears. The final story is another poignant piece where Peter gets to briefly experience life as an adult and falls in love for the first time. Ian McEwan’s The Daydreamer teaches us that we should never grow out of our imaginations.

Pines (The Wayward Pines Trilogy, Book 1) by Blake Crouch

This was my second time reading Blake Crouch. While I found Dark Matter to be a fun sci-fi thriller, I struggled a lot with this one. It’s a shame because it started out as rather promising. Secret service agent Ethan Burke arrives in the small town of Wayward Pines to investigate the disappearance of two other federal agents. As he begins to interact with the bizarre residents of Wayward Pines, Ethan discovers that nothing is quite as it seems.

Initially, this book had the feel of Twin Peaks with nonstop suspense and plenty of action. Unfortunately, the combination of badly written prose and a really unlikable narrator turned this one into a bit of a struggle. Then, the big reveal came on what was actually happening with this town, turning this into a MAJOR struggle. I’ll stay spoiler-free but the revelations just felt so generic. By the end, I found myself not caring at all about Ethan’s fate. Although the first of a trilogy, this book can be read as a standalone. I’ll admit I’m a tad curious as to what happens next, but I’m not clamoring to read the next installment either.

Throw Book GIFs | Tenor

The Other Side of the Island by Allegra Goodman

The Other Side of the Island by Allegra Goodman, is a dystopian novel set in a future world in which much of the Earth has been flooded. The world is now ruled by the Corporation under the mysterious figure of Earth Mother (as opposed to Big Brother). Honor is a young girl who has been living in the less developed lands to the North, but recently moved to the more restrictive Colonies with her parents. Life is calm here, providing you follow the rules. However, Honor’s parents are not good at conforming. This leads Honor to fear for her parents’ safety as those who refuse to comply with the Island’s expectations tend to disappear.

While this seems to be your typical dystopian novel, there were several aspects that really stood out for me. First, Goodman’s writing is very eloquent. Also, I thought she did an outstanding job of slowly fleshing out the setting of the Island as well as the specific social issues. It was nice to have a child protagonist, as I thought that added an extra dimension to the story. There’s the personal story of a child rebelling against her parents, but in this case, it’s Honor doing her best to fit in with society as her parents are the rebellious ones. I thought that was a nice flip. For a young adult novel, I thought all the characters were complex and fully realized. Hopefully, Goodman returns to tell the rest of Honor’s story in the future.

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

Finally, we have a fantastically brilliant and quirky book that I highly enjoyed. This was my first time reading a work by John Green, and I’ve already bought two more of his books since reading this one. Colin Singleton, a child prodigy with a gift for anagramming words, has a certain type when it comes to the opposite sex. Ever since his first “girlfriend” as a child, he will only date girls named Katherine. When this story begins, he has just been dumped by the 19th Katherine. Rather than wallow in misery, Colin embarks on that most sacred tradition of a road trip with best friend, Hassan. Their journey takes them to a small town in the South, where they encounter all manner of bizarre events, such as a feral hog hunt as well as the tomb of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

I loved the writing of this book. Green is superb at telling a story from a teenager’s point-of-view, even one as unique as Colin Singleton. This novel carries some important messages about fitting in and trying to find the logic in everything. Of course, this is John Green which means there’s some romance as well. Fortunately, Green’s writing is skilled enough to keep the novel from becoming cheesy. There are some great laugh-out-loud moments, and you can’t have but smile at Colin’s complete awkwardness in social situations. His best friend Hassan is hilarious, and the love interest of the story is quite unpredictable but relatable. Overall, An Abundance of Katherines is a fun coming-of-age anthem for nerds everywhere. If you’re looking for that perfect book that will leave you feeling good while gaining some valuable life advice, you can’t go wrong with this book.

I hope you enjoyed this collection of mini-reviews. There will be more coming soon!

“What is the point of being alive if you don’t at least try to do something remarkable?”-An Abundance of Katherines

Have you read any of these books? I’d love to know your thoughts! Let me know with a comment below. 

Classics Club Spin #24: Updated Reveal

homer simpson

Update: Number 18 means that I will be reading some Vonnegut. It’s been years, so looking forward to it!

Hooray for a new spin! The idea is to select 20 random books from your Classics Club List and post them before Sunday, August 9. On Sunday, a number will be chosen which reveals the title that must be read by the end of September. Here are my selections for this spin:

  1. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  2. Jayne Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
  3. The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks
  4. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
  5. The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
  6. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  7. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
  8. My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier
  9. Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  10. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  11. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  12. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
  13. The Last Man by Mary Shelley
  14. Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson
  15. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
  16. Around the World in 80 days by Jules Verne
  17. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  18. Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut
  19. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
  20. Orlando by Virginia Woolf

I can’t wait to see which one of these will be my September read! Good luck to all my fellow clubbers!

cat spinning GIF

August Readathon

Now that I’ve looked back on my favorite books for the first half of 2020, it’s time to start looking ahead. My reading has taken a serious nosedive over the past several weeks so I’ve decided to start an August readathon. It’s like a marathon, but for people like me that don’t like to sweat!

Over the past few months, I’ve either started or considered starting books that never got finished. My goal is to read a minimum of 100 pages per day so I can finish the month knocking out several books. In order to keep myself accountable and to avoid further embarrassment, I will update this page regularly on my progress. Hopefully, I will inspire some of you to finish off some books too!

Ronald Weasley
How I’ll be spending the remainder of summer

At the time of this initial post, here are all the books I’ve started or wanted to start recently:

  • Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen
  • Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake (started, unfinished)
  • The History of Love by Nicole Krauss (started, unfinished reread)
  • The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke (started, unfinished)
  • The Essential Robert Frost (started, unfinished)
  • Orlando by Virginia Woolf
  • Jazz by Toni Morrison
  • Emma by Jane Austen (next on my Austen reread)
  • Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm by Philip Pullman
  • The Dark Elf Trilogy by R. A. Salvatore (reread)
  • Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle (borrowed book)
  • No Talk Therapy for Children and Adolescents by Martha B. Straus (counseling stuff)
  • The Future of Humanity by Michio Kaku (space stuff)
  • Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami (library book)
  • On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden (library book)

This list is daunting! Let’s see what I can accomplish for August. I’ll be returning to this post as well as creating a separate page with weekly updates.

Close Book GIFs - Get the best GIF on GIPHY
Next….next……

Week 1 (8/1 through 8/7)

My first week was extremely productive, as I finished two books and made progress on tow more. I loved the fast-paced science fiction thriller Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen. This is the story of a secret agent named Kin from the year 2142 who works for the Time Corruption Bureau (TCB). After a failed mission results in him getting stuck in the present, the protagonist breaks the primary directive and starts his own life by getting married and having a daughter. When his bosses finally return for him years later, Kin finds himself torn between his new life and the one he left behind. I also finished Wolf In White Van about a man who creates an interesting role-playing game as a means to escape the horrific trauma of an event when he was a teen. I also managed to tackle some more Rilke and a couple of chapters of No-Talk Therapy. 

Books Finished: 2     Total Pages Read: 650

Week 2 (8/8 through 8/15)

This week was not quite as productive as the first one,  but I still managed to tackle a couple of books off my TBR. I managed to get Rilke finished and also tackled On a Sunbeam, a massive graphic novel (but so so good).

Books Finished: 4     Total Pages Read: 629