Monday, June 2, 2014

the golem and the jinni

It's early yet, but I think I can safely say that The Golem and the Jinni is one of my favorite books of 2014. Imaginative, enchanting, and full of interesting and imperfect characters, it's unlike anything I've read before. When I first began it, the length overwhelmed me. Although I loved the writing, the characters, and the story, it moved slowly and I struggled to get caught up in it. The two main characters don't even meet until about 1/3 of the way in (if I remember correctly). However, once the story grabbed me, I was hooked. Brilliant characters and a gorgeous story. Loved it.

TITLE: The Golem and the Jinni
AUTHOR: Helene Wecker
PUBLICATION DATE: April 2013
DATE FINISHED: 20 March 2014
VERDICT: 4/5 stars. Beautiful, unique, engrossing story.

Since I forgot to summarize the book in my review, here is the description on Goodreads: "Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. When her master, the husband who commissioned her, dies at sea on the voyage from Poland, she is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York in 1899. 

Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire, born in the ancient Syrian desert. Trapped in an old copper flask by a Bedouin wizard centuries ago, he is released accidentally by a tinsmith in a Lower Manhattan shop. Though he is no longer imprisoned, Ahmad is not entirely free – an unbreakable band of iron binds him to the physical world. 

The Golem and the Jinni is their magical, unforgettable story; unlikely friends whose tenuous attachment challenges their opposing natures – until the night a terrifying incident drives them back into their separate worlds. But a powerful threat will soon bring Chava and Ahmad together again, challenging their existence and forcing them to make a fateful choice."

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

by ira glass


"Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me . . . there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuffit’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potentialbut it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. 
"And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it's normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through."
- Ira Glass, host and producer of the podcast This American Life
    

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

eating animals

I went into Eating Animals expecting to have a punch thrown at me, and the book definitely accomplished that. 

Like most people, I was aware that there is a lot wrong with the factory farming industry, but I hadn't looked into it much. I'd watched a few documentaries (like "Food, Inc.") and learned a bit about it in college (we had a speaker come once and show a lot of horrifying pictures), but those didn't change the way I ate. Enter this book. 

I love Jonathan Safran Foer's fiction, first of all, so I was excited to read a nonfiction book by him about a subject I felt I should learn more about. And as I expected, I really liked the way he handled the subject. He mentions a lot of facts and studies and books, but he also takes the time to visit farms himself. Many of the farms he visits are ones in which the farmers have made a big effort to treat the animals kindly (until they kill them, of course). I also really liked that Foer had different people involved in his research write their own sections. From what I remember, there is one written by a girl who saves animals from farms, one written by a guy with the most "ethical" turkey farm in the US, and one written by a man who used to work at a pig farm. It was helpful to hear their voices as well.

As you might have suspected, a big hunk of this book is going to make you very sad if you care about animals at all. The treatment of animals in factory farms is just abhorrent. I hated reading about the cruelty, but of course I didn't want to turn away from it either. Although the focus is the treatment of animals at factory farms, Foer also talks a lot about how eating animals can be bad for your health and why factory farms are bad for the environment.

The only thing I didn't like about this book was the very beginning. The long introduction felt unnecessary and not particularly interesting. I just wanted to get to the facts. Although I did like learning about Foer's personal history with eating animals, I would recommend that other readers just skim through the first section.

I recommend this book to anyone and everyone, but be prepared for some shocking and sickening truths.

TITLE: Eating Animals
AUTHOR: Jonathan Safran Foer
PUBLICATION DATE: November 2009
DATE FINISHED: 8 February 2014
VERDICT: 4/5 stars. Sad, shocking, interesting, and effective.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

"the fault in our stars" trailer!

By Grodansnagel
So . . . anyone out there a fan of The Fault in Our Stars?

Considering that the most popular post on this blog (by far) is my review of the book, I think I can safely assume that it's a favorite amongst my readers. Not to mention the fact that The Fault in Our Stars was a huge best-seller for months and months and received tons of critical praise. If you haven't read it, do yourself a favor and check it out soon.

I'm also a big fan of John Green (the author). Although I haven't read any of his other books yet, I love his YouTube videos (this is his channel, which he shares with his equally entertaining brother Hank) and the fact that he communicates so much with his fans on Facebook and Instagram. He's a big advocate for nerdiness and a lot of his videos are educational, which I appreciate. Plus, in the last few months he's shared a lot of sneak peeks of the film adaptation of The Fault in Our Stars (which comes out on June 6, by the way). And today, he was finally able to share the full trailer! Huzzah!

I present to you The Fault in Our Stars trailer!




So . . . what do you think?!

I'm mostly really happy with it. Shailene Woodley seems to make a great Hazel and I like the songs that they chose and Isaac's egg-throwing scene and the bits in Amsterdam are beautiful, however . . . I'm going to be a little picky and say that I'm not yet convinced by Ansel Elgort, who plays Augustus. He really doesn't fit the picture I had in my head. That said, I hope that he'll convince me in the movie.

What do you think? Please let me know in the comments below! Are you excited for June 6?

Sunday, January 26, 2014

eleanor & park (with pics!)

Eleanor & Park is a very simple love story at its core. Eleanor (a chubby, red-headed girl with a horrible home life) sits down on the bus next to Park (a slightly feminine, half-Korean boy) and the rest is history. It takes awhile for them to become friends, but their shared love of comic books, Star Wars, and music draws them together. Eleanor struggles with bullying and an abusive stepfather, but Park helps her through it. When they fall in love, it's hard and fast. 

This is very much a "young love" story, full of passion, beating-the-odds, discovery, and flowery language. It's sad to say, but in some ways I think I'm too old for it. While I really loved the fact that these two nice kids came together, the speed with which they were proclaiming their love and the drama of it had me rolling my eyes (just a little bit!).

However, I really loved the beginning of the book. I loved how slowly their romance began and the fact that they were both described as being awkward. Eleanor is fat, red-haired, freckled, poor, and she wears crazy clothes. Park is the only Asian kid around, he's insecure, and he's considered to be a bit feminine. I've always hated how so many authors make their characters good-looking and perfect (particularly in YA books and even more so in love stories). How many people in the world are that good-looking? Let's be honest here. As a kid especially, I would have loved to read a book like this where neither character is a typical, attractive white kid. I wish this book had been around when I was thirteen! I'm sure I would have loved it (and I would have been more accepting of all the dramatic romance then too).

Very good book, but I don't think I'm the prime audience for it.

TITLE: Eleanor & Park
AUTHOR: Rainbow Rowell
PUBLICATION DATE: 26 February 2013
DATE FINISHED: 7 January 2014
VERDICT: 3/5 stars. Liked it a lot, but I wish I'd read it when I was younger.

- - - - -

I stumbled upon a lot of great fan art depicting Eleanor and Park after I read the book. Some (especially the first painting below) were too good not to share. Here are my favorites. Enjoy!


By Simini Blocker

source

By Andiree 
By Simini Blocker

By Simini Blocker

Sunday, January 19, 2014

my favorite books of 2013

I haven't been around much these days, but let's skip the excuses and get right to it!

While I haven't been posting regular book reviews and thoughts on this blog, I have still been reading and thinking. This year, I'm hoping to post more consistently than I did last year . . . I won't make any promises, but I would at least like to spotlight my favorite books as I read them and share ideas from time to time. To get things started, I thought I would share my favorite books of last year.

I read 36 books in 2013. A good variety, I think. There were 8 nonfiction and 18 fiction (some mainstream, some short story collections, some young adult). Of those 36, these were my favorites:


MY FAVORITE BOOKS OF 2013


Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend (by Matthew Dicks)

This is one of those books that I feel safe recommending to a variety of readers, no matter their age or preferences (assuming they do read adult novels). It's a creative premise with an absorbing plot line that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Although I found the writing a little repetitive and I didn't love the ending, this was a great read overall.






Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking (by Susan Cain)

I've only gotten into nonfiction books recently because in the past, I assumed they were all boring. "Quiet" is the perfect example of why I should have been reading more nonfiction all along. It's clear, well-researched, and full of information. Not once was I bored. Nearly every page contains some nugget of research you'll want to share with friends, family, and coworkers. I highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone!


Life After Life (by Kate Atkinson)

The premise for Life After Life is fantastic: Ursula Todd is born in 1910 in the English countryside. Moments later, she dies. But Ursula Todd is not an ordinary child. Her life rewinds and she is born again on that same night in 1910. This process of rebirth happens again and again throughout Ursula's life. I struggled to follow this book at times and I didn't feel a strong connection to Ursula, even though she was the main character. But the imagination of the concept and the brilliant writing made me very eager to read more of Atkinson's work. 



Black Swan Green (by David Mitchell)

"Black Swan Green" is a semi-autobiographical look at the life of a teenage British boy over the course of a year. Like Jason, author David Mitchell grew up in rural England during the Cold War, wrote poetry, and has a stammer. Each chapter focuses on an event in Jason's life and (if not for some links in between) could stand on its own. At first this was a little jarring and I wasn't sure I liked it. However, once I got into the stride of it, I really came to love it. It's a pretty simple coming-of-age story, but it's one I hadn't heard before. Jason is very easy to love and relate to, and after finishing the book, I felt glad to have met him (or should I say David Mitchell?).



Dark Places (by Gillian Flynn)

Gone Girl got me interested in Gillian Flynn, but Dark Places is probably my favorite of her books. It's about a woman whose mother and sisters were murdered when she was a child. At the time, she said that her brother was guilty (subsequently, he was imprisoned). Now, 25 years later, she's confronting the event again and trying to learn the truth. This is a very dark book with very unlikeable characters (both of which Flynn seems to be fond of). Don't check it out if you're not in the mood for a dark, intriguing, and well-written mystery.



Let's Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir (by Jenny Lawson)

This is quite possibly the funniest book I've ever read. Let's Pretend This Never Happened is a "mostly true memoir" by Jenny Lawson. Many of the stories focus on themes we can all relate to--family, the awkwardness of youth, love, work, home, friends--but Jenny's experiences are more outlandish than your average American's. It moves quickly and I was excited to pick it up each day because I knew I was in for at least one laugh. If you're looking for a funny book (and you aren't easily offended), this is the book for you.



Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar (by Cheryl Strayed)

I love advice columns and am a loyal follower of Dear Prudence (on Slate.com), but Sugar is my new favorite. While most advice columns follow the rules of propriety and logic, Dear Sugar is about the heart. This makes her advice unique, but the other reason her column is unique (and a large part of the reason I enjoyed this book) is that both her letters and her responses are very well written. The questions vary widely, and I'm certain that at least one will make you sit up straight and think about your own life a little. 



Sharp Objects (by Gillian Flynn)

Similar to Dark Places and Gone Girl because of its Missouri setting, central female character, disturbed family, and murders/disappearances, Sharp Objects is another great read by Gillian Flynn. It's fairly short and reads quickly, though (again) I would ward off any readers uncomfortable with dark subject matter. With the murders, Camille's cutting, and many bleak instances of drug use, alcoholism, sex, violence, etc., it's not a book for the faint of heart. I was introduced to Gillian Flynn last year, but 2013 was the year I became a huge fan.



Letter to a Christian Nation (by Sam Harris)

A wonderful, concise, and logical argument. This isn't a blog about religion, so I don't want to go into the details too much, but I really enjoyed this book and I'd recommend it to anyone interested in atheism and religion.










A Game of Thrones (by George R. R. Martin)

I'm a big fan of the Game of Thrones TV series but until recently, I had no interest in reading the Song of Ice and Fire books. They're all like a thousand pages long, I figured, and there are so many characters to keep straight. Plus, when the TV show's so good, why do I need to read the books? But I have to say, I'm so glad that I read this. The complexity of Westeros was fantastic and I loved getting a more in-depth look at the characters. I can't wait to read the rest of this series (though I'll admit, the length of them is making me a little reluctant!).


- - - - -

I don't know how many people will read this considering how long I've been out of the blogging game, but if anyone's out there, please share your favorite reads of 2013 in the comments below. I'd love to get some recommendations!

Happy 2014 everyone!

Friday, August 30, 2013

game of thrones

I'm a big fan of the "Game of Thrones" TV series but until recently, I had no interest in reading the "Song of Ice and Fire" books. They're all like a thousand pages long, I figured, and there are so many characters to keep straight. Plus, when the TV show's so good, why do I need to read the books?

But when season 3 ended a few months ago and I was still eager for more, I decided the books might be worth a shot. Although the length was still intimidating and I already knew the plot and characters from watching the TV show, I'm happy to say that I really enjoyed this first book. To be honest, I assumed the writing would be bad. I never read fantasy and I made an uninformed assumption. But I like the writing and I love the complex world Martin has created. Although it did get a little boring occasionally (because I always knew what was coming), I really liked getting a more in-depth look at the characters. Mostly though, I'm glad that I now have a better understanding of the plot. Despite being a big fan of the TV show, I'll admit that I'm often confused. There are just so many characters to keep track of! Now that I've read the book, I (pretty much) feel like I know who everyone is, how they're connected, their history, and their motivations. 

Although I'll probably wait awhile (since this book took me about 3 weeks to finish), I definitely plan to continue reading the series. 

TITLE: Game of Thrones
AUTHOR: George R.R. Martin
PUBLICATION DATE: August 1996
DATE FINISHED: 20 August 2013
VERDICT: 4/5 stars. Loved it. I'm excited to read the rest of the series.
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