Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Mrs. B's 2010 Book Reviews: May

May was a heavy hitter month; mostly because The B's were floating around on a cruise ship for 9 delightful days so I got a lot of reading in! Thankfully, most of them were 3 Stars or better, too!
Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri (CD): Really Good/4 Stars

I've never much been one for short stories, but, since I really liked Lahiri's "The Namesake" (a novel), I thought I'd give her short stories a whirl.

"Unaccustomed Earth" has eight short stories; all of them containing several themes which were also central to "The Namesake"; including the gulf that separates expatriate Bengali parents from their American-raised children.

All of the stories were fairly engaging although there was one that I didn't care for as much as the others (interestingly enough, it was the one story told from the perspective of a Caucasian male). What I found really fascinating was how, as I listened to each story, I began to see how an author can use the writing of short stories to flush out different aspects of what may eventually become a novel.

I find Lahiri's style refreshing. I'm not so sure why I am so interested in the Indian-American culture, but, I find myself wanting to read/listen to the Lahiri's debut collection of short stories, "Interpreter of Maladies". I am hoping she'll be writing another novel at some point, too.
The Lightening Thief by Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson and The Olympians #1): Solid/Good 3 Stars

What a fun read! I have always been interested in Greek mythology (heck, I named several of my cats after Greek Gods) so when a fellow book club member mentioned she'd been reading this series and how much she enjoyed it, I did something I hardly ever do, and that's reserve a copy from my local library.

I could tell when I picked up the copy how often it had been read; falling apart, torn, pages dog-eared, cover a mess. Considering this book (and the series) was written for, oh, say, middle school aged kids, the fact the book had obviously been well read is a testament to its allure.

In summary, Percy Jackson, 12, lives with his mom and step-father in NYC (although he's more often than not off at one boarding school after another; always getting tossed out on his ear for "bad" behavior).

At his current school, it becomes apparent to him that things are not right when his detested math teacher turns into a harpy and his best friend is revealed to be a satyr.

Thus begins Percy's adventure with the Gods; which revolves around the age old bickering between three of the most prominent and powerful; Zeus, Poseidon and Hades. Along the way, Percy discovers the identify of his here to now absent father, makes friends with other "Godlings", and sets out on a quest to hopefully save the world from the wrath of Zeus.

This is number one in the series; I'll look forward to reading number two!

And, yes, it may be a bit of a "rip off" of the Harry Potter theme (quite a few plot similarities) BUT it's still well worth reading, especially if you liked the Harry Potter series.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson: Really Good/4 Stars

This book/series came highly recommended by many of my book club friends and others. I came across a nice, used copy at the library sale so snatched it up.

It definitely did not disappoint! The main characters are intriguing and well developed; the plot/story is really, really interesting with some great twists here and there.

Summary: A down on his luck writer/investigative reporter (Blomkvist) is hired by a somewhat eccentric but extremely wealthy old business baron to simultaneously a) write a history of his equally eccentric family and b) look into the mysterious (unsolved) case of the disappearance of his favorite niece some 40 or so years prior. Blomkvist realizes soon enough that he is in need of some super duper research assistance and so becomes partners with the fascinating character of Lisbeth Salander, a much younger somewhat emotionally disturbed woman whose punk-ish appearance belies her extreme intelligence. Together, they discover quite a lot, both about the case at hand and themselves.

Some said, and I agree, that the book was initially a bit slow going; I think some of this was due to trying to become accustom to the Swedish names, terms, slightly different style of writing (perhaps due to translation). But, after 75 pages or so, I was hooked.

I'm eagerly looking forward to reading the 2nd and (alas, final since the author passed away before his books were even published; tragic!) book in the Millennium series.

I'm also planning on watching the movie (Swedish) version of the book when it becomes available in the US.
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (Book Club Selection: Totally Awesome/5 Stars

Maybe it was because I was on vacation, but, I absolutely fell in love with this book.

After our book club discussion, I'll cede that, although the core of the story; the interment of the Japanese in America, (even those who were 2nd or 3rd generation and were more "American" than Japanese), the troubled (and for good reason) relations between Chinese and Japanese and the hope, joy and honor of young love in the midst of it was perfect, some of the other aspects of the story/certain character development/editing were a bit frayed at the edges.

However, I still feel it was beautifully written and it will retain one of my coveted five stars because, after all, books are like wine, if you like it, it's good!
Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks: Really Good/4 Stars
Brooks' first novel did not disappoint!

Year of Wonders is a fictionalized account of a true historical event; a village near London is infected with the plague. The resident Rector convinces the villagers to quarantine themselves in order to keep the plague from further spreading throughout the country.

The story is told by Anna, maid to the Rector and his wife. Through Anna, we learn the likely cause of the plague's infestation in the village and we see, through her eyes, the good and bad that can manifest in people when tragedy strikes.

This was thoroughly readable; in fact, I read it in about one and one half days (of course, I was on vacation, but, still).

I thought about giving it 5 stars but, in the end, realized it was on par with the other two of Brooks' novels I've read, "People of the Book" and "March".

All of her books seem to be prime for movie versions, IMHO!
The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls: Totally Awesome/5 Stars

Once upon a time, I knew a family who lived somewhat in the vein of the Walls family; maybe not quite as mouth dropping in amazement and astonishment and OMG, but, close.

Because of this, I probably was not as shocked by what I read in the author's memoir; an accounting of the bizarre, hardscrabble and out and out (seemingly) unbelievable childhood she and her brother and sisters experienced.

I gave this a 5-star rating mostly because of the thoroughly wonderful and entertaining (if that is really an appropriate word to use given the circumstances) way in which she relayed the tale and her descriptions of the people in her life (which somehow managed to be both loving and cynical at the same time).

In the end, her memoir is an honest examination of someone who grew up under extremely unusual circumstances with many emotionally disturbed/mentally ill (and some deranged) people around her and a testament to the strength of (certain) family bonds. Seriously, it is amazing how "well" she and at least two of her siblings appear to have turned out!

Mrs. B

1 comment:

Margot said...

Lahiri... A1 !!

What did you think of the last 20 or so pages & esp. 5 pages of Brook's Yrs of Wonders. I tho't it STUNK! Worse than Jodi Piccoult because the book itself was so superior.

We read The Glass Wall for TLC & had a grand time w/it. I think you & your book club would find it ditto.