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Book Review: The Writer by Cristian Mihai

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Source: Cristian Mihai.net

Plot Summary (Taken from Amazon): Jonathan Fisher is used to being no one in particular. He is such a ghostly character that CCTV cameras won’t record him. The world doesn’t need him and most certainly doesn’t want him. What he doesn’t know is that his life is on the brink of transformation.When his father dies, he realizes one thing. Being invisible isn’t such a great option.

My Review:  One of the best things about this book is its honesty. Jonathan Fisher has the outlook of  a realist, but his worldview isn’t forced on the reader at all. Instead, he just tries to make the reader think about things a little bit. It may make the reader uncomfortable, but it is part of what makes Jonathan a compelling character.

Another part of the honesty that is touching is Jonathan’s many thoughts on writing. Anyone who has struggled with putting words on paper for a living or a hobby will be able to relate.

A few favorite lines are, “Writing is not complicated. It’s all about how much of yourself you’re willing to let the reader see. If you don’t sacrifice a part of your soul, then all you write will feel empty and cold.”

In addition to the honesty, the author’s writing style was enjoyable. In between the main plot of the story are short stories that are written by the character Jonathan Fisher. These short stories felt like parts of a giant quilt.

At first, going back and forth from the main plot to a short story was confusing. After a little while,  they were appreciable and just as entertaining as the main plot.

Furthermore, the author’s creativity with the plot was a pleasant surprise. The short stories mentioned above are a part of it. The other part is reminiscent of classic writer Nathaniel Hawthorne. It provided a nice twist in a seemingly ordinary story.

Overall, this book was amazing. I recommend it to anyone looking for a short yet compelling read and anyone who is a writer.

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Written by Serena Zola

November 16, 2013 at 9:54 PM

Book Review: The Ocean at The End of The Lane by Neil Gaiman

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Plot Summary (Taken from Goodreads): Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touch-paper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.

My Review: One of the best things about this book is some characters. The Hempstocks, the women prominently featured in this book, were amazing. Old Mrs. Hempstock and Ginnie Hempstock were so motherly and caring, you would want them in your family. Lettie Hempstock is a very brave and wise heroine. While the narrator of the book is someone to care about, he was hard to truly connect to because he is never addressed by name.

Another thing I enjoyed about this book is Gaiman’s writing style. Although I’m used to it, it is always something I appreciate. He has a way of describing magic that makes you really feel it. Also, he does a good job  making a story something anyone can connect to.  Furthermore, some of his sentences are memorable because they honestly reflect on something. A favorite goes, “I liked myths. They weren’t adult stories and they weren’t children’s stories. They were better than that. They just were.”

Despite these good aspects, the lack of a plot resolution kept this book from being really enjoyable. The reason for this is that the purpose of the magic is never explained. Why is there an ocean at the end of the lane? Where did it come from? Without these questions answered, it feels like the reader is missing something.

Gaiman has crafted an engaging story, but he has written better works. However, this book might be enjoyable to teens and adults who love fantasy. At only 178 pages, it is also a decent summer read. If you enjoyed Gaiman’s Coraline,  then feel free to give this book a try.

Written by Serena Zola

July 9, 2013 at 11:58 AM

Book Review: Singing You Home by Jodi Picoult

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Zoe is a forty year-old music therapist and music lover who desperately wants to be a mother. However, she and her husband have failed to have a  child due to infertility and  failed attempts at vitro fertilization. After a third miscarriage leads to divorce, Zoe thinks she will never have a child. Then, an unexpected friendship blossoms into a new kind of love and another chance at a family. Yet, some people don’t want that kind of love or family to exist.

One of the things that hooked me to this novel was how realistic, relatable, and diverse the main and supporting characters were. They aren’t all good or all bad; they are just human beings. For instance,  Zoe, one of the main characters, is a natural in her career. Yet, she is a learner when it comes to her personal life. Furthermore, having characters of different ages (i.e. teens, children, and older adults) made the motifs and themes universal.

Another thing that is well done about the novel is the research. With the clash of homosexuality and religion being  a sensitive topic, it is easy for an author or anyone to become biased and one-sided. Although the author’s stance is made clear in the book, she presents homosexuality and religion in a fair and honest light using a variety of sources.

Besides the characters and the research, the themes and motifs made the story very poignant. Some themes such as family and identity are obvious, while music and memory as a motif are a little scattered. A personal favorite motif is music, which is connected to romance, comfort, and hope.

In addition to the themes and motifs, there is a pretty good sense of humor sprinkled throughout the book, particularly with Zoe and her partner Vanessa. Some lines made me laugh out loud! One such line was on the very last page of the book and reads, “Sammy says he was so dumb, he thought M & M’s were really W’s.”

While there are many positive aspects to the novel, there were a few loose threads at the end. I wanted to know what happened to certain supporting characters, but their fates were unresolved because the author focused only on Zoe and Vanessa. It felt like the author was in a hurry to wrap things up. Even though Zoe and Vanessa were the main focus of the book, it doesn’t feel right to have some of the supporting characters pushed aside when they were so well fleshed out.

Overall, this was an amazing read. I couldn’t put it down and now, it has become my new favorite book. I will definitely be reading other books by this author (this was my first one). I personally recommend this book to people who like adult fiction about social issues.

Written by Serena Zola

February 24, 2013 at 10:30 AM

Book Review: Wicked by Gregory Maguire

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 From the back cover: When Dorothy triumphed over the Wicked Witch of the West in L. Frank Baum’s classic tale, we only heard her side of the story. But what about her arch-nemesis, the mysterious Witch? Where did she come from? How did she become so Wicked? And what is the true nature of evil?

One of the highlights of the book is the complexity of character the Wicked Witch of the West aka Elphaba. She reminded me a lot of the character Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights. She is loving toward a select few, and cold toward others.  She is strong with most characters in the book, yet vulnerable to the reader. Her duality made her very real and human. Depending on who the reader is,  it might make a lasting impression.

Another highlight of the book was the story world. While it is based on  L. Frank Baum’s Oz, there are many allusions to  the real world within Maguire’s Oz . For instance, an Animal is an animal that can talk like humans and is discriminated against for wanting to do things like humans do. If the animal can’t talk, it is considered normal. The Animals could be virtually any discriminated group in the real world including Hispanics, blacks, or homosexuals.

One of the shortcomings of the book was the plot. When things were heating up and the story is reaching the climax, it is like the author stopped writing and came back to the book. Due to certain circumstances, Elphaba ends up sitting still somewhere for a time and the plot gets tedious. The only way the reader will keep reading at that point is if they really empathize or sympathize with Elphaba (as the case was with me). Furthermore, when the book moves on to its next section (the book is divided into four sections with its own chapters), it felt like there was something missing, as if certain events could have been drawn out more.

In addition to the plot, this reader did not enjoy the way it was told from various characters’ points of view. The book is supposed to be about Elphaba, the girl who would become the Wicked Witch of the West. Why not just focus on things from her point-of-view? This reader did not care about a classmate named Boq; this reader only cared about Elphaba’s story! If the story had just been told from Elphaba’s point-of-view, then the confusion felt when going from section to section could have been avoided.

If you are a fan of the musical Wicked, then you might know that it is based on this book. If you are a hard-core fan of the musical, do not read this book because you might end up disappointed and bored. However, I do recommend this book for someone who is looking for a good fantasy story. Due to the violence and sexual material, this book is best suited for older teens or adults. Wicked was not great, but it was good.

Book Review: The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao

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Beli is a hardened mother who seeks control through her children, Oscar and Lola. Lola is the rebellious daughter. Yani is the womanizing family friend. In the center of them all is Oscar, an obese nerd and the latest victim of a Dominican curse known as the fukú.

With the aforementioned characters and the use of casual prose, the story is very engaging. The raw honesty of the narrator’s voice in the story feels like someone you could know in real life. In addition to telling the main story, the narrator also goes and tells little side stories with informative annotations at the bottom of the page. These vary from cultural references like the Lord of the Rings to Dominican history. In fact, one part of Dominican history plays a major role in a few of the characters lives: the era of the dictator Trujillo.

Another interesting aspect of the story is that it tries to answer the question, “How did life get so screwed up?” by going through three family generations. While there is brutal violence and tragedy, the resilence that is sometimes present is awe inspiring. It makes you want to question things and see if life can change for the better.

Something that may be confusing for the reader is the mix of Spanish and English words in sentences. Unless you speak Spanish, it is best to have a really good Spanish dictonary at your side as you read. Furthermore, due to the sexual content and profanity, this book is recommended for older teens and adults.

Written by Serena Zola

May 29, 2012 at 8:10 PM

Book Review: White Oleander

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In Janet Finch’s White Oleander, an artistic girl named Astrid goes on a painful journey to find herself. Astrid is together with her poet mother Ingrid, until Ingrid commits murder. When Ingrid is sentenced to jail, Astrid is sent into the foster care system.

From the moment you start reading the book, you are pulled into a poetical and cultural writing style that is hard not to appreciate. The poetic side is found through the voices of Ingrid and Astrid. When they are together, they are free spirits that go to places like exotic countries that are richly described. After Ingrid goes to jail and Astrid is sent to foster care, they send each other letters and poems that maintain that free spiritedness until Astrid starts trying to figure out who she is. As for the culture, many references to the arts are made, from painters to musicians to writers.

Another notable thing is the author’s realistic and raw depiction of the foster care system. Sometimes, it was hard to read certain chapters because they were painful images. For instance, one chapter has Astrid getting attacked by dogs while staying at one foster home.

Despite the gritty material, this is still a powerful read. While it may shock some readers, this book is a true testament to pain and survival.

Written by Serena Zola

March 16, 2012 at 8:47 PM

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