Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter

Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter

Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter

Don’t judge a book by it’s cover? For this novel I certainly did.

The gorgeous photo of  Manarola, a city belonging to the infamous and spellbinding Cinque Terre, is what did me in. I was lucky enough to travel to the Cinque Terre last summer and so seeing such a beautiful image made me want to read the book.

In reality this book had nothing to do with the Cinque Terre. Talk about misleading!

The novel jumps from time period to time period (I’m really getting tired of this style) and is basically about a young man from Italy who lives in a small town close to the Cinque Terre (but never actually goes there) and his love for a mysterious American movie star who has arrived in his town to die of cancer. Back in America an old washed-up producer is trying to find his next big hit. Somehow the Italian man and the American man are acquainted and bond. And that’s about it.

Throughout the novel I felt as if it was leading up to an unwinding mystery. But no, there was no mystery and the book really didn’t build up to anything. The characters did not develop because each new chapter took place in a different decade. The characters were difficult to relate to. Nobody fell in love. And in the end, the resolution was neither interesting nor satisfying.

As I write this review I get more and more frustrated that I allowed myself to struggle through the novel for over 2 months. I should have quit the first time I put it down, just after a few pages, not to pick it up for another few weeks! Sometimes it is a sign that a book isn’t worth it if it isn’t devoured within the first or second week!

Moral of the story – don’t judge a book by it’s cover! I did and guess what? I now have 2 months of reading time that I can never have back!

Question: What’s one book that you wish you never read?

– Natasha

And now for a shameless plug: read about my time in the Cinque Terre (where I was in reality, not just in imagination) on my travel blog:!


On The Road, Jack Kerouac

It’s rare that I read a book and am unable to finish it. On the Road

I tried to get through On the Road by Jack Kerouac, I really did. I had been recommended this book by a good friend and was told that once I picked it up, I would never be able to put it down. The problem was for me that once I picked it up, all I wanted to do was put it down! It must be that we have different genres and interests when it comes to reading because, although this book is a classic, I was unable to appreciate or enjoy it.

The premise is this: Sal Paradise, a young 20-something year-old man picks up and leaves his life to go to San Francisco for the first time. There he meets Dean Moriarty who is a young (-ish), selfish, drug addicted, wreck of a man who Sal admires above everything else. Throughout the novel Sal is taken on a wild ride of drugs, sex, and cross-country travel, meeting interesting (and stressful, frustrating and stupid [my opinion]) characters along the way. The care-free attitude of each character is something that I think would resonate with a lot of young people in the late 50’s when this book was published. Coming out of war and depression, I can imagine that freedom was sought after by many, and I think that this book encapsulates a lot of the attitudes of American youth during the 1950’s. The fun jazz music, the excitement, the freedom to travel across the nation, loving whoever whenever… That being said, I know that within the novel there was some sort of metaphor that I just didn’t understand. Now I can’t even remember if it was drugs Moriarty was addicted to or if his behaviour was just so spastic that drugs were all I could think of!

Kerouac wrote this novel based on some of his own experiences. If any part of this book is accurate then I must say that Kerouac really did lead an interesting life! And like I said earlier, I can imagine the excitement that the novel would have to many. Just not to me. Not only was the story difficult to relate to but the writing was also all over the place. The story felt recycled at times because it seemed to just repeat itself over and over with no climax or interesting section to draw me in.

I stopped reading the novel about 65% of the way in. It was impossible for me to continue and since I was on holiday, I didn’t want the book to drag me down and stop me from reading all the other novels I was looking forward to!

In 2012 the novel was adapted into a film featuring actors Garett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, and Kirsten Dunst. I haven’t watched it yet but hope that if I do watch it, I will find it more engaging than the book. If anyone has read the book or seen the movie, I’d love to hear what you think. Did I miss something when reading the book? What is the metaphor that I didn’t understand? Share with me, I’d love to hear.

Quitting On the Road was a relief. I wanted to enjoy the book! I thought that reading about men in the 1940’s traveling across the USA in a car while listening to jazz music would be a big giant win! But oh was I wrong. Next time I read a novel like this (specifically one labelled ‘beat’ or ‘counterculture’) I need to do some more research so I avoid wasting time and effort on a novel that I just don’t get.

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

It’s been quite a while since I last wrote a review. To be honest it’s been even longer that I’ve actually gotten through a good book!

A still from the 2005 Rob Marshall film.

I watched the movie adaption of “Memoirs of a Geisha” years ago. I remember thinking that it was a beautifully filmed movie and that I really enjoyed watching the special features to find out how the movie was made. I couldn’t remember much of the story line though, and so when I read the novel it was completely new to me.

The novel is set in Japan before and after WWII and tells the story of Chiyo Sakamoto, a young girl from a poor fishing village. She is sold by her father at the age of 9 to an okiya (geisha boarding house) where we learn about her journey to become a geisha and all that happens in between.

The art of being a geisha was completely unfamiliar to me. In fact, I didn’t really understand what a geisha actually was before reading the book. Becoming a geisha is an extremely difficult, emotional, and important process that requires years of training in order to succeed. Geishas lead unique lives in which they are judged based on what they look like, how they act, and most importantly, how they are able to interact with men. Through their interactions with men their path of life is determined a success or a failure, leading them towards the future.

Vintage, 1998, 428 pages (paperback)

It is clear that Golden did a lot of research in for this novel. Furthermore, he is an eloquent and captivating author. Through his research he was able to convey scenes with amazing clarity and emotion, making the book come to life in the process.

WWII history is one of the genres I enjoy reading about most but I always seem to read about WWII from a European perspective. Although “Memoirs of a Geisha” isn’t exclusively about WWII, it is interesting to read about the impact of WWII from a Japanese perspective. It was also interesting to read about Japanese culture, history, and daily life, something that I wasn’t familiar with before reading the book.

Now that I’ve finished the book I’m looking forward to watching the movie once more. The book was interesting, moving, and informative and I hope that this is portrayed well in the film. It’s one book that I would highly recommend. Definitely one of the best books I’ve read all year!

Books I Need to Read Over the Holiday

I’m lucky enough to be spending Christmas away this year. My family and I are going on a relaxing vacation in Cuba and we plan to do all of about 3 things while we’re away. The first would be to sightsee the beautiful new surroundings. The second: EAT! And the third is my favourite: sitting on the beach, reading.

There are a few books that I’ve waited this whole semester for and now that school is no more I’m happy to share the books I plan to read this holiday with you.

Pan, 2008, 1248 pages (paperback)

1) World Without End by Ken Follett: I’m about halfway through this sequel to Pillars of the Earth. Since I rely on public transit for school and work, I take the 3 hour commute each day as an opportunity to read. Fortunately I will now have less distractions and more time to finish the book without any interruption! So far so good with this novel. Much like Follett’s other novels, this tale is a sweeping epic with an intriguing love story that spans years. It takes place in the 14th century, two centuries after Pillars of the Earth left off. Although the novel still takes place in Kingsbridge, the characters are different – but I’m falling in love with them, just like the first novel. I’d recommend Follett as an author, especially if you enjoy historical fiction. I’ve never been dissatisfied with any of his novels.


Penguin Modern Classics, 2000, 281 pages (paperback)

2) On The Road by Jack Kerouac: This novel was suggested to me by a friend and I’ve been intrigued by it ever since. It’s a sort of coming-of-age novel about young men and their travels across America in the 1940s. They discover a lot of new things during this time and I think the book may be a bit risqué at times but I’ve been told that it’s an amazing read and I’m looking forward to tackling it! (This book was recently made into a movie featuring Kristen Stewart. Needless to say I have NO desire to watch the movie.)


Berkley Trade, 2010, 470 pages

3) Mistress of Rome by Kate Quinn: I bought this book at Value Village and I hope that it fills my longing for Italy. It’s a story about a slave girl who falls in love with a gladiator. Now that I’m reading the back of the novel it reminds me a lot of A Voice in the Wind by Francine Rivers (an amazing read), but I look forward to exploring the history of Rome through this novel. I recently returned home from living in Rome for a year and so now I crave anything that will remind me of my time there. Hopefully this book will!


Knopf Canada, 2011, 356 pages (hardcover)

4) The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay: I read McKay’s novel The Birth House and loved everything about it, especially her talent for writing. I actually didn’t know what The Virgin Cure was about until I read a summary now – and it sounds a bit heavy. The novel takes place in Manhattan in the 19th century and features a 12-year-old girl who gets involved in life at a brothel – and the importance of her virginity. It sounds a bit sinister but if the novel is anything like McKay’s last, I know that I’ll find this to be fantastic book despite the heavy content.

Maybe I’ll finish all these books while I’m away, maybe I won’t. Regardless I hope to have a few new reviews written up for you in a month or two!

The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern

First hardcover edition by Doubleday (2011)

Every time I walked by this novel I picked it up, looked at the price then sighed and walked away. The title of it was captivating, the story compelling, but I just couldn’t bare to hand over $20+ on a book I’d probably only read once. Thankfully softcover novels are not nearly as expensive as hard covers, which is why the moment I saw it as a softcover, I knew I needed to have it. Fortunately this story did not fail my expectations.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is a beautifully-written tale that incorporates both magic and reality, often blurring the line between the two. Celia and Marco are protégés of two famous rival illusionists in the early 20th century. Together they are responsible for a circus that travels throughout the world, only coming out at night. The people involved in the circus are unchanging, never growing old, and the magic that happens in the circus appears to be real, drawing audience members to the circus for decades.

Morgenstern is a gifted writer, carefully laying out the plot in order to captivate and allure those reading the story. A picture was painted in my mind and I was drawn to the characters as well, even though we didn’t have anything in common. I particularly liked Morgenstern’s ability to write from different perspectives and different time periods. In other words, the novel was not one dimensional. Within the novel different complexities made the story alluring and made me want to read more.

Despite being a well-written and original story, I feel as if the writer struggled to conclude the novel. I think that combining fantasy and reality can be difficult and can be confusing to the reader as it is not always clear when the line is drawn between the two. Within the very last chapter, I found that Morgenstern began to flounder. How could she wrap up the story into a nice little package? Well, I don’t believe she could. Morgenstern had developed such a complex story that it was almost impossible to conclude the novel and so, as the reader, I was left confused.

Unfortunately I cannot go in to much detail regarding the end of the book without ruining the story completely,  but what I will say is that, despite the confusing ending, the novel is worth picking up. Maybe you’ll disagree with me. Maybe there was something about the end of the novel that I missed completely. Let me know, okay?

Overall, The Night Circus is a book that deserves to be read. If you like magic, adventure, history and romance then this is the book for you!

The Time in Between, by María Dueñas (translated from the original Spanish by Daniel Hahn)

Culture and history are two of my favourite subjects in the world, and historical fiction is my favourite genre to read.

“The Time in Between” by María Dueñas incorporates culture and history seamlessly, bringing to life completely new events that prior to reading this book I was completely unaware of.

Set in the 1930s Dueñas writes about Sira, a simple dress maker from Madrid. As the years pass she goes through numerous extremes, first gaining riches, then loosing it all. She moves from Madrid to Morocco in order to chase love but is unable to always keep up. The civil war in Spain creates unrest and then WWII brings its own series of issues to Spain and Northern Africa. Sira creates a life for herself, gaining strength and confidence from nothing while adapting to the turmoil and unrest of war.

“The Time In Between” is a long book to read and has many story lines. I sometimes found myself thinking that this book would be better off split in to two stories. What kept me going and what kept me intrigued to read more was the way it was written. Dueñas is clearly a gifted author, but so is her translator Daniel Hahn. There were some points in which there were pages of dialogue but despite the exhausting length, the author, along with the translator, was able to use witty and strong language in order to completely capture my attention.

Until this novel I had never before read a book that had been translated into English. It is always a gamble reading translated novels as one can wonder if the translator was able to capture exactly what the author was trying to convey. After reading “The Time In Between”, I think that Dueñas can be very proud of Hahn’s work. This book truly is a written masterpiece.

I know what I’m saying sounds exaggerated but it is truly what I think. As I was reading the book all I could think about was how amazingly every thought was delivered and every subject was written. Though the topic already fascinates me, it was the delivery that stuck out.

Overall I would highly recommend this book. Through it I was able to learn more about the civil war in Spain, Spain’s relationship with Morocco, and about the WWII resistance movement in Spain. Reading this book also convinced me of my desire to travel to Spain and Morocco where I can learn and see much of the history I read about first hand.

I am looking forward to reading another book by María Dueñas, translated by Daniel Hahn. I know that I can expect great things from this duo.

The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill

The Book of Negroes was released as “Someone Knows My Name” in the USA, Australia, and New Zealand.

It’s been a long time since I last posted a book review but between school, work and just life in general, reading, unfortunately, is sometimes pushed aside. This being said, over the past few months since school ended I’ve read a few books that I’ve enjoyed including “The Birth House” by Ami McKay (a book reviewed by Deborah quite a few months ago) and “The Island” by Victoria Hislop (an easy read about a leper colony  on the island of Spinalonga off the coast of Crete). Although I could rave for ages about how wonderful “The Birth House” was, it is “The Book of Negroes” by Canadian author Lawrence Hill that is deserving of my short but sweet review.

“The Book of Negroes” chronicles the life story of  Aminata Diallo from West Africa. At the age of 11 she is captured by slavers and is shipped to the Americas. Throughout the novel Aminata is introduced to many new things while experiencing the horrors of slavery and living in captivity. Despite her terrible beginnings, Aminata’s life takes unexpected twists and turns, and the story tells of love, migration, abuse, birth, death and culture all through the eyes of a black slave from Africa.

Starting a new book is not always easy for me but after reading a couple of chapters in this novel I was hooked. The writing alone carried the story while the excellent plot, thought provoking subject and well crafted characters made the novel a joy to read. “The Book of Negroes” is a novel that I’ve seen advertised every time I step into a bookstore and after hearing my mom, sisters, extended family and friends rave about it, this book did not disappoint.

What I enjoyed most about “The Book of Negroes” is that Hill exposed a lot of topics, some of which I hadn’t been aware of in the past. He acknowledged that African people were responsible for enslaving and shipping their own people to the Americas. He also wrote about the difference between “African” people and “Negroes” and the way the were treated, something that I had always wondered about. A lot of what Hill wrote was new information to me and I appreciated the historical information that I was able to learn through reading the book.

“The Book of Negroes” is long so when you begin to read it be prepared to sit for quite a while. This being said the book is worth it, taking you on a roller coaster of the past, incorporating American, Canadian, British and African history alike.

My sister once said that the only downfall of this book is that it is written like a memoir yet Aminata Diallo is a fictional character. I think that Aminata’s character, although not completely historically accurate, is a representation of the people that were in her similar situation over 200 years ago. Those people were heroes living in a nightmare, taken from their homes and treated like animals. Thus, by reading this book, Aminata’s character and everything she stood for can also be called heroic and I thank Lawrence Hill for making this even more clear to me through this novel.

The Maze Runner, James Dashner

Delacorte Press, 2009

Finally the time has come for a new blogger to make her mark on “A Novel Thing”…

As someone who was recently introduced to the post-apoctoplyptic genre through The Hunger Games, finishing that trilogy made me yearn for a new series where I could escape to a different world in which I would battle nature, new technology and human beings in order to survive. Therefore, The Maze Runner by James Dashner, as suggested to me by Google, was the best choice in covering all three of those criteria and so here goes my short but sweet rundown on the novel.

Thomas wakes up in a box knowing nothing of his life but his name. He soon comes to realize that he is surrounded by a group of boys ages 13-18 and they are in a large courtyard area surrounded by giant walls with 4 large openings, leading out into a dark unknown. The boys explain to him that each month, for 2 years, a new boy has been sent to the “Glade”, in the same state as Thomas, and for the past 2 years, the boys have had to learn to work together in order to survive. They have no idea why or how they got to where they did, they just know that each morning, the 4 large openings lead out into a maze that is changes each day, and every night the openings close, leaving whoever is out in the maze alone to get attacked and ultimately killed by the “Grievers”. The next day, despite confusion, Thomas tries to integrate into the Glader society, but when a horn sounds signalling a new and unexpected delivery, the boys start to worry. As they open up the box they see that it is something new to the Glade, a girl. And she comes with a message stating that she has triggered the end.

DUM DUM DUM… Continue reading