The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay – Michael Chabon

Joe Kavalier, a young Jewish artist who has also been trained in the art of Houdini-esque escape, has just smuggled himself out of Nazi-invaded Prague and landed in New York City. His Brooklyn cousin Sammy Clay is looking for a partner to create heroes, stories, and art for the latest novelty to hit America – the comic book. Drawing on their own fears and dreams, Kavalier and Clay create the Escapist, the Monitor, and Luna Moth, inspired by the beautiful Rosa Saks, who will become linked by powerful ties to both men. With exhilarating style and grace, Michael Chabon tells an unforgettable story about American romance and possibility.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is probably one of the most underrated books I’ve ever read! I rarely hear it discussed anywhere, and think I only discovered it via NPR’s Book Concierge, which is an amazing tool and everyone should check it out (it’s also a lot of fun). The scope is enormous – from Joe’s origins in Nazi Europe to joining his cousin Sammy in New York City to create popular comic books, to their involvement in World War II, and finally ending with them as adults with families.

Most of the book centers on their creative years as comic book writers, following them from complete newbies in the comic world who got paid pennies at a time, to seasoned pros who dreamed up some of the best-selling superheroes of their day. Sammy and Joe are like day and night – Sammy is a goofy-looking quick talker with endless ideas for content (would be a great influencer in this day and age 😆), while Joe is shy and tall, a talented magician and artist both. I can’t say good enough things about both characters because they were so wonderfully developed. I liked spending time with each of them and learning their dreams and secrets and heartaches, and the sense of boyish bravado and optimism really shines through. Even the secondary characters were satisfyingly fleshed out too. It’s a pretty long book so there’s a couple of slow sections, but Chabon is such a brilliant, zany writer that I chugged through those anyway. I just had a feeling that he wouldn’t let me down with the ending, and he definitely pulled through.

If you think it’s not the book for you because you’re not into comics, don’t worry! I’m not either, and almost let that stop me from picking it up, but I’m really glad I gave it a chance. It was worth the long haul, and I wish there were more writers like Chabon.

The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway

This short novel, already a modern classic, is the superbly told, tragic story of a Cuban fisherman in the Gulf Stream and the giant Marlin he kills and loses — specifically referred to in the citation accompanying the author’s Nobel Prize for literature in 1954.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I like this book for what it is: simple and straightforward. To all the people who try to seek deeper meaning and symbolism from this story, I have only this quote from Hemingway himself to offer:

“There isn’t any symbolism. The sea is the sea. The old man is an old man. The boy is a boy and the fish is a fish. The sharks are all sharks no better and no worse. All the symbolism that people say is shit. What goes beyond is what you see beyond when you know.”

Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway, despite all his issues, just can’t be denied as a great writer – it’s evident in the sheer amount of storytelling he can do in 120 concise pages. The narrative has always been disappointing to me, but only because we all want the happy ending where he returns home with the marlin intact and is hailed as the village hero. But life is rarely that perfect, isn’t it? This ending is much more realistic, and Santiago nonetheless still gets some recognition when the other fishermen see the skeleton of the marlin on the beach. I always leave it not happy, but satisfied.

P.S. This 1-star review on Goodreads made me laugh out loud:

Worst book ever.

Just throw the fucking fish back in. Fuck.

Dubliners – James Joyce

This work of art reflects life in Ireland at the turn of the last century, and by rejecting euphemism, reveals to the Irish their unromantic realities. Each of the 15 stories offers glimpses into the lives of ordinary Dubliners, and collectively they paint a portrait of a nation.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

An odd and – dare I say it? – boring little book. The book blurb – glimpses into the lives of ordinary Dubliners – is very accurate…the short stories cover the extremely mundane lives of working-class city folk, and you’d be sorely disappointed if you went in expecting any interesting action.

And yet.

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The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins

Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She’s even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy. And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she’s only watched from afar. Now they’ll see; she’s much more than just the girl on the train…

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Well you guys, this is it – my first ever 1-star review. Words cannot describe how much I detested this book.

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Good Omens – Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

‘Armageddon only happens once, you know. They don’t let you go around again until you get it right.’

People have been predicting the end of the world almost from its very beginning, so it’s only natural to be skeptical when a new date is set for Judgement Day. But what if, for once, the predictions are right, and the apocalypse really is due to arrive next Saturday, just after tea? You could spend the time left drowning your sorrows, giving away all your possessions in preparation for the rapture, or laughing it off as (hopefully) just another hoax. Or you could just try to do something about it.

It’s a predicament that Aziraphale, a somewhat fussy angel, and Crowley, a fast-living demon now finds themselves in. They’ve been living amongst Earth’s mortals since The Beginning and, truth be told, have grown rather fond of the lifestyle and, in all honesty, are not actually looking forward to the coming Apocalypse.

And then there’s the small matter that someone appears to have misplaced the Antichrist… 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

What a delightful, quirky book! I watched the TV show first (which I’ll get to in a sec) and followed it up with the book, and the absurdist, clever tone in both was a perfect match for my sense of humor.

Continue reading “Good Omens – Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman”

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – Stuart Turton

Evelyn Hardcastle will be murdered at 11:00 p.m.
There are eight days, and eight witnesses for you to inhabit.
We will only let you escape once you tell us the name of the killer.
Understood? Then let’s begin…
***
Evelyn Hardcastle will die. Every day until Aiden Bishop can identify her killer and break the cycle. But every time the day begins again, Aiden wakes up in the body of a different guest. And some of his hosts are more helpful than others.
For fans of Claire North and Kate Atkinson, The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is a breathlessly addictive novel that follows one man’s race against time to find a killer— but an astonishing time-turning twist means that nothing and no one are quite what they seem.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Omg. Where do I even begin with this book?! If you haven’t read it yet, you need to. It’s that good.

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The Things We Cannot Say – Kelly Rimmer

In 1942, Europe remains in the relentless grip of war. Just beyond the tents of the Russian refugee camp she calls home, a young woman speaks her wedding vows. It’s a decision that will alter her destiny…and it’s a lie that will remain buried until the next century.

Since she was nine years old, Alina Dziak knew she would marry her best friend, Tomasz. Now fifteen and engaged, Alina is unconcerned by reports of Nazi soldiers at the Polish border, believing her neighbors that they pose no real threat, and dreams instead of the day Tomasz returns from college in Warsaw so they can be married. But little by little, injustice by brutal injustice, the Nazi occupation takes hold, and Alina’s tiny rural village, its families, are divided by fear and hate. Then, as the fabric of their lives is slowly picked apart, Tomasz disappears. Where Alina used to measure time between visits from her beloved, now she measures the spaces between hope and despair, waiting for word from Tomasz and avoiding the attentions of the soldiers who patrol her parents’ farm. But for now, even deafening silence is preferable to grief.

Slipping between Nazi-occupied Poland and the frenetic pace of modern life, Kelly Rimmer creates an emotional and finely wrought narrative that weaves together two women’s stories into a tapestry of perseverance, loyalty, love and honor. The Things We Cannot Say is an unshakable reminder of the devastation when truth is silenced…and how it can take a lifetime to find our voice before we learn to trust it. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

If you like WWII-era historical fiction, you’ll love this book. There’s romance, political intrigue, LOTS of heartfelt emotion and heartache, and to boot, it’s well-written and fast-paced. It’s told from two perspectives: Alina as a young woman during the war, and Alice in present-day discovering her grandmother’s past, which culminates in an unexpected trip to Poland and a shocking family secret (put that way, almost sounds like Buzzfeed clickbait). The idea behind it is pretty original (to me, at least), and I enjoyed reading it.

So why is my rating so mixed?

Continue reading “The Things We Cannot Say – Kelly Rimmer”