Review: Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Genre: Memoir
Pages: 298
Format: Audiobook
Publication Date: April 6, 2010

Summary:  With a career, a boyfriend, and a loving family, Piper Kerman barely resembles the reckless young woman who delivered a suitcase of drug money ten years before. But that past has caught up with her. Convicted and sentenced to fifteen months at the infamous federal correctional facility in Danbury, Connecticut, the well-heeled Smith College alumna is now inmate #11187–424—one of the millions of people who disappear “down the rabbit hole” of the American penal system. From her first strip search to her final release, Kerman learns to navigate this strange world with its strictly enforced codes of behavior and arbitrary rules. She meets women from all walks of life, who surprise her with small tokens of generosity, hard words of wisdom, and simple acts of acceptance.

Review: While I greatly enjoyed this book, I have a few mixed feelings. On one hand, I often found it funny, heartbreaking, and inspiring. However, sometimes I found myself incredibly annoyed with Piper and her writing. Throughout her account of her time, she talks about how being around the kind of people whom she directly harmed with her crime has taught her the error of her ways. She speaks honestly and quite beautifully about her guilt and the way drugs have destroyed so many lives. Her stories are candid, funny, and sometimes at her own expense, which I found very brave. I love that she brings attention to the inefficiencies of the penal system, the poor treatment and abuses that occur. It’s a good example of someone using their privileged to bring a voice to those who have less privilege and are submersed because of that.

At a few points in the book, however, I found her incredibly whiny and unthankful. She explicitly says that she is treated better than virtually everyone because of her appearance and race. She has a massive support system outside of prison who visit her weekly, sends her presents, and talks to her on the phone. She has a place to go after prison and she’s engaged to a guy who accepts the fact that she’s spending a year in prison. Despite all of this and her short sentence to boot, she occasionally plays the “victim card”, emphasizing the fact that the crime she committed was ten years in the past and that she’s a different person. The way she portrays some of the other women is demeaning and she occasionally comes off as a “special snowflake”, making it difficult to feel sorry for her.

From a writing point of view, there were a few issues stylistically. She repeated herself almost verbatim a couple times which was incredibly annoying, as if she had forgotten what she had already written or explained. I feel like a fresh editor could pick over the book and improve it.

Part of this review is also influenced by the reader of the audiobook, whom I did not like. She had a droning, bored voice and her racial accents were just horribly insulting. I usually don’t let format get in the way of my reviews, and it didn’t affect my rating all too much, but I do recommend not listening to the audiobook of this if you do plan on reading it.

I have also watched the Netflix show and while it is very, very different than the book, I highly recommend it, both separately and as a companion to the book. It’s hilarious, entertaining, and it still raises many of the same moral and political failures of the prison system that Kerman presents in her book.

ARC Review: The Waking Dreamer by J.E. Alexander

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Pages: 343
Format: ARC ebook
Publication Date: September 22, 2013

Summary: Seventeen-year-old orphan Emmett Brennan remembers nothing of his past—not the boiler room in which his needle-ravaged mother gave birth to him, nor the Druids who tenderly delivered him. He can’t remember the cabal-summoned Revenant that clawed itself from shadow to hunt him, or why his mystical midwives hid him from the necromantic creature. Approaching adulthood, he is unaware of the dark forces that still search for him or the mysterious sentinels who secretly protect him, but on the eve of his eighteenth birthday that will change. The Revenants will find him. Only the young woman from his dreams can help him confront all he was once made to forget. Together, they will brave the nightmarish landscape Emmett’s waking world will soon become.

Review: Writing this review has felt a bit like ripping a bandaid off. I’ve been putting it off but it’s not going to be any less painful so I might as well do it and get it over with. “I didn’t like this book” doesn’t even scrape the surface of my vast, shimmering disappointment of this book. The first portion was really good. Emmett, the main character, was interesting and full of pop culture references that made connecting the strange, supernatural subworld to our real world a bit easier. The first scene is of his birth and it’s so well-written that it blew my mind. However, as soon as he gets confronted with his first enemy, things go sharply downhill.

The main problem with this book for me was the ridiculous pacing (or lack thereof) and the gratuitous violence. I’m not opposed to violence in books and I do find it necessary sometimes. I have no problem reading it and I enjoy a well-written and well-planned action scene, no matter how jolting it is. This book was nonstop fighting, death, and gore. The entire plot is based around violence, but not to any sort of point. There’s supposed to be some deeper story about Emmett’s connection to this community that fights against these supernatural creatures but that is completely washed over by poorly-timed fight scenes. Each fight scene lapses into short, badly-written “development scenes” that only ever result in the characters finding themselves in a new fight scene. The moments between don’t build the characters or explain anything. Besides being annoyed and a little grossed out by all the violence, I was confused. It was an unpleasant combination and I almost didn’t finish the book.

Character development was also largely nonexistent. One of the main characters (supposedly) is Amala and without giving anything away, she is not developed at all in the story but yet, it’s clear that by the end, we are supposed to like her. I don’t buy into characters like that. The author has to work to make the audience enjoy or hate or feel something about the character and Alexander only really did that with Emmett (and even that fell apart) and Kieran, the only other character who has something of a personality that is unfortunately ultimately subjugated beneath the violence. **MINOR SPOILER** Most of the characters the reader is introduced to are immediately killed or disappear as soon as they are introduced. Their deaths are disgusting but not emotional, leaving the reader feel a sense of pointlessness to any of the new characters who get introduced. **END SPOILER**

Overall, this book completely missed the mark for me. Not one thing from the plot to the characters were well-developed and at the end, I just felt disappointed, confused, and extremely disturbed by all the unnecessary violence.

Review: The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling)

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Mystery
Pages: 455
Format: Audiobook
Publication Date: April 30, 2013

Summary:  After losing his leg to a land mine in Afghanistan, Cormoran Strike is barely scraping by as a private investigator. Strike is down to one client, and creditors are calling. He has also just broken up with his longtime girlfriend and is living in his office. Then John Bristow walks through his door with an amazing story: His sister, the legendary supermodel Lula Landry, known to her friends as the Cuckoo, famously fell to her death a few months earlier. The police ruled it a suicide, but John refuses to believe that. The case plunges Strike into the world of multimillionaire beauties, rock-star boyfriends, and desperate designers, and it introduces him to every variety of pleasure, enticement, seduction, and delusion known to man.

Review: Yes, I only read this because J.K. Rowling was revealed as the author. No, her being the author will not effect my review. Now that that’s over with, onto the review and a confession. The confession is I’ve never really read, nor liked, mystery novels. I know that the mystery novel is literature’s first and favorite genre, but I’ve never felt compelled towards it. If more mystery novels are like this, I would like to read them so please recommend them to me. I found this book interesting and fun to read and it really made me interested in the mystery genre.

I liked that there were dozens of possible subjects, multiple people with shaky alibis and motive, and an entire lifetime of mystery surrounding Lula Landry. I didn’t think I was going to like Strike at first because he’s a bit of a brute but he’s an interesting character and an even more interesting PI. Underestimated, scared, and yet unwilling to let emotions and situation detract him from his work, he’s the perfect detective. His assistant, Robin plays off him perfectly in my mind and enriches the story. She softens his edges and continues to amaze him with her natural abilities to predict his needs and perform detective work.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this read. I liked the audiobook because there was so much dialogue and the reader did all the different voices so well. I just checked Goodreads and a sequel is planned for 2014. Call me a band-wagoner, but I am so excited.

Review: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Rating: ★★★★★

Genre: Fiction
Pages: 416
Format: Audio Book
Publication Date: June 11, 2013

Summary:  When Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, she envisions a humble family home, long drives to explore the island, and quality time with the man she might one day marry. What she doesn’t know is that Nick’s family home happens to look like a palace, that she’ll ride in more private planes than cars, and that with one of Asia’s most eligible bachelors on her arm, Rachel might as well have a target on her back. Initiated into a world of dynastic splendor beyond imagination, Rachel meets Astrid, the It Girl of Singapore society; Eddie, whose family practically lives in the pages of the Hong Kong socialite magazines; and Eleanor, Nick’s formidable mother, a woman who has very strong feelings about who her son should–and should not–marry.

Review: Singapore meets Gossip Girl in this fabulously fun and funny novel. I listened to it on Audiobook after he heard an NPR interview with the author. The plot is hilarious, the characters are interesting and charming, and even though it was a 15-hour audiobook, I would consider it a light read. I also highly recommend it as an audiobook because there’s so much dialogue with lots of Chinese words and saying that I can’t pronounce so it was a joy to listen to. The cultural insight was brilliant because this is not a part of Asia that many people hear about in the mainstream media. I enjoyed learning about this side of Chinese culture for the same reasons people love reading celebrity gossip: it’s entertaining.

I love that Rachel gets thrown into this amazing and glittering world that doesn’t seem to line up with her long-time boyfriend, Nick. Back in Singapore, he’s a big-shot on the radar of all the eligible ladies of Singapore. Rachel’s character reacted to the situations and people in a really unique way. She isn’t completely overwhelmed but she isn’t impervious either. It was a rich balance that I think is normally very difficult to hit when a character faces a bizarre, new scenario. This mix of shock and maturity that Rachel maintains is refreshing and helped her as a character. It also made the other characters react to her in interesting ways, such as the girls trying to get under her skin.

Overall, it was a fun story with delightful characters and the audiobook was very well performed. I enjoyed it as one of my summer reads and I would enjoy listening to the audiobook again.

My Absence: Moving & My New Shelves

I have been gone for a while. It would be an understatement to say that I’ve been busy. Between moving, family obligations, and summer school exams, I’ve had little time to read and even less time to blog. Fortunately, I discovered Audible and I’ve listened to two audiobooks while moving, ready for review which I will soon have time to write. For now, I’d like to show off my new shelves because I have a tiny bit more room to spread out.

Most of my childhood/high school books remain at my parents’ house on my old 9-foot bookshelf in my old room. They will probably remain there until I get a house of my own. The majority of the books pictured below have been accrued in college or meant enough to me to lug the 400 miles down to college. Here are the new shelves!

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This shelf is part of the built-in desk I’ve claimed. It’s all of my ~favorite~ books (and those I haven’t read yet, I’m expecting to become my favorites). I alphabetized them by author’s last name because I’ve always wanted a shelf like that and never had the space.

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This is my book “storage” where I keep books that are a little less pretty, less important to me, or I haven’t read. I wish I could put them all on display but I simply don’t have the room so this strange little printer cube that I rescued from the dumpster one day serves as my apartment literary storage. It’s two rows deep with House of Leaves (because it’s so huge) and cook books on top.

I know it may not look like much to those of you with beautiful shelves (and more display room) but the fact that I have my favorite books in my room, on display in a place I see often is a treasure to me because I haven’t had that since I lived with my parents. I have to buy the vast majority of my books on Kindle because I simply don’t have the space to spare.

Hope you enjoyed this brief, personal post and I’ll be back to my normal blogging shortly.

Tuesday Top 10: Favorite Movies Adapted from Books

I know this isn’t the theme this week, but I was really inspired to do this one so I’m going for it. There are a couple movies on this list that I haven’t read the book for. These are simply movies that I really love that were adapted from books. I think book-adapted movies are something special because of their complex history of being written in one form and being rewritten in another, for a completely different purpose. That being said, for those I haven’t read, I intent to.

1. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

This was my favorite Harry Potter movie, which is interesting because I think it’s my least favorite of the novels but something about the movie really gave me feels. Somewhere between Draco Malfoy’s angst, the flash-backs to Tom Riddle’s stories, Luna Lovegood, and the complexity that only awkward, blossoming romances can create, I found paradise.

2. Cloud Atlas

This is one of my top 10 favorite books of all time and the movie was excellent. Obviously, not quite as good as the book, but it had its merits. I laughed, I cried, I felt all the things I had gotten from the book in a faster, action-y, and visually-appealing way.

3. The Silver Linings Playbook

I watched the movie before I read the book and I love JLaw with a passion so it was really just perfect for me. And then I read the book and all the joy and happiness the movie brought me were doubled. Both are perfect, each is different and unique, and I could read and watch this story a hundred times with the same level of pleasure.

4. The Hunger Games

Slightly obligatory, also more JLaw lovin’.

5. Never Let Me Go

This is one that I haven’t read the book, but I have heard amazing things and the movie was simply amazing. I love the originality and the creepy shock of the story. I bet I could really get into this book.

6. Jurassic Park

I haven’t read any Crichton, and this is no exception, but I am a big fan of Jurassic Park and I plan on reading the novels soon!

7. Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Truman Capote is a genius and so is Audrey Hepburn. I love this movie and could watch it every rainy Sunday to cheer myself up. The book is very different, but both are short, sweet, and enjoyable.

8. Howl’s Moving Castle

This is nothing to say. Book and movie are both perfect. Invest time in both. I promise, it’s nothing but heart-warming adventure and fun.

9. The Whale Rider

This is really just a touching story, culturally-rich with the native New Zealand population and their beautiful lore. The book is very sad and very sweet. It’s a short read and touches the heart. The movie is equally heart-warming and the acting of the little girl is just perfect. I would love to see her in more things.

10. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Witty, sarcastic, hilarious. The novels are just feel-good reads and get increasingly terrible so if you want the best experience, read the first two and skip the rest. The movie is very skillful in condensing the story that falls apart in the novels and making it quick and exciting with rib-splitting humor.

Finally, I’d like to say there are some that this listed excludes (namely, the entire LOTR trilogy + The Hobbit, all of which I love) because I couldn’t pick just one, unlike Harry Potter. In addition, I am very excited to see what can be done with these coming movies from books I enjoyed:

  • The Fault in Our Stars
  • Ender’s Game
  • Catching Fire
  • Divergent

Review: Librarian by Brian Fence

Rating: ★★★★★
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 432
Format: Ebook
Publication Date: May 16, 2013

Summary:  Lenna is a librarian. She’s not a mage, an adventurer, or a fighter. She enjoys life between the stacks in her quaint harbor hometown of Port Hollish. But when an old childhood friend comes back under false pretenses, she becomes all these things and more, shedding the life of a librarian. She finds herself in the midst of what she feels is a novel, caught up in the power of one of three Godstones, powerful magic gems that could have devastating consequences should they find the wrong owners.

Review: This is Brian Fence’s debut novel and it was brilliant. I can’t imagine a more skillfully-crafted, original debut for what seems will be a promising series and a promising author. I went blindly into this book after entering its Goodreads giveaway for signed copies (which I did not win). To be honest, the cover caught my attention more than anything (can you blame me?). I bought it for Kindle for $4 and having read it, I would have paid at least double.

I really loved this book. It was fun, imaginative, well-written, and inspired. From the beginning through the end, everything worked for me and the end made me wonder when the sequel will come out. I would like to signal boost this book and encourage any lovers of fantasy, steam punk, or a good adventure novel to read this. It has a disappointing amount of reviews on Amazon and Goodreads and it really deserves more attention.

Lenna, the main character, was likeable. She was honest with herself and the reader, flawed and complex with real motivation that kept her actions consistent through the story. Lenna is my ideal heroine: sometime to admire who isn’t god-like and perfect. The other characters were equally well-crafted and diverse. Some of them were introduced too close to the end for my liking. I would have preferred to read more about them, but it gives me something to look forward to in the sequels!

The writing was absolutely superb. Everything was beautifully described, free of hackneyed cliches, and it had a real rhythm to it. One scene blending neatly into the next without any confusing transitions or lapses in focus. There were some issues with the pacing of the story in my opinion. At over 400 pages, the middle portion was a bit lacking in action and the end was a tad rushed but overall, it didn’t adversely affect my pleasure.

I look forward to Apprentice, Librarian‘s planned sequel and I look forward to anything else Fence writes. I am a faithful fan to a very undiscovered read and I highly recommend buying a copy of Librarian and enjoying the ride for yourself.