Tag Archives: Book Review

Book Love: Fates and Furies

Fates and FuriesFates and Furies by Lauren Groff

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Can I just say something about modern book covers before diving into this review? A brilliant and beautifully designed minimalist cover which appeals to my innermost desires of design concept will almost always yield a terrible storyline inside. But thank God, Fates and Furies isn’t a part of that. ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover,’ will be a saying that never leaves me because time after time its sadly proven to be true.

I came in with high hopes to Groff’s latest novel, recommended by several friends, and was initially so disappointed I almost stopped at page 60. Thankfully, I followed my gut and the story picked up enough for me to finally get into it.

I flip-flopped between issuing F+F a 3 or 4 for a long time, and here’s why: I would be reading for a long time and become so involved at some points I wouldn’t realize I hadn’t looked up in 30 minutes, and then I would stop abruptly at a poor decision on Groff’s part and wish someone had told her to scratch and revise. So, my love for this book went up and down like a cardiac rhythm strip.

Despite my initial dissatisfaction, I grew to love Groff’s descriptive and fragmented writing style. It is both beautiful and mesmerizing; the type of writing you could really lose yourself in. “She stood only when she could no longer recognize his body, like a word repeated until it has lost all meaning” (295).

At first her characterization annoyed me. Though she absolutely nails the way inspiration feels and fuels an artist, her Lotto is not likable to me. Lotto and Mathilde’s relationship never makes sense to me, and until reading from Mathilde’s perspective, I felt sorry for her. I felt even worse for her after hearing about her childhood, and despite Lotto having a hard time, I never found myself worried for him. He’s too egotistical to be amiable.

One thing I learned from their relationship was that our perceptions of loved ones is entirely different from anyone else’s. Only the two people in the relationship can understand why one still loves the other despite all of their flaws. And although others can sometimes feel the magnetism between the two, no one else will ever truly feel the deep and automatic love they share. Love is unexplainable almost all of the time and never makes sense to outsiders.

Revenge, on the other hand, is easy to comprehend. Whether rage-induced or calm and calculated, revenge is easy to explain. The ‘why’ usually makes sense. Groff’s story of love and revenge mirrors the savage plots of Shakespeare, who her Lotto loved, extremely well. Hidden beneath her pretty words and poetic description, I never expected any surprises in her plot, but there they were waiting at the end of the book.

If you are not patient, don’t pick up this book, but if you can calmly wait for a subtle surprise and appreciate craftiness, then I encourage you to pick up this novel.

 

Goodreads Rating: 3.56
Recommended for: Logophiles, Lovers, & the Theatric
View all my reviews

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Book Love: The Girl With All the Gifts

The Girl With All the GiftsThe Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First of all, this cover is eye catching and definitely had me interested from the get-go. Second, this mysterious title is intriguing. Who is this girl? What are all these gifts she possesses?

I have to commend M.R. Carey on coming up with yet another word for zombies. Understandably, at this point the word “zombie” in itself should be avoided at all costs in zombie literature/movies/TV, but this new name is spot on. Zombies have plagued (see what I did there?) our airways lately, and although you may think zombies have had their allotted time in the spotlight, Carey has somehow managed to spin the situation while coming up with a few of his own original rules for his zombie-infested post-apocalyptic world. “Hungries” is how readers of The Girl With All the Gifts came to know the familiar violently dead creatures, but Carey’s rules about their movements and mannerisms are what made his world so uniquely satisfying. Carey’s premises are both logical and worth the read, avoiding many of the all too common clichés.

Another compliment I have to this novel is the voice of our narrator, Melanie, who is about 10 years old. Melanie is not your ordinary 10-year-old girl, although she would like to be. Captured in the wild several years before the book begins, she now lives on a military base and is one of several subjects being studied. In many ways she is extremely normal, craving attention, full of a desire for learning, and infatuated with her favorite schoolteacher, but it is her gifts that separate her from other kids her age. Her voice is paramount to the success of this story, because without it, it would just be another zombie text. Instead of giving us a huge infodump at the beginning of the book, Carey uses Melanie as a filter for his world, allowing us to only learn as she does. Like us, society outside of the military base is new to Melanie, which enables us to react according to Melanie’s reception alone.

Survival is usually the driving factor in a world full of zombies, but The Girl With All the Gifts manages to avoid that as well, focusing instead on scientific exploration and objectivity. He uses his other characters, a crazed over-involved scientist, a tough military official, and Melanie’s loving schoolteacher, to contrast one another on the subject of our connection to our work. He suggests that no one can come into an observation situation without being a little biased, our prior experiences affecting us whether we’re conscious of them or not. As you can imagine, a zombie apocalypse is full of death. The Walking Dead among others have shown us what it’s like to live with death, and The Girl With All the Gifts is no different in that respect. If there was anything this book taught me, it was that we are all victims of our experiences. Our past determines who we are more than most of us would like to admit, driving us to act out subconscious desires. While some of us are looking for redemption, others want to make a difference in the world, especially one as ugly as this. It wasn’t what it taught me about zombies that will stick with me; it was what I learned about how humans treat other humans that I’ll remember. Our perspective of the world has a lot to do with how we react to each and every situation, and often it is our lack of awareness of this perspective that causes us to not love other humans the way we are meant to.

All in all, Carey offers a refreshing change to a genre that has been bogged down with sameness.

Goodreads Rating: 3.91
Recommended for: Zombie Fans

New Years’ Reviews

We reviewed some of our favorite books from 2015! We are hoping to make more and better videos this upcoming year, and we would like to thank all of our readers for their continued support. We are hoping for growth in 2016 and to be more involved in our community of viewers. Thanks again for a great start, fellow tome raiders.

Book Review: The Lost Track of Time

The Lost Track of TimeThe Lost Track of Time by Paige Britt

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Punny, clever, and creative, The Lost Track of Time offers an inspirational message to young readers. Its style is reminiscent of The Phantom Tollbooth, so in a lot of ways it was nostalgic for me.

Leading lady Penelope dreams of becoming a writer, but her mother, who probably reads way too many blogs, just knows her future lies ahead in the fields of math and science. I can’t blame her for that line of thinking, but what irks me about her is her refusal to listen to her daughter’s ideas. They don’t share many of the same viewpoints when it comes to Penelope’s daily schedule, so when summer begins, Penelope’s plans include doodling and jotting down story ideas while her mother’s include filling every minute of every day with studying and productivity. Penelope desperately tries to prove to her parents she could become a successful author, but her tiring and overflowing schedule leaves her brain feeling muddled and dry, not to mention leaving her physically and mentally exhausted.

Penelope must find a way to get her creativity back while also proving to her mother and father she could have a successful future doing what she wants to do. Through her journey, she teaches some lessons imperative to anyone balancing a busy schedule. These practices are ones that always seem obvious, but they are ones that we often push aside in order to be more profitable.

1. You can’t make time, but you can and should reserve some time for yourself. I had to learn this lesson the hard way one semester when I was in college and trying to do too much for others while not doing enough for me. I worked for the newspaper, tutored student-athletes, took a full course-load, and was in a serious relationship. I was always tired, and although it did help me get where I am now, I’m lucky I only had to balance all that for 5 months. I constantly had bags under my eyes and had a short temper with everyone.

2. Time is both free and costly. We don’t pay money to have free time, but sometimes we do have to earn that free time by working overtime or putting in more work than usual in the hours we are at work. When we finally do get time to ourselves, we should make good use of that because we won’t get it back, so when we decide to binge watch The Office for the third time instead of visiting our grandparents, we need to ask ourselves which is more meaningful in the end. Spending hours with a book or my computer is usually more satisfying to me than spending hours at my grandmother’s watching Hallmark movies, but for someone who spends so much time alone, that small amount of time spent with family can bring about days and even weeks of happiness and memories.

3. The time is always now. There is literally no time like the present. Instead of saying, “In the future I will…” or, “One day I will…” we should get off our butts and do what we dream of doing. If we want to be a world traveler, we need to check our bank accounts, start packing, and look for the next flight to Iceland. If we want to be a writer, we need to stop being so afraid of failing and just start writing and asking for feedback because pretty soon now will be the past, and I don’t want to look back wishing I had spent my time more wisely. I realize not everyone knows what they want to do, even at 25. I feel like the world tells us we should know what we want to do before we get into college, but I’m starting to see that as a false speculation. These days people do not set out to be in a typical career that could be found on a card in The Game of Life. With so many niche markets, any random set of skills one possesses could ensure success and happiness in the right field. So maybe “getting off your butt” means being mindful of what your skills are and on the lookout for what it is you really want to do. Success is relative. We no longer need a world definition of success. If we decide we are successful, then we are.

Although it is middle grade fiction, if read with the right mindset, it could serve as inspiration for anyone who has pipe dreams and has yet to pursue them. Yes, the writing grew repetitive and tiresome, but the ideas will probably resonate because of it. If anything, Penelope has taught me we are all writers of our own stories, and we get to decide whether we are successful or not.

Goodreads Rating: 3.85
Recommended for: Pipe Dreamers, Timekeepers, Storytellers

Book Review: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Me and Earl and the Dying GirlMe and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was shocked I enjoyed this as much as I did, especially since I’m not a nihilist and I think meaning can be found everywhere in our lives if we only choose to look for it. Overall, I would give it a strong 3.5.

This book was brutally honest about a difficult subject {cancer} that many writers have used as a means to tell a good story and get the tears rolling. Jesse Andrews, however, did not even get close to making my eyes water and somehow managed to force a different perspective of life into my worldview.

When people, especially young people, pass away, we like to think they were loved and will be dearly missed by the world. This thought helps ease our depression and boost our confidence when we’re battling the giants life throws our way. Yes, we’d like to think we have made a profound impact on the world and people around us and haven’t gone unnoticed by everyone, but with all the uploads, downloads, selfies, advertising, and noise encircling everyone’s brains, there isn’t much room for everyone to care about everyone else. Most young people seem to only have enough energy and time to care about themselves and a select few other people, especially those in high school. Because of all that noise, there are invisible people, who often enjoy being reclusive and going unnoticed, walking among the attention-seekers of high school hallways.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl explores the idea that an invisible person can’t really be missed all that much. A true but unpopular opinion. Not all true ideas are popular ideas. People tend to avoid overly sad stories about people who didn’t make anything out of their lives, but I think it’s important for people to obtain all perspectives in life. Not all lives are full of meaning. Some people don’t try to make the most of life and don’t positively affect the people around them. Sad, but true.

Greg reminds me of most humans. We try to seem like we’re “good” people, and even if we are “good” by society’s standards, we still are selfish almost 100% of the time. We have to be in order to survive. Another unpopular truth. It’s not something most people would even admit to themselves, much less to the entire world via a young adult novel. I’ve encountered this way too many times to count. I try to put off the vibe that I’m sweet and care about the world, and I really do care about most aspects of it, but most of the time I’m only looking out for myself. I only care about the world when I feel like caring about it. In my heart I have bad thoughts about lazy people and obnoxious people and fill-in-the-blank people. I like to think we all have a person or group of people we can’t really stand, but in truth, there are only about 0.5% of people who unselfishly care about the world. That may be a high estimation, too; I’m just guessing here.

I enjoyed Me and Earl and the Dying Girl because it was witty, quick, and truthful, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it for any of my students or other young adults. Although I didn’t respect Andrews’s writing much, he at least spoke some truth and made me laugh. It was enjoyable enough with all its hilarity, but I really just liked it because it was a genuine account of teenage life. Andrews produces the idea that not all teenagers think too deeply about their lives, even those faced with cancer. I would think someone facing the possibility of death at a young age would, but who really knows? I respect a good story that is hopeful and creates meaning for those who have been affected by cancer (like The Fault in Our Stars), but I can also respect a novel that is the opposite of that.

Goodreads Rating: 3.6
Recommended for: Nihilists, People who like to compare books to movies

Book Love: Modern Romance

I’ll start by saying I’m a bipolar sociopath when it comes to romance. I’m currently listening to “What Kind of Love” by Childish Gambino. I long for human contact of some sort.   A swirl of emotions are currently swelling within me: regret, loneliness, fear, self-loathing. However, I know that in an instant I’ll revert to this jaded version of myself that abhors contact of any sort and relish in my current single status. It’s a curse being so consistently inconsistent, I tell you.

Recently I went on a late night Netflix binge and ended up watching the entire first season of Aziz Ansari’s “Master of None” in one sitting. For the uninitiated, it’s an episodic romp about a young New York actor, Dev (played by Ansari), trying to wade his way through life in the big city. We follow Dev as he tackles issues that all emerging adults face; he loses relationships with close friends as they marry off and have children, his relationship with his parents suffers as he struggles to find his own identity and reconcile that with his culture, he spends hours searching Yelp reviews for the best restaurants, and perhaps the most relatable of them all: we follow Dev on a few of his romantic outings and watch his relationships wither and grow. It was here that the show really shone through to me.  Seeing my fellow man struggle to find love in this digital world was surprisingly refreshing. Why go to the bar when we have Tinder? How long do I wait to text this person back, or do I wait at all? The semantics of modern dating is something that I had never really taken a step back to consider in its absurdity.

 

Thanks to the internet, there is a sea of a literal million faces at the tap of a finger. For better or worse, we have more romantic options available to us than at any other point in history. Yet, there is still a struggle to find the “right” person. Not only that, there are so many rules for meeting people and getting to know them online. It’s infuriating! If I text someone back too soon I come off as overly eager, but if I wait too long then I seem cold and uninterested (and the proper window to message someone back is different for everyone!).  I was determined to do some research on the wild west that is Modern Romance, so I turned back to Mr. Ansari.

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Modern Romance is a collaborative effort between comedian/actor Aziz Ansari and New York University sociology professor Eric Klinenberg that sets out to make some sense of the current dating landscape in the age of cell phones, internet, and emerging sexuality. I honestly expected more of a humorous approach given Ansari’s background but the entire book was incredibly well researched and presented. It is filled with statistics and graphs that are pulled from several different study groups spanning the globe, as well as input from some of the premier dating websites. A few major points it tackles are deconstructing the idea of a “soul mate”, looking into what people expect and are expected of when making first contact, confronting all of the choices available to us, and “settling down” in an era when infidelity is only a click or text away.

 

One of the ideas that struck me the hardest was the concept that it’s so easy to treat people on the internet and on our phones as just bubbles on a screen. The actual person behind the post gets lost somewhere in between. We end up doing and saying things to people that we would never do otherwise. I know I’m a victim of this:  Of treating someone as less than a person, just because they’re a bubble on my screen. I’m about to roast myself publicly, take this message exchange in to consideration (super cheesy opening line incoming). I match with this young woman on Tinder, I see a quote in her bio that I find interesting, and I use that as an entry for our conversation:

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And then… that’s it. I never responded. I didn’t like her response, so I just went about my life and forgot all about it. I’m trying to imagine this same exchange happening in a face-to-face encounter. I’m at a coffee shop.  I see an attractive lady sitting at a table alone, and she’s reading one of my favorite books.

 

Me:“Hey, I don’t mean to interrupt, but that’s one of my absolute favorite books that you’re reading. What do you think of it so far?”

Her: “It’s really good, I like how the plot is just kind of flowing from one event to the next, it’s really refreshing.”

Me: *cold malice in my eyes, turns around abruptly, paces out of the door, and never returns*

Her: …

 

COULD YOU IMAGINE?!?!? I was such a jerk, I initiated that conversation and then just never said anything back. I would like to imagine that I would NEVER treat a person like that face-to-face, and just because it’s a message on my phone shouldn’t make it any different. Ansari had this to say on the subject:

 

There’s something uniquely valuable in everyone, and we’ll be much happier and better off if we invest the time and energy it takes to find it.

That young woman could be absolutely amazing, perhaps even my soul mate, but I’ll never know because I  completely brushed her off after the first sentence she said to me, EVER. Wow… low blow, Joe.

This leads me to another pitfall of modern dating. With the advent of social media, we’re all more connected to our fellow man than we’ve ever had the ability to. The advantages are unmeasurable. The ability to meet people we never would have otherwise, being able to stay in contact with loved ones who are away, etc. However, when it comes to social media we only see the best of what people have to offer. We wouldn’t post any old picture of ourselves, only the best pictures of ourselves. The way we talk online has likely been curated and processed into the best string of thoughts we could create. It’s important to remember that the way people are on the internet is not who they are in reality. It’s quite easy to misconstrue the two. The temptation to idealize people and put them on some sort of pedestal is overwhelming, if not downright unavoidable.

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How well can you know a person based on a couple of pictures and a few sentences?

For instance: I was talking to a girl recently who I had met through happenstance on Tinder. The moment I saw her profile come up on my phone, my heart sank into my stomach. I knew who she was. I had seen her almost a year prior on Instagram and had been absolutely smitten with her. She was dating someone at the time, and I’m incredibly shy and would almost never approach a woman without some sort of prior contact, so I just cut my losses and decided it wasn’t meant to be. However, seeing her now on Tinder, a year later, I was gripped with anxiety. This was it. Either we match, or we don’t. It’s all out of my hands once I make my decision. I talked myself down before I decided to swipe right (meaning that I “liked” her profile, for those who are unaware). I told myself that there’s no way that she would like me, she’s way out of my league, etc.

 

So I swiped right.

We matched.

My heart proceeded to melt into my shoes.

 

The wonders of the internet had managed to give me the perfect introduction to this woman whom I was interested in, so in this way the digital age had done my dating life a favor. On the other hand, I had to learn the lesson that I alluded to earlier: People are not their online persona. They are not the person that you create them to be in your head. These are dangerous waters, and can doom a potential romantic encounter before it ever begins.

So, we message back and forth for a few days before I gather the nerve to ask her out on a date.

 

*aside: I think a man should always be intentional with his interactions with a female when it comes to romance. A woman should never wonder if she is or isn’t on a date. If this is the case, you’ve already failed. Let her know what your intentions are, and ask if she’d like to go on a date, not to “hang out”. Just my two cents*

 

The day of our date, I go and get a fresh haircut, consult a friend about my outfit choice (our very own Tome Raider, Chelsea. Hi, Chelsea! I looked fly), and as anxiously and nervously as possible, I drive to her apartment to pick her up. My heart is racing, my palms are sweaty. This is the woman I’ve been swooning over for a year, the woman who I thought was completely out of my league. I almost can’t even handle the pressure. Then, I see her for the first time. She says her first words to me. We hug. We get in the car and head to our destination.

 

the wind had been taken from my sails

 

She’s not the person I thought she’d be. She’s not the goddess I had unfairly created in my head. How could she be? I’d made her into some unattainable symbol of perfection, no one would ever have measured up. Don’t get me wrong, we had great conversation and she looked absolutely gorgeous. We stayed at the coffee shop until they kicked us out, but there had been a damper on the evening. I tried not to let it show. I had absolutely no reason to be disappointed, she was a wonderful date, it was my own fallacy that had brought the date down. As the night winded down we listened to music in my car and it came to the point to part ways. I remember stupidly contemplating whether or not I even wanted to ask for a second date. Then, she did something I didn’t expect. She told me she had a key to the roof of her apartment and asked if I’d like to go up and see the view. Of course I did it, IT SOUNDS AMAZING. And guess what? IT WAS AMAZING. We sat in the chilly night alone and looked out at this astounding view of the city skyline, sparkling against the darkness. It was there on that roof that she opened up to me, if only a little bit. She told me bits of her life. She told me some of her fears. I did the same.

 

and then I absolutely fell for her, right there on that rooftop

 

An hour before this I was contemplating if I even wanted to go on a second date because I had put this woman on some ridiculous pedestal that she couldn’t aspire to, and now I was ready to spend all night talking to her. I took the chance to put my perceptions aside, and get to know the actual person that I had taken out on a date, not some imaginary person I had seen on Instagram.

 

There’s something uniquely valuable in everyone, and we’ll be much happier and better off if we invest the time and energy it takes to find it.

 

She was an actual person with aspirations, fears, ambitions. Underneath the ludicrous filter I had placed over her was a wonderful woman that I had almost completely dismissed because of the asinine assumptions I had made from the internet. I learned a valuable lesson on that rooftop that night. I’ll never again count someone out because of some preconceived notion of who I think they should be. Regardless of how a relationship may end up, the time you spend getting to know someone intimately is never wasted.

 

So, I’ve gotten this far, and I haven’t really talked about the book much, I get that. It wasn’t really my goal from the beginning to review the book. I think most of you have a good idea of whether it’s something you’d be interested in or not. If anything I’ve written here was of any interest to you, then go out and buy Modern Romance, it’s a real treat. I really wanted the opportunity to use this book to speak a bit about my experience with dating in the digital world. It’s tough. We’re all searching for something, and there are a plethora of ways to find it. How do you choose? How do you know what’s right? What if you pick someone, and then the next best thing is one OkCupid match away? Your ex is only a Facebook message away. A Snapchat can lie between a happy marriage and a ruined one. The landscape of modern dating is tumultuous, but maybe we can all learn to look at the underlying purpose of it all: to meet people we care about, invest in them, and have them do the same.

 

Modern Romance gets 4 out of 5 stars.

Review: I, Robot

tUxv1Gkn8nIBWblrGK8_3lWKBs1NcXCiCUYf8sGpGqW_WZ_CySB6OnwV3H80o0G-i9dfvzSkOoKRey_i-5ck29yPOj6r-w8pv2Pp9N0kcTY5m3Mkp9VAl_FlRCgN-oJwZbrdgfoI, Robot by Isaac Asimov

My Rating: 5 of 5 Stars

Limit is often a word viewed with negative connotation. In I, Robot, Asimov self-imposes limits. These “limits” are known as the 3 Laws of Robotics:

1 – A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2 – A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3 – A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

The laws are the foundation of the story; they are simple, black and white. Between the black and white is a lot of gray. The gray is where Asimov’s brilliance lies. The laws appear as a hindrance at first, but they are an opportunity to be creative.

The book begins in an interview with Dr. Susan Calvin, chief robopsychologist of U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men, Inc. (USRMM). The short stories that follow are her experiences and those of USRMM employees, notably Powell and Donovan.

The first story, Robbie (a fitting name for a robot right!), shows his friendship with a young girl, Gloria. Circumstances separate the two friends and Gloria is accompanied only by her sadness. Love and friendship, no matter how unconventional, is a creature desire, even for those made of metal.

In Runaround, the second short story, we join Powell and Donovan, field-testers for USRMM prototypes. Powell and Donovan encounter a situation where Speedy (robot) is behaving oddly due to an internal conflict between the 2nd and 3rd laws. How will they fix Speedy? The resolution involves Asimov’s ability to use that gray area.

The third story, and last I will cover, is titled Reason. Powell and Donovan are on a new assignment and joined by a new robot, QT1 or Cutie, as they call him. Cutie is a more advanced robot than previous models. He eventually becomes sentient stating, “I myself, exist, because I think.” Cutie cannot be reasoned with, a dangerous predicament for the protagonists.

Seven stories follow the aforementioned, each with new ideas and questions. I, Robot explores love, religion, the metaphysical, deception, societal pressures, fear, and more. The reader views these as robot encounters but do humans not experience the same? The problems, thoughts, and feelings the robots face are also ours.

Asimov does as the good artist does, creating a work that is both immersive and reflective. He succeeds on all accounts; it is both thought-provoking and entertaining. It teaches with each turn of the page. I hope that you will read, learn, and, most importantly, enjoy      I, Robot.