Tuesday, January 30, 2018

[Book Review] The Circle by Dave Eggers

The CircleThe Circle by Dave Eggers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Part 1: From The Book Cover

When Mae is hired to work for the Circle, the world's most powerful internet company, she feels she's been given the opportunity of a lifetime. Run out of a sprawling California campus, the Circle links users' personal emails, social media, and finances with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of transparency. Mae can't believe her great fortune to work for them - even as life beyond the campus grows distant, even as a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken, even as her role at the Circle becomes increasingly public ...

Part 2: Recommendation

The only reason I read this book was because of the movie starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks but I'm one of those who [for the most part] read the book first before watching the movie because we all know that books are always better and have more details than the movie versions.

I've been on the fence about deactivating my Facebook and Twitter accounts and signing up for Instagram or keeping my blog, Ravelry and GoodReads active since I use Ravelry and GoodReads mainly as online databases for my yarn craft and books respectively so I won't have to create an offline database from scratch and my blog as a way to share things that I enjoy and my book reviews like this one. The Circle by Dave Eggers definitely showed some pros and cons to going "off the grid" to quote Mercer and some pros and cons to being online to keep up with family and friends and social media is good way to reconnect with old friends especially if you have no way of contacting them because your address book hasn't been updated in a long while.

Enter Mae Holland who hasn't used her social media account in a while and ends up working for the Circle, a tech company who is all about sharing [everything] and being social online and offline and unifying everything into one account. I rated this book 4 stars not because it's really good but mostly because the author managed to make me feel something and made me think. When Mae first started working at the Circle, I felt as stressed out and exhausted as Mae felt while learning about her new job and balancing her work-related duties as well as her "social" duties and the constant need to "smile," "frown," and "zing" can be overwhelming for someone like me who likes to moderately share things online. Yes, I do believe that there are things that should be kept private and still do even after reading this book.

I don't think it is healthy to spend so much time online "smiling," "frowning," and "zing-ing" what other people share to the point where you no longer have time to live your life in the real world. And changing your opinions because you don't like getting "frowns" is not being human. Being human is about having different opinions and thoughts and it shouldn't matter if your opinion is unpopular because it is you. The way it is presented in this book is that slowly, everyone in the world is of one mind, one opinion which is already happening in the real world. People get shamed, hated on or bullied online when you express sentiments that are not in line with the sentiments of others. And this mentality should stop.

There are some aspects of unifying databases from this book that I liked the idea of. An example would be medical records that way when you switch medical providers or during medical emergency situations, all your records can be found in one centralized system/location to make it super efficient for the medical team to give you the right medication or treatment as well as if you're unconscious, there's a way to alert your medical/care team to send help. While it is also great to get real time results on polls and surveys, being forced to vote by suspending all electronic/computer/online activities until you've voted is wrong in the sense that people have the right to vote or not vote. Sure it will help a lot if everyone voted but to make it mandatory like what the Circle suggests violates the right to decide whether to vote or not. I'm on the fence about humans getting micro-chipped like most of our pets are micro-chipped because I personally don't want everybody in the world to know where I am. I only want my I.C.E. (In Case of Emergency) contacts to know where I am and that's about it. There's more examples in this book that I'm either on the fence on or completely against the idea of but I have to end it here otherwise, this review will be as lengthy as the novel itself.

Moving on to the general overview of the plot. It's believable to some degree and I can see the parallels to the real world especially on the social media aspect and we are somewhat slowly getting there on the other technological aspects. The pacing of the story is slow to moderate and sometimes it makes you think if there's any point to this whole thing. The whole time I was listening to this book, I was waiting for a really cool plot twist or a big revelation or a big self-discovery, but unfortunately, none of those happened. There was a revelation towards the end but it was a bit of a let down because somehow, at the back of my mind, I already knew that.

As for the characters, I feel like they're not as well-developed as I'd hoped. There's no real depth to Annie, Dan, Jared, the three wise men, Francis, or any of the rest of the characters, including Mae (more on that, later). It feels like these other characters are there to either add drama in the case of Francis, to move the story along in the case of Dan, Jared, the three wise men, etc., and as proof of validation and someone to vent to as in the case of Annie. As for Mae, I somewhat resonated with her in the beginning but as the book progresses, her character became less real and more fake in the sense that the Mae readers liked in the beginning slowly disappeared as she became "one with the hive" err Circle and lost her own individuality. Another thing that was disturbing about Mae was in the end, while visiting her catatonic best friend, Annie, she looks at one of the monitors scanning Annie's brain waves and wonders what Annie's dreaming/thinking about while in a coma and decides that people's thoughts should be accessible to everyone and that "the world deserves nothing less" which to me, is frankly, quite disturbing.

Finally, the narration. Dion Graham did a wonderful job narrating/reading this book even though this book follows Mae's perspective and there's none of that high-pitched voice trying to sound like a woman/girl.

In conclusion, if you are someone who shares everything online then you might enjoy this book and if you are someone who is on the verge of deactivating all of your online and social media accounts, you might find extra reasons in this book to permanently go offline. If you are someone who likes to see characters evolve into a better version of themselves, this book is not for you.

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Monday, January 22, 2018

[Book Review] By The Book by Julia Sonneborn

By the BookBy the Book by Julia Sonneborn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: As a member of NetGalley, I received this galley in exchange for an honest review.

Part 1: From The Book Cover

An English professor struggling for tenure discovers that her ex-fiancĂ© has just become the president of her college—and her new boss—in this whip-smart modern retelling of Jane Austen’s classic Persuasion.

Anne Corey is about to get schooled.

An English professor in California, she’s determined to score a position on the coveted tenure track at her college. All she’s got to do is get a book deal, snag a promotion, and boom! She’s in. But then Adam Martinez—her first love and ex-fiancĂ©—shows up as the college’s new president.

Anne should be able to keep herself distracted. After all, she’s got a book to write, an aging father to take care of, and a new romance developing with the college’s insanely hot writer-in-residence. But no matter where she turns, there’s Adam, as smart and sexy as ever. As the school year advances and her long-buried feelings begin to resurface, Anne begins to wonder whether she just might get a second chance at love.

Funny, smart, and full of heart, this modern ode to Jane Austen’s classic explores what happens when we run into the demons of our past...and when they turn out not to be so bad, after all.

Part 2: Recommendation

By The Book is the first fiction novel from Julia Sonneborn, a contemporary retelling of Jane Austen's Persuasion. Because I read Persuasion last October 2017, the plot line is still fresh in my mind so when I downloaded this galley, I was kind of expecting to see all the plot lines covered. If memory serves me right, By The Book did not cover all the plot lines. Instead, it has the main elements of Persuasion: a broken engagement, the reunion of the two main characters 10 or so years later and the emotional struggle of the two main characters revealed, towards the end. There's also the part where both the readers and a few of the characters are playing at guess who Adam's going to end up with between Tiffany and Bex. Overall, the main plot lines were satisfied to easily match and identify with Persuasion. I mean, for a contemporary retelling with a limited word count, it was good enough, otherwise it wouldn't be 384 print pages.

As for the characters, Jerry Corey and Lauren Corey Winston perfectly matched Sir Walter and Elizabeth Elliot except that I feel Jerry and Lauren are very slightly more likable than their Persuasion counterparts. I truly detest Sir Walter & Elizabeth and I'm still wishing them both ill luck. Unfortunately, Dr. Russell was not as strong of a character (for me) as Lady Russell was. Don't get me wrong, the dialogue in that flashback scene between Anne and Dr. Russell was awesome and quite pivotal and showed the reader exactly who Dr. Russell is but let's face it, she's not as warm and caring like Lady Russell is to Anne Elliot. Then we have Tiffany and Bex who are very similar to Henrietta and Luisa Musgrove in the sense that they both were portrayed as Adam's current love interest but mostly for Bex, I get the feeling that it was forced to look that way for the sake of having a Henrietta counterpart. Rick Chasen, is definitely charming and likable but you get the feeling that he's not what he seems just like how you'd feel about William Elliot. And when all is revealed, you just want to see him in all manner of suffering. Very well done on this one. As for Larry, I'm not quite sure who his Persuasion counterpart is other than to play the part of Capt. Harville in that one scene where Anne [Corey and Elliot] talk about how women "kept loving someone, even when you know there's no hope" since Anne Corey can't very well just talk to herself about this in order for Adam to overhear her and write her that note.

Now, for the two main characters, let's start with Adam Martinez. He definitely is Capt. Frederick Wentworth with a little more heart compared to Wentworth. Wentworth was very aloof, guarded and properly civil, almost cold. But Adam is shown to be more caring in the way he built his home library with Anne in mind, how he was there for Anne at the ER and during the funeral service and that New Year's Eve scene. Sure, he was sometimes portrayed as a bit guarded and civil especially when Rick was around but that could also easily be because Adam doesn't trust Rick because they've known each other back at Houston which is the exact opposite of Wentworth and William Elliot's lack of previous acquaintance, which is fine I suppose since we don't really have a Mrs. Smith counterpart. As for Anne Corey, she does seem a bit more introverted than Anne Elliot and far less loved. I mean, Anne Elliot has a lot of friends and is loved by Mary and Charles, the Musgrove sisters, the Crofts, the Harvilles and Lady Russell whereas Anne Corey only has Larry on her side (I'm not counting Dr. Russell as she was really cold and harsh in the flashback scene and Emily, Anne's star student, was just there to validate Rick's infidelity and dastardliness). Compared to Anne Elliot, Anne Corey is more worried about getting a book proposal, getting tenured, and book revision deadlines than caring for people. Sure, she was supportive of Larry while he was having a breakdown over Jack and she thought Bex would be a great professor but that was about it. The author did try to show Anne Corey as having that compassionate and understanding spirit that Anne Elliot has in the final scene with Emily but somehow it didn't come out as strong as I would've liked it to be. And that scene with Anne and Lauren when Jerry died and throughout the whole funeral and thank you card scenes, it felt like it had to be there for closure and continuity of the story. It didn't make Lauren any more likable or Anne more complex. I truly wish there's something more to Anne Corey.

In conclusion, By The Book by Julia Sonneborn is a short, fun read for a contemporary Persuasion retelling as long as you are reading for pleasure without thinking of parallels too much. But if you love Persuasion, and if you can look past the differences in characterization and some of the plot lines, you might enjoy this book, otherwise you've been warned.

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