Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

As Charlie begins his year as a freshman, he recounts his ordeals about himself, his new friends, and his observations about his family to an anonymous friend. Careful to reveal more than is needed, Charlie shares his world, his blooming first love, and surprising and unexpected rites of passage. Through it all, Charlie is aware of a strangeness in him that he cannot place.

Personal Take: This book surprised me. I had this on my list for so long, and in my mind I built it up to be this beautiful writing that carried a monumental sort of story. While it wasn’t the beautiful writing I imagined, there is definitely something raw and beautiful in the way Charlie’s voice comes off the pages. Clever, only slightly objective, but still deeply entrenched in his reality, Charlie takes readers through a journey that is both wild and mundane, enlightening and disturbing. And still, his account cuts clear with the intent of his honestly.

I couldnt’ get enough of Charlie’s story, or of his family or friends. I feel like I’ve left behind people that I know so well to continue living their stories after the last page, and I love that feeling.

It is definitely a must-read.

Audience: Older teens and adults for sexual themes.

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Other recommendations: This is the only novel published by Chboksy, while he edited Pieces, a collection of short stories by budding writers.

Review: Hear the Wind Sing (The Rat #1) by Haruki Murakami

The first novel written by Haruki Murakami, Hear the Wind Sing follows a Japanese student who spends his summer at home, reminiscing on years past, while keeping his friend, who goes by the name Rat, company.

Personal Take: After reading Wind-Up Bird Chronicles, and After the Quake, I am a huge fan of Murakami. His words (and his translator’s) are so beautifully crafted, and his characters quirky, and always a vehicle of exploring the human nature. His first novel is just the same– not only exploring his character’s life, but the supporting characters as well. Though it was a little aimless, Murakami’s words counted in each chapter. Some chapters also alternated to different formats; one sentences, sketches, even a monologue by a radio host, which was pretty interesting.

It fascinated me that this was his first novel, and how it set the style for his writing. For Murakami fans, I definitely recommend it.

Audience: Adults, as Japanese literature tends veer into the dark side of human nature and introspection.

Rating:

 

Other recommendations: I read Wind-up Bird Chronicles and After the Quake– and I recommend both. I’m still working my way through his other works.

 

Review: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

 

When an aviator crashes his plane into the desert, he is surprised to find that he is not the only one stranded in the vast desert. Told from the point of view of the aviator, he relates the tale of the Little Prince, who has come from another planet to find friends in other worlds. Through words and sketches, the story of the prince comes to life, revealing precious lessons to learn from.

Personal Take: There’s something in Saint-Exupery’s tale that makes me want more. More of his insight and views of growing, or the Little Prince’s little lessons along his journey. There is something so innocent in the way this story unfolds. So simplistic in its moral lesson that it makes it just perfect in its compact way. Of course, something as precious as this was bound to end in some sort of vague heartbreak, but I loved it all the same. In this edition, Saint-Exupery’s other piece of writing was printed, The Hostage. Again, with such an honest voice, the writing is so beautifully descriptive and enchanting, and draws such a picture of the war. It also sheds a little light on what kind of person Saint-Exupery was as well, and his esteem of humanity even during the war. ]

This is a beautiful story that must be read and shared for the longest time.

Audience: Young and old readers.

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Other recommendations: Saint-Exupery published a lot of work around his aviation adventures, namely Wind, Sand, and Stars and Flight to Arras.

Review: Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

At some point, every one of us embarks on a journey to find love. We meet people, date, get into and out of relationships, all with the hope of finding someone with whom we share a deep connection. This seems standard now, but it’s wildly different from what people did even just decades ago. Single people today have more romantic options than at any point in human history. With technology, our abilities to connect with and sort through these options are staggering. So why are so many people frustrated?

For years, Aziz Ansari has been aiming his comic insight at modern romance, but for Modern Romance, the book, he decided he needed to take things to another level. He teamed up with NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg and designed a massive research project, including hundreds of interviews and focus groups conducted everywhere from Tokyo to Buenos Aires to Wichita. They analyzed behavioral data and surveys and created their own online research forum on Reddit, which drew thousands of messages. They enlisted the world’s leading social scientists, including Andrew Cherlin, Eli Finkel, Helen Fisher, Sheena Iyengar, Barry Schwartz, Sherry Turkle, and Robb Willer. The result is unlike any social science or humor book we’ve seen before.

In Modern Romance, Ansari combines his irreverent humor with cutting-edge social science to give us an unforgettable tour of our new romantic world. (From Goodreads.)

Personal Take: I love a book that can balance hilarity and interesting facts. Ansari did just that, in his pursuit of what makes men and women look for a romantic partner, and how they go about it. His findings offer a lot to debate about, scoff about or relate to. A lot of it was also either disturbing or intriguing, but one thing is for sure– people in general are just plain weird when it comes to setting the norms of mating. This was a repeated theme across most of the research that was conducted, focus groups (that one was just hilarious), and interviews. I liked Ansari’s honesty and his understanding of what he found, his comedic voice offering some relief in the mess that is the human quest for romance.

Though the book doesn’t get to answer anything, this is still a great read, both hilarious and insightful all in one.

Audience: Adults. For relatable and the weird stories.

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Other recommendations: This is the only printed book from Aziz Ansari, and the rest are in audio format.

Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

 

After enjoying quite a bit of publishing success, Juliet Ashton can’t think of what her next work should be about. Out of the blue, she receives a letter from a resident of Guernsey, Dawson Adams, who’s acquired a book of hers by chance. Through their correspondence, Juliet discovers that he belongs to a unique society on the small island– the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Intrigued, Juliet carries on a wider correspondence with the residence of Guernsey, allowing her to discover slivers of their lives during the Nazi occupation.

Personal Take: I can’t say enough how much I enjoyed reading this book. Written in epistolary form, the characters came alive in their correspondence to each other. The description of the time after the war, the people’s lives, Juliet and her life– they all came alive for me. At first, I thought there were too many characters, but soon, it became easy to see how each stood out in their own way, each with their own stories to tell. Juliet herself was a lovable character, a young woman with a lofty sense of humor, who knows her mind, and who loves a good mystery. But really, what blew me away is the level of research that went into this, especially accounts during the war, and even after it. In such delicate details, both Shaffer and Barrows paint a horrific smear in humanity’s history, one that can’t ever be forgotten, but also how the survivors recovered from such a horror.

Easily, this book has become one of my favorites of all time.

Audience: Older teens, adults, especially those who enjoy periodic dramas like Downton Abbey.

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Other recommendations: For Mary Shaffer, this was the first and only novel to be published. For her niece Annie Barrows, she’s published a few children books.

Review: Very Good Lives by J.K Rowling

 

In 2008, J.K. Rowling delivered a deeply affecting commencement speech at Harvard University. Now published for the first time in book form, Very Good Lives offers J.K. Rowling’s words of wisdom for anyone at a turning point in life, asking the profound and provocative questions: How can we embrace failure? And how can we use our imagination to better both ourselves and others?

Drawing from stories of her own post-graduate years, the world-famous author addresses some of life’s most important issues with acuity and emotional force. (From Goodreads)

Personal Take: I’m always get excited when my favorite authors impart wisdom to graduating students, and then their speech gets viral on the internet. And if we’re really lucky, we get the speech printed in a visually appealing way, where we can peruse it at our leisure during our darkest moments. At least, that’s how I feel when I find these printed speeches. Much like Neil Gaiman’s speech Make Good Art (one of my favorite speeches), Rowling’s speech is both light, wonderful, insightful, and at some level, personal. I think she should be one of the most notable role models to graduates that nothing always goes according to plan, and that failure can be a stepping stone.

She also touched on the perceptions of entering the job market, and the metrics in which people are valued: something not a lot of people think widely about, or if they do, fall into the trap of how to measure themselves.

I truly believe that this book should be given away in bulks to graduating students all over the world to both comfort and set the tone for what to expect.

Audience: Everyone, but especially graduates.

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Other recommendations: Really, there’s no need to list down what J.K Rowling is known to write: the Harry Potter series, as well as the Casual Vacancy.

Review: How to Fly a Horse by Kevin Ashton

 

As a technology pioneer at MIT and as the leader of three successful start-ups, Kevin Ashton experienced firsthand the all-consuming challenge of creating something new. Now, in a tour-de-force narrative twenty years in the making, Ashton leads us on a journey through humanity’s greatest creations to uncover the surprising truth behind who creates and how they do it. From the crystallographer’s laboratory where the secrets of DNA were first revealed by a long forgotten woman, to the electromagnetic chamber where the stealth bomber was born on a twenty-five-cent bet, to the Ohio bicycle shop where the Wright brothers set out to “fly a horse,” Ashton showcases the seemingly unremarkable individuals, gradual steps, multiple failures, and countless ordinary and usually uncredited acts that lead to our most astounding breakthroughs. (From Goodreads.)

Personal Take: If you’re planning to read one book that is worth your time during the year, it is this one. At first I assumed it would be preachy type of book about how to unlock creativity, and while it had a degree of that tone, there was more that just blew me away. Each chapter tackles an important element of creativity and discovery, drawing in historic examples and research findings– all of which are so enlightening to read about it. It was such an inspiring read, invigorating with each page, and the information so eye-opening. Ashton does a great job demonstrating the habits of creative people, and what needs to be done to achieve success.

His book hits on such absolute truths that was empowering to read, and I’m grateful it came my way.

This is definitely a must-read book– and a great addition to book collections on creativity.

Audience: Anyone interested in creativity.

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Other recommendations: This is the only book written by Kevin Ashton, but you can complement this reading with Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert (which I haven’t read yet!).

Review: If the Raindrops United by Judiah Friedlander

 

Most Americans know Judah Friedlander from his role as Frank Rossitano on 30 Rock and from appearances in films like American Splendor and The Wrestler. But long before he became a film and TV star and stand-up comic Friedlander drew stuff.
Now, in this quirky, hilarious, and surprisingly profound collection of drawings, Friedlander shows a new side to his “terrifically entertaining” (New York Times) comedy. (from Goodreads)

Personal Take: I’m not sure how one reviews a book of drawings and cartoons. There weren’t necessarily many words (a few pages at most), but the doodles were enough to make readers think of what’s important to Judah. Much of it is relevant to what’s happening in the U.S, from social issues, to environmental issues. And some varies from being quickly understood to taking some time to sink in (mostly because I wasn’t familiar with the references). Much like how he is on television, Friedlander inserts intelligent humor in his doodles, which I adored.

Overall though, this is a quaint book of doodles, that packs a lot of messages with deep thoughts, sometimes bordering controversial, but it was a delight to sift through.

Audience: Older people, because even if the book is filled with doodles, there are still some adult themes in there.

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Other recommendations: The only other book Friedlander wrote was How To Beat Up Anybody: An Instructional and Inspirational Karate Book by A World Champion, which I’m assuming is a comedy. Artists/creatives who have done something similar is Heart and Brain: The AwkwardYeti Collection by Nick Seluk and Adulthood is a Myth by Sarah Anderson.

Review: Soundless by Richelle Mead

Soundless

 

Fei and her people have lived without sound for most of their lives. Living an Isolated life at the top of the mountain, the village depends on the food and other limited supplies sent up to them through a line from the bottom of the mountain in exchange for precious stones from their mines; a perilous job that is killing desperate villagers with no means to live. But everything changes when Fei wakes up one night with her hearing restored. She questions the timing of such a gift, especially when a few of the villagers begin loosing their vision. Determined to find the answers of what is happening to her people, Fei sets off on a journey to seek the truth behind her people’s accursed lives.

Personal Take: I’m a huge fan of Richelle Mead, and I was excited to read this book, as it felt like a new direction to what she usually writes. It was an interesting premise. The world she created was curious, but I felt was only half-heartedly done. There wasn’t enough details to help hold it together. The story itself was alright, but not amazing or memorable.  The characters themselves didn’t make an impression on me either– they didn’t stand out much; not Fei nor the rest of the characters that appeared. More than anything, it felt like checking off a story formula, and I couldn’t get invested in it.

It was a quick read, with a passable story, but wasn’t the profound adventure I was looking for.

Audience: Teens of all ages.

Rating:

threestars

Other recommendations: I’ve read and reviewed Mead’s Vampire Academy series (Vampire Academy, Frostbite, Shadow Kiss, Blood Promise, Spirit Bound and Last Sacrifice), Bloodlines series (Bloodlines, The Golden Lily, The Indigo Spell, The Fiery Heart, Silver Shadows, and The Ruby Circle) and Dark Swan series (Storm Born, Thorn Queen, Iron Crowned and Shadow Heir). I also can’t wait to read her new book, The Glittering Court, among others!

Review: The Ruby Circle (Bloodlines #6) by Richelle Mead

 

After escaping the clutches of the Alchemists, Sydney tries to acclimate to her new life at the Moroi court with Adrian. Unfortunately, their blissful life is still at an arm’s length, especially when a threat makes itself known. While Sydney focuses on restoring the calm to Moroi court politics, and combating her nemesis, Adrian is knees-deep into a mystery of his own– one that could uncover the secret of the Moroi spirit magic.

Personal Take: Let me first say that both Sydney and Adrian are one of my most favorite characters in Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy world. I adore them, and I love how they grew from their struggles. I don’t know if it’s the approach Mead took in this series or not, but somewhere down the line, the stakes didn’t feel high enough for me. Never mind that the previous book ended with a weak cliff-hanger, but the introduction of a new adversary was out of nowhere, and was just too convenient. As for the spirit magic mystery, it didn’t resolve much, except add a new facet to the power.

As much as I tried loving this book, it just didn’t do it for me. It still gave a satisfying wrap-up to all characters involved in the VA world, so at least I’m left with that.

Audience: Older teens mostly.

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Other recommendations: I’ve read and reviewed almost all of The Bloodlines series. This includes; Bloodlines, The Golden Lily, The Indigo Spell, The Fiery Heart and Silver Shadows. I’ve also read the Vampire Academy series, and this includes; Vampire Academy, Frostbite, Shadow Kiss, Blood Promise, Spirit Bound and Last Sacrifice. Another series I read by Mead is The Dark Swan series.