Book Reviews (Summer 2013).

Between the travelling, summer internship in the lab and spending time with family and friends in Singapore, I found some time to read books this summer. It is a shame that summer is coming to an end because I still have so many books that I want to read. Anyhow, I will continue to read during the semester but my reading speed would definitely slow considerably. Hopefully I can finish the 7 new books lying on my table by the end of the year. I decided to write reviews for the books that I have read over these 3 months and hopefully readers of this blog would pick them up (or not).

In chronological order:

1. Time Keeper by Mitch Albom

Synopsis: A fictitious story about how Father Time teaches life lessons to a young girl who wants to commit suicide and an old man who wants to live forever.

Why read? It is a book that prompts people to reflect on their lives and how we perceive life and death. To a certain extent, it is almost a self-help book. If you enjoy Mitch Albom’s books and adore his writing style like the way I do, then there is no reason why you should not read this.

Why not? It is slow-moving, its plot is a lot weaker than his other fictitious book The Five People You Meet In Heaven and it gets too preachy at times.

2. Kane and Abel by Jeffrey Archer

Synopsis: Two men from different corners of the world somehow crossed paths several times and hated each other. Dramatically, Kane’s son and Abel’s daughter fell in love and they were torn apart by their fathers.

Why read? I am a little biased in this regard because I am a fan of Jeffrey Archer and this is the 2nd time I am reading this book. Kane and Abel has a good story plot with many twists and turns and it is that kind of book which is very difficult to put down once you start reading it. It tells some history as well as it describes Poland during the World War II and the US, in particular Boston, during and after WWII. The description of first-generation Polish immigrants in the US interests me greatly.

Why not? It gets a little too dramatic at times and some coincidences are rather unrealistic. I personally don’t really mind since it is fiction.

3. Cathedral of the Sea by  Ildefonso Falcones

Synopsis: An epic story of the son of a fugitive serf set in 14th century Barcelona with the construction of Santa Maria del Mar as the background.

Why read? Like Kane and Abel, it is that kind of book that is difficult to put down once you start reading it. It is a great book to read in the airport while waiting for the indefinitely delayed flight. It is quite informative as it describes the relationship of lords and peasants, Catholics and Jews, the Church and the people in 14th century Barcelona. After reading the book, you can really imagine what it was like in the Gothic quarters in Barcelona in the past when you walk down the narrow alleys.

Why not? The ending is too dramatic to my liking and the details about the different wars confuse readers who do not have a background knowledge of Catalonia’s history.

4. The Sins of the Father by Jeffrey Archer

Synopsis: It is the second out of five books in the Clifton Chronicles. It is mainly about how Harry lived in the jail in US after he assumed some other guy’s identity, how Emma made her way to US to find Harry and how Giles fought in and survived the war.

Why read? The first book Only Time Will Tell ends with a cliffhanger so it necessitates reading the second book to know what is going on and what happens next. It is also a great book to read when you’re stuck in the airport.

Why not? People who have not read the first book should not read this because it makes a lot of references to the first book. It could be just me but I don’t really like how Archer wrote each chapter from a different character’s point of view. It gets irritating because at times, I really want to just know what happens to Harry next and I am not so interested in the adventures of Giles. Furthermore, this style gets repetitive at times. The ending was an unnecessary cliffhanger in my opinion. Come on, just tell us if Harry and Giles are brothers!

5. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Synopsis: A diary kept by a Jewish girl that describes the everyday life in the annex when their family, together with another family and a doctor, went into hiding during the WWII.

Why read? Having just been to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, I feel that it is necessary to learn more about their lives in hiding through the book. It says a lot about the persecution of Jews at that time. Because it is written by a teenager, it also describes the various mental struggles of an adolescent. I must confess I really enjoy reading this book and after reading the last diary entry by Anne Frank which resembles some of the others that she wrote earlier, my heart sank and a weird sensation overwhelmed me. I can imagine an ordinary girl diligently documenting the everyday life while dreaming of her own future and how her life was taken away from her so unfairly. I thought about my life. I have the freedom to do what I want but am I making the most out of my life? Do I have enough convictions? Do I have the courage to pursue my dreams?

Why not? It gets a little too descriptive and boring at times but I must say that the descriptions are necessary for readers to visualize their lives back then.

6. Deception Point by Dan Brown

Synopsis: NASA finds a meteor that contains fossils and a team is sent to verify this discovery. It turns out that it is a fraud and the team members are mercilessly attacked by well-equipped soldiers. A cat-and-mouse game begins.

Why read? For a science student, it is a great read because the book serves to remind that science is not a collection of facts but it is a systematic method to understand the world around us. In essence, science is not as objective as it may seem and the motivation of the researcher and the assumptions he/ she makes really does affect the conclusions drawn from the observations. Deception Point also tells the reader a lot about NASA and its position in the US so it is fairly interesting. Furthermore, the political contest in the book is quite entertaining as well.

Why not? The scientific facts get quite dry at times and I find the ending very ridiculous.

7. Mao’s Great Famine by Frank Dikötter

Synopsis: A book which says why and how the great famine in China happened and the extent of damage to the different groups of people in the various provinces.

Why read? It gives a lot of factual information about the great famine in China – a crisis that kills over 30 million people in China in 3 years according to sources. I like how it explores the inherent flaws in communism without being overly judgmental. Readers can also understand how the communist party in China works – the hierarchy as well as its bureaucracy.

Why not? It gets quite dry at times because he uses too many examples to bring across a single point.

8. The Time of the Doves by Mercè Rodoreda

Synopsis: A young girl fell in love, had a family and her life changed when her husband was killed during the Spanish Civil War.

Why read? It is quite a beautifully written novel by the exiled Catalan writer. The story is not dramatic and it brings across the point of how lives are dramatically changed by wars without describing the front line fighting.

Why not? Being a translated novel, the writing is fairly awkward at times. Furthermore, it is a simple story so it doesn’t captivate the readers as much as other stories with more dramatic story plots.

9. Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Synopsis: An Indian family was on a ship as they were making their way to Canada. The ship unfortunately sank and the Indian boy, Pi, found himself on a lifeboat with a hyena, orang-utan, zebra and a Bengal tiger.

Why read? It is nice to read about how an ordinary human being manages to live in harmony with nature and a Bengal tiger. I really like the part about the carnivorous island. Even though it is fiction, I believe that such an island does exist somewhere in this big, beautiful world.

Why not? Even though Martel describes the boat and the location of various objects on it in great detail, I have difficulty visualizing the boat.

10. Fifty Shades of Grey – E. L. James

Synopsis: A girl felt in love with a boy who enjoys BDSM. The girl is hesitant to accept the offer and she is also upset that the boy doesn’t let her touch him. The boy persuades her to be his sex slave by having sex with her.

Why read? It introduces the readers to BDSM.

Why not? The only reason why I read this book was because I noticed that many students were reading this book during my school attachment. I really do not know why people enjoy reading this book. The character development is poor, the story plot is ridiculous and the writing is bad.  I can’t stand it when James use phrases like “inner goddess” repeatedly as though everyone is supposed to know what that means. “Fifty shades of Grey” and “shades of Grey” littered the text unnecessarily.

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