Book review | Room by Emma Donoghue

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“After nap we do Scream every day but not Saturdays or Sundays. We clear our throats and climb up on Table to be nearer Skylight, holding hands not to fall. […] Then we shush with fingers on lips. I asked Ma once what we’re listening for and she said just in case, you never know” (50).

Room was on my TBR list for a while now and I am so incredibly glad I finally got to it, because this novel simply blew me away. Room tells about five-year-old Jack and his mother who live in Room. They never leave Room. Ever. Old Nick comes to Room sometimes when it is night. Jack has never seen Old Nick from up close, only through the slats of Wardrobe. Old Nick brings them food and every Sunday they can ask for a Sunday treat. His mother wants to go to Outside and so they come up with a plan.

Emma Donoghue chose a challenging subject for this novel and she picked an unusual character to tell the story. The entire novel is written from Jack’s perspective with a five-year-old’s use of language, grasp of reality and view of the world. As is often the case with a child narrator in an adult novel, the reader is more knowledgeable than the narrator. Jack gives the reader a brutally honest view of his life, his mother’s situation and our world in general.

By selecting an innocent and inexperienced storyteller, Emma Donoghue on the one hand lightens the load of the book. Jack’s wonder and cheer make this gruesome story bearable and less dark. On the other hand certain situations in the novel are even more shocking, because they are told by a child. Although Jack fails to understand certain horrid events, the reader does not.

With 401 pages in my edition it is a novel of average length, but it reads like a short story. If you are able to see the world through Jack’s eyes, it might make you question what most of us take for granted and change your perception of the world. Room is a devastatingly beautiful novel and I would definitely recommend it.

Donoghue, Emma. Room. London: Picador, (2010) 2011.

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Book review | Carrie by Stephen King

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She had tried to fit. She had defied Momma in a hundred little ways, had tried to erase the red-plague circle that had been drawn around her from the first day […]. She could still remember that day, the stares, and the sudden, awful silence when she had gotten down on her knees before lunch in the school cafeteria – the laughter had begun on that day and had echoed up through the years (22).

Stephen King’s Carrie is definitely one of the horror classics. Most of you probably know what this story is about even if you haven’t read the book, but for those of you that don’t know… In short, Carrie is, big surprise, about Carrie, a teenage girl who lives with her fanatically religious mother in a small town. Because of her clothing and deviant behaviour, she is the laughingstock at school. When after a brutal teasing one of the participants shows regret and helps Carrie to come out of her shell a little bit, life finally looks up for her. Until one of the girls banned from prom for bullying Carrie takes revenge and all hell breaks loose.

Even if you are not a fan of the supernatural, Carrie might still be for you. Carrie’s telekinesis is the only thing supernatural in this novel. The real horror is the ruthlessness of teenage girls and mankind in general. Carrie, suitable for both teenagers and adults, can be a perfect starting point for a discussion about bullying at school and its consequences. This novel first published in 1974 is unfortunately still awfully contemporary. Stephen King gives us a painful reminder of the social hierarchy and peer pressure at school.

I must admit I am not a huge fan of Stephen King’s novels. Although his stories intrigue me and I always pause at the Stephen King section in second-hand bookshops, I have trouble finishing his books. The main reason is I find it difficult to relate with his main characters and Carrie is no exception. The narrator’s descriptions of Carrie only seem to create more distance and do not evoke empathy. The reader does not get a whole lot of insight in Carrie’s thoughts. Does she have hopes and dreams? How does she deal with the bullying?

Stephen King’s style of writing might keep me from getting lost in his books, his stories are out of this world. Carrie did not evoke as strong an emotion as I would have expected from such a vicious story, but I did finish it without any effort. Since it is a short read, it is a perfect novel for a dark and rainy evening.

King, Stephen. Carrie. London: Hodder & Stoughton, (1974) 2013.

Book review | Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

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rating-3-stars

“The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them. The hunt to uncover those jewels—that’s creative living. The courage to go on that hunt in the first place—that’s what separates a mundane existence from a more enchanted one. The often surprising results of that hunt—that’s what I call Big Magic” (8).

Many of us want to live a life full of creativity. Creativity comes in many forms. Writing, singing, composing, dancing, photographing, painting and sculpting are the most obvious ones, but gardening, starting a business, making your own skincare products, collecting owl figurines (who doesn’t love owls?) are also ways of living a creative life. Everyone who keeps a blog is already expressing their creativity. However many of us would probably want to be more creative in general or, in my case, not be afraid to show the products of their creativity. I, like millions of others, would like to write a novel and get published. I also want to write songs and hear them on the radio performed by musicians far better than I am. So why don’t I? And why don’t all those other people start or, if they do, quit half way through?

It couldn’t be fear, now could it? The subtitle of Big Magic perfectly conveys its subject: “Creative Living Beyond Fear”. Elizabeth Gilbert talks a lot about fear in this book: fear of other people’s opinions, fear of failure, fear of not being original enough, fear of not being talented enough, and so on. She argues that fear basically keeps us from doing what we want most and it sometimes keeps us from being inspired. She reasons creativity is not about success or perfection; it is about doing what you love most. Life is short enough already. Give it your all and don’t think of the outcome. The result does not matter as long as you enjoyed it. You should never write (or do anything really) to become famous, rich or successful. It is a wrong place to start from. To be creative is a success itself. You should live a creative live, because you love being creative. Being creative without fear, being you without thinking about what others might think, makes you a more wonderful and interesting person.

In Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert describes her own creative process, her failures and successes, leaps of faith and search for divine inspiration, lack of ideas and facing fears. She shares anecdotes about her life and those of her creative friends. Above all she encourages her readers to embrace their creativity and be creative despite the outcome. Big Magic reads like a long speech. A book that is about creativity and how it can elevate your life. I agree with many of her ideas and reading this book made me consider what I want to do most. It made me think about how fear might hold me back. I did at times found this book a little too spiritual with ideas being entities floating around from one person to the next waiting to be picked up and leaving if they don’t. Elizabeth Gilbert’s writing style is not for everyone. Still if you want to be a more creative person or need some gumption, this book will get you excited and gives you a push in the right direction. Be creative and kind, people!

Gilbert, Elizabeth. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. London, Oxford, New York, New Delhi, Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2015.

Book review | Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

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rating-4-stars

Three Black Witches are born in a glen,

Sweet little triplets

Will never be friends.

 

Three Black Witches, all fair to be seen.

Two to devour,

And one to be queen (267).

After reading Anna Dressed in Blood, I could not resist trying another book by Kendare Blake. My opinion of Three Dark Crowns does not differ much from that of Anna Dressed in Blood. Both books are fast-paced, action-packed and in terms of reading level quite easy. They might be more suitable for the slightly younger young adults. Still it does not mean that Kendare Blake’s novels are not uncannily addictive for somewhat older readers as well. Also it makes this novel an excellent mother/teen daughter buddy read.

Three Dark Crowns is best described as a grim, original fairy tale (pun intended J). In every generation the reigning queen gives birth to triplets. Three sisters, raised separately and all heirs to the throne, have one year from the night of their sixteenth birthday to battle each other till only one remains. The one left standing will be queen. Each sister is said to have her own magic: Mirabella rules the elements, Katherine can survive the deadliest poisons and Arsinoe can make nature do her bidding.

I was immediately gripped by this dark, bewitching story and finished it in a day. I was almost late for a dinner with friends, because I could not put it down. Though some of the plot twists were predictable, such as Arsinoe’s discovery at the end of the novel, it did not make it a less thrilling read. Kendare Blake makes it hard to pick a side in this brutal world, since the reader gets insight into the thoughts of all three sisters.

Although the story is highly entertaining, Kendare Blake’s writing might lack depth for those who are no longer part of the young adult age group. The sisters are brought up with the notion that they will have to murder their sisters in order to be queen. You would expect the sisters to rebel in some way or at least question their fate. However only one of the sisters tries to escape this gruesome future and even she is quickly guided back to her initial path.

The expected publication date of One Dark Throne, the sequel to Three Dark Crowns, is September 19th 2017. Write it down in your diaries, people! I will. Despite it being a little too easy to read, I can’t wait spending another day in my PJs totally immersed in this book.

Blake, Kendare. Three Dark Crowns. New York: HarperTeen, 2016.

Book review | Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

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rating-3-stars

I often bring a book with me wherever I go. However some time ago when I was at my parents’ place I didn’t have a book in my bag, since I hadn’t planned staying that long. So I asked my youngest brother if he had a cool book lying around. He handed me Anna Dressed in Blood and I am very happy he did. I just really (really!) liked it. I had an awesome afternoon reading this spooky book.

Anna Dressed in Blood is a terrific ghost story. It felt like reading about a younger cousin of the Winchester brothers from the TV show Supernatural. Cas hunts ghosts ever since his ghost hunting father was killed by an incredible nasty one. Cas and his mom move from place to place chasing ghosts. When Cas is tipped about Anna with her white dress soaked in blood, he knows it will be his next gig. However Anna is an incredible powerful ghost and defies a lot of Cas’ knowledge about ghosts. Is she too much for him to handle?

This book is a goose bump read. Not too spooky, but spooky enough to keep you in your seat reading as fast as you can to find out what happens next. It contains Voodoo magic which always scares the hell out of me. Kendare Blake writes fast-paced, action-packed scenes that make you laugh one moment and hold your breath the next. I love Cas’ sarcastic humour and the book’s gory descriptions. My only point of critique: although it is a young adult book, the language and writing style seems to better suit a children’s book. Since I no longer fit in the young adult category, the reading level of this book was way too easy for me.

This does not make Anna Dressed in Blood a less entertaining read though. If you are in for some creepy hours on the couch, I would highly recommend it. Has anyone read the sequel, Girl of Nightmares? I saw this book trailer (caution: contains Anna Dressed in Blood spoilers) and it really makes me want to read it.

Blake, Kendare. Anna Dressed in Blood. Antwerpen: Uitgeverij Manteau, (2011) 2013.

Book review | The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

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rating-5-stars

“I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep. You may have heard of me” (53).

The quote above immediately convinced me to buy The Name of the Wind. This book did not let me down. From the moment I read the opening with “a silence of three parts” I was hooked (1). Not many fantasy books have left an impression on me as Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind. If I could only use one word to describe this book ‘epic’ would do nicely. I read this book many years ago when it was just published. I recently reread it, since rumours about the third instalment of this series popped up and I wanted to refresh my memory.

The Name of the Wind is not just a book about a magician. It tells the life of Kvothe: from travelling with his family’s troupe to attending the University. The novel is focused on Kvothe’s music, studies, romances and search for a mysterious and evil group. Magic is only a small part of Kvothe’s world; still it is always subtly present. This book is well-thought-out, unpredictable and never boring. Things I hope will happen do happen, but often not in the way I expected.

What strikes me most in Patrick Rothfuss’ novels is the storytelling. The Name of the Wind is a story in a story. Kvothe himself is the narrator of the legend of Kvothe. When reading this book it is not hard to imagine yourself sitting at a campfire listening to this storyteller. It is the kind of story that gets you to tears, puts a smile on your face and leaves you feeling abandoned when you reach the last page.

Before you decide to pick up this book I must warn you: Patrick Rothfuss is without a doubt a slower writer than George R.R. Martin. The Name of the Wind was published in 2007. Its sequel The Wise Man’s Fear was published in 2011. I’ve been patiently waiting for the next part of the Kingkiller Chronicle. If this amount of time is needed to deliver an excellent book I don’t mind the wait. I am hoping for a release date soon though.

Rothfuss, Patrick. The Name of the Wind. London: Gollancz, 2007.

Book review | My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

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rating-4-stars

“It made me wonder, though, what would have happened if Kate had been healthy. […] Certainly I would not be part of this family. See, unlike the rest of the free world, I didn’t get here by accident. And if your parents have you for a reason, then that reason better exist. Because once it’s gone, so are you” (8).

My parents’ neighbours have a little free library that they roll outside every morning and roll back inside every evening. It is mostly full of Dutch books of every genre imaginable. However I did find an English copy of My Sister’s Keeper a few months ago. Since I was impressed by the movie, I was really happy I got my hands on this book.

Most of you will probably be familiar with the plot, but I will give a short synopsis anyway. Thirteen-year-old Anna has undergone countless of procedures to help save her older sister Kate. Kate has been battling leukemia since she was two. Anna is a designer baby conceived in order to be a bone marrow donor for Kate. Anna’s life and that of her entire family revolve around Kate’s health. When Kate needs one of Anna’s kidneys to survive, Anna sues her parents for the rights to her own body.

The plot is of course major tearjerker material. The novel depicts a family that was broken long before Anna made her claim. Yet, though it is a heart-wrenching story, I didn’t get as emotionally involved as I expected to be. This might be because of the story going back and forth in time and the numerous switches between characters’ voices. Still at times I had to swallow my tears. All characters are well-rounded and realistically portrayed. It is not difficult to imagine yourself in their shoes.

My Sister’s Keeper is written from multiple perspectives: Anna, Anna’s older brother, her mother, her father, her lawyer and her guardian who helps her during her court process. It is clear from the start that none of these voices can be trusted. Anna herself warns the reader: “you shouldn’t believe what you hear about me, least of all that which I tell you myself” (10). A major theme in this novel is therefore doubt. While reading, I had so many questions. What are the characters really thinking? Who is telling the truth? What secrets are the characters keeping? What is the right decision? As a reader you almost feel like you are the judge; you have to make up your own mind about what is right and what is wrong.

Jodi Picoult did an amazing job raising a big moral problem. How far are parents allowed to go in order to save a child? Is a child able to make a decision that will affect her entire life and will end the life of someone she loves? The ending of this novel surprised me. Although a verdict was reached and Anna came to a conclusion, the consequences never actually came to pass. It keeps you pondering about the what ifs. This is a fascinating book.

Picoult, Jodi. My Sister’s Keeper. New York, London, Toronto & Sydney: Washington Square Press, 2004.