Quick Reviews #2

In the past two weeks I was really lucky, because almost every book I picked up was really cool. I initially wanted to do separate reviews for these books, but a few of them were so mind-blowing that I was almost scared of reviewing them. And before I knew it there were five books on my review list. So I decided to review all of them in one post.

1.White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi- I don’t even know where to start with this book. It’s so weird, there’s nothing else quite like it out there. It’s the story of a house and the people who live in it. The house is not just a symbol for the life of this family, it has it’s own consciousness and control over the people in it. The twins Miranda and Eliot, try to accept their mother’s death. Miranda also struggles with an eating disorder called pica. She craves thing that are not considered edible, like chalk. And strange things happen in the house. But everything changes when Miranda leaves for college. I don’t know what else to say about the plot. This is not a very plot-driven book, it has other qualities. It’s a beautifully written book, even though the strange style requires some patience, so I can see why some may disagree. It’s also very atmospheric, with a Gothic feel, even though it’s set in modern times. It’s a horror book that doesn’t feel like regular horror. It’s aim is not to shock you and scare you. It’s to pull you slowly into the creepy and strange atmosphere and leave you thinking about all of the questions that are left unanswered.

2. The Love That Split the World by Emily Henry- This gorgeous and unusual young adult book was published only a few weeks ago, but I have a feeling that many people are already putting it on their ‘Best of 2016’ lists. The young adult genre can sometimes feel repetitive, with many authors recycling the same old tropes, but this book gives something unique. The main character is a girl called Natalie and she’s having her last summer break before college. And then she sees Grandmother again, after three years without a word from her. Grandmother is a godlike being that has appeared in Natalie’s dreams since childhood and told her stories. This time, however, Grandmother tells her to “save him”, without giving much more information about exactly who “he” is. And then Natalie meets a beautiful boy named Beau. I loved this book and the only thing that made me give it four stars instead of five is that sometimes the dialogue felt unnatural and I was reminded that I was reading a book. But other than that it was awesome.

3. Battle Royale by Koushun Takami- My favorite part of the Hunger Games is the beginning of the actual Games, where everyone is scared and suspicious. Some form alliances, others hide and don’t trust anyone. Battle Royale is all that. It’s over 600 pages of teenagers fighting and killing with various weapons, such as a sickle, a knife or a machine gun. It’s set in a fascist Japan, where rock music is illegal and not liking the national sport is considered having rebellious ideas. Yeah, it takes a leap of faith to trust the world that it’s set in, but it’s still really cool. I loved the cheesy dialogue during some of the fights. I also found it morbidly funny how the sociopath who actually liked killing got the deadliest weapon. Yeah, I am a horrible person. And now some HUGE SPOILERS: I didn’t really like the ending. It was just too unbelievable. More than anything else in the book. And I kinda liked the part where Shogo pretends to betray and kill the two remaining students. It was tragic and shocking, but a really good ending. Another good ending would have been if their plan failed so the boys sacrifice for Noriko and she wins. Maybe I just like tragedy too much. END OF SPOILERS

4. BITCHfest- This is a book of feminist essays that were published in BITCH magazine. It was very informative and it highlights some very important issues that women face today. Of course I didn’t agree completely with every essay, because they were written by many different authors and covered different issues, but I did agree with most of them. I recommend this to every woman. And man. Men need feminism too. So I recommend this to everyone.

5. Guilt Trip by Maggy Farrell- Melissa is diagnosed with Survivor Syndrome after surviving a car accident in which her mother died. But when she goes to a holiday she starts seeing things that are not there. She is not sure if she’s hallucinating or there’s something stranger going on here. And it seems that the key to the mystery is the handsome, older Luke. This was just meh. I wasn’t shocked by the big twist because I saw it from miles away. There weren’t many hints towards it, but it’s a thing you just assume after having read a few good thrillers. The plot was not well planned and by the end of it, it kinda seems that the author brushes aside everything that happened just to deliver a plot twist. It was not believable at all.

Longbourn by Jo Baker

If Longbourn sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the name of the house of one of our most beloved heroines from literature- Elizabeth Bennet. And while the Bennet girls flirt with officers, walk through mud to visit their sick sister or visit the Lucas family, someone has to sew the pretty dresses, wash the muddy petticoats or clean the house. In Longbourn  we get a glimpse into the lives of the servants, kind of like in Downton Abbey. 

The Bennet family has four servants: the butler and the housekeeper Mr. and Mrs. Hill, and two maids, Sarah and Polly. But when the Bennets get a new servant, the footman James, many changes happen in Longbourn. The housekeeper is behaving strangely, Sarah becomes rebellious, while James doesn’t say much about his past. Prepare for some unexpected plot twists.

I didn’t enjoy Longbourn. The first third of the book was promising. I wasn’t sure where the story was heading, but it was interesting enough to see what was happening behind the scenes during those iconic Pride and Prejudice moments. But then the whole romance thing happened and it didn’t seem plausible at all and all of the romantic scenes seemed poorly written and full of cliches. The chapters that were centered on James were nice, but the tragic tone didn’t match the rest of the book. And I hated the fact that Ptolemy Bingley was dismissed as a good suitor for Sarah, when the only thing that could be held against him was his race. I understand that racism was an issue then, but this is a book written today. The author could have at least turned more attention to this issue, since they decided to include a mixed race character.

I gave Longbourn 3 stars on Goodreads, but that was only because of the good beginning. But it went on a downhill from then and in the end turned into a melodramatic, boring, bad book.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

It’s a story we all know from the Bible. The brothers Cain and Abel try to please God, but when God shows his preference for Abel, Cain in a fit of jealousy kills his own brother. I think it’s a story that leaves an impression on everyone, because it’s a story about something that everyone goes through. The struggle for winning parental love makes us pity and relate to Cain, instead of judging him.

And East of Eden is a novel about this eternal struggle of the Cains of this world. But it also poses a question: Can Cain choose to do the right thing? Must he hurt Abel just because it’s in his nature or can he go against himself?

John Steinbeck repeats the Cain and Abel story twice: first between the brothers Adam and Charles and then with Adam’s sons, Cal and Aron. Charles and Adam’s father is a strict parent, who makes a fortune in a dishonest way. He makes his sons go through a strict regime, trying to make them soldiers, but eventually sends only Adam to the army. Adam is the son he prefers, even though Charles is the one who loves him. After their father dies Adams reunites with his brother, then leaves him again and gets married to Cathy, one of the most terrifying characters ever written. Cathy is a perfect example of a sociopath, and oh boy, the things she does.

Then Adam has two children, the twins Aron and Cal and the story of Cain and Abel is repeated all over again. That doesn’t mean that the repetition is something bad. The circumstances are different and the personalities of the people involved are different. The point of the repetition is to warn us that even though one Cain and Abel story may have a happy ending, it will still start all over again in the next generation and continue to do so forever.

Another family that’s also important in the book is the Hamilton family, based on the family of John Steinbeck’s mother. Sam Hamilton, the patriarch of this family is a wise man, an idealist who is too focused on his ideas, which often leaves the family hungry and penniless. Sam’s becomes very good friends with Adam’s Chinese servant Lee. Lee was definitely my favorite character. He’s one of the wisest characters ever written. Sam and Lee are the characters who bring up the word timshel which means thou mayest. They say that in the King James translation of the Bible it’s: “Thou shalt”, which promises that man will rule over sin. While according to the Hebrew meaning of the word timshel, a person may or may not rule over sin, because can make their own choices.

East of Eden slowly seduced me with it’s writing. It’s a big book, with complex ideas, but it’s written in such a simple and easy way, that it pushes you to read more until you completely fall in love with it.

Northanger Abbey and Angels and Dragons by Vera Nazarian

Yeah, yeah, it’s another book with the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies concept. But unlike PPZ, which I dropped after a few chapters, I had a great time reading Northanger Abbey and Angels and Dragons. It definitely follows the same pattern, but it had something that just hooked me, unlike PPZ. Maybe it’s the fact that Northanger Abbey is the first Austen book I’ve read so it’s always been my favorite.

It follows the plot of Northanger Abbey really closely, but there’s a twist. Catherine can hear and see the guardian angels that every person has. Pair that with a couple of evil supernatural beings and dragons and what you get is a seriously funny book. The guardian angels who give advice to Catherine are hilarious. They sound more like Catherine’s nice, but overbearing aunts, than actual angels.

The author nails Austen’s style and sometimes it took me a while to understand that the silly paragraph I was reading was not actually written by Jane Austen. I loved the footnotes which can be found every time certain words which have a different meaning nowadays are used. The author sometimes warns us that the meaning is not the same and at other times acts shocked by what the words’ modern meanings imply.

This was an easy and fun book, great for fans of Jane Austen who are looking for a light read.