This is a painful review to write, I am a huge fan of Amy Tan, but this book was one long slog of a read.
Set in Shanghai from 1897 through 1937, with...moreThis is a painful review to write, I am a huge fan of Amy Tan, but this book was one long slog of a read.
Set in Shanghai from 1897 through 1937, with some small asides in San Francisco and New York, this is the story of three generations of women who live lives that fluctuate from one extreme to another. Violet is raised in her mother’s First Class Courtesan house, living a life of privilege. When her mother, Lulu decides to move back to her home of San Francisco they are separated which leads Violet to stay in Shanghai and follow much of the same life her mother escaped. The main focus of the book, a good 75% is all about Violet, with her mother’s life and eventually her daughter Flora’s story taking up the rest.
My problems with this book are numerous. It is quite clear that Amy Tan did a great deal of research for this book, in fact in her afterword states that it took eight years to write the book. However, the fact that you have a ton of research doesn’t mean you should put it all in your book. Quite honestly 45 pages describing every nuance of a courtesan’s sexual training is over the top. Every dress, hairdo, piece of jewelry, item of furniture, curtain, book and knick-knack doesn’t need to be expounded on. It seemed where one word would do five were written. Since this is a book about courtesans it is expected that there are sexual encounters. Many of these sexual acts are described, once again, in great detail and it is often extremely graphic and quite brutal.
The book is set in Shanghai during some of the most tumultuous times in Chinese history, yet except for some comments on how these things impacted the houses I felt like the book could have been set anywhere, I really didn’t get a feel for the time period at all. Surely this is the time when all that research should have come into play, but for the most part it doesn’t.
My biggest issue is the three women. If you are going to write a six hundred-page book at least include characters that are somewhat likeable. Lulu and Violet are two of the most self-centered, selfish, vain women ever. Clearly like mother like daughter, although Violet insists she is not like her mother she is virtually a carbon copy. One thing I didn’t understand is that both women are presented as being fairly good at business and yet they make utterly stupid choices over and over again. Violet often makes choices based on the fact that someone advices her against it so she decides to “show them” often with disastrous results. Then there is Flora who is pretty unlikeable in her own right, but there are believable reasons for that.
Last, but not least are the chapters Moon Pond Village and Heaven Mountain. These chapters were filled with so much deprivation, cruelty and depravity and it was difficult to read and I just wanted to be done by then.
I’m not the fastest reader, but it took me over a month to read this book, and I read two others while reading this, mostly because I had no desire to read the book after I put it down each day. I finished only to find out what happens in the end and I was disappointed even then because the one character I really cared about in the book, Magic Gourd, is given short shrift in the end.
So major disappointment for me. I would say the writing itself was solid but I really disliked this book and wouldn’t recommend it. (less)
I really enjoy books set in cultures that are foreign to me; I always feel I learn so much and my life is enriched in some way. I was looking forward...moreI really enjoy books set in cultures that are foreign to me; I always feel I learn so much and my life is enriched in some way. I was looking forward to this book since I know very little about Korea and the Korean culture. In that regard I did learn a great deal, however I was disappointed in this book.
The basic storyline is about an elderly woman who is separated from her husband in a busy train station and her families search for her over several months.
The main issue for me was the second person narrative, where everyone is spoken to or about as ‘you’ and it was quite difficult to figure out who was speaking and whom they were speaking about, I found this style very distracting. In addition I didn’t care for most of the characters. The grown children were self-absorbed, the father was selfish and the missing mother was extremely self-sacrificing, to the point of martyrdom. Also it seemed as if there were more than a few health issues with the missing mom that were continually overlooked or ignored, it was inevitable that something was going to happen to her.
Although the book is rather short it was often tiresome reading and despite my enjoyment of learning about Korean culture most of the rest of the book was tedious at best (less)
First off let me state that paranormal romance is not my usual cup of tea. However I didn’t know that this was a romance book, the description of the...moreFirst off let me state that paranormal romance is not my usual cup of tea. However I didn’t know that this was a romance book, the description of the book stated that Charley Davidson is a woman who sees dead people and helps the police solve crimes. I was thinking it would be a book along the lines of the TV series’ Medium or The Ghost Whisperer and I like stories about ghosts. So I started reading the book. Soon it became very clear to me that this was a paranormal romance bordering on erotica. Still I read on. Unfortunately I didn’t like the book that much, it had some moments but overall I felt the author tried too hard.
Charley Davidson does see dead people, she sees them because she is the Grim Reaper, born to apparently mortal parents and she is here to help people into the light. She consults with the Albuquerque Police Dept., helping her uncle solve murders by virtue of her inside ability to speak to the dead, especially murder victims who seem to stick around a bit longer than other dead people. She does let some people in on her secret but for the most part people just think she has an innate ability to solve crimes.
This book reminded me very much of the Stephanie Plum books, but with ghosts. Rather than being suspenseful the main character is sarcastic and trying really hard to be funny and it gets tiring after a while. There are two ‘men’ in her life, an entity that she is having some hot fantasy sex with and a very attractive cop co-worker that seems more than a little interested in Charley. I just found it a bit derivative.
If you are a fan of this genre you may really enjoy the book, it’s quite obvious this is the opening salvo of a new series. I just have no interest in moving on. (less)
Tea Obreht is one of New York magazine’s 20 under 40 list of writers to watch and at 25 she is indeed one to watch, however her debut b...more Rating: 3.5✮✮✮✮
Tea Obreht is one of New York magazine’s 20 under 40 list of writers to watch and at 25 she is indeed one to watch, however her debut book left me a little wanting.
Ostensibly the story of a young woman’s relationship with her grandfather it is also the story of what appears to be Croatia both during WWII and the more recent war of the 90’s. When Natalia learns of her grandfather’s death while she is on a medical mission she remembers many of the stories he told her when she was a child.
My main problem with the book comes from the stories of Natalie in the present, which felt flat and unemotional, much like the character of Natalie with which I felt no connection to at all. The magical stories her grandfather tells, of the tiger’s wife and the deathless man, were just that – magical, vibrant and beautifully written; just as I became immersed in that storytelling I was roughly jerked back to the present and that storyline never jelled for me.
Make no mistake this is definitely an author worth reading; at times her prose is mesmerizing and you just get lost in the tale but there were times I felt totally disconnected from the storyline. Seeing as this is her debut and she is only twenty-five I am sure this is someone who has many more tales to tell and I look forward to reading them. (less)
I enjoyed Carrie Fisher's Postcards from the Edge, a thinly veiled story of her own struggles with drugs and alcohol. This book continues the story of...moreI enjoyed Carrie Fisher's Postcards from the Edge, a thinly veiled story of her own struggles with drugs and alcohol. This book continues the story of Suzanne Vale, and her struggle with a diagnosis of manic depression. When Suzanne decides to go off her meds she spirals down into a psychotic episode and ultimately ends up in a mental hospital. Carrie Fisher’s writing is sharp and funny with splashes of brilliant phrasing. Although Suzanne’s descent into madness is scary, the sharp writing made this an enjoyable read. A tale of survival laced with scathing views of Hollywood life. (less)
False Mermaid is the third book in a series that began with Haunted Ground and continued through Lake of Sorrows. All three books fo...moreRating: 3.5/5*****
False Mermaid is the third book in a series that began with Haunted Ground and continued through Lake of Sorrows. All three books focus on Nora Gavin, an American pathologist who has been living in Ireland studying bog bodies, those bodies that have been trapped and preserved in the bog land of the country. In her work she has come to care for Cormac McCarthy, an archaeologist. An undercurrent in the first two books is the story of Nora’s sister Triona, who had been murdered several years earlier; a murder Nora is convinced was carried out by Triona’s husband. Realizing that she cannot move forward in her life Nora returns to America to try and find out the truth about her sister’s death. This search forms the basis for False Mermaid.
I very much liked both Haunted Ground and Lake of Sorrows, they were beautifully written and the mysteries in both books were very layered and interesting. Unfortunately False Mermaid did not equal the lyricism of the earlier books. The main problem is the book is set in Minnesota, which doesn’t allow for a lot of the atmosphere that the books set in Ireland were filled with and it doesn’t incorporate as much history and archaeological procedures that were incorporated into those books. It is probably therefore no surprise that for me the book doesn’t pick up until Nora returns to Ireland in the latter third of the book.
One of the other problems with this book were the overwhelming prevalence of coincidences; there were so many of them, from finding a book in a library that had not been moved in 5 years, to the appearance of a homeless person wearing a sweatshirt that once belonged to Triona’s husband and appears to be stained with blood (again 5 years later). There were enough of those moments to take me out of the story. There is also an old mystery that Cormac is intrigued by, concerning the fable of selkies, supposed half seal - half human beings. The constant seal sightings or stories about seals and the mysticism surrounding them overwhelmed the storyline and again seemed just too coincidental and too piled on.
I gave the book 3.5 stars because there were moments of very good story telling; just not as fine as her previous books. If she does return with a fourth book I hope she keeps it in Ireland and focuses more on the anthropological mysteries; Ms Hart does those much better than this run of the mill murder mystery. (less)
I loved Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, so I was looking forward to Jamie Ford’s new book. However I was disappointed in Songs of Willow Fros...moreI loved Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, so I was looking forward to Jamie Ford’s new book. However I was disappointed in Songs of Willow Frost.
It’s 1934 and William Eng is living in Sacred Heart Orphanage in Seattle. He has been there since his mother died 5 years earlier. When William sees a movie starring Willow Frost he is convinced that the actress is his mother, so he sets out to find her.
While the premise of the story is good the execution is not. There are a number of stereotypical villains; a cruel nun, a vicious stepfather, uncaring stepmother etc. The story was frequently melodramatic and was so bleak at times it was hard to read; after a time I became inured to all the terrible things that happened to Willow.
William is supposed to be 12 years old, but he often thought and spoke as an adult and that was off-putting. I also found it hard to believe that a boy and his young blind companion could roam the streets of Seattle for days without arousing suspicion.
It’s clear that a lot of research went into this book and a lot of the information about the movie business at that time was very interesting, but overall the book fell flat for me. (less)
The book opens with the two sisters, Milly and Twiss living together. They are elderly spinster sisters still living in their family home; we go back...moreThe book opens with the two sisters, Milly and Twiss living together. They are elderly spinster sisters still living in their family home; we go back and forth between the present and 1947, the year their parent’s marriage fell apart and the year their cousin Bett came to live with them. Twiss is a tomboy wild child and Milly is a beautiful young woman, dreaming of marriage and children. With Bett’s arrival their world is turned completely around, in ways they never anticipated.
The main problem with the book is we already know the ending of Milly and Twiss’ story, and while I was interested in finding out what happened the book moved very slowly and I could put it down for days at a time. I had mostly figured out what happened before the denouement, I don’t think it was much of a surprise. Although I liked the two sisters characterizations, I did not care for either of the parents and I think the decision one of the sisters makes at the end was totally unbelievable. Without revealing too much I just thought it was preposterous. In addition there is a sub-plot involving the town priest that added very little to the overall story and every time it was brought into the story it was very jarring. I also find it odd that decisions made as young girls defined the two sisters entire lives, they could never move on from that year and I just don’t buy that.
I did enjoy some of the descriptions of small town life in the 40’s, in particular the scenes at the local county fair, but overall I found the book very disappointing. I also found the title a little misleading, since the healing of the birds is a very small part of the story.
The majority of the reviewers at Amazon gave the book 5 stars, but it obviously was not my cup of tea.(less)
Disappointing. I thought the book had a good premise, the stories center around the inhabitants of one building on Park Avenue in NY, across a period...moreDisappointing. I thought the book had a good premise, the stories center around the inhabitants of one building on Park Avenue in NY, across a period of thirty years.
The book had a great opening chapter, but in the end I don't think there was enough character development. I don't like books that don't delve into why characters act in certain ways, and this book just gave a serious of vignettes of several characters without giving enough why's to their stories. I came to like several of the story lines and characters in the book and would have enjoyed reading more about them.(less)
This is my second book in the Harry Hole series, and while I greatly enjoyed The Snowman I found The Leopard to be convoluted, improbable and hugely o...moreThis is my second book in the Harry Hole series, and while I greatly enjoyed The Snowman I found The Leopard to be convoluted, improbable and hugely over the top.
I like Harry Hole he is a deeply flawed man, consumed by his demons and yet still has great instincts in understanding the mind of a serial killer. At the start of this installment in the series Harry is in Hong Kong where he is drowning his sorrows over the end of a relationship. When he is asked to come back to Oslo to help with a new set of related killings he refuses until he learns his father is dying. Slowly he gets drawn back into helping his former boss and trying to solve the case.
Nesbo knows this character inside out and really portrays Harry’s pain and isolation. His writing is taut and the plotting complex. The main problem is that the plot became a little too complicated, there were so many twists and turns and so many characters that I had a very hard time keeping them straight. In addition the murders were extremely gruesome and described in excruciating detail, after a while the narrative became tiresome. In addition Harry, a long time alcoholic, smoker and drug user, escapes death with what can only be called super human powers requiring a complete suspension of belief. After having the rug pulled out from under me a few times I just wanted the book to end, it seemed interminable. My final complaint is the ending. I am not a fan of books telling and not showing. We get to the end and there are pages of the killer explaining to his next victim how and why he “did it”. I found that very unsatisfying.
I think that three stars maybe a little generous, but I do like the main character and I like the writing in general. I would like to read another book featuring Harry Hole, so I think two stars was a little harsh; it is a rating I give for books that are below average and this was along the lines of an average read, I was just expecting more. (less)
The story of a mining town told through the lives of the members of one family was initially very interesting....moreI was rather disappointed in this book.
The story of a mining town told through the lives of the members of one family was initially very interesting. What I found disconcerting is the jumping around in time, sometimes going forward into the future, and then coming back to tell the story, at other times going backwards to explain an event. The characters of the family were clearly delineated, the saintly widowed mother who dotes on her youngest children. Dorothy, the fragile older sister, George the dreamer, Sandy the free spirit, Joyce the sensible one and Lucy the youngest child, who plays the role of observer.
I think Ms. Haigh has a wonderful way of creating the feel of a small mining town, and the lives and interactions of the inhabitants. I don’t think she is quite as good as creating a character. There is often no explanation for a person’s action. The end of the book felt rushed, and so many loose ends were left, it seems the book is just begging for a sequel. Since the story ends somewhere in the late 60’s or early 70’s that is surely a possibility.(less)
I picked this book up after reading a brief review that talked about Frances Gererty, who created the advertising slogan “A Diamond is Forever”. I fou...moreI picked this book up after reading a brief review that talked about Frances Gererty, who created the advertising slogan “A Diamond is Forever”. I found the background on her interesting and was hoping to learn more about this interesting woman. “The Engagements” does use Frances as the lynchpin to the book, however I wished there had been more of her tale and less of the other stories included.
In The Engagements we learn the story of four couples; James, the paramedic who never feels good enough for his wife; Toby and Jeff, a gay couple planning their wedding with the help of their friend Kate who doesn’t believe in marriage; Delphine, a woman who leaves her husband for a much younger man; and Evelyn who has been married for 40 years and is struggling with the end of her sons marriage.
The book is divided into 5 parts, each part opening with Frances’s story and then proceeding with another installment in each of the other tales.
It is the format of the book that provided the most problems for me. All of the stories take place in different time frames, and there a number of characters involved in each storyline. It was very hard to be involved in one story and then have to read through 4 more unrelated tales before moving on. I often lost track of who was who and would have a hard time remembering where the last installment had left off.
The second issue was outside of Frances I really didn’t like any of the other main characters. Getting through the book was a slog, it was filled with just so much detail that I would lose my concentration. The last part of the book was the most interesting because we learn what the connection between all these people is. It was the only part I read straight through in one sitting. It was just too little too late.
I haven’t read Ms. Sullivan’s book Maine and after reading this one I don’t think I will be picking it up. (less)
his is the kind of book that the background of the story colors the way you feel about the work, much the way the knowledge of what happened to Anne F...morehis is the kind of book that the background of the story colors the way you feel about the work, much the way the knowledge of what happened to Anne Frank makes her diary all the more moving.
What we have in Suite Francaise is really an unfinished work in progress. The author was Irene Nemirovsky, a well known writer who fled Russia and settled in France. She converted to Catholicism upon her marriage but was sent to Auschwitz in 1942 where she died at age 39. Her belongings were in the possession of her children, but for 60 years they did not go through them all; when the manuscript for this book was found it was published an became an international best seller.
What is most compelling about Suite Francaise is the story was written as the chaos of WWII was happening all around the author. Originally planned to be a Suite in 5 parts Nemirovsky only finished the two novellas that complete this book. The first is Storm in June, which details the utter chaos that occurred when the Germans invaded France and made their way to Paris. The tone of this novella is in itself written in a disjointed sort of way, focusing on a few characters, but jumping around quite a bit, which in essence reflects the panic and chaos of the exodus. There are a few characters we come to care about, but Ms. Nemerovsky comes down hard on those of privilege who used their status to obtain special favors while others around them died in the streets. Of course in the end it is what we have within that sustains us all, courage and honor do not always follow class lines.
The second half of the book is called Dulce (sweet) and focuses on the behaviors of a small village in the countryside that is occupied by a German Army unit in the year between the French armistice and the beginning of the German invasion of Russia in 1941. Although a few characters from the first part of the book are referenced we are introduced to an entirely new set of people. This part of the story is slower paced, and examines how the lives of the oppressed often become intertwined with their oppressors. Friendships are formed; love affairs are born, while under it all resentment and anger also wells up.
Although I enjoyed the book overall I didn’t love it, mostly because it does feel incomplete- which of course it is. I would love to have seen what this book could have become had it been completed the way the author wanted it to be. It is that feeling of being cheated of a wonderful talent that remains after the last page is turned, to be denied that chance to see what more this author could have given us. The appendices of the book that describe the background story make the reading of the book that much more compelling. (less)