Monday, June 28, 2010

Fledgling by: Octavia E. Butler


This story opens with Shori Matthews awakening in a cave, very injured, with no memory of who or what she is. As the story continues, we find out that even though she appears to be around ten years of age, she's actually a 53-year-old genetically altered vampire, and that she is the only one to survive a massacre against her family. The rest of the novel is not only about Shori trying to relearn the ways of her people, but also about Shori trying to get justice against the people who killed her family.
[synopsis in my words]

Fledgling is the first novel I've read by Octavia E. Butler. I've been meaning to check out some of her work for a while, so on my last trip to the local library, I picked up Fledgling. I'm glad I did. It proved to be a very good story, with strong characters. It ended on a good note, but I do wish there had been more stories about Shori and the people she grew close to.

Butler had a very interesting take on vampires. The Ina were very different from the classic view of how vampires should be. I have seen some of the ideas in other novels, such as vampires have venom in their saliva that makes their bites pleasurable, but in other stories it sometimes seems unrealistic or just plain weird. But it works in this novel. Everything Butler writes about the Ina community and people is realistic. Never once did I think, "Now, that couldn't happen," like I have in other books concerning vampires in the past. She delves into more scientific explanations without it being overly confusing. It all just works nicely together.

Shori was a strong lead character. I liked how some of the themes of the story were learning how to live with your differences, joining and living in a community, relearning who you are, etc. These are very human struggles that many people can probably relate to, which helped make Shori a likeable character.

There were also strong secondary characters. I like Wright, Brook, Celia, Joel, Martin, Daniel, and Theodora. There wasn't an overload of information on their backgrounds, but enough to make them good, rounded characters. Even the villains were well rounded because they had a motive for doing what they did, and it's a motive that is another human struggle many of us could relate to. I really liked that Butler didn't just make them bad for the sake of being bad; their motive was clear and defined.

There were a couple things I could see as being offensive to some people, especially the fact that Shori has sexual partners and she appears to be just a young girl. So, I wouldn't recommend this to someone who wouldn't be able to get past that. There is also some violence, so people who aren't fans of any gruesome details (such as having someone's legs sawed off completely as a punishment) might not like it.

While the book was easy to read, there were some parts that didn't necessarily drag, but they weren't very action orientated. I think there was a pretty good mixture of action and information, but sometimes it just felt like you were getting the same information over and over again (which, in one case, you were, but that was intentional).

All in all, I was really pleased with the novel. It was written well (there were some errors I caught, but not enough to completely throw me from the flow of the book as I read) and had a strong narration by Shori. I'll definitely be checking out more of Butler's novels.

Overall rating: 8/10

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Dream House by: Valerie Laken


One terrible night. One outraged act. What price will people pay to hold their homes and dreams together?

When Kate and Stuart Kinzler buy a run-down, historic house in Ann Arbor, Michigan, they're looking for a decent remodeling investment and a little space in which to rekindle their troubled marriage. Instead they discover that their home was the scene of a terrible crime many years ago—a revelation that tips the balance of their precarious union.

When a mysterious man begins lurking around her yard, Kate—now alone—is forced to confront her home's dangerous past. Hers is not the only life that has crumbled under this roof. But the stranger who has returned to this house—once his own childhood home—is in search of something Kate may never fully understand.

I had the pleasure of meeting Valerie Laken earlier in June when she came to my school for a writer's conference we had. She talked some about the novel, such as what research went into it and how she got the idea. It was pretty cool to see those ideas she had been talking about at the conference in the novel.

I think Laken told a really good story. It was an entertaining novel with some strong, solid characters. I felt for all of them, and could really relate to each of them. I've read a couple of Laken's short stories and have noticed that she always has really strong characters in her stories, which is a major plus. And the house was a character itself, which was really cool. I liked the way Laken personified it and made it a living, breathing thing.

I also liked the setting. Ann Arbor just fit right with the story. It helped make the novel as realistic as it was. Reading it, you can almost believe that these characters are real and that this happened.

It's a strong debut novel, and I hope to see more from Laken in the future. I think she's coming out with a short story collection in the fall, which I'm pretty excited about. (One of the short stories she read at the conference; it was amazing.)

All in all, a very enjoyable read. It had that "man, I wanna know what happens next" quality to it that kept me interested until the end. I would recommend it to fans of strong character novels, who like a little mystery thrown in there, too.

Overall rating: 9/10
Cover Commentary: I love the cover. I think it's very striking, and even if I hadn't known about Laken prior to reading the novel, if I had seen it on a shelf somewhere, I probably would've picked it up. Works well for the story.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Behind My Eyes by: Li-Young Lee

On my latest trip to my local library I picked up a couple poetry collections that I've had my eye on for a while. This including Li-Young Lee's collection Behind My Eyes. I haven't been reading Li-Young Lee for long, but after reading this collection, he's steadily making his way to becoming a favorite. Some of his pieces are so heartfelt, so emotive, you can feel them. Some of my favorites in this collection include, "Immigrant Blues", "Hymn to Childhood," "Have You Prayed," "Virtues of a Boring Husband,"  and "To Hold."

The collection's main themes include: childhood, life, death, being an immigrant (Li-Young Lee was born in Indonesia to two Chinese parents), and Lee's father.

There were some poems I didn't care for in the collection, but not becase they weren't written well, just from personal style/prefereces.

I would recomend this collection to anyone looking to broaden their horizons concerning poetry.

Overall rating: 7/10

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Interpreter of Maladies: Jhumpa Lahiri


Navigating between the Indian traditions they've inherited and the baffling new world, the characters in Jhumpa Lahiri's elegant, touching stories seek love beyond the barriers of culture and generations. In "A Temporary Matter," published in The New Yorker, a young Indian-American couple faces the heartbreak of a stillborn birth while their Boston neighborhood copes with a nightly blackout. In the title story, an interpreter guides an American family through the India of their ancestors and hears an astonishing confession. Lahiri writes with deft cultural insight reminiscent of Anita Desai and a nuanced depth that recalls Mavis Gallant. She is an important and powerful new voice.

I picked this collection up along with The Thing Around Your Neck at my local library, and I enjoyed it about as much as I enjoyed that collection. The stories were well written, I think Lahiri has a wonderful style to her writing. Each of the stories were realistic, with real situations and characters. I liked getting the chance to see and learn more about Indian culture through Lahiri's characters. Her descriptions painted a clear picture of the settings and characters. She put just the right amount of detail into her work.

As I said, I enjoyed every story in the collection. They each had an interesting tale to tell. I'd have to say I enjoyed "Sexy" and "The Third And Final Continent" the best.

I will definitely be checking out Lahiri's novels. If they're anything like her short stories, I know I'll enjoy them.

Overall rating: 10/10

Friday, June 18, 2010

Follow My Book Blog Friday

Hello! Because my blog is pretty tiny, I joined in on the fun of blog hopping because of a post Parajunkee made. So, hello to any new followers I might get! Leave a comment and tell me a little bit about yourself! (: And, of course, thanks so much for following! I hope you like what you see!


Monday, June 14, 2010

The Thing Around Your Neck by: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

These twelve dazzling stories from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie — the Orange Broadband Prize–winning author of Half of a Yellow Sun — are her most intimate works to date.

In these stories Adichie turns her penetrating eye to the ties that bind men and women, parents and children, Nigeria and the United States. In “A Private Experience,” a medical student hides from a violent riot with a poor Muslim woman, and the young mother at the centre of “Imitation” finds her comfortable life in Philadelphia threatened when she learns that her husband has moved his mistress into their Lagos home.

Searing and profound, suffused with beauty, sorrow and longing, this collection is a resounding confirmation of Adichie’s prodigious literary powers.
There was not a story in this collection that I didn't enjoy in some way. Each was well written and contained individual tales that shown two completely different cultures. It was interesting to read the stories where the characters came to America, I liked seeing the differences between the cultures.
Her style of writing is simple but strong, and her descriptions are very vivid. She's a wonderful writer. Her stories were realistic; that's what I think made them so powerful. Her characters were people I could relate to, even though I come from a completely different background. Her characters were selfish at times and completely human.
If I were forced to choose, I'd say the first story was the weakest. I think the stories I enjoyed the most were probably the title story and "Tomorrow Is Too Far". But I liked all of them for separate reasons.
Adichie is also one of the only writers to write a story using "you" as the narration that I think works. Usually I'm not too fond of those sorts of narrations, but she made it work.
I'll definitely be reading more by her. If her novels are anything like her short stories, I know I'll love them. This was a great collection I'll definitely be re-reading.
Overall rating: 10/10

Japanese Literature Challenge Four

I'm really excited to be participating in the fourth Japanese Literature Challenge, hosted by the wonderful Dolce Bellezza. This will be the second year I have participated. Last time around I got the chance to read some amazing books, and it really opened my eyes to Japanese Literature. I cannot wait to delve into some more wonderful stories!

Care to join? You can go here to read a little bit more about the Challenge. And simply go to the review site to add in the link to your reviews! There is also a wonderful list of book suggestions that I know I'll be taking advantage of!

The challenge lasts from June 1st, 2010 until January 30th, 2011.


Sunday, June 13, 2010

Fire In The Blood by: Irène Némirovsky


We hear the voice of Silvio: a man getting on in years who has returned to the village of his youth after a long time abroad. He lives by himself, enjoys his wine and his solitude. But a visit from his cousin Hélène and her husband François, with their future son-in-law in tow, begins to draw Silvio back into the life of his family and of this insular community, toward the revelation of secrets he and others have guarded for decades. As the novel unfolds, we are given an intimate picture of the web of marriage and infidelity, loyalties set against love, trust and betrayal, scandal vying with reputation, evils petty and potent, youthful passions and regrets of age that tie Silvio to both his past and the unexpected events of...(the present).

[from the end was cut off for some reason, so I added what I assumed they meant to be written after the elipsis.]
This is the first novel I've read by Irène Némirovsky, and I know it won't be the last. It was a well crafted story, taking place in a small French town, where everyone knows everyone, but doesn't like to get involved in anyone else's business but their own. It made for the perfect setting for the novel, especially when all the secrets from the past and the secrets in the present are unraveled.
At the core of this novel is youth and the passing of time. How when you're younger you have that "fire in your blood" that sometimes disapates when you get older, and how it's missed once it's gone.
I liked the main character's voice and how we get to see him change throughout the novella, and I liked the tiny glimpses into his past that we were shown, especially the ending bit.
All in all, a good story. Very easy to finish, but something that makes the reader think.
Overall rating: 7/10

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Beloved by: Toni Morrison


Staring unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery, this spellbinding novel transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby. Sethe, its protagonist, was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. And Sethe’s new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved. Filled with bitter poetry and suspense as taut as a rope, Beloved is a towering achievement.

This is a story I'll have to read again to fully understand and appreciate it. There are so many layers to Beloved and so many messages, it's hard to grasp each theme and idea the first time around. It definitely focuses on aspects of guilt, living with our pasts and trying to move on, defining ourselves as humans (there's a point in the story I loved where the main character, Sethe, is told that she has two legs, not four. It was a really powerful moment), and family.

The descriptions and ideas Morrison uses to paint a picture for something is so beautiful. The style of this book, much like The Bluest Eye, flows well and has a heavy poetic feel to it. The story is both raw and real, while also being dreamy and kind of like the state between being awake and asleep. Sometimes you don't really know what's going on until she hits you with an image so powerful you're left almost breathless, wondering how you got to that point without realizing what was happening.

I really liked the story. The characters left me wanting more at times, but they were well written. I could feel their pain, especially when they were talking about their past as slaves. Very emotional. The whole book is emotional, especially considering when it takes place. I liked how in the end Denver was stronger and became more independent. I really, really wanted to know what had happened to Halle though! I think not knowing worked for the novel, though. There were some aspects that were left to the reader's imagination, and I liked that.

I liked the supernatural aspect to the novel, and how it felt so realistic. It was well written.

All in all, this was a very good book. Not for the light-hearted, because it's very dark at times.

Overall rating: 8/10

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Memory Keeper's Daughter by: Kim Edwards


On a winter night in 1964, Dr. David Henry is forced by a blizzard to deliver his own twins. His son, born first, is perfectly healthy. Yet when his daughter is born, he sees immediately that she has Down's Syndrome. Rationalizing it as a need to protect Norah, his wife, he makes a split-second decision that will alter all of their lives forever. He asks his nurse to take the baby away to an institution and never to reveal the secret.
But Caroline, the nurse, cannot leave the infant. Instead, she disappears into another city to raise the child herself. So begins this beautifully told story that unfolds over a quarter of a century in which these two families, ignorant of each other, are yet bound by the fateful decision made that long-ago winter night.

“A moment was not a single moment at all, but rather an infinite number of different moments, depending on who was seeing things and how.”
                    --The Memory Keeper’s Daughter; page 214-215

 On of the first things to draw me into The Memory Keeper’s Daughter was the story. The second thing that drew me in was Edwards’ style of writing. It’s very poetic and flows together to create beautiful passages and moments. I loved the imagery and descriptions she gave (though some become a bit redundant at times); everything just sounded so beautiful, even if she was describing a great tragedy.

 I also liked how all of the characters in this novel were selfish, because it made them realistically human. Each one of them made mistakes. David wasn’t the only character to make a wrong decision, though his was, obviously, the climax of the novel.

 Speaking of the climax of the novel, I liked how it was right in the beginning of the novel, and how the rest of the novel was the resolution. This story was about consequences and living with a secret and how it can tear people apart. I like novels that show that aspect of human life. It’s always interesting.

"This was what his father had believed: that each person was an isolated universe."
                  --The Memory Keeper's Daughter; page 381

The characters were written well. The reader can sympathize with them all at one point, and at one point want to shake them and ask them to wake the hell up. I felt bad for Norah, started to dislike her a bit during the middle of the novel, and towards the end of the book I understood. Even though she made some bad decisions, I understood why she made those decisions. Just like I understood why David made the decision he made. It wasn’t the best decision, but I understood. And that was a fulfilling moment.

 All in all, I really liked the novel. It’s probably one of the best pieces of literary fiction I’ve read (I would consider it literary fiction, not genre fiction, per say). The characters are completely realistic and it has a beautiful tone of voice to it. I thoroughly enjoyed the novel, and tried to soak in as much as I could. This is a novel I can definitely see myself re-reading.

"He imagined the notes falling into the air like stones into water, rippling the invisible surface of the world. Waves of sand, waves of light: his father had tried to pin everything down, but the world was fluid and could not be contained."
                         --The Memory Keeper's Daughter; page 401

Overall rating: 9/10

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Marmaduke: A Film Review

Directed by: Tom Dey
Starring: Lee Pace, Owen Wilson (voice), George Lopez (voice), Judy Greer, Emma Stone (voice).

Oh, Marmaduke. Now, I love the comic strip (sentimental reasons), so I was interested to see just how they were going to translate a comic as simple as Marmaduke into a 90 minute film. And I adore Lee Pace. He's one of my favorite actors. So getting to see him was definitely a plus.

In all, this was a kids' film. Don't go to the show expecting some grand message like in some of the children's films we've seen lately. There's very cliche parts, and jokes that probably only kids will find all that funny. Lot of slapstick comedy.

That said, I did enjoy the film. There were parts that made me laugh, and it was a cute film. It had the whole, "stay loyal to your friends and family feel to it" that a lot of other kids' movies have. It didn't have that big of a plot or anything, but it kept me entertained the 90 minutes. And Lee Pace was adorable, as usual.

So, if you're babysitting or have any young kids, I'd recommend taking them to see the film. There were some children in the audience that were just cracking up at some of the jokes. It was cute.

Overall: 6/10