Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Strangely Enough: Life, Love, and Reading!

It's December. It's the last month of the year 2009. Isn't that something? To think, eleven whole months have gone by, just like that, and in another couple of weeks, we'll be in 2010. One whole decade of the 21st century will be over. Craziness.

Apart from the wonderful passage of time (it goes so quickly, can't it slow down, take a vacation or something?) it's that time of year again. Yes, yes, tis' the season and ho ho ho. But what I mean is, it's that time of year again when people start thinking about their goals in life, when people start thinking about New Year's resolutions.

Personally, I don't think very much of New Year's resolutions. It's not like very many people tend to keep them. I don't think that very many people make them any more either. Or they just pretend to, but really, no one has time to make and keep resolutions. That would require more time and energy than one can spare from having jobs and keeping up with the Jones'.

Having said all that, you'd think I'd know better than to go off and make a resolution myself, but then that would be disappointing myself and my readers. And so, having left behind the uselessness of making yet another resolution to stay fit and healthy and exercise and whatnot, I, Book Worm, have decided, nay, resolved to make a change this New Year's!

I, Book Worm, in the year 2010, promise myself that I shall treat my brain's taste buds, those lovely neurons of mine, to at least 2 books a month. It is my goal to enrich my life through reading and to do lots of it. I would love to say that I'm going to read one book a week, but the days when I could give up all my time to doing the thing I love most have gone. So I'm going to make do with reading at least one book every 2 weeks.


I'm already scared it's not going to work!

Lifeless Literature: Bergdorf Blondes by Plum Sykes, Middlemarch by George Eliot

Hello everyone. It's been a long time since I've written. Mainly because I haven't been able to really sink my teeth into anything that I thought was worth my reading or writing about. It's been so bad, though, that I just HAD to come online and write this up.

Let me just say this first: I don't want to hav
e to write about books that I read and disliked, especially to the depth that I disliked one of the books in today's review.

First up: the classic tale of a provincial village in George Eliot's

Middlemarch was supposed to be my cure for Austenitis. Having read all six of the Austen novels, the full-length completed ones at least, I had been on the hunt for some more Victorian era novels relating the truth of life in a bygone era. After much internet searching and recommendation hunting, I found myself with a list of books that began with this tome.

My copy of the novel (if you can call an 800 page book that) was borrowed from the library. The first thing I noticed was that Eliot'
s voice was very different from that of Austen. Whereas the love of my literary life was refreshing, clear, and satirical, Eliot, the bane of the literary life, was monotonous, preachy, and stuffy. Although there were some lines that really hit home with me, the vast majority of the two books I managed to complete out of the eight that make up Middlemarch, the narrative on the whole was rather dry.

I think part of the problem may lie with the fact that the novel itself took place in a time earlier than I was used to reading within. There were a number of references that I could not comprehend, and so they fell useless on my modern eyes.

The other problem may be that I may have been expecting a little too much. Once you've read Austen, you can never go back. No one can satisfy like she can. There's just enough of everything in Austen. You have humour, satire, plot, romance, the whole shabang.

Something else that may have lead to a non-completion is my complete lack of empathy or sympathy for the various characters presented. Dorothea is entirely too full of "notions" and religious piety for me to even consider empathizing or sympathizing with. Mr. Casaubon is apparently
unavailable for any emotional connection. The Vincy family is utterly abominable in their attitude of lavish abandonment.

The characters themselves are very real, providing excellent reflections of normal human beings, who contain within their own very limited and narrow experiences a variety of good and bad qualities, manners, and accomplishments.

The problem, however, lies with the manner in which they are presented to the reader. There was nothing in the writing or to
ne of voice that endeared the characters to me. I cared little to nothing about how things would end up for Dorothea, Celia, Mr. Casaubon, Mr. Ladislaw, or any of the Vincy's. I don't like to read a book in which I like the characters but I don't care whether they live or die because the writing is bland and boring.

Call me evil for saying it, but that's how I really felt.

Having said all that, I can assure you that if you were going to pick a book from this post to read, make sure it's
Middlemarch and not Bergdorf Blondes by Plum Sykes. At least George Eliot provided her characters with some common sense, intelligence, and interests beyond their own selfish needs.

It's very, very, very difficult for me to be irritated beyond words by a book. (Great alliteration in that sentence there, don't you think?) I have yet to find a book that has grabbed my attention for how absolutely, criminally, undeniably horrible the characters are. It's also nearly impossible for me to anticipate completing such a piece of stupendous scribbles. And yet, complete something so despicable and disgusting I did.

Never in my life has a book disappointed me so much. Never before has a book actually made me feel depressed about the lot of women in this era. Never before have I wanted to ban a person from writing a book ever again. Never before have I actually ever wanted to burn a book, or use it for my dog's litter box.

despise Bergdorf Blondes. I despise it so much that I don't want to waste sentences describing the things that made me want to vomit the words right back out of my brain. So, for the first time and hopefully the last, I present you, oh readers, with a book review in point form.

  • Character development is nil. The selfish, superficial, super-rich female characters show no development or maturity from beginning to end.
  • The book (is it even legal to call such rubbish a book?) is all about clothing, jewelry, shoes, and the cream of the luxury filled life.
  • There is absolutely nothing real about the characters, the plot, or anything really.
  • Celebration of all that is wrong in society (e.g. taking sleeping pills to sleep because you can afford it and it's cool to do so).
  • Propagates a demeaning image of women as money obsessed, boy obsessed, luxury obsessed vulture-like creatures who have no original thoughts or feelings.
  • The main character is immature and naive (e.g. she calls having sex "going to Brazil" or "going to Latin America").
  • A 10 year old could read this book, and if she did, she would probably never amount to anything in her life since the book supports and propagates the idea that money is everything, and who you're with, who you're wearing, and who sees you is the most important thing.
Please, I can't go on. I really, really, can't go on. I can't believe that I held out hoping against hope that at the end of the worst piece of writing I have ever read in my life, that it would amount to something good, that the main character would actually learn to believe in herself, love herself, turn over a new leaf and leave behind her superficial self-obsessed self and learn to be true to herself.

But no. Nothing like that happened. Nothing could save the hours I spent killing my neurons with this piece of trash. There was no light at the end of the tunnel, dear reader. None whatsoever.

The future for women is bleak indeed, what, with these kinds of books and authors lying around. The mothers of women's suffrage must be turning in their graves.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Smart Chic(k): This Charming Man by Marian Keyes

I've read my fair share of Chick Lit and have come across the whole shabang. Things can be bad ("Oh my God! I need to buy that Gucci purse/top/watch/etc, and that boy won't go out with me!") to worse ("Hello, I am a self-obsessed, mean-spirited woman that you like because you want to be me and this is the story of my self-obsessed life.").

But things can be good in Chick Lit World. In fact, they can be really good as I found out with Marian Keyes' novel,
This Charming Man.

This Charming Man is a story told from the perspective of 4 different characters, each with their own distinct voice and style. I don't want to give away the story, so I'm not going to tell you guys too much about them.

What I can tell you though is that each of the characters has the potential to become your new very best make-believe/invisible friend, since Marian Keyes develops them so fully. In fact, the characters are so believable that you'll find yourself having to dry your eyes because something unbelievably hilarious happened (or the exact opposite).

The basic premise of the novel is that a man (isn't there always one?), Paddy, has gotten engaged. This is apparently really big news since he's the most eligible (but unavailable) bachelor in Ireland. He also happens to be a very in-the-spotlight politician. What ensues after his engagement is announced is a number of very interesting trips down memory lane that tell a tale darker than you usually find in chick lit.

In a way, that's kind of why I don't want to call this novel a Chick Lit book. It's too smart to fall under the same umbrella as some of the poor excuses for fiction/literature that are called Chick Lit. And yet, at the same time, I can't help but feeling that giving This Charming Man the label of Chick Lit will help uplift the genre itself.

Moving on. The book itself is paced fairly evenly. It's not too slow, it's not too fast. It's a good moderate pace, and it's got plenty of cliffhangers that make you almost want to curse at Marian for having left you in suspense for so long (almost being the key word there).

The novel isn't rocket science, but it's not at a grade five reading level either. So if you're looking to be entertained, would like to be meaningfully entertained, and are into "Chick Lit", be sure to pick this charming book up.

This Charming Man is not for anyone:
  • who hates all that feely shmeely talk that girls go through all the time
  • who needs, requires, or lives on High Culture/Art and needs a hot mess of literature
  • is looking for poetry in their prose
  • is looking for an excuse to think about designers, jewelry, high-end vacations and lifestyles in a book
This Charming Man is for anyone:
  • thoroughly enjoys intelligent reads about real women in real life situations (i.e. women who have lives and careers apart from being rich heiresses in need of yet another manicure)
  • looking for a read that doesn't require too much effort to get interested and isn't too heavy/depressing
  • looking for a read that will make them feel good even though life sucks
  • who is looking for a peek into how to get over a man very quickly

Friday, October 9, 2009

Strangely Enough: Life, Love and Reading!

I don't know about you guys, but I seem to have reading cycles. In summer, I tend to go for lighter fare when it comes to reading. You can find me picking up chick-lit more often than not. Come fall, I start craving something a little more substantial.

October, my birth month (yay!) is usually when I pick up mysteries. I guess it's my nod to the end of the month and Halloween.

Come winter, I have a steady tradition of always reading all the
Harry Potter books at some point in time during that month prior to Christmas. After Christmas, I like to read something that helps calm one down after the stresses of the season. My usual choice? Miss Austen and her lovely leading ladies.

Spring time brings with it a sense of freshness, and the novel of choice for that time is ALWAYS
Our Lady of the Lost and Found by Diane Schoemperlen. It's a story about a woman who gets a visit from the Virgin Mary. No, it's not a diabolical tome, or depressing, or even chick-lit. It's just the most interesting story that makes you really think about things.

This year, I plan to add Charles Dickens'
A Christmas Carol to my pre-Christmas reading list. I think it'll be interesting, to say the least.

What about you guys out there? Do you have reading cycles? Are there special books that you always read at certain times of the year? An inquiring mind wants to know!

Doubtful or Delightful? The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

I've been dreading doing this review for a few weeks now. I'm not the type of person where I enjoy leaving a book unfinished. In fact, many a time, I will just plow through my own feelings of boredom constantly hoping that the end of the book will prove me wrong.

However, I find myself unable or unwilling to do so with Elizabeth Kostova's epic,
The Historian. I hate to say this but for the first time in my life, an historical, supernatural thriller has got me giving up! I'm rather confused at this outcome. The Historian seemed to offer everything that could have possibly interested me in a book in the first place.

To begin, there's a mystery involved. There's history, there's travel, there's interesting dialogue, there's a plot that thickens with each chapter, there are unexplained events. So what went wrong?

Well... It might have something to do with the unendurable repetitiveness of the story. I feel as though the very first mysterious story is re-written every 50 pages or so. Every new character that enters the story is retold the whole story from beginning to end, and the poor reader has to re-read it as well!

There are phrases, and patterns that just keep being repeated. If it had been repeated once or twice, I would've enjoyed it. But halfway through the book, I wondered if there was any story to this story at all, or if at the last page, I'd find myself re-re-re-re-re-re... reading the original story again.

And so... I had no choice but to give up.

The sad thing is that this novel received just wonderful, glowing reviews on Amazon.com. How could so many people be wrong?

Maybe it's just me. I've decided to go back and pick up the pieces. Maybe I'll get through it eventually. But not until AFTER some other books are read. You'll get the reviews of those soon. As for the completed review of
The Historian? Don't hold your breath for it. I might never go there.

Delving Into the Classics: "The Moonstone" by Wilkie Collins

After a very long time, I found myself in the mood for a good ole' British mystery novel. Having read Agatha Christie's novels in the past repeatedly, I was on the hunt for something different this time around. Enter Mr. Collins with what was apparently one of the first detective/mystery novels written in the English language.

To begin,
The Moonstone is a story about the mysterious disappearance of an Indian diamond in colonial England. The story is told through the narratives of a number of different characters who witness events that lead to solving the crime. Each chapter works to further the plot in a different manner, and there are multiple stories within the larger story, and all of them are interesting. There are a number of red herrings, and an intensely satisfying explanation to all occurrences at the end.

The plot moves fairly quickly although the time elapsed in the book itself isn't quite as fast, due mainly to the fact that the novel takes place in the late 1840's. Reading the novel reminded me strangely enough of just how fast we move from place to place, idea to idea in this day and age.

The writing isn't super complicated or dense. At the same time, each narrator of the story comes across exceptionally well. You really get a feel for the personality, and cognitive process behind each narrator. It's fantastic stuff!

One of my favourite characters in the novel is Gabriel Betteredge. His narrative takes up most of the novel, and for a good reason too. I will never hear of
The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe without thinking of him. To find out why, read the book!

And without further ado, here are my recommendations for readers. Enjoy!

The Moonstone is for people:

  • who are looking for a jolly old English whodunit
  • who are looking for a mystery set in the English countryside
  • enjoyed reading Jane Austen
  • who think they'd like to see what would happen if Jane Austen was crossed with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Moonstone is not for people:
  • who are looking for intense, fast-paced thrillers
  • who don't enjoy reading about colonial England or cultural misappropriation
  • who can't fathom reading older English works

Saturday, July 11, 2009

New Favourites: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Soicety by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

The last time I finished an entire novel in one day was when the last Harry Potter book came out. And then this book came my way. After relishing each letter (pun intended) thoroughly, I looked up to find that the entire day had passed and I was sitting with a finished book. Completely unexpected, it really was that good.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (henceforth Guernsey; note to self: please find out how to properly pronounce the darned name and stop putting e's after Potato) is a novel composed of the written correspondence between a fictional "light journalist"/writer Juliet Ashton and her friends, especially those residing on the small English Channel island of Guernsey. I don't want to spoil the story by telling you what happens, because I know I'll gush over it and tell you everything. But to give you a hint, the novel gives you a taste of life in England during and directly after World War II, moving from the mundane aspects of daily life, to the most emphatic emotional scenes available to the human imagination.

There were times when I found myself laughing out loud (e.g. the teapot throwing incident), and times when I felt the need to pause and reflect on the nature of humanity, both good and bad. There were even times when I felt like crying, for reasons both good and bad. Although, now that I think about it, that might just have been me being overly sensitive (thank you, PMS). All in all, this book is definitely a feel-good story with substance and will lift your spirits right up. This ain't your Bergdorf Blonde's story about her handbag that was to be had and just could not. No m'dears. This be a meaningful and downright funny story about humanity at both its best and worst, but without making you contemplate ending your life.

Part of the fun of the book comes from the actual format. Everyone loves to pry and eavesdrop, and I'm no exception to this, although I'm more inclined to blame it on "human nature". All that aside, everyone likes to know about everyone else's business, and this book feeds on that. Part of my reason for reading was that I was intrigued by the letters and wanted to dig deeper into Juliet's life, and the lives of her friends. I wanted to know what would be revealed in the next letter, and I can honestly say that I was never disappointed. (Side note: this was better than prying through real mail, since bills, oh how odious, never made an appearance.)

Shaffer and Barrows truly used their form to develop characters and the plot in ways that wouldn't have been possible otherwise. For example, the use of character reference letters for Juliet worked to create dimension and lay out her personality in a way that is unusal (and very interesting, very fresh). Juliet's essential goodness and stubborn adherence to justice goes from being a 2-D trait into a 3-D trait when we find out that she's used 2 people as her character references, one an individual who truly approves of her, and the other an individual who is confounded by her. The character reference letters themselves develop Juliet in juxtaposition to these characters while providing insight into the reference-providers. It's all a wonderful, complicated way of building shadow and light into the texture of the narrative. Brava, ladies!

Another point that endears
Guernsey to me is the fact that so much of the narrative revolves around the act of reading. Correspondence regularly includes mention of authors, books, and the joys of reading. These allusions work to expand the book's reach from beyond the small fictional world into the wider social world. It's interesting to note the similarities and differences between the authors and works discussed in the book in relation to the lives and times of those who are discussing them. Furthermore, any book that celebrates the good that reading can bring is almost always guaranteed to go up a grade with me. Shaffer and Barrows are able to seamlessly blend reading and books into their story about love found and lost. Fantastic!

For me personally
Guernsey has truly become a favourite. I'm definitely re-reading it soon, and will probably go back to it a few times over. It's got the perfect balance of humour and harrowing experience to satisfy me. The characters are real, and fresh. The narrative flows at a good pace. It speaks volumes without requiring as much space. However, as much as I love it, I know that not everyone will enjoy reading it. Thus, my recommendations follow.

Guernsey is not for anyone who:
  • dislikes reading about World War II or the holocaust in any way whatsoever
  • needs a thriller, murder mystery, or fast-paced plot
  • is looking for chick-lit of the usual commodified form (as in revolving around money, clothes, shoes, and shopping)
  • dislikes reading about reading or books
  • requires a darker feel to their reading choice (e.g. gothic, graphic, etc.)
Guernsey is for anyone who:
  • loves reading and enjoys narratives that play on people's love for books
  • enjoys reading about times gone by, particularly that of England post-WWII
  • is looking for a feel-good book with substance
  • wants something different to read other than the same old regular prose

Delving Into Classics: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

A couple of days ago, I finally finished my reading of Charlotte Bronte's novel, Jane Eyre. My black leather-bound copy did not at first appear to be so very thick, comprising of a mere 38 chapters, and 408 pages. However, it has taken me a full month at least to finally close the covers.

Charlotte's style of writing was a little difficult to penetrate at first, but only because I didn't quite comprehend how to read the numerous semi-colons and colons. Was I meant to pause at these like I do usually with colons in contemporary writing, or did she mean to use them in another way? I concluded through the process of reading the first couple of chapters that I would accord them the pause that I deemed adequate to suit what I believed Charlotte may have meant.

I picked up
Jane Eyre at the urgent recommendation of Dianne Setterfield's main character, her narrator, in The Thirteenth Tale, who claimed that Jane Eyre was a favourite read. As a kindred spirit, the character's love of this classic made it important that I read it to find out what the big deal was, to be very honest. So, I made a mental note to myself to Make Sure I Read JANE EYRE. Unfortunately, quite a bit of time has elapsed since my making that mental note, and I again crossed the title while perusing reading options post-Jane Austen.

As any good Janeite/Austen-lover, I had faithfully purchased and read all six of Miss Austen's published novels, and having thoroughly enjoyed every single word written by that marvelous author, was now in despair over what could possibly ensnare my attention as well as she had.

Enter the glorious machine of web-searching, Google, in the never-ending booklover's quest for new reading material. As I continued to search far and wide on the great plains of the world wide web for a book that would reunite me with my lost pleasure in reading post-Austen, one suggestion kept reappearing until my curiousity piqued to the point where I knew I had found The One (For The Moment). Namely, I decided to finally give into all those cosmic hints and ran to my nearest bookstore and picked up my very own copy of
Jane Eyre.

Normally I'm not the type of person that takes very long to read a book. In fact, it's almost unheard of for me to take one whole month to read one book. Not to brag, but I
did finish the seventh Harry Potter book in a single day (and then went back to re-read it afterwards to enjoy it some more). So, the fact that it took me so long to get through Jane may suggest things that I don't necessarily believe (e.g. the book is boring, the writing style unreadable, a pointless plot, etc.). On the contrary, I believe the exact opposite, and here's why.

First, after getting over my confusion regarding colon-use, Charlotte's use of language is quite probably of the finest quality I've come across in a long time. Her descriptions of the natural environment, use of dialogue both internal and between characters, and really just about everything was fantastic and first-rate. However, one of my favourite bits of writing in the novel revolve around Charlotte's descriptions of nature. My particularly favourite part comes at the very beginning of chapter 23, page 220 in my version (Worth Press Limited), where Charlotte sets the scene for Jane and Mr. Rochester's evening meeting. I can't, for fear of copyright issues reproduce the passage I adore in its entirety, but I can give you a taste of Charlotte's genius and poetic writing. In this passage, Charlotte is describing the sky and time of day.

"It was now the sweetest hour of the twenty-four: - 'Day its fervid fires had wasted,' and dew fell cool on panting plain and scorched summit. Where the sun had gone down in simple state - pure of the pomp of clouds - spread a solemn purple, burning with the light of red jewel and furnace flame at one point, on one hill-peak, and extending high and wide, soft and still softer, over half heaven. The east had its own charm of fine deep blue, and its own modest gem, a rising and solitary star: soon it would boast the moon; but she was yet beneath the horizon." (Bronte, Charlotte -
Jane Eyre)

I particularly enjoy the animism present in this passage, a theme that is ever-present through the novel. This type of loving, admiration-filled description of nature doesn't appear very often in contemporary literature, and it's something that I miss. Related to Charlotte's use of animism in her descriptions of nature is her constant allusions to classic Greek and Roman mythology. It adds just the right amount of fantasy to this gloomy, gothic tale.

Another reason I truly enjoyed reading
Jane so much stems from an appreciation of feminist roots in the novel. Mind you, I'm not saying that Charlotte wrote a bible for feminists but what I would like to suggest is that it's not plausible that many women of the 19th century would have the perseverence and strength to successfully survive what Jane did in the novel. Charlotte made a point that although the world was biased against women in general, it didn't mean that a woman had to lie down and give up everything. Quite the opposite, at times when I myself thought I would've died if I had been in Jane's shoes, Jane fought tooth and nail to keep herself going. Although she didn't slap Mr. Rivers as I would have had I been in her place, she was able to think for herself and act to ensure her own well-being. How many women the 19th century (or in any century for that matter, ours included) are encouraged to think for themselves and work to keep themselves self-sufficient and independent?

There were, however, points at which I felt that justice hadn't been done with Jane's character (e.g. her "escape" from Thornfield and Mr. Rochester), but I realize that what I may have preferred for Jane to do would have taken away from her realization as a human, and thus, imperfect creature. All of which brings me to my third point.

Charlotte was able to create really believable characters. No one person that appears in the novel is really perfect or immune to human deficiencies. Similarly, all characters are subject to development through the novel, especially our very own Jane Eyre. None of the characters remain static effigies, stereotypes set in stone that react predictably through the course of things. They are all constantly shifting, changing, dynamic, and surprised me with their unique, human responses.

Now, having said so much about the novel, one would assume that I would give this book "favourite" status, and I would have except that I'm not completely in love with it. I do believe that I will most likely re-read
Jane Eyre in the future at some point, but it's frankly a little too gloomy and depressing at times. Actually, let me rephrase that. The tone of the novel tends to be a little gothic, and that's a genre that I feel completely alienated from, not being a fan of scaring or crying myself to sleep.

Now, for my recommendations of
Jane Eyre...

Jane Eyre is not for anyone who
  • can't stand the English language from a period beyond the last 50 years
  • who needs a fast-paced plot
  • enjoys action more than description
  • doesn't give a hoot about nature, love, or both
  • is looking for a feel-good book
Jane Eyre is for anyone who
  • is looking for a deep read
  • enjoys sinking their teeth into heavy prose
  • relishes a good gothic/thriller novel
  • doesn't mind darker tomes in a novel
Here's hoping I didn't bore you with my review!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


Welcome everyone, to A bookworm reviews...

My name is Book Worm, and I'm an ordinary book lover. I'm writing this blog to share my love for books and reading, and to share some information on what I'm reading (and have read).

A bit of background information is probably helpful. To begin, I am a 25 year old South Asian woman, living in Canada. I have a thing for reading about mysticism, and especially anything that has to do with the "feminine mystique", although I enjoy all kinds of books. I am a university graduate, and no, I am not being paid to advertise these books. A vast majority of the books that I review (if enjoyed) are owned by me, but I have been increasingly trying to reduce my carbon foot print by borrowing books from the library. It also helps with cutting costs. Who ever thought books would be a pricey hobby?

I think that's more than enough about me. Here's hoping that you'll enjoy what I write about, or at the very least, find food for thought!

Book Worm