Thursday, July 31, 2014

Review: All The Light We Cannot See

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Publisher: Scribner 2014

Format & Page Count: Hardcover 530 pages

Genre: Historical Fiction

Date read: July 31, 2014

My rating: 4 stars

Summary (from Goodreads)Marie Laure lives with her father in Paris within walking distance of the Museum of Natural History where he works as the master of the locks (there are thousands of locks in the museum). When she is six, she goes blind, and her father builds her a model of their neighborhood, every house, every manhole, so she can memorize it with her fingers and navigate the real streets with her feet and cane. When the Germans occupy Paris, father and daughter flee to Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast, where Marie-Laure's agoraphobic great uncle lives in a tall, narrow house by the sea wall.

In another world in Germany, an orphan boy, Werner, grows up with his younger sister, Jutta, both enchanted by a crude radio Werner finds. He becomes a master at building and fixing radios, a talent that wins him a place at an elite and brutal military academy and, ultimately, makes him a highly specialized tracker of the Resistance. Werner travels through the heart of Hitler Youth to the far-flung outskirts of Russia, and finally into Saint-Malo, where his path converges with Marie-Laure.

Doerr's gorgeous combination of soaring imagination with observation is electric. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another. Ten years in the writing, All the Light We Cannot See is his most ambitious and dazzling work.

My Thoughts: Before I dive in, I want to take a moment to appreciate the sheer beauty of the cover, which was one of the reasons I decided to buy this book. I had heard a few people on YouTube say that they loved this book, which also definitely intrigued me. What ultimately really hooked me was the fact that it is a new approach to World War II fiction. One of my favorite things to read about is World War II. I have no idea why, but I have a strange fascination with that era. Immediately I had high expectations for this book.

I'm not sure if this is due to the expectations I had, but I thought this book had a slow start. I became familiar with the characters quite quickly and after initial characterization, the exposition dragged out. This may have also been caused by my slight confusion while reading. The story is not set in chronological order; it is separated into thirteen parts which scatter the timeline. About halfway through everything starts to fall into place and becomes easier to follow. 

After I got comfortable with the timeline, I started to fly through this book because I was so engrossed with the characters and their stories. I needed to know how all the little details littered throughout the book lined up and I needed to know how the stories of Marie-Laure and Werner would intertwine. This book had my complete attention and I wanted nothing to distract me while I finished it. Within the last hundred pages, innumerable emotions flew through me from fear to joy to heartbreak, yet I loved every second of it. 

Overall, this book is worthy of the praise it has received thus far. The stories are so beautifully written that it is impossible to not fall in love with the characters and feel as if you are there with them. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, specifically concerning World War II, or anyone who wants to read a beautifully written story.

If you are looking for even more of a push to read this book, here is a video of the author explaining how he came up with his inspiration:

Monday, July 28, 2014

Top 5 Tuesday: Most Hated Books

Hello everybody and welcome to my second Top 5 Tuesday! This week I will be talking about the books I hate the most, but before I do so, I would like to make a disclaimer. I know everyone has different opinions and not everyone will agree with me. I am just sharing my personal opinion on all of these books and I mean no harm to anyone who did enjoy any of these books. With that being said, here are my top five most hated books.

5. Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Lord of the Flies starts out my list at number five. I had to read this for school (this will be a common trend) and I had high expectations because my mom said it was her favorite book she read in high school. After reading this book I questioned her taste in books. It wasn't necessarily bad, but I found it boring and there wasn't really anything about it that I liked. It felt highly immature, which was probably due to the maturity of the characters. Nothing about this book interested me or made me want to keep reading.

4. The Blood Red Horse by K. M. Grant

The Blood Red Horse was another book I had to read for school, but this time it wasn't for a general analysis of the book, but rather for an event called Authors in April where blocks of two grades (up until 8th grade) are assigned a certain author who will come present to them and talk about their books, specifically the one the students were assigned to read. I remember in 7th grade reading this book and only getting through a fourth of it before I had to stop. There were two assignments I was supposed to do with the book, but luckily I also had two homework passes, so I was able to turn those in for credit and get away without reading the book. I honestly couldn't even tell anyone what this book was about.

3. Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift

Guess what? I also had to read this book for school, but with a twist. Since this book was split into four parts, my class was split into three groups and everyone had to read the first part and a separate part was given to each individual group. We had to present our section so the rest of the class knew what happened without reading it. I ended up reading the first part, then using the ever so useful Sparknotes for my assigned part because I had lost all hope. The book was dry and boring. I fell asleep every time I attempted to read it.

2. Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment by James Patterson

This book is the only one on the list that I did NOT have to read for school. A friend had been requesting that I read this book for a few years until I finally gave in. I initially didn't want to read it because I had no interest based on the summaries I had read of it. I started reading it and sighed because Patterson tried way too hard in order to write a book that would appeal to younger audiences, which definitely turned me off. I remember making an entire list of reasons why I disliked the book and it was a page long. This book did not impress me in the slightest.

1. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

The number one book that I absolutely cannot stand (I actually think I can go far enough to say that I despise it) is Catch-22. I have tried to read this book twice now, but I never have managed to actually read the entire thing because I get so infuriated while reading it. My hatred has nothing to do with the story or the plot. The way the book is written irritates me to no end. It's like having a child speak to you because Heller jumps from one topic to the next so rapidly that it seems as if he is just explaining whatever pops into his head without editing anything. And I swear nothing happens throughout the entire book because I was able to skip the the last few chapters and it didn't feel like anything new. Being forced to read this book for class twice just peeved me so much that during my second read, I read two pages at a time then proceeded to throw the book at the wall. (This kind of turned into a rant. whoops)

Harry Potter Reread: Socerer's Stone & Chamber of Secrets

For most people, if they know anything about me, they know that I love Harry Potter. I have actually transcended the point of loving Harry Potter and it is just a part of who I am; a key character trait. Every few years I reread the series, especially if I am running low on other books I have interest in reading. Earlier this summer I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone as well as Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and am now in the process of reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I thought it would be fun to make posts on my thoughts as I finish each book. These won't necessarily be reviews, but rather just general things that came to my mind while reading.

This post will be a combination of thoughts and reactions from Sorcerer's Stone and Chamber of Secrets:

  • It has been awhile since reading the books so it was simply marvelous to be introduced to the characters again as if they were strangers to me. I'm used to them being all grown up, but in these books Harry, Ron, and Hermione are cute kids and I just wanted to give them hugs. And Draco was just as big of a slimeball as I remember.
  • The second thing that struck me was how happy and innocent everything is. One of the major concerns is who is going to win the House Cup and being suspicious of Snape. 
  • Going back and rereading after already knowing the fate of all the characters is bittersweet. You know who dies and all of the back story of Harry's parents, so it's sad to see everyone (especially Harry) so naive and clueless. But at the same time it is wonderful to see them all being cheerful before things take a turn for the worst. 
  • I'm positive J.K. Rowling is the queen of foreshadowing. I had read one thing at the beginning of the first book and think "Oh my gosh. Has she really been planning this the entire time?" For example, Sirius Black was mentioned at the beginning of the Sorcerer's Stone and I had to stop so I could squeal and hold my book to my heart. (He is my all time favorite character)
  • I have always loved Dumbledore, but now that I'm reading these books again, I'm getting very frustrated with him. He purposely leaves Harry in the dark and distances himself from him, when Harry deserves nothing but answers. 
  • The last thing I want to touch on is friendship. Friendships are a HUGE part of these books and I love reading the first few books and reminiscing about how it all began. "There are some things you can't share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them." 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Review: The Other Wes Moore

The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau 2010

Format & Page Count: Paperback 180 pages

Genre: Nonfiction, memoir

Date read: July 14, 2014

My rating: 3 stars

Summary (from back cover): Two kids named Wes Moore were born blocks apart within a year of each other. Both grew up fatherless in similar Baltimore neighborhoods and had difficult childhoods; both hung out on street corners with their crews; both ran into trouble with the police. How, then, did one grow up to be a Rhodes Scholar, decorated veteran, White House Fellow, and business leader, while the other ended up a convicted murderer serving a life sentence? Wes Moore, the author of this fascinating book, sets out to answer this profound question. In alternating narratives that take readers from heart-wrenching losses to moments of surprising redemption, The Other Wes Moore tells the story of a generation of boys trying to find their way in a hostile world.

My Thoughts: I'm going to try to keep my thoughts brief because I plan on writing an in depth discussion based on some topics that came up in this book. I think an appropriate place to start for this review would be why I decided to read this, since nonfiction is usually not up my alley. I am going to be starting college next month and the school that I will be attending has a Freshman connection program where we all read the same book over the summer, write an essay, and then get into groups and discuss it during welcome week. I wrote the essay just the other day, so now I feel the motivation to actually write this review.

If you were unable to tell based on my three star rating, I did not love this book. There were many problems, most of which will be elaborated on in my discussion. When I finished the book, I was immediately ready to move on. The story did not grip me or move me in any way. The reviews that plague the cover describe this book as "inspiring," "enlightening, encouraging, and empowering," and "a call to arms". I started expecting it to be a profound book that gave me a lasting impression, but for me it fell short of everything it promised. Not only did it not live up to expectations, but I felt cheated as I read it. The author described the two boys to be almost identical, but when I started reading, I noticed how different the boys were. Sure, they had some similarities, but if you take a closer look at them, it is clear why they ended up so differently. Also, the whole book was centered around why they ended up where they did in respect to each other, but the answer was ultimately never given. The author gave various ideas, but never elaborated on any reasons.

Overall, this book frustrated me more than it moved me. When I talk about this book, I end up giving a rant. The thing that saved this book from a lower rating was the way the stories were told. In one chapter a narrative about one Wes Moore would be told, then the next chapter would be a narrative from the other Wes Moore's life that either mirrored the first or gave insight into the juxtaposition of their lives. This gave the book potential along with the interesting stories, but ultimately fell short of my expectations.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Review: Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Publisher: Harper Press 2010 (original publication 1813)

Format & Page Count: Paperback 373 pages

Genre: Classics, Romance

Date read: July 19, 2014

My rating: 5 stars

Summary (from back cover): Austen's best-loved tale of love, marriage and society in class-conscious Georgian England still delights modern readers today with its comedy and characters. It follows the feisty, quick-witted Elizabeth Bennet as her parents seek to ensure good marriages for her and her sisters in order to secure their future. Through the irrepressible characters of Mr Collins and Mrs Bennet and the sensitivities and nuances of the relationships between Darcy and Elizabeth, Austen's skill and artistry as a writer shines.

My Thoughts: This is admittedly not my first time reading Pride and Prejudice, but this was the only time I was able to get past the first 100 pages. I had initially "read" this book for a school project, which crunched me for time and ended with me relying on Sparknotes to get the information required to finish my project and left me with little desire to sit down and read the book. The second time I attempted to read it was when I realized that many people I know were appalled that I did not appreciate the beauty of it the first time around so I gave it another go. Suddenly I was drowning in school work and had to put leisurely reading aside. Now that I have no school work and ample reading time, it is a perfect time to take in this book for what it is worth.

The beginning was a bit slow for me since I had read it twice before with less than fond memories, but after I got past that 100 page hump, I was flying through. I ended up reading the last 150 pages all at once while on a short vacation. I was struggling between wanting to read it fast because I was so in love with the story and  taking my time to admire each detail. Apparently I went with the latter. I ended up loving this book and I now understand why it is the most loved classic for so many people. The writing is simply timeless as to where I felt as if I was a part of the action although I'm reading it centuries later. Even though the societal constructs observed in this book are outdated, the characters and their struggles are easy to relate to. Elizabeth is witty and headstrong, not willing to sacrifice her happiness in order to confide with what is expected of her as a woman during that time. I'm sure most people, if not everyone, can relate to this where they have had to make a decision between choosing what would best make them happy or what would be expected of them and considered the more rational decision.

If you are fighting with yourself about whether or not you should read this, I highly recommend you find a time when you have little else to do and sit down and give this book a whirl. It is also a great book if you are wanting to start to venture in the classics genre. I personally am not a huge classics reader, but it takes a gem of a book like this one for me to really appreciate why classics are a favorite to many.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Top 5 Tuesday: Authors

Welcome to my blog! Since this is my first ever post on this blog, I figured I would do something quick and easy as well as something that allows you to get to know me a bit more. This post is going to be about my top 5 favorite authors with brief explanations as to why they are so well loved by me. I am also hoping to publish a top 5 sort of post every Tuesday as long as I can come up with a topic every week. I'm going to start with #5 and work my way up to my absolute favorite, so let's get started.

5. F. Scott Fizgerald

Starting this off at number five is F. Scott Fitzgerald. If you are unfamiliar with his work, he is the author of The Great Gatsby, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Beautiful and Damned, and others. Despite all that he has written, I have only read one of his books and that would be The Great Gatsby, but I immediately fell in love with his writing. I loved the sheer timelessness of his writing and how someone a hundred years from now could pick up his book and still understand the story. I also admired his ability to capture the setting and allow the reader to get a sense of the era. Basically I just thought that the way he crafted his story was effortless and beautiful and I look forward to picking up some of his other books in the near future.

4. Jodi Picoult

Next up I have Jodi Picoult who is the author of My Sister's Keeper, The Storyteller, and Nineteen Minutes to just name a few. The books that I previously mentioned are the only ones that I have read of hers thus far, however I look forward to reading more of her work. If you have read a Jodi Picoult book, then you know that she is the master of writing from various perspectives in order to form her story and make everything blend together beautifully. She takes every character and gives them such vivid and distinct personalities so that it makes the reader feel connected to each one of them, but also makes it so that each character is equally as interesting to read about. She also tackles tough topics (such as cancer, WWII, suicide, ect.) in a way that causes the reader to empathize without getting hit over the head with the theme. 

3. Markus Zusak

I fell in love with Markus Zusak before I ever read any of his books just based on what I had heard about The Book Thief. If you didn't already know, The Book Thief was written from the perspective of Death... need I say more? When I first heard that  I was blown away and once I started the book I surrendered my love to Markus Zusak because of how beautifully written it is. I also have read I Am the Messenger, which was also flawless and highly underrated. Both of these books exceeded my expectations and I look forward to reading more from Zusak in the future.

2. J. K. Rowling

Many many many people might be appalled that J. K. Rowling is only #2 on this list and not at the top, but I'm not even sorry. J. K. Rowling is forever the queen of writing in my book, but there is still one person who tops her. If you have been living under a rock for the past decade, J. K. Rowling is the author of the beloved Harry Potter series and also wrote The Casual Vacancy, followed by The Cuckoo's Calling and The Silkworm under a pseudonym. I have yet to read The Cuckoo's Calling or The Silkworm, but I have read all the rest and they are much loved. Harry Potter is by far the most well crafted series I have ever read. The world Rowling created feels so real that I actually feel like I am at Hogwarts with Harry and they are all just perfect. When The Casual Vacancy came out I was super excited for something new and it blew my expectations and it was so wonderful to read something for adults by Rowling.

1. Jonathan Safran Foer

The god of writing. Jonathan Safran Foer is the author of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Everything is Illuminated, Tree of Codes, and Eating Animals. Out of those, Eating Animals is the only one that I have not read, but nonetheless he is still my favorite author. He reminded me that writing is a work of art, a form of expression, and a platform for creativity. Foer's novels are a breath of fresh air and always finds new and innovative ways to share his stories. Not only are his books a work of art themselves, but the stories told within their pages are simply breathtaking. I remember having to take breaks while reading Everything is Illuminated because I was tearing up because of the beauty in his words. Jonathan Safran Foer reminded me why I love reading and I will be forever thankful.

There you have it: my top 5 favorite authors. I hope you enjoyed reading this and are looking forward to more Top 5 Tuesday posts in the future. Much love to everyone who took the time to read this and I hope this was a good beginning to a blog I see myself continuing for a long time to come.

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