The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

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9717After being divorced from his wife, Tomas comes to the realization that a monogamous relationship is not for him. When Tereza enters his life like “a child put in pitch-daubed bulrush basket and sent downstream”, he feels a connection to her that he hasn’t felt with another woman. But this love does not hinder him from still seeing other women, which makes Tereza jealous. Tomas’s mistress and close friend, Sabina, is an artist who takes satisfaction in the act of betrayal. When her lover, Franz, leaves his wife for her, she betrays him by moving away. Through these four complicated and intriguing characters, Milan Kundera challenges Friedrich Nietzsche’s concept of eternal recurrence by suggesting that the events that occur through our lives only occur once and never again.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being is a difficult book to explain—for me, anyway. I enjoyed the philosophy woven throughout the chapters and I feel the topics highlighted—love, sex, relationships—could generate interesting conversation with other readers. I liked how Kundera would briefly go through a time frame in a characters life in one section, and then expand on the same time in another section. Although some would say that made the book repetitive, it was more of a deeper look that brought more insight to the story and the characters. At the same time, I felt there were some parts of the plot that were left open. Once or twice, Kundera would reveal an event that would happen to the characters but then never come full circle with that specific plot.

While The Unbearable Lightness of Being was a little dense in some sections, it was not confusing. There are sections that focus more on the philosophy than on the story that I needed to re-read to understand, but those parts were evened out by the simplistic and refreshing story that accompanied it. It’s a book I’d recommend to those interested in philosophy, and definitely a book worth re-reading.

One Day by David Nicholls

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41qajvszg3l-_sx323_bo1204203200_On the day of graduation from Edinburgh University, Emma and Dexter hang out for the first time, although they’ve known of each other for a while. From this their friendship grows and for the next 20 years they celebrate each other’s victories and mourn their loses. But will their friendship ever be anything more? One day may make all of the difference.

I like the concept surrounding One Day: that a decision made one day can change the course of your life forever. So I really enjoyed that each chapter took place on the same day (but different years). David Nicholls did a great job at showing the growth in both characters even though readers only received a glimpse of their lives on one day in each year. The characters were also very lifelike, the dialogue like something you would overhear in a coffee shop. Readers will become invested in the characters almost from the very beginning and will not be able to put the book down once started (trust me, I almost read it in one day and probably would have if I had had more time).

One Day is probably one of the best books for readers who are in their mid- to late-20’s and early 30’s because not only does it follow Emma and Dexter through those years of their lives, it portrays two different lifestyles that are relatable to readers in those age ranges. You have Emma who feels stuck in dead end job after dead end job, just wanting to find her place in the world. Then you have Dexter, the guy who travels the world and can do whatever he wants—the guy who seems to have life figured out and has everything in place. The interesting thing is in the middle of the book they switch roles. This is what I find promising to readers: that although life may not seem that great or even if life is amazing right now, your luck can always change. You just have to know how to handle it when it does.

 

The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor

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51fuuyu0sll-_sy344_bo1204203200_On her 7th birthday, Princess Alice Heart receives the surprise of a lifetime: the return of her evil Aunt Red, who kills Alice’s mother in order to take back the throne of Wonderland. In a narrow escape, Alice and her mother’s bodyguard, Hatter Madigan, dive into the Pool of Tears and are separated. Alice finds herself alone in London where she is sent to an orphanage and eventually adopted by the Liddell’s who tell her that her stories of Wonderland are just that: stories that should be forgotten. Will Alice be able to find her way back to magical Wonderland, or will she live out the rest of her life in normal London?

I think the biggest issue I had with this book was that there were certain character aspects that I wish had been expanded on from the beginning. I know that there are two other books that follow this one and probably explain the parts that were briefly touched on—like the woman who Hatter Madigan loved, which I felt was randomly thrown in there toward the end of the book—but I think it would have brought more out in the characters if these aspects were elaborated on more in this book.

Despite this detail, I thoroughly enjoyed The Looking Glass Wars, admittedly probably more than I anticipated. I thought it was a great adaptation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and although it was based off of the characters in those books, Frank Beddor made them feel fresh and new—something fans have not seen before. The story was fast paced and well written, and kept me entertained and wanting more throughout. The only other minor detail I wish was different is the ages of Alice and Dodge. I know Alice Heart is supposed to be the age that Alice is in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but I think the slight romance between Alice and Dodge would have made a little more sense if they were a bit older. Maybe 11 or 12 years old instead of 7 (Dodge would be a bit older since he was a few years older than Alice).

Regardless, not only would I highly recommend this book to fans of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, but it’s also a great book to introduce to young readers who also enjoy those stories.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

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10335308One of my best friends gave me a copy of Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? as a present, which was fitting in two ways. First, it was fitting because Mindy Kaling discusses many topics that my friend and I have discussed over the years from friendships to fashion to dating and guys and much more. Second, because by time I was finished reading, I realized if I knew Mindy Kaling in real life, we would totally be best friends. So it was like my best friend was introducing me to another best friend without being jealous that I have more than one best friend.

And that is exactly how the book reads: as if Mindy Kaling is your best friend giving you advice. Before this book, I had only ever seen Kaling in the few episodes of The Office, so didn’t know anything more than that she was that girl from The Office. What I did find out from reading not only impressed me, but made me want to check out more of her work. I learned that not only did she have a character role in The Office, but that she was also one of the writers for the show. I found her journey as a writer to be fascinating and encouraging. It was amazing to me how a little skit put together by Kaling and Brenda Withers (Matt and Ben) took off and helped launch her into the writing world. While I think Kaling would have made it regardless, it’s one of those I-can’t-believe-this-is-happening stories where much more comes from something than expected (and as Kaling writes it, I think they were just as surprised when it happened). The story shows that anything can happen, which leads it to be inspiring.

This is another book that I would say there wasn’t anything about it I didn’t like. It’s a short book—around 220 pages—and also a page turner. I was able to read at least 50 pages in each sitting, and even Kaling mentions in the book that it should not take you months to read it. Kaling writes as she talks—but not in a bad way, since a lot of times people writing as they talk does not turn out well. Instead, it helps the book feel more personal and not preachy. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Meis a witty book that made me chuckle on multiple occasions while also connecting with someone I’ve never met before in my life. From childhood experiences to learning to survive adulthood, the stories Kaling tells are relatable to readers ranging from the late teens to early 30’s.

Before the Feast by Saša Stanišić

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Before the Feast (translated by Anthea Bell) is about the small village of Fürstenfeld and the goings on the night before their annual feast. While most of the village is asleep, several members are awake not only dealing with their own demons, but demons of the past. It compares the village of Fürstenfeld as it once was to how it and it’s inhabitants have changed over the years with stunningly beautiful and brilliant prose.

Saša Stanišić’s writing is magical and I loved the way his sentences flowed across the page. All of the characters were interesting, which was good since the story jumped between them often, and I enjoyed reading about the history of Fürstenfeld and how the past and the present tied together. It reminded me of Stardew Valley and how you learn each characters story as you interact with them thought the game’s progression. I wish I knew how to explain this book in a better way, but it’s one of those books that’s just tough to explain beyond saying: You should read this.

I wouldn’t say there was anything I necessarily disliked about the book, but I will say that I wish there was more. While a good portion of the book was tied up nicely at the end, there was still a chunk that I felt was left unanswered and needed a little more to it. But it’s definitely a book I would like to reread to see if I understand more of it the second time around.

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

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50398An average girl coming of age in the country where not much occurs, Catherine is sent to visit the town of Bath with Mr. and Mrs. Allen, who are friends of Catherine’s family. While in Bath, Catherine befriends the Thorpe family, who her brother James is also acquainted with. She also becomes interested in Henry Tilney, a clever young gentleman with an equally sweet and elegant sister who becomes fast friends with Catherine. But when it becomes obvious that the Thorpes aren’t too keen with Catherine’s relationship with the Tilneys, Catherine becomes torn between pleasing both families and is forced to make a choice.

The funny thing about Northanger Abbey is that it feels like nothing happens, but at the same time everything happens. The story itself is very simple: the daily activities of a 17-year-old girl as she is introduced to the world, which makes the book feel gossipy. But not in a bad way. In fact, the story was exciting and addicting. The reader becomes wrapped in the goings on of the families and forms strong opinions about certain characters, even rejoicing when just desserts are received.

While reading, I found it interesting that the book was titled Northanger Abbey since Northanger Abbey isn’t even mentioned until more than halfway through the book. Apparently, Jane Austen originally titled it Catherine, which definitely would have made more sense since that’s the main focus of the book. But Northanger Abbey is a big attraction to Catherine, so I guess it’s not so weird that the title was later changed to that.

If you’re a fan of Jane Austen’s other works, I highly recommend reading Northanger Abbey. A well written story with an attractive and steady plot, it was just as satisfying and well written as Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility.

Spiral Paths 1: Stone Dogs by Paul Jessup

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In this short story collection, Paul Jessup’s stories revolve around similar themes, including birds, monsters, and odd books, among others. What I liked the most about these stories was the way that the seemed to start off as if they were a normal story, but then turn into these weird, fantastical, dream-like tales that captivate the reader and make them think about what they’re reading. Readers should definitely share these stories with their friends so they can discuss what occurred and get an even better feel of what the overall story is saying.

As with Open Your Eyes, there were several typos throughout this collection, but not so bad that it really took me out of the story. Some of the stories also fell a little flat for me at the end. As if there should be a bit more to satisfy the reader. However, I can’t complain too much about that since I also enjoy leaving endings of short stories open ended so readers can make their own interpretation. I was still sucked into the story enough to want to know what happened next, which is always good (even if I’m left a bit unsatisfied at the end).

If you’re looking for some weird short stories to delve into, I highly recommended downloading a copy of Spiral Paths 1: Stone Dogs.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this story collection by participating in a Patreon run by Paul Jessup.