Little Women – Louisa May Alcott

341305

Title: Little Women

Series: Little Women, #01

Author: Louisa May Alcott

First Published: 1868

Genre: Historical, Classics, Romance

Age group: Young Adult

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

I’ve been really into reading classics recently, and ‘Little Women’ was one of those books that I really wanted to read for quite sometime. As I live in Russia, our school reading lists are way different from those in other countries. Naturally, they are filled with our own classics, and there are very few foreign authors that Russian students get to know while at school.

As I remember myself as a teenager, I really liked reading. But comparing to this whole approach to information Internet gives us nowadays, which I didn’t have during my school years, it’s no wonder that I was very limited in my reading choices. And that’s really sad, because there are books, that I’ve already read as an adult, that I loved so much and that I wished I would have read way earlier. But I didn’t know about their existence, because, well, I may have heard about some popular European books, but Classic American Literature was practically out of limits for me. ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, for example, falls into this category, just like ‘Little Women’.

The way I learned about this book is really funny. It did happen when I was in high school, and I was watching this amazing TV show ‘Friends’, the episode where Joe and Rachel read each other’s favorite books. Rachel gets to read the book that scares the living hell out of Joe, ‘The Shining’ (I’ve read it recently, and it’s AWESOME!). And Joe is reading ‘Little Women’. I was so impressed by the reactions this book gets out of him, he loves it and he connects with the characters and he is really upset with the way the plot is developing.

I can say that I was really intrigued by this book, and I made a mental note to myself to get to read it sometime. Then there came the time, when I finished school, and I was busy at the University, then I felt like I was really tired of all those classics and wanted to read something new and fresh.

But there is always this thing about Classics, no matter how exciting and entertaining newly released books may be, very few of them can actually stand the test of time and appeal to any reader of any age, no matter when they read them. Classic books became classic for a reason. They either tell about some important historical period or they just tell a story of ordinary people dealing with some life dramas. Classic books are the first books that come to our minds when we make our lists of all time favorite books, because each of them has taught us something about life’s values.

‘Little Women’ tells about a year in the life of four sisters – Meg, Joe, Beth and Amy. The girls live with their mother while their dad is away serving in the war. Their life is not easy as they have to struggle to make ends meet, with two older girls, Meg and Joe, having abandoned school and gone to work. The house they live in is not very fancy, since the family has been having money problems for a long time, and at the same time there’s constant worry that they might never see their father again.

Each chapter of the book shows different incidents in the girls’ lives. The sisters are all so different in characters and states of mind and each of them has her own dreams. At some time one of the sisters would act out of her frustration with the current state of things, and the outcome may be very sad. But as the girls get to learn along the way, life is all about getting to know one’s worst personal qualities and try to not let them take hold of you.

There are some very light and funny chapters in the book, but there are also a lot of them, which show how tough is the life the girls actually have to live. So, while every sister is not portrayed as an ideal, they all have their own good and bad characteristics, you can’t really not be impressed with their strong spirit and the way they always stand for each other.

I wish I’d read the book when I was a teenager, too, just like the sisters. Because, well, then I could have connected more with them. And also this book has a great educative aspect in it. In a very light and understandable way, this books sets right from wrong and explains what a good person actually is like. Meg, Joe, Beth and Amy are far from perfect, but their are really trying to be better, which is really admirable and can be very impressive for a younger reader.

‘Little Women’ is the first book in the series, and the continuation ‘Good Wives’ tells about the girls’ lives as adults. I’m really excited about it, because I got very much attached to the 4 sisters and also I really loved Louisa May Alcott’s narration. I hope I’ll also find the time to watch the movie adaptation of the book.

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The Host by Stephenie Meyer

1656001Title: The Host

Series: The Host, Book 1

Author: Stephenie Meyer

Published: May 6th 2008, Little Brown and Company

Genre: Science Fiction, Romance

Age group: Adult

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

The Host (The Host, #1)

Summary:

Melanie Stryder refuses to fade away. The earth has been invaded by a species that take over the minds of human hosts while leaving their bodies intact. Wanderer, the invading “soul” who has been given Melanie’s body, didn’t expect to find its former tenant refusing to relinquish possession of her mind.
As Melanie fills Wanderer’s thoughts with visions of Jared, a human who still lives in hiding, Wanderer begins to yearn for a man she’s never met. Reluctant allies, Wanderer and Melanie set off to search for the man they both love.
Featuring one of the most unusual love triangles in literature, THE HOST is a riveting and unforgettable novel about the persistence of love and the essence of what it means to be human.

Review:

‘The Host’ is another book by Stephenie Meyer, which is now totally outside of the world of vampires and werewolves. In some way, it’s sort of outside of our world. This book’s main character is a female alien, called Wanderer. The species she belongs to is called souls. Souls are these tiny and sparkling light creatures, whose only way of surviving is by inhabiting bodies of other species.

Souls travel from planet to planet, occupying them and their inhabitors, facing in most cases practically no resistance from their hosts, the bodies they take possession of. When they come to Earth, though, it’s not that simple. The human resistance is unlike anything they’ve ever seen. Not only the bodies are not so easily subdued, but people actually try to fight back and drive the souls away from the planet.

Wanderer is a very legendary soul. She’s lived on way more planets than anyone of her kind, but she’s never felt any feelings or emotional connection to any of them. On Earth she’s placed in the body of Melanie Stryder, who’s a captured member of human resistance.

Melanie is the strongest host Wanderer has ever had, and as she keeps present in her head, Wanderer is set to unlock her secrets and find the refuge of the resistance. But the more time Wanderer and Melanie share the same body, the closer they become. So now Wanderer is not so sure about whose side she’s on, as for the first time ever she comes to feel things she hasn’t before, like love and friendship.

Despite having written so many books about vampires-werewolves confrontation, Stephenie Meyer did unexpectedly great writing a sci-fi novel. Of, course, this is no Star Trek, the interplanetary world she presents is not that detailed. The descriptions of other planets are pretty vague, focusing mostly on it’s inhabitors and Wanderer’s personal connection to them as her hosts.

But, personally, I was particularly interested in the souls themselves, what they look like, how they travel through space, and what they are after, and this was described very thoroughly.  It’s said that the souls consider themselves harmless and in their occupying somebody else’s bodies they see no harm. In fact, they believe it’s for the better for either party. The souls see the humans as a very aggressive and self-destructive species, so they believe they would bring only good for the Earth. But, of course, it’s not like this, as what good is there in totally erasing somebody’s personality?

The book is written from Wanderer’s point of view, and on the one side, this was a very interesting approach. I don’t remember, that I’ve ever read a book narrated by an alien. On the other side, though, I hated Wanderer! Or Wanda, as the humans, she makes friends with, start to call her. She’s just so much Bella! And while I wasn’t that frustrated with Bella in ‘Twilight’ I can’t deal with her the second time around. Wanda was always such a martyr, and this is probably the only prominent feature of her personality. In the end it got to the point, where she would be like: “We’re not gonna be doing anything to save ourselves, unless I have to sacrifice myself!” I truly understand, where she comes from, it’s not her planet and she’s not supposed to be here, occupying the body of another girl, and she really wants to help, but does it really always have to be so dramatic?

The character that I absolutely loved, though, was Melanie. Too bad there was so little of her in the book in comparison to Wanda. But I liked that she was so strong and fierce, and maybe in some times cruel or vindictive, but that’s just what made her so alive and easy to connect to. She and Jared are the only characters I truly cared about, and their love story was way more interesting to me than Wanda and Ian’s. (I didn’t like Ian, too. Where Wanda was self-sacrificing to the extremes, he was a total egoist).

Also, the love-quertet? Way too much! I’ve been cringing the whole time I’ve been reading the scenes with it! I think it’s a really fresh idea about two persons living in the same body, but loving different people, but this didn’t really translate that great into the book. (I can’t even begin to think how it looks in the movie, I have to see it yet).

Stephenie Meyer stated that there would be two sequels to ‘The Host’. I’m sure I’ll be checking them out, as the first book didn’t give all the answers and the whole future of the souls’ presence on Earth is unclear. I  hope for less love dramas, though.

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

6304335Title: Beautiful Creatures

Series: Caster Chronicles, Book 1

Author: Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

Published: December 1st 2009, Little, Brown and Company

Genre: Fantasy, Romance

Age group: Young Adult

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

Beautiful Creatures (Caster Chronicles, #1)

Summary:

Lena Duchannes is unlike anyone the small Southern town of Gatlin has ever seen, and she’s struggling to conceal her power, and a curse that has haunted her family for generations. But even within the overgrown gardens, murky swamps and crumbling graveyards of the forgotten South, a secret cannot stay hidden forever.
Ethan Wate, who has been counting the months until he can escape from Gatlin, is haunted by dreams of a beautiful girl he has never met. WhenLena moves into the town’s oldest and most infamous plantation, Ethan is inexplicably drawn to her and determined to uncover the connection between them.
In a town with no surprises, one secret could change everything.

Review:

This book would have never come to my attention if it wasn’t for the movie trailer of it I once saw. As a fan of ‘Harry Potter’, I like anything about magic or fantasy. So the trailer and the book summary promised a very mysterious and unique story, so that I wasn’t even put off by its length.

‘Beautiful Creatures’ is a story about 16-year-old Ethan. He leaves in a small Southern town Gatlin, where nothing ever happens. But for some time Ethan has been having the same dream about a girl he doesn’t know. So when this girl suddenly appears in flash as a new student in his school, Ethan is intrigued both by her identity and the meaning of this dream.

But the girl, Lena, is different from anyone Ethan knows. She is the niece of the town’s shut-in Macon Ravenwood, and her whole family is a mystery. While attempting to get to know Lena better, Ethan finds out that she is a Caster, a witch, just like the rest of her family. But Lena’s future is also in a great danger, and Ethan, getting more and more attracted to her, is set to protect her from any harm.

First of all, I want to point out, that ‘Beautiful Creatures’ has many flaws. While it was nice and refreshing to read a YA book written from a boy’s point of view, instead of a girl’s, I couldn’t help but cringe at Ethan’s mind works. He’s just too sensitive and girlish, so I couldn’t picture him in my mind as a strong male figure. I was also put off by his reaction (or lack of it) to finding out about this whole Caster world. He finds out about magic existing in the world and even becomes a witness to it, but it’s like no big deal to him, he is only fixated on Lena.

Lena and Ethan were another case of insta-love, that I just hate to read about. It seemed like there were no character development and get-to-know between these two, aside from them talking about Casters. Sometimes their relationship seemed like an obsession, what with their talking to each other in their minds. Way creepy! But the romance was expected from the very beginning, though I would have loved it to be more developed.

I can’t say much about Lena, as her image is not fully built in my mind. The things I know about her are all told by Ethan, and he mostly spoke about her appearance, her clothes and hair, and her magic. But she seemed like a nice girl determined to use her powers in the right way. I hope the second book in the series will give more features to Lena’s character.

The book also is heavily overstuffed with all this Southern spirituality, and while I liked some of it, like the scene of the Battle Reenactment, I didn’t get the point of it. But I liked that the story was set in a small town, as it gave the story this whole isolated feeling.

But aside from all the flaws, surprisingly for me, I liked the book. What is really great about it, is that despite of its pretty dull characters, the storyline was very strong and intriguing. There were so many mysteries to be uncovered, that the story was read quite easily, despite its length. I was also impressed that the authors managed to create this unique atmosphere of something magical and unknown, that I always felt completely immersed into the story, like I myself was there, in Gatlin, watching it all happen with my own eyes.

I haven’t seen the movie yet, but judging by the trailer, I think it definitely recreates the book’s general atmosphere. While ‘Beautiful Creatures’ is no ‘Harry Potter’, it’s definitely a book worth reading, as it tells a very unique gripping story, which will keep the reader entertained till the very end.

Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks

7812659Title: Safe Haven

Author: Nicholas Sparks

Published: September 14th 2010, Grand Central Publishing

Genre: Romance, Drama

Age group: Adult

Rating: ★ ★ ★

Safe Haven

Summary:

Love hurts. There is nothing as painful as heartbreak. But in order to learn to love again, you must learn to trust again.

When a mysterious young woman named Katie appears in the small North Carolina town of Southport, her sudden arrival raises questions about her past. Beautiful yet self-effacing, Katie seems determined to avoid forming personal ties until a series of events draws her into two reluctant relationships: one with Alex, a widowed store owner with a kind heart and two young children; and another with her plainspoken single neighbor, Jo. Despite her reservations, Katie slowly begins to let down her guard, putting down roots in the close-knit community and becoming increasingly attached to Alex and his family.

But even as Katie begins to fall in love, she struggles with the dark secret that still haunts and terrifies her . . . a past that set her on a fearful, shattering journey across the country, to the sheltered oasis of Southport. With Jo’s empathic and stubborn support, Katie eventually realizes that she must choose between a life of transient safety and one of riskier rewards . . . and that in the darkest hour, love is the only true safe haven.

My review:

Nicholas Sparks is specifically known as the author of solely romantic stories. And while there’s nothing special or particularly new about them, nothing that hasn’t been already written about before, for some reason almost every other book of his has been filmed.

My knowledge of Sparks’s works is based on two of his most popular books – ‘The Notebook’, of course, and ‘A Walk To Remember’. I found this books quite OK, not really amazing, but nice and touching stories, and their movie versions were very romantic. I wouldn’t probably have read anything else by him in the near future, if I wasn’t sort of enchanted by the movie trailer for ‘Safe Haven‘. I can’t even explain why, as it’s quite a familiar type of story, which by the way immediately reminded me of the movie ‘Enough’ with Jennifer Lopez. But it was included in my Movies-To-Watch-This-Year List right away. Maybe it had a lot to do with Josh Duhamel in the main role 🙂

The book starts with a young woman Katie being unhappy in her marriage, no matter what she does, there’s always something to piss her husband off. Katie is used to being constantly hit by him, and with him being a policeman she doesn’t know where to ask for help. So the only possible escape for her is to run away. It actually turns out a very hard thing to do, and once Katie was already caught. But the second time she prepares very thoroughly, and though not without many complications, she manages to hide in a small town Southport, North Carolina.

Katie tries to keep low, so as not to get any attention from the citizens of the town. But soon there are two people who actually get close to her. First it’s her neighbor Jo, a woman in her thirties living alone. The two women quickly get close, and it’s Jo who Katie first tells about her past to. It’s also Jo who convinces Katie to open up her heart to Alex.

Alex is a widower with two kids, his wife died three years ago, and he hasn’t yet moved on from her. But meeting Katie and becoming friends with her makes him believe that he can be happy again. The two get closer as time passes, and Alex gets to know all about the nightmares Katie has once lived in.

While Alex is very optimistic about their future and wants to marry Katie one day, she is still cautious. Katie knows that there’s no way her husband would just let her go, he will eventually find her. And when he does, she will have to run again.

It’s really strange how my perception of this book got really twisted. The things that were supposed to be great and exciting and cute, like Katie and Alex’s romance, the way they find love and happiness in each other, didn’t really make any impression on me. The whole part of the romance was way boring and uninspiring. Sometimes it felt like a retelling of some book, only giving some basic information without spending too much time on emotional aspect. Besides, it was filled with so many unimportant stuff, like how Katie gets to settle down in her new home or her daily routine.

Alex was a really nice character, but I felt he was way undeveloped. It seemed like I only got a brief description of him, and even judging from the short trailer, I can definitely say that I love the movie Alex much better, he seemed more alive. And also the romance seems more passionate on screen, while in the book it’s rushed and plain.

But what I liked about the story is actually Nicholas Sparks’s portrayal of Katie’s husband Kevin. He is a real maniac, simply crazy, and I loved how realistic he felt in the book. I felt both scared and annoyed by him. He is a true psychopath, his inner monologues show how mentally unstable and aggressive he is. This is the character that I think Nicholas Sparks really nailed. In this case I don’t need to see a movie version to imagine him, and it’s sad that the bad character is so great, while the good ones, those at the forefront of the story, are so bland.

I struggled with the most part of the book, there weren’t many exciting scenes, but the ending was really intense. Once again, though, as I’m happy with the way things turned out, I’m also disappointed. First, I’m really skeptical about the way Kevin died, and secondly that twist with Jo was just strange. I know it was supposed to have some big sentimental effect on the reader, but I was like – ‘What???’.

In general, I’m more happy that I’ve read this book as a sort of basis for watching the movie later, but standing by itself this book is quite boring. It definitely wasn’t something I expected.

Struck By Lightning by Chris Colfer

15789823Title: Struck By Lightning: The Carson Phillips Journal

Author: Chris Colfer

Published: November 20th 2012, Little Brown Books for Young Readers

Edition: ebook, 256 pages

Genre: Realistic fiction, humor

Age group: Young Adult

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Struck By Lightning: The Carson Phillips Journal

Summary:

‘Struck By Lightning: The Carson Phillips Journal’ follows the story of outcast high school senior Carson Phillips, who blackmails the most popular students in his school into contributing to his literary journal to bolster his college application; his goal in life is to get into Northwestern and eventually become the editor of The New Yorker. At once laugh-out-loud funny, deliciously dark, and remarkably smart, Struck By Lightning unearths the dirt that lies just below the surface of high school. At a time when bullying torments so many young people today, this unique and important novel sheds light with humor and wit on an issue that deeply resonates with countless teens and readers.

I’ll admit that I was only interested in this book in the first place because it was written by Chris Colfer. I’ve never been a fan of him, particularly, but I’ve been watching Glee since it’s very first season. (The show is really not that great anymore, but I still watch it out of habit.) I was really impressed, though, bu the fact that Chris Colfer wrote a book, and it also wasn’t an autobiography which is what celebrities usually write. It is a separate fictional story, which also received some praise from both critics and readers. And I’m really subject to this factor, so, of course, I couldn’t miss this book.

The first thing that really surprised me was that I never expected Chris Colfer to write like this. The story is told from the point of view of main character Carson Phillips, and he is very sarcastic. My perception of Chirs Colfer has generally been based on his character in Glee Kurt Hummel, who is very calm and soft, kind of harmless. But real Chris Colfer is definitely a wholly different person, and this book shows that he has a very witty mind. His Carson has a very developed and strong opinion on everything that surrounds him or he has to deal with.

First its his divorced parents. Carson’s father is now getting married to a very young woman, who is also expecting his baby, and he uses Carson to impress her with an image of a caring father and husband. And Carson’s mother is still affected by the divorce and spends her days lying on the couch and taking lots of antidepressants. Carson is really put down by all this, His relationship with his parents is very harsh most times, because he understands that none of them care about his future.

Then its Carson’s attitude to the school and education in general. It was very entertaining to read about his relationships with students and teachers. Carson wasn’t the one to stay in somebody’s shadow, he would always voice his opinion on every matter, no matter how much it could annoy everybody. Chris Colfer made it a very funny read, and I laughed many times through it.

But there was also a thing in this book that bothered me. Despite it not being a happy-ending kind of story, this was not what disappointed me. I was pit off by how mean to everyone Carson was most of the time. He not only thought all this sarcastic and mocking things about people around him, but he also always voiced them. And that’s probably the reason why he was always alone. It was also the reason why it was hard for me to connect to him.

Carson’s aversion to his hometown Clover and his comparisons of it to a prison was in my mind a bit too much. I mean, yes, he didn’t really have a happy life there, but he was a teenager and he was too angry. A friend who is not his grandmother, who couldn’t even recognize him, would have been more that welcome.

I liked the plot, though, the whole idea of Carson blackmailing the most popular students at school to write for his literary magazine. That was really funny. And I liked that the magazine with all the entries was included into the book. It gave a clearer view on every character of the story.

I have a very conflicting impression of the ending. On one hand I thought that it was an appropriate final for such a story. But on the other hand, I can’t help finding it too depressing. I wish there was more to Carson’s story, I would loved to see him as a grown man, and find out whether he and his views on life changed.

On the whole, the book is a nice and entertaining read, and I really enjoyed it. I also watched the movie version of it and can say, that it’s not the same without Carson’s inner monologue. The movie was a bit boring without it.

Favorite character: Malerie Baggs

Favorite quote: “You don’t get to pick where you’re from, but you always have control of where you’re going.” (Carson Phillips)