Archive for the ‘Book Review’ Category

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold is a novel that presents the reader with a fascinating premise: the young protagonist, Susie Salmon, has been raped and murdered.  She tells the reader her story from heaven, as she watches events unfold in the world she still longs to be a part of. 

She observes intently as her parents’ marriage is shattered by the tragedy of her death.  Her mother, retreating to a solitary world with locked and confused emotions; her father, on the relentless pursuit to find her murderer.  Truly, the dynamic of relationships were evidently affected and altered by Susie’s death. 

The reader will be particularly interested in the chilling parts that detail Susie’s killer, Mr. Harvey (that isn’t a spoiler since we know this from the beginning of the book).  While Harvey is certainly creepy, Sebold paints him with too many clichés (loner, socially awkward, strange hobbies) that regrettably limit some potentially interesting character development. 

The book started off with a lot of promise.  Tugging at the heart-strings and evoking a wide range of emotions; there were moments of suspense, comedy, sadness and even joy.  I particularly loved the author’s unique perspective on heaven and thoroughly enjoyed these descriptive episodes throughout the book. 

However, despite a great start, the book started to loosen its grip on me midway through.  Apathy –one emotion that should not be felt with this type of story– made its presence known.  I started to feel as empty as the mother in the story.  I mentioned cliché earlier when describing Mr. Harvey…it turns out most of the characters are showered in cliché after cliché.  Susie’s dialogue was mostly unbelievable and the writing overall, was poorly executed; strange sentences attempting to convey poetry, filled with metaphors that make absolutely no sense.  I was particularly put off by a scene near the end of the story, that has Susie “live” out a fantasy — it felt like the book suffered from an identity crisis at that moment and I was reading something out of a sci-fi novel. 

I am giving it a favourable rating of 3 stars because despite its many flaws, Sebold did a fantastic job of displaying raw human emotions in the face of tragedy.  I would have given it a higher rating if she had capitalized on that and ventured into a more profound territory (with the characters) and stronger writing. 

3 Out Of 5

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What strange and unique tales Gabriel Garcia Marquez has woven together in “One Hundred Years Of Solitude”.  It tells the story of the Buendia family and chronicles their lives (and deaths) in the mythical town of Macondo.

I must admit that apprehension took over before I decided to dive into this book, only because I am aware of its “classic” status in literature –- there is a greater sense of pressure to like it, you see.  Regardless of my hesitation, I unleashed the pages, welcomed them with open arms and found myself –early on– enjoying the story.  Ah yes, it was going to live up to expectations! I was convinced that a well-deserved 5 star rating –-and nothing less– was going to be my final verdict.

Fast forward 175 pages or so from what was a marvelous beginning –-disappointment started to rear its ugly head on this Nobel Prize recipient. Before you decide to crucify the reviewer however, read on and let me explain.  After all, I’ve still given it a favorable review.

As I already mentioned, the beginning of the story was absolutely engaging. Gypsies, oddities, magic, a mystical town and ghosts of times past, set the stage for what I was hoping would be a memorable read.  Marquez’s words are so exquisite, vivid and beaming with imaginative descriptions that I was left in awe.  The writing really is a thing of beauty; it must have been a task for Gregory Rabassa, who is responsible for the Spanish to English translation. 

It is no secret that Marquez thrived on the “magic realism” technique and executes it flawlessly in this book.  In fact, many credit him for introducing a wide audience to this form of writing, although he was not the first to use it.

My criticisms however –and I have a few– are not with the words on the page, but rather with the style he chooses to convey them.  I do apologize in advance to the literary elites, who love this book, for what I am about to say, but the style is simply preposterous.  The story consists of very little dialogue between characters, which bothered me slightly, considering he introduces us to many different generations of the Buendia family and a bunch of other players with important roles to fulfill.  Some of those never-ending, dialogue-less paragraphs stretched more than a couple of pages long (unheard of) –and whatever happened to avoiding run-on sentences?  Try –reading aloud– the sentence that begins on page 323 and ends of page 325! What a chore, huh?  Here I thought I was reading a book, but I also found myself exercising breath control skills when vocalizing those sentences; I might as well be doing Yoga.

The lack of engaging the characters in conversation made me feel disconnected and indifferent towards them –-with the exception of Ursula, who was the rock of the family, even on her last days when she was surrounded by the blackness.  The truth is that Marquez has created tormented individuals that are not very likeable at all.  Having some of them venture into the taboo territory of incest and pedophilia may also contribute in disturbing and turning readers away.  In addition, some may find the story a little difficult to keep up with due to many of the characters having the same name or a derivative of it.  I imagine the family tree at the beginning of this book (tactfully placed there) will be visited often by unsuspecting readers; reverting a couple of pages for a friendly reminder might be the norm when trying to distinguish one Buendia from the next.

Although there is no real plot, the imaginative stories within the book keep the reader interested as we move along, but it gets fairly repetitive (about as fun as listening to a broken record) and redundant in feel.  You will find parts that are engrossing and exciting to read while others are so dull that they can cure insomnia; very somber in mood, but you can expect to be somewhat depressed with a title like “One Hundred Years of Solitude”, right?

I am accustomed to reading books in no more than a few sittings.  I fly by them with the speed of a jet, but this particular book was laborious to get through.  I found myself putting it down far too many times simply because the aforementioned style kept on feeding me long paragraphs that needed to be read carefully and absorbed thoroughly; thus making it a not so enjoyable read at times (and no, I don’t have a short attention span). 

I am in tune with the fact that the majority of my complaints are just a matter of taste; the repetition of names, lack of dialogue, extended paragraphs and “stream of consciousness” technique are all deliberately crafted that way by Marquez as an “effective” method of telling his story and symbolic meanings, but not everyone will enjoy it.  The saving grace for this book and what helped me through it was the beautiful words Marquez uses to bring it to life. If you aspire to be a great writer or if you simply want to be enchanted by an artistic view of writing, visiting his work is a must.

Yes, I realize it is a personal classic to many (almost everyone), and the accolades for it are abundant, but not for me – I am perfectly content with being in the minority and calling it merely, a “good” book.

3 out of 5

Wow, this book captivated me from the very beginning and did not disappoint. It is a unique story written in an equally unique way.

“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” is a tale about a young autistic boy, Christopher Boone, who wants to channel his inner Sherlock Holmes and find the murderer of his neighbour’s beloved pet poodle. The story, completely told by Christopher, gives the reader a fascinating view of the autistic mind and introduced me to a narrator unlike any I’ve known before.  Although some are describing this as a detective story, it is hardly that and so much more.

Christopher is an endearing and likeable protagonist with characteristics and qualities that one should look up to. He has observations skills that would make a CIA agent envious, and can remember specific events and days from years past, while many of us can barely remember what we had for breakfast. He describes it as such: “My memory is like a film. That is why I am really good at remembering things, like the conversations I have written down I this book, and what people were wearing, and what they smelled like, because my memory has a smelltrack which is like a soundtrack.”

Despite his disability, I found myself relating to Christopher on many levels, and he lets the reader know that perhaps we are not that different at all.  Says Christopher: “everyone has learning difficulties because learning to speak French or understanding relativity is difficult and also everyone has special needs, like Father, who has to carry a little packet of artificial sweetening tablets around with him to put in his coffee”. His honesty and emotions are genuine and refreshing, as are his attempts to understand human nature and people, whom he tends to find “confusing”. It was enjoyable to read about this young man’s revealing coming of age story, but it was also heartbreaking at times, as he tried to overcome his own fears.

The book is an easy, quick read, but that only added to the effect that I was reading a book by a 15-year-old autistic boy, who lives on the notion of simplicity and logic – there is even diagrams and puzzles that Christopher uses to help him better understand. Haddon has done a great job at convincing the reader and although I am not too familiar with autistic behaviours, I am inclined to believe that his portrayal is quite accurate due to his real life experiences with the disorder – he’s worked closely with autistic children.

A couple of gripes: Although it was essential to get a better understanding of Christopher, there were far too many diagrams and puzzles within the book that interrupted with the flow of the story. Some were just not necessary in my opinion. Additionally, unrealistic parts of the story may require the reader to suspend belief and rationalization; you may find it preposterous that a young autistic boy is walking around with a Swiss army knife in his pocket, ready to use it against anyone that lays a finger on him.

No, it wasn’t perfect, but my criticisms are few and I recommend this one of a kind book to anyone and everyone. I guarantee you won’t soon forget about Christopher Boone.

4 out of 5

Being an avid fan of literature, you will find that I will periodically post reviews of some of the many books I’ve been acquainted with.  Here is the first:

Rare are the stories that demand your attention and fill you with emotions so real that you can practically envision yourself, next to the characters, sharing in their joys and sorrows.

“The Kite Runner” is a beautiful tale that achieves this feat, effortlessly and so effectively that you may find yourself, at one point, with tears in your eyes and so infuriated that you want to rip it into pieces and toss it in the garbage; that is until the next paragraph, where you suddenly find your eyes appreciating and your heart loving every bit of this eloquently written story. Yes, it truly takes you on an emotional roller coaster ride, manipulating your feelings as if they were puppets on a string. Sadness, happiness, anger, fear, hate, love, disgust, compassion and resentment amongst many more are all marionettes that you seem to have absolutely no control over. Isn’t that indicative of a great author?

The protagonist and narrator is Amir, the son of a well-known, respected and wealthy Afghani businessman. Hassan is a poor illiterate boy, the loyal best friend of Amir and the son of Amir’s servant. Amir and Hassan are different in many ways, but their friendship is not unlike any other of young boys that grew up together. They play, get into mischief and have the common bond of growing up without mothers. Hassan possesses admirable qualities. He is the epitome of honesty, loyalty, courage, forgiveness and innocence; a loveable and admirable character. Amir on the other hand, is really quite the opposite. Do not be entirely surprised if you find yourself loathing his selfishness, falsehood and cowardly demeanor. When faced with a heartbreaking scenario, Amir makes a regrettable decision that will forever change his life and the lives of others.

“The Kite Runner” is Khaled Hosseini’s debut novel. The majority of the story takes place in Afghanistan, Hosseini’s country of birth. He presents us at first with a fascinating view of a once peaceful and cultural country, but as the story progresses we see a land plagued by war and calamity in its “evolution”.

The portraits painted in between the pages of this book are one of sin, betrayal and the ultimate quest for redemption. They may not always be beautiful to look at, but these are all relatable themes, making the story all that more powerful. Alas, not everything is perfect and it suffers from a tad too much of predictability and the overuse of foreshadowing. These criticisms however, are so minute, and are eclipsed by the sheer quality and grandeur of the story as a whole. Like the kites in the book, this is an epic tale that really does soar.

To the author, Mr. Hosseini, I quote these very fitting lines from your beautiful book: “I enjoyed your story very much. Mashallah, God has granted you a special talent. It is now your duty to hone that talent, because a person who wastes his God-given talents is a donkey. You have written your story with sound grammar and interesting style. But the most impressive thing about your story is that it has irony. It is something that some writers reach for their entire careers and never attain. You have achieved it with your first story. I shall hear any story you have to tell. Bravo.”

Bravo indeed.

5 out of 5