Book Review: The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Genre: Contemporary
Literary Awards: Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (2014), National Book Critics Circle Award Nominee for Fiction (2013), Goodreads Choice Nominee for Fiction (2013), Women’s Prize for Fiction Nominee (2014), Andrew Carnegie Medal for Fiction (2014), Paris Review Best of the Best (2013).
ISBN 0316239879
1240 pages
Goodreads, Books Depository

Hypes, other than being mass market tools for confusion, are double edged swords. They can easily bring the object in question to stupefying heights, and just as easily bring it six feet under due to disappointment inflicted and an overall unmet satisfaction. The Goldfinch is one of those books that appear to bask in justified hype (‘Omg, Dickensian!’), and such words aren’t thrown around lightly, right?

Theodore Decker’s life is the kind of fucked up you would say you’re sorry for but  thank your lucky stars deep in your heart that such bad luck didn’t befall on yours. Having been caught smoking in school, Theo braces himself as he and his mother make their way down to the principal’s office on an otherwise sunny, uneventful Tuesday morning. Sunny soon turns to rainy as a terrorist bomb goes off in the museum they made a special stop for, killing his mother and signifying the start of a downward spiral into despondency. On his way out of the wreckage, Theo (for whatever reason) takes with him Carel Fabritius’s masterpiece, The Goldfinch, as well as a bejeweled ring that was behest to him, both of which would serve as his lifelines later in life.

Coming of age stories can be really fun to read. We are taken on fictional journeys that mirror some of our own, and are comforted that we are not alone in our personal struggles which can seem so lonely at times. We watch as the characters grow into adults, and feel a sense of completion and satisfaction, much like how a parent would feel, whether their children turn out to be successful or not.

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Book Review: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

 A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
Publisher: Thorndike Press
Genre: Historical fiction, Cultural, Russia
Literary Awards: National Book Award Nominee for Fiction (2013), Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Fiction (2014), California Book Award Gold Medal for First Fiction (2013), Dayton Literary Peace Prize Nominee for Fiction (2014), Goodreads Choice Nominee for Fiction (2013), Paris Review Best of the Best (2013), Athens Prize for Literature (2014), John Leonard Prize (2013)
ISBN 1410462048
605 pages
Goodreads, Books Depository

There are some stories that are so densely imagined and beautifully crafted that they blossom from the pages they reside in, and clouding the world-after with an afterimage so strong, no amount of blinking could erase it.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena alternates between 1994 and 2004 in a remote village of Chechenya. Nothing much ever happens here, except land mines going off, amputations, and constant fear of being the next to be disposed by the authorities. Akmed watches from the his house as Dokka has just been taken in the middle of the night, knowing that his daughter will be next. Doing the only thing a morally responsible adult will do (and for other internal conflicts of his own), Akmed brings Havaa to the one place he knows safe — the hospital, or rather, Sonja’s hospital. Events then further unfold from there as Marra shows how everyone is connected in war times, from the hospital nurse, to the informer next door.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is not an action-packed war novel. It drags. It showcases exactly how war feels like for its inhabitants. Days seem like years hiding from the authorities, avoiding landmines, staying alive; years seem like minutes reminiscing the happy times, chiding the mistakes one had made, wishing to go back to fix them. One thing’s for certain, war isn’t ending and peace seems like a dream you can’t really recall.

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Book Review: American Born Chinese

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
Publisher: Square Fish
Genre: Graphic Novel, Cultural, Chinese
Literary Awards: Michael L. Printz Award (2007), James Cook Book Award Nominee (2007), Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards for Best Graphic Album – New (2007), National Book Award Finalist for Young People’s Literature (2006)
ISBN 0312384483
233 pages
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Books Depository: click here 

When faced with a reading slump, I like to check out graphic novels. Who doesn’t?

American Born Chinese is a story of Chinese-American boy who has just transferred to a new school, and is trying to fit into her all-american ways. Jin tries to settle in quietly and almost succeeds (minus the constant bullying, because they’re just trying to be friends right?), until a new Taiwanese student joins his class. Wei Chen is the FOB down the block and Jin doesn’t want to be associated with him, until Chen shows him his new robot transformer toy, and the rest is history.

American Born Chinese doesn’t end here though, in fact Jin’s story is just a third of the book.

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Book Review: I Am Legend

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
Publisher: Gollancz
Genre: Horror, Science-fiction, Classics
Literary Awards: Tähtivaeltaja Award (2008)
ISBN 0575079002
161 pages
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I’m not usually a Classics person, because let’s be honest, I’m (sometimes) intimidated by them. They’re huge, hard to read, difficult to digest, and nerve wrecking to talk about because I don’t want to sound stupid if I make a ‘wrong’ interpretation (Thanks, college). Imagine the hallelujah moment when I found a tiny Classic. Plus its about ’em vamps. Part of me was excited to find out how this would fare against the Mother of all vampire novels — Dracula, and another part of me was scared by the cover art (Tell me it’s not terrifying. No, shut up.). The excited part won.

Neville is the only man left in the world. Everyone else has become a vampire, and they’re hungry for his blood. At night, he locks himself in his (safe)house as any sane survivor would do, listening to the infected scratching at the barricades he has built, shouting for him to come out. But Neville is far from being the weak, scaredy-cat last survivor who hides in a corner waiting for his death. By day, he hunts. He hunts for tomato juice, fresh steak, and the infected humans. He drives a wooden stake through their hearts, and justifies his actions. “If it’s not them, it’s me”; “It’s either I hunt, or I’m the hunted”; “If they had any human left in them, they’d have begged me to kill them off anyways”; “This is not living”.

But who’s to say what’s living and what’s not?

But wait, there’s more!

Book Review: Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Genre: Graphic Novel, Memoir, Humor
Literary Awards: National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography (2014), Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards Nominee for Best Reality-Based Work (2015), National Book Award Finalist for Nonfiction (2014),Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction (2014)
ISBN 1608198065
228 pages
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Book Depository: click here

Reading memoirs tend to feel like traveling through thick fog on a sunny day; the journey through makes one a bit lost, as if navigating through past time not of one’s own, and when the fog clears, it’s not sure whether the sunny skies above were the same as those before journeying through it.

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? is a memoir not of Chast’s own, but those of her aging parents, woven with her mixed feelings towards caring for them, as well as bits and pieces of Chast’s teenage years, which explains the way she feels the way she feels for her parents, especially her mother. It brings the reader along through the excruciating caring process of two elderly parents who can’t seem to live without one another, the constant emotional struggles the author faces between caring for her parents as would a good daughter, and leaving them alone because she has to have her own space and also because of long-held emotional knots which has not yet been untied.

But wait, there’s more!

Book Review: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Genre: Mystery, Books-about-books
Literary Awards: ALA Alex Award (2013), The Kitschies Nominee for Golden Tentacle (Debut) (2013), Japanese Booksellers Award Nominee for Translated Fiction (2015)
ISBN: 978-0374214913
304 pages
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Book Depository: click here

Having read a fair amount of dystopian novels prior, I was in search of a book that was somewhat lighthearted, yet not losing that oomph so many such novels do. I tore through Goodreads, and my local library catalogue, and amidst the few titles that fit my ideal, this book caught my attention. A book about books, set in a cramped, dodgy bookstore with a mystery to boot? Sounds like an adventure.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is set in a world where technology is commonplace and books and other obsolete materials are rendered to vertical shelves, e.g. in Mr. Penumbra’s bookshop. Well, except these books are beautifully encrypted and its secrets are privy only to the members of an ancient secret society, The Unbroken Spine, dating back to a sixteen century Venetian printer Aldus Manutius. The catch is that successfully decrypting one book will not do, as all the books in the ‘Waybacklist’ contribute to the code in some way or other. Our protagonist and his team of tech-friends tries to cheat their way through the system through the use of technology, which works in the beginning to unlock the Founder’s Code, but fails at unlocking the secret to immortality.

But wait, there’s more!