June 24th, 2011

Reading feet

24 and 25

City of ThievesCity of Thieves by David Benioff

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had this book out from the library for two renewals. I just couldn't get into it. I read and liked the introduction, but then started the first chapter multiple times. Finally, when it was once again due the next day, I decided I would just read the whole thing straight through so that I could return it. So I did.

I still don't really have a fully formed opinion, I guess. I didn't dislike it, but I also didn't LOVE it. It was an interesting book, and I learned about things that happened in WWII that aren't really studied here -- we mostly focus on what was happening in Germany and Poland, etc. I sort of knew that we were on the same side as Russia during the war, but I didn't know how that country figured into history at all. It's a sad story, and once again makes me realize how lucky I am to be born in a place and a time such that my life doesn't involve rationing, soldiers, dead people falling from the sky, etc. A lot of the imagery and occurrences in this book are really horrifying.

I found the way that the author wrote the introduction to sort of make us think it is a true story -- and not just any true story, but that of HIS grandfather -- an interesting choice on his part. The introduction and the main character's last name led me to believe it was a true story until I was reading a little online about the book. I found critics calling him deceitful for writing it in that way and interviews where someone asked about his grandfather, and the author saying all his grandparents were born in America and so forth. The author's response was just that's why it says "A Novel" on the cover: because it's fiction.

Overall, it was a pretty good book, definitely worth reading at least once. But probably not one I'll return to.

Mother of Pearl (Oprah's Book Club)Mother of Pearl by Melinda Haynes

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I was over halfway through this book before I actually started to care what happened to the characters. I know, many people would have stopped reading long before that, especially with a book having as many pages as this one. But I hate to not finish a book if I can manage to get through it. And I figured I could get this through one.

The biggest challenge is the writing style. I often had to read sentences more than once in order to figure out what it was trying to say. Part of it was strange sentence constructions. Another part was different vocabulary and grammar, a stylistic representation of the way these people (southerners of both races during the 1950s) may have talked. Also I think there was maybe ONE person in this entire book who didn't have a really strange name. OK, two.

Still, there's not much of a "plot", so to speak. And the horrible event narrated at the very beginning of the story -- I expected it to be relevant somehow, but it was only ever mentioned again once, and then just in passing. It seemed a lot of this book worked that way; lots of irrelevant information.

By the end of the book I did start to care about a few of the characters, especially Joleb. To me, he was the most "real" of the characters here, with Canaan a close second. I was really surprised about Valuable's fate - was not expecting that at all.

There were some interesting parts and some parts that make you think, those were the redeeming qualities. But not a book I recommend. There are so many better books dealing with this time period and its people.

View all my reviews


The Circus World Museum provided some props for the movie version of Water for Elephants.  The gift shop also had Sara Gruen's novel in paperback.  (Got it for less than Amazon's currently asking, yay!) Collapse )

What intrigues about the book is the provision of supplemental material. Collapse )

The conversation with the author and the discussion questions also make the case for preserving threads of a common culture.  Genesis 28:11.  Apparently there's more from Genesis 28 to 34 for the close reader.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)
El Corazon

73. The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate; 74. A Quiet Belief in Angels

The Year of Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate
by Robert A. Caro

Started: June 9, 2011
Finished: June 11, 2011

This one started out a bit slow with the first couple of hundred pages mainly dealing with the history of the United States Senate up until Lyndon Johnson's election to it in 1948. I understand the necessity of this as Caro was trying to show the contrast between the power that the Senate had in previous years and the power that LBJ was able to yield during his twelve years serving there, but it still bored me somewhat. But the book got much more interesting after that. Caro's portrait of Richard Russell, who I knew absolutely nothing about, was captivating. Best part of this book was the last two or three hundred pages that focused on the Civil Rights Act of 1957. It's the first time in the last fifteen hundred or so pages of reading about Johnson that I felt like Caro had at least some respect for his subject. I'm looking forward to reading the last volume of this biography whenever it comes out. I know Caro is getting old so I hope it happens sometime reasonably soon. 1,167 pages. Grade:  A
A Quiet Belief in Angels
by R.J. Ellory

Started: June 15, 2011
Finished: June 24, 2011

Basically OK story. Basically mediocre writing. 352 pages. Grade: C-

Total # of books read in 2011: 74
Total # of pages read in 2011: 22,663

Book 54: The Boy with the Topknot by Sathnam Sanghera

Book 54: The Boy with the Topknot: A Memoir of Love, Secrets and Lies in Wolverhampton .
Author: Sathnam Sanghera, 2008.
Genre: Memoir. Multicultural Britain. Mental Illness.
Other Details: Paperback. 336 pages.

Originally published in hardback as If You Don’t Know Me By Now, this memoir explores Sanghera's relationship with his family growing up in Wolverhampton as well as in the present day. Living in London and employed as a journalist for a major newspaper, his lifestyle is very different to that of his Jat Sikh parents, who do not speak any English and cannot read. In addition, his mother is constantly pressuring him to marry the right kind of girl, that is one within his own religion and caste. As a result he is forced to conceal his actual relationships with non-Sikh girls in London while going through the motions when his mother arranges for him to meet suitable young women. This double life leaves him quite stressed.

Then in his mid-20s, he accidentally comes across a document that reveals that his father, a gentle giant of a man, had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia for many years. Added to this, it turns out his older sister is also schizophrenic. Sanghera finds this hard to come to terms but after five years he decides that he needs to confront this issue and decides to write a memoir; not only about his experiences feeling caught between two cultures but also about the impact of mental illness upon him and his family. In order to do this he has to rely upon his own fragmented memories as well as those of his family and a difficult paper trail within the NHS.

I had expected this memoir to be focused entirely on Sanghera's experiences in reconciling his life in London with the culture and traditional values that he had grown up with and which are still held by his parents and extended family. His account of he and his siblings having to conceal their pop music and other Western items reminded me of Lane Kim from The Gilmore Girls. Certainly it was a moving, often funny account of his growing up in the 1980s.

However, the major theme of a family coping with severe mental illness and Sanghera's attempts to understand schizophrenia came as a real surprise. Even though secrets are mentioned on the back cover blurb as well as the subtitle; there was no outward clue that the memoir deals with mental health issues. In 2009 it was named MIND's Book of the Year; an accolade awarded to the best literary contributions to raising awareness around issues of mental distress. In accepting the award, the author said "there are hardly any books about Asian communities’ experiences of mental health problems, so I hope people read this book and it leads to more understanding.” I am sure it will.

Overall, I found this a wonderful book. It was sad and shocking at times, though never became a misery memoir. It was also frank, moving and funny. It certainly gave me a greater understanding of another culture and religion that exists alongside my own. In addition, I found it an intelligent and compassionate account of this much misunderstood mental illnesses that can effect anyone no matter their cultural background.

I was very grateful to our local librarian for choosing it for our reading group. It generated a great deal of discussion.

Sathnam Sanghera's web site - includes a short film (c 10 min) that he made about the book.

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

B&N Synopsis

Young Katniss Everdeen has survived the dreaded Hunger Games not once, but twice, but even now she can find no relief. In fact, the dangers seem to be escalating: President Snow has declared an all-out war on Kattnis, her family, her friends, and all the oppressed people of District 12. The thrill-packed final installment of Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy will keep young hearts pounding.

This was an excellent finish to a truly enjoyable and emotionally packed series. I'm glad Collins kept it realistic and didn't provide happy endings for everyone involved. Had she, the characters and their situations would have somehow rang less true. I also like the twist at the end, although it wasn't so much of a twist for the reader as it was for Katniss.

All in all, this was an excellent series. Although I wish there were more, I realize that to prolong it further would have made it seem repetitive.

I highly recommend this series!

Books completed 25/40