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Book Review: Orlando by Virginia Woolf (1928)

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Orlando Virginia WoolfPlot Summary: The book’s protagonist Orlando lives for three centuries as a man and then a woman. Throughout Orlando’s lifetime, Orlando tries to discover what it truly means to live.

My Review: One of the best things about this book is the character Orlando. Orlando is one of the most fascinating characters I’ve ever encountered in classic literature. As a man and a woman, Orlando is flighty, creative, thoughtful, and more.

Although a fictional character, Orlando could be someone you know or end up knowing.  Overall, Orlando is very insightful and relatable  to just about anyone.

Another thing that was somewhat enjoyable is Woolf’s writing style. It is just as complicated as Orlando.  It is beautiful, rambling, thoughtful, and tedious. There are only six chapters in this book, but each chapter is very long. It almost felt like reading a prose version of a Walt Whitman poem.

The most interesting thing about the book is the plot. It is clever and powerful.  It felt very real because of how it discussed gender identity and expression, conformity,  and how men and women are valued and perceived.

Overall, this book wasn’t always enjoyable, but it was very thought-provoking. The issues discussed in this book still apply today. I recommend this to everyone.

Book Review: Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

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Bridge to Terabithia (novel)

Bridge to Terabithia (novel) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jess is a young boy who loves to run and draw. While drawing makes him an outcast at school, running is his ticket to approval. He plans to be the world’s fastest runner, until Leslie shows up. Together they create their own world called Terabithia and change each other’s lives forever.

One of the best things about this book is the successful blending of reality and fantasy. For instance, likening a female bully to a troll to make her less of a threat in real life. Then, making her human again by giving her some depth. It was great characterization. Also, the bridge made a good metaphor for linking childhood and maturity.

Another thing that was well done was the use of death as a theme. Not only does it assist in the blending of reality and fantasy, it makes a good metaphor for change. Grief was described well enough so that is tangible and poignant.

The one flaw that was in the book was its description of Terabithia. It seemed dull somehow. It was hard to visualize a kingdom when all you have is a few lines about the forest and some creatures. If Terabithia were described like C.S. Lewis’s Narnia, then it would have been more believable.

All in all, this was a touching book. I recommend it to anyone who likes a mix of reality and fantasy.

Written by Serena Zola

April 28, 2013 at 10:30 AM

Book Review: Les Misérables by Victor Hugo (Unabridged Version)

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“So long as ignorance and poverty exist on the earth, the books of Les Misérables cannot fail to be of use.”-from the Preface of Les Misérables

Plot Summary: During a historical time period of anti-monarchism in France, life goes on. A charitable and deeply religious priest lives modestly. A loving mother named Fantine desperately tries to support her daughter, Cosette. In the midst of them is a person no one expects much of: an ex-convict named Jean Valjean.

My Review: One of the most incredible things about this book is the characters. The ones I mentioned in the plot synopsis above are just a few of the main charactersThere are several other major characters and several minor characters that have a role in this book’s plot. Since they are so numerous, it is hard to keep track of everyone.

However, just about every character is so well-developed (some of them quite beautifully), this reader could imagine them truly existing in the time period that this novel is set in. If you are reading this for the first time like I was, I’d bookmark chapters  that focus on certain characters and maybe take notes. My favorite characters include Jean Valjean, Fantine, Éponine, and Little Gavoroche.

Besides the characters, Victor Hugo’s writing style deserves the highest praise. This reader has highlighted many lines and bookmarked a few pages or chapters that stood out because they were either very wise or very beautiful. Sometimes, these qualities combined themselves and it feels like you are reading poetry.  In particular, I found it amazing how he came up with an animal metaphor for some of the characters and combined it with a phrase of wisdom to form a motif that is continuous throughout the novel.

While Victor Hugo’s writing style is commendable, the way it was executed is somewhat flawed. There are long paragraphs of description in the book that are sometimes informative and sometimes tedious. Unless you are into architecture, you will end up skipping pages.

Also, there are chapters of historical information that will be tedious for those (like myself) who don’t have an interest it. Lastly, there are digressions in the form of essays that have the author discussing his beliefs. While they may not forward the plot, some of it may intrigue the reader.  Again, it depends on the reader’s interests.

Overall, this was a magnificent read. Victor Hugo has taken piety (i.e. religious faith), familial and romantic love, and many other things people experience and put them together in a powerful novel. This novel may be inspired by France’s history, but it is truly something for everyone and it is especially relevant to today’s trying times. It may have inspired a musical and a movie, but nothing can surpass this book.

Some favorite quotes from Les Misérables:

“Let us never fear robbers nor murderers. Those are dangers from without, petty dangers. Let us fear ourselves. Prejudices are the real robbers; vices are the real murderers. The great dangers lie within ourselves.”

“Yes, the brutalities of progress are called revolutions. When they are over, this fact is recognized that the human race has been treated harshly, but that it is progressed.”

“The supreme happiness of life consists in the conviction that one is loved.”

“Animals are nothing else than the figures of our virtues and our vices, straying before our eyes, the visible phantoms of our souls.”

“Destroy the cavern Ignorance and you destroy the lair Crime.”

“To teach reading, means to light the fire; every syllable spelled out sparkles.”

“To burn without ceasing to fly-therein lies the marvel of genius.”

“Love has no middle course; it either ruins or saves.”

“An awakening of conscience is grandeur of soul.”

“It is nothing to die; it is dreadful not to live.”

Written by Serena Zola

January 26, 2013 at 11:19 AM

Book Review: Jane Eyre

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  Ten year old Jane Eyre is poor, plain, and living an insufferable life with her intolerant aunt and cousins. After a traumatizing incident, Jane is sent to boarding school, where the conditions are little improved. Despite this, her spirit is unbroken. At the age of 18, Jane becomes a governess at Thornfield Hall. There, she finds herself falling in love with Thornfield’s master, the mysterious Mr. Rochester. Yet, a dark secret may prevent their relationship from ever occurring…

One of the best things about this novel is the passion. While this book is favored for its romantic passion, the fiery nature of Jane Eyre should be commended as well. During the author’s time, women were expected to be quiet and submissive, especially toward men. Instead, Jane Eyre says things such as, “Do you think because I am poor, plain, obscure, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! I have as much soul as you, and full as much heart!” Bold statements such as these transfer Jane’s fire to the reader’s own heart.

Another notable thing is the important role the supporting characters play. The role is that of a crossroads, at which Jane must decide what type of person to be. For instance, Helen Burns, a classmate at school, advises her to always submit to punishment without becoming passionate. Yet, Jane knows that by taking Helen’s advice, she wouldn’t be able to stand up for herself.

The last statement of praise on this novel has to do with how it exceeds one genre and one time period. Most people think of Jane Eyre as just a romantic novel. However, it also has mystery and horror elements in it that makes it more entertaining. Furthermore, this novel can resonant with anyone today, no matter what gender or age they are. A student dealing with bullying can find some strength and comfort in Jane’s resilient and independent spirit. Adults in bad relationships can find the courage to get out of it and appreciate being on their own for a while. No matter what, this novel is and will be brilliant, inspiring, and timeless.

Written by Serena Zola

August 31, 2012 at 6:03 PM

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