I'm going against the grain here, as I didn't think this book was as wonderful as other reviewers. Al...moreHarry August lives over and over and over........
I'm going against the grain here, as I didn't think this book was as wonderful as other reviewers. Although I'm not a fan of Sci Fi / Fantasy, I don't think that was why this didn't appeal. I think it was the repetition. OK, we didn't have to go through every one of his fifteen lives in full detail, but even so, by the time I'd got to life no 3, I was ready to move on to something else.
Harry August is a 'Kalachakra', a person who repeats their life over and over, yet, although he begins in the same place under the same circumstances every time, he is able to make choices along the way. One time around he might help in the garden of the large house where his father is gardener, another time he opts to study law, yet again he may decide to be a scientist. He is unusual amongst the Kalachakra in that he can remember each life in full detail and take this information forward with him.
I liked the concept of the novel, especially the ability the Kalachakra have to pass messages forward and backwards in time. The characters were well flushed out, complete with differences from life to life, though this could be a bit difficult to recall in following lives. I was a bit puzzled as to how these changes from life to life didn't result in major event changes further forwards in time, but I'll let that pass.
The pace of the book picks up about half way through when a message passes back from the future, that the end of the world is coming sooner with each life. Harry finally has an aim in his life and sets out to find out who is causing this change and put a stop to it if he can.
We had a good discussion on the book at our book group and it certainly raises some interesting concepts, but I could have done with 100 pages less, probably removed from the early part of the book; maybe then, it wouldn't have lost my interest.(less)
I have graded this book according to my enjoyment of it, but I do feel that under different circumstances I might have been givi...moreA strong French ruler.
I have graded this book according to my enjoyment of it, but I do feel that under different circumstances I might have been giving it a higher rating. There were two problems; firstly my complete lack of knowledge of French history, which meant that all the names were new to me and I had nothing to relate the events to, other than English history of the time. Secondly, I was listening to the abridged audiobook which, I would assume, includes all the dry facts, without the background detail that makes history so fascinating. In addition, I notice other reviewers referring to the fabulous colour photographs and, of course, these would have been absent.
In spite of the issues with the abridged audiobook, I did come away with a distinct image of Catherine de Medici and that era of French History. It has also made me aware of the problems caused by disease, namely syphilis and tuberculosis, which killed and disabled several important members of the French ruling family. Catherine de Medici was a ruthless queen, who only attained power due to the death of her husband, Henry. She was determined to hand the reigns on to her sons, but they were too young and/or sickly to take full control and so she retained power, by default, for many years.
This was a quite sympathetic picture of a lady who has been dubbed ruthless by historians over the years. I'd now be interested to read a slightly harsher version of her life, or possibly an historical fiction version. (less)
I listened to this version of Margaret Cho's life, as an unabridged audiobook, read by the author. I liked that the aut...moreA comedienne narrates her life.
I listened to this version of Margaret Cho's life, as an unabridged audiobook, read by the author. I liked that the author narrated it herself, especially when she impersonated her mother, but her male voices were painful.
I enjoyed the early part of the story the most; Margaret was a loner, picked on by the other children for being different, but she told her story without sounding overly sorry for herself. Unfortunately the second part of the book was Margaret's story of excessive drink and drugs and there was a distinct note of misery and self loathing, which quickly became irritating. This section was also too long - too many tales of drinking, partying and doing drugs, where a few examples would have done.
It was interesting how a child with no friends found a place for herself in comedy, in deriding the very things that had hurt her most in life. I had to respect her for that, even if her style of comedy is not to my taste. This book was published twelve years before I came across it and, judging by her appearances in YouTube, her career has progressed considerably since that time. (less)
This book was originally published in Arabic in 2009, but it has taken until 2014 for it to be available in English....moreBehind the scenes in Saudi Arabia.
This book was originally published in Arabic in 2009, but it has taken until 2014 for it to be available in English. It won the Arabic Booker Prize in 2010 and if it weren't for this award it would probably never have been translated. The author came to the Dubai Literature Festival this year and took great pains to explain that the book was fiction, based on no particular person, but yet represented the excesses and corruption that were rife in his country.
It was not an easy read. I was shocked by the violence and abuse very early on in the book and would have abandoned it had I not been reading it for a book group. It's not a pleasant book, yet I'm glad I read it for the insights it gave me.
Tariq narrates his story, from a poverty stricken childhood, running and fighting in the back streets of Jeddah, to his job in the Palace that has been built on the waterfront of the village, blocking off their livelihood and recreation. The vast Palace sits in a hugely imposing compound and for most villagers, represents some mysterious unknown. For those who do get to pass its gates, it is not the promised land, rather a debauched centre for excesses, and corruption. Once Tariq begins work there, in 'the punishment squad', there is no way back and he becomes more and more tainted by his work.
The author's aim was to show how extreme wealth and power can corrupt and damage all who come into contact with them. In my opinion he did this successfully and the impact of this book will remain with me for some time. (less)
I had previously read Whatever You Love by Louise Doughty and loved it, I gave it 5 stars. I admired the auth...moreMiddle-aged woman has sordid love affair.
I had previously read Whatever You Love by Louise Doughty and loved it, I gave it 5 stars. I admired the author's way with words and was totally absorbed by the book. Apple Tree Yard was also beautifully written, but I was not grabbed by the subject matter. A middle-aged woman who spontaneously decides to have sex with a complete stranger and then discovers it comes with a price, did not generate my sympathy at all.
Yvonne Charmicael is in a somewhat staid marriage with a husband who she loves but has grown bored of. She has a satisfying career as a geneticist, but is reducing her hours towards semi-retirement. Her daughter is in a stable relationship, but her son has psychological problems and I'd have preferred the book to have been more about him. Yvonne's love interest does not sound particularly sweep-you-off-your-feet-handsome. He is also married but that doesn't seem to stop him from chasing women for sex; I just couldn't understand how he was so successful at this!
I'm not a great fan of courtroom dramas and a large part of this book does take place in a courtroom. However, the psychological observations planted throughout the court case did make it somewhat more interesting. Still, the book slowed at this stage and I was ready for the end when it finally arrived. I did care what the verdict was, I hadn't completely lost interest in the characters by then, but I was definitely ready to move on to my next read.
This started out well but I lost interest when the author started to use the book as a platform for her views on feminism and the American attitude to...moreThis started out well but I lost interest when the author started to use the book as a platform for her views on feminism and the American attitude to the Middle East, particularly Afghanistan. It contains a great bibliography of almost all the memoirs written about life in Afghanistan and the Middle East.(less)
I wasn't sure about this book at first, I was afraid the narrator was going to be difficult to read. But just 10% in, I was completely ho...moreWell written.
I wasn't sure about this book at first, I was afraid the narrator was going to be difficult to read. But just 10% in, I was completely hooked. I read it in just 7hrs, during a long-haul flight; no TV/movies, my Kindle propped by my in-flight meal, I was totally absorbed.
Although set in Australia, there was a lot about this book that could have taken place in England, maybe about ten years earlier, but it was still very nostalgic. The narrator is Med, now in his late fifties, setting forth his whole life story in the hope of convincing a judge of his argument. We don't know what he is after until the end, but by that time we are enthralled by the ups and downs he and his family have suffered over the years.
Overington has presented us with some excellent characterisations. In addition to Med, the father, there are his three offspring, Kat, Donna Faye (nick-named Fat) and son, Blue. Donna Faye's unfortunate loser boyfriend, Paul, completes the set, along with Med's wife Pat, who is no longer around but whose absence has long lasting effects
The style of the book is interesting - we know from the start that a baby is abducted from a hospital nursery but it is well into the book that we finally discover whose baby this is and who has taken her and why. There is also an interesting mix of mental illness and overbearing authorities who take decisions from the parents, sometimes causing more problems than they solve.
An excellent read that should make for some interesting book club discussion.(less)
Jamie Ford's debut novel centres around the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Although many of these people ha...moreJapanese internment.
Jamie Ford's debut novel centres around the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Although many of these people had American citizenship and some did not even speak Japanese, they were rounded up and imprisoned in huge Collection Centres, well away from coastal and military areas. From other writing that I have read on the subject, I had the impression that lives in these camps were far more difficult and arduous than we were given to believe in this novel. In Jamie Ford's narrative, the removal of thousands of people, from their homes, with just two suitcases each, seems little more than an inconvenience.
The central character is Henry Lee, a Chinese-American, who meets Keiko Okabe at Rainier Elementary School, where they are both 'scholarshipping'. This seems to involve working in the kitchens and clearing the classrooms at the end of the day, in return for an education amongst white American kids. Henry has a very strange home life, where his father refuses to allow him to speak anything but 'American', even though neither of his parents can understand much of the language. When they discover Henry is best friends with a Japanese girl they are furious.
There are a lot of interesting cultural references pertaining to the treatment of both Chinese and Japanese by the American populace. Both are bullied in school, although Henry is supposedly on the 'right' side. He wears an 'I am Chinese' badge to distinguish him from the Japanese, who are the enemy. Now that he attends a Caucasian school, even the Chinese kids reject him, calling him 'White Devil' as they pass him on the way to school. Henry and Keiko's one friend, Sheldon, a Black-American jazz player represents another persecuted sector of the populace, although he is better off in Seattle than he had been further south.
Although this book has been very well received, I found I was a little disappointed. I find it hard to put my finger on why, but I found the language a bit off, almost as if it was written with modern English to represent a time now long passed. After a while I relaxed into it, but initially I had to skim read or I'd keep sticking on words or phrases that grated with me. There was also a slightly saccharine feel to the story, especially towards the end. Henry's prospective daughter-in-law was definitely super sickly.
For lovers of jazz there are references to the Seattle jazz scene of the time, with some atmospheric club settings. This wasn't enough for me to give it five stars, but it's still worth a read.
Also read: Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston (3.5 stars) Requiem by Francis Itani (4 stars) Internment of Japanese Canadians in Canada Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford (3.5 stars)(less)
I first came across Deborah Rodriguez as the author of the memoir, The Kabul Beauty School, which I gave 4 stars...moreAlso published as A Cup of Friendship.
I first came across Deborah Rodriguez as the author of the memoir, The Kabul Beauty School, which I gave 4 stars. She had found a need in the local community for a place for Afghani women to meet and talk, to make some money in their own right and to have an identity away from the men. In many ways The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul is along the same lines, only this time it is the expat community who meet at the coffee shop to chat and relax. Although Ms Rodruigez's second book is fiction, it draws on a lot of her experience from her time in Kabul and I sensed that she wanted to raise issues that she felt strongly about.
Sunny is the proprietor of the Kabul Coffee House, which she runs with the help of Halajan, who owns the property, Yasmina, a young girl who had been abducted from her uncle in payment of a debt, and Bashir Hadi who makes the coffee. Sunny's long term boyfriend, Tommy, works away from Kabul most of the time and she keeps herself busy with the customers. Two very different women become Sunny's friends, Isabel, a British journalist, searching for a gritty story, and Candace, a wealthy American divorcee who is in love with an Afghani man. And then there is the amazing Jack, who can do no wrong.
I liked the premise of the story; the issues that the author obviously wanted to discuss, but I couldn't reconcile these with the way the book was written. Ms Rodruigez says that she employed an editor because she herself is no writer, unfortunately the editor she employed has let her down. There were so many glaring grammatical errors, word repetitions and poor sentences that I started to highlight them on my Kindle - and could quote them here if my Kindle hadn't suffered death-by-coffee soon after I read the book. There were also many weak links in the storyline. There was no explanation as to how Sunny came to be running a coffee shop on Halajan's premises, with Halajan employed there. I couldn't believe Tommy's sudden change of heart towards the end, and Yazmina's adoption into the staff of the coffee shop was painfully predictable. I could go on......
Although I didn't rate the writing style, I did feel this novel had something to offer in terms of Afghani literature. Issues such as the lack of control by women, the fate of pregnant women without obvious male support, women in jail and the development of madrassas, all need to come into the open and this is what this book achieves. With better editing this could have been a good read.(less)
I'm sure that, if it weren't for the TV series of Dalziel and Pascoe, I would not have been listening to this abridged version o...moreA blast from the past.
I'm sure that, if it weren't for the TV series of Dalziel and Pascoe, I would not have been listening to this abridged version of a crime story that was originally published in 1971. This audio version was narrated by Warren Clarke, which was great for the voice of Dalziel, but confusing when Pascoe spoke.
I've only ever read one other Daliziel and Pascoe story, which was set in a beer swilling rugby club, where Dalziel felt at home. This time Pascoe and I were both more comfortable on a university campus, where the ex-principal's remains are found under a statue that is to be removed in the wake of modernisation. Members of staff and students are all suspects when not one, but two further murders occur.
I thought I was going to rate this higher, but the denouement was disappointing and the murderer(s) seemingly selected at random from the choices available. Possibly this lost something by being abridged, no doubt some clues had been omitted, but there seemed little evidence to allow Dalziel and Pascoe to arrive at their conclusion.
I would listen to another abridgment from this series, if one came my way, but I doubt I would be inclined to read a full length book. They are now very dated in comparison to crime novels currently available.(less)
I have just watched two short videos on GoodReads, presented by Anish Majumdar, who went through a lot of the...moreThe devastating effects of schizophrenia.
I have just watched two short videos on GoodReads, presented by Anish Majumdar, who went through a lot of the anguish that the fictional Neil endures. Anish's mother also had a ten year battle with schizophrenia and his father was financially crippled by the experience, but stuck by her throughout. I feel a real heel giving this book a poor rating because I really sympathise with what the author is trying to portray, but at the end of the day, it's the book itself that I am rating and I couldn't relax into this one, and not because of the traumatic nature of its content. None of the characters connected with me and the background of students struggling through a drama course didn't resonate as anything more than a soap opera.
The story revolves around Neil, who needs to get away from the situation with his mother and copes only by keeping tho two parts of his life separate. He lacks in social graces, possibly from trying to hide his home situation from his peers, though I wasn't sure if we were supposed to sense some lurking mental illness within him too. His mother's sister bails him out with his college fees and he meets Tim, his girlfriend Emily, and Emily's friend, Quincy. There are complex interactions between these characters, and I can't say I liked any of them, but the person I disliked most was their tutor, Gary, who enjoyed putting his students through endless embarrassing scenarios, to what end I was never sure.
Meanwhile Neil's mother is back in the hospital being treated for a relapse and enduring further degradations of her own. The isolation door of the title seemed particularly brutal. I was horrified by the treatment Priya endured and failed to see how she was supposed to stand any hope of recovery when she is cowed at every move.
If the author's intention was to portray a sense of confusion and desperation, then he did a good job. No-one seemed able to communicate with each other and bounced around like disconnected ping-pong balls. However, I did come away with a clear sense of the devastation, both emotional and financial, that mental illness could cause.(less)
I loved Yiyun Li's previous book, The Vagrants (5 stars), but I just didn't click with The Kindness of Solitude in...moreDeath would be kinder than solitude.
I loved Yiyun Li's previous book, The Vagrants (5 stars), but I just didn't click with The Kindness of Solitude in the same way. I found this latest book to be a much denser read, with too much philosophising for my taste. It was also billed as a mystery around who was responsible for the poisoning that is central to the novel, but there was no twist, we knew early on who had committed the crime.
Ruyu is an orphan, who was very lucky to be adopted by the two ladies on whose doorstep she was left. She is less fortunate that they seem to be emotionally stunted and raise her to be the same way. She is sent to Beijing at the age of fifteen, to live with a family and go to a school that recognises her talents for the accordion. The family's daughter is several years older and they must share a bed in the small house in the communal quadrangle. There she meets Moran and Boyang, who are of a similar age to her, and they all go to school together.
'The poisoning' is alluded to early on in the book and we gradually gather various facts pertaining to this incident. Meanwhile there are frequent diversions both back and forward in time, which are well handled, if somewhat erratic. This event was a turning point in the lives of everyone involved and Moran and Ruyu emigrate to America, while Boyang remains in Beijing. A large part of the book is spent with these characters as adults. They all seem to be struggling to find a place in the world, failing at both marriages and friendships.
For me, there was too much about how the characters felt and why they felt that way. I enjoyed the book most when the narrative took over from the psychological analysis. However, I did enjoy the image of the communal quadrangle, with all the families working together as a unit, sharing what little they had. I would highly recommend The Vagrants, but The Kindness of Solitude was disappointing in comparison.(less)