callistahogan: (Book Addict)
Book: The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
Genre: Fiction
Length: 249 pp.
Grade: A-

Amazon Summary: Eugenides's tantalizing, macabre first novel begins with a suicide, the first of the five bizarre deaths of the teenage daughters in the Lisbon family; the rest of the work, set in the author's native Michigan in the early 1970s, is a backward-looking quest as the male narrator and his nosy, horny pals describe how they strove to understand the odd clan of this first chapter, which appeared in the Paris Review, where it won the 1991 Aga Khan Prize for fiction. The sensationalism of the subject matter (based loosely on a factual account) may be off-putting to some readers, but Eugenides's voice is so fresh and compelling, his powers of observation so startling and acute, that most will be mesmerized. The title derives from a song by the fictional rock band Cruel Crux, a favorite of the Lisbon daughter Lux—who, unlike her sisters Therese, Mary, Bonnie and Cecilia, is anything but a virgin by the tale's end. Her mother forces Lux to burn the album along with others she considers dangerously provocative. Mr. Lisbon, a mild-mannered high school math teacher, is driven to resign by parents who believe his control of their children may be as deficient as his control of his own brood. Eugenides risks sounding sophomoric in his attempt to convey the immaturity of high-school boys; while initially somewhat discomfiting, the narrator's voice (representing the collective memories of the group) acquires the ring of authenticity. The author is equally convincing when he describes the older locals' reactions to the suicide attempts. Under the narrator's goofy, posturing banter are some hard truths: mortality is a fact of life; teenage girls are more attracted to brawn than to brains (contrary to the testimony of the narrator's male relatives). This is an auspicious debut from an imaginative and talented writer.

My Thoughts: Jeffrey Eugenides is one of those authors I've heard a lot about lately, along with Dan Brown, Naomi Novik, and others. It's taken me this long to finally pick up his two books—The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex—but on my latest trip to the library, I gave in and checked both of them out. From my experience, I've learned most people preferred Middlesex over The Virgin Suicides, so I was interested to see if I agreed with their views. At the moment, I can't very well tell, considering I only started Middlesex last night, but The Virgin Suicides is probably one of the best books I've read lately.

As most of you already know (or should already know, anyway), this book centers mainly around the five Lisbon girls during "the year of the suicides," as told from the perspective of the boys across the street that were obsessed with them while they were alive—and, actually, they still are obsessed in their own way, even twenty years after their deaths.

It sounds a bit boring, I know, but I actually found myself getting drawn into it very quickly. Out of all the sisters, my favorite had to be Lux, even though she's different from me in all the ways she can be different. I just felt attached to her, probably because she had the most "publicity," you could say, and we learned the most about her, rather than her four sisters. All of them, though, were intriguing. As I was reading, I kept wondering: Why did Cecilia commit suicide to begin with? Why didn't her sisters care as much as I thought they would? Since this book wasn't written from the sister's perspective, we never really got to know them. Instead, we only saw the quick glimpses and speculations that the narrators managed to puzzle out, instead of knowing why they did this, and why they didn't do that.

That perspective brought an interesting edge to the story. You knew what was happening, but you didn't know why it was happening. Instead of getting all the answers to the "why" questions, Eugenides made it so that you could speculate on your own, ruminate over the evidence, and come to your own conclusions. We only learned what happened, but never got any definite answers. For some people, that might be annoying, but I actually liked that. I enjoy books that allow me to come to my own conclusions on why people did what they did, so this book was very suitable for me.

I feel incredibly odd saying that, just because this book was incredibly depressing. After all, how could a book about suicide not be depressing? Everything about the book's events were so devastatingly sad, from their over-protective parents to the five suicides that occurred over the course of the year, but somehow, Eugenides made it more intriguing than sad—probably mainly because of the perspective the book was told in. The sadness seeped through, but interspersed within it were speculations and a light touch to the writing that made it very easy to read, so I didn't feel like it actually brought my mood down at all.

Eugenides truly has a gift to write, because I found it very difficult to put this book down. Everything people have said about it is true. I'm skeptical of Middlesex actually being better than this book, but I'm going to read it right after I'm done with The Da Vinci Code, so we will see. As you can tell, this book is recommended. It might not be for everyone, but everyone should at least give it a try, I think.

Currently Reading:
The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
callistahogan: (Books)
Hmm. Lately I seem to be finishing two books at a time. My last two books are short, though, so it's not that hard to imagine. And, suiting the books, my reviews are shorter than usual, just because I'm having a bit of trouble concentrating today. But hopefully they're still coherent!


Currently Reading:
Angels and Demons by Dan Brown
City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
The Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren
callistahogan: (Default)
Book: The Host by Stephenie Meyer
Genre: Science fiction
Length: 619 pp.
Grade: A

Amazon Summary: Stephenie Meyer, creator of the phenomenal teen-vamp Twilight series, takes paranormal romance into alien territory in her first adult novel. Those wary of sci-fi or teen angst will be pleasantly surprised by this mature and imaginative thriller, propelled by equal parts action and emotion. A species of altruistic parasites has peacefully assumed control of the minds and bodies of most humans, but feisty Melanie Stryder won't surrender her mind to the alien soul called Wanderer. Overwhelmed by Melanie's memories of fellow resistor Jared, Wanderer yields to her body's longing and sets off into the desert to find him. Likely the first love triangle involving just two bodies, it's unabashedly romantic, and the characters (human and alien) genuinely endearing. Readers intrigued by this familiar-yet-alien world will gleefully note that the story's end leaves the door open for a sequel—or another series.

My Thoughts: I didn't believe that I could like Stephenie Meyer more than I already did after Breaking Dawn, but after reading this book, I see that I was wrong. Now Meyer has sky-rocketed to my top five favorite authors list, and I am looking forward to reading every single book she comes out with. The Host truly is science fiction for non-science fiction fans. Before reading this book, I wasn't quite sure about the science fiction genre, but this book really brought it to life for me.

I had originally wanted to read this book a few months ago after coming across it being talked about in school, but didn't get around to requesting it from my local library until July or so. And, of course, it took until now for my library to get a copy in again. During that time, I heard so many great things about this book and, frankly, I wondered if it could live up to the praise. After all, it seemed to have everything, and I know for a fact that no book is perfect. However, as soon as I started reading it, I knew all the praise was well-deserved.

From the very first page I was hooked, although it was a bit hard to get into. Once I got past the first few chapters, however, I couldn't put it down. Although it wasn't the fast-paced, good-versus-evil novel that I was expecting, it was still a marvelous story. It combines action, romance, intrigue, and conflict in a way that makes you ask the question: "What makes humans... human? What does it truly mean to be human?" I was skeptical of the book's power to do that at first, but it truly does. 

At the beginning of the book, I immediately liked the "souls," especially Wanderer. The rest of the souls can't seem to comprehend what they're doing, but Wanderer does—or at least she does by the end of the book. She really grows as a character, from a soul who just wants to smother her resistant host, Melanie Stryder, to someone who would actually want to give herself up in order for Melanie to have the life she had before. It really strikes me the way Stephenie made me adore Wanderer. Instead of hating her and her kind for "invading" our planet, I came to really like her. 

In fact, I liked the rest of the characters, even the souls. Probably the reason why I do is because... well, they think what they're doing is for the greater good. Commonly, they don't know how to comprehend that what they're doing might not really be the best and, as such, they can't stop. Also, that makes me feel pity for them, rather than hating them. In a way, the souls have it right, but then, the humans have it right. The dynamic between soul and human was masterfully written so that you can't side with one or the other. Or at least I could not.

And the humans. Jeb, Ian, Jared, Jamie, Melanie, even Kyle... I couldn't help loving every single one of them. The love triangle (square?) between Melanie, Jared, Ian, and Wanda couldn't have been written better. In the Twilight series, I ended up despising one of the characters in two of the books, but in this book, I loved both of them. And it all worked out in the end, which made me love them even more.

Wow, I can't even explain how much I liked this book. To me, it was Stephenie Meyer at her finest. I thought I liked Breaking Dawn the most out of all her books, but I think The Host just knocked it out of its first place spot. Like Ridley Pearson said on the back of the book, this is "a fantastic, inventive, thoughtful, and powerful novel. The Host should come with a warning label: it will grab you and keep you reading well into the wee hours of the night, and keep you thinking, deeply, hauntingly, well after the final word." 

I tend to gush about books I like as much as The Host, just because it was so gripping and thought-provoking. It's books like this that make me want to shove the book into everyone's hands and get them to read it. It's for more than science fiction fans; to me, it's for everyone.

So, highly recommended, as you can see. If you haven't already, go out and read this book. You won't regret it, I'm sure.

Next Up:
Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. Maybe I'll actually be able to finish it this time...
callistahogan: (Default)

Before I get to the reviews, poll results.

Four votes for "I don't care either way," three votes for long reviews, and one for short. That's pretty much what I expected, but I just wanted to make sure. Long book reviews are incredibly difficult, but here at my personal journal, why not?

So, here they come.



Next Up:
I don't know yet. Probably The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly (I think that's the author) or Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. Maybe Angels and Demons or The Da Vinci Code. It depends on what I feel in the mood for. 
callistahogan: (No Greater Love)

Book: The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel
Genre: Nonfiction / Apologetics
Length: 271 pp., not counting index and citations
Grade: A

Amazon Summary: The Case for Christ records Lee Strobel's attempt to "determine if there's credible evidence that Jesus of Nazareth really is the Son of God." The book consists primarily of interviews between Strobel (a former legal editor at the Chicago Tribune) and biblical scholars such as Bruce Metzger. Each interview is based on a simple question, concerning historical evidence (for example, "Can the Biographies of Jesus Be Trusted?"), scientific evidence ("Does Archaeology Confirm or Contradict Jesus' Biographies?"), and "psychiatric evidence" ("Was Jesus Crazy When He Claimed to Be the Son of God?"). Together, these interviews compose a case brief defending Jesus' divinity, and urging readers to reach a verdict of their own. 

My Thoughts: Lee Strobel has done it again. He's delivered a great introductory apologetics book for people of all sorts, from skeptics to the faith to decisive readers that have already firmly placed their trust in Jesus Christ. Considering he wrote this book after his conversion, some people might claim this book is one-sided, but to me, it was as objective as it could possibly be. He presented the facts. It was only until the end of the book that he went over how these recent revelations affected him. The rest of the book was devoid of any of this.

Personally, I enjoyed this book a tad bit better than The Case for a Creator, mostly because I can understand science, but I'm not an expert yet, so occasionally scientific phrases crept into the book that I couldn't quite wrap my head around yet. However, this book was written in a way that was very informative, very helpful, very accurate, and very emotional and moving at the same time. Logically, I was able to work through the answers to his questions, and yet learned something from the professionals that have spent their entire lives studying this.

In fact, I was shocked at how many people he managed to interview for this book. They include scholars I've already heard of, such as J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, but also some scholars that I might actually be able to meet, such as Gary Habermas, who teaches at Liberty University, the college I desperately want to attend. Credentials were abound in this book, telling me (and the people who read this book) that Lee Strobel made sure to go after the professionals in the field. Sure, they might be Christians, but does that automatically negate the fact that they have known about this and studied this for years and years? To me, it doesn't, because it was stated over and over again that the vast majority of New Testament scholars agree with those Lee interviewed in his book.

But anyway. Onto the actual book, not nitpicky stuff about who he interviewed and why.

This book was both informational and exciting. And people who love reading nonfiction know how hard that is to find. In the copy I borrowed from the library, the first thing I noticed when flipping the book to the back was the synopsis' last paragraph: "Strobel's tough, point-blank questions make this Gold Medallion-winning book read like a captivating, fast-paced novel. But it's not fiction. It's a riveting quest for the truth about history's most comelling figure." While reading the book, I felt that was a bit of an exaggeration, but now that I'm done reading and realized that I didn't want to put it down for more than a few minutes, I realized that it was a lot more accurate than I had originally given the book credit for.

And, more than that, it taught me something. Most of this stuff I had already figured out from my own investigations (vaguely like Lee Strobel's initial investigations by reading all the information he could find on both viewpoints, but I started as a Christian who wanted to learn more about my faith, Lee started out as an atheist who actually wanted to discredit Christianity and call it a lie), but it was said in a refreshing and understanding way. I had no trouble at all understanding anything in this book. 

Also, if all of this wasn't enough, it also explored the journey of the scholars he interviewed, whether they had been Christians from childhood or if they had become a Christian by exploring the evidence. I found myself moved by the stories of acceptance of Christ Jesus—it reminded me of why I so want to lead someone to Christ, not that I needed any more reminding.

This book had everything I needed and even some things I wanted but didn't expect to get in an apologetics book. As I expected, this made my admiration and respect of Lee Strobel grow, and I know that I'll have to check out The Case for Faith and The Case for the Real Jesus soon. By far, this is one of the best apologetics books I've read. Want to learn more about Jesus Christ and what his history really is? Go out and buy this book!

Currently Reading:
The God of Animals by Aryn Kyle

Next Up:
Genghis: The Birth of An Empire by Conn Iggulden

callistahogan: (Books)

Book: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
Genre: Gothic / Fiction
Length: 405 pp.
Grade: A+

Amazon Summary: Former academic Setterfield pays tribute in her debut to Brontë and du Maurier heroines: a plain girl gets wrapped up in a dark, haunted ruin of a house, which guards family secrets that are not hers and that she must discover at her peril. Margaret Lea, a London bookseller's daughter, has written an obscure biography that suggests deep understanding of siblings. She is contacted by renowned aging author Vida Winter, who finally wishes to tell her own, long-hidden, life story. Margaret travels to Yorkshire, where she interviews the dying writer, walks the remains of her estate at Angelfield and tries to verify the old woman's tale of a governess, a ghost and more than one abandoned baby. With the aid of colorful Aurelius Love, Margaret puzzles out generations of Angelfield: destructive Uncle Charlie; his elusive sister, Isabelle; their unhappy parents; Isabelle's twin daughters, Adeline and Emmeline; and the children's caretakers. Contending with ghosts and with a (mostly) scary bunch of living people, Setterfield's sensible heroine is, like Jane Eyre, full of repressed feeling—and is unprepared for both heartache and romance. And like Jane, she's a real reader and makes a terrific narrator. That's where the comparisons end, but Setterfield, who lives in Yorkshire, offers graceful storytelling that has its own pleasures. 

My Thoughts: Every so often, you come across a unique book that picks you up, drops you right into the story, and doesn't let you go until the very last page. The book paints a picture, a beautiful picture of another life, another world, and no matter how hard you try, you can't get it out of your head until you fly through it and, even then, the story reverberates in your ears, not letting go. Every once in a while, you come across a captivating, thought-provoking book, one that seems a cut above the rest.

This book was one of those types.

As the inside flap says, this book was, truly, a love letter to reading and books. But not only that, it was a tribute to "twinness," the bond between two siblings born on the same day, together, and how that bond forms the world around them and how they view both the people around them and each other. It expressed the power of words, the power of twins, the power of books, and it entirely blew me away.

At first, the thing that drew me the most to the story was the way it was written. It's a surprisingly deep book, one that spoke so much truth, even within the first five pages. The style was easy to understand, full of detail and intrigue that kept me guessing until the very last page of the book. This book was told much in the style of The Name of the Wind, with the main character (Vida Winter) telling her story (as well as the stories of her relatives) to biographer Margaret Lea, but it felt so real, a bit more so than The Name of the Wind did. (Not that The Name of the Wind didn't, of course.)

Vida Winter and Margaret are quite similar, but in a way, so entirely different. Vida Winter has spent the last fifty-odd years writing novels, in hopes of getting rid of the past that haunts her, but as Vida Winter's death grows closer, as her illness (she calls it "her wolf") begins to get much more severe, she has time to tell one more story: her story. And so she calls on Margaret Lea, someone who sells books for a living, to record her life story. This brings them on an insane journey, one that involves both discoveries of things lost since passed and of secrets still held in the present. 

From the very first page, this book had me hooked. It combined a love of reading with a fast-paced plot, strong characters, and the feeling that, even though you're paying as much attention as possible to the story, there are some things that you're just missing, and yet you can't put a finger on it. It reads like a love letter to books and, as Diane Setterfield intended, it struck me as being quite similar to Jane Eyre, but only in plot elements—it still managed to be refreshingly unique, even though some elements of the story have been seen elsewhere.

Both Margaret's and Vida's stories intrigued me. The novel is primarily set around Vida's story, from her mother and father's story, to the birth of Emmeline and Adeline, and finally, to the catastrophic event that caused her to change her name, from Adeline to Vida Winter. It is told in a "story-within-a-story" way, focusing on the magical power of words and telling your story for the first time, and the love between twins. Margaret's story weaves in and out of Vida's, leaving me, at least, with the sensation of having read two amazing stories at the same time, which is most definitely a good thing.

All in all, as you can tell, this book was thoroughly fulfilling. I couldn't put it down and now that I'm done with it, I want to read another book by Diane Setterfield. Does anyone have any idea if she's written any more? If not, I'll be content with this one, but Diane Setterfield is most definitely on my list of favorite authors after this book. I'd recommend this book to anyone. Even though my thoughts can't really do this book the justice it deserves, rest be assured that this is absolutely stunning. One of the best books i've read all year, I'd say!

Currently Reading:
The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel

Next Up:
The God of Animals by Aryn Kyle

callistahogan: (Books)
Book: The Case for a Creator by Lee Strobel
Genre: Nonfiction / Apologetics
Length: 340 pp., including appendix, discussion questions, bibliography and index
Grade: A

Amazon Summary: Strobel, whose apologetics titles The Case for Christ and The Case for Faith have enjoyed strong popularity among evangelicals, approaches creation/evolution issues in the same simple and energetic style. The format will be familiar to readers of previous Case books: Strobel visits with scholars and researchers and works each interview into a topical outline. Although Strobel does not interview any "hostile" witnesses, he exposes readers to the work of some major origins researchers (including Jonathan Wells, Stephen Meyer and Michael Behe) and theistic philosophers (including William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland). Strobel claims no expertise in science or metaphysics, but as an interviewer he makes this an asset, prodding his sources to translate jargon and provide illustrations for their arguments. At times, the interview format loses momentum as seams begin to show between interview recordings, rewrites, research notes and details imported from his subjects' CVs (here, Strobel's efforts at buffing his subjects' smart-guy credentials can become a little too intense). The most curious feature of the book—not uncommon in the origins literature but unusual in a work of Christian apologetics—is that biblical narratives and images of creation, and the significance of creation for Christian theology, receive such brief mention. Still, this solid introduction to the most important topics in origins debates is highly accessible and packs a good argumentative punch. 

My Thoughts: It's no surprise to me or the people closest to me that I thoroughly enjoyed this book. This is the first actual book I've read that goes over the creation/evolution debate itself. I've read Christian apologetic books before, of course—most recently, Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis and The Reason for God: Belief in An Age of Skepticism by Timothy Keller—but this is the first one that really delves deeply into the whole creation/evolution battle, and I think it explained everything a lot. This book is most definitely going to be in my possession for a long time. This is my first read of it, and I've already learned so much.

Lee Strobel is an amazing writer. Since he's a journalist, that's to be expected, but the way he explained everything in his book just felt so understandable. He tried not to use terribly big words and, as he interviewed some of the best people in scientific fields, he asked for examples to explain certain "science stuff" that normal people can't really understand in a way that even a fourteen-year-old teenage girl can understand. Not once in this book did the big words cause me to need to reach for a dictionary. Some things went slightly over my head, but that's to be expected on my first read through it. I'm certain that when I start reading this book again, as I know I will, that some of the foggier stuff will begin to make sense.

Part of the reason why I enjoyed this book so much is the way he laid it out. He didn't just cite sources. He gave us pretty much the entirety of interviews he had with numerous scientists from various fields, giving us a taste of what scientists are actually saying. And he didn't just interview one or two people. He interviewed people from various fields—cosmology, physics, astronomy, biochemistry—and areas of expertise—biological information and human consciousness—giving us a sense of what some of the smartest men in these various fields of studies think about certain issues and why they think that.

This really cemented my belief that hey, people who believe in God and reject evolution aren't as stupid as people make us out to be. We can be great thinkers, great scientists, great people. Just because we don't believe in evolution doesn't make us stupid. I am so sick of people telling me that I have ideas that are utterly ridiculous, just because I'm a strong Christian and a creationist, because... well, I have a bit more self confidence than that, and I hate it when people tell me I'm stupid, especially when I know I'm not.

This book helped me along. Now I have yet more basis to believe what I do and, regardless of what some people may say, I'm not going to go back on my beliefs just because people say they're ridiculous. I loved the way Lee Strobel laid out everything in this book. I loved the way it made so much sense, and I just know that I'll be able to explain a great majority of this to people if they ask me.

That's pretty much the main reason for liking this book. It's not the main reason—the main reason is that it is so scientifically sound—but me being able to explain my faith is such a great feeling. Admittedly, I have to learn to step back a bit and learn to act out my faith instead of explain it, but I'm going to need this knowledge. I just know I will, and I'm so lucky that I have a copy of this book to hand out to people in case they would like to read it.

However, there was one thing that set me on edge. It was the insistence of the "scientific" Big Bang that kind of made me grit my teeth. However, for me, at least, the Big Bang is a way for scientists to explain the creation of the universe in a purely naturalistic way, and you know what? I respect that. I disagree with it, personally, because I don't believe things can be explained purely by naturalistic means, but I respect the people who have an honest reason for believing in naturalism.

How odd, I know, but it's true.

And this book helped me gather my feelings on those issues. Like I've already said, it helped me formulate some of the best arguments for creation in my own mind for myself and for the people around me. This book is a great study tool, and I'm going to read it again soon. I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in the creation/evolution debate and is willing to look at things with an open mind, because this is a great nonfiction book explaining this controversial issue.

Currently Reading:
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Next Up:
The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
The Complete Evangelism Guidebook by Scott Dawson (editor)
callistahogan: (Books)
Book: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
Genre: Historical fiction
Length: 367 pp.
Grade: A

Amazon Summary: Afghan-American novelist Hosseini follows up his bestselling The Kite Runner with another searing epic of Afghanistan in turmoil. The story covers three decades of anti-Soviet jihad, civil war and Taliban tyranny through the lives of two women. Mariam is the scorned illegitimate daughter of a wealthy businessman, forced at age 15 into marrying the 40-year-old Rasheed, who grows increasingly brutal as she fails to produce a child. Eighteen later, Rasheed takes another wife, 14-year-old Laila, a smart and spirited girl whose only other options, after her parents are killed by rocket fire, are prostitution or starvation. Against a backdrop of unending war, Mariam and Laila become allies in an asymmetrical battle with Rasheed, whose violent misogyny—"There was no cursing, no screaming, no pleading, no surprised yelps, only the systematic business of beating and being beaten"—is endorsed by custom and law. Hosseini gives a forceful but nuanced portrait of a patriarchal despotism where women are agonizingly dependent on fathers, husbands and especially sons, the bearing of male children being their sole path to social status. His tale is a powerful, harrowing depiction of Afghanistan, but also a lyrical evocation of the lives and enduring hopes of its resilient characters.

My Thoughts: I finished this book in less than twenty-four hours. From the very first chapter, I got pulled into the story of Mariam, of Afghanistan, of the terrible inequality of men and women still in today's world. I don't normally read books like this—the last book I read that dealt with this same basic topic was Princess by Jean Sasson, and that story takes place in Saudi Arabia—so this was a new experience for me, and one that I won't soon forget.

This story was so... poignant and beautiful. Mariam and Laila were two characters that I will not soon forget. What they went through is so hard to imagine. As I was reading the book, I was constantly thinking: How could that happen? Why are things like that? How could things be that, for lack of a better word, backward? Everything about the story, everything Mariam and Laila went through, was written so vividly that I couldn't help getting involved. Even though I live in the United States, where things couldn't be more different than the culture in Afghanistan, I couldn't help feeling connected to their plight.

A lot of people consider this book a character study—the study of Mariam and Laila's growth as people and women in some of the best and worst times for women in Afghanistan. I definitely agree with this. This type of book, this character study, isn't what I normally read, but it was so poignant. It wasn't light reading, but it read like light reading... if that makes sense. 

Mariam and Laila went through so much. They are two extremely different women, but they both went through the same things and came out stronger for it. Mariam is one of those quietly enduring women, the sort of person that you can't help admiring for their strength. For twenty-seven years of her marriage, she had deal with the sort of sexist husband I shudder at having to live with, and yet she never complained. She was strong, and I admire her for that. And through those twenty-seven years of abuse, she never once lost that... well... the only word I can use for it is "spunk" that led her to get her vengeance on her husband, to put it in those terms. She was an incredibly forgiving, kind woman, and she is definitely one of my favorite characters in the story.

However, Laila remains my favorite character. To tell the truth, I think that Laila went through a bit more than Mariam did, and came out stronger for it. She didn't go through too much in her earlier years—other than her mother being... depressed, I guess—but things started going bad as she entered her teenage years. Although she fell in love with her best friend, Tariq, he had to leave after things in Kabul (the town in which they lived) got worse, and she had to marry Rasheed, Mariam's husband, since her parents died in rocket fire the day they decided to leave. And that's only the start of her story...

Believe me, her story was so poignant, so heart-breaking, that I nearly cried. The way Tariq and Laila's love played out was... wow. It struck me as so real, even though it was so devastatingly sad. Everything about it, from their childhood friendship to Tariq's reluctance to get married to his protectiveness of her to their first kiss to their hour or so of making love before Tariq left and their separation and the rest of their story, firmly pressed my "Awwww such a sad but beautiful love story" button. It was the perfect blend of angst and love, and I ended up absolutely adoring it at the end.

So, to chop this off before I ramble on, both Mariam's and Laila's story was heartbreaking and yet so beautiful at the same time. Laila's impacted me a bit more than Mariam's did, but Mariam's was still incredibly powerful. This book was a new experience for me, and I can't wait to read more books by Khaled Hosseini. Since I've heard a lot of good things about The Kite Runner, and since it's on the list of books I have to choose three from for summer reading, I'll probably read that one quite soon... and I can't wait!
callistahogan: (Default)
Book: Lost Souls by Lisa Jackson
Genre: Mystery
Length: 403 pp.
Grade: A-

Summary from Inside Flap (it's long, but Amazon didn't have one of those paragraph-length blurbs, unfortunately): New York Times bestselling author Lisa Jackson delivers her most harrowing novel yet as a young woman's determined hunt for a serial killer draws her into a twisted psychopath's unspeakable crimes.

Twenty-seven-year-old Kristi Bentz is lucky to be alive. Not many people her age have nearly died twice at the hands of a serial killer, and lived to tell about it. Her dad, New Orleans detective, Rick Bentz, wants Kristi to stay in New Orleans and out of danger. But if anything, Kristi's experiences have made her even more fascinated by the mind of the serial killer. She hasn't given up her dream of being a true crime writer—of exploring the darkest recesses of evil—and now she just may get her chance.

Four girls have disappeared at All Saints College in less than two years. All four were "lost souls"—troubled, vulnerable girls with no one to care about them, no one to come looking if they disappeared. The police think they're runaways, but Kristi senses there's something that links them, something terrifying. She decides to enroll, following their same steps. All Saints has changed a lot since Kristi was an undergraduate. The stodgy Catholic college has lured edgy new professors to its campus and gained a reputation for envelope-pushing, with classes like the very popular "The Influence of Vampirism in Modern Culture and Literature," and elaborately staged morality plays that feel more like the titillating entertainment of some underground club than religious spectacles. And there are whispers of a dark cult on campus whose members wear vials of blood around their necks and meet in secret chambers—rituals to which only the elite have access. To find the truth, Kristi will need to become part of the cult's inner circle, to learn their secrets, and play the part of lost soul without losing herself in the process. It's a dangerous path, and Kristi is skating on its knife-thin edge.

The deeper she goes, the more Kristi begins to wonder if she is the hunter or the prey. She's certain she's being watched and followed—studied, even—as yet another girl disappears, and another. And when the bodies finally begin to surface—in ways that bring fear to the campus and terror to the hearts of even hardened cops like Detective Bentz and his partner Reuben Montoya—Kristi realizes with chilling clarity that she has underestimated her foe. She is playing a game with a killer more cunning and bloodthirsty than anyone can imagine, one who has personally selected her for membership in a cult of death from which there will be no escape.

My Thoughts: At first, I wasn't sure if I was going to like this book, since I have never read any other adult mysteries in my life (I had read a few Nancy Drew stories when I was younger, but don't remember them that well), but it turns out that I was pleasantly surprised. In fact, my reaction to this book was the exact opposite of the last book I read, On Beauty. I went into reading this book thinking that I wasn't going to like it, but as soon as I cracked it open and read the first page, I knew that I had underestimated it.

A lot of people on Amazon called this book "boring," but I have to say that they're devastatingly wrong. From the beginning of the book, I was on the edge of my seat waiting to see what would happen next. The beginning was so twisted yet so intriguing that I couldn't help reading on. And to me, the action never stopped. I can't think of any slow moments, so I'm interested in where people got "boring" from.

Sure, romance played a part in this book, and part of the story was about Jay (Kristi's ex-boyfriend) and Kristi herself meeting each other again at All Saints (this time, Jay is the teacher, and Kristi the student, considering she dropped out), but frankly, I didn't find that a bad thing. In fact, I enjoyed the romance, even though parts of it bothered me—mostly because I'm still licking the wounds of my latest breakup and all romance reminds me of that relationship at the moment.

Anyway.

I found the antagonists incredibly twisted, but then again, that was the point. I found myself wincing and gasping as they struck again. It's hard to believe that crimes like that and violence like rape and such really goes on in the world today, and the idea makes me sick. I doubt that the plot of the book (as seen above) really happens, but then again, there are freaks everywhere, so who knows if there are people who really believe they're vampires or that vampires are real? In fact, the twistedness yet somewhat realistic portrayal of the terror that psychopaths inflict on the people around them was absolutely freaky.

With all of that, there were a few things that I didn't agree with. For one thing, although I think there are people as twisted as the villain in this book, I felt it was a bit unlikely. It's possible, yes, but not overly so. And for another, some parts of the writing struck me as a little sloppy, but that didn't really distract from the story Lisa Jackson was trying to tell, so that's a good thing.

So, I enjoyed this book a lot. I'd recommend you reading it, and I know that I'll be searching for more Lisa Jackson books after this soon.

-
 
Book: Prince Caspian by C. S. Lewis (reread)
Genre: Fantasy
Length: 238 pp.
Grade: A

Summary from Back Cover: A prince denied his rightful throne gathers an army in a desperate attempt to rid his land of a false king. But in the end, it is a battle of honor between two men alone that will decide the fate of an entire world.

My Thoughts: Ah, C. S. Lewis. No matter what's going on in my life, no matter what other books I have lined up to read, I know that I can return to C. S. Lewis and he'll deliver an absolutely stunning, beautiful story that just sucks you in from beginning to end. I have already read his series, but it's always a comfort to go back to it. And since I watched the movie a few Saturdays back, I decided why not read Prince Caspian again?

Probably the best part of reading this book again was because I had forgotten how things exactly ended up. I mean, I remembered the basic gist of it, but the way they got there was a bit fuzzy. So this reread allowed me to get reacquainted with Narnia a bit more than I had been. 

And I'd forgotten how much I loved it. The Pevensies are so awesome, and I think I liked it best when they were all together, instead of it only being Lucy or Edmund or all of them without Susan. To me, having them all together was when I liked them best—not that I didn't like the others in the next few books, of course. Lucy still remains my favorite Pevensie, and I'm glad that she's been in all of the books featuring at least one of the Pevensies.

Hmm. There's not much more to say—most likely all of you have read the series, so I don't really have to get into the events too much. All I can say is that this book is mostly for comfort and for thinking—even though the writing is meant for younger readers, I can look into it and see Lewis' Christian influences in writing this book. Also, is it bad if I see the actor who plays Prince Caspian in my head whenever I think of Caspian now? (I hope not, because that actor is the only one that I would actually call "eye-candy." Unless we're talking about Edmund. Is it only me, or is he cute too?)

So, great series, great book, and I may end up reading the rest of them over the summer sometime. They're not that hard to get into it and not that hard to finish, so reading them all won't be anything similar to a chore, and now that I'm a stronger Christian than the last time I read them all through, I think I can get more out of them. :)

Next Up: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
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Book: The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
Genre: Historical fiction
Length: 973 pp.
Grade: A

Amazon Summary: Set in 12th-century England, the narrative concerns the building of a cathedral in the fictional town of Kingsbridge. The ambitions of three men merge, conflict and collide through 40 years of social and political upheaval as internal church politics affect the progress of the cathedral and the fortunes of the protagonists.

My Thoughts: The summary above can't really explain this huge, one thousand page book. It sweeps through so many emotions—fear, love, lust, hatred, terror, ambition—and so many characters, from the ruthless and terrible William Hamleigh to the amazing, ambitious Lady Aliena to Jack Jackson, who spent the first eleven years of his life living in the forest, of all places. A simple two sentence summary can't describe a book this fascinating, this huge, this engrossing.

This book... it kept me captivated. It is the one of the first historical fiction books I ever read, and I'm glad that my science teacher recommended it to me. Even though it's incredibly violent and slightly inappropriate in some parts, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, considering I finished all 973 pages in about five days. I just couldn't put it down—it was that good. Just when you thought things were going to go as planned, something happens (most likely because of the work of William Hamleigh and the bishop he goes to for guidance and forgiveness, Waleran) that throws everything in the opposite direction. The pages literally flew by, and when I finished and got to the last page, I wanted to go out and get the sequel as soon as possible.

Even though the action was amazing, I'd have to say that I was most impressed with the characters. Even though there are so many characters that Ken Follett had to keep an eye on, he kept a firm grip of every single one of them. Each of them had their own ambitions, their own desires, their own fears, their own loves—none of them were exactly the same. The people you thought were good in the beginning turned out to be terrible and loathsome, but it didn't seem out of character, because Ken Follett is that good. Of course, part of the thing I liked most about the characters in the book is that they all had flaws. It's incredibly difficult to make it so that all of your characters have flaws, but Ken Follett handled it brilliantly. There is no really "perfect" character, and that's what drew me to all of them. Even my favorite character, Aliena, ended up having several flaws, all of which could have easily killed her but didn't.

Like my science teacher said, if I ended up screaming at the book, feeling all the terror and fear of the characters, then I was enjoying the book. If I wanted to reach through the pages of the book and strangle a specific character, then I was enjoying it even more. And you know, he was right. Every single thing in the book was written incredibly vividly and, as you can see, I can't seem to run out of things to say about it.

The only thing that I didn't like that much was that Ken Follett seemed to have a bit of a repetitive style—I must have seen some dozen or so "heart in his mouth" lines—but that's easily overlooked, considering the rest of the book was so beautiful.

Before I end up rambling about this book (which I could do, believe me), I'm just going to say that I can definitely see why this is my science teacher's absolute favorite book.

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March 2010

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