Book Review: The Good Earth

The Good Earth 

by Pearl S. Buck

Published by Washington Square Press 1931

357 pages

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This book had a slow, but fascinating start. We are introduced initially to two characters, but I could almost argue four. First we have Wang Lung, the protagonist, and his father living poorly in a small farmhouse in China. And then, from the first pages of this book we learn how sacred the water and the land are – not just Wang Lung, but all the people of the village. They take on such importance I would even argue that Land and Water are characters of their own.

This is possibly my favorite part of the novel, the way the land rises up and takes precedence over everything. The land grows and evolves just like Wang Lung and his family. If not for the Land and the Waters, Wang Lung would not have his success, which is what drives the novel. In many cases, Wang Lung seems to understand his connection to the land is one of flesh and blood.

This book is mostly about character development rather than plot development, which means it can be a slower read to some, but it’s certainly not without action. The Good Earth is the story of Wang Lung and his wife O-Lin. They are humble servants of the gods and the Earth until Wang Lung finds wealth, from some small theft, but mostly his own intuitions. Wang Lung is one of the most fully developed characters I’ve come across in fiction. He’s a man you admire for his strength in spirit and his insightfulness, and yet as he is granted success and wealth for his hard work, he is tempted by new, worse things and becomes a man you absolutely hate at times. His life story is so compelling and despite his mistakes you praise him for his endless pursuits, his hard-work, and his ability to reflect on his own rise and fall.

Rise and fall. Here we have a major theme of the novel. The rains rose and flooded the earth, drought came and starved the people, and still the beans and the wheat would grow. Lung and his family would harvest when they could and they begged when they needed to, but not without doing the work that could be done. Even if it broke Wang Lung’s back, he would do the work. And then there was the rise and fall of the wealthy. The house of Hwang, which was once a symbol of wealth in the village, fell and the lords and ladies died, princes had to sell the land and the house belonged to beggars. That is until Wang Lung bought the house and reestablished a place for prosperity. I was very fascinated with the ideas of cycles in this story, and how each time a new cycle would begin, it somehow evolved itself into a larger, more complex one than the last. The Earth cycled in fertility. Wang Lung cycled his hope and despair. The first daughter was an evil omen and then his favorite child. The rich and the poor cycled out leaders. Wang Lung was constantly shouting for peace in his household and then finding it. Readers are constantly reminded of the good and the bad and how they’ve come to rely on each other.

This book is a very unique look at pre-revolutionary China, and yet its difficult not to connections to today. They say history repeats itself.

It was funny how everything fit together in a harmonious connection, and when it was going poorly for one man, he blamed the gods. Just as Wang Lung cursed the gods for the drought. And then one day it was as though no god could challenge his wealth and he no longer needed them. He had gained control of his estate, and yet his family was lost to him. He hardly knew each of his children. Pearl S. Buck wove a brilliant story with complexities that will leave the reader pondering long after the book is finished.

I could go on and on and on about the things I loved in this book, but at some point I have to tell you its time to go read it for yourself. I’d love to hear any thoughts you had on it. It’s a Pulitzer winner, so make sure that if you haven’t read it, it gets on the top of your to-read list (because I know its probably 200 books deep).

I give The Good Earth a five out of five stars

5 Stars

 

 

Book Review: Inside the Outside

Inside the Outside

by Martin Lastrapes

Published 2011 by Cannibal Press

571 pages

lastrapes

Goodreads Synopsis:

By the time Timber Marlow is fifteen years old, she has already killed three men. Despite the bloody and violent nature of their deaths, Timber is hardly a murderer. She has lived her entire life as a cannibal within a cult tucked away in the San Bernardino Mountains called the Divinity of Feminine Reproach. The Divinity keeps itself isolated from the Outside, which is the mainstream society beyond its invisible borders. When the opportunity presents itself, Timber escapes into the Outside, bearing witness to some dark and unsettling truths about the world around her and the integral role she plays in it. But no matter how long she stays away, Timber finds out the past isn’t as far away as she thinks it is. In this debut novel, laced with scenes of horrific violence and uplifting humanity, Martin Lastrapes has written a one-of-a-kind story about love, friendship, sacrifice and cannibalism

My Review:

This book was unlike anything else I’ve read recently. I was intrigued by it once I read the synopsis and Inside the Outside lived up to my expectations and then exceeded some.

First, the book took readers inside the cult, the Divinity, as it is referred to. The concepts of cults fascinates me, so I was completely captured by the source and beliefs of the Divinity. I’m happy Lastrapes offered a brief, yet detailed history to the origin of the cult. I believe this made it easier for readers to buy in to the story.

The characters were great. They were just like you and I, yet raised on a vastly different belief system. Even so, Lastrapes does a great job exploring human nature and death. While the cult dealt with a lot of death – sometimes eating their own kind – it was obvious that the deaths affected the hearts and minds of some of the cult members. It’s important to understand that while the cult was raised on the belief that human flesh in a necessary sustenance, there’s still a struggle with death and evil.

Timber, the heroin of the story, was fully developed. She was twisted with love and murder. She had a deep knowledge of human kind and no understanding of society. When she gets thrust into the ‘outside’,the story takes on a whole new dynamic. I really liked the fact the story changed settings as it did. It developed the idea of the story and allowed for the larger themes to be explored.

It is difficult to separate good and evil in this book, but it is obvious who the antagonist is. Daddy Marlow is perfectly revolting, and while we know little about his boys, readers aren’t exactly inclined to like them either, but there is certainly sympathy there. The character I most struggled with was Luna. She knows full well the murder and rape happening all around her, yet chooses to stay for the simplicity of life in the Divinity. Regardless of her disregard for the things happening around her, she cares deeply for Timber, and she is a necessary catalyst to the story.

Let me return to the whole murder and rape thing. This book really isn’t for the faint of heart. It tackles big issues, but in doing so Lastrapes includes some graphic imagery. The cannabalism is horrifying, but the rape is by far worse. Sexuality is a major theme of this novel. In the Divinity, Timber and her friends learn about their bodies, but then their bodies get taken advantage of. Once Timber is on the outside, living with a porn star, she carries on this warped sense of sexuality until she finally finds and understands love. It’s a long journey for her, but the character Timber becomes is far from the one at the start of the novel. It’s a truly remarkable journey.

I really loved this novel. It was tough to deal with at times because despite my love for Timber, she wasn’t all that good despite her best efforts. Even Luscious had a shady past. That said, there is no good character in this book, but their flaws are what attracts us to them.

I thought Lastrapes did a great job on this novel. There was some predictability with the way the story developed. With heavy foreshadowing and titled chapters, it was difficult to be really surprised by the story, but it was no less enjoyable. It took me forever to read this book because of moving cities and starting a new job. I think I would have been more impacted if I could have read larger chunks of the story at once, but I was still engrossed with the story even when I wasn’t reading it.

Like I said, it was unlike anything I’ve read before. It tackled big issues such as Good vs. Evil, human limitations, power, money, homosexuality, and love but never truly dwelled on any of them. The story was actually a very easy read, despite the more graphic scenes. It was well written. It read more like young adult fiction in that it the plot moved quickly and the main characters were quite young, but I would definitely classify it as adult fiction because of some of the graphic imagery.

Before I finish this review, I want to give props to Mr. Lastrapes. I had difficulty getting my epub to read correctly on my Nook. A number of sentences ran off the page and I would miss valuable pieces of the story. He reached out to me and offered me a new version of the story. I re-downloaded the new epub on my Nook and I happened to have the same problem. I did find that I could read the story on my iPad through iBooks. I might have been annoyed that I had to read it that way, but since Lastrapes was genuinely concerned with my inability to finish the story, I was happy that he took the time to reach out to me. The story was capturing and I often would find my place on my phone and read in the waiting room of the doctors office, in my car before work, or anywhere I had a few minutes to spare. It actually worked out perfectly and I’m very happy to have finished it.

 

I give Inside the Outside by Martin Lastrapes a 5 out of 5 stars.

5 Stars

Book Review: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

A Monster Calls

Written by Patrick Ness

Concept by Siobhan Dowd

Illustrations by Jim Kay

Published 2011 by Walker Books

216 pages

Monster

Goodreads Synopsis:

The monster showed up after midnight. As they do.

But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming…

This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.

It wants the truth.

My Review:

Even though I read this book over a month ago I still carry it with me (figuratively speaking), and I think I always will.

The story is potent and bound to draw some reaction or memory from you perhaps long forgotten.

Conor, a young boy who believes the Yew tree in his yard wakes him at night to tell him stories, has a lot on his mind. Too much. There are realities in this world that no mind can tolerate, and to a young, pliable mind such as Conor’s these realities are simply to overwhelming to deal with alone.

The story doesn’t just tug at your emotions, it will wrench them free, so just prepare yourself to let go. Conor knows his fears. Or at least he thinks he does. Throughout the story those fears will be challenged.  Are they just covering up for a bigger fear? Our feelings are fragile. Conor knows this. He can be pushed down and scrape his knee, but that doesn’t hurt. What can hurt Conor? The mysteries swirling inside his mind. The story of a monster. One that calls to him in the night. Stories hurt. Because the stories will tell the truth.

I don’t recommend this book if you’re looking for a light read. If you’re a sympathetic as I am, this book will probably make you cry. Don’t be ashamed of that. Let it open up your veins and bleed from one pain-drenched pain to the next. Okay, that’s a bit extreme. There’s hope too, but not without first staggering imbalance.

Am I being cryptic? Well, I don’t want to give too much away. The main thing to take away from this book is that it is not a happy story, but it may bring you peace. The story itself is brilliantly written in that what isn’t said is the most important piece of the story. This book is a young adult novel and while the themes might seem too mature, they are crafted so that they are understood in full. It doesn’t challenge death or contemplate afterlife, it simply identifies what is. In this way, A Monster Calls is suitable for all ages.

A Monster Calls is about understanding. And that sometimes we push understanding away because it hurts. Following Conor with his life at home – dealing with mum, with grandmother, with dad who lives in America now… it’s an eye-opening experience. One you don’t want to miss out on.

Accompanied with beautiful, dark imagery. This book is a complete journey. I give A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness 5 out of 5 stars.

5 Stars

Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

TFIOS

The Goodreads Synopsis:

Diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at 12, Hazel was prepared to die until, at 14, a medical miracle shrunk the tumours in her lungs… for now.

Two years post-miracle, sixteen-year-old Hazel is post-everything else too; post-high school, post-friends and post-normalcy. And even though she could live for a long time (whatever that means), Hazel lives tethered to an oxygen tank, the tumours tenuously kept at bay with a constant chemical assault.

Enter Augustus Waters. A match made at Cancer Kid Support Group, Augustus is gorgeous, in remission, and shockingly to her, interested in Hazel. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long-needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that everyone leaves behind.

My Review:

To be honest, I really didn’t want to write this review. It’s pretty obvious by my timing that I put off reading this book until the film was made, and now here’s my review the night before The Night Before Our Stars big premiere event. I can’t help that I have a certain distaste for reading books with large fan followings. While I usually end up enjoying these books at some level, I can’t help but think my opinion was swayed (either for the good or the bad) due to the large following of the book or series. It is for this reason I have yet to read The Hunger Games series.

Anyway, without further ado – actually, I typed that prematurely. I just took several Buzzfeed quizzes before diving into this review. Like somehow discovering what my beer choice says about me would enlighten me and make writing this review a breeze.

*ahem* without further ado

The Fault in Our Stars was brilliantly written. If I had half of John Green’s talent you could be sure I’d be doing more than blogging. Here’s the thing – TFIOS isn’t some outstanding story about a cancer kid with new insights on life and struggle. I mean, it is, but it doesn’t necessarily stand out above the rest of the stories about cancer kids with their struggles and new life experiences. Green knows how to pull the heartstrings as well as the next guy. While reading TFIOS it wasn’t the pain the characters experienced but their joy that made this a worthwhile read.

So for the sake of not repeating everything that’s been said about this book, I’m going to discuss some of what the Celebration! Cinema Book Club went over when I had time to visit.

I liked Hazel as a protagonist. I’ve read a lot of negative reviews calling her pretentious and unrealistically witty for  a sixteen-year-old. I thought she was lovely. Hazel has a completely different sense of time from normal teenagers. She’s dying, and she is keenly aware of it. Therefore, I find her quick wits a heroic gesture to fight for her adulthood, and also a weakness as readers are reminded that Hazel does not have the same life as most other teens. The same goes for Augustus. He and Hazel are a perfect match because they are both stubborn and weak in similar ways – not that they are two pretentious teens using their sickness to heighten their sensitivity and intellect.

An Imperial Affliction – Hazel’s favorite book  – creates a beautiful frametale to Green’s story. Anna’s story (from An Imperial Affliction) and Hazel’s are connected in some unseen ways. I’d say its agreed that Hazel looks to VanHouten’s story as a comfort, as she identifies with Anna, but more so, the fact that Anna’s story is unfinished helps Hazel live her story. It’s no wonder that Hazel wants to know what happens to Anna’s parents when she worries what will happen to her own parents in the event of her death. The answer isn’t in the book though, and through a string of some happy and some sad events, Hazel gets a little closer to understanding the end of An Imperial Affliction and maybe even her own story.

** This portion contains some slight spoilers** That brings me to Peter VanHouten, the author of Hazel’s favorite story and perhaps, in my opinion, John Green’s most brilliantly written character. Peter was a jerk, right? Perfect. Hazel and Augustus are treated poorly in Peter’s house, yes, but what I loved about this is that for possibly the first time, the two of them are given the same treatment as everyone else. And Peter, his is the ultimate struggle. As one of the ones left behind with only his brilliant mind. I can’t fathom what a man of his intelligence struggles with – the afterlife? the afterlife of someone he loves? Perhaps the alcohol is consumed to numb these sorts of thoughts. **Spoilers over**

And finally, I can’t ignore the romance of Hazel and Gus. They might be sixteen, but they love like they’re sixty. It seemed a bit too perfect at first, but I think it all makes sense. They are both conscious of their time left on earth. They do not love with urgency though because they each understand that time will take what it wants. And as Hazel is cautious not to hurt anybody in the even of her impending death, she proceeds slowly. They both have this mature understanding of protecting the other, but they do so in different ways. Hazel doesn’t want to hurt Gus, and Gus doesn’t want Hazel to make unnecessary sacrifices. Compared to Issac and Monica’s relationship they show some maturity beyond their years. Isaac and Monica’s “always” had a predictable ending, but Gus and Hazel agree that their relationship is “okay”. Now that is impressive (and okay, kind of adorable). Sometimes bodies get sick and sometimes love gets sick, and they are completely familiar with both.

The Fault in Our Stars was a worthwhile read. It is more than an emotional tear-jerker or some teen love story. It is a story full of deep insights and admirable characters you’ll feel like you’ve met before.

I give this book five out of five stars. 

5 Stars

Picturebook Review: Nighttime Ninja

Nighttime Ninja by Barbara DaCosta; Art by Ed Young

Source: Scholastic Book Fairs

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Late at night, when all is quiet and everyone is asleep, a ninja creeps silently through the house in search of treasure. Soon he reaches his ultimate goal…and gets a big surprise! Will the nighttime ninja complete his mission?
With spare text and lush illustrations, Nighttime Ninja is a fun, adventure-filled story about the power of play and imagination.

My Review:

I LOVED this book! I can be a critical reader, but this one had me completely engaged. I spent a few minutes on each page because I thoroughly enjoyed the illustrations and the suspense of the story. It doesn’t contain many words, but it’s still a book you can spend a while reading to kids because the illustration is so mystifying.

My favorite aspect of this book is the relationship between the visual and verbal narratives. The images and the story together tell the whole story, there is no way they could be separated. I knew I would love the visual narrative from the cover (yes, I judged a book by its cover). The paper cut designs and the textured leaves give a major appeal to this story before it is truly begun. And then the end pages utilize the back of the cover to create a template design…. brilliant! The first page would be much better if it wasn’t interrupted by the book’s crease, but I think this is my only real complaint about the book.

The art  is very abstract and imaginative. Many readers who disliked the book disliked it because of the strange art, but I believe that is what creates the story. The words of the story are short and sweet, but effective in creating the mystery of the story. The nighttime ninja, who is really just a little boy using his imagination, creates a setting in his house that is far more grand than what it really is. This story doesn’t just encourage creative play, but it does so without props, in one’s own home, on his own, and in the dark. It is about fearless play. And in the end, his mother is gentle with him and he agrees to go back to being a regular boy with a large imagination.

Nighttime Ninja is a really lovable story – great for adults and kids!

I think it goes without saying, but I give Nighttime Ninja by Barbara DaCosta and Ed Young a five out of five stars!

5 Stars