Book Review: Remember Me? by Sophie Kinsella

Ten Word Summary: An amnesiac girl tries to get her old life back.

The summary may sound morbid, but if you know anything about Sophie Kinsella you would expect it to be chockful of blond humor. It has lots of those, but the amnesiac aspect of the story is a double edged sword that shows its good side mostly and rears its ugly side at inopportune times.

True to her other novels, Remember Me is quite a light read, making it ideal for a lazy summer afternoon. The English is plain and straightforward and the conversations seem quite “authenticly blond”, so to speak. So expect a lot of OMGs and over excited hormonal women jumping about.

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The story is, at its heart, simple and inherently funny. A young woman named Lexi bumps her head and wakes up three years later from her coma, slim and sexy, straight white teeth, lives in an extravagant loft and is married to a super multibillionaire hunk. And she remembers nothing of it.

The book takes you on a journey with the facade of memory recovery, but mostly on a journey of self discovery. Given the fact that Lexi doesn’t remember how she got to that point, she lives her personality prior to the bump three years ago, while facing the challenges of being “the new Lexi” and all that comes with it. Friends who became enemies, and new friends who are shallow and rich and have nothing better to do in life but buy expensive vases. So Lexi embarks on a journey to discover how she got to accept this new life of hers and faces the decision of either sticking with this life, or reverting to her humbler roots. Throw in an insane mother and a secret love affair she doesn’t even remember, and you got yourself a toss up.

The story is pretty much predictable and obviously made with a movie in mind – which is where the amnesia part comes in. The situations Lexi goes through are inherently funny because of the amnesia, and her monologues are entertaining if a bit too blond. But the author rather abused the amnesia in critical situations when the story starts to reach its climax. Difficult issues that have been building up for some chapters (or pop out of no where) are dealt with a sudden flashback – improvised or otherwise – to save the situation, or, worse, with the excuse of the lack of memory to solve the crisis. It becomes punishingly annoying when this is combined with an incredibly blond joke. For instance, in one part, Lexi is addressing her colleagues when her rival senses the lie that she recovered her memory. He puts her to the test and things tense up, when suddenly she is saved by her sister screaming about Jude Law being shirtless across the street and everyone in the room flies over to the window.

A more serious issue, which I can’t spoil here, near the end of the book is dealt with in such a ridiculous manner as well. In fact, most of the events and relationship issues near the end of the book are dealt with in a rush, as if the auther sensed she can’t fit in more details in a 1.5 hour flick. It’s too aggravating to forgive, especially when lots of the issues have been building up so slowly and hilariously and they all just end in a dumb manner.

In any case, the book intends to be a no-brainer, and Lexi is, in fact, quite a charming and likeable character. An extra two or three chapters though to slowly tie the loose ends instead of rushing through events would have made the book worth recommending. Unfortunately that, with the abundance of ads for Louis Vitton and other expensive brands (which makes movie sponsoring easy), I can’t recommend the book though the girls would probably enjoy the movie if it comes out. I can already imagine Sarah Jessica Parker for the role.

Bottom Line: It’s enjoyable if you’re reading it for what it is, but will disappoint you if you’re looking for more.

Book Review: Samarkand

Ten Word Summary: A fantastic journey through Persia that combines fact and fiction.

Amin Maalouf’s depiction of history is nothing short of extraordinary. Ditching the typical Arab approach to long past tragedies and historical accounts, relying on whatever accurate information funded by the sponsor of the book or the publisher, Maalouf instead touches upon history and uses it as a backdrop to his fascinating tale.

It’s a clever formula that mostly works.

The book tells the story of the Rubaiyaat, which I have heard of as a kid in legends as well as, of all things, a videogame that takes place on the Titanic, with the purpose of finding the manuscript before the ship sinks. Don’t worry, I didn’t ruin anything in the story for you – that’s all writte on the first page.

Going back in time, the depictions of ancient Persia, with its courts, fountains, astronomers, wealth of knowledge, love and soul searching clash in clever dialogue with politics, arrogance, religious fanatics as well as barbaric acts of betrayals and whatever makes history, history. I often felt like I was there, standing with Omar Khayyam, in the court, listening to the political ramblings, trying to make sense out of them. And, like him, I am eager to flip the pages for him to exit this madness and retreat to his abode with his beloved, drink wine and sink in the fragrance of love.

While the book does a successful job in bringing the characters to life, with their means and – often tragic – ends, it has a bad habit of jolting you back to reality with a small account of hard-fact history. Though the history (which is, according to abufares, accurate) is always incorporated in the other “fictional” chapters, it’s never as apparent as when you hit one that’s narrated as though it were a documentary. Being stripped away all of a sudden from the wonderful realm that took several chapters to create almost depressed me. Perhaps it is a deliberate trick by Maalouf to draw further contrast to Khayyam’s interpretation/desires of life and what was actually taking place.

Another odd twist to the book is that, more than halfway through, centuries pass and you’re presented with a new cast of characters, new relationships and new stories that eventually fall under the Rubaiyaat umbrella. It’s disorienting, and, unfortunately, less appealing than those in Khayyam’s time. Still, with a keen eye, you could see that it’s not that different, merely a modern version of the past,  a way of telling us that everything becomes full circle and history, eventually, does repeat itself.

The manuscript is a great loss to the world, among with all the one of a kind books and papers that have been obliterated during the course of history.

Bottom line: It’s almost a sin not to read the book, so when you do it, take your time and enjoy it!

Book Review: Fragile Things

Ten Word Summary: Short, wonderful, imaginative and highly entertaining for the most part.

There are a few books nowadays – unfortunately – that are capable of throwing you into an inexplicably odd world where you can find yourself comfortable and restless at the same time. Having a book with not one story, but stories that do just that, is a piece of marvel in itself.

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Neil Gaiman’s Fragile Things is a wonder – and Neil has no issue at all in putting that word as part of the extended title. This collection of short stories sends you into magical world after magical world. When it succeeds, it captivates you, immerses you into a touching story (often thought-provoking) and genuine atmosphere. I have, at times, felt I was sitting along with the months of the year as they shared their stories over the bonfire. I have been tormented by a demon in Hell for the sins I have committed, for being weak.. I have clubbed with aliens, ate cat meat, been a psychotic mess, been in love and out of it.

Granted, not all stories are going to appeal to everyone – certainly I could not help myself to finish a couple of stories, and the greater lot of the first quarter of the stories were subpar… but as I flipped the pages, the stories got progressively better and more bizarre. And there’s 27 of them.

Bottom Line: If you have little time to spare, or short term memory, this is your best place to be re-introduced to literature.

Book Review: Aesop’s Fables

Ten Word Summary: The one book you need to keep in your bag.

I sit irritated on a plastic chair in the middle of a basement elevator lobby, working on incomprehensible nonsense. Is it time again? I look at my watch, which boldly tells me I have a few more minutes to go.

I try to think of a valid reason, for the third or fourth time now – I lost count – to take a “break”, a small escape from the unventilated hell hole.

My jacket has been retrieved earlier, and so has the medicine I “forgot” in the car. My lunch break ended burping bolognese and orange juice, and I had already taken enough loo breaks to empty an oil tanker.

I look about mischievously. My colleague suspects I have been watching some porn; I have been constantly fidgeting about and repositioning myself. In the end I smile at him – you should see the look on his face – and excuse myself to the toilets, taking my cell phone, wallet and a bag with a small book inside.

I bet you he thinks I tape myself.

I lock myself in the toilet, open the bag and take out Aesop’s Fables.

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Such a timeless book!

Aesop’s Fables is a collection of very, very short stories, all of which are half a page to a page long. By modern standards, it is probably a children’s book, with stories like The Dog and the Bone, The Frog and the Ox, The Tortoise and the Hare and many others – 203 stories, in fact.

Every story with a moral, a proverb that has made its way from the BC to the AD, affecting us and our culture all the way since then. It’s a great, simple read that’s invaluable for parents and a great asset in everyone’s library.

At least, you’d know where your proverbs come from.

Bottom Line: Get it and don’t get caught reading it.