Wednesday, May 21, 2014

[Review] To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Rating: 4 stars
Genre: YA, classics, Southern Lit
Synopsis: The story takes place during three years (1933–35) of the Great Depression in the fictional "tired old town" of Maycomb, Alabama, the seat of Maycomb County. It focuses on six-year-old Scout Finch, who lives with her older brother, Jem, and their widowed father, Atticus, a middle-aged lawyer. Jem and Scout befriend a boy named Dill, who visits Maycomb to stay with his aunt each summer. The three children are terrified of, and fascinated by, their neighbor, the reclusive "Boo" Radley. The story goes on to delve deeper into the case of Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman whom Atticus is appointed to defend.

Another one of those books I should've already read in high school but didn't. It does live up to its reputation. The characters are memorable, and despite their flaws, relatable and likable.

So why four stars instead of five? That's a matter of personal taste. I was just sort of tired of reading these kind of stories about the negro who can't defend himself so the benevolent white man steps in, with his reputation and safety at stake, to defend him. I completely support Atticus and even admire him for being so clear-headed and wise, but I just find it distasteful that this book was so "life-changing" for people. In a way, that's a good thing right? The book teaches you about respecting others, and treating them with how you want to be treated-all that good stuff, but if this story was told from the perspective of the black man, it would be nowhere near as widely read as this. Somehow, learning about racism and equality from the white man rubs me the wrong way. Now the lesson is a good one no matter where it comes from, and I'm glad that it was able to teach people a little perspective, but personally, from where I'm coming from, it didn't move me or touch my heart the way it would others.

That's really all I have to say about this book. I'm sure most people have read it, so I don't think I need to say more about it than I already have.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

[Review] Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Rating: 4 Stars
Genre: Paranormal Fantasy, YA.
Synopsis: A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of very curious photographs.

It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.

A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.
The main attraction of this book, or at least it's unique selling point, is the vintage photographs provided in the book. They are all real collector's photographs, which I found pretty cool. I'm not a huge photography person. I mean... I only know Man Ray and Richard Avedon so I'm not a photography expert, but the photos were a nice touch to the story. Some of them weren't altogether relevant to the actual plot (the creepier ones), but it doesn't bother me as much as it does for other reviewers.

There's a lot going on in this book, a lot, so much so that the dynamics gets pretty convoluted at times and you have to take a moment to really understand the laws of this particular universe. I can't really go too deep into it without spoiling the story, but it does get a little complicated without much explanation.

Otherwise, I kinda sorta actually adored this book. I liked the character's sarcastic self-deprecating teenager voice. Any book that makes me laugh gets an extra gold star. The protagonist says things like: "It seemed like my parents were always trying to get me to care about money, but I didn't, really. Then again, it's easy to say you don't care about money when you have plenty of it." Jacob isn't particularly compelling and a little on the daft side, but he's a likable guy.

I also really enjoyed the WW2 jewish refugee backstory with Jacob's grandfather and that sometimes monsters aren't just the variety that pops up underneath the bed at night. There's actually so much I like about this book that I don't even have time to list out all my reasons. So why four stars and not five? Here's where the "paranormal fantasy" part of the book failed me. If it was only a story about a young boy who on a quest to uncover his grandfather's past, it would be just another YA Jewish coming of age "Everything is Illuminated" type of story, and understandably, it wouldn't have been quite as unique, but the whole fantasy part of the story was a little weak. Click for more, but beware of spoilers.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

[Review] Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

Rating: 5 Stars
Genre: Short-Stories, South-Asian fiction
Synopsis: Short stories about India, or being Indian living in the U.S.

I'm just going to come out and say it, I love Jhumpa Lahiri. She's such an amazing writer and has such a talent for description and nuance. Interpreter of Maladies consists of nine short stories. The book is not very long so it can be finished in a few sittings. I'll summarize and review each story separately because there's no way I can make any sweeping generalizations about the whole book.

But first off, some criticism about Jhumpa Lahiri that I want to talk about. She gets a lot of crap for only writing about Indian professors/students living in Cambridge. But so what? Leave the lady alone. Let her write what she wants to write. It's obviously working so why mess with a good thing? Whether she grows as a writer or not is nobody's business but hers. So, let's start.

"A Temporary Matter" is the first story in the collection. It's about a husband and a wife who become estranged after the death of their first child in the delivery room, but they are finally brought together by a series of blackouts in the neighborhood. They sit in the dark, and they tell each other truths they have never revealed before. Only in the dark, which is reminiscent to their life in India when electrical shortages weren't uncommon, do they open up about their feelings. The story is all about relationships and communication. Personally, it is one of my favorites in the collection.