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The Miniaturist (2014)

Written by: Jessie Burton

An eighteen-year-old Petronella Oortman finds herself tied in betrothal to the kind-hearted yet enigmatic Johannes Brandt, whose wits and riches name him one of the most well-to-do men in seventeenth century Amsterdam. Albeit palatial in structure, Nella finds the Brandt household rather inhospitable — owing to the air of tension evinced by its walls and the people within them: the nosy chambermaid, Cornelia; the mysterious manservant, Otto; and the fickle sister-in-law. When her husband gifts her with a miniature replica of their house, Nella is thrust into a dangerous game that will both imperil her, and the secrets of her new home.

Thoroughly researched, this novel paints an accurate portrait of life in the seventeenth century. From the speech to the most minute of imagery, Burton provides the readers with a clear picture of the cultural norms of the period: the trade, the opulence, and the one-track mind of religious society.

Bold in its showing of homophobia, misogyny, and casteism, every turn of the page presents itself in gasp-worthy grandeur. The characters, all lovingly sculpted and in turn endlessly engrossing, present themselves in the haughty sophistication that would be anticipated from persons who come from such a community.

The keenest of eyes may infer that Marin Brandt, she of the stiff collar and the upturned chin, represents the entirety of that stage in history. Although the characters each bear contributions to the photograph that is Dutch characteristic, she reveals herself to be the instigator of the twists of the scheme. As cold and pious in veneer as she is internally filled to the brim with passions both wicked and naive, she demonstrates the charade that the Amsterdam society adapted, born of the need to belong, for safety, for security, and the intrinsic urges of the masses towards liberation.

Venturesome in ambition and most times confusing, I daresay this is the perfect one-night stand.

Before I Fall (2010)

Written by: Lauren Oliver

This piece of contemporary young adult fiction starts off as a pathetically stereotypical white girl story. Samantha Kingston practically has a charmed life. She’s very popular, has a gorgeous boyfriend, and her circle of friends are the prettiest and most popular girls in school. By all means, the twelfth of February or Cupid Day should be yet another inimitable and normal day in her life. Yet, not all things go as planned, and Samantha is killed in a tragic car accident on her way home from a party. It doesn’t end here; however, the protagonist relives her last day seven times. Samantha discovers how her actions and decisions affect the course of the day until she finds out some hidden truths, and chooses the “right” thing to do thus ending the time loop where she ambiguously fades.

Admittedly, this novel isn’t exactly my cup of tea to peruse, and honestly, I didn’t truly enjoy it especially because of the introductory chapter where it just drones on about the minutiae and romanticised  musings of a popular girl. The added supernatural and spiritual element that was added after her death managed to perk my interest a bit in an otherwise ostentatious white girl book. Samantha does things that she normally wouldn’t even dare do in a normal situation, but the daunting idea of the inevitability of her death makes her rebellious and apathetic for a while.

Afterwards, she gains a sense of purpose because there must be a reason a dead person is having her last day replayed, after all. When Samantha finally realises this, she unveils some lacklustre secrets about her best friend and her relation with Juliet, the lonely, unpopular girl.

I have to say kudos because for a romantic young adult novel, Samantha has the most wonderful character development. I’ve observed that heroines of YA books these days hardly go through character development if at all.

Disregarding the tedium of reading the reflections of a typical popular stereotyped girl (Some of her thoughts made me wince and put down the book more than once.), there is a poignant tone to this novel. It shows us how our action and decisions affect the course of the day, and like Samantha brutally shows us the consequences of what we have done and not done in a day of our limited lives.

The Fault in Our Stars (2012) (Novel)

Written by: John Green

First and foremost, I would like to express that I am not an avid fan of John Green, and if you expect this review to be some sort of ode to him, then you are in for an ugly awakening.

Hazel Grace Lancaster is an intelligent 16-year-old girl who has spent all her life lurking in the shadow of terminal cancer. She is persuaded to attend cancer support group, where she meets Augustus Waters. Their similarities allow their relationship to blossom quickly as they search for answers to Hazel’s favorite novel, An Imperial Affliction, which ends ambiguously. Augustus then drops a bomb; his cancer has returned. At his funeral, she gives a different eulogy from what she originally wrote for him. This is because she realized that funerals are not for the dead, but for the living. In the end, she learns that Augustus had written her a eulogy that he had sent to Peter Van Houten. She reads the eulogy, which states that he hopes that she’s happy with the choices she made. Hazel says that, yes, she is happy.

In most contemporary novels, the problem is an oversimplified plot. Here, though, the problem is an ostentatious plot. For a typical romance-tragedy, it strives to be more than it is. Now, I have no issues with anything that aims to surpass itself, but the exhibitionism in this novel’s style manifests itself on a whole new level. Forced intellect imprints itself on every piteous page. As conformation to The Fault in Our Stars review stereotypes, I did in fact feel a whirlwind of emotions during the read. Mostly bad emotions. Some times I wanted to retch; other times I was a pinky finger-breadth’s close to crying out of disappointment in humanity.

Again, the characters are so desperate to shine that they become lackluster. I don’t even wish to elaborate on this. Overview: Hazel – boring, Augustus – tries too hard to be cool and poetic, Isaac – kinda okay but not focused on enough to make any real impact, Hazel’s mom – would remind one of a mushy version of Regina George’s mom from Mean Girls.

For all it’s worth, this book receives way more credit than it deserves. Not only does it romanticize cancer and have girls all over the world clamoring for a boy diagnosed with a fatal disease in hopes that they will conceive a romance worthy of publication, it also glamorizes the act of going out with strangers you just met. One last tip: If you meet a cute guy anywhere and he asks you to come over, it’s probably not because he wants to watch a movie with you. Sad as it is, this is the truth. Deception is a norm now — thrown in the objectification of women, too.

If I Stay (2009) (Novel)

Written by: Gayle Forman

Mia Hall, an ordinary girl with quite an extraordinary knack of playing the cello, has always thought that the hardest decision she would ever make was to choose between her boyfriend, Adam, and the school of her dreams, Juilliard. This changes when one snowy morning, her family decides to visit a close friend’s house, and ends up in a violent car-to-car collision, her parents dead and her brother half-so. She finds herself wandering the hospital outside her body. Mia finds out that Teddy, her little brother is also dead, and then begins to wonder if there was anything left worth living for.

Alright, I’m going to cut to the chase. This is a really bad book. There’s just no existing euphemism for it. From the all-too-conventional plot to the completely bland chain of paragraphs, I have never read anything so deplorable. I was required to read this for a certain competition involving discussing the elements of a set of appointed novels, and I regret to say that it took me half a week to finish this one book. Whenever I attempt to trudge on through the paltry pages, I always end up sleeping or scowling so hard my face gains ten years of age per minute.

The protagonist, Mia the Cellist, as opposed to true artists, is quite a pitiably predictable character, which does not help in developing an in-depth connection between the main persona and the reader. The author may have focused too much on Mia’s musical abilities that she forgot to refine her protagonist’s identity. This caused Mia to turn out one-dimensional and therefore not feel-able.

The supporting characters are equally unimpressive. Adam, so pretentiously cloaked in all his rock glory, does not make the striking effect that characters of his type usually make at all. What is the word for it? Ah, yes. Lame.

I admire the thoroughly-researched history of music, though. I think that was the only thing that kept me going through the little story.

But amidst all the boiling loathing I felt whilst reading, there were some very valuable lessons that came to materialize in the calmer side of my mind:

First. never ever assume that anybody leads an ordinary life. We are taught that everyone is special, and that everyone encounters their very own extraordinary experience at least once in a lifetime. Yet this is not what we are shown. Every time we feel something new, they say, that’s normal. This response is probably on the Top Ten List of Things I Hate to Hear from People. Nothing is normal. Nothing is what it seems. Everything is unique and beautiful and ever-changing, and that’s why we should learn to value every moment of our lives. Second, there is always something worth living for. If not for others, then for ourselves. Yes, no man is an island, but no man is born entwined with another. And third, love is powerful. Love is always there. If you can find it in yourself, then you’ll know that you have power.

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.

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.

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