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✿Ring Around the Prose✿

Month

August 2016

Review: The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

Brief synopsis (Goodreads): It’s America in 1962. Slavery is legal once again. The few Jews who still survive hide under assumed names. In San Francisco, the I Ching is as common as the Yellow Pages. All because some twenty years earlier the United States lost a war—and is now occupied by Nazi Germany and Japan.

This harrowing, Hugo Award-winning novel is the work that established Philip K. Dick as an innovator in science fiction while breaking the barrier between science fiction and the serious novel of ideas. In it Dick offers a haunting vision of history as a nightmare from which it may just be possible to wake.

Rating✈  Travel companion

Long story short (no spoilers): Last week my brother persuaded me to watch the Amazon original series The Man in the High Castle. I didn’t know until about five episodes in that the show is based on a book by Philip K. Dick (who has had other film adaptations of his books, most notably Blade RunnerMinority Report, and Total Recall), and then obviously I had to read it.

The book and the show differ a bit when it comes to characters and plot, but the main premise is that the story takes place in an alternate reality in which the U.S. lost World War 2 and has been taken over by the Germans and the Japanese, who are in a sort of arms/technology race with each other. In this different reality there is a book (film reels in the show) written by “the man in the high castle” which offers a glimpse into a world in which the U.S. won the war (i.e., our current reality).

The web series adaptation didn’t mirror the book 100% (I didn’t expect it to), yet both were fascinating in their own ways. I liked the novel for its insights into characters’ psyches, and the way it laid the social and cultural foundations for this different reality; I liked the show for its exciting plot, character development, and satisfying ending.

Continue reading “Review: The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick”

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An eighth month update

When I began my 2016 reading challenge, I wanted to know what kinds of books I was naturally drawn to. Did I mostly read authors based in the USA? Did I prefer reading fiction to non-fiction, paperback to hardcover?

Throughout the year I’ve been keeping track of who and what I’m reading to try and answer these questions. At the moment I’m allowing myself to read any book I want (as long as it follows the reading challenge rules) so that I become aware of my biases. My goal for next year is that I challenge myself to read harder by focusing on one or more criteria that I find lacking.

Here’s a quick summary of my reading stats so far:

  • I’ve read 23 out of 40 books
  • 12 were written by male authors and 11 by female authors
  • 3 authors have been people of color
  • 12 authors are from the USA; 7 are from the UK; 1 each is from France, Nigeria, Iran, and Germany
  • 35% of the books are 0-300 pages; 65% of the books are 301-500+ pages
  • I’ve read 14 paperback books, 5 hardcover books, and 4 Kindle books
  • 17 books were fiction, 6 books were non-fiction

Based on these results I want to focus on increasing my POC readership, and I’m considering doing an “around the world” reading challenge next year where I find and read books written by authors from different countries.

Do any of you try to read outside of your comfort zone?

Review: Enchanted Islands by Allison Amend

Brief synopsis (Goodreads): Inspired by the midcentury memoirs of Frances Conway, Enchanted Islands is the dazzling story of an independent American woman whose path takes her far from her native Minnesota when she and her husband, an undercover intelligence officer, are sent to the Galápagos Islands at the brink of World War II.

Amid active volcanoes, forbidding wildlife and flora, and unfriendly neighbors, Ainslie and Frances carve out a life for themselves. But the secrets they harbor from their enemies and from each other may be their undoing.

Rating🌴  Island collection

Long story short (no spoilers)Enchanted Islands has become one of my favorite books this reading challenge. There were a couple of issues I had with the pacing, but overall the story is compelling (what makes it cooler is that it’s based on true people and true events), and the character development and their interactions are well written.

I don’t remember where I originally read the synopsis (probably on the Book of the Month website), but the story turned out to be really different from what I was expecting, in a good way. I’m always hoping a book surprises me by eschewing typical tropes and plots, and Enchanted Islands definitely did that. The narrative is unique; it’s not at all a spy novel or thriller, but it doesn’t lack action or suspense, just that most of it is introspective. It also has a slightly melancholic and brooding tone, which I found refreshing.

I also like when books (and TV shows, movies, and video games) have a simple story and complex characters. This allows the audience to focus on the important things, like human interaction, self-reflection, and growth. The people in Enchanted Islands were so interesting, and after reading A Game of Thrones it was really nice having a book with just a few characters to keep track of. And they were such wonderfully flawed, wonderfully human characters. I can’t remember the last time I felt such empathy for figures in a novel (especially when they’re being difficult).

The biggest critique I have for this book is its pacing. The story is divided into four parts and is told as a flashback by a much older Fanny. In some places the author, Allison Amend, spends too much time talking about a relatively short period in Fanny’s life and then glosses over decades in a few pages. After knowing her so intimately during her formative years I felt left behind as Fanny aged within what appeared to be a matter of minutes. At the end of the book it seemed like we still had unfinished business…

Despite the choppy timing, Amend did a good job of balancing Fanny’s dialogue in the past with her narrative in the present. I especially liked the moments when the story was punctuated by Older Fanny’s self-reflection. Reading those made me feel like her confidante, and I grew more invested in her character.

So, have you read Enchanted Islands? Is it on your TRL? Keep reading for a spoiler review!

Continue reading “Review: Enchanted Islands by Allison Amend”

This bullet journaling thing is addictive

I’ve easily spent around eight hours working on my new journal…it’s insanely addictive. Here are some pages dedicated to books and my reading challenge:

journal 1

journal 2

This is the most fun thing I’ve done in a while!!

Here’s giving the bullet journal a try

I start school in less than two months, which is both exciting and terrifying, and in preparation for all the note-taking and studying I’ll be doing I’ve been brainstorming ways I can plan and organize my time.

In undergrad my favorite back to school item was my planner, so I started doing some research and came across the Bullet Journal. It’s a simple system designed to help you better manage your time and focus on important tasks and events.

bullet journal

So far I’ve drawn a 2016 calendar and will be working on August and September calendars next. It’s nice because things don’t have to be in a certain order, and the system encourages you to use the next available page no matter what you’re writing (whether it’s a list, notes, etc).

bullet journal 2

I don’t have much to organize right now, but I’m pretty sure that’ll change in another month or so. Have any of you tried it out? What do you think?

Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Jack Thorne

Brief synopsis (Goodreads): Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, a new play by Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the eighth story in the Harry Potter series and the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage.

It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.

Rating🏡  Left behind

Long story short (no spoilers): Although the Harry Potter series will forever hold a special place in my heart, this story was utter garbage.

  1. The tone and syntax don’t sound like Harry Potter. The narrative reads nothing like books 1-7. I realize that JK Rowling didn’t write the script herself, and therein lies part of the problem. The story reads like really, really, shitty fan fiction. Sentences are short and too simple, and only a handful of dialogues are more than 50 words. In several places quotes are lifted directly from books 1-7 and they still don’t sound right.
  2. The characters are badly written caricatures of themselves. Imagine you’re reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Harry, Ron, and Hermione decide to dress up as their parents for Halloween. That’s what they sound like in Cursed Child: not 40-year-olds, but 12-year-olds playing 40-year-olds.

    RON (hesitating in the face of her unwavering gaze): Fine. I, um, I think you’ve got really nice hair.
    HERMIONE: Thank you, husband.
    And that’s just the tippity-tip of the iceberg. The story is largely character-driven (as opposed to being magic-driven like in books 1-7), yet there is almost zero character development. We’re supposed to care about several new characters but we never get to know who they are, how they think, or what motivates them. Unlike books 1-7 Cursed Child isn’t in first person, and we aren’t privy to what takes place in the protagonist’s head (something that can be done in plays in the form of interior monologues). Without that as an anchor it’s easy to feel disconnected from his actions, and many times I wondered, Why is he doing that??

  3. The plot is kind of boring. It’s too much “been there, done that” for my liking. You see the same items, the same spells, the same people, the same problem…it’s not enough. There were one or two twists that I enjoyed, however I was too distracted by the fact that they came close to breaking universe rules (and opened up a whole can of worms).
  4. The book bends (and in one case breaks) universe rules. No, not like our Universe, the Harry Potter fictional universe. Every fictional universe has its own rules, and it’s the author’s responsibility to maintain consistency and explain any deviations from those rules. The reason they’re important is because they give the story structure and credence. In Cursed Child there are several instances when information is presented that challenges the Harry Potter canon, and the explanation for those anomalies comes down to creating more rules for the sake of moving the plot along.
  5. What was done well. Despite it being mostly terrible, there were small glimpses of that OG Harry Potter magic. Some of the dry humor is there; and one, maybe two, characters stay true to their book 1-7 selves.

The stage play has gotten good reviews, which makes me wonder if they’re even using the same script. It’s a two-part play that clocks in at a little over five hours; it took me about two to finish reading Cursed Child, so there’s clearly a lot missing in the transcript version. My guess is that the good acting is covering up the terrible, terrible story.

Anyways, have you read it? What did you think? Comment below! Keep reading if you’re interested in a spoiler review!

Continue reading “Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Jack Thorne”

June and July Book Haul!

It’s been a while, but in honor of National Book Lovers Day, I thought I’d share my June and July book haul!

June was especially fun because I got a chance to spend a couple of hours at the Bay Area Book Festival in Berkeley (one of the perks of living in such a fun city!). There were so many tables hosted by small businesses and local publishers, and I was happy for an opportunity to support Asian and Asian-American authors.

festival1
They had a printing press so I made a small notebook!

July was a little slower because I was traveling. However, to prep for my trip I bought a couple of things for my Kindle. I finally finished A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings on plane and train rides, so that was exciting!

Let me know if you’ve read or are planning to read any of these!

Continue reading “June and July Book Haul!”

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