[Book Review] Little Bee – Chris Cleave
This is the first book out of all my reviews so far that I actually do not recommend you read. This may come as a bit of a shock because a lot of people like Little Bee and find it very profound. As a matter of fact, my mother’s friend gave us this book because she enjoyed it so much and wanted us to read it. However, I looked at other reviews on-line to see if it was just me and maybe I was being rather cold-hearted or something, but a lot of people actually had the same problems with it that I had.
The back of the book does not reveal very much about the story; it just gives a very vague and short summary about the general plot and insists that you have to read it to find out what happens. It also says I should not reveal anything about it to others because the “magic is in how the story unfolds.” I honestly do not see what the harm is in giving a bit more detail about the main plot so here it is. It is basically about a young Nigerian girl named Little Bee who illegally immigrates into England and searches for the woman whom she had fatefully encountered years ago in her native country during the violent turmoil and warfare over its oil-rich soil. Look at that. One sentence. Simple and to the point. Of course the actual story is not really as simple as that, though! If you’re curious, you’ve got to read the book. While I do not personally recommend doing so, a lot of people have enjoyed it so you might want to risk the disappointment.
There is really a limited amount of good things. And they are even more limited by the fact that they are followed by a bunch of bad things. For example, the story began really well and drew me in completely with Little Bee’s explanation about why she would rather be a British pound coin than an African girl. It was rather touching and clever. However, it turned out that the entire book was filled with these profound thoughts so that it seemed to be a collection of them rather than an actual novel. There are moments when Little Bee or Sarah (the other heroine) is just staring at something for pages and talking about it in a poetic and pensive manner. This is something that I tend to do when I’m writing fiction and I realize it is a bad thing because there is just too much thinking and describing, not enough action—another con with this book. It is all about wanting to do something, not about actually doing it. And the story does not move forward. Many times, you think it is going to and you are at the edge of your seat thinking, Finally! Something is about to happen. Then you slump back again and read more about the past or what they are thinking about. Don’t get me wrong, quite a bit of action takes place in the heroines’ memories, but I feel like the point of the book should be how they are moving on from those memories. Instead, they are stuck perpetually in the stage of reminiscing. This part might be a bit of a spoiler, but the book finally ends in a very inconclusive manner: more deep thoughts, no notable advancement in the characters’ lives. I have no idea what is going to happen to any of them.
Ah, the characters. As fetching as Little Bee could be at times, both she and Sarah were rather bland and I felt no attachment to either of them. They were not wholly believable or relatable characters. Other reviews said that they were quite stereotypical with no remarkable traits. This actually seemed to be the biggest problem since it was the one that came up the most. Of course, there is no question why considering that the most important aspect of a book is to put that special bond between the reader and the protagonist(s) so that they are one entity going through the story page-by-page. Oh, and Sarah’s son? The four-year-old who refuses to take off his Batman costume? I feel like I have seen that so many times before. I guess it can be a nice touch, but the author could have done something more original with the kid.
In conclusion, I’m sure lots of people would not agree with me and insist that you try out the book. By all means, do so because no one can decide for you in the end. You might be the half who love it or you might be the half who is writing a fairly negative review about it like myself. It is up to you! But if you ask for my opinion, ehhhh, save it for when you have nothing else.
[Book Review] Dragon Sword and Wind Child – Noriko Ogiwara
This book is one of my favorite of all time! If you are a fan of the popular Japanese manga/anime series, Inuyasha, you will probably enjoy this book as well since it is quite similar. The novel was first written in Japanese, and then two English versions (by the same translator) were released in America. I own and read both English copies (sadly, my Japanese is elementary, at best). I prefer the original translated version (as seen on the left) to the one that is more recent (as seen on the right)*. However, there are not many copies of the former and any existing ones for sale are probably quite pricey. There are not that many differences so you might want to settle for the cheaper and easier option.
Dragon Sword and Wind Child is set in a fantastical version of ancient Japan in which a war is brewing between the people of Light and the people of Darkness. A young girl named Saya is drawn to the Light and even childishly dreams of becoming the wife of immortal Prince Tsukishiro, the demigod son of the God of Light and the twin brother to the ruthless Princess Teruhi. However, the same day she encounters the Prince himself and is chosen to be his handmaid at the great palace, she finds out the shocking truth that she is one of the people of Darkness. She is the reincarnated Water Maiden, a priestess of Darkness who protects and pacifies the Dragon Sword. This dangerous weapon could kill any god. Initially, Saya is unable to accept her destiny as an important member of the forces of Darkness and goes to the palace to serve the Prince. However, once there, she realizes that her opinions about Light and Darkness were not as simple as she had always thought and she struggles to find a place for herself. Which side does she belong on? Who is she really? The strong-headed Saya or just another doomed Water Maiden? And who is the Wind Child she unexpectedly encounters, the one who can wield the dreaded Dragon Sword and finally end the war between those who shun death and those who accept it as an essential part of life?
(So there are a couple similarities to Inuyasha. The obvious ones: the heroine is a reincarnation of a special priestess and there is a powerful sword. While reading the novel, you will notice some more parallels.)
This is an amazing book! The setting is this incredible world derived from a mythological Japan. The characters are so alive, likeable, and relatable, especially Saya and the Wind Child with their struggles of finding a place in which they could belong and their coming to terms with who they are. The writing is beautiful and includes many profound life lessons without being too pedantic. The style is almost poetic and I believe the story is derived from Japanese myth, but I’m not entirely sure. I really, strongly recommend you read this because it is one of the most beautiful, moving stories that I have ever read. I love it!
(*For pictures, look at the review on my blogspot.)
A Question Answered
I remember going to New York City sometimes, maybe walking down Soho on a shopping spree, and wondering more than once… Why is there a door on both sides of the revolving doors? Seemed a little redundant to me. Without thinking much more about it, I would just enter and exit through the revolving doors because they seemed the more fun option. Somewhat childish, yes?
Well, just a few minutes ago, I was unexpectedly given the answer as I read Time magazine’s “Disasters That Shook the World.” Now I am just shocked by the image in my head of bodies crammed into the spaces of the revolving doors as people fled from a fire in a Boston dance club, a building which offered practically no other ways of escape from the terrifying inferno. I think of the people trying to squeeze through those doors when they were already so packed. The panic. The pain. That one prevailing thought in each person’s head: I must get out of here.
And so it became required that every set of revolving doors had regular ones on both sides.
We learn from these disasters, but only after so much has already been sacrificed.
(If you are interested in learning more about “History’s Greatest Man-Made Catastrophes,” pick up a copy of this edition when you can. And prepare yourself to be both awed and horrified.)
[Book Review] The Help – Kathryn Stockett
This book takes the well-known American problem of racial segregation and puts an interesting spin on it by offering a new perspective.
Focusing on the relationship between the white housewives and their black maids in the early 1960s, The Help has three main heroines who take turns narrating the story: Aibileen (a black maid who has raised many white children while working for their families), Minny (a strong and sassy black maid known for talking back to her employers), and Skeeter (a young, white woman who yearns for the return of Constantine, the beloved black maid who had raised her). The three of them become connected when Skeeter decides to write a novel that reveals the injustice and ill-treatment the help has to endure under the employment of white women who focus more on socializing than raising their own children. This is a very brief and general synopsis, but too much goes on in the story to really get through, especially without revealing spoilers.
This point starts the list of cons that I found while reading this novel. While there are many things going on in the novel (maybe too many), everything happens in a very slow manner. Basically, I felt like the book could have been paced at a faster speed. This may have even helped arouse stronger emotions from me because, frankly, I did not feel anything particularly strong while reading this book. I felt disgust at the main antagonist, Hilly, and her close friend, Elizabeth. I felt horror at the abuse the black people had to endure during the time. However, I felt like this book had to evoke stronger reactions. I felt like I had to be weeping at certain parts and wanting to curse and stomp my feet at others.
However, this might not necessarily be a bad thing. Not everything about serious social injustices has to be an emotional rollercoaster. I think this element gave the novel a more relatable touch, enabling me to better understand how trapped the maids felt in their roles. They were not being physically or even verbally abused by their employers, but they were being patronized and constantly under suspicious supervision (in case they steal some silverware or whatnot). The maids’ fears were that they would do something wrong, be subsequently fired, and then blacklisted so that they are unable to find work anywhere else. Only one thing would come out of that: destitution. Not to mention, there was always that chance they might run into trouble with an angry, violent white man. So, while I wish I had been more emotionally tossed back and forth between the pages, I think the more subtle approach worked well for the book.
Another thing that had its ups and downs was the change in narration after a couple of chapters. There is no specific order. It would be Aibileen then Minny then Skeeter then it could be Minny again, giving the book a sort of fun unpredictability. However, the thing that was a bit frustrating about this was that I was not always getting the desired perspective. For example, something may happen to Skeeter, but I would get it from Aibileen’s point of view. Another frustrating thing: sometimes I wanted to know what happens after the chapter ends with a cliffhanger, but when I turned the page, I found someone else ready to take over at a totally different time and place. Kathryn Stockett wanted me to fidget in my seat. Fine. This is a rather interesting and effective technique since many different things are going on in each of the heroines’ lives and they have their own distinct story to tell.
Lastly, the ending … Not as conclusive as I wished. It did not wrap up the story completely. Still, it was a decent, realistic, and hopeful end.
Would I recommend this book? Yes. It was not a difficult read and it was well written. If you are interested in strong women taking control of their lives and standing up against the unfortunate circumstances of society, then go pick up a copy.
Lastly, this is probably somewhat bad of me to admit, but the whole time I was reading it, I just kept wanting to watch the movie. How would Emma Stone portray the character of Skeeter? How would this scene be directed? I still have not been able to grab a hold of a copy, but soon …
[Book Review] The Undomestic Goddess – Sophie Kinsella
I read all 400 pages of this paperback all in one day—practically in one sitting! However, this was not so much due to the fact that it was an exceptional read than it was due to the fact that I was terribly bored. Overall, while the novel was fairly successful at keeping me distracted from the reality of my ceaselessly mundane life, there were some pretty big flaws in it that would prevent me from reading it again anytime soon.
The Undomestic Goddess stars workaholic Samantha Sweeting who is so close to achieving her dream of becoming a partner at law firm Carter Spink when a terrible mistake threatens to ruin everything she has worked so hard for. She finds herself wandering in a state of shock until she reaches the home of the wealthy Geigers who mistakenly hire her as their new housemaid—a very huge mistake indeed considering she does not even know how to make toast or do the laundry. However, she slowly learns with the help of the (of course) very good-looking gardener and his mother and begins to grow as a person as she accepts this lifestyle. Considering this is a 400-page book as I’ve stated before, more trouble is bound to ensue, conflict that may again shake the foundations of her life, her new life as a housemaid. Is she going to have to say farewell to her romance with Nathaniel the gardener and her friendship with the eccentric Geigers? If you really want to know what happens, I suggest you read the novel, but you might want to finish reading this review first.
This book is a pretty easy read and definitely amusing at times with witty lines that come out of nowhere, making me smile. The characters are generally likeable and believable. Samantha Sweeting, like all of Sophie Kinsella’s heroines, is cute and charming—not to mention, a total wreck. There is also some good messages throughout the story that accompany her growth as a person from a high-strung lawyer who works way too much to a beloved housemaid who gets the weekends off to get some sun with her gorgeous new love interest. She learns a lot of things that are relevant in this time and age, such as, “Hey, ambition and money is good and all, but is it really worth you giving up your life and happiness?”
This book also has great descriptions of the yummy food she learns to cook and bake, making you want to just jump on the internet and find the recipes to try out for yourself. Remember, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Forget that, wouldn’t you want to just cook some “braised lamb and baby onion assemblé with a fondant potato and goat’s cheese crust, accompanied by cardamom spinach puree” for yourself?! I don’t even like to eat lamb, but that sounds like a meal I would not hesitate to tackle.
Despite these few good aspects of the novel, there are many more flaws that cannot be ignored. The story just seems way too unrealistic. How stupid can the Geigers be, really? While Samantha and Nathaniel may be believable characters, the Geigers are a bit too eccentric for me to take them seriously. I’m sure there may be people like them in this universe, yes, but I’m not really buying their stupidity and naivety in this novel. How Samantha gets away with being their housemaid for the first few days despite her complete lack of relevant skills is beyond me. Yes, she has the money to fix her mistakes without them knowing and all, but this really is not sufficient for all her failures. This is probably why the Geiger characters were portrayed to be so clueless. They had to be clueless in order for the story to work. Well, let me tell you, it did not really work quite so well as Sophie Kinsella may have hoped.
Not only was the story unrealistic, everything was also expected. Even the big plot twist that threatens to change Samantha’s new lifestyle as a housemaid was expected. I called that many, many, many chapters beforehand. Lastly, it was just, too, hm … wishy washy? The end was just frustrating in some ways because Samantha could not make up her mind. She decides on one thing then decides on another; it just happens too often in a short amount of time to the point where I want to throw down the book and pretend I had finished it already.
Despite the fact that there are obviously some serious problems with the novel, I would still recommend that you try it out if you are ever really, truly bored (like I was that day). I mean, you can’t really expect anything more from a Sophie Kinsella novel, can you? You can’t expect something very deep and meaningful from the author since she is known for excelling in outrageous, comedic situations that would never happen in real life. So if you liked some of her previous works, I do recommend you try this one, as well. It is an easy read and good for some amusement. However, if you really want to get something out of a novel, something more profound or emotionally striking, then I strongly suggest picking up another book for now.