Recent Reads – #1

Hello! I hope you are all staying sane (and staying home!) during this uncertain and stressful time. In order to remain productive and sane myself, I thought I would write a relatively simple post. My favourite Booktuber, Hailey in Bookland, tends to make “Recent Reads” videos, so that is how this idea arose.

I decided to write this in the format of my previous monthly wrap up posts. However, this is not exactly a monthly wrap up because I read these books over the course of February and March, along with other books that I chose not to include in this post. Let’s begin!

*As normal, all summaries are from Goodreads.*

THE BEAUTIFUL by: Renée Ahdieh – #1 in The Beautiful series *3/5 stars*

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Summary: In 1872, New Orleans is a city ruled by the dead. But to seventeen-year-old Celine Rousseau, New Orleans provides her a refuge after she’s forced to flee her life as a dressmaker in Paris. Taken in by the sisters of the Ursuline convent along with six other girls, Celine quickly becomes enamored with the vibrant city from the music to the food to the soirées and—especially—to the danger. She soon becomes embroiled in the city’s glitzy underworld, known as La Cour des Lions, after catching the eye of the group’s leader, the enigmatic Sébastien Saint Germain. When the body of one of the girls from the convent is found in the lair of La Cour des Lions, Celine battles her attraction to him and suspicions about Sébastien’s guilt along with the shame of her own horrible secret.

When more bodies are discovered, each crime more gruesome than the last, Celine and New Orleans become gripped by the terror of a serial killer on the loose—one Celine is sure has set her in his sights . . . and who may even be the young man who has stolen her heart. As the murders continue to go unsolved, Celine takes matters into her own hands and soon uncovers something even more shocking: an age-old feud from the darkest creatures of the underworld reveals a truth about Celine she always suspected simmered just beneath the surface.

Review: To be frank, I purposefully sought out this young adult book in the hope of pure entertainment. The Beautiful certainly delivered in that respect. However, although the book was as expected–predictably yet disappointingly so–I continued to be optimistic throughout the read. Alas, optimism is rarely rewarded when it comes to the YA genre, especially one that involves vampires.🤭

To be specific, there was nothing redeeming about The Beautiful. I was simply eager to immerse myself in the lives of vampires once again after my Twilight phase (I prefer the first movie to the entire book series, as Robert Pattinson is fabulous) and my Vampire Diaries phase (that is, the book series and the television series). In terms of valid critique, I found the writing in this book oddly stuffy and formal. Perhaps the writing accurately corresponded with the time period; however, I do not yet have a reliable grasp on history (particularly the late 1800s) to be able to determine that. The Beautiful is a young adult book after all, so I am not exactly sure if it deserves quite that much credit…

With regards to the cast of characters, I found them equally frustrating–particularly the leading female character, which is often the case–and unsurprisingly formulaic. This book was somewhat of an enjoyable read, although it is safe to say that it is not one to revisit.

A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW by: Amor Towles – A novel *4/5 stars*

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Summary: In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, and is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him entry into a much larger world of emotional discovery.

Review: A Gentleman in Moscow is an excellent novel. Towles succeeded in communicating an intricate and refreshing story about Count Alexander Rostov and his decades spent at the Metropol Hotel in an engrossing and distinct style.

Furthermore, Towles writes in a stimulating and humourous manner, which wonderfully influences the characters he crafts. In a unique approach to the narrative, Towles often presents his ideas and his beliefs with great wisdom and a fascinating perspective in the form of analogies and anecdotes. Additionally, he tends to gravitate towards the use of footnotes in order to provide the reader with additional information and context concerning the current scene, as well as often to further contribute a layer of humour or irony to the story.

Although I did thoroughly enjoy reading the novel, oftentimes I did discover my thoughts drifting during discussions–sometimes lectures–on the Russian history, as that was indeed a primary aspect of the story. At several intervals throughout the novel, I found that there was an overload of historical information, which was particularly challenging to follow. However, although A Gentleman in Moscow was certainly a demanding novel, I do believe I am likely to return to it (perhaps in the coming months, for it seems I am going to have a considerable chunk of time away from school)!

LET THE GREAT WORLD SPIN  by: Colum McCann – A novel *5/5 stars*

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Summary: In the dawning light of a late-summer morning, the people of lower Manhattan stand hushed, staring up in disbelief at the Twin Towers. It is August 1974, and a mysterious tightrope walker is running, dancing, leaping between the towers, suspended a quarter mile above the ground. In the streets below, a slew of ordinary lives become extraordinary in bestselling novelist Colum McCann’s stunningly intricate portrait of a city and its people.

Corrigan, a radical young Irish monk, struggles with his own demons as he lives among the prostitutes in the middle of the burning Bronx. A group of mothers gather in a Park Avenue apartment to mourn their sons who died in Vietnam, only to discover just how much divides them even in grief. A young artist finds herself at the scene of a hit-and-run that sends her own life careening sideways. Tillie, a thirty-eight-year-old grandmother, turns tricks alongside her teenage daughter, determined not only to take care of her family but to prove her own worth.

Review: Let the Great World Spin is a thought-provoking and genuinely marvellous novel. Here is my review.

MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN by: Ransom Riggs – #1 in the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series *3/5 stars*

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Summary: A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of very curious photographs. It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow-impossible though it seems-they may still be alive.

Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children had definite potential. However, I was unfortunately underwhelmed by the storyline. The incorporation of historical material in the story was undeniably brilliant and startlingly tangible. The black and white photographs undoubtably contributed to the tone and general experience of the novel.

However, aside from the photographs and the peculiar children, I did not find Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children to be a particularly impressive novel. The photographs were a unique and captivating component, yet the plot–which was in part born from those images–was generic and forgettable. It is strange that such fascinating and evocative images could produce a colourless and predictable storyline.

Moreover, it seemed as if Riggs was overly keen on using specific images. As a result, their significance somewhat faded throughout the story, for he continuously pasted photographs in unnecessary locations that it became awkward and unreasonable. That said, I am glad I finally read Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. I do not, however, expect to continue on with the series.

APEIROGON by: Colum McCann – A novel *3.5/5 stars*

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Summary: Bassam Aramin is Palestinian. Rami Elhanan is Israeli. They inhabit a world of conflict that colors every aspect of their daily lives, from the roads they are allowed to drive on, to the schools their daughters, Abir and Smadar, each attend, to the checkpoints, both physical and emotional, they must negotiate.

Their worlds shift irreparably after ten-year-old Abir is killed by a rubber bullet and thirteen-year-old Smadar becomes the victim of suicide bombers. When Bassam and Rami learn of each other’s stories, they recognize the loss that connects them and they attempt to use their grief as a weapon for peace.

ReviewApeirogon was certainly a novel unlike anything I have ever read before. Therefore, I have an assortment of conflicting feelings. At times throughout the novel, I thought McCann skillfully merged together a variety of perspectives to create a harmonious and rich blend of voices. More often than not, however, I thought many of the “chapters” (I do hesitate to call them chapters, as most of them were so brief) disrupted the fluidity of the story. I found myself eager to return to the primary narrators, Rami Elhanan and Bassam Aramin. Due to the number of varying perspectives, I do believe that the depth and poignancy of the male protagonists (that is, Bassam and Rami) were severely impacted. I felt emotionally disconnected from Bassam and Rami, which affected the way in which I was able–or unable–to sympathize with their suffering. However, during several of their longer chapters, I felt beautifully connected to their characters and to their perished daughters. I felt as if I was able to wholly understand their stories and recognize their grief and their movement–which is in part fuelled by their eternal sorrow.

As I mentioned in my review of Let the Great World Spin, empathy is one of the leading themes in Apeirogon. Through empathy, a Palestinian and an Israeli unite and form a profound and understanding relationship. Although I was able to begin to empathize with each of them, I strongly wish that McCann had chosen to write more chapters that focused on Bassam and Rami. Granted, the diverse cast of narrators does contribute a more thoughtful and deeply layered collection of chapters.

One of the things I most appreciated in Apeirogon was the Philippe Petit angle. I thought Petit was deftly melded into the story in an absorbing manner. But more so, it was greatly comforting to return to his familiar “character” and his feats. Not to mention, to return to his eccentricities!

Much like A Gentleman in Moscow, I was frequently overwhelmed by the factual information and the non-fictional aspect of this novel (to be clear, Rami Elhanan and Bassam Aramin are real men, who separately lost their daughters, Smadar and Abir, due to the ongoing conflict between Palestinians and Israelis). Because the Palestinian and Israeli conflict was (and continues to be to some extent) exceptionally foreign to me, I found it especially difficult to grasp the fundamentals of the circumstances, as well as the non-fictional characters. However, I was incredibly moved by the powerful and inspiring stories of Bassam and Rami. As mentioned, I do wish that their characters were allowed more pages to breathe and evolve in order to form a true connection with the reader. If that had been the case, I am sure I would have enjoyed the novel to a greater degree. Even so, I am thankful for how much I learned while reading Apeirogon.

CREATIVITY: THE PERFECT CRIME by: Philippe Petit – A novel *5/5 stars*

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Summary: Since well before his epic 1974 walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, Philippe Petit had become an artist who answered first and foremost to the demands of his craft—not only on the high wire, but also as a magician, street juggler, visual artist, builder, and writer. A born rebel like many creative people, he was from an early age a voracious learner who taught himself, cultivating the attitudes, resources, and techniques to tackle even seemingly impossible feats. His outlaw sensibility spawned a unique approach to the creative process—an approach he shares, with characteristic enthusiasm, irreverence, and originality in Creativity: The Perfect Crime.
            Making the reader his accomplice, Petit reveals new and unconventional ways of going about the artistic endeavor, from generating and shaping ideas to practicing and problem-solving to pulling off the “coup” itself—executing a finished work. The strategies and insights he shares will resonate with performers of every stripe (actors, musicians, dancers) and practitioners of the non-performing arts (painters, writers, sculptors), and also with ordinary mortals in search of fresh ways of tackling the challenges and possibilities of everyday existence.

Review: Persuaded by my love of Let the Great World Spin, I was very intent on reading this book. Philippe Petit has such a passionate and remarkable voice, which wonderfully translates into his writing. He writes with an otherworldly quality and definite perception. Creativity: The Perfect Crime accurately and hilariously reflects his feverish energy and enthusiasm. Petit’s peculiarity (for instance, he resided in an illegal broom closet, deemed too small to be legal, for forty-five years in Paris) is in part responsible for his appeal. The way in which he writes (not to mention, speaks) compels readers to–quite rightly–question his sanity, yet it is challenging to suppress a fascination with his craft that promptly arises during the first page of the book. There is no denying his being a strange man (in fact, there is quite a lot of evidence to support that claim). However, that strangeness–his voice, his speech, his attitude–is delightfully infectious and utterly enthralling.

Regrettably, I was prepared to dislike this book, as I was noticing the astonishing number of one- and two-star reviews on Goodreads. I am extremely pleased that those reviews did not dissuade me from reading this book, for I enjoyed it immensely. That said, during my read, I did crave more of a focus to be on Petit’s wire-walking rather than on his juggling and magic tricks (along with his shoplifting habits…). The ending, however, certainly solidified the absolute pleasure and amusement I felt while reading this book. I will shortly be preordering Petit’s book, Man on Wire, which exclusively explores his most celebrated high-wire walk between the Twin Towers in New York City. However, I will not begin the book too soon (I’m not confident it will arrive any time soon, anyway) because Petit’s exuberance does become draining. Nevertheless, I am excited to return to the presence of Philippe Petit in a little while!

I hope you all enjoyed this “recent reads” post! I am presently rereading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (as one does😁), so I am not positive when I will have another post coming. However, I do very much enjoy writing them, so I expect to begin writing something or other at some point in the next couple days! I hope you are all staying safe and healthy. Farewell!

ava

 

 

 

 

 

 

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