June 2016 – Book Review

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The “Just Because” Philosophy.

This is a fun, insightful little book. Benjamin Hoff posits that our favorite little bear, Winnie-the-Pooh, is the quintessential Taoist. He may be a Bear of Very Little Brain, but he’s also the perfect example of the best way to live your life.

Winnie-the-Pooh lives in the present. He isn’t bogged down with Cleverness or Knowledge, but rather Kindness and Love. He lives day-by-day. And, while he’s a flawed bear, he uses what he has to his advantage. Pooh is happy and does things “just because.” He celebrates a Thursday “just because” he can. He takes each day as a day to live.

Hoff’s writing is very clever. Between his small “lectures” (though, they really aren’t) on the history and ways of Taoism, he inserts parts of the original Milne stories to illustrate his points, as well as adding in fun sections where he interacts with the Hundred Acre Wood gang. I knew very little about Taoism, practically nothing, before I read The Tao of Pooh, and Hoff does a swell job of giving us the fundamentals of this Eastern belief system by relating it all to a very well-known Western set of characters and stories. This was a joy to read, and it got me thinking of how I can “walk lightly,” live a more “just because” life, and better interact with the rest of humanity. 4/5

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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists is an essay that touches on several interlinking subjects all relating to feminism. She discusses the current climate of gender inequality; the separate expectations of men and women given the social and cultural sphere in which we’ve been brought up; the unfair shame women hold because it’s been continuously engraved in their minds since birth; the detrimental effects society has on boys, who then grow up to be men that cannot recognize their fragile egos; and the degradation of both genders due to societal norms.

Gender, like race, is a social construct. It’s easier for people to classify others, into the smallest number of groups, based off of unchosen characteristics. We see this in psychology and literature all of the time; we don’t like dissonance, something that doesn’t fit into our categories, or the abject, something monstrous or taboo that we are equally fascinated and repulsed by. By reducing people into two groups and shunning those who don’t snuggly fit in, we become a lesser culture populated by lesser people. And in the recognition of a false superiority of one gender over the other is cruel, shameful, and should be disposed of. The concept of gender has plagued us, all of us, and has devalued our society. Equality, to some, seems almost like a foreign concept; I don’t think some people realize that we can and should improve ourselves for the betterment of the world after we’re gone.

I think some people, and it’s mostly men, are turned off by the word feminist. They believe that one must be feminine to be a feminist. That’s just absurd malarkey. It’s just not true, and an easy cop-out to dismiss a serious problem. Us feminists won’t hurt your pride. We cannot improve unless every single one of us recognizes the inequality between genders. Adichie writes: “The problem with gender is that it prescribes how we should be rather than recognizing how we are. Imagine how much happier we would be, how much freer to be our true individual selves, if we didn’t have the weight of gender expectations.” Let’s let go of our gender expectation and pave the way for a brighter future. 4/5

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This is a puzzling collection of short stories. Diane Williams’ Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine assembles 40 short stories–and some of them are very short. Like, 50 words short. Many of the stories seem like they’ve been cobbled together from disparate notes and passages Williams jotted down once upon a time; they just don’t make sense to me and are almost instantaneously forgettable. I actually did like about a dozen or so of the stories, including that very short one, but most of this book just falls apart for me. I hoped that I would like it, as I’ve barely read any flash fiction before, but I just wasn’t feeling this collection. Perhaps I didn’t “get it,” but, in looking at the other reviews on Goodreads, it looks like I’m not the only one. Hey, at least the cover is awesome. I’d get a poster of that and hang it on my wall. Too bad that’s the best part of this collection. 2/5

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Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You is exactly what you’d expect it to be. It’s melodramatic, cloyingly sugar-sweet, and rather sappy. Even though the novel isn’t a romance, it does try to tear at your emotions–though, it doesn’t succeed for this fella. Instead, it comes off as annoying. (I swear, Louisa Clark cries every few pages. I understand the situation Louisa is in, but maybe I’m just too heartless to be suckered in.) And, speaking of Louisa, her personality is grating. Besides how emotional she is, I cannot understand how she figured her rebound job, with a definite end-date, would end as a prince-finding fairytale with dollops of sunshine and unicorn-ending rainbows. Louisa declares that she’s not as smart as her sister, and it’s clear that she is not.

Nothing in the story comes as a surprise, either; everything’s laid out from the get-go. While I don’t mind an unchallenging book once in a while, I was hoping for some more substance than what’s offered. That’s the book’s biggest weakness for me, and I’m perplexed as to why Me Before You is so beloved. As unsurprising as everything is, Moyes’ writing is at least easy to read and well-flowing. There were no problems at all with reading. Plus, I do like the conversation Moyes’ brings up with assisted-suicide. That’s the novel’s biggest strength for me. It’s a controversial topic, and Moyes does well with illustrating both sides of the argument.

I liked Me Before You, but it’s not the special snowflake most people believe it to be. 3/5

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I’ve seen the film version of Isherwood’s A Single Man a few times before and thoroughly enjoyed it, but I knew I wanted to read the novel sooner or later. I finally got around to it.

Isherwood’s novel is slim–it’s under 200 pages–but I don’t feel like anything was rushed or only partially created; it’s a full experience. The story follows a day in the life of George Falconer after the loss of his partner, Jim. We go through his routine, of how he wakes up, how he teaches his classes, how he winds down, how he torments himself, how he tries to live again after such a debilitating loss.

George is a prime example of an outsider, but he is universally relatable. And that’ all because of Isherwood’s fantastic writing. The prose is specific, pointed, and very easy to read. There’s a sense of sadness on every page, but there are also moments of happiness and black comedy. There’s sincerity throughout. Isherwood easily manipulates us and his words tug at your heartstrings. A Single Man was my 26th book this year, and it’s certainly one of the best I’ve read in 2016. 4.5/5

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May 2016 – Book Review

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I love Tina Fey. I love what she did on SNL and with my beloved 30 Rock, and so I was pretty excited to read Bossypants. Unfortunately, I feel like much of it falls flat. I did greatly enjoy the (luckily) significant portions that focus on SNL and 30 Rock, but the rest of it lacked the genius writing she so obviously possesses. Perhaps I was expecting more, especially since I loved Amy Poehler’s Yes Please. I do think I would’ve enjoyed Bossypants more if I listened to it on audiobook, which is something that I’ve never done (so I’m surprised I even mentioned it). I could read her humor just fine, but having Fey read her story for me aloud would probably work better. 3/5

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I try to give every book I read a chance, to make sure that there really is something worthwhile. Unfortunately, I was disappointed with Emma Straub’s The Vacationers. Straub’s novel focuses on the Post family–Jim, Franny, Bobby, and Sylvia–Bobby’s girlfriend, Carmen; Franny’s best friend, Charles; and Charles’ husband, Lawrence, on their trip to Mallorca. The story is pretty slim, even for an obvious beach read. Not much happens in the first half of the novel, and when something does happen in the second half, it’s the same problem that’s been referenced before with all of the other characters’ relationships.

In one of my Goodreads updates, I said that I didn’t mind character studies. I’m not sure if the novel even qualifies as such, as each character reacts similarly to the same obstacle they all run into. That being said, Straub can write well. Her writing style is easy-breezy to read; each sentence flows swimmingly into the next. While The Vacationers is short on story, at least it isn’t entirely unpleasant to read. I’m still looking forward to Straub’s next novel, Modern Lovers; hopefully there’ll be a bit more complexity with the characters and story. 2/5

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I loved every single bit of this novel. Station Eleven is almost like a perfect episode of Lost.

Emily St. John Mandel’s novel focuses on several characters who all have some sort of relationship with famed actor Arthur Leander, and experience his sudden death, both near and afar, during a performance of King Lear. Just as Leander perishes, there’s an unexpected pandemic of the Georgia Flu and the world’s inhabitants–roughly 99%–die as well. Along the American-Canadian border, some of the survivors of this pandemic, including Kirsten Raymonde, Jeevan Chaudhary, Clark Thompson, Miranda Carroll, and Tyler Leander, among others, must traverse what’s left of this wasteland in order to survive.

Twenty years after the collapse, Kirsten Raymonde belongs to the Travelling Symphony, which is comprised of actors and musicians who travel caravan-style around the Great Lakes to perform Shakespeare and musical classics. Raymonde was in the the production of King Lear and witnessed Arthur Leander’s death up-close. Jeevan Chaudhary leaped toward the stage to help resuscitate Arthur. Clark Thompson was Arthur’s best friend whom he met as a teenager, both struggling to become famous actors. Miranda Carroll was Arthur’s first wife, and created a two volume comic book entitled Station Eleven, copies of which, after receiving them as gifts from Arthur, Raymonde holds dear. And, Tyler Leander–well, I’ll keep him a secret.

The writing is brilliant; Mandel expertly intertwined several storylines and makes connections between the disparate characters, all across decades before, during, and after Arthur Leander’s death and the onset of the Georgia Flu. This is what I mean when I compare the novel to Lost, with all of its intersecting characters and storylines with flashbacks and flashfowards.

I love this book. I really do. I even added it to my favorites shelf before I finished reading it. It even comes close to my most recent book-love, A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, which I read at the end of last year. Try Station Eleven. You won’t be disappointed. 5/5

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Ramona Ausubel’s Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty, which streets on June 16th (I was able to obtain a digital ARC through Penguin’s First to Read program), is an entertaining literary read. The story focuses on Fern and Edgar Keating, their parents, their children, and the unraveling effects all parties endure after their financial floor suddenly vanishes beneath them.

Many may dislike Fern and Edgar, and I can see why. But I wonder whether or not we would act the same if something so comforting–and, let’s be honest here, money is a comforting object, whether or not we believe in just how good or bad it is–were to be swept away so suddenly. Fern and Edgar, like their money, vanish into their own stories, leaving their children alone for a week. The children–Cricket, James, and Will–seem content with their parent-free lives; worry only settles in toward the end of the week, but then Edgar comes home. Fern travels with a giant, Mac, to recover his son. Edgar sails away with his lover. Both discover their terrible mistakes and return to the safety and comfort of their home. While they’re still penniless, a new familial, rather than financial, comfort blossoms.

This story crosses many generations and several decades. Themes of family, self-worth, love, friendship, heartache, death, loss, and realization all play major parts here. Ausubel’s writing is descriptive and inviting; I wanted to continue reading her words. I’ll definitely have to check out Ausubel’s other novels. 4/5

April 2016 – Book Review

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Karan Bajaj’s The Yoga of Max’s Discontent was apparently well-received in India, and, upon its upcoming release in English, I can see why. Bajaj’s characterization of his main character, Max, is vivid and realistic, at least for the most part. Max, completely distraught by his mother’s death, desires more out of life, or at least a better understanding of how to live and what to believe. So, he journey’s to India to find a guru and practice yoga, to rid himself of his discontent. I generally enjoyed reading Max’s exploration of life.

There were two things that I did dislike though: one is minor and the other major. Bajaj does seem to jump pretty suddenly between different settings, both geographical and chronological. He very suddenly leaves New York and finds himself, somehow completely comfortable, in India. Max, after several chapters and just a few months spent at an ashram, has then suddenly spent three years of his life there. The pacing just seems a bit off. The other, bigger problem I have is Max’s blatant disregard for his physical health. I understand that, in his yoga practice, his mental prowess and his ability to remain calm and completely focused on his path to transcendence is the central goal, but you can’t really transcend if your body withers away. This dissonance may just be because I’m not overly familiar with this practice, but I just can’t get over that.

Even with these two problems, I did really like this novel. It’s a relatively fast and easy read, and it does make you think about your place in this world and your spiritual life, I guess. I’m usually not one to read books that discuss the best way to live your life, how to take care of yourself spiritually, and all that, but I did enjoy Bajaj’s novel. I wouldn’t necessarily classify this as a religious novel, but rather a spiritual one. 3.5/5

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The Cuckoo’s Calling – Robert Galbraith

Robert Galbraith (aka JK Rowling) has given us an entertaining, fast, and fun read with The Cuckoo’s Calling. This novel, the first in the undeniably cool-sounding Cormoran Strike series, tracks the apparent suicide of supermodel Lula Landry. Former military and current private eye Cormoran Strike, along with the help of temporary secretary Robin, interviews a series of individuals associated with Landry–fellow tenants, friends, family members, employers, etc.–and discovers that her suicide may in fact be a murder. While the result of Strike’s investigation isn’t necessarily all that creative–I may have figured it out rather early on–the writing is so inviting and easy to read that I wanted to see where the story went and how Strike would solve this crime.

I don’t read too many mysteries, so the only other novel I can really compare it to is Hammett’s The Thin Man, which I read in March. Hammett’s novel is certainly more complicated, and you can easily lose track if you don’t pay attention. That’s not really the case with The Cuckoo’s Calling, but that’s okay; I have no qualms with that. In fact, the only qualm I do have–and it’s quite minor–is that, for a mystery novel, it seems light on action. The climax of the story, of course, has some action, but the bulk of what’s here consists of interviews. I’m hoping there’s a bit more action in The Silkworm. Overall, though, this was an immensely readable and fun story, and I’m excited to see where Galbraith takes us next. 4/5

Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates

I don’t freely hand out five stars to books; they must truly astonish me and impact me in ways which can only be described as profound. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me is such a book–“required reading” as the great Toni Morrison states. I find it hard to review this book, to eloquently put it into words. This is a letter to Samori, Coates’ son, and this letter delves into the author’s existence as an American with a black body, a body that must continuously struggle. Coates details his experiences with his family, attending Howard University, meeting his wife, losing friends, and feeling the chains that are still present in the current American culture.

It’s no wonder why Between the World and Me won the National Book Award. For it’s timeliness and effectiveness, this is something that I think should be read by as many people as possible. It’s importance is something that will only grow in time. 5/5

The Book Thief – Markus Zusak

I wonder what compels us to read so much World War II literature. Are we still so fascinated by a not-so-distant past, where such monstrosities occurred, that we see this literature as both unfortunately possible and yet so indescribably irresistible? Are we able to willingly be dazzled by such atrocities? Are we able to see past the terror when reading through the veil of a book, especially if it’s a work of fiction? Do such manifestations make these events–real or fiction–more digestible, more palatable, more welcoming? Do they give us a better, clearer understanding of the past? What if the author wasn’t present? I’d say yes to all of these.

On it’s tenth anniversary of publication, I finally got around to reading The Book Thief. I’m not sure where I was, or why I’m so late to the party, but I did finally read it. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I knew relatively little about the novel–only that it was set during World War II in Germany and that there’s a not-so-impressive movie adaptation. (Though, I still do want to see it.) Liesel Meminger has had a rough life. The war has begun and she’s already lost a number of things she holds dear. However, when she rescues a book–well, she steals it–she finds a new journey to begin. A number of obstacles come her way, but Liesel persists and continues her book thievery to survive. Not everyone can survive, however. Even though there are such glints of happiness, ultimately that cannot be the norm for Liesel.

Zusak’s writing is generally easy to read, and there’s a nice ebb and flow to the story. The characters are defined well. My biggest complaint that I have is the narrator, Death. He’s kind of annoying and reveals too much information. He gives up the ending a number of times. Yes, I understand that this is a YA novel, but I think we can read between the lines. We don’t need to be spoon-fed here.

I studied abroad in Germany in 2013. My courses focused on literature with themes of authority: being suppressed by it, abused by it, overcoming it, and dealing with its circumstances. I read such works as 1984White NoiseSlaughterhouse-FiveNever Let Me GoOne Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and others. And I’m curious, after having read The Book Thief, why we never read it. Perhaps it was too juvenile. Perhaps Liesel’s acts of book thievery were too subtle, too small, to be considered rebellious. I don’t know exactly. But, I am glad I finally got around to reading Zusak’s novel.

While in Germany, I did visit the Buchenwald concentration camp. It was completely snowed-out; you could barely see five feet in front of you. I distinctly remember a large group of elementary school children laughing, playing, loudly calling to each other. Everyone in my group was completely silent, and I was unable to understand why these children were acting the way they were. Perhaps they were just children and didn’t understand, but I don’t think that’s true. I feel like it shouldn’t be, anyway. To this day, there’s still some dissonance there: a group of children laughing and playing on the grounds of such torture and death.

I think I have a different mindset when I do read World War II literature and non-fiction books. It’s one thing to read about these experiences from afar; and, yes, this novel can be and should be read by as many people as possible, as it’s an important book. However, once you’re there, in the midst, with history facing you from all sides, it’s difficult to not be changed and read subsequent works in a different light. The horror that is somewhat-lightly touched upon–or, perhaps, not so gruesomely detailed–was in the back of my mind throughout my reading. 4.5/5

March 2016 – Book Review

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What a lovely book. This is my second time reading through Murakami’s Norwegian Wood, and I’m still struck at the simplistic, straightforward nature of it all. Once again, Murakami transformed himself from the wacky (A Wild Sheep Chase) and bizarre (Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World) into a deeply meditative, personal, truthful story about loss, love, and growing-up. It’s a shame that, upon its initial release and worldwide praise, Murakami was unresponsive to all of the attention the novel received. I guess I can understand why he didn’t initially want to be remembered for this simple (yet stirring) love story–especially after reading some of his other works–but I also think I’d enjoy the praise. For me, though, Norwegian Wood is a clear winner, and it remains my favorite work by Murakami (though, I’ve only read his first five novels, so this may change, especially when I get to the beloved The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and 1Q84). 5/5

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Sheer magic. Truly. I mean, it really is. I first read A Wrinkle in Time when I was 8, and I loved it then. I was enraptured by all of the science, the magic, the fantasy, the love the story was imbued with. And now, 16 years later–with multiple reads in-between–I still love it. Sure, some messages are now clearly obvious, but I still love it. Call it nostalgia. I don’t know. I doubt I could ever dislike this novel. Plus, the copy I read at 8, yellowing and issuing that wonderful old book smell, is the one I read. I’m so happy that I chanced upon this book during an elementary school book fair because A Wrinkle in Time was the singular book that sparked my love for reading. Madeleine L’Engle created something extremely special, and I am so grateful that she brought this story to us. 5/5

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If I Had A Gryphon is a fun little picture book about a girl who, at first, is uncharmed by her ordinary hamster and imagines how great it would be to have a mythic creature as a pet. While she goes through a wide assortment of cool beasts, she comes to a conclusion that may surprise you. It has some neat illustrations by Cale Atkinson, too. I don’t normally go around reading picture books–that’s not really my style–but I work at a book store, and, as I set this book up for a new promotion, I thought, “Eh, why not?” 3/5

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Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man is a satisfyingly sharp, complex, and often hilarious hard-boiled detective story that’s certainly worth a read.

The story follows two alcoholics, Nick and Nora Charles, a married couple that just happens to get caught up in solving a mysterious murder spree. Nick, a former detective, immediately sees interest in the Wynant family, and it appears that the patriarch, and former client, Clyde, has gone off on some murderous rampage. His ex-wife, Mimi, and two children, Dorothy and Gilbert, are altogether caught up in their relative’s circumstances, too. Shade is thrown all around, and not everything is as it appears to be; only Nick and Nora–well, mostly Nick; the socialite Nora spends most of her time consoling Dorry and making cocktails and snide remarks–can solve the case. Hammett has some great one-liners sprinkled throughout, which makes this somewhat convoluted plot much more digestible*. The Thin Man is a wild ride, and I’m all the more curiouser to finally read Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon after reading this and seeing the 1941 film several times. 4/5

It’s no wonder that this novel was turned into a film, an almost precursory film noir, but with a healthy smattering of humor.

* “‘What do you have to do to get a drink?’ I said: ‘You have to walk over to that table where the ice and bottles are and pour it.'” & “Dorothy, behind me, said, ‘Balls!’ under her breath, but with a lot of feeling.”

February 2016 – Book Review

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What a marvelous book. I’m not much into science-fiction or fantasy, but I thoroughly enjoyed The Magicians. It’s a grown-up, modernized mash-up of Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia, and I loved every minute of it. Quentin Coldwater travels to Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy, where he meets Alice, Eliot, Janet, Penny, and a slew of other magicians as they tackle and refine their abilities. Scattered throughout the novel is a series of books set in Fillory where the Chatwin children visit. And, just maybe, Quentin gets to visit, too. A truly great, witty, fun read. Lev Grossman’s prose is a delight to read. I’m so glad there are two more books after this because I never want to leave this world. 4/5

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Anyone who follows me on Goodreads knows that I had trouble with The Devil in the White City. I’m still really quite torn. There were elements I liked and there were elements that left me completely uninterested. The biggest problem I have is that there are two, in all reality, separate stories that don’t really go together. On the one hand, we have Chicago’s World’s Fair: it’s planning, creation, operation, and aftermath. On the other hand, we have the story of H. H. Holmes: murderer. Everything about H. H. Holmes is fascinating. Everything about the World’s Fair is generally boring; I just could not get into it. Unfortunately, nothing really clicked until the midway point, and the only reason I finished the book was because I had already invested so much time into it and so I might as well have finished it (in addition to larger sections dedicated to Holmes). There is a singular mention of Holmes attending the Fair, and that’s it. That doesn’t work for me. That’s not enough. Larson’s writing is good, but even he can’t spin the “connections” between the two stories. I would much rather have read a book just on Holmes, with the World’s Fair simply being the setting. I really don’t have any desire to ever read it again. Though, with a film adaptation coming up, I will say I’ll watch what Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio come up with. 2.5/5

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My Murakami Marathon continues with his fourth novel, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. This novel is wholly unlike any of the previous Murakami novels I’ve read; it truly cannot compare. There are two interlocking stories here. Hard-Boiled Wonderland follows the path of an unnamed man who meets a mystifying Professor and his granddaughter and gets caught up in the “shuffling” of information, discovers his past, and plans for the future, all wrapped around a rather unique mystery. The End of the World follows the path of an unnamed man who is stuck within a walled town, aptly named End of the World, and becomes the Dreamreader, someone who reads information-laced particles of light that emanates from skulls.

Part detective story, part post-apocalyptic utopia (though, of course, utopia it is not), wrapped in post-modern dreams and themes. It’s a truly bizarre book, but Murakami’s strength lies in his description and the juxtaposition of these two connected stories. Every page was truly interesting and captivating, mesmerizing. A seriously good read. 4/5

 

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January 2016 – Book Review

The first month of the year is over, and I thought it would be fun to review the books I’ve read in January. Here it goes:

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A thin volume with reimagined, modernized fairy tales, along with some original stories by Cunningham. Some of these reimaginings work rather well, and some of them fall a bit flat, unable to conjure up any magic. While Cunningham’s writing is superb–and his ability to humanize previously simple and two-dimensional characters is quite impressive–some of these new tellings feel somewhat short and incomplete. I did, however, enjoy a few of them, including the stories “Little Man,” “Steadfast; Tin,” and “Ever/After.” Additionally, the illustrations by Yuko Shimizu are beautiful. A Wild Swan is good but not great. 3/5

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I saw the film version ofThe Perks of Being a Wallflower when it first came around in 2012, but I hadn’t ever read the novel before. However, I decided, on a whim, to pick up a signed hardcover copy at Barnes & Noble (to treat myself; I do love signed editions) and made plans to read it. Stephen Chbosky’s novel is just as grand as everyone says. I tend to find epistolary novels, though told through letters, to be awkward, but I didn’t find that here. It was very easy to relate to Charlie and travel with him on his journey. I now know why everyone loves this book. 4/5

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I’m sure some people will truly love this book. They’ll find it captivating, interesting, fun. I am not one of those people. First of all, I’m not the intended demographic; I am not a teen, no matter how youthful my appearance may be. (Not that you need to be a teenager to enjoy teen books.) I also don’t read fantasy/adventure novels. I just don’t. I think the last ones I read were The Hunger Games trilogy when they first were published, and then The Hobbit, which was about nine years ago.

So, why did I choose this book to read? Plain and simple, it was the cover. I think it looks pretty cool, and the pages are black, which I’m a sucker for. Once I started reading Six of Crows, though, I got a little flustered. Tons of information and lingo were thrown at me at the beginning, making it rather difficult for me to actually get into the book, the story, and the characters. Once I did pick up the lingo and figure out what was going on–around page 70 or 75–things started to pick up. Now, I do think the characters were generally well-written and fleshed out; each had their own personality and humor, so I do appreciate that. But then it felt like the story just went into a standard/recognizable rhythm, which made the heist seem less exciting/dangerous and more predictable. I also felt a disconnect between the ages of the characters and the occupations of those characters. Sixteen and Seventeen year olds aren’t spies and business owners. Though, I’m guessing these types of occupations are more common for teenagers to possess in this genre (I still don’t like it).

Just because I didn’t necessary care for Six of Crows doesn’t mean that others won’t. (And, in looking at the other Goodreads reviews for it, I’m clearly not in the majority.) For me, it was simply fine, and doesn’t necessarily make me want to read any other (popular) books in the teen fantasy/adventure genre. 2/5

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Last year, I decided to collect all of Haruki Murakami’s fiction writing, including all of his novels and collections of short stories (and now I own all but one, The Strange Library). I decided to do a Murakami Marathon, which is somewhat punny as the author runs marathons (I had a laugh), and this collection of his first two short novels, newly released here after 30 years of being out of print, was where I’d start my marathon. To preface: I’ve read Norwegian Wood before, which is probably his most famous and well-known novel, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was hoping for the same reaction to these novels. Alas, these really weren’t the same.

Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973 were Murakami’s first attempts, and they seem like it. I can only compare these short novels to the magnificent Norwegian Wood, and so I have to say that I wasn’t overly impressed with them (and, apparently, Murakami wasn’t either, which is why they’ve been out of print for thirty-odd years). Nevertheless, I feel as if there are inklings and certain feelings that will emerge in his later works, and I’m excited to see how he builds upon those; and, surely, his work will become more impressive.

Hear the Wind Sing is short and sweet, and did remind me a bit of Banana Yoshimoto’s Kitchen, which I read at the end of last year. It’s more of a straightforward story, without too many surprises popping up. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, but just a little uninspired. Pinball, 1973 is a bit more creative and unusual. I’d classify some spots as “deliciously weird” (though, I think there will be even weirder stuff to come). The whole conversation with Spaceship the pinball machine is probably my favorite bit. Both are good, and I enjoyed them, but not as much as I’d hoped I would. This collection is a good start to Murakami’s much-beloved body of literary work, though. 3/5

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Right after Wind/Pinball, I decided to read A Wild Sheep Chase. It was as if something finally clicked with Murakami. The third novel in the Rat trilogy, A Wild Sheep Chase continues the story of the nameless narrator and his weird adventure that leads him on a wild sheep chase. The novel is a drastic improvement over Murakami’s first works. His writing style is definitive and a complete change from that found in his previous novels. Style, complexity, characterization, and overall storytelling are just leaps and bounds more impressive. There’s just this mystical and inexplicable quality here that’s refreshing; the oddness of it all is so captivating and special. No wonder Murakami took the world by storm with this book. 4/5

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I’m not one for memoirs, unless they’re by comedians (for some inexplicable reason). I bought When Breath Becomes Air for my mom, and I decided to give it a go because I’m currently stuck on reading another book (Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City). I actually connected with Kalanithi’s book more than I thought I would. Perhaps it’s because I also went into college thinking about majoring in English or biology (I chose English, just like Kalanithi, though I have no plans to go into medicine). He is a rather gifted writer; his words are easy to read but they have a weight to them. It’s probably not as “inspiring” as was intended–or maybe I’m just not one who’s easily inspired–but enjoyable nonetheless. 4/5

Hanya Yanagihara’s “A Little Life” – Review

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These days, books are getting longer, and so it’s become nearly inevitable to stumble upon a well-reviewed, brick-sized tome that you’re somewhat leery to read but anxious to do so. I’m not one to quit reading something; I try to persevere, even if it’s not something I particularly enjoy (I hope to find some redeeming quality).

So, after reading such great responses to Hanya Yanagihara’s second novel, A Little Life, a 720-page epic (and a finalist for both the Man Booker and National Book Award prizes; sadly, it lost in both categories to Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings and Adam Johnson’s Fortune Smiles, respectively—both of which I’m hoping to read this year), I decided to purchase it on a whim, trusting those reviewers that I’d be mesmerized through all of those pages.

And, let me tell you, those reviewers weren’t wrong—not at all.

The novel charts the lives of four friends—Jude, Willem, JB, and Malcolm—over a few decades, from their college years to their fifties. The main focus, however, is on Jude, a quiet man with a mysterious and haunting past that dictates, or at the very least informs, his every action. I won’t give anything away here as much of the novel revolves around discovering Jude’s complexities. I’ll just say that it rivals—maybe even bests—anything Dickens ever wrote for his child characters.

Never have I so willingly endured such a heart-wrenching journey. Jude endures so much austerity and love. There are several passages that feel like a punch to the gut, but, through all that, rays of hope filter through. Some of these passages are difficult to read through, and many may see the harshness, the severity, the multitude of these sections as overtly melodramatic, or even soap opera-like. I disagree. Each individual event combines to create his complexities. His reactions to each event may seem aggravating—I won’t lie, I reacted with numerous head/eye rolls, as well as “Poor Jude”—but they make sense. In gradually piecing together his psychology, everything comes together; you see his struggles, his reactions, and confirm these to be an accurate depiction of his (little) life.

Willem, JB, and Malcolm are given less attention, especially the latter two. Though, in Yanagihara’s defense, this story is about Jude. (Though, my only qualm is that we learn very little about Malcolm, as he’s given so little page-time.) Willem plays an important role, though, as Jude’s main supporter and friend (among other occupations). Through the ups and downs of friendship, each caters to Jude’s development, and, in turn, their own. It’s a rocky road for this set of friends, but it’s a road to walk on. It’s truly worth it.

As I read the novel, I began reflecting on my own life. I saw a bit of myself in Jude, and I think many will (though I hope many will never experience the hardships he experienced). That’s the novel’s biggest asset. Because Jude is such a rich and complicated character, he seems so universal, even though his life is so specific.

I’m intentionally keeping this vague, as I don’t want to spoil too much. But I will say this: A Little Life is an incredibly exceptional book. It’s been years since I’ve read something so impactful. Don’t let the page count deter you, either, as it’s well worth your time. It’s challenging, thought-provoking, depressing, hopeful, and deeply rewarding. Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life is one of the best books I’ve ever read.

It’s currently available in hardcover, and will be available as a paperback on January 26, 2016.