Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Book Review: Beginner’s Greek

If you like or watch chick flicks, this novel will seem eerily familiar to you. As a matter of fact, it has all the components to become a B-rated romantic movie. Even though the main setting of the story is the modern time, the story is quite simple and old-fashioned. The writing is sophisticated but uninspired. The characters however were so unbelievable that sometimes I wanted to throw the book across the room; they were “too good”, “too beautiful”, or “too nasty”.

This first debut novel by James Collins sees the protagonist Peter Russell off on a flight from New York to LA where he encounters the beautifully, enchanted soul mate Holly. Throughout the duration of the flight, both Peter and Holly manage to “hit it off”, and by the end, they exchange phone numbers. When Peter returns to his hotel room, he discovers that he lost Holly’s phone number. Years later, when Peter and Holly meet again, she’s on the arm of a womanizing but charming author who also happens to be Peter’s closest friend. The two eventually marry, and resigned, Peter marries the dull but sweet Charlotte. At first, it seems Peter and Holly weren’t meant to be, but fate proves it sometimes has a funny way of working things out as many precedent events and twists become to take turns.

Despite being written by a man, Beginner’s Greek reads somewhat like literally chick lit. Unfortunately however, as much I enjoyed following the plot and grasping the relationships amongst the characters, it just didn’t seem real, especially the characters’ behavior. Even though the book is too wordy for its own good (more than 400 pages), I felt I was missing huge chunks of the story. However, despite all of this, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. To be fair, the book has a clever character progression and the plot manages to entice all the elements of the story in one tight package where eventually the novel reaches its satisfying conclusion. However, it will take perseverance to see it through, especially to those who are unfamiliar with the romantics. It is definitely not a terrible book but it is also not a great book either, it’s just a “solid good” book.

~Rating~

Read With Me (Spring Edition)

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I managed to grab some books and novels to read during the spring. I’d love if somebody would join me and read a book or two from my selection. Who knows, you might find something that interest you. Anyway here are the books that I purchased yesterday:

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A delicious, modern and romantic novel that revolves around missed opportunities, second chances, and lost love. From what I understand, it’s about a man named Peter Russell who shares a flight (New York to LA) with what he considers his soul mate, but unfortunately, he loses the girl’s phone number after they departed. Then the story takes a comedic turn as Peter struggles to find her again.

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My friends were always amazed that I still haven’t read Jane Eyre despite the fact that I read most of Jane Austen’s novels. I assume most of you have already read it in high school or maybe some time in your life. Thus, I decided to step up and read what is considered the best-written works in English Literature.

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After reading McEwan’s Atonement and falling in admiration with the prose and narrative of the author, I decided to read his other works and mostly his greatest. Saturday is considered to be one of them, and it speaks about a neurosurgeon called Henry Perowne who resides in London. According to the short synopsis, Perowne has planned a series of jobs and pleasures culminating in a family dinner in the night of a huge demonstration in the streets of London against the invasion of Iraq; however, the day is disrupted by an encounter with violence that leaves him to summon a greater strength to perceive the life that is dear to him.

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Haruki Murakami is hailed as one of Japan’s famous novelists, and recently his work has been translated to English. Norwegian Wood is considered one of his finest. The story is set in Tokyo the late 1960s, a time when Japanese students were protesting against the established order. While it serves as the backdrop against which the events of the novel unfold, Murakami (through the eyes of Toru and Midori) portrays the student movement as largely weak-willed and hypocritical. The story also retains a grand love story that is filled with complexity and symbolism.

Book Review: The Thirteenth Tale

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Very few authors manage to fracture the English literature world with a powerful debut novel, and I consider Diane Setterfield as one of those few. The Thirteenth Tale combines the elements of gothic stories and the arousing voice of ghost tales with a hint of mystery in an exquisite narrative that doesn’t take itself too seriously (which is good). Those who love books that talk about the love of reading books will find something special within the pages of this novel.

The Thirteenth Tale is about the power of stories as much as it’s about the darker side of written fantasy. The narrator, Margaret Lea, is not so much living her life through books as avoiding her life with the use of books, especially since she runs her family bookstore. One day she receives a letter from Vida Winter, a famous novelist, asking her to come to Yorkshire and listen to her story and write her autobiography before she leaves the world of the living. And so begins a ghostly adventure of mystery, sorrow and discovery that consumes Margaret’s life and forces her to actively participate in the story in order to a reach a firm conclusion, and discovers the answers for her many questions.

Obviously, the main characters of this novel are Margaret Lea and Vida Winter, and both of them were brought to life nicely due to the simple and yet intricate writing. The most prominent aspect of the novel is the smart gradual unraveling of this mystery. It’s really hard to put down once you reach a part where you starve to know the next, and there are many parts that challenge you to do so. This is truly a pleasant book to read with extremely satisfying conclusion. Highly recommended.

~Rating~

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Review: Atonement

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Before divulging deeper into the review, I need to inform you that I have read the novel prior watching the movie, and because of that, I had high expectation of the movie because the book was simply beautiful in every way. Not only the movie met my expectation but it also managed to exceed it. It’s some kind of miracle to find a motion picture that is written, directed and acted to perfection. Atonement swept me up on waves of humor, heartbreak and ravishing romance I have never witnessed in a long time. Christopher Hampton who wrote the screenplay of the film did an amazing job in capturing the essence of the characters and the evoking emotions from the novel. And the director Joe Wright polished his adaptation skills once again after his successful acclimatization of Pride and Prejudice in 2005. The performance is utterly magnificent. James McAvoy and Keira Knightley had vividly sprung the characters of Robbie Turner and Cecilia Tallis to life, and both have demonstrated their merit in leading roles. Of course, it was Saoirse Ronan and Romola Garai (who played the role of Briony Tallis at 13 and 18 years of age, respectively) that stole the show with their splendid performance. The cinematography is so beautifully captured, especially the Dunkirk scene where Robbie surveys the evacuation site in one breathtaking shot. The ending, which, both happy and tragic, is as wrenching as it is genuinely satisfying with a surprising twist that will leave the audience in tears.

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Atonement is simply the best movie I have seen in 2007. No two-hour film could ever capture all the riches of McEwan’s masterly novel, but Wright and Hampton’s Atonement comes beautifully close, while adding sensual delights all its own. This movie is a must and a worthy contender in every award it is nominated in.

The Bottom Line

A+

Book Review: A Thousand Splendid Suns

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Khaled Hosseini confirms his brilliance once again as an outstanding novelist and literally as a spokesman of Afghanistan’s tumultuous and tragic history. To be honest, I was slightly worried that A Thousand Splendid Suns would be similar to his debut novel, The Kite Runner. However, I’m thrilled to confess that I’m glad to be proven wrong. Not only the tune and the narrative are distinctive, but the elected emotions I received from the book are completely in a whole different level. To discover a book that almost drove me to shade a tear is undoubtedly noteworthy, and deserves a respectable place in my bookshelf.

A Thousand Splendid Suns follows the lives of two Afghani women, Mariam and Laila, as they move from childhood to adulthood in a different gap of generation. The book spans 30 years, beginning with the Soviet invasion and ending with the overthrow of the Taliban. The novel wonderfully breathes life to the two characters through an exquisite language, unfailing insight, and outstanding literacy. Unlike the Kite Runner, the chapters are well divided, and the constant switch between Mariam and Laila’s narratives provides a dare challenge to not continue reading the novel due to the amount of “cliff-hangers” at the end of each chapter.

In terms of characters’ development, Hosseini maintains an emotional rollercoaster that eventually overlaps the premise of the story without arousing any uncertainty in where the story is going. The novel starts a bit slow but it eventually picks up when the life of two characters intertwines, and there, the script becomes interplay of tragedies and a testament of women’s willpower as well. At first, you might be tempted to draw a parallel in this novel with the Kite Runner especially in terms of characters, but my advice: don’t waste your time because the only similarity between this novel and the former is the setting and nothing else. My rationale of not giving the novel a perfect score is the predictability factor, but nevertheless, A Thousand Splendid Suns deserve to be read by anyone who can read really. It is definitely a worthy successor’s to Hosseini first novel and it resides as one of the best book of 2007.

~Rating~

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Book Review: The Kite Runner

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This exceptional debut novel (and the very first Afghan novel written in English) by Khaled Hosseini utterly exposes the psychic wounds of an Afghani and his war-ravaged country. The Kite Runner tells a heartbreaking story of the unlikely friendship between Amir, the son of a wealthy Afghan businessman, and Hassan, the son of his father’s servant. Amir is Sunni; Hassan is Shi’a. One is born to a privileged class; the other to a loathed minority. One to a father of enormous presence; the other to a crippled man. One is a avid reader; the other illiterate.

Yet Amir and Hassan live and play together, not simply as friends, but as brothers without mothers. Their intimate story traces across the expansive image of history, 40 years in Afghanistan’s tragic evolution, just like a kite facing an ever-changing wind. The reader is blown from the last days of Kabul’s monarchy into the slaughter of the Taliban, which turned the boys’ green playing fields red with blood. As we progress through the story, we witness Amir’s immigration to America and his struggle to make a living in the Afghan sector of California. The script then picks a much lighter tune in terms of finding love and sustaining a father-son relationship that either fills your heart with joy or breaks it with tears. And then, suddenly when Amir is in his late thirties, he is called back to Afghanistan and begins a dangerous adventure, which requires not only great physical courage but also a voyage of self-discovery and redemption.

Through well-timed plot twists and revelations, Hosseini maintains a riveting pace that dares the reader to leave his story. The writing style is sparse and simple, yet it packs an emotional gravitation. The story is almost symbolic in its universal truths of love, friendship, betrayal, and redemption. Some characters might not be well-written or don’t have the complexity of Amir’s but that’s totally forgiven, because Hosseini does a phenomenal job in laying down his characters to the reader and then provokes the reader to create the destiny of his characters. The novel is page-turner and hard to put it down especially at the advanced parts where Amir re-visits Afghanistan. The Kite Runner is definitely one of the best novels I have ever read, and I think it will maintain that spot for quite some time.

~Rating~

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Me & The Movie Theater Couple

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Earlier tonight, me and a bunch of my friends went to the movie theater hoping to find something interesting to see. Unfortunately, not a single movie appealed to our diverse tastes, so we decided to watch whatever we want and any movies that we might have missed. We wound up dividing into several groups except for me because I wanted to watch the super chick flick movie The Jane Austen Book Club. Since I’m a big Austen fan I couldn’t miss a movie that has “Jane Austen” in it. So I bought my ticket, got me some Dibs, and went on to my theater.

The theater was completely empty except for a couple (a boy and a girl) sitting way in the back. I picked my seat and was kinda waiting for other people to show up, but nobody ever came. While the commercials (not the previews) were playing, I turned my back and the couple looked at me and smiled. I smiled back and said “So, I guess it’s going to be three of us tonight huh.” They laughed and the boyfriend said, “Yeah I guess so”. Then the girlfriend looked at me and asked, “so, aren’t you waiting for someone?” “No, but I came here with a bunch of my friends and we sorta ended up going to different movies. I’m kinda one of the few straight men who watch and read everything Jane Austen, so I couldn’t miss this one”. The girl got excited and asked, “What is your favorite Austen book?” “Well, I will always have a thing for Pride and Prejudice but I’d have to say I love Persuasion more than the rest. “Excellent choice. Mine is Sense & Sensibility.” The boyfriend grew restless from our conversation so I had to close the subject before he flipped out. “Well, let’s hope this movie isn’t a snooze fest”.

After the movie has finished, the girlfriend asked me “Did you like the movie?” I answered, “I was hoping for something phenomenal but I honestly have to say that I had a good time. It is definitely made for Austen’s fans.” Then the boyfriend said, “I, on the other hand, had a good nap. The only reason I came here is just so I could score tonight.” His girlfriend and I looked at him, shocked, we couldn’t believe he said that in front of me, a stranger. Then he heard himself saying that and looked away. I had to get out of their sight quickly, so I wished them good night and stormed out of the theater. So, the question for today is:

Did the boyfriend score?

Fall Readings

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From today, I have officially finished all my books that I intended to read for the summer, and before you notify me, yes I realize that summer was over long time ago but my super-packed schedule didn’t help me to finish them in time. Anyway, I went to Boarders today and stocked up with several books to read for the fall.

A Thousand Splendid Suns: Two weeks ago I finished Hosseini’s The Kite Runner in less than a week and that’s a record time for me. I’m going to jot down my review for this phenomenal book shortly. If The Kite Runner is any indication then I’m probably going to devour this book in a record time too.

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat: Although, I didn’t pick this book voluntarily because it is required for one of my classes, but I heard about it for quite some time now, and I’m glad my professor chose this book out of many psychology-related novels to read for this semester. According to my professor, it has a nice sense of humor and the author accumulated the most fascinating clinical, psychological tales in one short book, so it must be good.

Twilight (Book #1): Apparently, the third book has released not too long ago and it is currently a bestseller. All I know about this novel is that it involves vampires and…romance, and both aspects compliment each other beautifully as many people stated. I’m not currently psyched about it so I’m probably going to leave it until the very last.

Love In The Time Of Cholera: Today, Oprah has selected this book as part of her book club selection and she couldn’t stop raving about. So you can say that I bought this book out of hype, but then again, whatever blows Oprah’s skirt up must be good…right?

Book Review: Girls Of Riyadh

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Girls of Riyadh, or (Banat Al-Riyadh) as it is better known in the Arab world is quite frankly, one of most intriguing books I have ever read so far. I was utterly amazed when I knew the book was translated to English so soon, considering it was released in the mid of 2005. Without any hesitation, I grabbed the book, bought it, and went home to read and to discover why it has caused such a stare in Saudi Arabia, and probably some parts of the Arab world. Surprisngly, I got so hooked that I finished in less than a week. 

The story is told through an anonymous, female narrator that presents her stories in a form of e-mail letters, and sends them in a weekly fashion to any Saudi e-mail address she can find. The tale is centered on four different Saudi girls that belong to the “Velvet Society” of the kingdom, in which all of them are very close friends and share their stories and events to each other, especially their romantic relationships. The narrator takes an interesting role of both describing the life in Saudi and conveying the story of those girls. Marriage, love, friendship, and feminism are the primary themes of this novel, and the script presents an accurate vision of the Saudi society, and what makes it so “unique”. The novel also does an excellent job in educating the reader about Saudi Arabia, whether it was about geography, authenticities, name of famous poets and singers, food, and (believe or not) underwear. The script has a nice blend of comedy and romance, but tragedy usually dominates the middle chapters as the reader gets hooked up with those girls and their fates. The writing style however, gets a little clunky and rough in some moments, where the format becomes a little bit stale. For example, sometimes, the narrative fixates on certain aspects for more than 4 pages long without advancing in the story whatsoever, and you wonder if it going anywhere or performing any purpose. Also, “Gulf Soap opera” fanatics might find the dialogue a little bit predictable and cliché. 

Girls of Riyadh is not a great book per se, but it is definitely a brave book, and deserves to be read for that reason. Offering an insider’s view of a closed society might be provocative enough, but to do so from the point of view of a woman, and a young, unmarried woman at that, is revolutionary indeed. It’s not Sex & The City but it is quite irresistible and thought provoking.

~Rating~

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Book Review: Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West

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It is safe to say that probably everyone, child and adult, knows the tale of “The Wizard Of Oz” that tells the story of a girl from Kansas named Dorothy as she journeys in a magical world of Oz with “unique” looking companions. However, this book is definitely not a fairytale for children; in fact, it is intended for adults and adults only. In Wicked, I was allowed to meet “the real” Witch, as it were, from her childhood innocence, to her ungainly, evolutionary teen years at Shiz University, through her life’s great love affair, and on to her ultimate date with fate at the hands of a confused girl from Kansas. This person, this green girl, lived and breathed for me throughout the pages of Wicked. Gregory Maguire clearly sets out on an ambitious journey into the story that we grew up with, but by giving it a clever twist and fleshing out the characters we never got to know in the original Wizard of Oz. In my opinion, the book begins and ends very strongly, but the narrative sagged a bit in the middle, particularly in Chapter 4 but the pace picked up soon afterward; and from that point on, the novel receives its well-deserved finale, in which it goes out with a bold glory rarely seen in novels.

Don’t expect to read another take on Dorothy or her adventure in the “Wonderful Land of Oz“. She doesn’t even enter into the picture until the very end. What you will find is an incredibly imagined story for adults, full of humor, romance, and adventure. However, It’s important not to take very long breaks in reading this novel, as the details become more important toward the end, when the witch begins looking back upon her life.

~Rating~

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