Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Plot: Celie has always done as she is told, raised as a poor, abused African-American. However, meeting her husband's strong, independent lover turns her view of the world inside out. With the help of her new friend, Celie slowly learns to live, laugh and love.

Comments: The Color Purple is devastatingly heartrending, unflinchingly realistic and an amazing story. Reading about all the violence Celie bore and accepted is challenging to do without gaining respect and pity for her, in addition to contempt for her attackers. I don't want to believe that this kind of abuse happened at that time and is still ongoing now. I loved watching Celie discover her own strength and the power to rebel against acceptance of abuse.

Another challenging aspect was the way in which the book was written. Everything is in the form of a letter or diary entry, most commonly from Celie, who writes the way everyone speaks - that is, in a vernacular English somewhat difficult to understand initially. Also, Celie doesn't use quotation marks which makes dialogue mix confusingly with blocking and narration.

This is a story about a young woman who eventually finds her sense of self after decades of searching. The Color Purple teaches lessons about self-respect, family, different perspectives of God, and believing in yourself, among other concepts. The story also portrays the lives of African-Americans in the early 1900's and the struggles of women to be considered equal.

Rating: I rate this book a nine out of ten.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

Plot: Tita and Pedro are madly in love, but Tita, as the youngest daughter, is bound by family tradition to spend her life taking care of her mother. Pedro marries Tita's sister in order to stay close to Tita and their forbidden romance continues. Throughout the story, Tita uses her cooking to express her tangled emotions.

Comments: This story was unlike any I've ever read. A persevering romance despite seemingly insurmountable odds, Tita and Pedro's story is astounding in its complexity and unexpected twists. Like Water for Chocolate was, however, more focused on sex than I had anticipated. Nevertheless, this is an intriguing novel using recipes and food as a theme to help invoke certain emotions. As for the characters, poor Tita had a harsh life and I felt sorry for her, but I didn't see much evidence of Pedro's love for Tita.

Occasionally the events were confusingly anachronistic, and sometimes characters involved in scenes had never been introduced, causing yet more confusion. Despite this, the story is simple to read and comprehend, yet not so easy to understand. Unless you have experienced the feelings these characters have, it can be difficult to empathize and understand their actions, as it was for me. In addition, Like Water for Chocolate unexpectedly included elements I would describe as magic, supernatural, or just unrealistic. Though these elements meshed well with the dreaminess of the story, I feel as if they were somewhat cheesy and forced. They reduced the dignity of the novel in my eyes. The ending especially made me roll my eyes.

Overall, Like Water for Chocolate was a good story about Tita and Pedro, young lovers forbidden to marry.

Rating: I rate this story an eight out of ten.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde, Adapted to a Novel by Charles Osborne

This is a short novel based on the play The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. This novel retains famous lines and the theme and plot of the play, but is smoother to read and has more imagery than a script of the play.

Plot: Two young men, Algernon Moncrieff and John Worthing, both change their names to Ernest in order to win the love of two young women. This of course causes great confusion and hilarious mix-ups, all of which serves to poke fun at the upper class English in this light-hearted satire.

Comments: The Importance of Being Earnest is one of the funniest books I've ever read! It is not at all a deep, thoughtful story but rather an extremely superficial one which helps you forget your troubles for a few hours. I love the way this book made fun of the extremes to which the high class English will go for the sake of being proper. The characters are immediately recognizable for what kind of person they are - I assume this is because it is essential in a play. The young women in this story were very superficial, but then, so were the young men. All in all, this was a very funny short book and I most certainly recommend it to pass the time for a while.

Rating: I rate this story a nine out of ten.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Paper Towns by John Green

Plot: Quentin has always loved Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar though she's been his neighbor since early childhood. Margo is everything Quentin is not: confident, cool, popular and not afraid to break the rules. When Margo shows up late one night at Quentin's window with a mysterious request, Quentin hopes their friendly relationship will evolve into something deeper. However, the deeper he is drawn into the adventure of his life, the more Quentin realizes that the real Margo is someone unknown to him.

Comments: Reading this book was like riding a roller coaster. At points I was cracking up; other times I skipped several pages. I both disliked and loved this book, which is very confusing. Parts of this story were very funny, touching and sweet. The road trip, besides feeling unrealistic, was fun and a great adventure. On the other hand, the descriptions of Quentin walking around the subdivisions or hanging out in the strip mall were incredibly long-winded and overly dramatic to the point that I skipped over pages. Also, several of the characters were rather annoying.

At first I thought Margo was pretty cool because she wasn't afraid to be weird and different. This changed by the end of the book, when I decided that Margo is actually kind of a bitch, pardon my language. She was ungrateful to her "friends" and selfish. I also really liked Quentin at the beginning of the book because he wasn't one of the "popular" kids, yet he was popular and comfortable with himself. However, his obsession with Margo was extremely annoying. He gave up everything for her and pursued her doggedly, but not in a cute way: rather, in a foolish, why-would-you-do-that way. Maybe these characters are realistic teenagers, but I certainly hope not.

In conclusion, this story was both good and bad. Sorry, but I have very conflicting feelings about Paper Towns. I'm not sure if I recommend it or not.

Rating: Six out of ten, give or take.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

Plot: Nine-year-old Finnikin's world shatters when his kingdom's beloved king, queen, and royal heirs are brutally slaughtered and an impostor seizes control. Ten years later, a girl named Evanjalin claims that a prince yet lives. Hoping to take back his kingdom, Finnikin embarks upon a journey that will test his faith in Evanjalin and in himself.

Comments: This book had an amazing story. The plot was creative and the action was gripping: I definitely enjoyed reading Finnikin of the Rock. With hauntingly vivid imagery, this story is not a happy one. However, it is certainly an entertaining, suspenseful story. I loved several characters, especially the killer Perri who is also extremely protective of the helpless.

Unfortunately, I had problems with the two main characters, Finnikin and Evanjalin. Excluding his exceptional military and political skills, Finnikin was a stereotypical nineteen-year-old guy: impatient, rude, sexist and uncaring. He did not understand why Evanjalin was upset when he slept with a prostitute and treated her badly. Evanjalin also had a exceptional skill, but otherwise she was a burden to everyone, running off and making bad decisions. She constantly berated Finnikin and did not apologize for the things she did to hurt him. They were both stubborn and in general not nice people. I must admit, I really did not like either. I do not believe the author was intending for the readers to dislike the main characters.

Another problem I had with this book was the overwhelming number of surrounding countries and their relationships with Finnikin's kingdom. It was very confusing and difficult to keep track of which were allies and which enemies.

Rating: I rate this book a seven and a half out of ten.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

Plot: Toru Okada is a very ordinary man living with his wife Kumiko in Tokyo until their cat runs away, soon followed by Kumiko. In this story, Toru meets many bizarre allies in his desperate search for his wife, such as a scarred war veteran, a morbid teenage girl and a psychic prostitute. By trying to find Kumiko, Toru discovers parts of himself he never knew existed.

Comments: This was a very strange book. The characters were certainly creatively random and mismatched - yet they fit together in this puzzle of a story. Because of the back-and-forth narratives, confusing concepts and intriguing ideas, even now I cannot quite decide how I feel about the book in its entirety. This book is not straightforward or obvious and seems to meander its way from beginning to end.

Though I admire the character Toru Okada for his deep love for Kumiko and his persistence in searching for her, I'm not certain that I ever really liked him. Toru lacked initiative and the urge to do something, anything, both qualities which I regard highly. He appeared to be content taking naps on his couch and pondering day after day. This soon became boring and slightly annoying.

Truthfully, I found quite a bit of the book rather boring. Already a long story with over six hundred pages, I was hindered in my progress through the book by overly descriptive sections that took pages and which many times caused me to stop reading. In addition to this, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle was very vague and confusing in its concepts. All the psychology and mind-power felt forced, as if Murakami was trying very hard to create a dreamy, mysterious world where truth and illusion mingle poetically. It didn't work for me.

In conclusion, I have decided that I didn't really like the book after all. Even understanding the intention of subtlety, I gleaned no significant message from the story. Occasionally a narrative would be interesting, even captivating, but in general I found difficulty concentrating on the pages. Overall, this was not a book I particularly enjoyed reading.

Rating: I rate this book a six out of ten.