Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Book Reviews

This is a post I've been meaning to make for a while. You may have noticed my reading list over on the right sidebar. Listed there are the novels I wanted to read last year, and crossed off are the ones I made my way through amid my sometimes hectic schedule. Below you'll find my undiluted thoughts on some of the ones I was able to investigate in 2009.  Very soon the sidebar list will be changed to reflect my reading goals for 2010.

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First up, of course, was the last installment in the (somewhat infamous these days) Harry Potter saga, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling.  Everyone has at least heard of this series, so no introduction is really necessary.  I read this book for the second time in 2009, two years after I originally finished the series.  It was every bit as magical as I remembered and then some.

I was in fifth grade when I first fell in love with the Harry Potter novels, and I have since remained enthralled.  Rowling has the unique ability to write for multiple age groups simultaneously.  Her earlier novels do deal with simpler themes and conflicts because of the heroes' youth, but the complexity and maturity of the books grow with each novel until the wizards and witches of Hogwarts come of age.  However, throughout the entire series, adult readers are keener to catch the seemingly insignificant clues that their children are likely to overlook, and mature audience members are more likely to pick up on a deeper subtext to the fantasy.

Like any hero legend, Harry's story is one that encompasses much more than himself.  It speaks to the enormous power of human love, the omnipresence of evil, and the constant struggle to distinguish what really is for "the greater good."  The prejudice and propaganda that Harry and his friends struggle against in the books echoes similar struggles in our "muggle" life, and the lessons learned are universal. 

There is more than might first meet the eye in this teen series, and I whole-heartedly recomend you give it a chance to prove itself.  You might just decide those "crazy kids" have the right idea after all.

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Second on my list was Jodi Picoult's novel My Sister's Keeper.  This book's popularity sky-rocketed when the movie hit theatres last summer.  This was also a re-reading for me.  I picked up the novel for the first time while in high school, and ventured into it again when I heard about the movie deal.

Picoult weaves an intricate and heart-wrenching tale of two sisters with lives that have been forcibly intertwined.  When Kate is diagnosed with Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia her parents are given an opportunity to save her, but at the cost of condemning a second, unborn daughter to a life in and out of hospitals as well.

Little sister Anna is a "designer baby" created for the sole purpose of acting as a donor for Kate.  Her whole life she's been looking out for her big sister, putting off Kate's death one surgery at a time.  It's all she's ever known, and she never questioned her duty to her family.  That's why it come as such a shock when Anna decides to sue her parents for medical emancipation:  the right to make her own medical decisions; the right to stop carving out pieces of her body for her sister.  As she and her parents battle in court, Kate is slipping away, badly in need of a kidney transplant only Anna can provide.

Picoult eloquently pens the tale of a family ripped apart and stitched back together by illness, and gives us a stunning ending we couldn't have saw coming.  This book is a masterpiece, highly deserving of its acclaim, and better than its film adaption by a long shot.  I am literally proud to have it on my shelves.

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Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife is a story about waiting.  Gripped from page one, readers are pulled into a world where the impossible has become a stark reality of loneliness, fear, magic, and sometimes miracles.  The book follows Henry, an unwilling, time-traveling librarian, and Clare, a girl who has known who her husband would be since the age of six, across a life-long star-crossed romance that can be called both beautiful and tormenting.

Henry has the unique privilege of being able to zap into other times, but it's a talent that comes with a high cost.  He cannot control his coming and going.  He is literally pulled from one page of his life into others without warning or any notion of how long he'll be there, and what's worse, he doesn't seem to be able to change anything.  He's simply a bystander, another face in the crowd, observing his own life from the outside.  He misses much of the present because he is called elsewhere, and Clare is left behind to wait as patiently as she can for him to make it home.

The two seem to be soulmates brought together against all odds, but this novel isn't a neat and tidy tale of lovers meeting.  It explores the dynamic problems of their relationship:  how although Henry's traveling is the very thing that brought them together in the past, it is what pulls them apart in the present.  Niffenegger focuses on how the two deal with the constant separations.  She details what things Henry has to learn to survive, what Clare does to stay strong, and eventually, what heartbreaking lengths the two are willing to go to in order to have a family.

In a time when fantasy novels are all the rage, this one finds a way to stand out from the crowd.  The Time Traveler's Wife puts a unique spin on an old motif and renders us speechless by its close.  My hat's off to Ms. Niffenegger for crafting such as story.  I most certainly recomend it, but only if you have a hearty stack of tissues nearby.

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Suzanne Collins' novel The Hunger Games became ranked among my favorites when I was less than half way through with it.  Collins takes us deep into a dystopian American future where a harsh totalitarian government called "Panem" now resides.  The nation has been divided into districts that lie around a prosperous Capitol, each one with a manufacturing specialty.  In the districts, life is beyond hard.  Food is scarce.  Money, reliable electricity and medication are all but myths among the lower classes.  Hunting outside city limits is prohibited.  The people live in constant terror.

Each year, as a cruel show of power, a Reaping is held.  Two children, one boy and one girl, between the ages of 12 and 18 are chosen as Tributes to represent each district in the nationally televised Hunger Games.  The contestants are forced into an arena with only one rule:  the last child standing wins a year's supply of food to take home to their District, but the children must kill off their competition to reap this award.

When 16 year old Katniss' little sister is chosen as the female Tribute for District 12, Katniss sees no option but to stand in her stead.  In the days that follow, Katniss must harness all her strength and knowledge if she is to survive.  With a love triangle and a plot to overthrow the leaders of Panem thrown into the mix, this is one book I could not put down. 

...Just in case there are any The Hunger Games fan girls out there...Team Peeta, all the way.

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Have any of you guys read these? 
What did you think?
Have any recommendations for 2010?

24 comments:

  1. I love the Harry Potter series, and you're definitely right about adults picking up on deeper themes that kids might miss...after rereading them (over and over and over...), you really pick up on the Christian undertones...Harry Potter is a total Jesus archetype. There are also messages about prejudice and governmental power.

    So far this year, I've read Julie and Julia (very good), Dracula, and Carmilla (both for my Gothic lit. class). Both of the books for my lit. class were surprisingly easy to get into, especially Carmilla.

    This summer, I'm looking forward to reading The Lovely Bones, The Grapes of Wrath, Mansfield Park, among many others.

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  2. I just re-read the 7th Harry Potter a couple of weeks ago! I couldn't help picking up after getting a 2nd viewing of HBP on dvd and just wanting to relive the next chapter while waiting for the 7th movie (and trying to figure out where they'd carve the book in 1/2 to make the 8th movie). I actually enjoyed more than the first time around!

    I've got the Time Traveller's Wife and The Lovely Bones waiting in my "to-read" pile, and have been thinking of seeing My Sister's Keeper which just came out in the movies here (but am waiting till I get over my cold, I hear it's a tear fest and my nose can't take any more kleenex at this time!)

    Book recommendations? Well if you're curious every month I do a short recap on all the books I've read over the course of that month, you might find some titles/subjects to interest you:
    http://crazycrishereandthere.blogspot.com/search/label/books

    If you like crime mysteries I'd say go with PD James. John Boyne's Mutiny on the Bounty was a great yarn, Outlaw by Angus Donald an interesting new Robin Hood version, Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series are fun (similar to Potter but not as deep), I couldn't put down Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale.
    And if you'd like to go for some international authors, Carlos Ruiz Zafon's novels (Spanish) have been translated to English (and quite successfull): Shadows of the Wind is amazing and The Angel's Game is also a very eerie read! Then there's Isabel Allende (Chilean), everything has also been translated to English. Her latest "The Island Under the Sea" is very vivid...

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  3. I'm a HUGE Picoult fan so I'd recommend any of her other books, particularly "The Pact." I know you're a fan, but can I just say that I'm uber psyched you didn't put down any Twilight books. :)

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  4. You summed up The Time Traveler's Wife in one sentence, "Henry's traveling is the very thing that brought them together in the past, it is what pulls them apart in the present." Great reviews.

    I <3 The Hunger Games. It is exactly what I look for in a book. And, of course, TEAM PEETA!!!! <3

    rsparks... the last book in the Twilight series (Breaking Dawn) was published in August 2008. Carrie read it the day it was released. That's why it's not on the 2009 reading list. I'm just saying... if it were 2008, it'd definitely be reviewed.

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  5. I have actually been thinking about reading the Harry Porter books......and that hunger game sounds good to

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  6. Thank you for getting this post up! I was excited. I love the "Harry Potter" books myself. I started reading them with sixth grade and still go to the movies at the midnight showings. (I went to the midnight release of the 7th novel as well.) I have heard of the other three books, but I have not read them. I'm glad to have gotten some feedback about them before starting them.

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  7. Great reviews! I definitely want to check out My Sister's Keeper now! :)

    I have been struggling through Time Traveler's Wife. I really liked the movie and I've enjoyed the book so far...it's just a slow read (at least, for me).

    Harry Potter FTW. :)

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  8. I read "The Time Traveler's Wife" and the last HP book this past year also! Great review of Harry Potter. It was my second read of that novel since 2007 as well. I still haven't seen the movie for the TTW. Have you?

    Great reviews!

    -Kels
    harborcottage.blogspot.com

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  9. I have read My Sister's Keeper and The Time Traveler's Wife and enjoyed them. I would like to see the movie versions even if they aren't as good.

    I haven't really read anything outstanding lately.

    You should write book reviews professionally :)

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  10. Sara, I can't imagine being excited for the Grapes of Wrath. Lol. I think my dislike of it comes from the fact that I HAD to read it in High School.

    I totally agree about Harry Potter. There is so much more there than people give it credit for.

    Crazy Cris, I usually always enjoy books more the second time. I find that I rush my way through the first, and am able to pick up on more the second time through. ;)

    The Thirteenth Tale has been on my list for a while. Glad to hear it has a recommendation!

    rsparks, I can understand that Twilight is getting to be a bit annoying, but I'll always love it. Lol. I love Jodi Picoult though. I've read two of her books so far, the other one was Vanishing Acts. It was wonderful too.

    Courtney, aww. :) Thanks.

    Jon, you should read both series. I think you'd really like them, especially The Hunger Games. :)

    Dawn, glad to help. Lol. :)

    Jen, The Timetraveler's Wife is so sad at times that it's hard to get through, but it's one of my favorites. Try and stick it out. ;) My Sister's Keeper is a much faster read though. Definitely check that one out.

    Kelsey, if you haven't saw TTW movie yet, don't waste your money. I don't mean to sound awful about it, but it isn't AT ALL like the book, and in fact, many of the best qualities of the story were completely ignored. :/

    Robyn, the movie for MSK was phenomenal. Different, but still great. :)

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  11. I started reading Betwixt because it sounded interesting, but I could NOT get into it. Let me know what you think if you end up reading it. If you like it, I may try it again.

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  12. Carrie, I'm glad to hear you've got The Thirteenth Tale on your list! :o) The beginning is a tad bit slow, but at one point you won't be able to put it down! :p

    And yeah, I tend to enjoy books on the second reading more as well, particularly those I'm very excited about, as I usually devour them the first time around! lol!

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  15. I read The Time Traveler's Wife & I absolutely adored it. I'm going to be re-reading it again cuz it was so good.

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  16. You are so correct about Harry Potter! I'm pretty sure no other book series will ever take its place as my favorite. Both younger and older readers can read them and get something out of them. I'm constantly trying to get my mom to read them, but since she only read the first one and didn't like it as much, she won't give it another go. She doesn't understand that they get more complicated as the characters age, like you pointed out.

    As for My Sister's Keeper, I agree as well. I heard The Pact was good too, but I personally reccommend Nineteen Minutes. I've read a million by her and it's by far my favorite. (:

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  17. PS- I randomly picked up The Thirteenth Tale while browsing my school library and ended up loving it. It left a pretty big impact on me and I think it's worth a glance or two.

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  18. Meghan, :( I'm sad that she won't give it another shot. It's such a great series! Especially towards the end. :/

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  19. The only one I haven't read is Time Traveler's Wife, but that is on my list of "need to reads". Have you had a chance to pick up Catching Fire, the sequel to The Hunger Games, yet? If not, YOU HAVE TO! It is just as good, if not better, than the first! Also, I agree with everyone else who suggests reading more Jodi Picoult. I just read Handle with Care, and now I am reading Nineteen Minutes. I also bought The Pact. I just love her writing style.

    =]

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  20. EyesToTheSky, I read the sequel as soon as I put down THG. I didn't review that one here because I didn't want the ending of THG for those who hadn't read it. ;)

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  21. I had already commented and was just scrolling down when I saw this post... Harry Potter for the win. :D

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  22. my sister's keeper is one of my all time favorite books. so so good and jodi is an amazing writer.

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  23. Harry Potter, My Sister's Keeper, and The Time Traveler's Wife are all amazing!! I've read them all in the last 6 months, though Harry Potter was for the 3rd or 4th time. I really want to read the Hunger Games and The Lovely Bones too! Also from your reading list on the side, I can tell you that Uglies (and Pretties) are both very good. I have yet to read Specials and Extras. Dear John is amazing!! I love Nicholas Sparks, and this one isn't as big of a tear jerker as most of his are.

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