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Month

July 2015

The Diary of a Young Girl (1947)

Written by: Anne Frank

There are four things I must say as a preclude to this book review:

1. There is a reason this memoir still sells even more than half a century after its publication.

2. There is nothing more biting than a narration through the eyes of an oppressed young girl in the years leading to her womanhood.

3. Yes, girl.

4. This book is a shining example of raw feminine prowess, and I refuse to even slightly conceal my quite motherly approval towards the famed (and rightfully so) Anne Frank.

It was the year 1942, and Holland was overrun by violence and persecution. The Nazis terrorized the land, driving thirteen-year-old Jewish girl Anne Frank and her family into hiding. For two dark years, they stayed clandestinely cloistered up in a space behind an office cupboard. And for those two dark years, Anne Frank kept a remarkable account of the constant cruelties they faced in the “Secret Annexe” — including the crippling boredom, the starvation, and the omnipresent threat of discovery.

In this manuscript our writer gives us a detailed chronicle of the happenings in the years prior to their discovery — her thoughts, feelings, and impressions not only on the various difficulties, but also on the minimal and periodical joys that came with their confinement. By turns heartrending and amusing, Anne provides us with a compelling exegesis on the horrors of the war, both the shocking infirmities and the heroic fortitude of the human morals, along with the romances and the tragedies in the life of a growing girl. Anne, bright, volatile girl that she was, created a world in itself in the journal that captured the soul of a revolution.

Casual Vacancy (2012)

Written by: J.K. Rowling

Have you ever felt that wistful, bloated sense of reverie after finishing a specifically fulfilling meal? I know I have, and I know that that is the exact feeling anyone in their right gumption would get after reading a book like this one. Has any stack of pages ever held this much faculty over the literary world? Perhaps it has, a couple of centuries ago. But today, Casual Vacancy receives the pin.

When Barry Fairbrother meets his abrupt demise, a seat on the parish council is left unoccupied. Barry Fairbrother’s death is the first block to drop in a series of events that radically configures the lives of the people of the humble English town of Pagford; augmented by the social toils of its inhabitants, Pagford forms a precarious community founded on conflicts big and small, concealing a pit of tar beneath its austere veneer. Child versus parent, husband versus wife, pupil versus teacher, this novel proffers all these and more through an assemblage of graphic perspectives.

Some authors make a habit of purposefully rendering their supporting personas flat so as to make the main characters fluoresce. J.K. Rowling breaks through this plight like a sword through soft cheese — one of the most capable authors of this century once again proves her dexterity with a string of fresh, grit-hardened characters who come to life in this realistic pounce of a story, characters who will assuredly generate the fervid stirrings which the best novels are bound to arouse in their readers’ spirits. There’s no formal way to say it — Rowling’s people are nothing if not kick-ass.

Few writers emerge victorious in attempting to combine wit and sharp hilarity. Demonstrably, our author does not find this fact in any way limiting, and proceeds to stupefy (forgive the pun) us all with this razor-edged writing style, sharper and shinier than ever. These kinds of writing styles are rare, and trust me when I allege that when encountered, they will encapsulate the vast readership for months, years, decades, possibly even centuries. The fullness of this book’s exquisiteness leaves no room for exaggeration.

Every Day (2012)

Written by: David Levithan

As a kid, we all get extremely curious about mysterious, incorporeal things. As for me, I’ve always been transfixed to the idea of souls. Wandering souls, kindred souls, immortal souls. They’re all so intriguing. I could spend several hours contemplating the philosophical aspects of souls and I would not deem the time misspent. Complex things, souls are. This was what led me to Levithan’s Every Day. Now, I am highly particular about my authors; my favorites usually specialize in historical fiction, fantasy, science fiction, the like. I’ve seen a good many compatriots mooning over Levithans, but after scanning the blurbs and conducting a little research on our man, I was never exactly thoroughly impressed. That was until one of my English professors recommended this title to me (as a matter of fact, I was required to, but I regard “recommend” as an appropriate enough euphemism. Like I said, I am highly particular about a lot of things).

The plot line’s an undemanding one. Every morning, A wakes up in a different body, in a different life. A is used to this. Never get too attached; avoid being noticed; do not interfere. A doesn’t mind – until he wakes up in Justin’s body and meets Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon. From that moment, the rules from which A has been living no longer apply.

If there’s one feature I value as a reader, it’s volatility. I’m in it for the explosive. The turbulent. The thunderous. Like the weather, I like my novels capricious, and that’s precisely what Every Day succeeded in giving me. Every day, A rises as a different person, someone passionate about something different, and undergoing something new. This administers the book with a shot of caffeine; each chapter introduces a character better than the last. Although the plot line will persist in its plainness, the chapter progression will surely keep one on their feet.

The paragraphs are uncomplicated, really, and not even remotely vocabulary-enriching or whatsoever, which I despised, but I must admit that this novel came as a slap in the face to my moral standards. Dull as it may be, it is periodically injected with quite a few principles to ponder. As A encounters various religions, ethnicities, conditions, and disabilities, the pages also explore the scruples of life and love: what is love? Is love love when it is merely a connection with the tangible consciousness? How can one tell if they are in love with a soul in all its pureness, and not solely with a secure physical form? Does pure, unconditional love even exist, anyway?

Levithan touches the breadths of identity in his themes with his dives into heritage and self-searching. With such a simple collection of words, he brings into light a number of worldly theories on the portions of ourselves that can make or break our existences. If you seek a light read with subsequent cogitative potential, then this is a good book to have inside your shelves.

Love Me If You Dare (2003)

Directed by: Yann Samuell

Starring: Guillaume Canet, Marion Cotillard, Thibault Verhaeghe, Joséphine Lebas-Joly, Emmanuelle Gronvold, Gerard Watkins, Gilles Lellouche, Julia Faure, Laetizia Venizia, Elodie Navarre, Nathalie Nattier, Robert Willar, Frederic Geerts, Manuela Sanchez, Philippe Drecq

The film pivots on two childhood friends, Sophie and Julien, who meet under hapless circumstances. Sophie, a poor Polish immigrant, bullied and toughened by detriment, is assisted by a callow Julien, and through a toy tin box, their dare-built comradeship develops. The plot chases them on a mischievous trail to adulthood; only, the time arrives when their mischief turns into mad mayhem, and they have long since crossed the borders of rationality.

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Commencing with a hazy picture and a vibrant palette, the cinematography had me spellbound from the start. The deviant visuals keep the flow of the scenes riveting as they evolve with the shifts of the time setting — as Sophie and Julien grow, so changes the palette, getting more distinct and realistic as they pass adolescence. Besides this, it would also do to commend the film artists, for the very appealing add-in material. The incorporation of a bit of art, and the lovely sound overture make the movie all the more striking.

However startling (and I wholly mean this as a compliment) the movie is, though, like all things, it has its own shortcomings. Even with the protagonists’ natural chemistry, they come to a drawback in forming and exuding that sense of sympathy that is to be expected in the genre of romantic drama. This may be intentional on their part, but for my idyllic writer’s eye, it appears as a deficiency. Understand that instead of feeling the high of that victorious exhilaration during the moment of their reunion, there was only the feeling of roguish fulfillment after witnessing something that should have occurred way earlier. In spite of these minor pitfalls, the movie remains a historical magnum opus. Reckless, potent, and constantly astonishing, this film is perfect for any day — or any time of the day.

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Note: Watch this with subtitles, unless you can comprehend fluent French, which I’m pretty certain you can’t.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) (Novel)

Written by: Lewis Carroll

It is the iconic literary classic that is still widely known to this day and has had countless adaptations ever since its first publication. The story begins with Alice noticing the very peculiar sight of a rushing rabbit holding a watch and of course, being a very curious child, she follows and falls down a rabbit hole. Many fantastical happenings in Wonderland ensue like the ever-changing size of Alice because of her consumption of various things, our heroine meeting anthropomorphic beings, asking advice from a curt caterpillar, an infant turning into a pig, and playing croquet with hedgehogs as improvised balls  to recount a few. Alice meets a myriad of eccentric characters throughout the story. The heroine of the story often goes along with the flow, yet is exasperated by the very strange chain of events her own imagination has (unknowingly) subjected her to. Comical events lead up to the rather abrupt displacement from Wonderland and back into reality.

The story, I believe will remain cherished and sempiternal because of the novelty of the narrative. The many amusing events that occur to Alice appeal to children while the logic and allusions appeal to the mature audience. The author puts many literary references and parodies and unusual use of logic to the tale. It has a very engaging writing style that fits the perspective of a child such as Alice. Many seem to speculate and assume that Alice is going through her queer exploits from a narcotic substance when it is heavily implied in the end that it is merely sensory incorporation in dreams. Alice’s adventure gets cut short by her sister waking her up and brushing off leaves on her face when she dreamt about getting swarmed by playing cards as a conclusion to the ridiculous trial. It is a literary classic that deserves to be read if one has not read it yet, or simply reread for a foray into the amusement of Alice’s adventures in Wonderland.

Angels & Demons (2000) (Novel)

Written by: Dan Brown

In the first installment orbited around Brown’s famed protagonist Robert Langdon, the Harvard professor in religious symbology wakes up to a message from the director of CERN, who informs him that Leonardo Vetra, one of their most accomplished scientists, has been brutally murdered. He faxes Langdon an image of the dead man, whose chest has been branded with a mysterious symbol. Robert recognizes the symbol as the mark of an ancient cult, the Illuminati. He travels to CERN and meets Vittoria, the dead scientist’s daughter, who introduces him to her father’s most recent breakthrough, antimatter. A large amount of antimatter, deadly and destructive, was stored safely in Leonardo’s lab, until he was killed and the safe was broken into. Meanwhile, Vatican City receives a bomb threat featuring the stolen antimatter. Robert and Vittoria traverse through Rome, trying to track down the Illuminati and find the canister before it’s too late, or the Vatican will perish.

Imbibing the elements of history, architecture, art, and religion, Langdon takes us on a wild ride across Europe’s most controversial district — the center of Christianity — the Vatican. But the credit does not all go to Langdon; he brings an astute, arresting femme fatale of a companion with him: the formidable Vittoria Vetra (who defies all the limiting concepts of misogyny, bless her wonderful psyche). The synopsis, loaded with savvy and conspiracy, makes for a sharp manuscript.

Angels & Demons also presents quite an interesting lot of conflicts, not excluding the millennial clash between science and religion, and the perilous line between devotion and obsession. The book initially demonstrates various illustrations of beneficial dedication, and then proceeds to venture over the barrier to what transpires under the mad throes of addiction. Bold is the most appropriate word for this novel’s scopes.

Although the succeeding books can be experienced as stand-alones, I strongly advise reading the books in chronological order, as it would give a good overview on Langdon’s evolution in character.

Thirteen Reasons Why (2007)

Written by: Jay Asher

Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker, his classmate and former crush, who committed suicide two weeks prior. On tape, Hannah explains the thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them, and through the tape, he finds out how he made the list.

Jay Asher, our author, makes Hannah Baker an accessible character, quick to comprehend. Notwithstanding the fact that she is laden with the book’s matters-in-question, her actions are foreseeable and conventional, even if we weren’t provided with the truth that she was going to commit in the first place. This makes the novel uncomfortable in more ways than one, and Clay Jensen more dim-sounding than a hundred.

Have you ever experienced reading something in one sitting, not out of captivation, but out of sheer impatience? That was how it felt as I sat through one December lunch period clutching this modest little paperback. Following Clay from his front porch through a cluster of unfamiliar streets and the unnecessarily tedious reminiscence of a reputedly spectacular cup of sea-salt caramel hot chocolate, it was frankly an unsophisticated read. The plot, stark and succinct, is unfortunately very poor, lacking in profundity. Throughout the read I found myself anticipating the next scenes. And don’t we all crave that unspoken tingle of unpredictability?

But despite its shortfall in depth, it acknowledges many significant issues in this day and age: sexual objectification, verbal and non-verbal abuse, bullying, peer pressure, and suicide. It accentuates the importance of being aware of how we affect other people’s lives, no matter how seemingly small our movements. Asher persuades his audience to speak up instead of choosing to be idle, because inaction is never the better option. We never know when the person beside us just needs a single notion of encouragement to live through another day.

When Harry Met Sally (1989)

Directed by: Rob Reiner

Starring: Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan, Carrie Fisher, Bruno Kirby, Steven Ford, Lisa Jane Persky, Michelle Nicastro, Kevin Rooney, Harley Kozak, Franc Luz, Tracy Reiner, Estelle Reiner

Can men and women ever just be friends?

Admittedly not being a fan of the romance genre, my expectations were quite squat when this film was recommended to me. Boy, were my expectations ever backhand-slapped this hard. The story follows freshly-graduated Sally Albright and Harry Burns, who are first immersed in each other’s (mandatory) company on a drive to New York City. Harry is then dating Sally’s friend, a fact which led to an assortment of complications when Sally identifies that the boy is trying to make a move on her. Throughout the ride they exchange opposing views on male-female relationships, and after an edgy exchange, they ultimately separate on bad terms. Five years later, their paths re-intersect in an airport, where they reveal to each other that both of them are involved in happy affiliations, and Harry attempts to strike up a friendship with the lady, using the aid of a few lies and some allegations that there are some exceptions to his previously mentioned male-female-friendships-are-urban-myths theory. Again, they separate on bad terms. It’s another five years later, after Harry’s divorce and Sally’s breakup, that they meet for a third time at fate’s bidding – and this time they do decide to be friends.

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Frankly, this is one of the films whose timelessness overcomes all its technological backwardness. If anything, the time setting only multiplies its charm by tenfold. This movie introduced to me a lot of household concepts which I wasn’t ever really forced to grasp before, such as the hypothetical “transitional person” and men’s attraction-based take on inter-gender relations.

Character-wise, the movie’s people, although lacking in diversity, are all so striking. Each one has their own lives. The screenplay director does a spectacular job at infusing all the little quirks into everyone’s individuality. Even if they make sure that the duo stands out and the supporting cast are rooted on existing stereotypes, each has their own idiosyncratic background, distinctive traits and all.

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The film is slow-paced, but I understood that the minutes are faithfully squandered on detail – elements all crucial to the movie’s themes. Every word is significant, but subtly so; the dialogue is witty such that most times I am obliged to summon all my willpower to resist the urge to applaud. If you seek a simple, golden, compelling romance, then this is the film for you.

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Cloud Atlas (2004) (Novel)

Written by: David Mitchell

Six obscurely inter-connected stories weaved with a network of vivid personalities, a hodgepodge of genres, and a roller coaster ride of many themes, take the reader from the remote South Pacific in the 19th century to a distant, post-apocalyptic future in this emotional and intellectual whirlwind of a read.

The first story, set in 1850 on a far-flung island in New Zealand, is told through a collection of journal entries penned by a certain Adam Ewing, an American notary who awaits the rectification of his ship. In his journal, Ewing explores the natives’ culture and traditions, describing in detail his rather terrified yet deferential viewpoints on their primeval ways. The next story focuses on Robert Frobisher, a bisexual, impoverished young musical prodigy, who fills the chapter with letters addressed to his lover, Rufus Sixsmith, over his stay for an extended period of time at a manor in Belgium to apprentice for a reclusive musician. After Robert Frobisher’s tale comes Luisa Rey’s, in an intense quest-style libretto that follows the female journalist as she examines the mystery behind a scientist’s murder. (Luisa Rey proves to be a smart, empowered woman, which I very much appreciated.) Next, the reader is tossed into a comedy starring 65-year old opportunistic publisher, Timothy Cavendish, who finds himself locked in a home for the aged by his own brother. Cavendish meets a cruel nurse and a bunch of new acquaintances, with whom he expresses much dislike. The fifth story is established in a dystopian society somewhere in the regions of Korea, related through a transcription of a conversation between a genetically engineered human and an interviewer. Sonmi~451, the girl, recounts how she was smuggled out by supposed students and helped to become aware of her abused disposition through presenting her with a particular film, and a proper education. The final subplot is narrated by Zachry, a man from post-apocalyptic Hawaii, who meets a civilized stranger named Meronym, to whom he initially feels contempt (fueled by a sinister entity which displays itself to the man as some sort of demonic conscience). When Meronym provides his sister’s salvation from death, Zachry begins to take a liking to Meronym, and he agrees to take her to Mauna Kea. (The frustration and excitement aroused in me by this last story is palpable. Zachry’s character, fervent, unrelenting, and graphic, is startling. In an awesome way.)

Now, what most novels lack is diversity of character, and as for the novels which do succeed in incorporating a number, they fail in making them memorable, consequently rendering the book somewhat painful to read. David Mitchell does not make this an issue in Cloud Atlas. The constant shift in storytelling style is thrilling, but although smart and refreshingly rare, not all may be able to grasp its challenging nature. In spite of this minor fact, it is a literary breakthrough. Unforgettable.

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