Book Review:Atonement-Ian McEwan

AtonementLiterary prose gently refined yet sharply detailed encompasses  Ian McEwan’s writing in his novel Atonement. The reader is pulled in by McEwan’s precise account of fact vs. fiction, truth vs. fabrication. In a story where love is skewed and twisted from the perspective of a thirteen-year old girl, McEwan brings to attention the dangers of imagination when moral exactness is attenuated by perception. McEwan’s writing feels nothing short but traditional, yet he definitely brings his own unique style to create a literary piece that could be viewed as a stand alone.

Setting the scene in World War II England, Briony Tallis often runs wild with her imagination as she does her writing and stories. At the the young age of thirteen years old, Briony often thought of herself as much older then her “audience.” McEwan makes her as meticulous as himself-pays close to detail and exact in their work. It is the moral compass that Briony follows that causes her to fall short.

There did not have to be a moral. She need only show separate minds, as alive as her own, struggling with the idea that other minds were equally alive. It wasn’t only wickedness and scheming that made people unhappy, it was confusion and misunderstanding, above all, it was the failure to grasp the simple truth that other people are as real as you. And only in a story could you enter these different minds and show how they had an equal value. That was the only moral a story need have.

Briony’s downfall in being principled begins when she sees her sister Cecilia and the gardener Robbie Turner indulge in sexual play which misconstrues in Briony’s mind as something much more vulgar. Further in the day, their cousin Lola is raped by a man unseen to her eyes, which leads Briony to make a conclusion as to who the culprit is. This  assumption criminalizes Robbie to a life of war and separates the two budding lovers indefinitely. Briony/McEwan mesh as one writer in the novel both with a moral agenda. McEwan explores the consequences when childhood vision meets adulthood. Briony’s idea of love and what it means to be an adult deteriorates before her eyes as she realizes based on her moral standard, they do not align. Briony struggles with the world and the constant need to be coddled-seeking affirmation from all those around her. Her attempt to be mature is overshadowed by her sophomore behavior.The novel, broken into four parts, take us through the mental journey and discovery of Robbie, Cecilia, and Briony.  McEwan creates a beautiful work of literature that explores the depths of solitude,  adulthood, love, and war.

I had initially watched this film many years ago and fell in love with the acting itself. Atonement was well casted and the story pulled me in. Switching to the novel, I was able to recount scenes from the movie and visually translate them to the novel version. At first, the novel was a bit dull with all the constant description and fine details. It wasn’t until later I realized this was McEwan’s very point. Precision meets its match when character is flawed. Atonement  is very literary and should be appreciated as fine work of writing. Although the first half of the book can thought to be monotonous, I did enjoy the second half of the novel and I was quickly pulled in with the riveting plot. However, outside of Briony, the characters didn’t have much depth and I only felt connected to the protagonist. At times I did feel that the author filled in the novel with too much rhythmic detail that I often found myself skimming the pages just to get to the main plot. Drudging through all of the descriptions is only thing that made the book unenjoyable for me. I would recommended this book to those whom are interested in fine literature (perhaps a comparison to Woolf or Austen can be drawn) or simply like historical fiction. Although it did take me a while to finish this novel, I am glad I can say I have read this one.

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Book Review: A Torch Against the Night-Sabaa Tahir

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Running  through the desert, trying to save not only themselves but a mass of Scholars from a giant Empire purge, Laia and Elias are now fugitives clinging to the hope of life. The sequel to An Ember in the Ashes comes back and is full of more adventure and tricky plot. Sabaa Tahir  has solidified her place as a top Y.A. novelist and specialist in all things adventure. I was happy to pick up A Torch Against the Night, and divulge in the mass fandom. It’s no secret why this novel is beloved among many; it’s simply a gripping story with characters to hate and love, and unforeseen heroes.

After the fourth trials and the beginning of the reigning era of Marcus, Elias and Laia flee the city of Serra and are headed to Kauf prison to help free Laia’s brother Darin. Favor does not come to their side as they battle death, spirits, the Empire, and friends turned enemies. Familiar characters return and if you loathed Marcus and the Commandant before, the hatred will only grow deeper. There is a mass revolt by the Scholars, and bloodthirsty Marcus and the chilling Commandant waste no time killing anyone in their way. As Helene is the new Blood Shrike she is bound to Marcus’ will and must face killing hunting and killing her best friend Elias. The constant struggle between powers, families, and friends are weighted differently for each character. The internal and external battles create tension that make the characters choose: life of death?

This book was e v e r y t h i n g. It includes all of the Y.A. novel staples plus so much more. I am always impressed with Sabaa Tahir’s writing. This novel definitely explores the characters more psychologically, which I thought was well played by Tahir. However some may think the plot is slightly slower. Because this is a typical Y.A. novel, it wouldn’t be complete without a love triangle. However Tahir really makes it interesting with unexpected plot twists. Helene’s character is explored more in this novel and Tahir makes her complex yet strong and resilient. I applaud how the writer crafts the women in the novel; all of the women are these strong fighters with byzantine backgrounds. The novel is broken into three POVs: Elias, Laia, and Helene.Every character plays an integral role in shaping the story and gives the reader a different experience with their point of view. Tahir leaves you dangling on each word as the characters simultaneously cling to their life. Everything is left bare for the reader to truly discover all the evilness, desperation, and emptiness. Hats off to you Sabaa Tahir, I’ll be waiting for the next installation.

Book Review: Underground Airlines-Ben H. Winters

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Take a moment and imagine an alternate reality where slavery still exists in modern America. Perhaps, to some, it may seem as if we are already living that reality on a smaller scale. Ben H. Winters’ new novel titled Underground Airlines creates an alternate history where the Civil War never happened, Abraham was assassinated before he took oath to be president and slavery still presides in the  four southern states  appropriately called the “Hard Four.” Modern references to pop culture make the tale hauntingly eerie as the nature of the book seems quite real. The United States often looked at as a beacon of hope, is now a country with a deviating moral compass. Winters makes America a social outsider, one that relies on foreign aid.

The protagonist Victor was once a former slave who escaped to the North. However he was caught by the Federal Government and forced to work undercover as an agent or “soul catcher”, collecting other runaway slaves and returning them back to the South as a  way to maintain his freedom. His recent case brings him to Indianapolis where Victor is looking for a runaway slave by the name of Jackdaw. Through his pursuit of Jackdaw, Victor becomes closer to the truth of slavery and the oppressive system happening in America.

Unfortunately, this book fell short for me in many ways. The concept was an interesting one to say  the least, however the delivery wasn’t quite there. The characters were wooden and stiff, and Victor’s character was written very shallow. I found that the story’s main point didn’t connect, and it read as a lumpy bit of text to me. Winters come up with a great concept for a novel, however he doesn’t make that idea extraordinary as the plot and characters fall flat.

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Part 1 & 2-J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, John Tiffany.

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After nearly a decade, Harry Potter  returns. This time as an adult, married to Ginny Weasley with three children of his own. The story was quite different as it is in play form, one that was opened in London July 30, 2016. J.K. Rowling presents a script form version of the story. Those who grew up with the Harry Potter series are able to revisit characters and be introduced to a new world, where the plot is intertwined with new and old. The story has something for everyone to enjoy, and with world wide popularity of the story it received much praise and criticism.

Harry, Ron, and Hermoine return to the wizarding world as adults, married, and with children. Harry is married to Ginny with two sons, James Sirius and Albus Severus, and a daughter named Lily Luna. Ron and Hermoine are married to each other with one daughter named Rose. Clouds loom overhead as a certain “darkness” tempts its’ return. There to witness this new found darkness is Harry’s son, Albus. Readers see Albus and Harry’s relationship pulse with tenseness as Albus deals with the weight of a famous father, and  not being a Gryffindor. Harry’s struggles with being  a father to a teenager is ultimately the catalyst that drills the events in the story. “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” is Albus’ venture into a different wizarding world, yet finds himself going back in time reliving the same world as his father. Beloved characters are reintroduced and new characters take the play into a direction that is somewhat predictable yet fresh, and fun to read. The play is much more introspective as the character development outweighs the action. Harry, Ron, Hermoine still are participatory in the plot, as they help contain and defeat the harrowing darkness. If approached right, readers can have an enjoyable experience with this newest addition to the series.

As expected, there were many who disliked “Harry Potter and Cursed Child” simply because it was play or because it read like fan fiction. Both are true, however I applaud Rowling for exploring a creative avenue that keeps her story of the “Boy Who Lived” alive. Her story will forever be in rotation on many platforms (novel, audio, merchandise, amusement parks, plays, film, etc.) and you have to respect her for keeping her brand prevalent.  Yes, this play read like fan fiction and I was hoping for a bit more. I went into it with low expectations, and it made my reading experience better because I wasn’t as crushed. The “adventure” part of the play is not as heavy as is the character development, especially between Harry and Albus. I actually really liked how real their relationship was. It showed the flawed  gritty bits of fatherhood to a teenager. The play isn’t very vast, and it isn’t going to give you everything you originally found in the novels. Instead, it gathered the main crowd pleasing parts of the series, and created a play. At times, the plot/play seem too contrived and generic and definitely read as fan fiction. It wasn’t the best work-but it did what it meant to do- entertain. Fans of the Harry Potter series were disappointed, and as a fellow Potter fan myself, I was little unsatisfied. If you approach it for what it is, and know that it WILL be different from the novels you’ve read, you’ll probably end up liking it more than if you read it with expectations for it to be like the previous novels. It’s worth a try, especially if you enjoy the characters and want a little nostalgia.

Have you any of read the play? Thoughts?

Book Review: Fingersmith-Sarah Waters

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Scandal wrapped in twisting lies, a hidden countryside manor, and a smoky London, make for a novel that is worth sifting through. Waters does it again with her Victorian setting, with of course two lovers at the center of the novel. Although the novel is a hefty 582 pages long, towards the end, you wont even realize how many pages you’ve sifted through as the mystery pulls you in. It’s no secret Sarah Waters  loves a good scandal and is particularly noted for the use of lesbian lovers during the Victorian age. I admire how Waters writes two female lovers during a time where that subject was quite taboo and frowned upon. Fingersmith has been adapted to  film one in English and recently a  South Korean rendition of the movie called 아가씨(Handmaiden). A beautiful novel that has many hidden untruths, Fingersmith is definitely a Waters novel that shouldn’t be overlooked.

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South Korean adaptation 아가씨
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BBC two part series Fingersmith

Susan Sue Trinder, an orphan, is raised in the mist of lower working class and grows up amongst thieves and traders and those whose work must be hid from the law. Her home includes interesting characters, and under the matriarchy of Mrs. Sucksby,  they live a simple yet duplicitous life. Sue’s life changes from one of plebian status to a being lady’s maid to a wealthy young women of an astute country side manor. The plan to change Sue’s life is conducted by a man, Richard Rivers (Gentleman as the London streets deem him) as he has the idea to take Sue to be the  of a woman and convince her to marry Mr.Rivers, thus swindling her of her inheritance. Sue agrees, and together both her and  Mr. Rivers set off to the country. It is here where we meet Maud, a simple woman living a recluse life with her uncle. Maud is made to accompany her uncle with writing certain “ribald” texts. When Maud and Sue and Mr. Rivers meet, the plan comes to fruition and the relationship between  the women grow deeper. The story of course becomes more contorted as the scheme to take Maud’s fortune goes awry. The novel is very reminiscent of all of Water’s writing with plot twists, loose characters, and a very befitting Victorian romance.

I’ve been a long time fan of Sarah Waters and I really admire her writing style. She sticks to what she knows and does a fantastic job at it. The novel is broken into thirds told from the different perspectives of the two women. Sue’s perspective was the most interesting in my opinion, and it offered more of the twisted plot. Water’s does well in setting the scene and the supposed disposition of the characters. Fingersmith has been referred to as Dickens-esque novel, and I would agree that Sarah Waters does a fine job in emulating yet creating a new Victorian London. This novel wasn’t my favorite of hers, but I did enjoy the mass of it. It takes a while to get through the first third, and it is quite slow. I had high expectations of the  novel after viewing the South Korean movie version 아가씨, but I was a little disappointed in the novel as it read dry and dull, leaving  me feeling lackluster at the end. Waters could have done more in this novel to make it more exciting, but it fell short with often boring repetition and characters who were less than fascinating. The character development doesn’t extend beneath surface level, and the “villainy” is scooped together and placed towards the end, making the reader dredge through the first half of the novel, being teased for what is to come. While I wouldn’t recommend to the general reader, I would suggest it to a person who like Victorian literature or is a Charles Dickens fan.

 

Book Review: We Love You, Charlie Freeman-Kaitlyn Greenidge

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I’ve been really enjoying reading books by blacks authors this summer. Each author has delivered a unique and interesting perspective into black ancestry, history, and culture. When it comes to African American ancestry, it often turns into a painful reminder that so much of our culture and history was eradicated by white people.  This summer has been about loving, embracing, re-seeking and reclaiming our history through the various types of books I have read. Diversifying your reading is so important on many different aspects as it allows you to gain a better perspective on a multitude of races. In her debut novel We Love You, Charlie Freeman, author Kaitlyn Greenidge ties race, family, sisterhood, ancestry into a story that is both interesting and enlightening.

The Freemans family journey to the Toneybee Institute in Massachusetts to take part in a social experiment by raising Charlie, a chimpanzee as a part of their family.  Part of the research and experiment is to teach Charlie sign language which the family is well versed in. The Freemans must start a new life in a secluded neighborhood and apartment, quite different from life they had previously known. The story focuses on a few perspectives, but the primary narrator Charlotte gives the reader her perspective on how she deals with being the only black girl in a very white surrounding, as well as adjusting as a freshman at a new school. Each family deals with the research experiment in their own way, but when a deep secret is revealed about the project, everyone is affected and reacts differently. Greenidge uses many literary devices to raise important questions about race and black ancestry. Throughout the story there are flashbacks to a woman named Nymphadora who helped the Toneybee Institute, although in a grotesque and exploitive way. Greenidge places heavy weights on the pages, but does it in a way to not deter her readers and keeps them intrigued throughout the duration of the novel.

When I read this was Kaitlyn Greenidge’s debut novel, I was so impressed with the quality of writing she exemplifies. You can tell she did her research; and she writes so thoroughly and clean she easily can pass as a seasoned writer. I love that she talks about race and ancestry in a unique way, that doesn’t seem to scream a very wearying rhetoric of “American slavery during the nineteenth century.” She doesn’t write about a family raising a chimp, but a black family raising a chimp which draws interesting comparisons scientists have conducted throughout the ages on black people. I also enjoyed how she brought up race in way that didn’t feel like a hammer hitting your head, but you definitely felt the weight of her words. This book is layered, and although some of the layers are hard to understand, they are vital and necessary in order to tell this story. Charlotte’s narration was by far my favorite as she was so introspective and inquisitive. There was also the layer of Charlie the chimpanzee being a family member but also a science project, loved but also probed. The relationships and themes in the novel seem to be placed in a petri dish and peered at through a microscopic lens which allows the author to conduct an experiment on her readers as well. How science and history often go hand in hand, and the author does a fantastic job drawing these two things together. Greenidge is one to watch, and I’m thrilled to have taken part in her first novel. I’m a fan of this book and would recommended this to anyone wanting something out of the ordinary. Praise to the author Kaitlyn Greenidge and her novel that is both progressive and nods to the historicism.

Book Review: Between the World and Me-Ta-Nehisi Coates

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  They made us into a race. We made ourselves in a people.

The reality of a black person is vastly different than that from a white person. Our worlds are separated, and our bodies hold different weight within the universe. With fists and teeth clenched, we move through the world. You saunter through life, whereas we  briskly walk, trying not to hesitate too long. Our moments in this world are brief and often over looked, which is why we shine so bright-we must fully experience everything before our light is snuffed out. To understand us, is to understand an arcane and hidden secret. Yet, not many seek to bear the weight of the secret, for that would mean stripping one’s self down to humanity. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ essay and memoir Between the World and Me looks at the reality of racial relations in America and what it means to be black in America in today. If willing, this book hits you in the core. If listening, this book will awaken you and bring you into touch with reality. If looking, this book with refocus your attention on an ailing matter in America.

Structured as a letter, Between the World and Me Coates’ writes to his teenage son Samori about the reality of growing up black in America.  He intertwines it with his own personal memory of growing up in Chicago and his experience of police brutality. He refers to white people as “Dreamers” people unwilling to connect with their humanity. He writes about the heritage of black folks, the oneness we inherently  have with one another. He contemplates race relations in America and ties them in with his experience of being out of America. The book is a collection of emotions and people  and stories that have helped shaped his curriculum vitae. Although it does dive into black culture and heritage, it is an  exposé on how humans are treated different in the world based on skin color. Coates’ passionately bears all when educating his son on his responsibilities.

And you know now, if you did not before, that the police departments of your country have been endowed with the authority to destroy your body. It does not matter if the destruction is the result of an unfortunate overreaction. It does not matter if it originates in a misunderstanding. It does not matter if the destruction springs from a foolish policy. Sell cigarettes without the proper authority and your body can be destroyed. Resent the people trying to entrap your body and it can be destroyed. Turn into a dark stairwell and your body can be destroyed. The destroyers will rarely be held accountable. Mostly they will receive pensions. And destruction is merely the superlative form of a dominion whose prerogatives include friskings, detainings, beatings, and humiliations. All of this is common to black people. And all of this is old for black people. No one is held responsible.

This book has been deemed important by many, and I can only agree. It contains so many important facts about the way life is, how black bodies have no importance in the world, even when we shaped and built the world. I thought it incredibly endearing but also somber that one has to warn their child about how the world does not see value in their life. However, through the exact realness of it all, Coates reminds and encourages his son to never break or bend on who he is. To be rooted in his blackness as he writes, “You exist. You matter. You have value. You have every right to wear your hoodie, to play your music as loud as you want. You have every right to be you. And no one should deter you from being you.” I can foresee this book being on English AP lists everywhere, as it can reach a wide array of audiences. Coates is a fantastic writer, and I can only imagine more great things coming from him.

But do not struggle for the Dreamers. Hope for them. Pray for them, if you are so moved. But do not pin your struggle on their conversation.