Lion

33022291.jpgLion by Saroo Brierley

Rating: ★★★★ // Riveting and heartwarming story. 

First Line: “They’ve gone.”

Review:

I liked this book much more than I was expecting to. As I’ve said before I usually don’t prefer memoir like books, but Lion, originally titled “A Long Way Home: A Memoir” was very good.

Following the story of Saroo, a young Indian man living in Australia who finally decides to dedicate all his extra time and energy into finding his family, whom he was separated from at the age of 5.

After getting lost, Saroo jumped around until he ended up in a home and was quickly (compared to other children) adopted by an Australian couple. It wasn’t until he was in college that he started thinking about finding his family back in India, and it wasn’t until after had graduated and working full time that he really put all his effort into finding his home.

Aside from being well-written, which it is, this story really tugs at the heartstrings and emphasizes the importance of families and relationships are in life.

“We all reach a point as young adults when we wonder what we should be doing with our lives—or, at the very least, which direction to point ourselves in. Beyond the means to get by, we need to think about what’s most important to us. Not surprisingly, I discovered that for me the answer was family.”

I found one of my favorite aspects of the book was the relationship between Saroo and his adoptive parents. Not once were they upset or jealous when Saroo focused on finding his family, which had to be difficult for them. Instead they were supportive, encouraging, and helpful when they needed to be. Saroo, for his part, was also very in-tune to how they must feel and he treated the situation well. This aspect was unexpected in the book, because I expected there to be some sort of drama, but it really didn’t show up, which was a nice surprise.

“Adoptees, whether or not they ever knew their birth parents, often describe the constant, gnawing feeling of there being something missing: without a connection, or at least the knowledge of where they are from, they feel incomplete.”

I recommend this book, not if your looking for excitement, but if your looking for strength in the human condition. I can’t yet vouch for the movie adaptation, but it has gotten pretty decent reviews and I look forward to watching it.

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The Lord of the Rings

33.jpgThe Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

Rating: ★★★★★ // nothing compares. 

Opening Line: “When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.”

Review:

This summer my book club took on The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien, which gave me a wonderful opportunity to re-read my favorite book series of all time. I think this was my second time reading the whole thing, I have read the first book maybe four times, and the second a few times, but for the whole series one after the other, this was the second time, and I have to say it was amazing.

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

There are so many reasons why I love this series: the characters, the plot, the setting, the mythology, the chivalry, the good vs. evil battles…seriously I could go on for so long, but I’m not going to spend time talking about the character or plot because everyone knows those things, and it would be way too long of a blog post. What I want to talk about first is the historical world of Middle Earth, and second I want to quickly talk about a neat writing trick Tolkien used.

The world of Middle Earth has such an extensive history and documentation that when you are reading it and when you read other books by Tolkien, it is really easy to forget that this is not true story. I know this is extremely nerdy to say, but I’m a nerd so here it goes, when I read The Lord of the Rings, I have such a hard time believing this world didn’t actually exist somewhere, somehow, and this is solely because of the genius that is J.R.R. Tolkien.

“Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisioned by the enemy, don’t we consider it his duty to escape?. . .If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!”

– J.R.R. Tolkien

One thing that stuck out to me when I was rereading this trilogy was all of the implied history and tales that were told throughout the book–they almost take up as many pages as the plot does. I can’t think of many books where the backstory takes up so much space and is treated as important as it is in this book. So why did Tolkien do this? My theory is that he wanted to show us that this story, the story of the Fellowship and the destruction of the Ring of Power, is only just one story in the world of Middle Earth. I mean, think about it, why would he go through all this trouble to write stories, some of which have no direct impact on the plot? I think it was to show that this one of many stories worth being told.

Now, of course, this was a pretty important story, they saved the world from being controlled by a evil master, and after it took place, it was probably seen as the greatest story, but to the characters at the time of the story, they doubted they would even be remembered in future tales. It was kind of their fantasy to be in a tale as wonderful as the ones they were told as kids. Tolkien reminds us over and over again that this story is not alone, which, in its own way, shows us how important the story is. Hear me out, when reading this, or any, book, and we keep hearing about “the stories of old” within the plot, we start to connect the old great stories to the one we are reading about, making us realize that this story is equal to those, even if the characters do not recognize it to be so.
While many books have fantastic back stories and make you really fall into the world created  with those backstories, there are few that actually have all those physical stories written down like a history book. Tolkien wrote close to 20 separate works on Middle Earth and only 4 of those have anything to do with the Ring of Power. He created a universe, not just a story.

“It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end… because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing… this shadow. Even darkness must pass.”

The second, and last, thing I wanted to mention about why I love this trilogy so much is that, while it is long and very detailed, it really isn’t confusing and the reader is not constantly questioning what is going on, which is very helpful in a book like this. Sometimes cliff hangers are very important, but in this book they do not play a large role, and this is mainly thanks to Tolkien’s style of almost always telling the story from the point of view of the character who knows the least. For example, when the hobbits are with Aragorn, the view point it from the hobbits perspective because they are the reader in the situation, they are the ones trying to figure out what is happening and so when they learn something, we learn something. This even happens when Gandalf and Aragorn are speaking (arguably the two smartest characters in the fellowship), Aragorn is constantly asking Gandalf to further explain what he is talking about, giving the reader all the information they need to know.

These are just two of the many things I noticed when I re-read this trilogy, but I thought they were very interesting points about how Tolkien wrote and grew the world of Middle-Earth. Tolkien created something that has yet to be matched when it comes to the extensive amount of information and the details of the world. He was truly a genius and I have no doubt that he will never go out of style.

“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.”

Love & Friendship and Lady Susan

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At last, I have found my favorite Jane Austen stories. Ok, I wasn’t really looking very hard, but I found them nonetheless!

I’m not a huge Jane Austen fan, but I also have only read Pride and Prejudice before reading these two beauties. P&P didn’t suite me, and so I kinda stayed away from Austen, assuming (probably incorrectly) that most of her novels are similar. I did resolve to read some of them, and they are high on my TBR, but somehow I keep looking over them to the next book…oops… But now, after reading Love and Friendship and Lady Susan, I am more inclined to pick up some Austen books because these two short works are so fun.

Love and Friendship

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Love and Friendship is a collection of letters written by Jane Austen before the age of 16 (allegedly) for the entertainment of her family. The story unfolds in an exchange of letters and, as was Austen’s intent, seems to poke fun at the traditional romance novel.

This book is hilarious. The women highlighted are absolutely ridiculous, and they are constantly scheming, dramatizing everything, and fainting at every possible moment. Austen’s humor shines much stronger than in her longer novels, because she really goes to lengths to exaggerate every detail of these woman’s lives. If they had a bad day, she makes it the utmost worst day anyone had ever experienced. If someone insulted them, she made it an insult that had embarrassed them so greatly they were forced to faint on the spot…everything is the worst or best.  This, of course, helped show Austen’s point that romantic novels are nothing more than dramatic women making things more dramatic.

The quotes in this book are so so fantastic. For example, her is an excerpt from one of the letters.  Upon having a shock, “Sophia shrieked and fainted on the ground – I screamed and instantly ran mad. We remained thus mutually deprived of our senses, some minutes, and on regaining them were deprived of them again. For an Hour and a Quarter did we continue in this unfortunate situation – Sophia fainting every moment and I running mad as often.”  This, fainting and running mad, is quite a common trend in the book, and every time it happens it’s more comical then the rest.

There were other comments that were just hysterical, e.g.:

“She was a widow and had only one Daughter, who was then just seventeen–One of the best of ages; but alas! she was very plain and her name was Bridget. . . . . Nothing therefore could be expected from her–she could not be supposed to possess either exalted Ideas, Delicate Feelings or refined Sensibilities–.”

Um…what? I actually really like the name Bridget…ok, Austen. It’s comments like this that make the stories ridiculous and therefore hilarious.

Austen is pointing out the flaws of romantic novels, and perhaps writing things like this was her inspiration to fix romance novels in the future.

Without the knowledge that Austen wrote these letters in order to entertain her family and to make fun of romance knowledge, this story would seem annoying and extremely juvenile…it would almost be expected of a 14-year-old to write. However, knowing that Austen was only 14 while writing them, and she did so in order to mock the common way women, love, and friendships are seen in books, makes you realize the true genius of the writing, and how advanced Austen was.

If this story teaches you nothing, or if you thought it was complete rubbish, at least take this from it:

“Beware of fainting-fits. . . Though at the time they may be refreshing and agreeable yet believe me they will in the end, if too often repeated and at improper seasons, prove destructive to your Constitution.”

 

Lady Susan

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I want to be Lady Susan. Ok, not really, because she is not a good person, but Austen makes her so deliciously bad, you just want to have her confidence and cunning nature…even though she really is bad.

“[Lady Susan] does not confine herself to that sort of honest flirtation which satisfies most people, but aspires to the more delicious gratification of making a whole family miserable.”

This book takes about 2 hours to read (maybe fewer), and it’s really worth the sit down. Plus after you can watch the movie adaptation on Netflix, which is confusingly called Love & Friendship. Why they decided to call the movie the same title as a different Austen book, I do not know, but I do know that the movie is very well made, and it follows the book decently well.

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Ok, so Lady Susan is another book that is told through a series of letters. These letters are much more sophisticated than those written in Love and Friendship, and they tell of a much more sophisticated plot. Lady Susan, our anti-heroine, is a widow who basically goes around flirting with any man she can find, and making the lives of everyone around her miserable. She is a terrible mother, a two-faced friend, and believes toying with the emotions of young men a suitable and enjoyable way to spend the day (ok, she may have a point with that last one..).

“My dear Alicia, of what a mistake were you guilty in marrying a man of his age! Just old enough to be formal, ungovernable, and to have the gout; too old to be agreeable, too young to die.”

I don’t want to give the main plot away, because this one really should be read by all Austen fans…it’s so entertaining. The great thing is that with every letter denouncing Lady Susan’s actions, you have two letters from her praising her own actions, and even though you know she is crazy, you find yourself believing her and pitying her, even though she deserves no such pity.

***

Both these stories are just fantastic and so much fun to read. I won’t go on, because I’ll could just ramble on and on about how funny they are, but seriously, if you are a Jane Austen fan or a fan of classic romantic novels, give these two a read; I promise you will be entertained!

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark

tragedy-of-hamlet.jpgHamlet by William Shakespeare

Rating: ★★★★★ // so. much. goodness. (and killing). 

Favorite Line: “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below: Words without thoughts never to heaven go.”

Review:

Am I allowed to review Shakespeare? I don’t think I am…I’m just a mere peasant, after all. Well, this will be a mini-review then, with limited critiques, mainly because I couldn’t find many things to actually criticize.

Why have I never read Hamlet before? Well, probably because I’m a punk and I assumed it was overrated. Also, I already knew the story, so I figured there wasn’t really a reason for me to read it. As it turns out, there is a reason to read it and the reason is because it’s awesome.

“To be honest, as this world goes, is to be one man picked out of ten thousand.”

Hamlet, for all you other non Hamlet readers, is the Prince of Denmark. The play picks up right after the marriage of his mother to his uncle, which takes place only one month after Hamlet’s father, the King of Denmark, is killed. Hamlet is in a foul mood, for obvious reasons, when he meets the ghost of his father, who tells him he was murdered and must be avenged. This sends Hamlet deeper into madness, and he devises a plan to trap his father’s murderer and take his revenge. He’s also in love with Ophelia.

“Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.”

The plot of Hamlet is terrific. While I had known the general plot before reading, it really takes a shape of it’s own, and is much more intricate in the play. Obviously in a play the narrative is the main way of moving the plot along, and the way it is done in this play is brilliant (this is Shakespeare, after all).

I always forget how funny some of Shakespeare’s characters are. Even in a somber mood, he frequently seems to bring in the sarcastic, or at least the witty, friend to lighten the mood, or to bring the character back to his senses. Another thing I really liked about this play is that the wisdom, much of the time, comes from insignificant characters. There is a conversation between two gravediggers, I think in Act III, and they are just laying down solid philosophy the whole time, all while telling riddles and jokes to each other. So here we have a play full of royals and scholars, but some of the most intelligent conversation comes in jest between two gravediggers. It’s a great way for Shakespeare to make his point without making it too obvious.

“There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

The quotes alone are worth the read in this one. This is where the “method in the madness” saying comes from, the “be true to yourself” quote pops in there (of course, it’s in rhyme in the play), this is where the famous “to be or not to be” speech is found, and there is also the amazing line, “get thee to a nunnery!” which is, of course, fantastic.

“Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice; Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment.”

Ok, so spoiler alert up ahead for any of you yet to pick up this play, but it’s my only criticism and I want to talk about it. Why did Hamlet have to die? I mean, I assumed it would happen from the beginning because in these plays everyone dies, but it was really unnecessary. The only reason I can think of is that he had no one else to live for, but c’mon man, you’re like 25, you will find another Ophelia and you’ll probably be King of Denmark, so just stay alive. That’s my only real criticism. I really hated that Ophelia died too…she was so sweet, but that one I understand because her life really fell apart fast. 

 

“Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love.”

I definitely want to read this one again, because it really is so rich and full of wisdom. So, is Hamlet overrated? Well, to quote Hamlet, Act III, Scene III, line 87, “No!”.

 

Three Blind Mice and Other Stories (mini-review)

13622161.jpgThree Blind Mice and Other Stories by Agatha Christie

Rating: ★★★★// same Christie, just in bite-sized stories

Favorite Line: “She had often been alone in the house before—but she had never before been so conscious of being alone in it.”

Review: 

Agatha Christie not only gave us mystery novels, but also mystery short stories! That’s what we got here in Three Blind Mice and Other Stories. While much shorter than her usual tales, these stories still keep up all the excitement and charm of a classic Christie mystery.

Three Blind Mice is the primary and longest story in this collection, and it is quite wonderful. The best part of Christie novels is knowing that the guilty party is one you would usually least expect, so you begin to accuse pretty much everyone, and yet, you still find yourself surprised at the end. This story finds us in a classic scenario: stranded in a Bed & Breakfast with many strangers, in the middle of a snowstorm…and then, of course, murder.

The other stories all involve murder in some way, but we get to revisit the classic sleuths, Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot.

One of them, The Third Floor Flat, involves and unintentional break in which leads to the discovery of a body. Another, Strange Jest is a fun inheritance treasure hunt. Tape-Measure Murder sends the whole town into frenzy when the seamstress is found dead. Four and Twenty Blackbirds has us wondering what on earth made the old man order blackberry tart, plus more stories to keep you reading though the night.

They are really fun and allow you to have some Christie magic, just in smaller portions.

Till We Have Faces

18716966.jpgTill We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis

Rating: ★★★★★ // A retelling in a classic fashion 

First Line: “I am old now and have not much to fear from the anger of the gods.”

Review:

Till We Have Faces is C.S. Lewis’ final book, and, allegedly, was his favorite of all his written work.

Summary (via GoodReads)

In this timeless tale of two mortal princesses- one beautiful and one unattractive- C.S. Lewis reworks the classical myth of Cupid and Psyche into an enduring piece of contemporary fiction. This is the story of Orual, Psyche’s embittered and ugly older sister, who posessively and harmfully loves Psyche. Much to Orual’s frustration, Psyche is loved by Cupid, the god of love himself, setting the troubled Orual on a path of moral development.

Set against the backdrop of Glome, a barbaric, pre-Christian world, the struggles between sacred and profane love are illuminated as Orual learns that we cannot understand the intent of the gods “till we have faces” and sincerity in our souls and selves.

If you are unfamiliar with the myth of Cupid and Psyche, I’ll give you the short version. There was a girl, the youngest of three daughters, Psyche, who was so beautiful, that people started to pay homage to her instead of to Venus, the goddess of love. This upset Venus and she asked her son Cupid to take care of the issue. Instead of doing what his mother asked, he fell in love with Psyche and took her to be his wife, however he kept his identity a secret to her and only came to her in the dead of night. The sister’s learn of this mystery husband and convince their sister to bring a light into the bedroom and shine it upon her husband, therefore learning his identity. Cupid flee’s the scene and Psyche is left to wander the wilderness, searching for her long lost love.

Now, that was a very short version of the story, but you can go and read the long version, or you can do what I did and just read Lewis’ retelling of the story…which is what I highly recommend (I then went back and reread the original because I wanted to see what he altered or added).

Lewis’ version comes from the point of view of the Psyche’s oldest sister, who acts like a mother to the beautiful child, as their mother died shortly after Psyche’s birth. This sister is neither beautiful or charismatic like Psyche, but instead clings to her studies to give her comfort in life.

“Child, to say the very thing you really mean, the whole of it, nothing more or less or other than what you really mean; that’s the whole art and joy of words.”

The story continues much like the myth does, but if goes further, and tells of what happens to the older sister after seeing her sister fall into ruin. She becomes the ruler of her land but is continuously reminded by the fate of Psyche and she is always questioning whether or not it actually took place.

Like all of Lewis’ books, the philosophy is rich in this book, but the incorporation of the myth make it read like a classic fantasy book.

I don’t remember why, but I stopped halfway through this book and left the second half unread for about a month before I picked it back up. Once I did, it was finished very quickly. I really don’t know why I did that, because I did really enjoy the first half, I think it was just a natural point to stop and I got sidetracked. I will say, I enjoyed the second half more than the first, which is odd because the first half is they myth half and the second half is the aftermath, and I would think the first would appeal to me more.

Till We Have Faces was written much differently than I expected it to be, and the incorporation of the myth into a normal society was fascinating. There was this constant battle between understanding reality and believing in the gods that kept the myth alive, while at the same time doubting that it could be true. This puts the reader in the position of the eldest child, Orual, but we, the reader, still feel compelled to believe the impossible, which is the story Psyche tells us.

“I saw well why the gods so not speak to us openly, nor let us answer…Why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?”

I was surprised how well Lewis told the story from a woman’s point of view. There are many times that male authors talk of women in an exaggerated way, but there were so many times where Orual or Psyche said things that I felt came from my own mind. He is such a talented author that he can even perfectly describe a mind that he has never has of his own. This is true talent.

As seen with my five star rating, I highly recommend this book. It is a lesser known C.S. Lewis novel that deserves much more attention. I read  Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis as a part of The Classics Club Book Challenge. To see my complete challenge list of classics books, click here.

 

 

7 Riddles to Nowhere & Angelhood

These two books are a little out of my regular reading zone, because they are children’s novels, but the I researched the author and her mission of bringing wholesome literature to children really hit a chord with me. She sent me her two novels, and I have to say, even though they are for children/teens, I found them very entertaining!

30148975.jpg7 Riddles to Nowhere by A.J. Cattapan

Rating: ★★★★ // a quick, fun adventure

First Line: “Kameron Boyd hadn’t spoken a word in school for seven years.” 

Review:

After finishing this book, I immediately told my little brothers they should read it; it was so fun!

The book follows Kameron Boyd, a seventh-grader at St. Jude’s Catholic School. Kameron, known as Kam, is a shy, quiet boy, who actually suffers from an inability to speak to adults. He has a small group of friends and lives with his mom and grandmother. One day Kam receives a letter in the mail which tells him he has been selected to compete in a game of riddles for a “treasure”. Kam accepts the challenge and, along with his friends, he travels around Chicago as a mysterious “riddle-master” sends him clues to the treasure.

Kam is a sweet kid. I don’t exactly get why he can’t speak to adults, it seems to be the result of a childhood trauma, but it still seems like a bit of a stretch that he cannot utter a word to an adult outside of his home. With that being said, his inability to speak adds an interesting challenge to the book, and it allows the character to grow in courage and step outside his comfort zone every once in a while.

Cattapan does a great job keeping the pace light and fast, all while giving us a in-depth adventure. The kids have to use their intellect and savvy to figure out the riddles, and they have to work together to keep ahead of the competition.

What I really loved about this book is that Cattapan was able to tell a fun, compelling story without adding in a stupid childhood romance. I really get tired of the corny childhood flirting that happens in children literature because it always looks forced and I just find it weird, so I am very thankful Cattapan was able to tell a story without forcing a relationship (or heaven forbid a love triangle) on these kids.

Really fun book for kids, makes them think and shows good values and virtues kids should strive to obtain.

 

24553425.jpgAngelhood by A.J. Cattapan

Rating: ★★★★ // Hard book, yet inspiring 

First Line: “Getting the gun is easy.” 

Review:

Any book that starts off with suicide is going to be difficult; not under any circumstances is it a fun topic to discuss, yet, there are times when it needs to be discussed and there are stories that need to be told.

Angelhood follows Nanette Dunston, who in the first chapter, takes her life. This was hard for me to read, so I immediately thought it wasn’t appropriate for kids to read, but then I remembered that 13 Reason’s Why was immensely popular in middle school and high school, and as I continued to read Angelhood, I realized how important books like this actually are.

After she ends her life, Nanette finds herself as an angel with the sole purpose of protecting a high school girl Vera. Nanette is unsure why she is tied to this girl, until she realizes Vera is contemplating suicide herself. Nanette now has the mission to convince this young girl to refrain from making the same mistake she did.

Like I said before, this book is thick. Right away my main theological issue was that people don’t become Angels…Angels are completely different beings, however, that was my only issue and it’s more or less explained in the end, therefore I was able to get over my little issue with the theological issue. OTHER THAN THAT, I really thought the book we well written and well told. Again, this is an issue that kids should address because its real and it’s important because YOU MATTER and YOU ARE LOVED. That is why these books matter.

I would not recommend this book to anyone younger than a high schooler and I think parents should read it with their children because this subject needs to be discussed, but it needs to be discussed with care. But I do recommend this book, it is well written and it speaks to the heart.

 

Thank you to A.J. Cattapan for giving me a these books for review. To learn more about A.J. Cattapan visit her site http://www.ajcattapan.com/

 

Around the World in 80 Posts: New York

I’ve started this series to highlight my favorite real world settings for books and what makes them so good! Feel free to join in on the fun and explore the world through your books! 

New York

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1.A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

I have said a few times that this is one of my all-time favorites (top 5 actually), but I really can’t praise it enough. This book shows the beautiful mess that is life. New York is a vital character, as well as setting, in this book, and the protagonist’s relationship with the city is wonderful.

“Look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time: Thus is your time on earth filled with glory.”

2. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

That this classic takes place in NYC is no secret. The city is alive in this book and it shows us a glimpse of what it was like in the 1920’s. This is one of my favorite summer reads, and it is best served with gin.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

3. The Horses of Central Park by Michael Slade

This one brings me back to my childhood. After reading this book (and then reading it again, and again), I wanted nothing more than to move to NYC and explore central park. This book isn’t well known, but as a kid, I thought it was the best book I had ever read.

 

4. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

While this book takes place in both Las Vegas and New York City, NYC plays a bigger role than Vegas does. NYC is where the protagonist feels safe and content. It’s where he thrives and it brings him the most joy: in a word, NYC is Home.

“You can look at a picture for a week and never think of it again. You can also look at a picture for a second and think of it all your life”

 

There are so many more books I want to read that take place in this glorious city, I just don’t know where to start! What are your favorite NYC books?

 

 

 

The Goldfinch 

41S2y8O6oXL.jpgThe Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Rating: ★★★★ // Beauty immersed in hardship. 

Opening Line: “While I was still in Amsterdam, I dreamed about my mother for the first time in years.”

Review:

Many books gives you snapshots of a character’s life, allowing you to fill in the gaps as you wish or as you assume they would happen. This is not the case with Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. Prepare to be immersed fully into Theo Decker’s conscience, as you watch and experience the up-and-down roller-coaster of his life.

Summary (via GoodReads) 

It begins with a boy. Theo Decker, a thirteen-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don’t know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his unbearable longing for his mother, he clings to one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.

As an adult, Theo moves silkily between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty labyrinth of an antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love-and at the center of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.

The Goldfinch combines vivid characters, mesmerizing language, and suspense, while plumbing with a philosopher’s calm the deepest mysteries of love, identity, and art. It is an old-fashioned story of loss and obsession, survival and self-invention, and the ruthless machinations of fate.

There were times I went from loving the story to not liking it as much, but my overall 4 star rating comes from this being a very well written book, with a complex plot, characters, and the silent suspense that lurks throughout the story. I say silent because the main conflict on the story stays buried under the bed (quite literally) until the final quarter of the book, in which all hell breaks loose. At times I actually forgot what the main conflict was, aside from the protagonist having a hard life, but then it would pop out at the right moment (mainly right as I was getting bored), and the suspense would be back. This is a unique, yet brilliant, way of telling a story.

The characters were fantastic. They weren’t all exactly “normal,” meaning some weren’t people I see myself knowing or getting involved with, but they were normal enough to convince me they existed. I really grew connected to them, and even the some I thought I disliked in the beginning, grew to show their good sides, or at least their strengths and not just their weaknesses.

“Every new event—everything I did for the rest of my life—would only separate us more and more: days she was no longer a part of, an ever-growing distance between us. Every single day for the rest of my life, she would only be further away.”

One aspect of the book that worked really well for me was the structure. The plot was written mostly linear, but there were frequent times the protagonist brought us back to stories and events that were seemingly cut out of the linear story because of irrelevance, but became relevant later in life. For example, a walk with a girlfriend was not told when it actually happened, but later when an argument took place, we were brought back to the walk because it suddenly became important. This narration technique makes the story feel real, because we see this non-linear reflection happen in our own lives.

“I had the epiphany that laughter was light, and light was laughter, and that this was the secret of the universe.”

The Goldfinch is not a short book. It spans many years and through many lifestyles. At times the pace slows down, but I found it sped up at exactly the right moments. There are moments when the story is very harsh and difficult to get through, but there are other moments that are so wonderfully joyful and beautiful, it just fills your heart. And, there are also times you want to smack Theo (the protagonist) upside the head for being a complete and utter baffoon!!

“We can’t choose what we want and don’t want and that’s the hard lonely truth. Sometimes we want what we want even if we know it’s going to kill us. We can’t escape who we are.”

I think this book could have been edited down a bit, there were quite a bit of information that was repeated, which did serve as a reminder, but was ultimately unnecessary, and made the book longer than it needed to be. There were also certain sections in the book that seemed long and mundane, and those were the parts I got bored in—take those out and this would be a five-star book for me.

I haven’t read many fictional books revolved around art, and while I love classic art I know very little about the painters and time periods in the art world, yet this book was still easy to follow. It really made me want to become an antique dealer or a painter (or a forger, but I won’t get that carried away…). I really enjoyed the art aspect, and I’m glad she didn’t just skim the surface of it, but dove deep into the topic.

“—if a painting really works down in your heart and changes the way you see, and think, and feel, you don’t think, ‘oh, I love this picture because it’s universal.’ ‘I love this painting because it speaks to all mankind.’ That’s not the reason anyone loves a piece of art. It’s a secret whisper from an alleyway. Psst, you. Hey kid. Yes you.”

When I think back on this book, I feel like I’ve read two separate books. One, I absolutely loved and I think about the plot often, the second one made me pretty uncomfortable because the content was so harsh. There are parts that deal with hard drugs and gangs, and normally this is a tough topic to read about, but Tartt does such a good job making it seem real, that it makes it much harder to read than usual.

Some reviews I have read compare this book to a Dickens novel, and I think that’s fair because it reflects on the hard life, but while reading it I read it more like a Russian novel because it has that hardship, but it also has the philosophy and light that isn’t always clearly found in a Dickens’ novel.

My advice on this book is, first of all, go for it. It’s rich and hard at parts, but I think the ending and the main plot are worth the read. The most difficult part is when he is living in Vegas, but this part passes and the book improves again after he leave. Hang in there, it’s worth it.

the_goldfinch_by_carel_fabritius_poster-rfcf3dd39ee404428ad75f3b36c27f9ea_wve_8byvr_540.jpgThe Goldfinch, Carel Fabritius

The River (mini-review)

“The River” by Flannery O’Connor

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Rating: ★★★★★ // my heart hurts. \

 

Opening Line: The child stood glum and limp in the middle of the dark living room while his father pulled him into a plaid coat.

Review: 

This is perhaps the saddest story I have ever read. I’ve read it three times and it still breaks my heart.

This story follows a young boy, Harry, who goes for the day with Mrs. Connin, an older lady in town, because his mother was too sick to take care of him. Mrs. Connin takes him to her home, and to the healing preacher down by the river. There the preacher learns Harry has never been baptized and so the preacher told him if he get’s baptized “you’ll be able to go to the Kingdom of Christ. You’ll be washed in the river of suffering, son, and you’ll go by the deep river of life.” After baptizing Harry, the preacher tells him three words he had likely never heard in his short life “you count now.”

The rest of the book shows the consequence of a young child hearing the phrase “you count now” for the first and only time….and it’s heartbreaking.

I find myself thinking of this story multiple times a day since I read it. It was written with characters who are real, shocking, and infuriating. The plot, though short, brings the reader into the lives of these people in a way that makes you think you’ve been reading about them for years.

If you have read this, I would love to discuss it in the comments, but I don’t want to go too deep in the review because of spoilers.

I read this as a part of The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Conner. I’m reading this as a part of The Classics Club Book Challenge. To see my complete challenge list of classics books, click here.