The Winter People

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The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon


Summary

In 1908, Sara Harrison Shea and her husband Martin were found dead at the edge of the woods behind their home. This is the beginning and end of their stories.

Meanwhile in the present, Ruthie wakes up one morning and discovers her mother has disappeared without a trace. With the responsibility of an entire farm to run and two young daughters to look after, Alice’s disappearance is shocking and uncharacteristic. While Ruth and her younger sister look for their mother, we meet another woman named Katherine who is still recovering from the shock of discovering her husband, Gary, has been killed in a fatal car accident not just two months after their son’s death. As she sorts through his lasting memories and oddly enough, bank statements, she notices a bill for a meal at a restaurant hours away from her home. Immediately she senses something is wrong. As Katherine seeks the truth of Gary’s whereabouts before his death, she too, becomes woven into the fatal tapestry of Alice’s disappearance.

Set in wintry Vermont, The Winter People, jumps in time and shifts between three main narrators who separately explore the chilling prospect of life beyond death.


Memorable Quotes

“Madness is always a wonderful excuse, don’t you think? For doing terrible things to other people.”

 

“If snow melts down to water, does it still remember being snow?”

“She was his great adventure; his love for her had taken him places he’d never dreamed of going.”

“I think people see what they want to see… But think about it: if you’d lost someone you love, wouldn’t you give almost anything to have the chance to see them again?”

“We all do what we think is best. Sometimes we make terrible mistakes, sometimes we do the right thing. Sometimes we never know. We just have to hope.”


Thoughts

I picked this book up on a whim back in January. I haven’t read many mysteries/thrillers/horror novels, (I would think this book could fit into all three categories) so I decided to give this book a shot. Given the title and the nature of the plot, I immediately decided it would be a perfect book to read in the gray months of winter. While I wasn’t wrong, I also didn’t really finish the book until February. (It seems my lack of apt scheduling has done me in once again. And yes, this review is out of order and very late. Not quite sure what happened to my queue, but I’ll go along with it.) 

In the beginning of the book the biggest inconvenience is the constant shift between characters and it’s something I would do myself while writing. When you are just starting to read and are not quite situated into the plot, it can be difficult to keep track of who is who. I know I complained about this in my last review, so at least I’m being consistent. However, if you encounter this issue, I would encourage you to just keep reading. It may take awhile, but (if you’re like me) you will become more aware of the characters and have an easier time keeping track of what’s going on within thirty pages or so.

There were no characters in the book I was drawn to or found myself thinking about after I finished, and I think this is the book’s weakest point. However, I appreciated that the story itself was spooky, but nothing so horrifyingly awful that I couldn’t sleep at night (which is a definite plus in my book). The plot is entertaining and will keep you reading. There’s lots of suspense and twists, but there are parts that seem pretty improbable so it’s best to keep an open mind while reading. Likewise, there are still some questions that remain unanswered in the end which can be slightly disappointing for some readers. Overall, I would give this book three stars. Fairly entertaining plot, but not the best horror/thriller novel of the year.

(I cheated a little by meshing a part of my review from Goodreads with the review I wanted to write on here… sorry not sorry. To anyone reading, thank you! Hopefully I’ll have a new post up by tomorrow or the next day. I just finished a Murakami novel a couple of days ago and I’m still sorting out my feelings about it so I can finally write a review.)

Into the Water

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Into the Water by Paula Hawkins


Summary

Like any small town, Beckford has its share of strange residents and even stranger secrets. When Nel Abbott is found dead in the river that intersects the town, her estranged sister Julia returns to look after her teenage daughter and pick up the pieces following her tragic death. However, while some residents claim Nel’s death must have been a suicide given her obsession with the historic part of the river known as the “Drowning Pool,” Jules is not convinced.

Why would Nel throw away everything; her daughter, her forthcoming book about the river, her life, just to become a part of the town’s gory history of drownings? Into the Water jumps between various perspectives of Beckford’s diverse occupants to paint a picture of a town haunted by misconstrued memories and monsters hidden in plain sight.


Memorable Quotes

“To the untrained eye, it might seem you were a fan of bridges: the Golden Gate, the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge, the Prince Edward Viaduct. But look again. It’s not about the bridges, it’s not some love of these masterworks of engineering. Look again and you see it’s not just bridges, it’s Beachy Head, Aokigahara Forest, Preikestolen. The places where hopeless people go to end it all, cathedrals of despair,” (page 15).

“Opposite the entrance, images of the Drowning Pool. Over and over and over, from every conceivable angle, every vantage point: pale and icy in winter, the cliff black and stark or sparkling in the summer, an oasis, lush and green, or dull flinty grey with storm clouds overhead, over and over and over. The images blurred into one, a dizzying assault on the eye. I felt as though I were there, in that place, as though I were standing at the top of the cliff, looking down into the water, feeling that terrible thrill, the temptation of oblivion,” (page 15).

“But appearances are deceptive, for this is a deathly place. The water, dark and glassy, hides what lies beneath: weeds to entangle you, to drag you down; jagged rocks to slice through flesh. Above looms the grey slate cliff: a dare, a provocation,” (page 41).

“She insisted there was nothing wrong, that it hadn’t been an argument at all, that it was none of my business anyway. A bravado performance, but her face was streaked with tears. I offered to see her home, but she told me to fuck off,” (47).

“‘So, two women have died in that river this year?’ I said. ‘Two women who knew each other, who were connected…’ The DI said nothing, he didn’t look at me, I wasn’t even sure he was listening.

‘How many have died there? I mean, in total?’

‘Since when?’ he asked, shaking his head again. ‘How far back would you like to go?’

Like I said, fucking weird,” (page 50).

“I wanted to touch you again, to feel your skin. I felt sure I could wake you up, I whispered your name and waited for you to quiver, for your eyes to flick open and follow me around the room,” (page 53).

“Julia stood very still, turning her head towards the window as though she were listening for something. ‘What?’ she asked, but she wasn’t looking at me. It was like she was looking at someone else or at her reflection. ‘What did you say?'” ( page 57).

“Something about that image jarred, made me feel something I hadn’t felt in a while. Shame. The dirty, secret shame of the voyeur, tinged with something else, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on and didn’t want to,” (page 65).

“I could feel it [the river] pushing against the walls, seeping into the cracks of the brickwork, rising. I could taste it, muddy and dirty in my mouth, and my skin felt damp. Somewhere in the house, I could hear someone laughing, and it sounded just like you,” (page 66).

“Something got missed though, didn’t it? Like one of those con tricks, when you take your eye off the ball for a second and the whole game changes,” (page 97).

“Seriously, how is anyone supposed to keep track of all of those bodies around here? It’s like Midsomer Murders, only with accidents and suicides and grotesque historical misogynistic drownings instead of people falling into the slurry or bashing each other over the head,” (page 129).

A/N** I have a few more quotes I could include, but I didn’t want to risk including any spoilers as this book is still fairly hot off the press.


Thoughts

I’m not exactly sure where to start, but I will say I did have high expectations for this book and I think this alone really contributed to the way I read it. If you saw my post from earlier this year, you know I reviewed Paula Hawkins previous novel The Girl on the Train and loved the psychology that went into the consideration of the characters’ thoughts and motivations. I know in a lot of ways it’s unfair to judge a book by its previously adored sibling, but I ultimately couldn’t help wistfully thinking about Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train as I read Into the Water. 

From the first batch of reactions I saw online I expected this book to be different from TGOTT, but excellent in its own way. I read reviews claiming ITW was similar in style to TGOTT but further developed in both plot and character development. After reading I can say I strongly disagree with this sentiment.

Now let me quickly say (or rather, type) I am not writing this review to bash ITW. There were a lot of things I loved about this book and will mention later, but I can’t honestly tell you that it was my favorite book to read and if nothing else, my reviews are honest. When I started reading I was still in school preparing for finals, so I didn’t have much time to spend on anything other than studying and writing essays. However, there would be brief periods of time, whether on the bus or waiting in line at the cafeteria, I would crack open this book in hopes of being sucked away to the quaint little town of Beckford. The beginning was promising. A small town, a shady cast of characters, a history of mysterious deaths. What’s not to love? But for some reason, the more I read the more disenchanted I became. After some time I pushed ITW aside to finish If We Were Villains. When I had finished IWWV, I begrudgingly turned my attention back to ITW.

My lack of interest in Into the Water was disappointing because I really wanted to love it just as much, or more than The Girl on the Train. (Not to mention I payed $30 for a hardcover copy.) But alas, I guess some things in life are meant to be. So to make what I liked and disliked about this book a bit clearer, I’ve decided to ditch my usual format and compose my thoughts into a bulleted list.

What I Disliked

  • The constant switching between narrators—Although this complaint seems a bit silly given I usually love switching into the headspace of different characters, this book has over fourteen different narrators which can be somewhat disorienting. I got used to it by the end, but in the beginning I would have much preferred learning the plot through one narrator instead of five.
  • The simplicity of the plot— There were a lot of twists scattered throughout the book, but both the writing and the plot felt rushed. I didn’t feel the book was as carefully thought out as it’s predecessor.
  •  The overall resolution— Again, felt a bit rushed and awkward.

What I Liked

  • The use of the river as a character—The imagery of the river was absolutely gorgeous. As I read I could picture myself looking down into the dark water or watching the kids swim in the summertime. Overall, the river was the most interesting character as it’s an omnipresent force that propels the story forward.
  • The plot twists— This somewhat contradicts to what I said about the plot in the dislikes section, but even thought the plot was simple there were still some good plot twists. (I think the simplicity comes from the fact I was able to guess most of them early on.)
  • The cover— Yep, I’m really going there. Judge me as the aesthetic trash I am.
  • Family histories and complexities— I think this is a strong point of the book as the plot focuses on Beckford’s dark history which influences many of the families in the story.
  • Experimentation— Despite disliking the array of narrators, I admired Hawkins’ bravery in experimenting with something a lot of readers may not like, and I hope to follow suit as I embark on my own writing process.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading! Did any of you read Into the Water? If so, I would love to hear your thoughts. Did you love it? Hate it? Feel neutral? Are you reading anything else this summer? Let me know in the comments!

-L

If We Were Villains

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If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio

“If We Were Villains is written with the intention of paying homage to William Shakespeare—who has had more than enough defamers, detractors, and deniers. (Lord, what fools these mortals be.)”


Summary

Oliver Marks is finally getting out of prison. For what, we don’t know. What we do know is that in the September of 1997 Oliver roamed the halls of Dellecher Classical Conservatory with six other thespians, friends, and fellow lovers of Shakespeare for the fourth and final year. Through intensive classes, grueling rehearsals, and long study sessions, the seven spent nearly every waking moment together. But as they prepare for their upcoming performance of Julius Caesar, something in the group’s dynamic begins to slowly shift.

Through Oliver’s captivating narration the reader follows the lives of Dellecher’s top theatre students as they navigate their roles on and offstage. But when the drama begins to follow its way offstage, the curtain call is only the beginning.


Memorable Quotes

“The number of auditions under my belt didn’t matter; the anxiety never left me,” (page 14).

“I, on the other hand, was average in every imaginable way: not especially handsome, not especially talented, not especially good at anything but just good enough at everything that I could pick up whatever slack the others left,” (page 16).

After a slightly awkward pause in which I exchanged quick baffled glances with Filippa and Alexander, Meredith said, ‘Did that just happen? For God’s sake, it’s just a play.’

‘Well.’ Frederick sighted, removed his glasses, and began to polish them on the hem of his shirt. ‘Duels have been fought over less,'” (page 52).

“There had always been small rivalries between us, but never such an open display of hostility. With a sip of tea I persuaded myself that we were all simply overreacting. Actors are by nature volatile—alchemic creatures composed of incendiary elements, emotion and ego and envy. Heat them up, stir them together, and sometimes you get gold. Sometimes disaster,” (page 53).

“Silence settled, and I was struck by the senseless idea that we and everything around us were made of glass. I was afraid to breathe, afraid to move, afraid something might break,” (page 77).

“The lake, the broad black water, lurked in the background of every scene we played after that—like a set from a play we did once shuffled to the back of the scene shop where it would have been quickly forgotten if we didn’t have to walk past it every day. Something changed irrevocably, in those few dark minutes James was submerged, as if the lack of oxygen had caused all our molecules to rearrange,” (page 79).

“Though the timeline is clear in my head, explaining it to someone else is a curious task, simple in theory but painstaking in practice, like assembling a long line of dominoes. One event inevitably leads to the next,” (page 145).

“I gaze across the lake at the top of the Tower. A large bird—a hawk, maybe—soars in long lazy circles over the trees, an elegant black boomerang against the silvery sky,” (page 147).

“She folded her arms and said, ‘I’m going to bed unless you’ve got something to say.’

I didn’t. I desperately wanted to, but my mind was blank. For someone who loved words as much as I did, it was amazing how often they failed me,” (page 211).

“‘Anything can feel like punishment if it’s taught poorly,'” (page 267).

“I shifted and my shoes squeaked on the mirror, James turned and caught my eye. But I stayed where I was, afraid to move toward him, afraid I might lose my footing on solid ground, detach from what had anchored me before and drift out into the void of space—a vagabond, wandering moon,” (page 305).


Thoughts

My boyfriend bought me this book for my anniversary and I don’t think he could have done a better job. Usually he’ll buy a book I’ve talked about, but this time he decided to find something new and I was pretty impressed by his choice. I’ve read quite a few Shakespeare plays, although I’m no expert by any means, so he figured I’d enjoy the way Rio integrates lines from various plays into the text. He was very right.

From the very beginning, I was hooked. From the way the characters use Shakespeare’s words in their everyday conversations to the fast-paced plot, I couldn’t stop reading. The characters are witty and fun to follow, but also extremely intelligent and cunning. In addition, their use of conversational Shakespeare not only helped characterize them, but it was incredibly fun to read. And again, the book overall is M.L. Rio’s tribute to Shakespeare, so expect to see lots of lines, quotes, and small easter eggs throughout the story. However, if you’re not a Shakespeare buff, don’t worry. I think as long as you’re willing to step into the minds the young actors you can catch on fairly quickly.

I appreciated the extent Rio characterizes her leading characters. There were a few I thought remained somewhat underdeveloped, but the majority of the characters are distinctly illustrated from their physicality to their innermost thoughts. The book is narrated by Oliver which only gives us a narrow perspective, but there are many ways in which we are able to get a deeper look at the other characters’ fears and motivations. Oliver himself is at times mysterious in his intentions, but overall he’s an insightful narrator as he’s the most removed from the group of friends.

This last semester I took my first fiction writing course as I’m an English major (and in the Dual-Degree Teaching Program at my university) with an emphasis on Creative Writing. The reason I mention my class is because I noticed myself reading this book through the lens of someone who wants to be a writer. My professor consistently advised us that when we read books we should search for what appeals to us and what doesn’t because it can be extremely useful when we begin writing. While I was reading If We Were Villains I couldn’t help but notice all of the beautiful metaphors. I included a couple of ones I loved in the memorable quotes section, but there were so many gorgeous lines scattered throughout the book. M.L. Rio’s writing is not only very meticulous and engaging to read, but her way of describing landscapes and characters is very three-dimensional. I could see the lake at the school and the characters seemed to jump off the page.

To sum it up, this book was a joy to read. When I thought I knew where the plot was going it twisted and kept me reading. I became invested in the characters, and I grew to love theatre even more with each page. The book hits so many marks because it’s hard to write a great plot with quality writing, but Rio checked off every box.


Extra Resources

If you’re interested in learning more about the author, I’ve included a link to her website and Goodreads page below.

https://mlrio.com/

http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14954351.M_L_Rio

The Circle

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The Circle by Dave Eggers

(Title image credit goes to The Daily Beast.)


Summary

Mae, as many twenty-somethings do, finds herself stuck in the mechanical ebb and flow of everyday life. With each passing day, she becomes increasingly troubled by her mundane office job and the overall lot she’s been given in life. One day, an old college friend named Annie contacts Mae and advises her to apply for a job at an up-and-coming tech company known as “The Circle”.  Mae is immediately taken with the idea of fully realizing her potential and quickly applies.

The Circle is a utopia in every way Mae could have ever hoped for. With dozens of passionate employees (known as “Circlers”) and a combined drive for world peace, Mae discovers a sense of solace in this new hub of progression. The Circle represents the best technology and an even more promising and innovative future with each new program it implements. However, the longer Mae works, the more unsettling the company’s ethos becomes. With eerie mantras promoting complete transparency over personal privacy, the Circle slowly transforms from a company of promises to one filled with secrets.


Memorable Quotes

“She couldn’t stand it. Every day of that job, the eighteen months she worked there, she wondered if she could really ask Annie for a favor. She’d never been one to ask for something like that, to be rescued, to be lifted,” (page 11).

“‘I like your voice,’ he said. ‘Was it always that way?’

‘Low and scratchy?’

‘I would call it seasoned. I would call it soulful. You know Tatum O’Neal?'” (page 35).

“‘You like bowl cuts.’

‘No. Your voice. So far it’s the best thing about you.’

Mae said nothing. She felt like she’d been slapped.

‘Shit,’ he said. ‘Did that sound weird? I was trying to give you a compliment,'” (page 35).

“‘Folks, we’re at the dawn of the Second Enlightenment. And I’m not talking about a new building on campus. I’m talking about an era where we don’t allow the majority of human thought and action and achievement and learning to escape as if from a leaky bucket. We did that once before. It was called the Middle Ages, the Dark Ages. If not for the monks, everything the world had ever learned would be lost. Well, we live in a similar time, when we’re losing the vast majority of what we do and see and learn. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Not with these cameras, and not with the mission of the Circle,'” (page 68).

“‘Mae, we would finally be compelled to be our best selves. And I think that people would be relieved. There would be this global sigh of relief. Finally, finally, finally we can be good. In a world where bad choices are no longer an option, we have no choice but to be good. Can you imagine?'” (page 292)


Thoughts

Truthfully I hadn’t heard of this book until I happened to see one of the first movie trailers for its film adaptation. I figured that I hadn’t read any dystopian-leaning fiction in awhile and the plot looked fascinating, so I was immediately drawn to the book and purchased it as soon as I could. This being said, before I even picked up the book I had a sense of the material I would be working with. I figured the layout would look a little something like this: Tech company looks great at first glance, a hopelessly naïve girl applies for her dream job, aforementioned girl is lured into the jungles of the company’s promises, and then everything suddenly turns sour in a matter of chapters until the girl realizes her first mistake working for the company. The magic of this genre, primarily paved by noteworthy novels such as 1984 and Brave New World, is that the plot’s ever-present anxiety and tension is built into the very foundation of the book just as much as it is in its text. This tension is a definite strength in The Circle. Dave Eggers does a wonderful job of suspending the reader in an atmosphere feels both hostile and warmly inviting. In my mind, this juxtaposition creates a thrilling electric tension.

In addition, one of the greatest characteristics about this book is how mysterious it is about revealing the company’s true intentions. As I was reading, I felt like I was running through page after page hoping to arrive at an obvious climax, but each time I became more ensnarled in the Circle’s web. The beauty and the insanity of this book is that you’re constantly presented with unfulfilled questions despite the spiking tension. In time, this either becomes enticing or frustrating depending on the reader.

Without spoiling anything I’ll give you a quick example. Mae’s job includes many components which seem ridiculous, but no one (not even Mae herself) ever confirms how ridiculous they are or questions why she’s being put up to all of this work. She starts off with two computer screens which seems somewhat normal, but then her manager begins adding one monitor after another. After that she’s answering surveys, conducting more tests, coaching newbies, and still completing her regular workload. The company also continually harasses Mae into staying late for events and clubs and interrogates her if she doesn’t comply. But again, this is left for the reader to gauge as the Circle is only as horrifying as the reader makes it.

In totality, I think the book’s biggest weakness lies in the fact that it somewhat trivializes the social commentary it hopes to invoke with over-simplified and reused technological cliches and criticisms. The message of The Circle is one the general public has already heard time and time again, so it’s really nothing new. (I like to think of it as more of a call to action rather than a direct claim about the way technology is integrated into society for better or for worse.) Furthermore, sometimes it felt like Eggers was trying too hard to write the next 1984 so that turned me off a bit. However, on the flip side I think there is something to be said for the pacing of the plot and the overall character development (**or lack thereof). The Circle is similar to many other dystopian movies and books in content and structure, but different as its conclusion leaves multiple questions hanging and challenges the genre in an interesting way. I wouldn’t go as far as to say this book is revolutionary, but it is an interesting read nonetheless.

Lastly, I haven’t seen the movie but if my sources are correct, there are many differences between movie and book so I think it’s definitely worth reading.

Modern Romance

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Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari


Summary

Although the concept of courtship has been around for decades, for someone struggling to keep up with the times, the ways of modern romance can seem disorienting. With the rise of smartphones and cutting-edge technology, basic tasks are now easier than ever. Everything from ordering takeout to calling a cab simply require just the click of a button. However, how does this new technology influence dating?

Modern Romance attempts to answer the most pressing questions about love in the 21st century. Written by comedian Aziz Ansari with the help of NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg, Modern Romance, covers subjects like how dating sites and apps affect singles to how different countries view infidelity.


Memorable Quotes

“As I hit thirty, I started to despise the bar scene. I had experienced every single version of those nights. I knew all the possible outcomes, and I knew the probabilities of those outcomes. When you hit that point, you realize how fruitless trying to find love by barhopping can be; you have enough data to know that statistically the smartest thing for you to do when you walk into a bar is go to the bathroom, jerk off, and leave,” (page 210).

“I also started losing single friends. One day i stood alone at a barbecue at my house and saw nothing but couples around me. It seemed like I was the only single dude in the mix. Everyone else was splitting their racks of ribs into halves and sharing. Meanwhile, I had to eat a whole rack by myself like some kind of lonely fatso. I felt like it was time for a change,” (page 210).


Thoughts

Okay, just to clarify, I know I don’t have many quotes from this book. Why? Well, it’s not that there weren’t any I didn’t like, it’s more that I was reading so quickly I barely had to time to mark down my favorites. What initially drew me to the book was its title and its author. I assumed it would be hilarious because it was written by a comedian. And as I started to read, I immediately loved the small touches of humor Ansari provided. However, if I am being honest, I did feel a bit mislead.

When I began to read this book in the bookstore, it was immediately presented as a book where Aziz would talk about his own funny dating stories and then explore the world of modern dating. However, what it actually turned out to be is a guide book to mastering modern dating. Of course, if I had read a bit more of the book from the start, I might have realized this sooner.

As I was reading I could definitely pick out Aziz’s humor, but there were also sections that were much more serious because he does try to ground his findings with facts and/or anecdotes. A good portion of the book explores social media’s impact on modern courtship and the ways it benefits or harms relationships. It’s a hard topic to tackle, but Ansari did a wonderful job of making it more manageable.

What’s Up Homies?

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Chaotically Beautiful: My Current Bookshelf Set-Up

Hello!

I am not sure if anyone is reading this, but if you are, welcome! I haven’t posted anything personal in awhile, so I thought I’d change that. I returned back to school this last Saturday, and so far I’m already fairly busy. The first day of class was January 24th and it’s been quite a whirlwind since then. I’m currently taking five classes (sounds underwhelming, but time-consuming nonetheless) in addition to trying to beef up this blog.

As you can see, I have far too many books at school. One of my favorite hobbies is to go to the local bookstore with my boyfriend and buy books (used and new) I really shouldn’t be buying. In addition to the books I brought with me from home, I have a little over thirty of my own personal books (displayed on this shelf). I find this quite amazing because during the last couple of years, I never bought books. If I was in the mood to read I would either get a digital copy or check out books from the local library. However, because there are so many wonderful independent bookstores in the city and I love to support them, I end up dedicating most of my budget to new reads.

Some pictures from my favorite bookstore:

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My Favorite Bookstore with my Favorite Person (I covered his face for the sake of maintaining his privacy)

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If you haven’t been able to tell by my recent posts, Haruki Murakami is my new favorite author. Interestingly enough, Murakami seems to be either extremely popular, or discretely unheard of. I only recently discovered his works after my best friend raved about one of his books. I really wish I had discovered him sooner, but then again, I think college is the perfect time to fall into his world purely because life can get really difficult when you’re away from a support system at home.

Luckily, I have my amazing boyfriend in my life who not only listens to my endless venerations of Haruki Murakami, but has also surprised me with multiple books. In addition, over the Christmas holiday, my dad also was able to discover the magic of Murakami! (Fun fact: I love raving about things I enjoy and then indoctrinating others into enjoying them with me! I’m basically my own cult leader!*)**

Currently I have been reading, The Winter People, by Jennifer McMahon, but I may put it on hold to start reading Murakami’s, Kafka on the Shore. 

As far as what I will be reviewing next, I am hoping to finish 2 posts by the end of this week (Or more realistically next week because I have a Saturday class again).

Here’s a sneak peak of what I will be reviewing shortly:

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If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading! I hope you are having a fantastic 2017 thus far, and let me know what you’re reading in the comments!

 

-L


*Sarcastic remark

**Please do not report me to the authorities

 

South of the Border, West of the Sun

South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami

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Summary

Hajime, currently a thirty-seven-year-old man, has an ideal life. Blessed with a beautiful wife, two young daughters, and no financial concerns, he is happier than most.

However, something is missing; something in Hajime is empty. The only caveat is… He doesn’t know what, why, or how to fill the void inside of him. Through Murakami’s achingly beautiful and alarmingly haunting writing, Hajime takes us back through the most meaningful relationships in his life in the hopes of discovering what he has lost in the process.


Memorable Quotes

“In the world I lived in, it was an accepted idea that only children were spoiled by their parents, weak, and self-centered. This was a given-like the fact that the barometer goes down the higher up you go and the fact that cows give milk. That’s why I hated it whenever someone asked me how many brothers and sisters I had. Just let them hear I didn’t have any and instinctively they thought: An only child, eh? Spoiled, weak, and self-centered, I betcha. That kind of knee-jerk reaction depressed me, and hurt. But what really depressed and hurt me was something else; the fact that everything they thought about me was true. I really was spoiled, weak, and self-centered,” (page 5).

“Second, no one around me-with the exception of Shimamoto, of course- ever listened to Liszt’s piano concertos. The very idea excited me. I’d found a world that no one around me knew-a secret garden only I was allowed to enter. I felt elevated, lifted to another plane of existence,” (page 11).

“‘There are some things in this world that can be done over, and some that can’t. And time passing is one thing that can’t be redone. Come this far, and you can’t go back. Don’t you think so?'” (Shimamoto; page 14).

“‘Now you’re able to think of a few things other than what’s under a girl’s skirt, right?’

‘A few,’ I said. ‘But if that’s got you worried, maybe next time you’d better wear pants!'” (page 146).

“‘You’re here,’ I continued. ‘At least you look as if you’re here. But maybe you aren’t. Maybe it’s just your shadow. The real you may be someplace else. Or maybe you already disappeared, a long, long time ago. I reach out my hand to see, but you’ve hidden yourself behind a cloud of probablys. Do you think we can go on like this forever?'” (page 170).

“‘ I told you I love you. What’s wrong with thinking about the body of the man you love? Haven’t you thought about my body?'” (page 182).

Probably is a word you may find south of the border. But never, west of the sun,” (page 196).


Thoughts

Funny enough, after telling my dad about the magical world of, After Dark, he purchased Haruki Murakami’s, South of the Border, West of the Sun, for me as a Christmas gift. And wow, I am so glad he chose this book in particular! If I had been choosing for myself, I may have chosen, Kafka on the Shore, or even, A Wild Sheep Chase.  However, after the first few pages (I say this a lot, don’t I?) I was hooked. Reading this book feels like looking through stained glass. The writing is irresistibly  impeccable, re calling the most minute details from the sounds in a crowded bar to a small fold in a woman’s skirt.

The plot of the book is fairly simple. With no science fiction or magical realism at hand, South of the Border, West of the Sun, presents itself as mundane. In fact, most of the book is about facing the mundane and mechanical realities of everyday life. Hajime is an only-child, (something that seems to plague him deeply) and spends most of the book ruminating about his life and closest relationships.

Hajime begins (which is ironic because Hajime also means, “beginning,” in Japanese) the story by describing his relationship with his childhood neighbor and close friend, Shimamoto. Shimamoto is introspective, shy, and also an only-child. Although she never mentions it herself, she is quite self-conscious due to a permanent limp she has in her left leg from polio. At the tender age of twelve, the two form what seems to be the very beginnings of a lifelong love story. However, everything goes awry when Hajime’s family moves.After being separated from his closest friend, Hajime is forced to begin his life anew. But despite the distance, for years after, Hajime constantly recalls on Shimamoto with fondness.

During his high school years, Hajime falls in love with the lovely Izumi. Timid yet curious, Izumi etches a fixed place in Hajime’s mind. Although he spends most of his time lusting after her, Hajime proves time and time again that he deeply cares about Izumi. However, like most things in Hajime’s life, everything about the relationship appears perfect, except there is a piece missing from each encounter they have.

This pattern continues on until Hajime is in his thirties and he happens to meet his wife, Yukiko. Then comes the house, the dream job, his two daughters, the happy life. But the images of what could have been… and what still could be, disrupt everything.

This novel features topic matter which should be mildly depressing to a sensitive reader such as myself. I tend to shy away from sad books due to the fact that when I read, I simply don’t want to be depressed. Sure, I love to think, but I don’t believe all intellectual musings need to be depressing. (This is why I disliked most of the readings I was assigned in high school. Can we please have some comedies once in awhile?) However, something about Murakami’s writing in, South of the Border, West of the Sun, comes off as distant. When Hajime describes events in his life, he seems to hold his feelings at arm’s length. I am not sure if this was intentional, but somehow, any emotion in the book is dulled down to the point where you may feel something, but it may not be as painful as you imagined it would be. And this is neither to criticize the book, nor Murakami’s writing; in fact, it is quite the opposite.

While reading, I felt as if I was in a trance. Time was passing by, yet reading about Hajime’s life is the equivalent of looking at colorful blur of light from a fast-moving car. This makes sense because a major theme in the book is the flow of time. The idea that you can only move forward, is prevalent throughout the entire book and expressed by each character. This theme definitely reminded of, The Great Gatsby, (one high school read I did enjoy) due to certain characters’ obsessions with nostalgia and reliving forgotten moments.

Overall, I truly enjoyed reading this book. I adore Murakami’s writing because it can make any situation feel extraordinary and magical. To me, Murakami’s writing is the equivalent of the Midas Touch; anything he writes turns to gold. The characters, the imagery, the themes, etc. However, another special feature of his writing is that is makes me think more deeply about the world around me. Not in a depressing way, but in a hopeful way. His style is calmly and patiently observant. Murakami writes as if he has seen the world, lived it, observed it, and discovered its secrets. The only thing left to do is for him to leave the clues for everyone else to discover its meanings on his or her own.

 

After Dark

After Dark by Haruki Marukami

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Summary

At the beginning of Haruki Marukami’s fictional novel, After Dark, we find ourselves immersed in a vivid, strange, and neon midnight world like no other. But before the rules and limits of this sprawling and ever-changing world can be processed, the narrator guides the reader into a simple Denny’s in one of Tokyo’s amusement districts.

Inside the Denny’s, we meet Mari, a college freshman. While the Denny’s is full of people chatting and eating, Mari is an outlier. She sits alone sipping coffee, smoking a cigarette or two, and concentratedly reading. Quick-witted but slightly stand-offish, she is absorbed in her book and somehow ignores the omnipresent noises around her. However, the course of Mari’s evening suddenly shifts when a young man named, Takahashi, strolls into the bustling Denny’s.

After Takahashi sits and leaves, the rest of the night’s events are all but mundane. With intriguing and mysterious occurrences around every corner, Mari soon realizes her idea of a peaceful night will all  be but shattered as embarks on a journey into the psyche of the people who live their lives from the darkest hours of midnight, to the wee hours of the early morning.

Hovering in the air like a humming electric pulse, Marukami’s writing continually suspends the imagination, spinning the reader in circles even after the pages end. The plot in, After Dark, truly tests the bounds of reality and puts forth many questions readers may never even think to ask. A fast-paced masterpiece, this novel is perfect for anyone looking to question our shared realities.


Memorable Quotes

“Eyes mark the shape of the city. Through the eyes of a high-flying night bird, we take in the scene from midair. In our broad sweep- the city looks like a single gigantic creature- or more like a single collective entity created by many intertwining organisms,” (page 1).

“‘Wow. I had awful grades, but I didn’t mind school all that much. If there was somebody I didn’t like, I’d just beat the crap out of them.’

Mari smiles. “I wish i could have done that…'” (page 68).

“‘Like, say, an octopus. A giant octopus living way down deep at the bottom of the ocean. It has the tremendously powerful life force, a bunch of long undulating legs, and it’s heading somewhere, moving through the darkness of the ocean. I’m sitting there listening to these trials, and all I can see in my head is this creature. It takes on all kinds of different shapes-sometimes it’s ‘the nation,’ and sometimes it’s ‘the law,’ and sometimes it takes on shapes that are more difficult and dangerous than that,'” (page 118).

“Mari thinks about what Korogi said. ‘I do feel that I’ve managed to make something I could maybe call my own world… over time… little by little. And when I’m inside it, to some extent, I feel kind of relieved. But the very fact I felt I had to make my own world probably means that I’m a weak person, that I bruise easily, don’t you think? And in the eyes of society at large, that world of mine is a puny little thing. It’s like a cardboard house; a puff of wind might carry it of somewhere,'” (pages 202-203).


Thoughts

First and foremost, I am truly sorry it has been so long since I’ve posted. One of my main goals for 2017 is to start updating this blog at least once a week because I need to start reading and writing more on my own time.

I decided to read Haruki Murakami’s, After Dark, after I picked it up in a used bookstore and read thirty pages right on the spot. Honestly, I am still training myself to be patient when finding new books to read. Many times I will give up reading a book in just a page or two if it does not catch my attention immediately. Whether or not that is a mistake, I was astounded when, After Dark, caught my attention right from the first paragraph. In addition, a few of my very  well-read friends have been raving about Murakami’s work for quite some time, so I wanted to find something intriguing, but shorter page-wise, to begin my descent into Murakami’s world.

Looking back at the quotes I chose to use in this review, I think it is really interesting that most of them are dialogue-based. Although they may be a tad bit obscure and out of context to a reader who is unfamiliar with Murakami or this book, one of the most notable characteristics of, After Dark, is its winding dialogue. Since the story is told in third person omniscient, dialogue is extremely important when the book does not exactly focus on just one character in particular.

Initially, Mari seems to be the main character, but in reality, I like to think of this book as quilt of characters. At first we are only introduced to one patch of the quilt, but as we read on, we begin to see the whole picture and how each individual character is sewn into the quilt and the story.

What I really loved about reading this book was how Murakami can take a seemingly dull situation and make it into an exciting plot. All we know from the beginning is that we are introduced to a woman, Mari, who is reading alone in a crowded Denny’s after midnight. It doesn’t seem like a super interesting plot, but the way Murakami writes about the Denny’s makes it seem incredibly unique and almost personal. He describes the scene as if there is something about to happen… only, we don’t really know what it is. And then, Takahashi appears.

When I met Takahashi, I assumed I knew where the plot was going. A loner and a nerd, standoffish Mari can’t help but be pulled into the smiling and joking vortex that is Takahashi. Under his guidance and boyish charm, Mari explores the night world and is pulled into adventure after adventure. However, After Dark, is not a love story, and Murakami is not a simple writer. In fact, Mari and Takahashi’s first encounter is incredibly brief as he must return to practice with his band. And when he leaves, the real fun begins.

A tall, blonde woman comes into the Denny’s looking for Mari. She explains that Takahashi has sent her because he reported that Mari can speak fluent Chinese, and she needs Mari’s assistance. It turns out the woman is an ex-wrestler who works at a love hotel, and on her shift, a customer beat up a Chinese prostitute. After she pleads for Mari to translate, Mari accepts and journeys to the love hotel.

If this plot progression seems wacky, just wait. While Mari goes to the love hotel, Murakami introduces the reader to Mari’s sister, Eri Asai. Astoundingly beautiful even in her sleep, the reader watches as Eri sleeps peacefully in her bed. However, something is wrong with her sleep. It is… too peaceful. As Eri sleeps, her unplugged tv flickers to life until it shows the image of a masked man sitting alone in an empty room. Although the tv would suggest he is in a separate world than Eri’s, the narrator alarmingly reports that the man seems to be watching Eri slumber. And it only gets weirder.

After Dark, begins as fiction and then slowly warps into a sci-fy, magical realism sort of story. It seamlessly blends existential concepts with the realities of everyday life, while simultaneously suggesting that people are connected and separated in unfathomable ways.

**SLIGHT spoiler: Ultimately, the plot and mysteries of the stories remain just that; mysteries. I think I would need to read this book again in order to grasp every single theme because it is just so complex. What I love about, After Dark, is that it is stacked with a multitude of themes and filters. You could read the book just admiring Murakami’s gorgeous writing, or looking at specific character relationships. Or, you could read the novel just looking at the philosophical sides of the plot.

The best and most frustrating part about, After Dark, is the simple fact that it is so open-ended. There are certain characters who appear a couple of times, only to be left out of the conclusion at the end of the book. You know they are important somehow, but not exactly how or why. In addition, I really couldn’t pin this book down to just one genre because it crosses so many unexpected borders. All in all, I read, After Dark and enjoyed the experience. Since there are so many layers to the story, it is hard to read it for the first time and try to analyze all of its elements. Therefore, I just sat back and enjoyed the ride.

The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

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Summary

Rachel’s life is the epitome of mundane. Each day her biggest excursion  is commuting to and from work on the London train. But unlike the other passengers , what thrills Rachel the most about her commute is gazing at the stretch of cozy Victorian homes  mingling along the tracks. Her favorite house, number 23,  is home to a beautiful couple who Rachel nicknames, Jess and Jason. During the few minutes the train stops for construction on the tracks, Rachel watches the couple as they relax out on their terrace and live out the promises of domestic bliss.

Jess and Jason represent everything Rachel has lost; her husband, her home, and most importantly, her sanity. However, watching Jess and Jason also gives Rachel solace that happiness still exists in outside of her own shattered world. That is, until she sees something strange happening on Jess and Jason’s terrace the following day.

Without a warning, Rachel finds herself mixed into a world where her own fantasies blend into hard, cold reality. She becomes a witness, but an unreliable one at that. Struggling against a streak of heavy drinking and violence on her record, Rachel desperately attempts to warn the police of everything she believes she has seen from her small window on the train.

Constantly shifting narration between three of the novel’s main female characters, the reader is provided a glimpse into the web of lies we tell ourselves and the tainted realities we live. Each woman uses her own unique, yet eerily similar experience to illustrate the boundaries the human mind. More than anything, The Girl on the Train, begs one main question:

How far we are willing to go in order to grasp at our own corrupt fantasies?


Memorable Quotes

“There’s something comforting about the sight of strangers safe at home.” (Rachel POV)

“And I’ve just got to let myself feel the pain, because if I don’t, if I keep numbing it, it’ll never really go away.” (Rachel POV)

“I am not the girl I used to be. I am no longer desirable, I’m off-putting in some way. It’s not just that I’ve put on weight, or that my face is puffy from the drinking and the lack of sleep; it’s as if people can see the damage written all over me, can see it in my face, the way I hold myself, the way I move.” (Rachel POV)

“Beautiful sunshine, cloudless skies, no one to play with, nothing to do. Living like this, the way I’m living at the moment, is harder in the summer when there is so much daylight, so little cover of darkness, when everyone is out and about, being flagrantly, aggressively happy. It’s exhausting, and it makes you feel bad if you’re not joining in.” (Rachel POV)

“It’s ridiculous, when I think about it. How did I find myself here? I wonder where it started, my decline; I wonder at what point I could have halted it. Where did I take the wrong turn?”  (Rachel POV)

“Who’s to say that once I run, I’ll find that isn’t enough? Who’s to say I won’t end up feeling exactly the way I do right now-not safe, but stifled? Maybe I’ll want to run again, and again, and eventually I’ll end up back on those old tracks, because there’s nowhere left to go. Maybe. Maybe not. You have to take the risk, don’t you?” (Megan POV)


Thoughts

First of all, I appreciate how engaging this book was right from the very first page. Even though I love reading, (I am an English major after all) sometimes I have a difficult time picking up a book and sticking with it. But with The Girl on the Train, I never encountered this problem. In fact, I began reading it while lounging around SFO at 3 in the morning! Despite being sleep-deprived and anxious for my trip, I was drawn into the crazy world of seemingly innocent train rides and man-made mayhem.

What I loved most about reading this thriller was experiencing the perspectives of the three very different narrators. Each woman is complicated in her own way; facing different, yet eerily similar, demons. Themes throughout the book range from abuse to motherhood, sexual power/politics to mental illness, and everything in-between. It is not a cheery novel for the slight of heart. In fact, it is a novel where the reader must be willing to get his or her hands dirty and, dare I say it, “take a ride on the wild side.”

Rachel is the main character and particularly unique one at that. She acts as both a passive and active force within the progression of the storyline as she transforms from watcher, into actor. When the reader is first introduced to Rachel, she seems somewhat normal. However, as  the reader becomes more and more acquainted with her stream of consciousness, it becomes very clear that Rachel has a conundrum of deep-rooted, complicated issues.

Rachel’s most notable characteristics are her alcoholism and  her fascination with watching people. So basically, Rachel is a voyeur and an alcoholic. Now, the only issue with describing Rachel as a “voyeur,” is that at first many of her watchful habits seem more innocent than the word suggests. In the beginning of the book, Rachel talks about simply watching the couple from the train because she wants their life. In that train of thought, what she is exhibiting is not voyeurism, but sonderism. However, as the story goes on, it is clear Rachel consistently straddles the line between being a voyeur and experiencing true sonder for the first time.

It begs the questions, what happens when we discover the tangled lives of others? Do we belong in their webs, or does each of us too stuck on our own paths to join another? Or we capable of fighting for the greater good, or are we too selfish to care? From cheating to murder and mayhem, The Girl on the Train, tugs at the very strings of humanity.

 

An Ember in the Ashes

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An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir


Summary

Under the austere rule of the Martial Empire, no one is safe. Laia is a scholar girl who lives out a quiet existence with her family in the back streets of the empire. However, when Laia’s brother, Darin, defies Martial law, the consequences are far more severe than either of them could have ever imagined.

In an attempt to save her brother, Laia joins a resistance force and sneaks into the empire’s top military academy, Blackcliff. There she is forced to serve the Commandant of the academy who is known for her cruel nature and abuse of slaves.

One day while being scolded by the Commandant, Laia meets, Elias, a mask in training and most importantly, her sworn enemy. But is Elias really who she thinks he is? Will he help her or turn her in to the Commandant? Will Laia be able to escape the Commandant alive and find her brother?

An Ember in the Ashes is a thrilling tale that illustrates what happens when people are pushed to their limits in a world where there are nothing but limits and harsh consequences when caught red-handed.


Memorable Quotes

“Life is made up of so many moments that mean nothing. Then, one day, a single moment comes along to define every second that comes after,” (page 20).

“There are two kinds of guilt. The kind that’s a burden and the kind that gives you purpose. Let your guilt be your fuel. Let it remind you of who you want to be. Draw a line in your mind. Never cross it again. You have a soul. It’s damaged but it’s there. Don’t let them take it from you.”

“Fear is only your enemy if you allow it to be.”

“There are two kinds of guilt: the kind that drowns you until you’re useless, and the kind that fires your soul to purpose.”

“In the night, your loneliness crushes you, as if the sky itself has swooped down to smother you in its cold arms.”

“You’ll never forget them, not even after years. But one day, you’ll go a whole minute without feeling the pain. Then an hour. A day. That’s all you can ask for, really.’ His voice drops. ‘You’ll heal, I promise.”


Thoughts

I read this book towards the end of my summer vacation and I sincerely enjoyed the escapism it presented me. I haven’t read a YA novel in awhile, but after hearing raving reviews for this particular book I figured I would give it a whirl.

It took me awhile to actually pick up the book and read, but after I did I was hooked. The storyline, though not quite unique, is engaging and the plot starts in media res (which I always appreciate). Tahir also includes a good amount of impressive imagery to create an environment that is tangible to the reader. In addition, there is a map located inside the book cover for reference.

The book is the perfect length; neither too short nor too long. The characters are predictable, but fairly well-rounded for a YA novel. Something I also appreciated while reading was the lack of a heavy-handed romance. While there is sexual tension between a few of the characters, it is not the focus of the storyline and there are no dreaded love triangles.

Genre-wise, this book is dystopian fiction and is similar to books such as, The Hunger Games,  and the Divergent series. There are some parts of the novel that induce a few eye-rolls as it is young adult, but overall the tone of the book is mature and easy to stomach.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who needs some escapism in his or her life or just wants to read something that is engaging and fun. It is a trilogy, so the third book should be coming out in a year or so. Overall, I enjoyed , An Ember in the Ashes, and hope to read the second book soon.