30. The Good Husband of Zebra Drive (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency #8) - Alexander McCall Smith (3.5)
31. 31 Hours - Masha Hamilton (3)
32. Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister - Gregory Maguire (4)
33. Water for Elephants - Sara Gruen (4)
34. Room - Emma Donoghue (5)
35. Beasts of No Nation - Uzodinma Iweala (3.5)
29. A Way From Home: A Novel - Nancy Clark
I wasn't impressed by this book. It took me a ridiculous amount of time to read it compared to other books this year. I really disliked most of the characters, though the daughter (Little Becky/Julie/Juliet) was alright at times, and I did like Svatopluk, but he was only a minor character. I hated the mom Becky, she really grated on my nerves right from the beginning, and I cannot understand how she managed to get two men fighting over her. She must have been super sexy or something, because it certainly wasn't her personality! Then again, it turns out that this is kind of a sequel book, that these characters are also characters in other books by the same author, at different points in their lives. I didn't realize that when I picked it up. So perhaps she's less annoying in the other books and it explains the attraction?
My biggest problem with this book is that it didn't really seem to have a plot.
Not only that, I haven't 100% figured out what the point was of them being in Czechoslovakia in the first place. I mean, I know they were there for Alden's work, but why there? What did it add to the story? Not much, as far as I could tell. They were pretty well received - not the fish out of water Americans I was hoping for (though they were a bit self-centered and spoiled compared to the Czechs, but I'm not sure that really added anything either). Maybe it's some kind of metaphor because that country was going through a lot of changes and breaking into two countries at the time, much like the family was? But yeah, I really think this could have taken place just about anywhere.
I did enjoy the one chapter that took place in Libya, the first chapter there just with William, describing the home he took and was bringing back to life, and the sandstorm, and the people there. It was kind of fascinating. If the whole book had been written that well, I would have loved it. The chapter that was basically Becky finding a book and then (in italics, of course) the text of the book for us to read really annoyed me. Was that really necessary? And the ending just sort of ... ends. There's no resolution, no end. Annoying. Though I was glad to see Julie(t) planned to keep in touch with Svatopluk. I liked him.
30. The Good Husband of Zebra Drive (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency #8) - Alexander McCall Smith
I rather enjoyed this book. A fast read and a cute mystery book set in Botswana, Africa. The setting makes it that much more interesting because the native words and customs are really integrated into the book. My only real complaint is that of the three mysteries faced in this book I felt like only the one worked on by Mma Romatswe herself was dealt with satisfactorily. The one her husband worked on especially ... sure he uncovered that the man's coworker was behaving poorly but as never did find out if he was being unfaithful or where he was going after work. And it was incredibly predictable that he followed the wrong red car. I will probably hunt down more from this series though.
31. 31 Hours - Masha Hamilton (hehehe 31 is 31 hours...)
This book was really interesting to me. The author really tries hard to make Jonas a sympathetic character even though he's been trained to blow up the NYC subway system. I learned a lot from the book about Islam, and in many places the religion is painted in a good light (for instance, in Mahmoud's phone call with his father). Jonas seems to feel that he takes part in ALL religions, but at the same time, in none.
I must say that I am almost offended by a comment on the back of the book saying that "women in particular will devour this book" or something to that effect (I'll fix the quote if I get home and find it is drastically different).
I did not like Jonas' mother character. Too much "motherly intuition" and plus she was annoying. I don't know, I didn't really like -any- of the characters, to be honest, except maybe the homeless guy "Sonny Hirt". He was a neat guy. I really enjoyed the format of the book, with the two time zones at the top of each page. I liked that the point of view shifted between characters, and that Jonas' parents seemed to be coming together while Vic's were moving apart. I wish there had been some kind of ending. I guess it is left up to us to decide what happens. Was Jonas successful? If so, did Mara and Aaron make it home before-hand? How does his family react, and Vic (and this applies whether or not he is successful)? What happens to Mahmoud?
I think this book is worth reading once. It's not your typical book, and it did keep me reading. I'd love to know what other people think about it!
32. Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister - Gregory Maguire
I guess I am in the minority of people who actually enjoyed this book. I like the main character. I enjoyed following the manipulative and often horrifyingly evil (step) mother. I loved the twist at the ending where we learn a bit more about Ruth. To be honest, the only thing I didn't like was (I suppose) the reason most people don't like the book... I didn't find the Clara/Cinderella character believable at all. Or well... each was believable alone I guess, but the transformation? No. And certainly not likable. In wicked, at least, Dorothy wasn't spoiled and turned into an unlikable character. Only we got to see a different and more personable side of the "wicked witch". Here, the author plays with our notion of 'good' more than our notion of evil.. and I don't think people like that as much.
I found the book quite enjoyable though, and for more than just an entertaining plot. It really made my brain work and I appreciate that.
33. Water for Elephants - Sara Gruen
** spoiler alert ** As a whole, I enjoyed this book, although I will admit (as many others have pointed out) that it does have some flaws. I'll talk about what I didn't like first.
1. Marlena. I have no idea what Jacob saw in her, except I guess that she's pretty and the horses like her. She reminds him of his ex who wouldn't sleep with him. She was just one of those weak females, needed taking care of, needed saving, one of those "damsel in distress" types (to quote many reviews I saw of this recently) and kind of annoying to boot.
2. The language and attitudes of a lot of these people didn't really fit with the time period in which they were supposed to be. They used words that I'm pretty sure didn't exist yet. The term Schizophrenia, especially, wasn't in wide use at the time and certainly a random uneducated circus guy like Uncle Al wouldn't know it. And Jacob being so upset when the guy was looking up the girls skirt, and for hitting a woman, etc. These things weren't nearly as frowned upon back then and someone like Jacob standing up for women he didn't even know? I'm sure that was practically unheard of.
But, the thing is, I can set those things aside and just enjoy the story. I really did like Jacob - ESPECIALLY the older Jacob. Although it doesn't paint a pretty picture of getting old. I loved all the details about the circus - even the dreadful ones about how the animals were treated. Walter/Kinko was wonderful, and I was so sad when he thought he'd lost his dog. I'd read about redlighting before, and it was really interesting to see it written into a book in such a horrible way. And I was fascinated to read the interview at the end and learn which parts of the story were completely fictional, and which were based on true stories or anecdotes the author learned about while researching.
Good book. Has some problems. But if you can read it just for the entertaining story and not be too nit-picky, I recommend it.
34. Room - Emma Donoghue
Wow! This book was really interesting and fun read. It's not really a short book, but I finished it in just over 24 hours (with breaks of course). I didn't want to put it down!
It's a little difficult to read, of course - it's told from the point of view of 5-year-old Jack, complete with 5 year old grammar, mis-used words, and his inanimate "friends" Rug, Bed, Stove, Bath, Duvet, etc. (never "I sat on the rug" but "Rug let me sit on her"). It's a really difficult style, but I thought it added a lot to the story to be able to see it through his eyes.
And as if that weren't enough, the only life Jack has known has been inside "Room", where he was born - the product of the rape of his mother by her kidnapper, which of course he knows nothing about for much of the book. He has never been outside Room, and believes that this is all there is of the world. They do have a television that picks up a fuzzy channel or two, on which he gets to watch Dora and Backyardigans and sometimes the news or animal shows, but his mother has told him that nothing on TV is real. Eventually, though, Jack becomes too curious and she explains the truth to him. He doesn't believe her at first, but eventually is coerced into helping with the escape.
They do manage to escape, and ... I kind of think the book could have stopped there and let the readers decide what happens. Actually, it's kind of interesting to watch Jack fumble and try to understand that the things he had always thought were pretend (fire, trees, animals, other people!) were actually real things that he can touch and see. He learns the hard way about some things, and is forced to interact with a family he doesn't really know when his mother needs to be hospitalized. But the second half of the book just didn't speak to me like the first half did, until the last few pages, which were great. The first half was AMAZING. The second half was also good, but not ... as good.
Anyway, I highly recommend it. Very unique story-telling and fun to see the world from the eyes of someone who has only known an 11x11 space.
35. Beasts of No Nation - Uzodinma Iweala
I started this book three or four times and each time read only a page or two before getting frustrated by the language. The book is written in the first person point of view from a child soldier in an unnamed country in Africa. The entire story is written in this dialect with strange word endings and in the present tense "We be marching marching...", "I am not happying..." etc.
But one day I decided to force myself to read the entire first chapter, no matter how difficult the language was. And I did - and I just kept reading, a chapter or two each night. It is a very compelling story, heartbreaking at times, as Agu tries to make sense of the world in which he now lives, telling himself he is not a bad boy even though he is killing other men, women and children, as his friendships and family are lost due to the war, as his Commandant takes advantage of him and the other boys sexually...
I see a lot of people complaining about the ending. I do kind of think the last chapter was unnecessary. Better to leave it with him walking away and leaving it up to the reader to decide what happens to him. But then again, this is one realistic ending and if you read the stuff about the author and why he chose to write about child soldiers in the back of the book, you'll see that this is how he came to know them - meeting them in rehab centers.
Overall, a good book. It gave me an idea of why people might do some of the things they do. It gave me an idea of the land scape in Africa. Most amazing book ever? Probably not. Will the author be able to write another book as goo? I sure hope so!