Book Review: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned — from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren — an enigmatic artist and single mother — who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town–and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.

Review:

Little Fires Everywhere is an interesting book full of dichotomies and symbolism around fires and starting over.

The story is set in the planned, manicured, and carefully regulated community of Shaker Heights where the Richardson family lives. They follow the rules and have a lovely, upper class suburban life, especially the mother, Elena.

Elena rents an apartment she owns to Mia and Pearl — and Mia is Elena’s polar opposite: an artistic, single mom rebel whose possessions fit in her car.

These two families are juxtaposed very well in this book, neither one quite understanding, and are rather suspicious of, the other. It’s easy to be drawn to the bohemian Mia and her carefree ways, though there were times when she annoyed me, especially when it came to her daughter’s needs. On the other hand, Elena was harder to like, but I did feel for her and her self-imposed need to do everything “right.” How each of these women mothers is scrutinized and neither is perfect, though it could be argued they are each doing the best that they can.

This leads the book to exploring nearly every aspect of what makes a mother and how to become a mother — pregnancy, miscarriage and infertility, adoption, abortion, surrogacy, virgin birth, kidnapping, …

Overall, I did enjoy this book, though it is a bit on the slow side, opting more to explore the characters and the themes rather than having lots of action.

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On Re-Reading The Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Harry Potter #4)

Harry Potter is midway through his training as a wizard and his coming of age. Harry wants to get away from the pernicious Dursleys and go to the International Quidditch Cup. He wants to find out about the mysterious event that’s supposed to take place at Hogwarts this year, an event involving two other rival schools of magic, and a competition that hasn’t happened for a hundred years. He wants to be a normal, fourteen-year-old wizard. But unfortunately for Harry Potter, he’s not normal – even by wizarding standards.

And in his case, different can be deadly.

Review:
I remember when this book came out and all of the media attention it got — criticisms about it’s length and a death, saying that kids would never read something this long and death would be too much for them to handle. Thankfully, those predictions didn’t come true.
Despite this, I have to say that The Goblet of Fire is probably my least favourite of the series. I still liked it, but found that it dragged for me a bit in the middle. However, the ending had me back to turning pages as fast as I could.
I love how Rolling explores different themes in multiple ways in each book. Slavery is clearly one of the dominating themes of this one. First there is Hermione trying to stop the indentured servitude of the house elves, then there is the introduction of the Imperious Curse, which basically enslaves its victim.
This book shows Harry, Ron, and Hermione growing up and becoming teenagers, showing how moody and angsty they can be. There are squabbles, but friendship reins in the end — which is also another common theme to this series.
The Goblet of Fire is also full of adventure, dragons, mermaids, and mortal peril. What else could a reader want?
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On Reading War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Translated by: Aylmer Maude, Louise Maude
From the award-winning translators of Anna Karenina and The Brothers Karamazov comes this magnificent new translation of Tolstoy’s masterwork.

War and Peace broadly focuses on Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812 and follows three of the most well-known characters in literature: Pierre Bezukhov, the illegitimate son of a count who is fighting for his inheritance and yearning for spiritual fulfillment; Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, who leaves his family behind to fight in the war against Napoleon; and Natasha Rostov, the beautiful young daughter of a nobleman who intrigues both men.

A s Napoleon’s army invades, Tolstoy brilliantly follows characters from diverse backgrounds—peasants and nobility, civilians and soldiers—as they struggle with the problems unique to their era, their history, and their culture. And as the novel progresses, these characters transcend their specificity, becoming some of the most moving—and human—figures in world literature.

Review:

War and Peace is one of those books that I’ve always wanted to read, but have always been intimidated by. Not that long ago, I decided to give it ago — and I was so glad that I did. It’s such an amazing and iconic book that instead of writing a review, I’ll just talk about my experience reading it.

What else can you say except that the book is epic — in scope and in writing. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but the novel is broken up into parts so it makes it easier, and less intimidating, to read. It’s almost like reading a series.

Tolstoy has this wonderful ability to keep the scope both personal and universal at the same time. The stories of the individual people and the drama of their lives is juxtaposed brilliantly against the war and the politics of France invading Russia. I was taken by many of the characters and was happy to be shown their lives, happinesses, and pains over the course of many years.  There is also a great sense of the difference between the lives of men and women in this novel.

It’s fascinating how Tolstoy adds, very clearly, his own personal views on politics, how great Russia is and why, and how terrible Napoleon is and how he failed. These overt political views are something that is not found in modern writing. I felt I had a whole new understanding on the entire time period, both on the global scale of the war, but also on the manners and values of the Russian people (especially of upper class Russians). Even though I know Tolstoy’s views are biassed, that is part of the history too.

This was definitely a book I was happy to read on my ereader as I don’t like hold overly large books. I found it for free at The Guttenberg Project — a great place to find free ecopies and audiobooks of copy write free books.

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Book Review: Dust by Patricia Cornwell

Dust (Kay Scarpetta #21)

Massachusetts Chief Medical Examiner Kay Scarpetta has just returned from working one of the worst mass murders in U.S. history when she’s awakened at an early hour by Detective Pete Marino.

A body, oddly draped in an unusual cloth, has just been discovered inside the sheltered gates of MIT and it’s suspected the identity is that of missing computer engineer Gail Shipton, last seen the night before at a trendy Cambridge bar. It appears she’s been murdered, mere weeks before the trial of her $100 million lawsuit against her former financial managers, and Scarpetta doubts it’s a coincidence. She also fears the case may have a connection with her computer genius niece, Lucy.

At a glance there is no sign of what killed Gail Shipton, but she’s covered with a fine dust that under ultraviolet light fluoresces brilliantly in three vivid colors, what Scarpetta calls a mineral fingerprint. Clearly the body has been posed with chilling premeditation that is symbolic and meant to shock, and Scarpetta has reason to worry that the person responsible is the Capital Murderer, whose most recent sexual homicides have terrorized Washington, D.C. Stunningly, Scarpetta will discover that her FBI profiler husband, Benton Wesley, is convinced that certain people in the government, including his boss, don’t want the killer caught.

In Dust, Scarpetta and her colleagues are up against a force far more sinister than a sexual predator who fits the criminal classification of a “spectacle killer.” The murder of Gail Shipton soon leads deep into the dark world of designer drugs, drone technology, organized crime, and shocking corruption at the highest levels.

With unparalleled high-tension suspense and the latest in forensic technology, Patricia Cornwell once again proves her exceptional ability to surprise—and to thrill.

Review:
This is my first time reading a novel my Patricia Cornwell and I was excited because I’d heard great things about the Kay Scarpetta series. Unfortunately, this book was a let down for me.
The characters are all well established, have a history with each other, and a pattern of behaviour, which is fine. Old tensions and rivalries are brought in quite a bit.
This novel takes place over the course of one day and yet there is very little actual action. Scarpetta spends a lot of time going over things in her head, so much time that things get very repetitive. And I mean really repetitive. I almost didn’t make it through the book. She explains old rivalries between the characters several times, she looks at the evidence, figures it out, talks about it, explains it, then thinks about it again.
And, I have to say, that it bugged me that Scarpetta was hungry all the time but barely ever ate. And that they were sometimes in a hurry, but it would take two chapters of thoughts and contemplation before they actually left the room.
Right from the start, Scarpetta’s husband and FBI profiler, Benton, seems to know there’s a cover up and who’s doing it and much of the rest of the book is finding ways to use the evidence against him.
It is obvious that the author knows a lot about forensic science and all of the techniques and gadgets and that was interesting, however, the story was so slow and repetitive that author knowledge couldn’t compensate.
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