Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Me and Stephanie Plum

Here's the thing. Anyone who knows me knows that I love Stephanie Plum. I love her quirky friends and her love of birthday cakes and her inability to keep a car from exploding. I have read every book. Yes, that's 18 books now. I have been pretty tolerant of the lack of any character development for 18 books. I have been able to suspend reality enough to accept that Rex could live happily in his soup can for 18 books even though the average hamster is lucky if he lives 3 years. I have embraced the goofy criminals even when they seem to be recycled versions of the same ones every time. I once discussed how awesome it would be to have my own Stephanie Plum action figures. I am a true Plum fan.
But....I think even I have reached my limit. Why? Because Janet Evanovich still spends chapters upon chapters retelling us who everyone is...that Lula was a ho, that Vinnie is the scumbag owner of the bonds agency, that Ranger is a man of mystery, yada yada. She retells us the Plum family dinner table routine, that the funeral home is a hot hangout, that her mom hides booze in the cabinet. Who does she think is buying her books? We all know this, every last detail of it. It's book 18 in the series, we know who Morelli is! So is it simply filler to get by with less and less storyline?
I was actually hopeful that this book would be different. The Hawaii thing was her chance to stir it up. I was hoping that Joe would dump her, that Ranger would do something out of character, that Rex would escape....anything. But it isn't to be. Please, dear friends, don't let me crack under the pressure and run out to buy 19 on the release day.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

My last book of the year

It is so nice to finish the year with an excellent book. Fortunately I decided to pick up Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock. I was looking forward to reading this book because I wanted to learn about what happened to the two girls in the famous photograph from 1957. I knew a little about Elizabeth Eckford and nothing about Hazel Bryan. What I got was so much more than I expected. Not only does Margolick give gripping accounts of the day that the Little Rock Nine first attempted to enter the high school from the girls' points of view, but he also gives us the story behind others in the background of the picture and the photographer who took it. The book is filled with other photos and their stories as well.
The stories of both Elizabeth and Hazel before that day and their lives after it were told beautifully. I feel like Margolick gave a balanced look at both women who saw things differently as they changed through their lives. This is an amazing book, and I will definitely push it on all of my friends. I hope that it gets the attention it deserves.

Looking over my list, I am certain that my two favorite novels from this year were Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys,  and The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer. Both are books that I would like to read again. For non-fiction I would choose Isaac's Storm by Erik Larson about the Galveston hurricane in 1900.  Without a doubt, the worst thing that I picked up this year was Incendiary by Chris Cleave, which was a huge disappointment after liking the author's book Little Bee so much. With Incendiary I simply hated the main character and so the stream of conscience  writing style did not work at all. I'd still read Chris Cleave again, but this one definitely was not for me.

Overall it was a great reading year, 90 books in all and I enjoyed most of them.    

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Artist of Disappearance by Anita Desai

I was fortunate to get this collection through an advanced reader program, and I am so glad that I was given the opportunity to review it.  This set of novellas focuses on three individuals, each struggling with important choices that will impact their own fate. The first is a civil servant who is just beginning his career and questioning his ability to make a difference. He is given the opportunity to help an elderly servant and curator save a family created museum. His instincts tell him that this could be important, and he is faced with the choice of whether or not to try. The second is an English teacher who reunites with an unexpected person from her past. She is given the chance to translate the work of an author she has always admired and help her become known. This dream come true is threatened as she becomes carried away with the power of her position. The third character is a hermit who creates an artistic garden for his own solitude. When others discover its beauty, he has to find a way to disappear again.

I tend to read anything about the history and culture of India that I can find, and this book stands out to me as something unique. I loved the way that Anita Desai developed her characters. In the second story I felt especially touched by Prema's struggle. I could feel her excitement as she began to feel empowered for the first time in her life, and I could feel her panic as she began to lose control. The third story which focused on Ravi was simply beautiful. The author creates effective pictures of India from the stunning to the grim. I haven't read her before, but I am looking forward to finding more of her books.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Trudy's Promise by Marcia Preston

This is one of those books that I have had forever. I was drawn to it because I haven't really read any fiction based on the Berlin Wall before. This story focuses on life on both sides and one woman's need to escape to West Berlin while leaving her baby on the other side. Her husband was a defector and she is left with the choice of going to prison for life or attempting an escape. Once she arrives in West Berlin the only thing that matters to her is getting her son and mother-in-law to freedom.
The characters are very well developed, and although you get a few different points of view it isn't jumping all over the place. I loved Trudy and Gisela. They are both amazingly strong women, but also show weaknesses that make them real to the reader. I loved Wolfgang. He is the perfect example of how good hearted people are victims of their circumstances during war. As far as backstories go, I think the author did an excellent job of showing each characters' past without it overwhelming the main plot.

My only problem with the book was the section that took place in America. It was pretty far fetched, and I wish she hadn't gone that direction for a while. Overall it was a very good book. I would definitely push it on my friends, as well as read this author again. It was a strong 4 out of 5 for me, with parts of it being in the solid 5 range.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Reading this summer

Although I haven't been posting much this summer, I have had the chance to read some really good books. Of course, some have been less than impressive too. My favorites since I last posted in June have been Close Your Eyes by Amanda Eyre Ward, Sister by Rosamund Lupton, and The Transformation of Things by Jillian Cantor. 

Close Your Eyes    
I was so excited to see Amanda Eyre Ward come out with a new novel since I have loved everything that she has written so far. This one is probably my favorite since Sleep Toward Heaven. Lauren Mahdian's mother was murdered when she was 8 while she and her brother were camping out in their treehouse in the backyard. It seems obvious that her father is the murderer, and Lauren grows up accepting that as the truth. Her brother, however, does not believe this and spends years trying to discover the truth. Then her brother goes missing in Iraq, and Lauren starts digging into the clues he had been following.
There were some distracting mistakes in the editing of the book, but that is my only criticism. I love that this author comes up with  fresh storylines and characters in every book instead of falling into formulas like so many do. The mystery kept me turning pages, but the character story grabbed me as well. 5/5

Sister by Rosamund Lupton and The Transformation of Things by Jillian Cantor were both really gripping books with weird endings. Without giving away anything, I will say that Rosamund Lupton's story had an ending which was left to the reader's interpretation (I know some of my friends hate this kind of thing, but it worked for me in this book). Jillian Cantor's story came to a clear and well wrapped up ending, but it was weirdly unexpected. I liked it. I went, "cool ending." I am willing to bet that some people will have a different feeling about it, but I thought it made the entire book more interesting. If you read it, tell me if you agree.

Another book that I read last month was Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies  by Jared Diamond. You may say, "Christine, this does not seem like summer reading fun. What were you thinking?" Well, my niece was given the task of reading this for school so I decided to read along. The book questions why some nations have dominated the world in wealth and power while others have been conquered and displaced. There were definitely some interesting ideas and history in this book. I think it's probably a very good choice for student discussion, I get that. However, I kept picturing these high school students trying to get through it during their summer vacation. Yikes. The author repeats...a lot. I hope my niece doesn't give up reading after this.   

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

I expected to like this book from the description, but I've read so many World War II books that I think it takes a lot for one to really stand out. Somehow I have already found two amazing novels this year about the time period, The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer and now Between Shades of Gray
This story is about Lina, a fifteen-year old artist who is deported with her family by the Soviet secret police from her home in Lithuania to Siberia. Lina secretly documents everything through her art, some of which she hides and some which she tries to get to her father in a prison camp. Lina, her mother, and her brother are grouped with many others who work together to survive being moved from one labor camp to another. I don't want to give away specifics about the characters or the events because you really need to read them for yourself. The characters are beautifully developed and feel very real. There is also a fresh viewpoint on the history that grips the reader. I was amazed by this novel, and I know that it is one that will stick with me. I give it a strong 5/5, and I am pleased that I bought this in hardcover because I intend to add it to my favorites. 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Dreams of Joy by Lisa See

Dreams of Joy is the sequel to Lisa See's Shanghai Girls. It is the continuing story of Pearl, May, and their daughter, Joy. Having discovered that she is really May's child and that her family has been lying to her, Joy runs from her home in America to find her birth father in China. She also wants to become part of the national reconstruction of the People's Republic of China (in 1957). Pearl is forced to follow Joy in an attempt to save her.
This book gave an interesting look at China's history under the Communist regime at that time. This also gave the much needed rest of the story that we were lacking at the end of Shanghai Girls. Things pick up where they left off, and we are no longer left hanging. Although most of the backstory is explained, I would recommend that anyone planning to read this first read Shanghai Girls because several characters that appear won't have the same significance to those who aren't familiar with the first book. I also don't think that the relationship between Pearl and May will be easy to understand without their earlier story.
I really liked this book. The history was fascinating as it always is in Lisa See's books. Joy's character frustrated me, but it was interesting to see her change as things went on. I would rate it a 4/5, but don't skip that first book!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson

This is my first Erik Larson book so I won't compare it to The Devil in the White City, although I do want to go back and read that one now, but I can compare it to other non-fiction that I have read about this time period and I was impressed. This is about the American ambassador to Berlin and his family during the period prior to World War II. Larson starts with a short prologue reminding the readers that "one has to put aside what we all know-now-to be true" to try to understand the experiences of these people living it in 1933. The book not only shows what it must have been like to live in Berlin as these warning signs grew, but it also gives a great deal of history on the conflicts within the Third Reich.
Personally I found the history of Hitler, Goebbels, Goring, and others the most interesting part of reading this book. It shocked me to see just how many times things could have taken a very different path. It is also upsetting to see how the other countries closed their eyes to things because they didn't want to stir the pot. I feel like I understand quite a bit more about how that situation unfolded.
I was interested in the stories of William Dodd and his daughter, Martha, but I honestly wasn't impressed with either of them as individuals. In my opinion (and it probably isn't shared with many) Martha's actions went beyond an innocent young woman caught up in enthusiasm of a new Germany. She witnessed things early on that I believe should have made a bigger impact on her even if she had no way of knowing where things were headed. She didn't seem like a dim bulb, she seemed like a smart but selfish woman. My opinion of her never really changed. William Dodd seemed more like a person who just didn't know how to process everything that was going on around him. He did his best, and I felt for him, although there were things about his character that bothered me a lot.
I gave this book a 5/5 because it was an angle on the history of that time that I didn't know much about. I think that Larson did an excellent job of pulling it all together and telling it to the readers in a can't-put-it-down manner. I definitely want to read more of his books.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Good Sister by Drusilla Campbell

I wasn't sure if I really wanted to read a story about post-partum depression, mental illness, and the attempted murder of children (sounds like a fun Mother's Day read, eh?), but something in the book description grabbed me. It starts off at the trial of Simone, the younger of two grown sisters, but the main focus of the book is on Roxanne. Good thing since Roxanne was the only person that I could tolerate in this book. A great deal of the story goes back to the time before the crime, and some is spent in Roxanne and Simone's childhood.

I know that the characters in this story are meant to be unlikable. The problem was that there wasn't really anyone to care about. Roxanne and her niece, Merell, should have been those characters but they seemed pretty flat to me. I'm not sure if we were supposed to have sympathy for Roxanne's husband and his struggles dealing with the sisters' relationship...I didn't. I read this book straight through in two days. That's why I gave it 3 stars, it kept me interested enough to finish it. However, I can't imagine wanting to read this author again. That says more to me. I would give it a weak 3/5.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai by Ruiyan Xu

Oh, I wanted to love this book. It's the story of Li Jing who survives an explosion at a hotel in Shanghai, but suffers a head injury that robs him of his ability to speak Chinese. The condition is called Broca's aphasia, and the hospital is forced to hire an American doctor who specializes in bilingual aphasia. The concept grabbed me immediately not only because I love the setting, but because I previously worked as a speech pathologist. My favorite assignment was at a head injury clinic. I looked forward to learning more about this type of aphasia.
Although I think this book had great potential, the only thing that I really loved about it were the descriptions of Shanghai. The two things that I didn't like about it were the characters and the ending. I won't give away the ending, but I will say that I was frustrated with how it just dropped off. The characters were difficult to care about overall, but I could not stand the American neurologist. This patient needed a specialist enough that the hospital was willing to bring one in from America, but she revealed that she had "limited expertise in rehabilitation...and spoke no Chinese at all." Oh yeah, and she was drunk when she applied online. She wanted to get away from her bad divorce so she went to Shanghai. As the story went on she did a lot of partying and decided that it's okay to get involved with your patients. Li Jing and his wife, Meiling, also got on my nerves. They were both so self-involved, and I didn't feel that they were doing much in the interests of their son. As far as learning more about aphasia...I don't feel like I got much. This was a disappointing read. I would give it between a 2-3. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Street of a Thousand Blossoms by Gail Tsukiyama

I finally pulled this one off the shelf and I am wondering what took me so long.  I read The Samurai's Garden a while ago and loved it. Maybe I was worried that it would be a disappointment. Whatever the reason for the delay, it was exactly what I was in the mood for this last week.
The story is about two orphaned boys brothers being raised by their grandparents during WWII. One has the dream of becoming a sumo wrestler and the other wants to become an artist. We follow their lives through the war and into adulthood. I was fascinated by the descriptions of Noh theater mask making. This was a part of the culture that I knew very little about.  However, I think the most interesting thing was the story of Japanese civilians who lived through the events of  Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
I admit that I didn't like some of the characters at all, however, I loved Kenji and was rooting for him throughout the book. Yes, this is a tragically sad book, but it also is a story of rebuliding. I would recommend it for readers who want to learn more about Japanese culture. For me it was a 5/5.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

This was a book that I hadn't planned on reading. I haven't been in the mood for nonfiction and the idea of reading about biology just didn't grab me. However, a friend of mine bought a copy of the book, and her excitement about it got me interested. Once I actually picked it up (and I felt this way just from the prologue), I knew what the hype was about.  This is a fascinating story.
It's the story of Henrietta Lacks, a poor black woman who unknowingly contributed cancer cells that became vital to the development of vaccines and scientific research. Her cells, the HeLa cells, are still used today. They were the world's first immortal human cells. There is a lot of science in this book, but Rebecca Skloot does an excellent job of making it easy to understand and incredibly interesting. She also tells the story of Henrietta's life and family history which has been pretty much unknown.
This is probably the best nonfiction book that I have read. Rebecca Skloot did an impressive job of finding buried information about Henrietta's life as well as her medical history. She states in the beginning that "no names have been changed, no characters invented, no events fabricated". She has given us a beautiful and important book. Loved it. 5/5

Monday, March 21, 2011

Guess what I found in my mailbox today?

Yay! Once I am done jumping up and down and
hugging my book, this is what I'll be starting

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Juliet by Anne Fortier

I picked up Juliet because I saw five star review after five star review on Goodreads. I also saw Jamie Ford's glowing comments (author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, which I lovedlovedloved). So okay, I had to try it. And it was pretty good. I wasn't blown away like the rest of the reading world, but I liked it.

The story is about a young woman named Julie Jacobs (she later finds out that her real name was Giulietta Tolomei) who is surprised to find out that she has been left out of her beloved aunt's will, but instead is secretly given a key to something her mother left behind in Siena, Italy when she died. So off Julie goes to Italy to unlock the puzzle. She comes to discover that she is a descendant of another Giulietta Tolomei, the woman who inspired Shakespeare's tragedy. The story then goes between Julie's journey to find out the truth and Giulietta's life in 1340.  It's an interesting plot with mystery, colorful characters, and history. There is a modern day Romeo & Juliet spin to it, an evil twin, and bad guys lurking in the shadows. Overall it was a good story.

I did have a few problems with it that separate my opinion from many others. There were times when it seemed to shift into fluffy chick-lit. I have nothing against chick-lit, but it wasn't what I was expecting. Then it shifted back to feeling like historical fiction. I got into that mode and then, surprise, it was chick-lit again. It couldn't decide what it wanted to be. I definitely would have preferred historical fiction with a more serious modern day story. Another thing that I thought was overdone was the sibling rivalry with the twin sister. It was a good part of the story, but started to feel a little ridiculous with the twists closer to the end. I can't elaborate without spoilers so I'll leave it at that.

I didn't find this to be a "must read" five star book like many other people did. It was entertaining though. I'd give it 3.5/5.  

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

reading now

I am in the middle of Juliet by Anne Fortier. It's going slowly, but I am enjoying it. I just don't remember a book taking me so long since The Pillars of the Earth.
Published with Blogger-droid v1.6.7

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Delirium by Lauren Oliver

I was looking forward to this book because I really liked the author's debut novel, Before I Fall, but this was a disappointment. The story is about Lena, who lives in a government-managed society in the near future. The government forces every person to be cured of amor deliria nervosa (love) as they reach the age of eighteen in order to protect them from the pain and madness that it causes, and each is matched by scientists to their future husband or wife.  Lena is looking forward to being "cured" because of her mother's suicide (her mother was infected). Obviously Lena changes her mind when she falls in love prior to her procedure. Um, who saw that coming? This could have been a really good story, but there were just too many problems with it.
First of all I never bought into the love story. I didn't feel anything in the initial meetings between Lena and Alex. He winked at her and suddenly she was madly in love. It's not that I can't believe in love at first sight, but the feelings didn't come across. Lena was so against love, it seems like it would take something pretty amazing to change her mind. I also don't think that Oliver set up a convincing reason why the society wanted this cure from amor deliria nervosa. How did the current government come into power and why would they want their people to be without emotions? But wait, that's another question that I had. How could people maintain other emotions and only lose their ability to love? I didn't understand it. If she had explained it better then it may have been a more interesting story. It was kind of like watching Lost without the interesting characters and unexpected twists.
This is apparently the beginning of a series, but I am not planning to continue with it even though there is a cliffhanger ending to this one. However, I would read this author again due to her other novel. That one was a goodie.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

The book description for The Weird Sisters caught my attention immediately. It's about three grown sisters, Rosalind, Bianca, and Cordelia. They are the daughters of a Shakespearean professor. The family has always been immersed in books, and the girls often think about things in terms of Shakespearean quotes.
Although some of the story is told in flashbacks of their childhood, most of it takes place as all three adult sisters return home when their mother is ill. It's not a reunion that they are happy about.

"We see stories in magazines or newspapers sometimes, or read novels, about the deep and loving realtionships between sisters....Who are these sisters who act like this, who treat each other as their best friends? We have never met them."

I could relate to these sisters. That's one thing that I liked right away. Another thing that was unique about this book was that it was told in what I found described as a plural narrator. It was as if it was always being told by one of the sisters, but it wasn't specifically one of them. Almost as if the reader were a part of the additional sister who really wasn't a sister. Confusing? It actually wasn't, I am just not describing it well.  I liked the style. It brought me into the story right away.
There were a few things that I didn't love about the book. The character of Bianca, or Bean, was definitely a sister that I would have had conflicts with in my real life. I couldn't feel for her. I think she was supposed to become more likable as the book went on, but she wasn't for me. The birth order stereotypes bothered me a little because the author could have been a little more creative there.  But overall is was a very good read. I would give it a 4/5.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer

Wow. I won't write a book description for this one because it's impossible to do it justice with a blurb.  Instead I will tell you why I loved it so much. This is definitely more than another WWII book. It's a long one, but it wouldn't have been the same reading experience if it had been cut down. One thing that I loved was that the reader gets to know the characters well before the war really takes over their lives. Although there were a lot of people in this book, the character development is wonderful and I didn't lose track of the individual stories. If someone was there, they were there for a reason. This author doesn't leave you hanging wondering why so-and-so came along.
There is a real sense of what life was like for Jewish people in Hungary and in Paris prior to the war. I saw their false sense of safety and wanted to warn them to do this or that. I would talk to my book and say, "Are you crazy? That will get you into trouble! Don't you understand?" I loved these people. I wanted to protect them.
The epilogue wasn't necessary for me, but I think it was good that she added it for readers that need a more definite sense of closure.  Your questions get answered in the story itself, but the epilogue does give a final peek into the futures of the survivors. Overall this was an excellent book. I can't imagine how she could have done better. I look forward to more from this author. I give it a very strong 5/5.

Monday, February 14, 2011

If I stay by Gayle Forman

It seems that I am reading a lot of stories about near death experiences or after death experiences lately. There was also Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver, which was more of a moments-prior-to-death experience. Each has it's own way of showing how one person's life impacts others. In this story, Mia is having a sort of out of body experience as she observes herself in a coma in intensive care. She learns about what has happened to her family members who were in the accident and watches her loved ones talking to her from this removed state. She comes to realize that it is her choice if she stays or decides to go. I was touched by her feelings for her brother as she was trying to discover his fate. She also relives her moments with her parents prior to the accident.
I kept wondering how different this story would be if it was told from the viewpoint of the mother or father. The idea of choosing to continue your life without your children would be a very different struggle. I was impressed with how the author handled this through the eyes of a teenager. It was interesting to see what Mia could and could not experience from this state. There is a sequel coming out in a few months, and I am looking forward to reading it.
This is a quick read with an interesting concept and good characters. I enjoyed it. 4/5
Thank you, Siobian! I appreciate it!
Dixie will likely be jealous that I was called stylish before she was, haha!

Okay, I am supposed to follow these steps now...

Post 7 random things about you.
1. I haven't let the dog out yet, and she is getting annoyed that I am on the computer.
2. I start just about every day with a Diet Mtn Dew and a game of Cubecrash.
3. Last night I counted my paper vs. ebook reads for the past year (yes, I realize how exciting my evening sounds to others) and it's almost exactly 50/50.
4. I'm still in a bad mood because neither the Bears or the Ravens got to the Superbowl this year.
5. I follow Harlan Coben on twitter, and he's a riot.
6. I can name the states in alphabetical order really really fast. You'd be impressed.
7. I love Kermit the frog. He's one deep frog.

Give the award to 15 other blogs
I'm not sure about 15, but these are some very deserving blogs that I love:
Confessions of a Book Addict
Glory Bee Attitudes
Musings of a Bookish Kitty
The Book Nurse
The Next Best Book Blog
Book Babe
For the Love of Books

Contact the blogger and let them know.
Ten-four, Rubber Ducky. I will.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Someone Else's Garden by Dipika Ria

Someone Else's Garden is about Mamta, the daughter of a cruel low-caste father who has arranged a horrific marriage to get rid of her. Mamta is a hopeful dreamer who goes from one abusive home to another until she is forced to run away in order to save her own life. The story follows many characters, including Mamta's mother and brother, as well as members of the rich family who owns their farm. At first it was somewhat difficult to keep track of the different storylines, but they eventually begin to connect to each other.  The picture of life for females in rural India is intense and depressing. At times it was hard for me to continue reading, although I am glad that I did.  It is difficult to comprehend how people can live this way in the modern world. I remember having this same reaction when I read
A Fine Balance  by Rohinton Mistry. I am glad that I read it, but I have a hard time recommending it to someone else.  The ending didn't seem to fit with the rest of the book in some ways. It gave a hopeful turn to a very bleak story, but I had a hard time accepting the changes in some of the characters.  I would rate it a 4/5, and I would suggest it to readers who are comfortable with very depressing but realistic stories.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

These Things Hidden by Heather Gudenkauf

One word of advice, don't look at too many book descriptions for this one before you pick it up. I read several, and although they didn't contain spoilers there was just enough for me to predict the major twist in this book very early. That being said, I don't think that this is a "predictable book". It's my own fault. I did too much digging. So I won't spoil anything for you here, girl scout promise.

The story is about Allison, a once very popular and successful high school student who is sent to prison for a serious crime, as she is released to a halfway house five years later. She is desperate to reconnect with her sister who is equally desperate to keep Allison out of her life. It is told from the viewpoints of four different women whose lives eventually come together.  I don't want to tell you any more than that, but it is a fast paced book that is full of twists. I finished it in one day because I had to know how things turned out.  Readers who enjoy Jodi Picoult should read this one. I will definitely read more by this author. I would give it a strong 4/5.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin

     I just finished this one, and I am torn on what to say about it. The main character, Angel, is a baker who runs her own business from her apartment in Kigali, Rwanda. Living in an ex-pat community allows her to interact with people from a variety of countries and cultures as they come to order cakes for their celebrations. Through these encounters she becomes a sympathetic ear and a voice of guidance to others' troubles.
     The concept of this book was very interesting. A lot of serious issues, such as genocide and AIDS, were presented through the lives of her customers. The stories of survival were hopeful, and I felt like I got a taste for what people went through in Rwanda without the graphic intensity of other things that I have read. I really enjoyed Angel. Her reactions to things often had me laughing.
     However, the pace of this book was beyond slow.The conversations contained so much meaningless filler at times. The descriptions of having tea or decorating the cakes began to bore me to tears after a while.  I also had a hard time buying that so many people, often complete strangers to Angel, would easily vent their personal problems in such detail.
     There wasn't really a solid plot to this book. It was more like multiple small stories happening at once, sometimes connecting and sometimes not. Keeping the characters straight wasn't always easy.
So how do I rate this book? Some things about it were very good, and I believe that readers who are comfortable with the slow pace may really enjoy it. It dragged too much for my own taste though. I have to say 3/5-good.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

I admit it, I picked up The Imperfectionists to see what all the hype was about. I can't resist reading something that makes multiple lists for "books of the year". The book was actually broken down into short stories centering on a variety of characters who were connected to a Rome-based international newspaper. Although each character was the focus of only one chapter, they all continued to pop in and out of the others. Therefore the loose ends left in one story were often answered in another. I enjoy this style of writing. It is similar to Daniyal Mueenuddin's In Other Rooms, Other Wonders.
I have mixed feelings on the book overall. It definitely grabbed my attention and kept it, and I read through it quickly. Some of the stories were more interesting to me than others. Personally I really liked the chapter on Ornella, an elderly woman who started reading every copy of the newspaper in 1976 and refused to move on or hear any current news beyond where she was in her newspaper reading. Due to falling behind in her reading, she was living her life as if it were 13 years earlier. Isolation, loneliness, and unhappiness are constants throughout the stories. Even so, I liked the reading experience until almost the end. I felt that one pointless incident in the last story took away from my enjoyment of the book. I wish he hadn't chosen to add it. This would have been a strong 4 star book for me, but ended up as more of a 3/5.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Left Neglected by Lisa Genova

I expected to be disappointed in this book, probably due to a review that I read at some point, but I wanted to read it regardless because I loved Still Alice. Well, I wasn't disappointed at all. This is a really good story. My only problem with it is that Sarah, the main character who is suffering from a brain injury, comes across as the exact same character as Alice from the first book. Their personalities felt like carbon copies. Fortunately I really liked Alice, but would have preferred a new character in Sarah.
I have to say that Lisa Genova has a great talent for explaining a disability in a way that readers can really understand. She can make sense of how things feel. I am also impressed with the fact that she can take such heavy subjects and create stories that are hopeful rather than depressing. I really feel like I take something away from her books, and I look forward to what she will do next. 4.5/5 

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Many Conditions of Love by Farahad Zama

The Many Conditions of Love is the second book in Farahad Zama's Marriage Bureau for Rich People series. It looks like there is a third book coming out in March.  The series is about Mr Ali, a retired Indian civil servant who opens a matchmaking service on his veranda.  The second book focuses less on Mr. Ali's business and more on Aruna, Mr. Ali's assistant who is newly married and begins to have troubles when her spiteful sister-in-law comes to stay.  Rehman, Mr. and Mrs. Ali's son, is also a large focus of this story.  He begins dating a non-Muslim, and family conflicts develop on both sides.
I enjoyed this one, although not as much as the first simply because I love reading about Mr. Ali's matchmaking clients. These are light and quirky books so I think the more serious themes don't work as well. I hope that the third book returns more to the marriage bureau itself. Either way I am looking forward to reading it. 4/5

Monday, January 3, 2011

Happy New Year...or what I now call Car Crash Monday

I hope that everyone is starting off their new year well. My Toyota got crunched up this morning on my way to dropping my daughter at school so I guess I'm starting off with a bang. My goal for the upcoming year in reading is simply to read what I already have and reduce my book purchases significantly.  I tried that before, and it didn't work out so well. However, I'm going to give it another go. Trading and trade-in credits are acceptable though...oh, and gift cards...and the books that I have to get for book club because really what choice do I have there? Maybe exceptions for Harlan Coben and any Stephanie Plum novels. Those don't really count, right?

Another goal is to read more comforting books once and a while. So on that note I am starting with the second book in the series following The Marriage Bureau for Rich People by Farahad Zama. The first book was funny, set in India, and simply an entertaining read. Perfect for me.  Therefore, I am beginning The Many Conditions of Love.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

What a beautifully subtle book this is! It is told from the point of view of an English butler who devotes every bit of himself to doing the perfect job. As he takes a trip across the countryside, he thinks back over his years of service, and truths about the man that he served begin to surface in his memories. I love the way that the author blends humor and heartbreak into the story. The main character, Stevens, has an internal struggle with his inability to banter with his employer which is hilarious. The way that this continued to pop up throughout the story was so funny. At the same time this is a story about regrets that really touched me. I am so glad that I finally pulled this one off the shelf. I loved it. 5/5