We started this blog in 2010 after a New Years' Resolution to read 60 books between the two of us. (40 for C, 20 for D.) After reaching our goal, we decided to keep going in 2011. This year, C has pledged to read 30 books, and D will read 12. By no means are we professional reviewers; we're not even professional bloggers. We're just two people who love to read and decided to share our thoughts and offer our limited insights. We hope you enjoy!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Book #32 -- Little Bee

I have no idea how I'm going to review this book. I know that it was awesome and everyone should read it, but I really can't say much more.

You see, the thing about Chris Cleave's Little Bee is that you're not supposed to tell anyone what it's about. Even the description on the back of the book is lacking:

"We don't want to tell you what happens in this book. It is a truly special story and we don't want to spoil it. Nevertheless, you need to know enough to buy it, so we will just say this: This is the story of two women. Their lives collide one fateful day, and one of them has to make a terrible choice, the kind of choice we hope you never have to face. Two years later, they meet again -- the story starts there. Once you have read it, you'll want to tell your friends about it. When you do, please don't tell them what happens. The magic is how the story unfolds."

I'm... not... really sure why they don't want people to say what happens, because A) I don't think it would ruin anything if I were to explain the basic plot of the book, and B) I think knowing the basic plot would make people want to read it more... But whatever. I don't want to get shunned by the Little Bee fan community (if that even exists), so I'll just be really brief, OK?

  • Little Bee -- that's a person. She's a Nigerian refugee in England who's been in a refugee holding facility since she arrived in the UK.
  • Sarah is an English woman who met Little Bee on a vacation in Nigeria. (Who goes on vacation in Nigeria? Weird.)
  • Sarah and her family are the only people Little Bee knows in England. So she's trying to find them.

There you go. That's what it's about. Well, that, and sadness. This book is depressing. Do not say I didn't warn you of that. Even when it's funny, it's ironically funny... like, "I-have-to-laugh-at-the-way-the-world-is-so-that-I-don't-cry"-funny. Which isn't really funny at all. I'm not saying it wasn't good, because it was actually brilliant, and extremely well-written. I think Chris Cleave is on genius-level, and I need to read everything else he's ever written immediately. It's just... sad. It reminded me a lot of Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann (which I reviewed in March of 2010). McCann is a brilliant writer, although depressing. Cleaves is the same way. There's something sickening about the way he portrays modern first-world society through the eyes of a teenaged Nigerian girl who has fled from everything she has ever known. At times, I couldn't decide if I agreed wholeheartedly with the point he was trying to make, or if it ticked me off that he was acting like we (as citizens of developing countries) should somehow be ashamed of how our lives have evolved. I'm still on the fence about that, actually.

There's a popular thing on various social networking sites these days know as "First World Problems" -- people post a Facebook status or a Twitter update or something similar with some inane issue they're having that could only occur to someone living a comfortable life in a modern society. It's become sort of an Internet-wide joke, but it really speaks volumes. I actually found myself saying this to Derrick recently: "Our refrigerator isn't big enough." I immediately caught myself and realized how completely ridiculous that statement was and joked that it was the perfect example of a "First World Problem." But seriously, how stupid is that? Our huge electric cooling system that holds our food to keep it from spoiling is not large enough to contain all of the processed food, available anywhere in abundant quantities, which we have purchased from multi-million dollar companies. Ummmmm, ridiculous.

I came across this passage and immediately read it again. Then I got up, got a pen, underlined it, and put a sticky note on the page. It's a quote from Little Bee (the character):

"Imagine how tired I would become, telling my story to the girls from back home. This is the real reason why no one tells us Africans anything. It is not because anyone wants to keep my continent in ignorance. It is because nobody has the time to sit down and explain the first world from first principles. Or maybe you would like to, but you can't. Your culture has become sophisticated, like a computer, or a drug that you take for a headache. You can use it, but you cannot explain how it works. Certainly not to girls who stack up their firewood against the side of their house [...] This story is for sophisticated people, like you."

That really hit me for some reason. It's true. You couldn't even explain the most normal, everyday tasks to someone struggling in a third-world country. It would be absolutely alien. They wouldn't even know what to say or think if I told them my refrigerator was too small. It really makes you think about the things you take for granted. At the same time, I often got the feeling in this book that Cleaves was suggesting that, if you are fortunate enough to live in such a society, you are somehow guilty of suppressing others who are less fortunate. I don't really agree with that, but it's a pretty complex subject to figure out. 

Anyway, I've just completely gone off the deep end with this. Maybe that's why they tell you not to talk about it.

5/5 Stars

Read from November 25, 2011 to November 27, 2011


Book #31 -- Scary Mary

Obviously Dracula inspired me to read something else creepy and paranormal...

In S.A. Hunter's young adult novel Scary Mary, Mary is a misunderstood, bullied high school teenager.  Her grandmother (and guardian) is the local psychic, and Mary herself has the ability to hear ghosts. Her "gift" tends to complicate her life, and rumors about her abnormal lifestyle cause her classmates to label her a freak. When Cyrus, the new kid, tries to get to know her, she immediately pushes him away. Just when Mary is warming up to the idea of spending time with Cyrus, Vicky, the classic "popular cheerleader" type in young adult novels crashes the party and sets up a scheme to humiliate Mary. The incident that follows is successful in ruining Cyrus and Mary's budding relationship, but it also brings a powerful, dangerous spirit to Mary's attention. For Cyrus' safety, Mary tries to contend with the spirit herself, at the risk of her own life.

This was a great little story that I read over the course of a few hours. It'll hook you from the beginning. Mary is a great, sarcastic character who is not afraid to stand up for herself. She definitely carries the book. The plot was simple, but captivating. Hunter did a great job weaving together the story of the spirit Mary discovers. I really enjoyed how the story unfolded, and I found myself wondering what would happen next many times. It's not the most complex piece of YA literature in the world, but it's still an impressive story.

Bottom line: Is it ground-breakingly clever in terms of a young adult novel (a la The Hunger Games)? Not exactly. Is it entertaining and well-written? Yes.

I've just found out that this is the first in a series, and I will definitely be checking out the others. You should, too.

4/5 Stars

Read from November 24, 2011 to November 25, 2011


Book #30: Dracula

I've meant to read this book every October for about two years, but I always wind up choosing something else. I did the same thing this year, but then I decided that it didn't have to be Halloween for me to enjoy a horror novel so I read it anyway.

Bram Stoker's Dracula was originally published in 1897 and is the introduction of the now iconic "Count Dracula" and our quintessential idea of a vampire. There has been a fascination with vampires in pop culture for the last several years -- the Twilight series, True Blood, The Vampire Diaries -- and even going back to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Lost Boys. It was nice to read the original version of what a vampire is supposed to be. 

The novel is presented in a series of letters, diary entries, newspaper articles, and other miscellaneous written artifacts. From the other literature I've read from this period, that seems to be pretty a common style back them. It adds a personal feeling to the plot, so I enjoyed it. 

In the beginning, lawyer Jonathan Harker travels to Count Dracula's castle to give him legal advice. While he's there, he notices the Count's strange appearance and behavior. He soon realizes that Dracula is holding him as a prisoner in the castle. Meanwhile, Dracula is also keeping tabs on Harker's fiancee Mina and her friend Lucy. The novel also follows Dr. John Seward, who is the manager of a mental institution close to Dracula's castle. Seward's main patient is Renfield, who routinely eats bugs and small animals. Trust me, it all ties in together eventually.

I was struck by the fact that, for the entire novel to be named after him, Dracula isn't really around for much of the book. He's in the first couple of chapters, and is obviously present and causing mischief in the rest of the book, but as a character, he's pretty absent. You don't get a lot of dialog or much of a glimpse at him as a person. It adds to the creepiness of the story, but I personally like to get inside the mind of villains in books. That's unfortunate, because it would have been interesting to do a better comparison of Dracula to the newer version of a blood-sucking fiend. The more modern idea of a vampire is an over-sexualized, glittering, violent, brooding jerk (see image to the left). Stoker's Dracula is certainly charming, but there's no excessive seduction scenes or bloodbaths. Also, I don't think I recall anyone sparkling. I don't think Stephanie Meyer read this book.

All in all, I really enjoyed Dracula, and I'm glad I finally got around to reading it. I will say that, like most period novels, it can be hard to follow (just because of the difference in language), and it drastically loses its pace at about the 75% mark. It had me captivated for the first part, then it fell pretty flat. Not terrible, but a twinge disappointing.

PS -- This was my 30th book! I hit my goal for 2011 with this book.

3/5 Stars

Read from November 3, 2011 to November 24, 2011