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.

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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.

Quick Reviews #1

Haha I know, it’s funny to call this Quick Reviews, when all of my reviews are quick and quite short. But that’s because the primary purpose of this blog is to keep a track of the books I read. It’s very personal, so I try not to strain myself and write beautiful reviews. I just write whatever I thought about a book. I sometimes have only a few sentences to say. And this is the case today. I read these books in the last few days, but I never had the time to write proper reviews.

  1. Ghost World by Daniel Clowes – I have to start with this graphic novel (the third one I’ve read). I absolutely loved it. Loved loved loved it. It made me feel so many things. I was feeling very depressed after I read it, because it felt like something I’d experienced. It’s a story about two cynical and confused teenage girls and the people in their town who are all weirdos and really hilarious. It felt like graphic novel version of Daria, only darker.
  2. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro – If Downton Abbey’s Mr. Carson had a book centered around him, this would be it. It’s about a stereotypical butler, one who is very proper and fiercely loyal. He reflects on the past, his former master who was a gentleman, but also a fascist. He is conflicted about his emotions, because even though he disapproves of his employer’s actions, after his death he still feels loyalty to him, and yet he is ashamed about working for him. He also has some regrets about a relationship that could have happened with the housekeeper, but never did, because of his principles and personality. I felt sorry for the guy. It was a beautifully written book and one that keeps your attention through every page.
  3. This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp – I am the kind of person who doesn’t read the newspaper, unless I see that something creepy or violent happened. I don’t have morbid fascination with death, but I have a natural curiosity, which makes me want to know what goes through the mind of people who cause those tragedies. So when I heard that one of the first 2016 young adult books is about a school shooting, of course I had to read it. The good things about it were the diversity of the characters and the way the book was written, through POV of multiple characters, plus through tweets, comments, blog posts.. But it could have been much better. The characters sometimes seemed too simple and similar to each other (but not always). Even though the subject is very shocking, I didn’t really feel emotional after the book. That’s why I gave it only three stars.
  4. The Mother-Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick- I read this one today. It’s a book about young girls, all very different from each other, who are forced to participate in a book club where they read Little Women with their mothers. Even though it’s a book for children it was fun and sweet and I liked it, but it’s not my favorite. I actually love reading children’s books so I’ve read some that were better. My favorite characters were actually their mothers, who were all hilarious.

Well that was it. I may be gone again for a while, because I am reading two big books and it will take me a while to read them. But I may try to squeeze in a shorter book if I can.

 

 

Office Girl by Joe Meno

Office Girl is the love story between Odile, an art school dropout, and Jack, a 25-year-old divorcee. They are both unusual, quirky, frustrated with their art, confused about who they are, stuck in dysfunctional relationships. So naturally when they meet at their boring office jobs, the chemistry that exists between them is clearly visible.

I liked how there was no tension like in most fictional romances, where even though the two people are head over heels and everyone can see that, they are still not aware of the other person’s feelings. In Office Girl the romance unfolds naturally and Odile and Jack seem like real people. There are no cliches or silly obstacles in the form of scheming exes or anything like that. Ultimately the only obstacle between them is their own personalities and the existential crisis they are both in.

There were many things I liked in this book. It’s impossible not to love Odile. Okay maybe I am wrong. I am sure she’s written as a character which can be very annoying to some people. But she’s the type of person I love. I loved her free spirit. I loved her views on art. I loved her nonsensical artsy vandalism. I loved her little notebook with random ideas.

However I also had many problems with this book. While I was reading the first few chapters which are from Odile’s point of view, everything was okay. And Jack’s chapters, before he meets Odile were okay too, even though I didn’t like reading about him as much as I liked reading about Odile. However after the two meet, it seems like Odile is demoted to the status of a manic pixie dream girl and the only way we can see her is now through Jack’s perspective. She seems like she’s there to save him, which is exactly what he believes. And we are somehow supposed to share Jack’s frustration when she fails his expectations. I don’t know. For the second time in this review I have to admit that I may be wrong. Maybe the author intended to show us how Jack sees Odile, so we can see how wrong and broken Jack is. But I am not sure.

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

In my post about Marbles I mentioned that it’s the first graphic novel I’ve read, but that I’d be happy to read more. And that’s why I decided to read Through the Woods by Emily Carroll. Some of my favorite book reviewers have recommended it and I just knew that I’d love it.

Through the Woods is a collection of 5 short stories (or 7 if you count the introduction and the conclusion). The main genre is horror, with some fairy tale elements. But the horror is not of the gory or shocking type. It’s mostly a tension that builds up, in a slow, subtle way. The words are simple. The sentences are short. The text is almost poetic.

The art is also very beautiful. The main color scheme is red, black, white and blue and the artist uses her pictures perfectly to covey the mood of the story.

I am not used to reviewing graphic novels, so I don’t know what else to say. I think I need to read some more, so I can be able to form stronger opinions on them.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

This is the first book in a series of crime novels, where the sleuth is more extraordinary than ever. It’s a little girl!

Flavia de Luce is 11 years old, but she already has a great knowledge in chemistry. She is very smart and curious, so when a dead bird with a postage stamp on its beak and a dead man are found in their yard, naturally she goes exploring.

To be honest, the whole crime part of the story wasn’t really good. It was okay, but nothing special. It was easy to solve and there was no real tension. However, being in Flavia’s head for a while is really fun. Especially when she talks about her older sisters and their love-hate (though mostly hate) relationship. The moments with her father are very sweet and her conversations with the adults are really funny.

I expected more from this book, but even though I wasn’t wowed I think I’ll give the second book in the series a shot.

172 Hours on the Moon by Johan Harstad

OMG! OMG! OMG! This book was sooooooooooooooooooooooooooo amazing. Just thinking about how cool it is makes me squeal. I’ve been talking non-stop about it, this whole day, even since I finished it at 5 a.m.

Yup, it’s one of those books. It keeps you awake until dawn. It just won’t let you go until you finish it. I almost felt like the book kidnapped me and left me no choice. I just had to read it. It was that awesome.

I won’t talk a lot about the plot, because I don’t want to spoil all of this awesomeness, so I’ll just tell you the basics. NASA decides to send people on the moon. In order to get more money and publicity, they decide to make a lottery for teenagers in the whole world and the lucky three that will be picked, win a trip to the moon.

It starts out slowly, but even in the beginning there are hints of what’s to come. Many scenes are there just to add to the tone of the book and to increase the tension. And then the book gets super fast paced and everything becomes really freaky and really really scary.

I was totally not prepared for the horror. I just assumed it would be a normal science fiction with a bit of thriller maybe, a mildly shocking plot twist. But 172 Hours on the Moon is definitely horror. And it’s very scary. Trust me.

Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me by Ellen Forney

I have a confession. This was the first graphic novel I’ve read in my life. The first one. But it was a really good choice that made me excited and eager to read more graphic novels.

Marbles is a graphic memoir that tells the story of Ellen Forney’s struggle with bipolar disorder. I loved how open and honest she was throughout the whole memoir. Mental illness is something that is difficult to talk about, especially if you’ve experienced it personally. And when it is talked about, sometimes it isn’t handled with the attention and maturity that mental illness deserves as an issue. This is why I am thankful that Ellen Forney made such an honest graphic novel.

She gives us a glimpse of her mind during her manic times: the excitement, the ideas, the energy, the flirting, the inability to sleep… And then she gives us a glimpse into the opposite, the depressive periods, where she sometimes couldn’t even get out of bed.

Ellen saw a psychiatrist and took many different drugs for bipolar disorder and this was a struggle which lasted years. She tells us her experiences with all the different pills she had to try until she found a mix that could work.

But if there is one question that this graphic novel focuses on it’s whether art and mental illness are connected? Ellen Forney tries throughout her life to find the answer to this. She is not sure if bipolar disorder is a part of who she is, the key to her creativity and art. She studies other artists’ problems with mental illness to see their personal experiences.

I am really glad I tried a new medium and form of art and I can’t wait to read another graphic novel.

The Wilful Eye (Short Story Collection)

The Wilful Eye is a collection of six stories by different authors, all of them taking inspiration from famous fairy tales. The stories are not like the newer versions made for children. The gore, the evil, the cruelty is left in them, but they also give dimension to the usually flat characters of the stories.

It seems like the authors all asked themselves the questions: “What If?” and “Why?” and went from there, giving each story a unique answer to those questions. The stories were all different. Some were set in modern times, others in the far past, just like their originals.

My personal favorite was the adaptation of The Beauty and The Beast. I loved how the beast was really almost an animal in behavior and how Belle tamed him, by being brave and strict, but not cruel. The way he slowly became human again, because of Belle’s love and efforts was very sweet and touching. And Belle was soooooooo badass. Go brave Belle!

Another story I liked was the adaptation of The Steadfast Tin Soldier. I liked how the author was able to  create such a good psychological image of many of the characters in such a short story. It was absolutely amazing.

There’s a companion piece to this collection called The Wicked Wood which contains six more stories and i just can’t wait to read it.

Jane by April Lindner

Jane is a modern re-telling of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Instead of Jane Eyre, we have Jane Moore, who has lost her parents six months ago, so she can’t pay for her college tuition anymore. She really can’t rely on anyone for financial or any other type of support. Her sister doesn’t want to ruin her perfect life with her perfect fiance and her brother is even more abusive than he used to be as a child.

Jane decides to get work as a nanny. And because of her disinterest in pop culture, she’s given a job in the home of Nico Rathburn, a famous rock star. That way the agency and Nico can be sure that the nanny won’t be a crazy fan who is in love with Nico. Except a romance does evolve. But Nico’s past has too many secrets and some of them threaten the budding relationship.

I won’t say anymore about the plot, but if you’ve read Jane Eyre, you probably already know what happens. Jane is a very close re-telling and there are not many changes in the plot. But that doesn’t meant that it’s boring. It’s very fun to read about Jane in modern times and I love the choice of profession for Mr Rochester. I definitely think his personality fits a rock star with a turbulent past.

I loved many of the secondary characters. Every moment with Maddy was cute, and I loved Yvonne, Lucia, Diana and Maria. I even like how Bianca (the equivalent of Blanche Ingram) was a talented photographer and her success was of her own merit. It would’ve been easy to make her just a gold-digging socialite, but even if she was shallow and materialistic, I liked how at least she was a successful woman.

The only thing that made me enjoy this book a bit less is the age difference between Jane and Nico. Yes, the same age difference is in Jane Eyre, but when it’s put in modern context, it’s very disturbing. And on top of that when you keep in mind that Nico is Jane’s employer, so he’s a figure of authority.It’s difficult not to ask yourself questions about the power imbalance in their relationship.

I think I’ll re-read Jane Eyre soon, but I’ll keep in mind these few issues that bothered me in Jane and see if the classic handles them better. Or maybe I just never noticed these problematic subjects before.