{Book Review} Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor

Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grows dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real, she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious “errands”, she speaks many languages – not all of them human – and her bright blue hairactually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

When beautiful, haunted Akiva fixes fiery eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?*

This is another episode of me putting aside all other reading commitments in answer to a challenge to read and review another highly recommended book (*shakes fist at Maria* honestly, woman, the things you make us do). I wanted so badly to go write a review for another book but unfortunately this has to take precedence, because I don’t often get competitive and it’s a moment to be treasured. Anyway.

The world Laini Taylor created was beautiful, and my imagination ran wild with envisioning the creatures and the characters, as well as the places described. One of my bookish friends said I would want to go to Prague after reading this, and she was right. One of the reasons I couldn’t finish reading this book in one sitting as I planned was because I constantly had to stop and look pictures of Prague. Sometimes I would stop and bring out my sketchbook (number two, if you must know, and unfortunately still not art student material) and try drawing Madrigal or Akiva or some other chimaera, because all of the scenes with Karou drawing in it made me want to try it too. I loved imagining everything in my head, and certain aspects of the book brought out that childlike wonder.

The writing was also exquisite. I loved all the cosmic adjectives and the author’s pretty ways of describing things, and while some were pretty wordy (or was I the only one constantly checking the dictionary just to see if I deducted the meaning right?), it didn’t feel contrived or affected at all. The flow of words was natural, and reading it was like a dream, so there’s definitely no problem on that front…

…but. See, this is why I am always weary of paying attention to hyped anythings – it’s hard not to have expectations. While said expectations have been met in the aforementioned aspects, I thought there was something missing that prevented me from really enjoying this book. I suppose it’s just a matter of taste, because a lot of people like this book, and I could see why, and it’s just that it’s not for me. There were some parts that reminded me too much of other books I didn’t enjoy, books that also had hints of too beautiful men and instant attraction that didn’t make me as invested in the relationship. Something felt a little off. Then there was this bunch of chapters in the second half that detailed a flashback that at that moment I didn’t really want to read about – I just wanted to get to the main storyline to see what would happen, so I found myself getting more and more impatient with each flashback chapter. It was at this point that I gradually lost interest, which was a shame, because the last few chapters were great, and if only that flashback was a little shorter, I would have enjoyed the book as a whole more.

Still, I’m burning to know what happens in the next book. I could finally see characters that I liked, and wanted to know more, before that pretty abrupt ending. This one felt too much like an exposition for its sequel, so maayybbeeee I’ll like the second more than this. Not sure if I’ll get to read it though, with all the other books from my to-read pile calling out my name, but that’s a door I won’t close.

In a nutshell…

Rating: 3/5
Hardcover, 418 pages
Author: Laini Taylor
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Published: September 27, 2011
Language: English
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

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{Book Review} The Catcher in the Rye

The Catcher in the Rye

Since his debut in 1951 as The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield has been synonymous with “cynical adolescent.” Holden narrates the story of a couple of days in his sixteen-year-old life, just after he’s been expelled from prep school, in a slang that sounds edgy even today and keeps this novel on banned book lists. It begins, “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them.” His constant wry observations about what he encounters, from teachers to phonies (the two of course are not mutually exclusive) capture the essence of the eternal teenage experience of alienation.*

Ooh, the book that stirred up quite a frenzy when it was originally published, and still causes some controversy now. Whenever people see me reading this book, they wonder whether it’s required reading for some class or other, but I got really curious because it’s one of those books that excite such strong opinions and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Keep reading to see what I think.

When I began reading The Catcher in the Rye, I thought Holden Caulfield was, pardon the word, an ass. I could not think of a better term to describe him without using worse words, because he really is an ass. Being the sunshine-y, vomiting rainbows kind of person, I could not stand a character who is such a darned pessimist, grumbling about every tiny thing like it’s the end of the world. Holden’s the type of guy who sees the glass not only as half-empty, but really helluva phony that it’s depressing. It would be totally like him to come to the really witty conclusion that all the water in the world is phony if you just leave it in a glass with air taking up half the space, thinking it’s important and all. Sort of like that. 

One of my biggest pet peeves is when people think they’re so cool that everything they do is justified. Holden blames everybody for his mistakes, and holds minimal to zilch remorse at the thought of getting kicked out of school. The book seemed like an endless diatribe that doesn’t do anybody, even him, any good. Some parts made me think about life and all (oh my gosh. I am starting to sound like him. Help.), but most of the time I didn’t even think. I just zoned out, filtered away all the cussing and stuff, much like when somebody yells at you, making me read the passages like an automaton. 

Aaaaand he repeats phrases all the time! I’m not even going to type those phrases here, since I’m quite sick of reading those and I don’t want to exert myself and remember. I mean, it’s okay to repeat phrases (I do that all the time), but please, not every other sentence or something. By the end of the first twenty pages, I was wondering how his brain could stand spouting the same things over and over and over and over again. I could not give a Slitheen‘s fart about his rants, which make up about 90% of the book. The best job for him would totally be as a dartboard or something for target practice. I already set my mind to giving this book 1 star.

But then…

Maybe that was the point. Holden was supposed to be an angsty, rebellious teenager in the first place. I admit, I still think it’s a wee bit overdone, but I think J.D. Salinger is brilliant. It’s perfectly normal to hate a book character, especially a whiny one, but if it’s because the characterization is perfect, then you can’t help but concede that the writing is really good. There are a lot of books that receive a lot of hate because the characterization sucks (I’m looking at you, Twilight), but for sure that’s not the reason why The Catcher in the Rye is controversial. Yeah, Holden starts hating on everyone the instant he sees them, but for a few parts of the novel, you can see the layers of him that have more depth in it. His affection for his sister, Phoebe, was what made an impact on me most of all. I really didn’t expect him to take break from complaining about silly stuff all day. It’s like his whiny exterior melts off into a ball of marshmallow-like stuff the moment he thinks of his sister. So maybe Phoebe is the only (living) person he cares about other than himself, but it’s enough to make him human. That, and sometimes I find him funny. I will never forget this quote:

“You can hit my father over the head with a chair and he won’t wake up, but my mother, all you have to do to my mother is cough somewhere in Siberia and she’ll hear you.” <—-LOOOOL WINNER because my parents are EXACTLY like that

because I didn’t expected that and I probably read it at a time when I was on a sugar high, so it won Holden some plus points for me. I laugh easily like that.

I still don’t like Holden, and I probably never will, but I now see why a lot of people like this book. At some parts, I found myself relating to his thoughts and realizations (right before he jumps into an entirely different topic, anyway) and you could see that he is just a kid trying to make sense out of life. I do not approve of his way of coping with things, but I could sympathize with his confusion. It’s a dead giveaway even from the way he speaks. He is desperately trying to make a path for himself in the world, and still failing at it. He’s actually a big softie, though he will never admit it, what with being unable to defend himself, and his regard for vulnerable people, like James Castle and Ernest Morrow’s mother. Holden is probably moaning about everything as a way of estranging himself from the world, maybe to protect himself from its “phoniness” through the only way he knows how. He feels alone in the myriad of things that are constantly changing in his life: his brother Allie’s death, moving from school to school, etc., which could explain his dream of being a “catcher in the rye”. He is projecting, wanting to protect the kids from falling off of cliffs when all he really wants to do is project himself. I am coming to these realizations as I type this, and I have to concede that this book really is beautiful after all.

I am giving this 3 stars instead of the 1 star I originally planned because J.D. Salinger is a genius and he deserves those 2 extra stars. I couldn’t get invested in his characters, but I surely could get invested in his writing.

Even if I really hate Holden.

If you want to know the truth.

PS

I just realized how much I love dissecting characters. This is awesome.

In a nutshell…

Rating: 3/5
Author: J.D. Salinger
Original Language: English
Published: 1951
Genre: Coming of Age, Classic

{Book Review} Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death by James Runcie

The Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death: The Grantchester Mysteries

It is 1953, the coronation year of Queen Elizabeth II . Sidney Chambers, vicar of Grantchester and honorary canon of Ely Cathedral, is a thirty-two-year-old bachelor. Tall, with dark brown hair, eyes the color of hazelnuts, and a reassuringly gentle manner, Sidney is an unconventional clerical detective. He can go where the police cannot.

Together with his roguish friend, inspector Geordie Keating, Sidney inquires into the suspect suicide of a Cambridge solicitor, a scandalous jewelry theft at a New Year’s Eve dinner party, the unexplained death of a jazz promoter’s daughter, and a shocking art forgery that puts a close friend in danger. Sidney discovers that being a detective, like being a clergyman, means that you are never off duty, but he nonetheless manages to find time for a keen interest in cricket, warm beer, and hot jazz—as well as a curious fondness for a German widow three years his junior.

With a whiff of Agatha Christie and a touch of G. K. Chesterton’s Father Brown, The Grantchester Mysteries introduces a wonderful new hero into the world of detective fiction.*

*Review copy from publisher

Contrary to what I first expected, this book does not contain a singular plot. It is actually a collection of six cases, namely: The Shadow of Death; A Question of Trust; First, Do No Harm; A Matter of Time; The Lost Holbein, and; Honourable Men. They are arranged chronologically, and though some characters in the first case show up in the succeeding cases as well, you wouldn’t be handicapped if you decide to skip cases. Whichever suits your fancy, I suppose.

I liked this book. I found the cases smart and interesting. I found the character of Sidney Chambers, the protagonist, as particularly special because he was a vicar and even in the present time (the whole book is set in the ’50s) I find it hard put to comprehend a person like him to be involved with matters typically associated with the police. I like how, for lack of a better term, human Sidney Chambers is. True to his profession, he is loyal to his faith, and this is reflected in how he handles his cases diplomatically with a hint of the gentle sternness that makes him one of the most trusted people in town (and beyond). He is an extremely likable character and his being a vicar doesn’t feel alienating from ordinary souls like me, which I’m totally glad for. Some of the cases were predictable, but then I suppose it takes a lot to surprise mystery readers nowadays, and it is not really a hindrance, so it’s okay.

This book will be released tomorrow, so if you’re in the mood for some light mysteries, I suggest you check this book out!

 

In a nutshell…

Rating: 3/5
Paperback, 400 pages
Author: James Runcie
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
To be published on: April 24, 2012
Language: English
Genre: Mystery, Historical Fiction

{Book Review} Play Ball

Most girls, when they get to a new school, just want to fit in. But Dashiell Brody isn’t like most girls. A natural at softball, Dashiell discovers her new school has a championship level baseball team – and Dashiell wants to play ball. One girl’s quest to play the national pastime with the boys will turn her family, her school, and her state upside down.*

First of all, I want to thank Oni Press for giving me a review copy of this book!

As you can see from the brief synopsis supplied by GoodreadsPlay Ball is a coming-of-age sports story about a girl who wants to play in a sport dominated by males. Dash sure knows the difference between softball and baseball, and she refuses to play the “watered-down version” of baseball, so she decides to try out in her high school baseball team. This decision caused a ruckus within the school administrative system – baseball has always been a men’s sport. It wasn’t specified in the rules because it was inherently known and accepted by everyone. Because of Dash’s stubborn determination, though, she manages to get into the team.

What I really liked about Play Ball was how it wasn’t all centered on Brody. The characterization was well thought out. Everybody has a different personality to them, and their reactions to things are fairly natural and realistic. Dashiell, for her part, has to contend with several factors before she could participate into the team: her jealous sister, the sardonic softball team, a disgruntled teammate, and the classic status quo. Each of the characters was able to grow, and I appreciated this very much. 

Though some parts were cliched and predictable, the plot was not an issue for me at all because I enjoyed the story. I am so curious to what happens after the book ends! Maybe it’s  because I have a soft spot for books that have really cool heroines, and Play Ball just fits into that category, but I liked this book. Girls who excel in sports rock! I really find it cool how Dash is really against playing softball for the reason that it is not baseball. The girl really knows what she wants. Not many people can tell the difference (to be honest, I couldn’t remember much difference myself except that the balls used are different, but hey, it’s a start). 

Play Ball will be released on April 25, 2012! It is written by Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir, the team who wrote The Avalon Chronicles and Amazing Agent Luna, and drawn by newcomer Jackie Lewis. You don’t have to be a baseball fan to enjoy this either. I recommend you read it! It’s definitely something you’d enjoy.   

In a nutshell…

Rating: 3/5
144 pages
Writers: Nunzio DeFilippis, Christina Weir
Artist: Jackie Lewis
Publisher: Oni Press
Publishing Date: April 25, 2012
Genre: Sports, YA

{Book Review} Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison

Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison

“A compelling, often hilarious, and unfailingly compassionate portrait of life inside a women’s prison.
 
When Piper Kerman was sent to prison for a ten-year-old crime, she barely resembled the reckless young woman she’d been when, shortly after graduating Smith College, she’d committed the misdeeds that would eventually catch up with her. Happily ensconced in a New York City apartment, with a promising career and an attentive boyfriend, she was suddenly forced to reckon with the consequences of her very brief, very careless dalliance in the world of drug trafficking.

Kerman spent thirteen months in prison, eleven of them at the infamous federal correctional facility in Danbury, Connecticut, where she met a surprising and varied community of women living under exceptional circumstances. In Orange Is the New Black, Kerman tells the story of those long months locked up in a place with its own codes of behavior and arbitrary hierarchies, where a practical joke is as common as an unprovoked fight, and where the uneasy relationship between prisoner and jailer is constantly and unpredictably recalibrated.

Revealing, moving, and enraging, Orange Is the New Black offers a unique perspective on the criminal justice system, the reasons we send so many people to prison, and what happens to them when they’re there?”*

This memoir begins with an interesting premise: a privileged blonde white woman goes into women’s prison, mingling with other women with entirely diverse backgrounds and races, mostly from the lower-class side of the social status pyramid. She was sentenced to stay there for a year. How will she survive, and will she ever fit in?

It’s a shame to know that I never would have heard of this book had not one of my book clubs recommended it for our monthly read. This was actually supposed to be for January, but it took me almost a month to read it, and quite a long time after to remember to write a review about it. Since the Goodreads blurb pretty much sums the book up, I will just spit out my thoughts.

I do not usually read memoirs or anything nonfiction, really, except for those book collections of murders and histories of useless things, so reading Orange is somewhat a new experience for me. It’s not my first time to read a memoir, but somehow this one feels the most recent and something that several people still experience today. Millions of people go to prison every year, and a lot of them are women, too. It might seem close-minded of me to think so, but I have always thought of prison as a man-dominated place, as they usually are the ones who commit the most publicized crimes and such. I don’t think I am alone in this, though, which is why Orange is getting quite a bit of attention. Kerman’s book opens us to the world of the women who quietly go into prison for crimes mostly related to drugs. She gets to meet several of them, and I really found each of the characters she introduced interesting. So what took me so long to finish it?

I wanted to like it. In fact, I do. As the book goes on, I sensed that Piper really changed for the better as she writes about her observations, socialization with the other prisoners and officers, experiences, and reflections. We get to know several interesting prisoners, some of them motherly and repentant, others bullheaded and rebellious. Some officers are shown as corrupt and unfair, while some are considerate and patient. It’s a world that feels so real, is so real. It’s just sometimes I feel like what she writes are somewhat repetitive. I get that she learned to live with what she’d done, she’s ready to start a new life, she runs and does yoga, etc., but sometimes I just want to skip it and read about what Pop, Natalie, Janet, Delicious, and the other people around her are up to. It is really thoughtful of her to point out what is lacking in the prison system as well, but until the end, I don’t see her suggesting ways on how to really improve it. Also, whatever happened to the inmates after she left? She said she would love to be in touch with them again. Some of them were released/sent to the halfway house around the same time she did, and I was really waiting for a time when she would describe seeing them again, how they changed and adjusted to their new lives, and everything else. I mean, she sounded affectionate when she described her inmates. 

On the other hand, I really enjoyed her vivid description of prison life. Granted, her stay in prison wasn’t as difficult as how other prisons must be like, but Piper Kerman did a good job of detailing her 15-month stay in Danbury. Her sense of camaraderie and friendship with the other inmates were fun to read, and I could totally imagine the events from her point of view. Most of all, I loved the people she met. They were so diverse in character and personality that they essentially made the book for me. It does change my preliminary judgment of how women prisoners are like. I am aware that there are those other prisons where the inmates are vicious and tough, but in this book, the inmates are just normal people who did what they did because they were desperate to get out of their current situations. Some of them have changed for the better, and in the end most of them are just as scared of the outside as most of us are scared of the inside. Reading about them does change one’s perspective somehow.

I feel differently about prison now, and I’m glad Orange was responsible for that. I don’t regret reading it at all. I’m glad I did. 

In a nutshell…

Rating: 3/5
Author: Piper Kerman
Original Language: English
Published: 6 April 2010 by Spiegel & Grau
Genre: Autobiographical > Memoir, Nonfiction,