Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Giver

Title: The Giver
Author: Lois Lowry
Genre: Young Adult
Published: 1993
Rating: 7.5/10

Review: I guess my reading lately falls into "books I should have read in high school, but didn't" category. I've heard so much about The Giver, but I've never read anything by Lois Lowry until now.

The book starts with a preface by the author talking about his experiences with this book and the upcoming movie (which I guess already came out and has 36% on rotten tomatoes, so I am not watching that). If anything, the preface set my book expectations even higher than before.

I have to admit that upon finishing the book I was a bit disappointed in its simplicity. The story follows Jonas, a boy in the future apocalyptic society. There is a bunch of set up done to illustrate how Jonas' society, family, and relationships work and to get us close to the character. When Jonas turns 12, he is chosen as the next Receiver. The Receiver is someone who will carry the burden of societal memory about the past on behalf of the whole settlement.

It's a neat idea and it was written long before the rest of apocalyptic YA that followed, but the plot of the story really doesn't have much to speak of. There's a small twist with what felt like a rather weak resolution to me. Nevertheless, I am giving this book a pretty high rating because it was sufficiently entertaining, held my attention, and had enjoyable characters..

Behind the simple prose, hides a more sophisticated idea of what it means to be free and whether being happy and ignorant is better than being informed and miserable. The mechanic of Jonas' releasing memories is also pretty interesting. It's a quick and worthwhile read, but probably one I would be more likely to recommend to a younger reader.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

To Kill A Mockingbird

Title: To Kill A Mockingbird
Author: Harper Lee
Genre: Fiction
Published: 1960
Rating: 8/10

Review: I may be the last person to read this book. Somehow we passed each other like ships in the night -- my school did not have it on the curriculum. With the news of Harper Lee releasing a sequel fifty years after the original publication, I was curious to see for myself what I've been missing.

The story is told from the point of view of a six year old girl nick-named Scout. It's 1933 and she lives with her brother and father in a town of Maycomb in Alabama. From her innocent view, she describes the case her father works on, in which a black man is accused of raping a white woman. Scout's father is assigned to be the man's defense attorney just as town politics are heating up about the case.

To Kill A Mockingbird is a fairly slow-flowing book. Most of the action actually takes place in a chapter or two towards the end, while the rest of the novel focuses on the flow of life and the characters in Maycomb. It's an interesting juxtaposition of kindness and persecution that is shown throughout the book. It also touches quite a bit on racial politics of the time.

I liked Scout's voice as a narrator and it's easy to admire her father for his principles. But there's a wider study of character going on in the book and some of the minor characters became some of my favorites. I really like Miss Maudie, who likes her garden more than her house and takes difficulties in stride. Some of the less likable characters are interesting too, like Mrs. Duboise who kicks a morphine addiction before he death.

To Kill A Mockingbird is slow and thoughtful, but enjoyable. I just might pick up Go Set A Watchman when it comes out in July.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

Title: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
Author: Haruki Murakami
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 1997
Rating: 8.5/10

Review: My only previous experience reading Murakami was 1Q84, which I thought was a profoundly strange book. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is no less strange, but quite different in style and content.

The main hero is Toru Okada, who is a 30-year old married man, who gets laid off from a law firm at which he works in some errand-boy/clerical position. His wife works in the publishing business and continues to do so while Toru stays at home and tries to figure out what it is that he really wants to do.

The couple owns a cat who goes missing. Toru's wife, Kumiko, hires a psychic to find where the cat disappeared to and sends Toru to the appointment with the psychic. The psychic is an entirely odd character named Malta Kano, who tells Toru that the cat has decided to leave for good, also tells Toru where to find the tie he's been looking for, and declares that Toru's brother-in-law, Noboru Wataya, has raped her sister. Things only get odder from there when Toru gets a house call from Malta's sister, who tells him half of her life story and then disappears. On top of it, Toru gets an inheritance from an old man he used to visit and strikes a friendship with a 15-year-old neighbour.

I will stop re-counting the plot at this point -- to say it's complex is an understatement. There's a whole lot of plot lines and characters who do odd things to various degree. And the strangest thing is that I really enjoyed that.

The book is divided into three parts. I believe they were originally published separately. The first two parts are especially good and kept my attention very well. The last part felt a bit less tightly plotted and more meandering and even stranger than the rest. The ending was not entirely satisfactory. I sort of understood why Kumiko did what she did, but did not understand why she had to publicize it as she did. I did not have the feeling of full resolution, but I guess most mysteries did get resolved at the end.

Overall, it was a really interesting read and one I would wholeheartedly recommend if you enjoy puzzling over people's psychology, enjoy war stories, or have ever felt lost.

Monday, April 6, 2015

When You Leave

Title: When You Leave
Author: Monica Ropal
Genre: Young Adult
Published: 2015
Rating: 8/10

Disclaimer: I received an advance review copy of this book from the publisher.

Review: When You Leave starts out with a plot that is familiar to all who read young adult fiction. Girl transfers to a new school. Girl meets a boy. They fall in love. So far, it's pretty standard fare. Though there are some complications: they are in different social circles and hide their relationship from all their friends. But the real twist occurs when the boy gets murdered and the girl starts investigating his death.

The book is written from Cass's point of view and feels very authentic. Cass is fallible, confused, and often pretty awkward. She is not brilliant when it comes to investigations. Nevertheless, she persists with her inquiry and eventually figures thing out. Her journey from start to finish is mesmerizing. I had trouble putting the book down until it was finished.

There were other interesting characters in Cass's crew. Her voiceless friend, Mattie and the rest of the skateboarding crew were also quite believable, and each unique in their own way. The least well-written character is probably Cooper, who gets murdered. His motivations for doing various things seem feeble and his whole character comes off like a stock "perfect boyfriend" stereotype.

The plot kept me guessing on who the murderer was for quite some time, though I did figure it out towards the end of the book. All-in-all it was an interesting read and a new take on a coming of age and coming to terms type novel and I thoroughly enjoyed it.