The Sun is Also a Star, by Nicola Yoon: A Review

I chose to read The Sun is Also a Star, by Nicola Yoon for the 2019 Popsugar Reading Challenge prompt #24, a book that takes place in a single day. I picked this book off a list of such books, having no idea what might fit this category.

This is the story of Natasha and Daniel. Seventeen-year-old Natasha is the daughter of Jamaican parents in the United States illegally. She has her future planned out – college, career. Until her father has a run in with the law setting her entire family on a course toward deportation. Daniel, also seventeen, is the second son of Korean immigrants. Until recently, he has been the disappointing son, never as good as his golden boy older brother. Now, however, his brother has disgraced himself and it is up to Daniel to pursue life goals that bring honor to his family. These sudden life changes set Natasha and Daniel on a collision course leading to an otherwise impossible romance.

This book isn’t only about Natasha and Daniel and their whirlwind romance, however. It is also the story of a depressed security officer at the immigration office. It is about mothers and fathers and brothers. About dreams unrealized and goals unfulfilled.

I listened to this book on audio, narrated by Bahni Turpin, Raymond Lee and Dominic Hoffman. Their performance is outstanding. I loved having different voices for each of the characters.

I loved this book. It has fantastic energy. I laughed and I cried. I will definitely read more by Nicola Yoon!

Rebel Queen, by Michelle Moran: A Review

If I wasn’t already sold on the idea of audio books, experiencing this book through the superb narration of Sneha Mathan would have certainly sealed it for me.

Rebel Queen, by Michelle Moran, is a historical novel set in mid-nineteenth century India, during the time of British occupation. The story is told through the voice of Sita, a young woman who becomes a member of Rani Lakshmi’s Durga Dal (elite women fighters trained to specifically guard the queen). Written in the style of a memoir, this story is deeply personal.

Because of this memoir style, Moran allows the story to take a meandering course through Sita’s life beginning with her early years growing up in a small village. At times, the narrative wanders as Sita reminisces, but these side trips only serve to deepen and enrich the story.

Moran has painted an incredible picture of life in a Hindu village where women were required to remain veiled and were not allowed outside their home. Her family has no money for a dowry, and so Sita is put into a position where she must either become a temple prostitute, or train to become a part of the Durga Dal.

Sita is ultimately chosen to join the Durga Dal and moves into the royal city of Jhansi. Here she begins a whole new life so far removed from her village upbringing. A life filled with intrigue at every level.

This book is well written, the story and the suspense building so naturally I didn’t even mind that the title character – the rebel queen – doesn’t even make an appearance until well into the book. Even then, Rani Lakshmi remains a background character to Sita’s story, though an important one.

I have little experience or knowledge of the history and culture of India, so I can’t speak to the historical accuracy of Moran’s writing. Nevertheless, she has painted a picture of a world that feels very real and believable. This book makes me wish I did know more about Indian culture.

Rebel Queen is a deeply moving story, one I highly recommend. And while I’m sure the print version of this book is equally enjoyable, I must say, you’ll miss out on something special if you don’t try the audio narrated by Sneha Mathan. Her performance is truly stunning.

The Tempest, by Shakespeare: a Review

This play joined my 2017 Reading Challenge on a whim. I’d been wanting to read some more Shakespeare again, but I didn’t know where I should start. I found an audio version of The Tempest as part of a collection with six other plays by other notable playwrights.

I listened to The Tempest and had a hard time following the story. I couldn’t tell who was who. I couldn’t keep track of the entrances and exits. Even with the voices of different actors, I simply could not follow the story at all.

I thought maybe this was due to the fact I was listening to a play without the benefits of seeing the action. A play, after all, is meant to be seen. I wanted to like it. Or at the very least, to appreciate it. So I found a print version, and I read it. However, I still had difficulties following along.

I’ve enjoyed other works of Shakespeare. But somehow this one escapes me. I just couldn’t get into it.

The audio book I chose to listen to is Seven Classic Plays, narrated by a full cast and published by Blackstone Audio. Several of the other plays I did enjoy, leaving me to conclude it wasn’t simply a lack of visuals that kept me from enjoying The Tempest.

The other plays include:

  • Medea, by Euripides
  • The Imaginary Invalid, by Moliere
  • The Lady of the Camilias, by Alexandre Dumas
  • An Enemy of the People, by Henrik Ibsen
  • Arms and the Man, George Bernard Shaw
  • Uncle Vanya, Anton Chekov

I loved Arms and the Man, it was by far my favorite of the seven. The Imaginary Invalid was hilarious. The Lady of the Camilias was beautifully tragic. An Enemy of the People and Medea were at least interesting, but not especially memorable for me personally. And Uncle Vanya was, like Shakespeare’s play, difficult to follow.

The cast that performed these plays for this audio book did a fantastic job. But I do think there is something lost in simply listening to a play rather than witnessing it. A play is a visual thing. It is intended to be seen, and preferably live in a theatre. In this way, the audience becomes part of the play itself, not simply an outside observer.

In the end, I’m still looking for a Shakespeare play to read, and hopefully enjoy. What is your favorite piece by Shakespeare? Is there another playwright you particularly like?

Beowulf: A Review

I discovered audio books last year, and listening to books has become my favorite way to survive my daily commute. Beowulf joined my 2017 Reading Challenge because I’m currently writing a novel that features a bard. Bards and epic poetry go hand in hand, so this was research.

The version I listened to was published by Audio Connoisseur in 2005. It was translated by C. W. Kennedy and narrated by Charlton Griffin. It also includes a brief introduction which reviews literary and cultural discussions of the poem.

I was grateful for this introduction, for without it, I likely would have been horribly lost at a number of moments as I listened. The poem tends to digress in places, to fall into side stories and historical exposition of the various people groups surrounding the story of the hero, Beowulf. Even with the introduction, it was at times difficult to follow.

The poem relates the adventures of the title hero, Beowulf, defeating monsters and dragons. I won’t detail the plot for you here, I’ll let you read it for yourself. Suffice it to say, there is plenty of fighting, daring adventures and treasure.

Overall, I enjoyed this presentation. I ended up listening through it twice, and will likely do so again. Although I hope to read a print version of the poem before I do that.

Even if it was a little hard to follow, it was still a fun read. Over the top exaggeration, to be sure, but still fun. I find myself now wanting to read more epic poetry. There may be some Gilgamesh or Homer in my future, or anything from this list.

While I listened, I couldn’t help but think of J. R. R. Tolkien, and his created realm of Middle Earth. I could see where he’d clearly been influenced by Beowulf, and borrowed from its imagery. Later, in researching more about the poem as I sat down to write this review, I learned that indeed Tolkien was heavily influenced by this poem. In fact, he translated the poem himself and lectured on it in 1936 at the British Academy.

I also learned that this book exists, Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary. I think I found the print version of this poem I intend to read!

Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy: a Review

I listened to Anna Karenina on audiobook. This was my first audio experience, and it was quite a doozy. More than thirty hours. I probably could have chosen something a little easier, but I thought, why not just go big.

This is one of those books that appears on a lot of those “must read” lists. Tolstoy frequents the top works of world literature lists. As such, it’s been one I’d like to read someday. Listening to it on audiobook, in some ways made this easier. It wasn’t exactly an easy book to follow along with, however.

Though she’s the title character, Anna Karenina isn’t the main character of this novel. That honor falls to Konstantin Levin, a Russian aristocrat who prefers the rural, country life to the city life of the wealthy nobility. The story follows him as he proposes to the woman he loves, suffers her rejection, then later pursues her again, this time successfully.

Levin struggles with issues of faith and with the meaning of life. Or the meaninglessness of it. He watches his brother die from a prolonged illness and begins to question his own mortality, sinking into a depression. After the birth of his son, Levin has a major crisis of faith, finally reaching a personal decision of what that should be.

The story also follows the progression of the love affair of Anna Karenina, detailing her passionless marriage, her doting affection for her son, and the deterioration of her relationship with her lover. There is a sort of parallel between Anna’s affair and that of her brother, Stepan Oblonsky, who is married to the sister of Levin’s wife. This serves to demonstrate the double standard between faithless men and faithless women.

I really struggled with writing this review, not quite sure how to convey my thoughts about this book. To be honest, I had a some difficulties with the book. The large cast of characters and the vastness of the story line weren’t easy to keep up with when listening to the story in twenty to thirty minute segments, sometimes days apart.

Overall, the book is amazing, and no doubt deserves to be on all those lists. There are some really beautiful passages, I wish I had made note of some of them. The book was difficult for me to relate to, however, and I’m not sure I really enjoyed it that much.

This distance could be due to a number of factors. One, the book was written more than a hundred years ago, first published in 1877. It was written in a language other than that which I read it, in a country who’s history I’m not familiar with. Also, several passages of the dialogue were read in French rather than English, making it impossible for me to understand. Unfortunately, I don’t speak French.

One thing I took away from this experience is that Anna Karenina is a maddening treatise on the state of marriage and the gross inequalities between men and women in such relationships. While much has changed in the hundred years since this book was written, much still has not.

I’m glad I experienced this book. My negative impressions haven’t impacted my new found love for audiobooks. Nor do I think they will keep me from someday picking up Tolstoy’s other, perhaps more famous novel, War and Peace. Maybe next time I’m feeling ambitious.