Favorite Books of 2015

I had every intention of posting my list of favorite books of 2015 back in January! I guess it’s better late than never.

nightcircusMy favorite book of 2015 is…The Night Circus by Erin Morgentern. This is such a beautiful story that it is a bit challenging to summarize without misleading people. It was not the story I expected, but I ended up loving it, maybe because I have a soft spot for circuses and magic. The story starts as a competition between two ancient magicians that set their pupils against each other. The circus is the venue for the competition. As the competition evolves and the players discover who their rival is, they change the game. Rather that outperforming one another with their exhibits/performances, they begin to court each other by collaborating, and the result is a wondrous dreamlike circus. However, there is one rule that they are unaware of and that is that only one can be left standing. As a side note, I think cirque du soleil should base one of their shows on this book.

Two other books that I really enjoyed reading were Girl on Train by Paula Hawkins and Orphan Train: A Novel by Christina Baker Kline. Girl on Train is thriller in which none of the narrators can be trusted. Some people have said it is the next Gone Girl. I did not think so and I liked it better. Orphan Train is the story of the friendship between two very different people, a 91-year-old lady, Vivian, and a teenage girl, Molly. I enjoyed the story, but it could also be that I have a very special spot in my heart for Anne of Green Gables, and you can see a similarity between Anne’s story and Vivian’s.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

The Elegance of the HedgehogThis was a book I bought when I went on a book shopping frenzy. I had not really heard of the book but the title and description were interesting enough. So when I started reading the book I was disappointed and had a hard time getting through the first part of the book. However, I stuck to the book and was pleasantly surprised.

Part of the reason I had a hard time with the first part of the book was that it was too philosophical. Philosophy was never my favorite subject and will probably never be, mainly because I don’t really get answers. I find that I usually end up with more questions. I also found the characters a bit off-putting. At first it seems that both of the protagonists think they are above others, a little condescending.

The story is narrated by the two protagonists, Renee and Paloma, alternating chapters. Renee is a 54-year-old widow concierge of a posh Parisian apartment building and Paloma is a 12-year-old tenant planning to commit suicide on her 13th birthday. They are both intellectuals who have been disappointed with life and hide their true selves by playing the roles society has dealt them. I found the character of Paloma a bit unconvincing. Renee’s character becomes more dimensional after she shares her history. It explains why she believes people of different social classes cannot mix. I also found it interesting that both had this affinity for Japanese culture.

The story picks up after a new tenant moves in, Monsieur Ozu. Both the characters are so wrapped up in themselves that they failed to notice they were kindred spirits. It is not until Monsieur Ozu brings them together that they see how much they both have in common. It is also this connection that allows the two of them to open up and confide in each other. They also begin to realize that they do not have to follow the status quo and can be themselves.

For me the best part of the book was the story of Jean Arthens and the camellias; beauty in its simplicity can give us hope. Although, I struggled with the book I did enjoy the end even if it was dramatic and unexpected. The one thing this book left me with is that sometimes we are all too busy and wrapped up in ourselves that we don’t see each other. So it might not be a bad idea to take time to observe people—who knows we may find a kindred spirit.

A Discovery of Witches: A Novel by Deborah E. Harkness

A Discovery of Witches: A NovelI love reading fiction, especially ones with witches and vampires, so when I heard about A Discovery of Witches I just had to read it. It also gave me an excuse to finally use my kindle since the next book I bought would be an e-book. I was really enjoying my reading experience with the kindle up until the end; not the kindle’s fault.

A Discovery of Witches is about Diana Bishop, Matthew Clairmont, and the Ashmole 782. Diana Bishop is a respected historian of alchemy that comes from a long line of distinguished witches. However, she refuses to embrace her powers due to the tragic death of her parents but later we discover that there is more to that. Matthew is a 1500-year-old, hot, scientist vampire that is also doing research at Oxford like Diana. The Ashmole 782 is a bewitched manuscript that is believed to possess the history of all species and have unknown powers. For the most part Diana is able to stay away for the world of magic with a few exceptions. However, that ends when she unknowingly requests Ashmole 782. The moment she gets the manuscript is the beginning of chaos and a forbidden love story, no surprise there. Interspecies dating is prohibited.

The one thing that made me a bit iffy about this book was the comparison to Twilight some people were making. I read the Twilight series and don’t exactly care for it. At the beginning of the book, I really liked Diana because she was independent, affirmative, athletic, and had a bit of spunk. In the middle, she began to remind me of Bella Swan, who can’t be without Edward. Well, not to the same extent. I felt that the middle of the story was mainly about Diana drinking tea, eating toast occasionally with eggs, drinking wine, and being tucked into bed. I am not sure how much tea a person can drink, since I drink more than my fair share of coffee I am not too critical of it, but it is just boring to read about it. Off course this change happens after she starts hanging with Matthew Clairmont and becomes too dependent on him. Like Edward Cullen, Matthew is over protective and torments her with a very brief separation; felt like déjà vu. I did find Matthew Clairmont more appealing than Edward. Finally, in the final chapters of the book she accepts her powers and starts acting more like a heroine and not so much as a damsel in distress.

The pace of the story slows downs in the middle but really picks up towards the end which felt rushed. I also felt the end was abrupt and wanted to throw my kindle. I was glad to be reading this book on my kindle since it is over 500 pages and would be quite heavy to lug around. However, with a book your are always aware when the end is approaching but with the kindle you have to pay attention to the progress bar which I stopped doing during the middle since every time I checked no progress was made.

I enjoyed enough of the book but I would not say that I could not put it down especially when I was slogging through the middle. I really think it would have been better if some sections from the middle were left out. I thought the author did a wonderful describing the settings and weaving in different historical time periods and figures, like Darwin and Newton. She also spends a considerable amount of time describing different wines of which I would love to try a few. I will be reading the sequel mainly because I have the irritating habit of having to finish a series once I read the first book. If I did not have that habit, I would be hesitant. I am just hoping that she does not it make too long.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

The Glass Castle

I was hooked after reading the first couple of pages of The Glass Castle. It is the memoir of Jeannette Walls, a well-known journalist and writer. It has been a long time since I have read a memoir and can’t remember reading one that I enjoyed as much as this one.

Jeanette Walls does a wonderful job narrating her childhood memories in such a way that she is able to transmit the development of her understanding as she matures and becomes aware of just how unconventional her family life had been. She and her family lived as nomads moving from town to town along the Southwest region of the U.S. until they finally settled in Welch, West Virginia.

As a young child, she viewed everything her family did as one big adventure; always on the run from the bad guys. Slowly she started to realize how impoverished and destitute her family situation really was as well as how eccentric her parents were. It is clear that her parents loved them but were reluctant to embrace their roles and responsibilities. Her father suffered from alcoholism and her mother appears to suffer from emotional/mental issues although she is described as a free spirit who did not believe in parenting. It is not until she and her siblings decide to leave their parents and move to New York that they are able to have some semblance of normalcy. As a reader, you will cheer for their success as they save up to move each other to New York.

However, through it all I admire the love and unity that the Walls family had despite all their tribulations. Jeannette is able to convey the love and admiration that she felt for parents as a young child particularly for her dad. As an adult the love that she has for her parents is still strong even though she is aware of everything that they put them through. Her parents eventually follow them to New York and the family is once again somewhat together but living in their own worlds. I loved that she is honest about her disappointment in them but still loves them.

I think that the full enjoyment of the book was marred by the knowledge that children live through such hardships. I cannot understand how such parents can exist. I was appalled that a parent could down play the molestation, starvation, or stability of their children. I understand that sometimes people need to learn from their experiences but children do need some guidance. However, this memoir also shows just how resilient children can be and how love can make it possible for them to overlook the shortcomings of their heroes, in this case her dad.

Overall, I enjoyed the book and would recommend it. This book will make you laugh, cry, shudder, reflect, and maybe even appreciate your parents a little more.

“The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde

I read The Picture of Dorian Gray a while ago but its one of those books that you just never forget. When I was first introduced to the book I wasn’t interested in it at all, it seemed boring and long. If you have ever read the book you know that it is everything but boring and maybe it’s a little long but it’s worth reading.

Basil Hallward is a painter creating a portrait of the young dashingly handsome Dorian Gray when Lord Henry Wotton enters to observe. Lord Henry begins to express his opinions on beauty and the world to Dorian Gray, ignoring the constant opinion of Basil who is telling him to stop. From here on after Dorian Gray seems to believe that beauty is the only worthy characteristic of a person. His vanity is  his doom. He rejects his true love knowing that she will one day get old and lose her physical beauty. He becomes rude and condescending towards everyone. He essentially loses his true beauty. Dorian Gray is a perfect representation of how the focus on physical beauty can take away from inner beauty. The portrait painted by Basil soon begins to show the true Dorian, it now shows an ugly person who is deprived of any form beauty. Oscar Wilde does a truly magnificent job in stating that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. This book is a beautiful winding story of self destruction. I would recommend this book to anyone who appreciates different perspectives on true beauty.

“It is better to be beautiful than to be good. But it is better to be good than to be ugly.”

Review: The Pillars of the Earth

Pillars of the Earth by Ken FollettAbout a week ago, I finally finished reading The Pillars of the Earth. My initial intention was to review each part as I got through it but soon after I realized that it wasn’t such a good idea. Once the story picked up, I could not put it down and regretted not being able to take the book around with me. I enjoyed the book and would recommend it. Don’t be discouraged by the size.

The Pillars of the Earth is an incredible story full of intrigue, romance, history, and architecture. The novel is set in the middle of the 12th century and centered around the building of Kingsbridge’s cathedral. It follows the lives of several characters, particularly those of Prior Philip, Tom Builder, Ellen, Aliena, Jack, Waleran Bigod, and William Hamleigh. The stories of the characters are intermingled as their lives are affected in one way or another by the construction of the cathedral. Most of the characters were driven by ambition, pride, love, and/or promises.

Among the things that I enjoyed about this book was that most of the female characters were not damsels in distress. Although they were victims of injustice and tyranny they were also survivors. The women of the story were clever and were not only able to recover but also succeed. I am not sure how historically accurate their success is for the 12th century. On the other hand, most of the men in the story seemed dependent on women helping them out or telling them what to do, particularly Richard. Richard’s character was actually rather annoying.

My favorite characters were Prior Philip, Ellen, Aliena, and Jack. Ellen seemed to belong to another time period. Her independence, boldness, bluntness, and sense of justice seemed at times slightly out-of-place. Both, Prior Philip and Jack, shared an innocence about the world that was endearing but were quick to figure things out.

I decided to read The Pillars of the Earth after watching the Starz TV adaptation. I have to say that I liked the ending of the Starz TV adaptation a little better. But the ending of the book was satisfying.

The Pillars of the Earth: Part One

Matthew Macfadyen as Prior Philip

Matthew Macfadyen as Prior Philip in Starz Original's The Pilliars of the Earth

This past week has been busy so I only managed to read Part One of The Pillars of the Earth. The book is 973 pages and too heavy to be carrying everywhere. It has made me seriously consider buying an e-reader. So far the main characters have been introduced. Follett has created characters that are believable and captivating. The main plot of the story has also been established, which is Prior Philip’s and Tom Builder’s dream to build a cathedral for Kingsbridge.

Having seen the Starz series adaptation prior to reading the book I can’t help comparing the actors selected to play the main characters. Although, Ian McShane did an excellent job playing Waleran’s role that is not who I pictured after reading the characters description. I pictured someone more like Alan Rickman. The instant I read about Prior Philip I pictured Matthew Macfadyen! Though, I might be a bit bias towards him. The character’s selected to play Jack and his father are much better looking than Follett describes them. My favorite character’s so far are Ellen, Prior Philip, Jack, and Aliena.

I will keep you guys posted on my progress.