Thursday, June 27, 2013

A Review of 'Imaginary Girls' by Nova Ren Suma

"Chloe's older sister, Ruby, is the girl everyone looks to and longs for, who can't be captured or caged. After a night with Ruby's friends goes horribly wrong and Chloe discovers a dead body floating in the reservoir, Chloe is sent away-- away from home, away from Ruby.

But Ruby will do anything to get her sister back, and when Chloe returns home at last, she finds a precarious and deadly balance waiting for her.  As Chloe flirts with the truth that Ruby has hidden deeply away, the fragile line between life and death is redrawn by the complex bonds of sisterhood.

Imaginary Girls is a masterfully distorted vision of family with twists that beg for their secrets to be kept."

This was such a strange read... let me explain.

The general story line was intriguing-- there's this subplot about the former village of Olive and this other small New York town that rests outside of Olive, now surrounded by a dam and flooded entirely.  Apparently everyone who has tried to swim across the two mile stretch of reservoir has never made it out.  Two sisters with the closest relationship I have ever seen reunite for the summer after being separated for two years after a girl drowns in this reservoir.

It's a great concept, but there are a few things that were lost in the execution of this story.

The relationship Chloe and Ruby share has almost a creepy feel to it, especially as one reads farther and farther into the book.  She asserts more and more control over Chloe and what's even scarier is that Chloe willingly and gladly complies with nearly everything Ruby tells her to do!  Chloe has no head of her own, which makes her such a flat character.

Ruby was definitely the most developed out of the cast of characters, although to carried an unhealthy amount of power over this one small town.  It was really uncomfortable...

I was really confused by what was going on at the ending.  It seems that Ruby is a sort of medium or psychic... it's never explicitly said, however.  There's no background information for the readers to glean this information.  I also wasn't clear how the reservoir played a part in the story for the longest time.  Nova Ren Suma kept mentioning it and referring to it, but for most of the book it wasn't clear what the role was.  Suddenly, it becomes a big thing and it's still not entirely clear why.  Is all of this drama all in Ruby's head or is it actually a thing?

Also, where are the parents when all of this is happening?  Chloe's father and stepmother have apparently been calling since she left, but did they never think to call the police that she'd run away or think that she would probably go to Ruby again?  If I were her parent, I would definitely drive up to that town, even if I didn't know where precisely she was.  It's not that big of a town.

Overall, this was a book that was alright and it really helped that it was a relatively quick read.  However, there were a few shortcomings that just wouldn't let me believe the story.

I give 'Imaginary Girls':
Thanks for Reading!


Thursday, June 20, 2013

A Review of 'The Ultimate Harry Potter and Philosophy: Hogwarts for Muggles' edited by Gregory Bassham

"Is it always wrong to use a love potion?

Is death something to be feared... or 'mastered'?

What can Severus Snape teach us about the possibility of redemption?

Is love the most powerful magic of all?

J.K. Rowling's wildly popular Harry Potter books may appear to be simple children's tales on the surface, but like Hogwarts, they conceal all seven books in the Harry Potter series.  The Ultimate Harry Potter and Philosophy offers a powerful brew of insights about good and evil, love, death, power, sacrifice, and hope.  Is it true, as Dumbledore says, that our choices reveal far more about us than our abilities do?  Is there an afterlife, and what might it be like?  Here's a Pensieve for your thoughts.  So take a healthy slug of Baruffio's Brain Elixir and join Bassham's Army of talented philosophers in exploring the mind-stretching deeper questions of the Potter books and films."

As a long time Harry Potter fan and a recently declared philosophy minor, this was really exciting to find!

This book is a series of philosophical essays about love, death, political ideologies and everything in between, all in respect to Harry Potter.  It's really quite fascinating to hear fans of Harry Potter discussing and scrutinizing the books in this way.

There were some things that I agreed with and found absolutely fascinating (there is an essay about the quality of education Hogwarts provides its students.  As a future teacher, this was particularly interesting to read about), things I didn't necessarily agree with (one of the essays has what I believe is an invalid argument-- it's about whether Sirius is dominated by his dog instincts or by his human instincts.  The author clumps werewolves and animagi together, which wouldn't work, because different magic is involved), and things that I don't have knowledge for, but still managed to find fascinating (is Dumbledore a libertarian?).

If you are a fan of Harry Potter and are looking to get a different perspective on the series, this would definitely be a good non-fiction book to try!

I give 'The Ultimate Harry Potter and Philosophy: Hogwarts for Muggles':
Thanks for Reading!


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A Review of 'Memoirs of a Geisha' by Arthur Golden

"Sayuri, one of Japan's most celebrated geisha, is both performer and courtesan, slave and goddess.  At nine, in a 1929 poor fishing village, she is sold to a geisha house, the buyer attracted by the child's unusual blue-grey eyes.  In Gion, the pleasure district of Kyoto, she works to pay back the price of her purchase, while learning music, dance, elaborate costumes and cosmetics, and maintaining a fragile coiffure with a special pillow.  With a magnanimous tutor and a venomous rival she survives the intrigues of her trade and the upheavals of war."

This book has been on my "To Be Read" list for quite some time, so I'm really happy that I managed to procure it and finish it!

I don't read very many books that take place in Asia, so this was a nice change to read an historical fiction about Japan circa World War II and earlier.

I thought that Chiyo/Sayuri was a good narrator.  I liked that we not only got her monologue, which is to be expected in a memoir (fiction or nonfiction), but she also speculated about others and tried to include the points of view of the other characters to the best of her ability.  This made the story more three-dimensional and believable, particularly because the characters were so different from each other and so vivid.  They were described well and they were memorable when they interacted with each other.  Just wonderful.  There was also quite a bit of detail included, which is just a bonus.

I was so happy that there were explanations of certain things throughout the book.  Geisha culture is so foreign to me that without these explanations, I would be hopelessly lost and feel very excluded, like I wasn't the intended audience for this book.  So it was nice to have kimono described.  How they were put together, the Japanese words for each of the pieces as well as the English explanations of these words.  I liked that the behavior of the geisha was described.  What was acceptable, what wasn't, how you could thrive with this kind of lifestyle or ruin yourself.  It was absolutely fascinating!

Though I was happy to have these explanations, there were things that I learned that just made me sad.  It's mentioned a couple of times throughout the book, because Mameha, Sayuri's "older sister" (meaning the older geisha that trained and mentored her), but being a Geisha usually isn't a choice for a girl at this time.  A lot of the time, daughters were sold into this lifestyle because their families were struggling (or in Chiyo/Sayuri's case, her family was dying rapidly).  What I also didn't like learning was how manipulative the geisha in this story were.  It was just uncomfortable to read about... Sayuri's own success was manipulation after manipulation after persuasion in order that she come out on top, entertaining the richest men (who were often quite sleazy too), getting them to bid against each other for one girl's virginity (mizuage), having them duke it out over who will be this girl's danna, making this geisha their mistress so long as he provided her every need and whim.  It was a little scary to think about...

What was nice to learn, because it shadowed the image of 'geisha' that I had in my head was that geisha are not the same as prostitutes.  They are entertainers who study dance, music, games, and the like.  So they're a little more innocent than I thought they were prior to reading this book.

The only real problem I had with this book was the ending.  It was nice that it ended the way it did, but it also felt too good to be true, for some reason... maybe because everything pretty much worked out for Sayuri.  She may have severed ties, but she was really enjoying herself when she moved to the United States.  Perhaps the book should have ended earlier than it did.

Overall, this was an incredibly rich classic that everyone should read whether they're merely curious about geisha culture (how it was in the past, at least), have an interest in history/historical fiction, or like books written in the style of memoir.

I give 'Memoirs of a Geisha':
Thanks for Reading!


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A Review of 'Cinder' by Marissa Meyer

"Even in the future, the story begins with Once Upon a Time...

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing.  A deadly plague ravages the population.  From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move.  No one knows that Earth's fate hinges on one girl...

Sixteen-year-old Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg.  She's a second-class citizen with a mysterious past and is reviled by her stepmother.  But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai's, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction.  Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world's future.  Because there is something unusual about cinder, something that others would kill for."

This is a book that I had to read for YA Lit class but I didn't finish it until recently.

Marissa Meyer takes an interesting spin on the original Cinderella story by setting it in the future-- it's the Sci-Fi Cinderella, almost.  What's cool is that there are elements of this story, but Meyer doesn't adhere to the original story, like a lot of authors who are trying to revamp the original fairy tales we all probably grew up with.

Cinder was a very enjoyable character.  She is a very strong female character.  She makes a name for herself and while there are some that she relies on, she finds that in the case of a number of people, she can't trust or rely on them.  She acknowledges that this is difficult sometimes, but instead of spending pages and pages complaining about it, she takes this knowledge in stride and lives with it to the best of her ability.  I found this to be refreshing.

I was not a fan of Kai though... I can't quite put my finger on it, but he just seemed a little young for someone who was supposed to be assuming power after the death of his father.  Once he did assume power, he was almost the opposite of what he was before.  Suddenly, he has a country that he feels responsible for in a way that he didn't before.

As far as the plot twist, I thought it seemed a little random as far as how it was presented in the story.  It's a good plot twist, but you can't tell me that the doctor just happens to know that Cinder is actually the lost Lunar princess.  And you didn't bother to tell her?  You didn't even try to explain?  No, I don't think so.

Despite these things, I know there is a sequel to this novel and I do look forward to reading it sometime!

I give 'Cinder':
Thanks for Reading!