Three Mini Book Reviews

This lazy Sunday (or, when it’s exam season: not-so-lazy Sunday) I have three mini book reviews for you. At the moment, I have Romantic era writers and their poetry coming out of my ears in preparation for my exam, and so it’s hard to find the time to write one good book review- let alone three. And so, I’ve decided to condense the three books I have completed reading recently into one post. In future, you may see a few more of these- when I’m either strapped for time, or have a few books I loved, but don’t feel I can write a whole review on. This post I’ll be looking at I am Malala, Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises, and Howl’s Moving Castle; I can recommend them all, but for some slightly more in-depth reviewing take a look below…

I am Malala (Malala Yousafzai)

This is the first book of the three that I finished reading, back at the end of April. Malala is such a widely known figure- and with good reason- that I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this. Her writing style is youthful, but still extremely eloquent, and above all personable- in places, it is even humorous. If anything the young voice in this book, of a girl who still argues with her friends and struggles with her physics homework, makes the things she has seen, and the events that have befallen her family and friends, all the more shocking.

I Am Malala contains a wealth of information on the events leading up to her shooting, with in depth coverage of the political situation in Swat, her home. Before reading this, I am ashamed to say, my grasp on the politics that have lead up to ISIS forming, gaining power, and the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, was tenuous to say the least. Though at times the amount of information here was overwhelming, it was also well organised and educational without being distant. Malala, obviously, can give a vivid picture of life before and during the events on going in the East. Though they pop on to the news in our living rooms every evening, this book really brings it home that people are living in the centre of a conflict, where to send their children to school each day they must send them through a war zone.

Learning about Malala’s life and culture, her friends and family, felt like a privileged insight. What struck me was not that she pushed education for girls within the book, and has done for the majority of her life, but that she demonstrated her own thirst for knowledge, and an innate curiosity about the world around her. The sheer volume of activist work she partook in before she hit mainstream news in the UK, is astonishing. It can’t be emphasized enough.

If you want to gain a firmer grasp on the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and learn what life is like for those living over there, then buy this book. I picked it up wanting to read about a girl who fought for education, and a received this and so much more.

Howl’s Moving Castle (Diana Wynne Jones)

I remember seeing the film of this when I was about eleven, and since then I have loved this story. Although the book is different to the film, I will actually say that they are both as good as each other (I’m a Studio Ghibli fan, so I can’t rate the book over the film this time). You have to judge the book and the film separately here, to be fair to both.

The story is high fantasy (though with links to Wales), and highly entertaining. The plot line is also surprisingly intricate for a children’s book. The world that Diana Wynne Jones creates is vivid and rich, with characters that leap from the page. You know when children’s books actually turn out to have deeper meanings, especially when you read them as an adult? Yep, it’s one of them. Such deeper meanings include lessons on thinking for yourself, not conforming to widely held opinions, and living your life for you, not just to please those around you.

This book is highly entertaining, with an emphasis on humour that makes it a good light read, but not so simple that you grow bored. Believe me, there is a massive element of misunderstanding and mistaken identity in this book, so you do need to pay attention when reading. It isn’t a picture book. The plot line follows Sophie Hatter, who after one misunderstanding has a curse placed on her by the Witch of the Waste. She is transformed into an old crone, and ends up living with Wizard Howl, in his moving castle.

Whilst there she strikes a deal with the fire demon Calcifer, who keeps the castle moving from the fireplace, promising that she will find him a way out of the contract he is in with Howl- although he can’t tell her what said contract is. Simultaneously, Calcifer must try and break the curse Sophie is under. Throw in one womanzing Wizard Howl, his apprentice Michael, a king and a prince, and trips to Wales from a magical fantasy realm- and you have a brilliant read.

Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises (Ernest Hemmingway)

We’ve had two very different books so far, and this is different again. Ernest Hemmingway’s Fiesta is a book set after the first world war, where nothing really happens but at the same time everything does. This book is short, and sparse – which is part of Hemmingway’s style. His prose is simplistic, but also has moments of being incredibly beautiful.

His characters aren’t described in detail physically, but you can imagine them perfectly, and get a sense of their personality through their dialogue. The story follows Jake Barnes (a journalist), Robert Cohn, Lady Brett Ashley, Bill Gorton, and Mike Campbell. Jake is in love with Brett; Brett is in the process of getting a divorce so that she can marry Mike, but has slept with Cohn as well; Mike likes his drinks more than most; Cohn is struggling to deal with Brett now rejecting him, as well as writing his second book (and seemingly having a bit of a mid life crisis); Jake is struggling to recover psychologically and physically from the war, it is at times hinted- and Bill is kind of just there really. They all make their way from Paris to Spain to see the fiesta. Here Brett ends up in a brief relationship with bullfighter, Pedro Romero. I shall stop there, as I’ve almost given you the entire plotline.

The plot can sometimes seem a bit hard to follow, as you feel more should be happening outside the characters drifting here and there, drinking, and working out their relationships with one another. There’s a huge sense of ennui within the plot line- as well as lots of drinking, fighting, and a hell of a lot of male insecurity. And bad British slang. I hated some of the characters, but this was definitely because they had unlikable qualities, and not because of poor characterization. One of the strengths of Hemmingway’s writing, particularly with regards to his characters, is its subtlety; there is so much unsaid that the reader has to infer.

Ultimately, I enjoyed this book, but can’t fully pinpoint why, and I’m also on the fence as to how much I enjoyed it. It’s a book that a lot of critics link to the idea of “the lost generation”, which I can see for myself in the aimlessness in some of the characters as they drift from Paris to Spain, and back again. If I had to sum up the book in two words, those two words would be ‘ennui’ and ‘tension’- because there is an awful lot of the latter.

Well, there you go: three mini book reviews in one blog post. Hopefully once my exams are over my summer will be filled with all of the books I’ve bought and haven’t had time to read yet- so be expecting many blog posts. If there are any books you think I ought to read, or to review, leave a comment below…


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