Life at UCB through the eyes of our international student bloggers

Books I Read Before 2021 Ended

Books I Read Before 2021 Ended

If you have been following me for a while, you will know that I love reading. So I thought I’d share the books I’ve read recently and might as well share my thoughts on them – a review, if you will. 

First on my list is The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux. 

With two blogs about Phantom written by me, I think it’s pretty apparent that I’m a tad bit obsessed with it. Having seen both the stage play and the 2004 film adaptation, I guess you can say that I’m pretty well-versed with the storyline already. Although, as someone who loves books and is quite familiar with the books-turned-to-movies type, I knew that there were slight alterations in the adaptations from the actual book. But I still went in with an open mind. 

The main plot didn’t differ too much in the films and play from the book. You know, it’s still the same ‘young ingenue who got abducted by a disfigured musical genius, which the childhood lover then saves.’ What is different, though, is the intent was clear as day. The book didn’t delve into a love triangle trope as Andrew Lloyd Webber did with his adaptations. It was crystal clear that Christine Daae is meant to be with Raoul de Chagny, and Erik, the Phantom, is the antagonist. In the adaptations, you’ll see a slight ambiguity for what Christine feels for the Phantom. The audience is given an ounce of hope that maybe Christine did love the Phantom which the book didn’t explore. Book Christine only showed pity. 

Either way, both the book and films were heartbreaking. When I first watched the musical, my feelings were reciprocated when I read the book. The Phantom of the Opera is probably my favourite classic book other than Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. 

Secondly is Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. 

For a while, I have been seeing this book floating around on BookTok, a book community on TikTok. It took me a while to finally get my hands on it because I wasn’t the type of person to buy a book without really knowing what it was about. However, I still bought it because of the number of positive reviews I have heard and read. 

Upon reading the synopsis at the back of the book, I got a gist of what it was about, but it wasn’t how I expected the story to flow. The summary centres around a young woman named Noemi investigating her cousin, Catalina, who claims that her husband is trying to murder her, but as I read and read, I realised that there was more to the story. Without spoiling anything, it does involve some supernatural element, and it touches on some racial themes, especially eugenics. (I hope this wasn’t a big give-away! *insert grimacing emoji*) 

I want to warn you that it also touches on sensitive topics, so beware as it may trigger you. 

The third is The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis.

This book delves into a topic of religion, specifically Christianity. If you’ve read thoroughly, I’ve mentioned that I was raised a Catholic Christian in one of my previous blogs, which you can read here

Unlike the other books that I have read, The Problem of Pain is a non-fiction book, and it tackles a question that fellow Christians have probably asked themselves, “If God is real, then why do we suffer? Why do bad things happen to us?” Unfortunately for me, I had high expectations for this book – I expected answers other than those I heard when I was a kid. Personally, it was a big letdown for me. Again, without spoiling, all I can say is that this book is not so far off with orthodoxy. 

Therefore, if you are looking for a broader answer to this question, I’d suggest that it’s better to drop it off your list. But to be fair, there are some excellent points Lewis had touched on, albeit not closely linked to the question (at least for me, it was all very jumbled). For example, the chapters ‘Hell’ and ‘Heaven’ were fascinating discussions. 

Fourthly is The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides. 

This book is one of the most long-awaited on my list, and it’s not only the book but the film as well. I have always wanted to watch this film, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. The closest I can access this story is by the book. 

Luckily, as I was shopping for the C.S. Lewis book, I passed by this, and without a heartbeat, I snatched it off the shelf and never let it go. The plot revolves around boys who tell the story of the five beautiful and dreamy Lisbon sisters who lived in their neighbourhood. The reason why I was so engrossed by this is because of the movie stills I have seen – they were so hazy and, as mentioned, dream-like. However, as I started reading and researching this book, it tackles a very complex topic. Some say it’s a story about love and repression, fantasy and terror, or memory and longing. Some would say that it criticises the male gaze and how society views young girls and women. 

It’s something to think about, and it definitely had kept me up all night, thinking about it. 

Last is The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller.

Similarly to Mexican Gothic, The Song of Achilles was also very popular in BookTok. However, this book is the one that I put off for quite a while. Not because I wasn’t a fan, I’m very much a fan of Greek myths, whether they were re-tellings or not. It’s because I was scared that I’d invest in a book that is maybe way too overhyped and will end up disappointing me. 

Considering that I’m a fan of Greek myths, I knew how the story of Achilles ends. That’s why I put it off for so long, and from what I’ve seen, it was a sob story. Many people’s reactions were tears flowing down their faces, and I was afraid I wouldn’t have the same reaction just because I knew how it ended. 

Boy, was I wrong… 

I just finished reading this book last week, and up until now, I still couldn’t forget about it. Once in a while, the book drifts off my mind, but once it does come back, my head would feel hot, my eyes would feel stingy, and tears would brim my eyes. It’s that type of book. I would say I definitely underestimated it. 

It’s the type of book that will tug on your heartstrings, even if you know how it ends. 

I hope you enjoyed reading this, and I wish you a Happy New Year! 😉 

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