Sleeping Giants Review

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Title: Sleeping Giants
Author: Sylvain Neuvel
Genre: Sci-fi
Country: Canada
Rating: 4/5

Summary: One day a girl falls into a hole, except that hole is home to a giant hand emitting a strange turquoise light. An unnamed interviewer begins collecting a team of individuals to begin working on finding the missing pieces of this giant figure and on assembling it. Several things do not add up, including the metal makeup of the giant, the weight, and the light emissions. The team works together to discover its secrets and its capabilities, although not without dire consequences.

Reaction: Love. I love the way Neuvel writes this novel. It’s set up on an interview format minus some journal logs, and the dialogue flows so well. It fascinates me that people can write an entire book in dialogue form. The writing style is engaging and it refuses to dumb itself down. The author trusts his readers and the read is deeply rewarding. The cast of characters is diverse in gender and there are plenty of females in powerful positions which in my history of sci-fi books, is rare, very rare. All characters have their own desires and their own respective issues. For a seemingly outlandish book, Neuvel keeps it real with character responses and portraying the human condition in the onslaught of a technological reinassaince.

Aside from being a story, it’s much more than that. It asks questions, hard questions. Would you kill in the name of future peace? How many lives are worth this project? Can other countries really work together and not use a weapon of mass destruction for an offensive strike? Are citizens really expendable to governments? Is it right to alter bodies to perform better even if that meant making unethical changes? Do the people involved in bigger-than-themselves projects have a right to make any choices about their personal selves?

These are questions that we must ask ourselves as society continues making weapons that remove the human from the physical destruction site. These are questions society and governments must ask themselves: who’s worth losing and who isn’t? Neuvel clearly shows that the western world, while promoting “equality” never really believes that everyone is equal to some. He also showcases a very capitalist point of view: you’re helpful to the government until you’re not, then be willing to get cut from the program and tossed out on your own.

The ending is a twist, one I never saw coming. The sequel which comes out in April of this year is a book I’m definitely going to buy.

Some really good quotes that I highlighted in the novel include:

You train your soldiers to kill using video games. They blow enough people up on their computer and it becomes easier for them to kill with a real weapon. Why do you think your government funds so many war and terrorism movies? Hollywood does your dirty work for you. Had 9/11 happened twenty years earlier, the country would have been in chaos, but people have seen enough bad things on their television screen to prepare them for just about anything. We do not really need to talk about government conspiracies.”

I suppose that’s why people are disenchanted with politics. They expect whoever they elect to change their lives.

Every major religion has to adjust to this revelation. Whatever god you believe in can’t just be about humans anymore. He, or she, has to be a god for the whole universe. Heaven, Hell, Nirvana, whatever, all these things have to be rethought, reshaped.”

Redefine alterity and you can erase boundaries.

Give it a read and then give it some thought; it’d be a great book to discuss a lot of topics that plague society today.

Truly Madly Guilty Review

Titl9781743534915e: Truly Madly Guilty
Author: Liane Moriarty
Genre: Fiction
Country: Australia
Rating: 2/5

Summary: Clementine and Erika have been friends since childhood and continue to keep one another in their lives. Erika is the godmother of Clementine’s children, even. But one day when they get invited to Erika’s neighbor’s barbecue, something goes terribly wrong that shapes three families for the rest of their lives. Complete with secrets, dysfunctional families, resentment, and drama, Truly Madly Guilty dives into the ugly and the beautiful of the human condition.

My Reaction: Truly Madly Guilty begins during Clementine’s presentation about what happened at the barbecue through Erika’s perspective. Readers are left in the dark as to what actually happened at the life-altering barbecue until ~60% into the book. Moriarty does not spare any details from the mundane lifestyles of both Clementine and Erika. The perspectives alter in each chapter although the book is written in third person limited.

The mystery of what happened at the barbecue is supposed to fuel the reader’s imagination and interest into the novel, but unfortunately, Moriarty’s need for describing every little detail of every little thing we do in life outweighs the excitement of anticipation. We are left in the dark grappling for: what the hell happened? It’s frustrating and I often wanted to give up on the book.

When it gets to the last 40% of the novel, the pace picks up very nicely. Suddenly readers can spiral into the drama of what happened that day and how / why it changed all three families involved. Compared to the beginning of the novel, the ending is like finally jumping off a plane to skydive while the beginning is like the anticipation but mostly dread of actually getting to the jumping part.

It is the end that saved this book from a 1/5 rating. Moriarty does do very well on describing the human condition and the human psyche but she does it in such a dull, mundane way that I struggled in caring. I did enjoy some of the backstories, mostly Erika’s, but it isn’t a saving grace for the novel by any means.

Unfortunately there were no quotes I liked well enough to highlight and I do not believe this would by any means qualify for literary fiction. There is nothing very insightful that Moriarty gives me as a reader.

The author also has a penchant to tie everything together with a nice little bow on top, and while it’s generally nice that author’s can tie things in together, it’s on the rather dull/obvious side of things. For instance, it’s raining throughout the entire novel until one day it clears up and the sun is out. The metaphor is tiring and trite at best. The other tie-ins are eye rolling ones that aren’t complex at all. And then there are some things, like Clementine’s mother’s resolve at the day of the barbecue that never come to light. There are many things left unsaid or unfinished in the novel.

By the very end things return to the mundane and there were probably about 100 pages of actual good, exciting writing. Not that Moriarty is a bad writer by any means, her prose is generally good by qualifications, but it’s boring and not insightful. But this book could have easily lost 200-300 pages and it would have been a good novella.

Trigger Warnings Review

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Title: Trigger Warnings
Author: Neil Gaiman
Genre: Fiction > Short Story / Poetry Collection
Country: England
Rating: 1/5

Summary: Gaiman writes on several different subject matters. The short stories often deal with the fantastical, including fairy tale spinoffs, a Doctor Who short story, and a short story continuation of American Gods following the main protagonist Shadow. The stories are meant to be disturbing and some of them even include tentacled monsters or faceless creatures.

My Reaction: A waste of time. I always love Gaiman’s ideas and I’ve read a couple of his books, but I can never get behind his writing style. It seems trite and elementary most of the time. The title is very misleading and Gaiman includes in his introduction his thoughts on trigger warnings, which in my opinion, shows that he doesn’t understand what TWs are for. In any case, there is hardly anything that could use a trigger warning. He also includes a synopsis of each short story before the stories begin which screams: I don’t trust my readers!

There is no short story that I can say that I remotely enjoyed. The Doctor Who short story is all right, but I found it annoying that Gaiman borrows so heavily from what is already on television. Most of the short stories end abruptly without much explanation which is supposed to add to the air of “disturbances” but it falls short. The characters are hardly worth remembering. I remember Shadow from American Gods, but that’s because I’d already read the novel.

Gaiman has good ideas but his overall ability to achieve a writing style that compliments his genius is lost. I had to really push my way through this book. There were no memorable quotes, probably the best part of the collection was the preface. There were some laughable quotes that, in my opinion, showcase bad writing, such as: “Her ship’s deck would be painted red, to mask the blood in battle.” If Gaiman trusted his readers any, he could easily omit “to mask the blood in battle.” It’s cliche, readers will get your meaning Gaiman, believe me!

I believe this seals the deal on me and Gaiman: we will never be. I truly looked forward to this collection because I love his mind, but … it didn’t pan out.

The Girl with Seven Names: Review

9780007554867_s260x420Title: The Girl with Seven Names
Author: Hyeonseo Lee
Genre: Autobiography
Country: North Korea
Rating: 3/5

Hyeonseo Lee gives readers a glimpse into her life. Born and raised in North Korea, she introduces the outside world to the abuse of her government. Always paranoid and suspicious of others, North Korean members of society must always be vigilant in making sure that they are consistently loyal to the government. Every neighbor is a spy. Even the government officials are on the prowl wanting to catch anyone in a lie or in a position where they are demoted in social status.

In order to survive, many citizens resort to smuggling in goods from China or Japan in order to sell on black markets in North Korea. While frowned upon, most smugglers have money to ensure their safety from the government via bribes. By all accounts, Lee’s position in North Korea is very privileged. She touches on the Great Famine of the 1990’s and how that doesn’t directly affect her food source, but how it affects those less fortunate. Many people die and they die in the public view, and the tragedy of a government that doesn’t respond to the suffering of their people.

Eventually, Lee escapes North Korea and has to endure China’s policies on refugees from NK, which aren’t friendly. She must survive by hiding constantly. Luckily she has assistance but it doesn’t diminish how difficult it is to truly escape NK.

In escaping, she experiences guilt in leaving her family behind. Nevertheless, the human will proves resilient and she learns how to live as best she can where she is.

Lee’s story is dramatic and very lucky. She finds help in unexpected places more than once. It also calls into question a country’s response to someone fleeing from an abusive country/government. Is it moral to turn someone away, to return them back to the dystopian government? Even China expresses remorse for their past policies. Lee navigates this question gracefully but does not shy away from the details that caused her life havoc.

While I learned a lot about how North Korea operates, the reason I give this book a 3 is for the writing style. It’s very straightforward, very bland at some points. Although it’s a page turner, certain things become trite, such as the habit of ending a chapter with something like, “I would soon realize things could get worse.” It happens so often that I often scoffed at the writing. And there are a few threads left untied, which happens, but the book ends rather abruptly.

I appreciate this book in its entirety, however, and recommend it to readers curious about North Korea. I believe we should not make fun of NK based on their success rate of keeping their citizens oppressed. This book made me realize that the people of other countries must make laws to help refugees and people in need; while there may be international laws that aide people like Lee now, we must make sure as global citizens to not let our own rulers close the door to safety. NK is a serious human rights issue and Lee’s account sheds light to that.

A Tale for the Time Being: Review

Ozeki writes through the lens of her 16-year-old protagonist and her family’s recent relocation back to Japan. Nao is a very straightforward but comical narrator; somehow Ozeki pulls off writing about very triggering topics such as suicide in a serious but “lighthearted” manner. The first half of the book is very easy to read; it’s very fast paced and keeps you alert. The second half is just as good but the writing style turns much darker very fast. I even had to put the book down a couple of times just to refocus myself.

This story is about cruelty. Cruelty of a world pushing you to the brink of you wanting to exist; cruelty of people who refuse to accept you; cruelty of corporations and their greed by refusing to respect your hesitancy in gaining profits through war. It’s about people pushing back from the status quo that is accepting war, accepting torture, accepting executions, etc. And in a way, this story is very much about life. There are several characters that interweave through time and they all respect life so much but yet nearly all face the choice of having to or wanting to kill themselves.

It is very easy to connect with Nao; her narration style is very informal and engaging. Anyone who’s gone through high school knows how cruel other students can be to one another and how important it is to reject bullying. It’s very heartbreaking to see how much her life is ruined because of her classmates and her continual struggle to pull herself back to the surface. Nao isn’t a perfect character and I really appreciate how Ozeki characterizes her callousness toward her father’s troubles. Bullying is a circle and the bullied can also create cruelty unto others.

Ozeki submerges the reader in Japanese culture. If you have the Kindle version as I do, the links to the notes come in very handy and I suggest that you read this book in its entirety which includes the appendix. The novel also submerges the reader in Zen Buddhism which I believe helps keep the novel’s peace. There are very dark times but I began to rely on some breathing techniques mentioned in the book and found it easier to read during the second half.

This book will probably be triggering; Ozeki does not shy away from the harsh reality of the world which entails: sexual assault, rape, suicide, war, and genocide. At the end of the day you realize how cruel the world actually is, how cruel people can be (which is an astonishing amount). And then you must make a decision on how you respond to the cruelty around you.

A Tale for the Time Being has some fantastic quotes. Some of my favorite are:
“What is the half-life of information?”

“During the physical examination in October, the recruiting officer ordered us to “switch off our hearts and minds completely.” He instructed us to cut off our love and sever our attachment with our family and blood relations because from now on we were soldiers and our loyalty must lie solely with our Emperor and our homeland of Japan. I remember listening to this and thinking that I could never comply, but I was wrong. In trying to stop your tears, I was already obeying the officer’s command to the letter, not out of patriotic allegiance, but out of cowardice, in order not to feel the pain of my own heart, breaking.”

“Think about it. Where do words come from? They come from the dead. We inherit them. Borrow them. Use them for a time to bring the dead to life.”

“Killing people should not be so much fun.”

“If you start snapping your fingers now and continue snapping 98,463,077 times without stopping, the sun will rise and the sun will set, and the sky will grow dark and the night will deepen, and everyone will sleep while you are still snapping, until finally, sometime after daybreak, when you finish up your 98,463,077th snap, you will experience the truly intimate awareness of knowing exactly how you spent every single moment of a single day of your life.”

A wonderful book and a must-read. 5/5

Homegoing: a Review

Gyasi really showcases her writing capabilities in Homegoing. Readers begin with two sisters and how their paths diverge: one becoming sold into slavery and shipped off to America, and the other remaining within Ghana. From there, each chapter introduces someone new who is related to the two sisters. And from there readers explore an entire line of ancestry.

The writing style is beautiful and the story in its entirety flows very well. Each chapter basically functions as a short story, but the tie-ins are very prominent so it helps to have that back-end knowledge. While for me it was hard getting into all of the chapters since I would form connections with other characters, it was still rewarding. Gyasi’s message really hit home with me.

Nearing the end of the book I stopped and it just hit me. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I realized suddenly that while now it’s generally unacceptable to sell people into slavery and there’s no breaking up of families in that regard, that families today suffer so much because the likelihood of being reunited with unknown family members is highly impossible. You might have family still in Ghana while the other half of your family is in the States and you might never know it. What an intense, scary, and tremendously terrible feeling! Gyasi does very well to point this out and to showcase the different struggles, particularly the black experience in America.

The Ghana lore from the Asante tribe is wonderful and moving. It also put things in perspective for me as I was already familiar with the spider god, Anasi thanks to the novel by Gaiman, Anasi Boys. But knowing the different traditions within a tribe and how slavery and white America has taken away that unique-ness of African-Americans is very sad. One quote sums it up from the book: “black is just black.” It’s very similar treatment America gives their own indigenous community with the blanket term of Native American without recognizing the different tribes. Seems to be a theme.

Some of my favorite quotes include:
“Weakness is treating someone as though they belong to you. Strength is knowing that everyone belongs to themselves.”

“You cannot stick a knife in a goat and then say, Now I will remove my knife slowly, so let things be easy and clean, let there be no mess. There will always be blood.”

“The British were no longer selling slaves to America, but slavery had not ended, and his father did not seem to think that it would end. They would just trade one type of shackles for another, trade physical ones that wrapped around wrists and ankles for the invisible ones that wrapped around the mind.”

“The British had no intention of leaving Africa, even once the slave trade ended. They owned the Castle, and, though they had yet to speak it aloud, they intended to own the land as well.”

“The white man’s god is just like the white man. He thinks he is the only god, just like the white man thinks he is the only man.”

“The white man told us he was the way, and we said yes, but when has the white man ever told us something was good for us and that thing was really good? They say you are an African witch, and so what? So what? Who told them what a witch was?”

“Forgiveness, they shouted, all the while committing their wrongs. When he was younger, Yaw wondered why they did not preach that the people should avoid wrongdoing altogether. Forgiveness was an act done after the fact, a piece of the bad deed’s future. And if you point the people’s eye to the future, they might not see what is being done to hurt them in the present.”

5/5 from me – a very insightful and impacting novel with a wonderful story!

the continuation

Continuing to read Homegoing, still fabulous, still in love.

Right now I’m perusing GoodReads in pursuit of adding more books from different countries to my collection. While I definitely haven’t hit every country that stars with A or B, I’m on the C’s right now in the genre section and I think I’m going to be falling head over heels in love with Chinese literature. I can’t remember the last time I read something set in China or by a Chinese author! (shame)

The Country Challenge is slowly being set in motion one book at a time!

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things Review

Wow.

First off, when I picked up this book, I didn’t expect it to go in the direction that it did at all. I only purchased it because it won a GR award.

With that said, Greenwood writes a fantastic novel, delving into a topic widely considered taboo. Without fetishizing her main protagonist, she crafts a story that doesn’t fall on the black/white scale of good and evil many societies have installed. It’s grey, all grey.

Greenwood employees fantastic psychology in showing us how her protagonist ends up falling in love at such a young age, and to her being taken advantage of. Yes, it’s wrong by all societal and moral standards, but at the same time Greenwood pushes this issue in our face. We can easily see where Wavy is coming from! Good grief, would we not have chosen the same options she did? And Kellen, my goodness, yes he allowed things to go to far but as readers, we can completely empathize with him. For something so controversial, here we are looking at the scale of where it falls within morality.

I will admit that yes, this novel made me uncomfortable, but not to the point where I chose to put it down. Greenwood goes just far enough in my opinion. And there’s nothing nasty about the book. It dives into sex and relationships without apology. Her descriptions are raw and provoking, but it never got gross. It was what it was and Greenwood makes no effort into tying a neat bow around it.

I appreciated Wavy’s character. Her lack of words, her eating disorder, how she found herself despite her circumstances. The fact that she studies astrophysics. It’s beautiful. She’s resilient, she’s determined, she takes charge, she knows what she wants.

All of the characters Greenwood gives us are very much their own. Kellen is a strong character, even Brenda. For those who want to hate Kellen, maybe even Brenda, Greenwood constantly redeems them. They are doing things by their own philosophy and morality code; they are both good and bad as no one falls entirely on one end of the spectrum. The switching viewpoints brings out the characterizations even more which is lovely, and not something I’m usually a fan of, but it works!

Give it a go if you really want to think long and hard about ethics, morality, and philosophy (imo). It favors strands of White Oleander and some of White is for Witching although I would say the first is a better comparison to the book when dealing with mature subjects.

4/5 stars from me.

My book from the US is complete and I’m 1/197 countries!

review on GR