I came here to keep in touch with all my friends who left GR after the censorship debacle. I read a little of every genre. I co-blog at Musings of a Bibliomaniac.
“No warm blood in me doth glow,
Water in my veins doth flow;
Yet I’ll laugh and sing and playB
y frosty night and frosty day–
Little daughter of the Snow.
"But whenever I do know
That you love me little, then
I shall melt away again.
Back into the sky I’ll go–
Little daughter of the Snow.”
- An extract from Little Daughter of the Snow by Arthur Ransome.
This book... it's a dream. An unhurried, ethereal, captivating dream - so captivating, that I cleared out my currently-reading shelf after the first two pages so that I could bask unhindered in the spell this book cast on me.
The Snow Child is a retelling of the Russian fairy-tale Snegurochka or The Snow Maiden. Eowyn Ivey's debut tells the story of an old childless couple in the Alaskan wilderness, who shape a little girl from snow during the winter's first snowfall. What happens thereafter is pretty obvious.
The first half of this book is absolute perfection. The Alaskan setting, the characters, the magic in the winter air - everything comes alive through Ivey's gorgeous prose. Somewhere past the halfway mark however, the story takes a detour from the original fairy-tale and things get impossibly more real with every page, finally ending on a note that's too bizarre to fully comprehend. The Snow Child constantly hovers on the border between illusion and reality, which may either be the book's strongest point or it's undoing, because if you think about the plot too long, many threads come untethered and threaten to unravel.
Jack and Mabel are some of the realest characters I've ever encountered. I cannot claim to exactly understand their anguish; I'm too young for that. But I could feel it - in the silence, in the breath of the narration, in the things that were deliberately left unsaid. I understand how the absence of something (or someone) can haunt a person like a presence. I understand why seeking an explanation may not be so important when the thing you most desire ends up at your doorstep.
On the contrary, the Snow Child herself, or Faina as she's called, never felt real to me. I'm guessing this was the author's intention. It works well in the beginning when Faina is more of an illusion, coming and going like a shadow. The second half adds (or tries to add) more substance to Faina - something I had trouble digesting - which is probably why it felt weaker in comparison.
The entire story has an undercurrent of sorrow to it. In the beginning, Jack and Mabel grieve for what they never had. Once Faina enters their lives, this grief takes the form of a quiet desperation; the dread of losing what they now have, even though Faina is more of a phantom-child than a real daughter.
Another thing that struck me was the occasional streak of violence. There are many animal killings in the book. Surviving in a landscape like Alaska would entail hunting for meat but in retrospect, I feel these scenes were strategically placed at intervals. Like the visual of blood on snow was meant to combat the fascinating idea of a child born of snow.
Not much happens in the book plot-wise. Some of the most enchanting parts are also the quietest. It's like peering into a snow-globe - the scenery does not change; yet, there's something so captivating in simply watching the glitter settle, and also this feeling of fragility, like how the world inside the globe could shatter in a single fall.
Fairy-tale or not, The Snow Child requires you to follow the rules of one: It doesn't matter why or how things happen; just that they happen. If you can do that, this book will take you on an enchanting journey.
A stunning, stunning debut. Highly recommended.
The good thing: Misleading blurb alert!! Ultraviolet is much more than a murder mystery.
The bad thing: It still bored me to death -_-
Before I justify my (unpopular) opinion, I have a confession to make. I was never really interested in Ultraviolet. Reading this book was an act of desperation. I badly needed a break from Picoult's super-sentimental preaching in The Storyteller and this was the only book on my Ipad that wasn't emotionally draining. So I guess this was doomed from the start.
---Some spoilers, nothing major---
Ultraviolet has a fabulous concept. The MC, Allison, has Synesthesia, which according to Wikipedia "is a neurological condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway."
In more understandable terms, all of Allison's senses are cross-wired.
As a result, our MC can:
- see/taste sounds
- feel/taste words
- see numbers as colors
- sense colors by touch
- taste feelings
She also has a condition called Tetrachromacy, which according to Wikipedia... no, forget it.
It basically means that Allison can see into the ultraviolet range so a lot of the colors she sees have no names. Yet.
Both disorders exist in reality. However, Allison's condition in the book is very, very exaggerated (like most things in YA). It's like super-synesthesia or something. She can even see heartbeats, taste the wind, hear stars, blah blah.
Here's what I don't understand: How did she not end up in a psych ward sooner??
The kind of sensory overload this book describes.. it's too much. She lived like this for 16 years and nobody had a clue?? How did she not have a major mental breakdown as a child??
That's not the reason for my low rating, by the way. That's just a random question that popped up in my head.
My reasons are:
- Allison. She annoyed me. For someone with such gifted sensory perception, her narration felt painfully monotonous to me.
- The writing. Too simplistic.
- Nearly 80% of the story takes place in a psych ward, which is not a setting I like very much.
- The Ending. I mean, SERIOUSLY?? It was absolutely lame. It hit me like a paint-ball in the face - sudden, painful, unpleasant.
SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!
Allison's therapist turns out to be an alien.
Her classmate Tori, who 'disintegrated' according to the blurb was just sucked into another dimension.
Oh, and Tori is an alien too.
But they're not aliens, they are actually humans who come from another colony.
And of course, the human Allison is in love with her human-yet-alien therapist.
Ever since The 5th Wave, the word 'alien' in YA makes me see red (no synesthesia-related pun intended). So maybe it's me, not the book.
Sorry if this review is disjointed, I'm mentally exhausted.
---Some spoilers but nothing major---
The first few chapters of The Storyteller introduce us to Sage Singer - a twenty-something baker who is struggling with scars both emotional and physical. Following an accident that maimed half her face, Sage suffers from very low self-esteem, lives and works like a recluse and settles for being some guy's mistress.
Had I not read the blurb, I would have assumed that I was reading one of those chick-lit stories where an insecure girl with too much emotional baggage meets a guy who loves her for who she is.
400 pages later, that is EXACTLY what The Storyteller turned out to be.
What a bummer.
I'm not saying that The Storyteller doesn't talk about the Holocaust or doesn't do justice to it. In fact, the best parts are the flash-backs from WW2. I'll give credit where it's deserved - Jodi Picoult has researched the whole thing extremely well. And yet, the Holocaust angle always felt secondary to me. It did not get the attention it deserved. Or rather, undue attention was given to trivial plot-points.
Take the baking, for example. There is a ton of absolutely pointless information. What Sage bakes. Why she bakes. How she bakes. How gluten works. How brioche is made. Yadda yadda yadda.
Another useless detail that is hard to ignore - Sage's sisters are called Pepper and Saffron.
There's nothing technically wrong with those names except that they serve no purpose in the book whatsoever and stick out like a sore thumb.
All the side-characters were unrealistic and absolutely weird, again, for no reason other than grabbing undue attention. Who the hell speaks only in Haiku?? What kind of nun (or ex-nun) paints Jesus with the face of Bradley Cooper?? What is this, some Sophie Kinsella novel?? >_<
All that time Picoult wasted on meaningless digressions could have been better spent in developing Josef and Sage's friendship, which felt rather sudden and underwhelming to me.
There's another story about a vampire (No, I'm not joking) that is narrated in parallel. It has allegorical meaning in the context of the book but feels like fan-fiction sometimes.. I wish this story was kept separate, maybe like a prologue/epilogue to each part. It's jarring to go from SS officer in one chapter to blood-thirsty vampire in the next.
Now, the good part. Minka's harrowing tale of surviving the Holocaust is without question, the highlight of The Storyteller. The meticulously detailed descriptions make it nearly unbearable to read, but those 150 odd pages tell a supremely compelling story. For that one section, I'd say Brava, Ms Picoult.
Sadly, even Minka's story cannot save The Storyteller from my 2-star shelf. What should have been about Josef and Minka focused too much on Sage and Leo.
My favorite thing about this book was the way in which Vera's relationship with her dad played out. It was realistic in terms of all the father-daughter issues, yet it never stopped being endearing.
I also loved the narration. The hilarity of it nullified the many tough themes in the story. The flow-charts and the talking pagoda were such clever additions.
I just don't get Jenny Flick's character. How can an eighteen year old be so quintessentially evil?? A guy broke up with her so she set a pet-store on fire??! And possibly killed the guy?? That is what the story alludes to, even though Charlie's death is never fully explained.
This is probably the uber-sensitive side of me talking but I CANNOT STAND ANIMAL ABUSE OR ANYTHING THAT EVEN REMOTELY DEMEANS THE LIVES OF PETS. If I had the paperback version, I swear I would have flung it across the room :/
The ending was a let-down. I was waiting for some kind of major revelation and it never came.
Overall, this was just okay. I expected a lot more from a Printz Honor winning book, so I'm a little disappointed.
This. Book. Drove. Me. Nuts.
Did I sabotage the book by opting to watch the movie first?
Or would it have turned out this way regardless?
I'll never know.
I like the idea of this book. Ian McEwan's definition of atonement is as dazzling as it is strange. I also love the prose. So rich and refined. For these reasons alone, I'm giving Atonement 3 stars.
The rest of this review, I'm afraid, is a jumbled explanation for why this book made me so mad.
I thought the purpose of this book was to tell a story. A story about how a misunderstanding borne out of innocence could tragically alter so many lives. But did it really do that??
It tried to, at least in the beginning. But even then, I did not for a minute believe that it was really happening, that all these people actually existed. It felt like the script of a play - everything was carefully rehearsed and choreographed. Every character from Briony to Cecelia, from Robbie to Leon, was like a caricature, like Arabella in The Trials of Arabella.
Then somewhere past the halfway mark, the story just stopped and Atonement turned into a documentary on the horrors of WW2. Civilians were getting blown to bits, soldiers were being left to die, villages were turning to rubble... I'm not saying it was pointless but it was way overdone. If these characters felt vague before, they ceased to exist for me then - lost in the mess of war tales.
So you see, very little actually happened in the course of 350 pages. So much of it was devoted to overtly descriptive passages that were, for lack of a better word, boring.
And then there's the twist at the end, of course.
MAJOR SPOILER AHEAD:
Here's something you should know about Khaled Hosseini: All his stories have more or less, the same ingredients.
It always starts with Afghanistan in its pre-war days. The protagonists are children, guileless and innocent. Then the invasion happens. People separate, the bonds between them torn apart either by fate or by design. Many gut-wrenching chapters later, there's some kind of reunion but with a catch - there's something amiss, something unfulfilled, like a testimony to the unfairness of life.
To be honest, I'm not a fan of formulaic things. Yet, when it's Hosseini telling a story, I listen. I give in. I let his words curl around me like a blanket. I fall in love. And when it's all over, I clutch the book to my chest and weep like a child.
Because formula or no formula, Khaled Hosseini just knows how to tell a story. He knows what to say and how to say it. It's like an art he's mastered - and no matter how many times he does it, the impact of it doesn't seem to fade.
And the Mountains Echoed is an ode to siblinghood and all the joys and heartbreaks that come with it - the anguish of separation, the guilt of envy, the comfort of companionship, the burden of responsibility. Unlike his previous books, Hosseini adopts a short-story approach for this one. There are multiple narratives in multiple time-frames spread across several different countries, all connected by a common link to Afghanistan.
The writing is beautiful, as always. Sample this:
"All my life, I have lived like an aquarium fish in the safety of a glass tank, behind a barrier as impenetrable as it has been transparent. I have been free to observe the glimmering world on the other side, to picture myself in it, if I like. But I have always been contained, hemmed in, by the hard, unyielding confines of the existence that Baba has constructed for me, at first knowingly, when I was young, and now guilelessly, now that he is fading day by day. I think I have grown accustomed to the glass and am terrified that when it breaks, when I am alone, I will spill out into the wide open unknown and flop around, helpless, lost, gasping for breath."
And the Mountains Echoed was one of my most anticipated books this year and it did not disappoint. That being said, it pales in comparison to his previous works - The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. Maybe it was the multiple POV thing. With so many characters and so many stories, it's inevitable that some would hit harder than the rest. Personally, I found the first half more emotionally striking - Abdullah, Nabi and Parwana's stories all made me tear up. I missed Afghanistan in the later segments.
And in case it wasn't obvious enough, I just wanted to say that I love Khaled Hosseini. If it weren't for him, I would have foolishly associated Afghanistan with just the Taliban. It's shocking how little I know about this country even though it's so close to mine.
Thank you for the culture-cum-history lessons, Mr. Hosseini. And even if your next book adheres to the formula, I'll still read it and in all likelihood, cherish it.
(This is going to be a long review because I have too many things to say. I just hope it's coherent.)
Have you ever sat in a dark room listening to an intricate piece of music (like Sergey Rachmaninoff's 'Tears') and experienced a deep-seated sadness when the last note died off??
Reading The Garden of Evening Mists felt like that.
This book took me on a journey. It was turbulent and tranquil, beautiful and ugly - all at the same time - and when it was over, I found myself sitting by the window crying for reasons I cannot discern.
This is not a book for everyone, be warned. I've read some unflattering reviews and found myself agreeing with the points they make, yet I cannot give this anything less than 5. Eng has achieved a lot of super-ambitious things in 350 pages that many authors can only dream of doing, so I'm going to overlook the few flaws I encountered.
Giving a summary for this book is daunting. There are too many layers and too many interpretations. Instead, I'll tell you my version of what this book is about.
The Garden of Evening Mists is a book about conflicts, or more specifically, it's about the co-existence of antithetical things.
There's a scene where Yun Ling comes across the yin-yang symbol in Aritomo's garden, which describes how the positive and the negative are interrelated to each other. I feel this theme is manifested in the entire book.
---Remembering / Forgetting.---
When Yun Ling visits Yugiri for the first time, the garden is an escape - a place for forgetting the brutalities of war.
36 years later, when Yun Ling returns with a disease that threatens to rob her off her memories, Yugiri transforms into a temple of contemplation, a place for remembering.
(To remember when you want to forget and to forget when you want to remember... How ironic.)
---Peace / Violence---
There's something almost tangible about the stillness of Yugiri despite the guerrilla violence that's rife in the surrounding jungles. An amazing juxtaposition, if you ask me.
---The Beauty of Art / The Horrors of War---
This book could very well be a tribute to the arts of Japan. There's gardening, ukiyo-e (woodblock printing) and horimonos (tattooing). I found the cultural aspect mesmerizing.
A stark contrast to this is Yun Ling's recollection of her POW days - extremely disturbing.
Ultimately though, it's the art that stands out. I love how Eng treats it as a medium of healing, for both Yun Ling and (maybe) Aritomo.
---Love / Hate---
Yun Ling (understandably) harbors a lot of bitterness against the Japanese and yet she's drawn to the reclusive Japanese gardener. I suppose this is hypocritical behavior but I found the whole thing believable - probably because I was anticipating it. The relationship is alluded to but not explicitly spelled out (like many other things in the book), so you may miss it if you don't pay attention.
The book is slow, especially the first half. I prefer describing it as 'quiet'. There's not a lot of action happening but it still demands you pay attention, especially since Eng seems to love hinting at things rather than actually saying them.
Yun Ling comes across as emotionally detached sometimes but I think it works in her favor. The way I see it, Yun Ling is someone who has been through so much that she no longer has the capability to be emotionally fazed.
Aritomo is an enigma. The more you know about him, the more unknown he becomes.
Eng has crafted a beautiful story, but if you read this expecting to find answers, you'll be disappointed. The ending is... incomplete. There are a few facts, a few hints, but no answers. This is going to sound stupid, but I loved the unfinished ending. You see, every character in this book has had an unfulfilled life so it makes sense that the story would be unfulfilled as well. Like Yun Ling realizes in the end, sometimes its better to cherish what you know than chase after things you don't know.
And I've finally figured out what made me so sad about that ending. Something to do with the temporariness of time. Whether it's people or places or memories, time leaves everything behind, doesn't it??
The Garden of Evening Mists is not a book with universal appeal, but I loved the feel of it. Easily the best book I've read this year, and one I'll cherish for a long time to come.
Don’t let the brevity of this book fool you. Carrie may be one of King’s less thick books but right from the scandalous opening scene to the very last page, it’s a relentlessly harrowing read.
King pieces together Carrie's story through a series of reports and articles concerning a telekinetic catastrophe in Maine. I knew how terrible the end would be before it even happened, so reading the book was an excruciating experience - the dread just kept building page after page, I could see what everything was leading to, I knew how easily avoidable it was, but there was nothing I could do except watch the dominoes fall one after the other.
And once the horror of it wore off, the tragedy of it sunk in.
Yes, tragedy. Because more than anything, Carrie is a very sad story of bullying gone too far. Carrie's life is miserable - whether at home, where she's oppressed by her religion-obsessed mother, or at school, where she's relentlessly bullied by her peers. I was scared, not of Carrie but for Carrie. My heart went out to her and in the end, when the finale played out, a tiny part of me may even have rooted for her.
Carrie won't give me nightmares, but it's left me emotionally drained and heartbroken - not something I expect from a genre like horror. Quite an impressive start to my foray into SK territory, I must say.