Classics, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

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Title: Things Fall Apart

Author: Chinua Achebe

Goodreads Plot: THINGS FALL APART tells two overlapping, intertwining stories, both of which center around Okonkwo, a “strong man” of an Ibo village in Nigeria. The first of these stories traces Okonkwo’s fall from grace with the tribal world in which he lives, and in its classical purity of line and economical beauty it provides us with a powerful fable about the immemorial conflict between the individual and society.

The second story, which is as modern as the first is ancient, and which elevates the book to a tragic plane, concerns the clash of cultures and the destruction of Okonkwo’s world through the arrival of aggressive, proselytizing European missionaries. These twin dramas are perfectly harmonized, and they are modulated by an awareness capable of encompassing at once the life of nature, human history, and the mysterious compulsions of the soul. THINGS FALL APART is the most illuminating and permanent monument we have to the modern African experience as seen from within.

My Thoughts: Chinua Achebe did a masterful job of portraying the clash between natives and the European missionaries. He was really the first person to write it from a third person perspective. He never sided with either the natives or the Europeans. He illustrated all the good and the bad of both sides. The book also really good job at exploring gender roles as well as defining masculinity in the native culture. The beginning of the book was slow for me as the author really takes his time building and describing the culture. While I did enjoy it, it did drag on. However, the second part of the book was amazing. It flew by much quicker. For a short book, the characters were incredibly developed  and complex. This review doesn’t do the book much justice. Everyone should just go read it.

My Rating: 10/10

Acquired: Library

Amazon goodreads

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Graphic Novels, Nonfiction, Reviews

Maus by Art Spiegelman

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Title: Maus

Author: Art Spiegelman

Goodreads Plot: Combined for the first time here are Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale and Maus II – the complete story of Vladek Spiegelman and his wife, living and surviving in Hitler’s Europe. By addressing the horror of the Holocaust through cartoons, the author captures the everyday reality of fear and is able to explore the guilt, relief and extraordinary sensation of survival – and how the children of survivors are in their own way affected by the trials of their parents. A contemporary classic of immeasurable significance.

My Thoughts: I really enjoyed this graphic novel. I thought it was really clever that the author portrayed the different nationalities in using animals. For example, the Jews were mice, the Polish were pigs, and the Germans were cats. Overall, Art Spiegelman offered a fresh take on the the WWII concentration camp memoir. Not only was it a graphic novel, but the flashbacks from and to the present gave you a more holistic view of why Vladek turned out to be the way he was. The dynamics between Vladek and Art added additional layers to the complexity of the story. The author did an amazing job of retelling the story of his parents and family as they experienced WWII in Poland. I didn’t give this a 10 out of 10 because I could not connect to modern day Vladek who is the main character in the book. For some reason, I could not relate to him. However, I still highly recommend this book to anyone.

Acquired: Library

My Rating: 8/10

AMAZON I GOODREADS

Literary Fiction, Magical Realism, Reviews

The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

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Title: The Strange Library

Author: Haruki Murakami

Goodreads Plot: A lonely boy, a mysterious girl, and a tormented sheep man plot their escape from the nightmarish library of internationally acclaimed, best-selling Haruki Murakami’s wild imagination.

My Thoughts: To say that this novella was weird is an understatement. This was my first Murakami novel, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I devoured this book in one sitting. It was a super fast read. The graphic design aspect of the novella was so interesting. One page has text while the other page has a print of some kind. The prints were so cool! The plot was slightly weird, and I think I missed a metaphor or something, but I liked it none the less. I think this was a great novella to start reading Murakami works. I would recommend it for anyone who like different, visually-appealing books.

Acquired: Bought physical copy

My Rating: 9/10

Amazon Goodreads

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Graphic Novels, Reviews

Ouran High School Host Club by Bisco Hatori

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Title: Ouran High School Host Club Vol. 1-18

Author: Bisco Hatori

Goodreads Plot: One day, Haruhi, a scholarship student at exclusive Ouran High School, breaks an $80,000 vase that belongs to the ‘Host Club’, a mysterious campus group consisting of six super-rich (and gorgeous) guys. To pay back the damages, she is forced to work for the club, and it’s there that she discovers just how wealthy the boys are and how different they are from everybody else.

My Thoughts: This is probably my favorite Manga series of all times. I think this is the second I have read the series in its entirety. The characters and character development in this series is AMAZING! You immediately fall in love with these vibrant, engaging, and super unique characters. Over the course of the series, Hatori makes you fall in love with the host club through flashbacks and Haruhi’s astute perception of who they really are. The plot is also absolutely bewitching. You can’t help but continue reading the adventures of the Host Club as they conquer high school and discover who they truly are. Of course, my favorite part is that everything is resolved at the end. No cliff hangers. If reading manga is not your deal, you could watch the anime version of it on Netflix. It deviates from the story slightly, but it’s still pretty true to the series.

Acquired: Library

My Rating: 10/10

Amazon Goodreads

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Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Reviews

The King’s Dragon by Scott Chantler

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Title: The King’s Dragon

Author: Scott Chantler

Goodreads Plot: In this fourth installment of the award-winning Three Thieves graphic novel series, Captain Drake remembers his dark past as a young knight in the service of King Roderick. Long-ago intrigues may hold clues that will help Drake capture the three thieves — and could spell the end of Dessa’s quest to find her long-lost twin brother.

My Thoughts: This was an absolute delight to read. I think I read it in one sitting. The book is part of a series, and I haven’t read any of the previous books. However, I was able to pick up the main story fairly easily. The illustration style was wonderful. The pictures were colorful, clear, and entertaining. Scott Chantler also does a great job developing intricate and complex characters that you would be able to find in any classic novel. Overall, Scott Chantler tells a wonderfully delightful story in this installment of the Three Thieves series. I am curious to read the previous three books.

My Rating: 9/10

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Reviews, Young Adult

Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler

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Title: Why We Broke Up

Author: Daniel Handler

Illustrations: Maira Kalman

Goodreads Plot: Min Green and Ed Slaterton are breaking up, so Min is writing Ed a letter and giving him a box. Inside the box is why they broke up. Two bottle caps, a movie ticket, a folded note, a box of matches, a protractor, books, a toy truck, a pair of ugly earrings, a comb from a motel room, and every other item collected over the course of a giddy, intimate, heartbreaking relationship. Item after item is illustrated and accounted for, and then the box, like a girlfriend, will be dumped.

My Thoughts: 

I think this is a great book, and Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) did a wonderful job. I really enjoyed the classical story of the misfit, theater girl who falls in love with the jock. However, there were several things that did bother me about the book. I got really annoyed with the two main characters for several reasons. Min: I think she was slightly pretentious. I got the sense that she thought she was smarter (dare I say better) than Ed. Her decision-making at times was not sound and very frustrating. I understand that she is a teenager, but she was still slightly annoying. I still felt really bad for her at the end. Ed: I feel like he was portrayed unfairly. I understand that he turns out to be a HUGE jerk at the end, but he was portrayed as the typical jock. Charming, slightly stupid, didn’t think that all societal rules applied to him, and entitled. Also, it would have been interesting to see his perspective in this whole break-up. I felt bad that we only got to see one side of this break up. Overall, I enjoyed the book. The artwork was beautifully done, and I would actually buy this book in physical form (I borrowed it from the library).

My Rating: 7/10

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Graphic Novels, Historical Fiction, Reviews

Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang

Title: Boxers & Saints

Author: Gene Luen Yang

Goodreads Plot: (Boxers) China, 1898. Bands of foreign missionaries and soldiers roam the countryside, bullying and robbing Chinese peasants. Little Bao has had enough. Harnessing the powers of ancient Chinese gods, he recruits an army of Boxers–commoners trained in kung fu–who fight to free China from “foreign devils.” Against all odds, this grass-roots rebellion is violently successful. But nothing is simple. Little Bao is fighting for the glory of China, but at what cost? So many are dying, including thousands of “secondary devils”–Chinese citizens who have converted to Christianity.

(Saints) China, 1898. An unwanted and unwelcome fourth daughter, Four-Girl isn’t even given a proper name by her family when she’s born. She finds friendship–and a name, Vibiana–in the most unlikely of places: Christianity.  But China is a dangerous place for Christians. The Boxer Rebellion is in full swing, and bands of young men roam the countryside, murdering Westerners and Chinese Christians alike. Torn between her nation and her Christian friends, Vibiana will have to decide where her true loyalties lie…and whether she is willing to die for her faith.

My Thoughts: I absolutely enjoyed this series. The illustrations were beautifully done and very clean. The production and quality of this series was superbly done. A++ for you. I was immediately drawn into the stories of both characters, Bao and Four-Girl. You are able to create an attachment with both of them even though they are on opposite sides. I actually checked some of my old history textbooks from college (I was an Asian Studies Major), and the books were historically accurate for the most part. I love how the author hinted at the main problem of the Boxer Rebellion which was a fundamental misunderstanding of the west. The Boxers thought the Westerners were these invincible devils who were not human.  On the other hand, the Chinese converts were made up of people who sincerely believed in Catholicism, people who did not fully understand the Catholic teachings, and people who converted for personal gain. It is very apparent that the author did his research, and I appreciate that. To me, Boxers is the main story line as Saints is an add-on, complementary story to the main book. This is probably my favorite graphic novel I have ever read. Everyone needs to pick this up. Right now. Go buy it.

My Rating: 10/10

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Catholicism, Reviews

Lent with Pope Benedict XVI: Meditations for Everyday

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Title: Lent with Pope Benedict XVI: Meditations for Everyday 

Editor: Jeanne Kun 

Goodreads Plot: In short reflections – one for each of the forty days of Lent and the octave of Easter – the Holy Father reminds us that only Christ can fill the deepest longings of our heart. Throughout our Lenten journey, Pope Benedict helps us drink deeply from the well of Scripture in order to lead us to an encoutner with the crucified and risen Christ. This is a compilation of addresses given by Pope Benedict. 

My Thoughts: I absolutely ADORED this book. I will pretty much read anything by Papa Benny (aka Pope Benedict XVI). These daily mediations were small enough to not be too overwhelming, but they were deep enough to really make you think about the message for the day. Each meditation was no more than two pages. I could read other books along side of this book. Papa Benny really knows his stuff when it comes to scripture and spirituality. I will definitely read this every lent. Highly recommend this book if you are Catholic or are interested in Catholicism. This book would also make a great gift.

Rating: 10/10

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Graphic Novels, Reviews

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

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Title: American Born Chinese

Author: Gene Luen Yang 

Goodreads Plot: All Jin Wang wants is to fit in. When his family moves to a new neighborhood, he suddenly finds that he’s the only Chinese American student at his school. Jocks and bullies pick on him constantly, and he has hardly any friends. Then, to make matters worse, he falls in love with an all-American girl…

Born to rule over all the monkeys in the world, the story of the Monkey King is one of the oldest and greatest Chinese fables. Adored by his subjects, master of the arts of kung-fu, he is the most powerful monkey on earth. But the Monkey King doesn’t want to be a monkey. He wants to be hailed as a god…

Chin-Kee is the ultimate negative Chinese stereotype, and he’s ruining his cousin Danny’s life. Danny’s a popular kid at school, but every year Chin-Kee comes to visit, and every year Danny has to transfer to a new school to escape the shame. This year, though, things quickly go from bad to worse…

These three apparently unrelated tales come together with an unexpected twist, in a modern fable that is hilarious, poignant and action-packed.American Born Chinese is an amazing rise, all the way up to the astonishing climax–and confirms what a growing number of readers already know: Gene Yang is a major talent.

My Thoughts: I really, really liked this book. Gene Yang did a beautiful job of weaving all three stories together. The use of three stories to illustrate the main book was fantastic especially when they all came together at the end. The illustrations were very well done. As a minority, I could relate with Jin’s struggle with finding a balance between his heritage and his desire to be a normal American kid. The illustrations were very clean and very aesthetically pleasing. They were comical when they needed to be (Chin-Kee) without being too cartoonish overall. It had a mixture of everything. I literally laughed out loud in some parts. In others, I was really taken aback by the depth of the content presented. And again, in some parts, I could feel the humiliation that “Dany” felt hen his cousin came to town. I highly recommend this graphic novel if you have interests in immigration culture or to anyone in general. Great read!

Rating: 9/10

 

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Reviews, Young Adult

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Title: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Author: Neil Gaiman 

Plot: 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 touchpaper 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 Thoughts:  I really enjoyed this book. Neil Gaiman did a wonderful job of portraying the main character and giving him a unique voice. The characters were amazing! I definitely had an immediate attachment to Lettie and her family. The conflict in the story kept me reading which is a great quality of any book I would want to read. I could not put the book down. Neil Gaiman’s writing is fantastic. I cannot rave enough about it. It is so magical that I truly become immersed in the story and setting. He also has great descriptions of the setting and emotions that made me feel and imagine what the characters where going through.

The only problem I had with this book was that the magical background was not very developed. It was very vague, and left a lot of questions open. Based on my preferences, I LOVE reading about the backgrounds of characters. It allows me to have more of an attachment to them. It left me wanting.

Overall, this short book was a very delightful read that I would recommend to anyone. It had fantasy, action, and suspense. This is a great book to get acquainted with Neil Gaiman’s writing style. I loved this book.

Rating:   8/10

 

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