Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Review of 'The House on Mango Street' by Sandra Cisneros

"Told in a series of vignettes stunning for their eloquence, 'The House on Mango Street' is the story of Esperanza Cordero, a young girl growing up in the Hispanic quarter of Chicago.  For Esperanza, Mango Street is a desolate landscape of concrete and run-down tenements, where she discovers the hard realities of life-- the fetters of class and gender, the specter of racial enmity, the mysteries of sexuality, and more.  Capturing her thoughts and emotions in poems and stories, Esperanza is able to rise above hopelessness, and create for herself 'a house all my own... quiet as snow, a space for myself to go,' in the midst of her oppressive surroundings.  

Brilliantly evocative, hauntingly lyrical, intensely compelling, 'The House on Mango Street' signals the emergence of a major new literary talent."

This was another book that I had to read for my YA Lit class. It's a very fast read, since the "chapters" are more like sketches or vignettes rather than chapters that rely heavily on each other to tell the rest of the story.  They could be stand-alone pieces, if you wanted them to be.  I liked that style because it was concise, but I didn't like it at the same time because I didn't get a chance to truly know the characters.  The vignettes were interesting, but as far as what happened to the characters, it was like reporting with poetry.  I felt so distant from what was happening in the overall story.  It's like when you're sitting at home reading the Sunday paper and you read about something horrendous happening across the world.  You stop and acknowledge it thinking, "Well, that's not good" or "Wow, that's really awful!" but then you turn the page and there's the next horrible thing that you have to think about.  You feel very detached from the action and injustice.  I think this was mostly due to the format of the writing.

There were a few parts that were shocking to read and they did get a reaction from me.  For example, there is a part where these three girls find some fancy shoes that their mothers would wear, so they put them on outside of their house and start walking up and down the street in a pair of red heels (those were their favorite).  Suddenly a man at the grocery store pokes his head out and he's like, "Hey, what are you doing where shoes like that?  You're too young to be wearing such shoes."  Something like that.  Basically, "You're going to send the wrong message to people."  That really made me mad.  Just because a woman wants to look nice and/or feel good by wearing heels or some other nice piece of clothing doesn't mean she's sending, "That Message" to men wherever she goes.  These girls are still young.  They're just playing.  Chill, dude.

'The House on Mango Street' is something that I would like to give a second read-through, but because I'm so torn between liking this book and disliking it, I will have to give it a little bit of time.

Overall, I would recommend this book if you're interested in learning about Hispanic culture in American society, social inequality, and are looking for a short read.

I give 'The House on Mango Street':
Thanks for Reading!


Sunday, February 24, 2013

A Review of 'The Catcher in the Rye' by J.D. Salinger

"Anyone who has read J.D. Salinger's New Yorker stories, particularly A Perfect Day for Bananafish, Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut, The Laughing Man, and For Esme, With Love and Squalor, will not be surprised by the fact that his first novel is fully of children.  the hero-narrator of The Catcher in the Rye is an ancient child of sixteen, a native New Yorker named Holden Caulfield.  Through circumstances that tend to preclude adult, secondhand description, he leaves his prep school in Pennsylvania and goes underground in New York City for three days.  The boy himself is at once too simple and too complex for us to make any final comment about him or his story.  Perhaps the safest thing we can say about Holden is that he was born in the world not just strongly attracted to adult voices, underground voices-- but Holden's voice is the most eloquent of all.  Transcending his own vernacular, yet remaining marvelously faithful to it, he issues a perfectly articulated cry of mixed pain and pleasure.  However, like most lovers and clowns and poets of the higher orders, he keeps most of the pain to, and for, himself.  The pleasure he gives away, or sets aside, with all his heart.  It is there for the reader who can handle it to keep."

I'm really sad that this was never assigned to me in school... I feel terribly behind!  Thank goodness for this YA Lit class I'm taking!

I can see why this is a book that teens also choose to read.  It's a very approachable book with such an interesting narrator.  In fact, that's what I enjoyed most about this book.  Holden Caulfield has such a way of speaking that I actually burst out laughing a few times!  What I really didn't like about Holden though was how skeptical he was of other people.  The descriptor that came to mind for Holden was "1940s Hipster."  I'm not sure how accurate this is, but that's what I thought the entire time.  He just seems to enjoy different things than everyone else.  And he's alone in this respect (or at least, that's how he presents it).

Another reason why I really like this book is because it shows Holden struggling with making decisions for himself.  But it's not exactly the same as YA reads today where the main character struggles with a love triangle.  No, he struggles with decisions like, "Should I stay in school?"  "What's out there for me?"  "What's the point?"  To me, these are very real things for a teen to grapple with, which makes this a wonderful read.

It's so wonderful that this book that was published as a book in 1951 can transcend time and still be applicable to the lives of others today.  Now that's a sign of a great read!

I hope that this book continues to be read in schools in the future!

Overall, this book is good if you're hoping to visit an old school read, get a good laugh, or read something refreshing (compared to current YA Lit).

I give 'The Catcher in the Rye':
Thanks for Reading!


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day!

"Valentine's Day sucks."  "Forever Alone."  "I hate Valentine's Day."

In third grade, I had a crush on this boy in my class.  He had dark hair, had a bigger build, spoke Spanish when he thought no one was listening, and his desk was right across from mine.  I thought he was cute!  I decided to make a card for him.  But not just any old card.  No.  I decided to make a fateful card that would be given to him on that fateful day in third grade.  A Secret Admirer Card.  (Dun dun duuun....).  I was going to day care at my grandma's house at the time and she liked to make cards, so I used some of her supplies.  I made a card with a hedgehog on it.  I punched out hearts, I colored in the hedgehog I stamped on the front, I wrote in awkward cursive:
Dear C,
May your day be full of surprises!
Your Secret Admirer
I thought I was being poetic.  I was proud of myself.  I kept the card in my folder and made absolute sure that I remembered to take it with me when I went to school.  I handed out my Valentine's to everyone in the class, C included, and then I got my teacher to help me distract C so that I could put my special card in his bag.  Her plan worked and surprisingly, no one saw me.

We all dumped out our bags and started looking through all of our Valentine's, sifting through the candy and colorful pieces of paper.  He spotted my envelope.  It was not like the other Valentine's in his bag.  He slit open the envelope and read the card out loud with a group of his friends.  (I felt stupid as he read it out loud... I hated what I wrote in the card, but I knew it was too late).  His friends were laughing at him as he frantically tried to figure out who had sent him this card.  He accused the girl next to me, LT, but she was adamant that this card wasn't from her.  They had seen her write in cursive, but they hadn't seen me.

At the end of the day, the mystery still wasn't solved.  I was so excited, I just had to tell him.  I pulled him aside and said, "C, I sent The Note."  He nodded at this and walked away.  A week or two later, I decided that I wanted a response, so when I told him again (I'm so stupid) he said, "I don't want girls to like me."  He walked away.  I broke down in tears.

From third grade to eighth grade, he avoided me whenever he possibly could.  When I'd sit next to him, he'd switch seats.  When it came to choosing a high school, we were initially going to the same school, but I'm convinced that he switched schools when he realized we would be in the same building for another four years.

First crushes suck...

Fast forward to October of ninth grade.  I meet this neat guy.  He has brown hair, he's freakishly tall, he's a talented artist and he folds a lot of airplanes.  I ask him to Sadie Hawkins.  He said 'yes.'  Two months later, he asks me out.  I said 'yes.'  Over four years later, we're still going very strong!  I foresee a long future ahead of us.  Valentine's Day is no longer a traumatic time for me (I'm using 'traumatic' loosely here) and it's actually one of my favorite days of the year!  I couldn't be happier to have found my special someone :)

So no matter if you've found The One, are still looking around, or have no interest whatsoever in this kind of thing and whether you like this day or not, I wish you a Happy Valentine's Day!  It's a day to celebrate those you love, so go remind those you love (family, friends, etc.) that you're thinking about them!

Thanks for Reading!


Monday, February 11, 2013

A Review of 'The Book Thief' by Markus Zusak

Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau. This is an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul.

I first reviewed this book in December 2010, but I've recently picked it up for a second read (because I'm taking a Literature for Young Adults class and this was my first homework assignment.  My first class meeting was 6 February).  When I initially reviewed it, it had been a while since I had read it first (two years, maybe) and upon re-reading my own review, I realized that it really doesn't do the book justice, despite the positive review.  So here I am again, writing this review.  I hope that my writing has improved a little bit since 2010.

This was indeed a Christmas present many years ago from my Nani and it has since become one of my absolute favorite reads.  The interesting thing about this book is that you only need to read it once in order for it to stick with you.  Not that one read will ever be enough in a lifetime, I mean, look at me, re-reviewing this after another read-through!

One of the strong points in the novel is the characters.  I love that Zusak takes the time and gives each character a personality so distinct from all of the other characters.  Like, there's one character, Pfiffikus, who is rather vulgar and whistles a lot.  He's not a particularly important character in the novel, but characters like Pfiffikus add color to the pages and it's absolutely wonderful.

Liesel and Rudy are two characters I fell in love with.  I love how Liesel feels about books and words and it made me so proud that she put so much work and effort into learning how to read just so that she could understand.  I love how Rudy, while he is very much a typical boy, is also atypical in some ways.  He's a normal boy in that he picks on Liesel (because he likes her) but then he's not so normal because he's so open about his affections for Liesel.  He begs and bargains for her kiss for years.

I'm still giddy with excitement when I remember that the narrator of the novel is Death.  I think that I was able to get more out of what Death was saying, but I also came up with twice as many questions (which is great, because I hope to teach this book in my classroom someday).  It's such an interesting choice for a narrator and his (her?) voice is just wonderful.  I think it was a good choice.  It would have been nice to hear a little bit more from Liesel, but I can't bring myself to be angry or disappointed by the decision to make Death the narrator.  It just fits!

The story itself is just wonderful in general.  Until you get to the ending... then it's just devastating.  But that's a sign of a great book I think: one that makes you feel as the main character does.  And that's exactly what I got out of 'The Book Thief.'

This is a great book if you're a fan of fiction related to World War II, partcularly in Nazi Germany.  It's also good if you're a fan of words or are just looking for something profound to read.

I give 'The Book Thief':
Thanks for Reading!


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A Review of 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button' by F. Scott Fitzgerald

"Today, F. Scott Fitzgerald is known for his novels, but in his lifetime, his fame stemmed from his prolific achievement as one of America's most gifted story writers.  'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,' a witty and fantastical satire about aging, is one of his most memorable stories.

In 1860 Benjamin button is born an old man and mysteriously being aging backward.  At the beginning of his life he is withered and worn, but as he continues to grow younger he embraces life-- he goes to war, runs a business, falls in love, has children, goes to college and prep school, and, as his mind begins to devolve, he attends kindergarten and eventually returns to the care of his nurse.

This strange and haunting story embodies the sharp social insight that has made Fitzgerald one of the great voices in the history of American literature."

This book just got sadder and sadder as I read through it.  Since it's only a fifty-two page book, that's a lot of sad in a short amount of time.  I watched the film version of Benjamin Button prior to reading this and though I watched it a while ago, I still don't remember there being this much downtrodden-ness.  I suppose that I should get to the actual review.  I'll start with the things that bothered me so that we can end on a positive note.

One thing that really bothered me was how harsh everyone was with each other.  Right away in the book, upon Benjamin's birth, he's not that well-liked because he's old and sassy-- everything that a newborn ought not to be.  His father is just rough with him from the get-go over something that neither he nor Benjamin has any control over: how Benjamin was born.  Later in the book, after Benjamin has gotten younger, he meets and marries his wife, which is great.  But once she gets older and Benjamin continues to age backwards, he fails to remain attracted to her and he essentially throws her aside.  That is maddening to me.  I can only imagine what Benjamin's wife, Hildegarde, is thinking and feeling as Benjamin stops caring about her and goes off to water and later to join the Yale football team.  He even has a son!  How does he just go off and do these things?  If I were Hildegarde, I'd just be peeved.  But probably something stronger.

When Benjamin becomes too young to take care of himself, he moves in with his son, Roscoe, who is also very rough with him.  The story comes full circle as Roscoe angrily implores why his father doesn't stop pretending.  I wanted to slap Roscoe.  You'd think that after spending any amount of time with his father, he'd realize that he's not making this way of being up.  What a stupid git...

This book was also sad because it made me realize how similar birth and death is and how life is so circular. One day you're not there then suddenly you're in existence.  When you die, you're there, then you're not.  You're so helpless at the beginning and end of your life.  You need to be taken care of, whether you like it or not.  I can imagine that when you're at an old age and you suddenly need to be taken care of like a child again that this is very frustrating.  Especially after you're so used to taking care of yourself.

I hope that I don't grow that old...

Overall, this book was terribly depressing and aggravating, but it still managed to evoke a reaction out of me, so that must mean that something was working for me on some level.

I give 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button':
Thanks for Reading!


Monday, February 4, 2013

A Review of 'My Name is Memory' by Ann Brashares

"Lucy is an ordinary girl growing up in the Virginia suburbs, soon to head off to college.  On the night of her last high school dance, she hopes her elusive crush, Daniel Grey, will finally notice her.  But as the night unfolds, Lucy discovers that Daniel is more complicated than she imagined.  Why does he call her Sophia?  And why does he make her feel so strange?

The secret is that Daniel has 'the memory,' the ability to recall past lives and recognize the souls of those he's previously known.  And he has spent centuries falling in love with the same girl.  Life after reincarnated life, spanning continents and dynasties, he and Sophia have been drawn together, and then torn painfully apart-- a love always too short.  And he remembers it all.  Ultimately the two of them must come to understand what stands in the way of their love if they are to reach their true happy ending."

I love Ann Brashares to death.  I was laughing and crying through The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and Sisterhood Everlasting, so I was hoping for this book to be just as nice of a read as those ones.  Brashares is truly meant to be writing romantic stories, so that really shone through in this book, but I still found My Name is Memory to be rather disappointing, compared to her other works.

I was really hoping that Daniel would change more as a character.  I mean, he's been reincarnated a number of times and in a variety of places to grow up from Ancient Turkey to Athens, to England, to Virginia, etc.  He's had families who loved him so dearly and ones who just couldn't care less.  It seems throughout the book that the only thing that changes about Daniel is his memory as he acquires new memories.  It was really disappointing to find that in almost all of his lives (whenever he reached an old enough age), he was always a doctor.  Sure, it's nice to do something familiar, but wouldn't that get boring if you became a doctor five to ten lives in a row?  I realize that Daniel is a complicated character to write, but I was still disappointed.  I didn't care for him as a character.  I didn't really feel the connection between Daniel and Lucy until the end of the book.  I felt it more in Daniel and Constance.

I didn't like that Brashares went through all of Daniel's lives.  It came to a point where I was constantly trying to scramble to connect where Daniel left off, how that will eventually connect to his future and "Sophia's" future as well.  Then after a while, it just got plain boring as Daniel kept finding Sophia, not getting together with her, and dying.  Again and again and again.  These things would have been more interesting if they were shortened or even edited out.

Let me transition to more positive things.

I really liked the cover!  This was a big reason that I picked up the book in the first place.

I also thought Lucy was a decent character.  I preferred it when she didn't know about the transference of souls, but at the same time, I thought it was cool that she was able to figure out who she was in the past.  For me, that would be really interesting to find out.  The story was a lot more interesting when told through the point of view of Lucy (or Sophia).

I also really enjoyed the ending.  That's where everything picked up.  The story transitioned from what felt like a couple hundred pages of explanation to being chased by someone who was incredibly jealous.  Just getting away from this guy (whom Daniel was brothers with in a past life) was kind of exciting.

Overall, this is an okay book.  I would recommend it to anyone who is a fan of Ann Brashares and also anyone who is in the mood to read something even remotely romantic.

I give 'My Name Is Memory':
Thanks for Reading!


P.S. I'll make sure to finish my reviews before posting them next time... my changes must not have saved or something like that.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Reading and Blogging Goals for 2013!

This is a super belated post... it's February, after all.  The recent book reviews that you've been seeing were books that I read in 2012 and I was just finishing recording them.  Now that those are done, I think it's time to post a few goals before moving on to the 2013 reviews.

Reading Goals

1. Read 50 Books in the Year 2013.  I was just two or three books shy of completing this goal again like I did in 2011.  I'm going to try really hard to strike more of a balance in my classes and also read a lot this summer.

1. My Name Is Memory by Ann Brashares
2. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerald
3. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
4. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
5. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
6. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
7. Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff
8. Hourglass by Myra McEntire
9. Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
10. Watchmen by Alan Moore
11. Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson
12. Queer: The Ultimate LGBT Guide for Teens by Kathy Belge and Mark Bieschke
13. Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler
14. Cinder by Marissa Meyer
15. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
16. The Ultimate Harry Potter and Philosophy by Gregory Bassham
17. Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma
18. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
19. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
20. Arkham Asylum by Grant Morrison and Dave McKean
21. The Girl's Guide to Homelessness by Brianna Karp
22. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
23. Paris in Love: A Memoir by Eloisa James
24. A Million Little Pieces by Jame Frey
25. Lost in Austen: Create Your Own Jane Austen Adventure by Emma Campbell Webster
26. Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes
27. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
28. Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding
29. V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd
30. Saint Maybe by Anne Tyler
31. Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
32. Across the Universe by Beth Revis
33. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris
34. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?: Dust to Dust, Book 1 by Chris Roberson
35. Dramarama by E. Lockhart
36. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
37. The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
38. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?: Dust to Dust, Book 2 by Chris Roberson
39. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
40. Austenland by Shannon Hale
41. Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom
42. Dreaming in Chinese by Deborah Fallows
43. The Dark by Lemony Snicket
44. Journey by Aaron Becker
45. Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre
46. The Plague by Albert Camus
47. The Second Coming by Walker Percy

2. Read More Nonfiction.  I've talked about this with a friend of mine.  I like memoirs, but rarely do I ever read true nonfiction.  So I'm going to try and read 5-10 nonfiction books.

1. Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
2. Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson
3. Queer: The Ultimate LGBT Guide for Teens by Kathy Belge and Mark Bieschke
4. Paris in Love: A Memoir by Eloisa James
5. The Girl's Guide to Homelessness by Brianna Karp

3. Listen More.  This summer (since I've found that I don't really go to the public library while I'm here at school, unless it's the digital library), I will make it my mission to listen to 5-10 audio books of any genre.

1. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
2. Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
3. Across the Universe by Beth Revis
4. Dramarama by E. Lockhart
5. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
6. White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
7. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

4. Read More Graphic Novels.  Again, this is because of the same friend.  It started to become more of a theme with him towards the end of 2012 and it even helped me decide what to get him for Christmas.  So I'm going to try and indulge more in this interest of his.  I'm currently reading Watchmen, so that'll definitely count towards this total.  I'm going to resolve to read 2-3 graphic novels this year.  Just to start small.

1. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
2. Watchmen by Alan Moore
3. Arkham Asylum by Grant Morrison and Dave McKean
4. V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd
5. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?: Dust to Dust, Book 1 by Chris Roberson
6. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?: Dust to Dust, Book 2 by Chris Roberson

Blogging Goals

1. Post one review a week.

2. Continue to post college adventures and other non-book related content.

3. Consider monetizing this blog.  Actually, if someone could advise me on this, that would be wonderful.  I'm still incredibly nervous about it and I'm not sure that this is something I really want to do.  Please educate me.

I think that's it for now.  I discovered that last year, I took on way too many challenges, so I think that I'll go lightly on them this year.  College is a challenge in and of itself.  I will keep track of these challenges and resolutions on this page.  For the books, I will post the titles with the links to their reviews under the goal they fulfill.

Have a wonderful 2013 and I will catch up with you all later!