Every night Minli's father tells her stories full of fabulous adventures and mythical characters like the Old Man of the Moon, who reads the book of d...moreEvery night Minli's father tells her stories full of fabulous adventures and mythical characters like the Old Man of the Moon, who reads the book of destiny and ties people's fates together with red string. One day Minli decides to set off on her own adventure to find the Old Man of the Moon and ask him how to change her family's fortune. Along the way she meets a dragon, a king, and the fearsome Green Tiger. Everyone she meets has a story to tell, and each story leads her closer to her goal. Minli's quick wit gets her out of many tough situations, but it gets her into many as well.
When Grace Lin rejected her Asian heritage as a child her mother left a few books of Chinese folklore to tempt her on the shelves. Lin loved the tales despite their often sparse translations and wound up filling in the details in her head. That experience along with her travels in Hong Kong, China, and Taiwan inspired this novel. Her love of the material is evident throughout and I love the way she wove stories into the narrative, setting them aside in a different font and bold, bright headings. I also love the illustrations Lin peppers throughout. There's nothing terribly deep to consider and it's definitely juvenile fiction but the stories and illustrations are so charming that I thoroughly enjoyed it anyways. This would definitely be a great book to read aloud.
Finding a dead child curled up in the peat is a difficult way to start off your day, but these are difficult times for Fergus and the child ends up be...moreFinding a dead child curled up in the peat is a difficult way to start off your day, but these are difficult times for Fergus and the child ends up being the least of his worries. The year is 1981 and Ireland is in the midst of a violent conflict called The Troubles. Fergus's only hope of getting away is to earn good enough grades on his finals to go to school in Scotland, but how is he supposed to study with his brother slowly dying in a hunger strike in prison? And what should he do when his older brother's best friend tries to get him to run goods across the border for the Irish Republican Army? In the meantime the child ends up being an archaeological find preserved by the bog and Fergus has to play host to the archaeologist and her daughter that come to investigate. Is voting for a cause enough, or should Fergus act? Will his brother survive? Will they uncover the mystery of the bog child?
I really enjoyed this book because it does a good job presenting the situation at the time as well as depicting the fact that every day life does continue even during difficult times. Fergus's brother is in danger of dying in a protest, but he still has to study for his finals and practice for his driving test. He still forms a crush on the archaeologist's cute daughter. Life goes on, even in the midst of death. I also enjoy the parallel story of the bog child that is revealed through Fergus's dreams and the friendship he forges with a soldier for the other side. This book does not have any easy answers, and I love that. One thing that did bug me about the book is the fact that nothing is written in dialect except when the characters curse. I guess parents are less likely to object to fecking, but that seems like a cop out to me. If you don't want to write the dialogue in dialect so it's easier for kids to understand, fine, but be consistent with it. Still, I enjoyed the book and would recommend it, especially for its insights to a conflict that I think most American teenagers are largely ignorant of, and probably plenty of American adults as well.
Jameela has never had much, but she does have a roof over her head, even if the floor is dirt. And food to eat, however simple it may be. And most imp...moreJameela has never had much, but she does have a roof over her head, even if the floor is dirt. And food to eat, however simple it may be. And most importantly, she has her mother, her 'mor'. With her cleft lip she has never considered herself beautiful, but she has always tried to be good. But when she wakes up one morning to find her mother dead there's an even larger cleft created her in life. Her father moves her to town where she works as a servant, then he marries a selfish woman, and ultimately abandons her. Jameela tries to be good, but she can't help missing her mother, wanting mor.
This novel, based on a true story, is set during the 2001 Afghanistan war and it does a wonderful job depicting the life of a girl growing up at the time. The descriptions describe the setting in a matter-of-fact way without exoticizing things with a glossary in back to refer to for unfamiliar words. The cruelty and despair of the times are depicted alongside acts of kindness and hope. The narrative is clear and easy to understand and while it does depict some harsh situations it does so in a way that is appropriate for younger readers. I'd say that this book is on the younger side of the YA scale and is great reading for a preteens and teens who want to better understand life in Afganhistan. However, I think it is a bit too juvenile to be really enjoyed by and useful to adults. For an adult description of modern life in Afghanistan for women I'd recommend A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. I loved this book and, while not appropriate for younger readers, it really gives a lot for an adult reader to reflect on.
*****WARNING THIS IS A REVIEW OF A SEQUEL AND THEREFORE WILL INCLUDE SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST BOOK: HUNGER GAMES****
When Katniss called the capitol's bl...more*****WARNING THIS IS A REVIEW OF A SEQUEL AND THEREFORE WILL INCLUDE SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST BOOK: HUNGER GAMES****
When Katniss called the capitol's bluff by pulling out the poisoned berries she unwittingly sparked the flames of a revolution that took up her mockingjay token as its symbol. She's out of the frying pan of the games, but she landed in the fire. Now she has to convince the citizens of panem that she acted out of love, not rebellion or her family and friends will pay the price. Should she run? Should she join the revolution? Should she play along with the capitol and hope they'll show forgiveness? In the meantime life is becoming harder for the citizens of district twelve as military presence increases and rules are more strictly enforced. Soon, as the next Games approaches her choices are taken away and she has a new set of problems to face. Will her rebellious spark be catching and start a revolution to save them all, or will Katniss, the girl on fire, be caught by the capitol in a plot to put out her own flame and the revolution in one fell swoop?
Have you ever wondered what happens to unwanted items that get left on the curb? Sometimes they get picked up, but sometimes they end up in Parisn't,...moreHave you ever wondered what happens to unwanted items that get left on the curb? Sometimes they get picked up, but sometimes they end up in Parisn't, or Sans Francisco, or UnLondon. UnLondon is a land full of objects and technologies that are Mostly Obsolete In London and peopled by characters who aren't always actually people at all. In a land where giraffes are feared predators and words quite literally come alive it isn't surprising that prophesies aren't always entirely correct. But prophesy or no, someone still has to save UnLondon from the Smog. Will a young girl, a half-ghost, a word-tailor, a bus conductor, and an empty carton of sour milk be able to get to Webminster Abbey in time to find the UnGun, or will their plans go up in smoke and feed the Smog?
I liked Un Lun Dun from the moment I read the note to the reader at the beginning explaining that even though British and Americans sometimes use different words they can usually understand each other just fine, so British slang was left in for the American edition with a small glossary added to the back to refer to if needed. I still think it's ridiculous that any book would feel the need to translate a British book into American English, even for juvenile fiction. News flash: children pick up on new languages faster than adults anyways!
This note is typical of this novel in that it does not talk down to children or oversimplify things to make it more accessible. I particularly enjoy the fact that this book plays around with the Prophesied Epic Quest trope which is something few adult books even attempt. This book wasn't the most well-written or thought-provoking I've ever read, but it is certainly well above average writing and more thought provoking than many adult novels I've read. Mieville's imagination in the creation of UnLondon is also so charming that I found the book well worth the read just for the ideas introduced: extreme librarian bookaneers, trash can binjas, smog-possessed smombies...how could I not love it? I've heard the book compared to Alice in Wonderland and Neverwhere, but it reminded me most of Phantom Tollbooth. If you like any of those books, however, I'd give this one a try.
The feeling I got the most while reading the book is that McCall Smith was writing what he thought his audience would like rather than what he actuall...moreThe feeling I got the most while reading the book is that McCall Smith was writing what he thought his audience would like rather than what he actually felt compelled to write.
All of the culprits in the cases are men: cheating husbands, freeloading men, greedy men, lazy men, etc. There are a few men who are painted in a positive light, but the ONLY woman painted in a negative light is the witch doctor's wife who is only bad through her connection to a man. This black and white good and bad is not only boring it's poor character development. There isn't a single character in there who isn't a stereotype including the supposed protagonist Mma Ramotse the fat, motherly, no-nonsense woman who uses her feminine intuition to get by. Really? McCall Smith, really?
Overall it's competently written and I'm probably over-analyzing what is meant to be a beach read, but that's just who I am. It falls under a category I like to call "chewing gum for the mind" because it will keep you occupied without providing any nutritional value. I just don't like chewing gum.
The Likeness is by the Irish novelist Tana French. It is a thriller about Cassie Maddox, an under-cover cop who creates an alternate personality for h...moreThe Likeness is by the Irish novelist Tana French. It is a thriller about Cassie Maddox, an under-cover cop who creates an alternate personality for herself, Lexie Madison, to use in infiltrating a drug ring. When Cassie gets stabbed during under-cover she is transferred to the Murder squad, and after a particularly nasty case there she ends up working for the apparently quieter domestic violence unit. She’s still recovering her nerves when her doppelganger shows up murdered, going by the name Lexie Madison—the fake identify Cassie created years ago. Lexie lived with four other English literature grad students in an old house called Whitethorn that one of them inherited. They have no idea what Lexie’s real identity is, and Lexie doesn’t seem to have any connections to anyone other than the people she lived with, and they’re not giving anything away. The case seems impossible to penetrate from the outside, so they decide to work it from the inside. They tell Lexie’s housemates that she’s recovered and going back home and Cassie goes back under cover as Lexie to try to get to the bottom of the case. There’s other plot lines about Cassie’s boyfriend cop who can always be counted on to do the right and boring thing, and Cassie being emo about her checkered past but I couldn’t bring myself to care about them and feel no need to discuss them.
The thing that kept me reading was the dynamic among the grad students. They don’t have a T.V. when they’re not studying in the library they’re working on the crazy old house or reading or playing cards and listening to old records. One of them restores the embroidery on an antique footstool and stitches new clothes for an old doll she finds. One makes obscure literary references when drunk. Throughout it all they stick together and quip back and forth and create their own bastion against reality in Whitethorn house. The only problem is that whenever any group of people pits itself against the world, the world will always eventually win. The world has infinite patience and all the time, well, in the world. And the longer you lock reality out and keep it circling round your house the more pissed off it will be when it finally gets in.
The novel made me long for the year that I spent living with four college students in a crazy house in a way that only a book about murder can. Still, my love of the characters did not cloud my judgment so much as to miss the fact that the novel really wasn’t particularly well-written. It had all the unexpected twists that you expect from a modern thriller. I was also disappointed by the way that French occasionally mentioned one character not liking another because of their city dialect but the reader couldn’t really glimpse the dialect from the dialogue. I felt like if it was so important then I should be able to tell for myself rather than just being told that so and so had a Dublin dialect. Occasionally she would write “ye” or add an extraneous “sure” (she didn’t believe in writing in dialect, sure) but it was pretty sparsely peppered through. As much as I didn’t like Crow Road dialect was at least one area where it excelled, especially over this novel. I also didn’t like the way the ending dragged on. I hate the French no-dénouement ending as much as the next person but this novel kept going on for a while after I’d lost interest and it was only habit that kept me reading to the bitter end. Overall I’d give it four stars out of five, but only because I loved the characters too much to give it a three.
“You can have anything you want as long as you accept that there is a price and that you will have to pay it.”
“If you are absolutely sure of something, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll eventually persuade people who aren’t sure one way or the other.”
“Regardless of what the advertising campaigns may tell us, we can’t have it all. Sacrifice is not an option, or an anachronism; it’s a fact of life. We all cut off our own limbs to burn on some altar. The crucial thing is to choose an altar that’s worth it and a limb you can accept losing. To go consenting to the sacrifice.”
I have been on quite the lucky streak as far as books go, if nothing else. Perhaps it is because I’ve had more desire to escape and throw myself into...moreI have been on quite the lucky streak as far as books go, if nothing else. Perhaps it is because I’ve had more desire to escape and throw myself into a fictional world lately so I’m more willing to let the author lead me along. Whatever the cause I simply adored Rebecca. From the opening line: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again” to the last: “And the ashes blew towards us with the salt wind from the sea.” I was completely absorbed by this novel and its world. The narrator is a middle-aged woman remembering events that changed her life forever. These events begin in Monte Carlo when the narrator was just a slip of a 21 year-old out of school and unsure of herself and trying to figure out where her life was headed—which, of course, I was not able to relate to AT ALL. I only hope that soon I’ll be able to look back with the same kind of perspective the narrator displays and see how ridiculous all my insecurities and worries were after all. If only there was a rich widower to fall in love with me, maybe I should take a holiday abroad. At any rate that’s exactly what happens to our narrator, the young orphan (why is it always the orphans who have all the fun in these novels?) who goes from being a paid companion to an obnoxious middle-aged woman to being Mrs. De Winter, the mistress of the famous Manderley practically overnight. Of course the novel can’t end there or it would be terribly boring and sentimental, so after the honey moon is over the couple returns to Manderley where our young narrator ends up living in the shadow of the previous Mrs. De Winter, Rebecca. She sits at Rebecca’s desk in the morning and eats Rebecca’s favorite foods and is surrounded by Rebecca’s favorite flowers. Everyone seems disappointed when they meet her and she begins to fear that she is a poor replacement for the beautiful and spirited Rebecca who kept Manderley full of guests and glamour. The housekeeper, the terrifying Mrs. Danvers, in particular seems intent on keepig Rebecca's memory alive in the house and targets our narrator as an enemy from the minute she enters the house. Despite all this our narrator knows almost nothing about Rebecca, and her husband is very reluctant to talk of that particular subject. I would have been more annoyed with the narrator for not having the sense to strike her own path and redecorate and buy her own things instead of constantly worry about how Rebecca would have done something if I couldn’t tell that she was frustrated at herself for the exact same reason. Besides if I criticized her too much for being timid and trying to please everyone even when she knew she should and wanted to do otherwise I’d be the worst kind of hypocrite. I’ve heard this novel called a mystery and an anti-marriage treatise but to me it was a romance, as I feel it was to the narrator as well. I don’t believe that this book is a caution against marriage as a rule so much as it is about going into a marriage with caution. It contains a lot about mistakes one can make in marriage, but hearing about other’s mistakes is how we learn. To me the novel wasn’t about Rebecca, but rather on the effect that Rebecca had on the relationship between Mr. and Mrs. de Winter. Whatever genre it is, however, I’d give it five stars.
“Happiness is not a possession to be prized, it is a quality of thought, a state of mind.”
“I am glad it cannot happen twice, the fever of first love. For it is a fever, and a burden, too, whatever the poets may say.”
The Bus Driver Who Wanted to be God & Other Stories is a collection of stories by the popular Israeli author Etgar Keret. The author I was most re...moreThe Bus Driver Who Wanted to be God & Other Stories is a collection of stories by the popular Israeli author Etgar Keret. The author I was most reminded of while reading the collection is Roald Dahl. It contained much of the same kind of off-beat humor and unexpected twists that I love Dahl for, although in Keret’s collection the stories were basically brief comedic gags and the twists were just a part of the humor where as Dahl’s stories tend to be longer mysteries and all the dark humor is incidental to the big build up of the final twist. Regardless Keret reminded me of Dahl much more than the lukewarm Heavenly Date and other Flirtations by Alexander McCall Smith, which contained a review linking the two on the cover. Keret’s stories are each so unique that I can’t possibly summarize the collection. The best I can do is share two of my favorite quotes from it; the first is the openingline of a story and the second the closing line of another story:
“Korbi was a punk like all punks. The kind where it’s hard to tell if they’re mainly ugly or mainly stupid.”
“There are two kinds of people, those who like to sleep next to the wall, and those who like to sleep next to the people who push them off the bed.”
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this collection and I was thrilled to find an author who so thoroughly satisfies my particular short-story tastes that is still living and I look forward to reading more from Keret. Five stars.
The Crow Road by Iain Banks begins with the memorable line "It was the day my grandmother exploded." This line is, in fact, a good indication of the r...moreThe Crow Road by Iain Banks begins with the memorable line "It was the day my grandmother exploded." This line is, in fact, a good indication of the rest of the novel. This novel is full of similarly pithy one-liners and hooks (another good example being the start of chapter five: "Right, now this isn't as bad as it sounds, but...I was in bed with my Aunty Janice.") but unfortunately aside from amusing me with the occasional one-liner the book didn't do much for me.
At first, due to the vertiginous style of narrative and its constant switches in time and focus it is hard to pin point any one main character or plot except that all the vignettes center around one family. With time, however, it becomes apparent that novel is following a main character, Prentice, through a fairly linear plot with the rest being flashbacks and the like to relevant scenes in the history of his family, whose sordid past he uncovers throughout the novel.
The history of the family seems to be more eventful than the average one, but not to an unrealistic degree. The novel begins at Prentice's Grandmother's funeral where we meet the family. In order of appearance, more or less, they are Uncle Hamish, who is possessed of several peculiar ideas about religion and how one's life is tallied up after death; Prentice's father Kenneth, a devout atheist who Prentice is currently not speaking to over religious differences; Prentice's little brother James, who spends most of the novel in Australia and doesn't appear to do much worth mentioning in the novel other than being moody and listening to his Walkman; Prentice's mother Mary, who is generally warm and loving and motherly; Aunt Ilsa the world traveler, Uncle Rory who rode off on a stolen motorcycle years ago and hasn't been heard from since, Prentice's older, and if you ask Prentice smarter, funnier, and all-around better, brother Lewis; Uncle Fergus, the widow of Prentice's Aunt Fiona and father of twins, he is also the richest and most powerful man in town and the uncle of Verity whose beauty is matched only by her poor taste in men and who has won Prentice's heart. Last but not least I'd be remiss if I did not mention Ashley, who is not a member of the family, but is rather a family friend. Prentice didn't get along with her much during school and in fact broke her nose with a snowball containing a rock. Despite this fact she spends a fair amount of time in the novel taking care of him while he blubbers drunkenly.
All of these people and more populate the novel following a rather predictable path based on the introductions given at the beginning of the novel. I don't recall being surprised by any incident in the novel, which is saying something for a novel that mostly just bounces from incident to incident. A large number of said incidents seem to involve sex or large amounts of alcohol, or both. At what might be called the climax of the book (pun totally intended) a very controlled movement of certain muscles in a pulse-like fashion leads to one character confessing their love to another in Morse code.
Overall the novelty of the bizarre incidents and one-liners wore off pretty quickly and I didn't find anything particularly deep to sink my teeth into. The only part of the book that was even remotely challenging was the non-linear plot structure, but after latching onto the one main through line even that was relatively easy to deal with. There were a couple interesting bits contemplating religion or death, but overall nothing that I haven't seen said before and said better. When I finished the novel there wasn't any issue that I was left pondering or anything at all that really stayed with me. The main thought that went through my head at the end was a vague feeling of disappointment that it ended in more or less exactly the way I had predicted at the beginning.
To be fair I'm not a fan of strictly realistic fiction. A second fact that might bias me against the book is that it contains a lot of contemplation on religion and despite the fact that it is of a mostly atheistic bent I just don't find religion to be quite as interesting a subject for infinite contemplation as most people seem to. With those disclaimers in mind I'd give the book three stars out of five.
People can be teachers and idiots; they can be philosophers and idiots, they can be politicians and idiots…in fact I think they have to be…a genius can be an idiot. The world is largely run for and by idiots; it is no great handicap in life and in certain areas is actually a distinct advantage and even a prerequisite for advancement. Iain Banks, The Crow Road
“Fairness is something we made up,” he said. “It’s an idea. The universe isn’t fair or unfair; it works by mathematics, physics, chemistry, biochemistry…Things happen; it takes a mind to come along and call them fair or not.” Iain Banks, The Crow Road
“Prentice, have you been reading crime novels instead of your history books?”
I gave a small laugh. “No. The worst crimes are always in the history books, anyway.” Iain Banks, The Crow Road
In a time after the collapse of the United States the capitol city of a nation called Panem rules over 12 districts with a campaign of fear. The citiz...moreIn a time after the collapse of the United States the capitol city of a nation called Panem rules over 12 districts with a campaign of fear. The citizens of the capitol enjoy lavish parties and extreme fashions while children in the outer districts struggle just to fill their bellies. The districts tried to rebel once, and the result was the total destruction of district thirteen and the creation of the Hunger Games. To remind the districts of just how helpless they are the capitol hosts its own extreme reality TV show each year. The participants are 24 children--a boy and girl between the ages of 12 and 18 from each district. The location changes annually and can range from a barren desert to a jungle full of vicious genetically altered predators. The goal: to be the last child left alive.