Category Archives: Books I enjoy!

A Multiple Book Post: Atwood, See, Buck, Luiselli and Yedlin

Mickey the Cactus
Naomi’s Photos

I’ve read so many books in the last month or so and each one actually deserves their own post, but that has become too large a task to handle. I actually even considered not writing about the books at all but I can’t do that – this blog is my memory aid! I’m the kind of person who remembers all kinds of details about a book but cannot remember the title of the book. Since my blog dates to Dec. 2010 I’ve often used the search function to check something about a book (like the answer to the question – which of Orhan Pamuk’s books with a name of a color in the title have I read?).

So here are super short comments about many books, in no particular order:

The Island of the Sea Women by Lisa See

I just finished the book last night. I read most of it in just a few days – it’s very hard to put down. I second what many of my friends have said – a fascinating book about strong women in an unusual social situation (men are unaccustomed to physical labor – women do EVERYTHING yet their status is still lower than men) living through turbulent times on an Island in Korea.  The women traditionally made a living by deep-sea diving without oxygen tanks or protective gear.  Frankly, I’m the kind of nerd who would have been fascinated by the story just with these aspects, and think the book would have been just as good with the two main characters remaining friends throughout the years and we learned of the change the new generations brought about – but I know that’s just me.

A GOOD BOOK!

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

For me this was a “companion book” to The Handmaid’s Tale, filling in missing gaps, but thankfully not delivering the same “punch to the gut” that the previous book did, as the vital information is already known. It explains things in more detail.

Atwood’s writing is, as always, a pleasure and I’m so glad the LIBBY library service had the audiobook! There are several different readers and Margaret Atwood herself reading little bits of it too! Having several readers adds to the experience.

A GOOD BOOK! Only to be read after The Handmaid’s Tale.

Peony by Pearl Buck

I haven’t read a book by Pearl Buck since I was a teenager! Back then I read both The Good Earth and Letter From Peking.  The pace is slow, unrushed, but I was interested in the details. The book is told from the point of view of Peony, a beautiful and intelligent Chinese bond-maid who belonged to a Jewish family in Kaifeng, China, in 1850. The impossible love story between Peony and David, (the family’s son)  is told on a backdrop of the family’s conflicted reactions to the gradual disappearance of the small Jewish community and its assimilation into the welcoming Chinese society.

The kIndle edition comes with a FASCINATING afterword written by a researcher who shows how cleverly Buck used the known facts about the community that was once there to bring the story to life. The researcher then adds information that was not available to Buck and presents surprising information about the descendants and research regarding the community from 1850 till the present day.

INTERESTING!

Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli

The truly unusual writing style and the skill in which the story is told kept me engrossed even though I found reading the book deeply upsetting. It’s all so visually clear and the punch is strong – the things that have happened to immigrant children traveling alone across the Mexican American Border is as tragic as I understood it to be from the media. The way in which the crises is related, the approach to it, is from such an expected angle and from unexpected points of view that reading the book is truly an experience, but a heart wrenching one.

I was glad I had read it but glad when I finished it too.

Stockholm by Noa Yedlin

I’m sure this book will be translated into English soon – the television adaption of the book has been very successful.

While at times the book can be too slow, it is mostly an enjoyable comic/drama with truly clever twists and great portrayals of people and their complex relationships.  The reader is introduced to five 70-year-old people who have been friends at least since their 20s.  When one of them suddenly passes away quietly at home, the others try to hide the fact for almost a week, since the newly deceased character was “shortlisted ” for a Nobel Prize in Economics. A person has to be alive when the prize is announced in order to get it (though not necessarily for the ceremony itself). As you can imagine (with a whole lot you might not be able to imagine on your own) hiding a dead body leads to unexpected complications… These situations naturally cause the characters to examine their relationship with the others in the group and look at themselves.

 

Saturday’s Book: The Bookwoman of Troublesome Creek by Richardson

Growing Up
Naomi’s Photos

I know I have read a book worth reading when I’m still thinking about parts of it, several weeks and three books later.

Yes, I am way behind on my book postings again.

This is an excellent choice for an audiobook (courtesy of the WONDERFUL ) Libby library service.  A good reader and appropriate accents add a layer to the pleasure!

First of all, it’s a good story, well told with a plucky heroine.

The book takes place during The Depression Era, in isolated spots in  Kentucky but in many ways, this book could easily serve as a discussion for current affairs in the U.S.A.

The main character, an admirable young woman named Mary, is known as “Blue” because of a rare condition which causes her skin to be literally blue. This is true also of her parents and her “kin”, though precious few have remained alive in this impoverished place where life is harsh and racism is rampant. Being different can be a life-threatening condition.

Mary works as a “Packhorse Librarian”, traveling long distances every day to bring reading material to people who live in extremely remote places.  Not only remote, but some also live entirely off-the-grid. She actually traveled with a mule, not a horse, which is better suited to the difficult terrain. The parts I liked best were Mary’s (called Bookwoman by her patrons) conversations with people who were deeply suspicious of “book learning” – how she coaxed them to try and see for themselves how the information contained in them just might enrich their lives, perhaps even improve it. Sadly, it seems that the importance of a good education today needs defending among some people today.

The roving librarian job was just one of the jobs created as part of the government “New Deal” plans to help put food on people’s plates. Starvation was no figure of speech in that area – there were families counting the number of their children who died due to starvation (not to mention the stillborn children). Nonetheless, some preferred to accept their offspring’s deaths rather than cooperate with an interfering government who was offering a salary…

The author did leave me wondering what was the fate of the planned miner’s strikes. At the beginning of the book, there was much talk about the danger of attending a union meeting and the terrible working conditions (and short lives ) of the miners. But after the miner character passes away, we don’t follow that storyline anymore.

While I can be a bit “ornery” (to use a phrase from the book) and am perfectly able to criticize some things about the book, I am certainly glad I read it and recommend it too!

Saturday’s Books: You win some, you lose some…

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

I believe that this book is very popular and is (or will soon be ) a mini-series available for online streaming.

However, this book goes into my personal “you lose some” bin.

I truly agree that a great deal of credit should be given to Ng for well-rounded characters and a clever storyline that builds up – I have no criticism of any of that.

It’s just that I totally do not want to read about a wealthy family who appears to be a perfect one,   a family who has it all, and then all the hidden dark sides come out.  I’m not interested in the “let me see the pleasures the rich have and show me how those pleasures don’t make them happy” type of tale. They all boil down to the same thing, as far as I’m concerned.

I also do not enjoy reading about women fighting to uncover other women’s hidden secrets and harm them, or rich kids taking advantage of others without a second thought. While reading I began feeling that all that was missing was mud for the battle…

After reading more than a third of the book I wanted nothing more to do with any of the characters in the book and quit.  I didn’t even read the end of the book or a synopsis online to see how it turned out, I don’t want to know.

Not my cup of tea.

Watchful
The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

I began to suspect I had been mistaken in my choice of the audiobook by the end of the first chapter. Nonetheless, I didn’t give up on it for quite a few hours more (out of the more than 15 hours of narration) before returning it to the library.

I stopped reading this book not only because of the aspects of the book I really disliked but also because of the parts I actually did like.

I know that is a very odd statement to make but bear with me for a minute.

The book begins by portraying a young, rich, American woman arriving in London two years after World War Two. While the author states and restates that she is different from her family because she loves mathematics and doesn’t behave like a fashionable young lady (according to her ever so fashionable mother), the amount of detail devoted to the clothes worn, not worn, previously worn (or should have been worn) was driving me up the wall.  Clothes lead to detailed discussions of other “womanly” subjects that our poor clever girl was unhappy with. I will spare you the details as I was also unhappy with them.

The plot moves between two-time frames, moving between the past and the “present”.  The parts relating to a network of female spies in Occupied France during World War Two is interesting and is what kept me from returning the book to the library much earlier. How such spies were recruited and trained, what they were expected to do –  certainly women to be respected! However, I don’t need to tell you that horrible things happened during that war. There is no lack of foreshadowing to indicate that harrowing experiences await the brave spies.

I realized that the combination of “aggravating” and “harrowing”, narrated in such a vivid way, word-by-word,  did not make me look forward to listening/reading the rest of the book.

So I didn’t read the rest of the book.

But for this one, I did read a synopsis.  I was curious, I admit. Some of my guesses were spot on. A synopsis was all the detail I needed in this case.

Just for the record – I’ll be posting about two books I  enjoyed soon. I am enjoying my current reads as well!

 

One Pandemic – MANY BOOKS! Thurbon, Grossman, Gaiman, Castel-Blum & Patchett

Diving into a book!
Naomi’s Photos

Note: The book I began reading on the very first day of “Sheltering in Place”, The Time of Our Singing by Powers has its own post (click on the title to view it).  It took me time to read all 642 pages of it! Since then my pace of reading has picked up (even though I am physically back at school!) because I’ve begun listening to audiobooks when I do the housework in addition to reading books (printed or on Kindle) when I’m resting. All audiobooks thanks to the LIBBY Program at the library.

Since I’m already in the middle of TWO more books, I gave up on the idea of having a separate post for each book.

So here goes!

It’s a long, harsh journey…
Naomi’s Photos…

 

The Shadow of the Silk Road by Colin Thubron

Thubron is a great travel writer! Not only does he know how to draw a reader in with his vivid descriptions, he includes DIALOGUES. Thubron, who was in his early sixties during his rough backpacking journey, speaks Russian and has a basic command of Mandarin. He presents us with conversations with people living (or barely making a living, sadly) in every single spot he visits, thus combining history with the present day.  Well, more or less the present day. The travels took place at the beginning of the 21st century, and things have changed since then in some respects. Double time travel – 20 years ago and centuries ago!

I enjoyed it!

Just PUFF!
Naomi’s Photos
Stardust by Neil Gaiman

This is a fun book, particularly if you listen to it as an audiobook, read by Neil Gaiman himself. He’s a wonderful reader who brings to life the wide range of characters he created for adult readers, both in the traditional English countryside and beyond THE WALL in FAIRY. FAIRY is a land in which witches, unicorns,  ships that sail the skies, dangerous trees, wicked spells and so much more all exist alongside the human world we know.

A fun book, a change of pace from usual reading material, but part of the time what I enjoyed more than the plot was listening to Gaiman’s delightful use of language.

Mixed emotions
Naomi’s photos
Life Plays with Me by David Grossman

I read this book in Hebrew but I’m positive that it will soon be translated into English. Grossman has won much international acclaim and his books have been translated into many languages.

To be more precise, I listened to it as an audiobook. The reader was WONDERFUL!  The combination of the writing that had me completely riveted along with the amazing reader left me feeling as if I were perched on  Gili’s shoulder, with the ability to hear her thoughts. Gili is the character who tells the story of her family, as she knows it, as she felt it and as she learns more about it.  The events that took place in the post-WWII years in the Serbia /Croatian region had a profound effect on the characters and their descendants.

I found the book and the main character, the 90-year-old Vera, very moving.

I really recommend this book!!!

Pyramids…
Naomi’s Photos
An Egyptian Novel by Orly Castel Blum

I was somewhat disappointed by this book though am not sorry that I read it.

The topic is an interesting one but the book feels uneven, with parts that held my interest along with parts that felt unnecessarily long and not particularly connected.

The parts I enjoyed reading were about the different hopes and dreams of  Jews immigrating from Egypt to Israel and what happened to those dreams afterward.  Most of what I had known of the Jewish community in Egypt came from Egyptian writers.

However, the parts relating to the character (who is only referred to as “the eldest daughter”, to emphasize her identity crises) and her inability to “find her way” felt interminable. It was unclear why she suddenly became the main character of so many chapters of the book – in previous chapters the point of view shifted between various characters and was more engaging.

Can’t let go of that house…
Naomi’s Photos
The Dutch House by Anne Patchett

As may recall, Patchett is one of my favorite authors. This is a good book, all her books are good,  but on my personal ranking of books written by Patchett, this one is close to the bottom.

As always I enjoyed the way her she gives you personal drama while staying away from “soap opera” tear-jerkers or predictable endings and there were certainly some twists that I did not see coming.  But at the center of the story is a house, While I agree that it is a very unusual looking house with unusual things inside and it certainly has an important role in the story, I grew tired of hearing about it. Perhaps I don’t watch enough period dramas…

By the way, I used the word “hearing” and not “reading” because I listened to this as an audiobook, read by Tom Hanks.  Hanks is a fine reader but this isn’t one of those books that listening to it adds an extra element of enjoyment (such as listening to Trevor Noah narrate his own book “Born a Crime”!)

Happy Reading!

Saturday’s Book: The Time of our Singing by Richard Powers

Life on the edge…
Naomi’s Photos

The Time of Our Singing is an unusual book.

It is also a very unusual review post as some of the same things that I liked about the book were also things I didn’t like about the book.

I know, that’s a very strange thing to say. I can’t recall ever writing such a sentence before.

The writing style intrigued me and drew me in right away, and kept me reading through all 642 pages of it, despite despairing at times this book would ever end. The book progresses in cleverly introduced cycles and flashbacks. This makes the reading more interesting yet at times there is too much repetition.  I kept wanting to tell the author – “Yes,  yes, I got it already, I knew that already, move on!”

The book introduces us to Delia Daley, her husband David Strom, and their three children. Delia is an African American woman whose musical career as a classical singer was thwarted early on (the late 1930s) despite her extensive talent,  due to the color of her skin. David is a Jewish physicist and professor, who left Nazi Germany just in time. His entire origin family remained and perished in the Holocaust. He’s new to the country, his English is poor. David is sure that the fact that he’s a Jew who has dealt with a generous share of discrimination overrides his being white, but American society does not see their mixed marriage that way. Each of their children has a different shade of skin color and the book examines aspects of racism in the United States thoroughly, in great detail.

Living in harmony…
Naomi’s Photos

What binds the family together is music. Or rather MUSIC. That is their life, their day, their conversations, their EVERYTHING. All three children are very talented but the eldest, Noah, has an amazingly pure tenor voice.  How this voice affects the course of the family’s life is central to the book along with the examination of the discrimination at every step of the way.

Pages upon pages upon pages are devoted to rich, beautiful, and exhausting details about music. I did not find the details related to music so overwhelming when I read Vikram Seth’s “An Equal Music” as I did in this book. Perhaps another reader with a greater knowledge of classical music will find symbolism and hints that eluded me . It was the same with physics – the physicist father researches the duality of time and the author plays with this theme while cycling the plot between different time periods. Clever but sometimes I simply lost the thread of the point.

However, to return to the point I opened with – at no point did I want to stop reading the book.

I’m glad I read it but was also relieved when I reached the end.

That’s not much of a recommendation either way, so here’ a practical tip – take the book from the library, if possible. Don’t buy it. If you enjoyed it, wonderful! If you don’t like it, simply return it. That’s what I did.

Libraries ROCK!

Saturday’s Book: “Brooklyn Heights” by Miral al-Tahawy

Looking for tea and sympathy…
Naomi’s Photos

This was the last book I took from the library before we shifted into “Corona Mode” and the library locked its doors.

It is another good example of the kind of book I never would have known about without the help of a librarian!

This is a book about people who don’t belong, particularly women who don’t belong (though not only women). It is told from the perspective of a woman from a strictly conservative Bedouin family who lived in a small town in Egypt, in the Eastern Nile Delta.  Not only are women relegated to specific, limited roles, but the Bedouins are considered outsiders in the village.  Then there is the Coptic woman who is honored but is even more of an outsider.

The book moves between flashbacks of childhood in Egypt to life in modern-day Brooklyn Heights, where we meet more outsiders, Muslim immigrants from different parts of the world who dreamed of a new life in the USA, but their dreams were never realized.

Tahawy writes beautifully and I enjoyed the vivid depictions of the life of the main character, Hend,  in Egypt. However, I was disappointed with the parts relating to her life in Brooklyn. Nothing seems to happen, nothing goes progresses or regresses or anything. It seemed as if the author had only caused Hend to immigrate to present more “outsiders” while abandoning Hend’s tale.  It’s rather depressing, depressing without it being part of a way to move forward. Or backward – frankly, I was quite concerned that Hend would commit suicide.

Nonetheless, I do recommend reading this book -there are many fascinating parts.

 

 

Double Book Post: “The House of Spirits” by Allende & “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Owens

Nowadays art museums are on the sidewalks!
Naomi’s Photos

I enjoy a book that is so engaging that it “takes me” to another place and time period – the best way to travel while staying at home, right?

At first I thought both of these books were giving me that experience.

But I discovered that to be a mistaken assumption.

Only “Where the Crawdads Sing” kept me completely absorbed in the tale of the life of  Kya, a girl who was abandoned as a child and grew up in the marshes of North Carolina. The descriptions are so vivid, that this totally unfamiliar (to me! ) landscape is brought to life.  There are also some very interesting facts about nature, which are cleverly woven in to match the plot without slowing down its progress.

Perhaps not every turn of events is totally believable but that really didn’t bother me a single bit. I went with the currents and let the author lead the way.

Certainly, a great book to read when you aren’t supposed to leave the house!

Distortions…
Naomi’s Photos

I was pleased when I began “The House of Spirits”, I’ve enjoyed several books you could define as “magical realism” and was completely prepared to go wherever the author wanted to take me. Particularly as I don’t know much about Chile and it’s history and felt much more interested in that compared to what is going on in the world nowadays.

The book follows the life of the Trueba family,  clearly a “larger than life” family, a rich family complete with daughters possessing unusual qualities, old women with unusual skills and unfamiliar superstitions,  uncles with schemes for getting rich who manage to die twice and more.

Great!

Wikipedia says the book follows the lives of four generations of the Trueba family. I had to consult Wikipedia because I abandoned the book after generation three hit puberty.

I couldn’t take it anymore.

It became very repetitive.

Very repetitive.

There was way too much focus on the unsavory character of Esteban (who married into the family) and endless extremely detailed descriptions of his cycles of sexual desire and senseless violence.

So many disasters befell Esteban that I hoped the story would continue at some point without this character, (you know, move onto the next generation?) but he was invincible.

I read more than half the book and then quit.

Goodbye Esteban!

**** I’ve almost finished another book – post coming soon!

 

“Women’s Day”, Being A Teacher & “The Mermaid Chair” by Sue Monk Kidd

By Alice Lurio Axelbank

Yes, I admit it.

I’d much rather reflect on how the book I recently read ties in with “Women’s Day” (March 8) and what it has to do with me being a teacher, than dwell on the question of whether we’re going back to school as scheduled in two days despite the CoronaVirus.

Stressful times indeed.

Now, don’t get me wrong – “The Mermaid Chair” is a good book and I do recommend reading it.

But I didn’t think so at first.

The book seemed to start off with such a worn-out situation that I was seriously considering moving on to another book.  A woman, who supposedly has a “perfect” marriage (smart, good looking husband with a good income) and a lovely daughter, is very unhappy. She has to leave everything in order to “find herself”.  The woman does not work outside the home, she wanted to be an artist but can’t find her “voice’.

Painful fall?
Naomi’s Photos

So there I am reading the first part of the book and thinking “Really”? Leave the house, get a job, interact with people – who says that developing an independent career, a part of your life that is totally your own, has to contradict being married? Isn’t it obvious that today there are plenty of women who enjoy both? ”

I even imagined the main character becoming an art teacher working with special needs children who finds that helping others express themselves through art can be very rewarding. Particularly rewarding when you have a supportive family to come back to after some of the difficult days at school.

These thoughts led me to think about “women’s day’ and my choice of career. I will be eternally grateful to the women who fought hard to ensure that teaching was not one of the truly few respectable professions a woman could enter.

I became a teacher because I chose to be a teacher, not because there were no other options available.

As a female teacher in the national school system, I have never ever experienced any sort of discrimination based on gender, simply because the majority of teachers and administrators are women. There are no differences in salary to worry about and my opportunities to develop within the system have nothing to do with gender.

I am also fortunate to be able to come home to a family who expresses interest in what I do and perceives my job as my chosen carreer, not just as a source of family income.

The end of the day – a good time to think! Naomi’s Photos

This year, in these tense times of THE VIRUS, “Women’s Day” reminded me to count my blessings! Having a family I love and a job I enjoy are great blessings indeed!

To get back to The Mermaid Chair – the book is much more complex and far more interesting than it seemed to me to be in the beginning. I won’t give you any more spoilers, but Sue Monk Kidd writes in a very engaging way, there are story developments  I did not foresee and my “complaints” were resolved as I learned more.

I’m really glad I read the book.

 

Saturday’s Book: “Raised From the Ground” by Saramago


(Naomi’s Photos)

Mau-Tempo means “bad weather” in Portuguese.

Mau-Tempo is also the last name of the family whose lives we follow for many years in 20th century Portugal.

Bad weather is certainly a suitable way to describe the difficult times this family of uneducated farm laborers lived through. Miserable times, to be exact.

That’s not a spoiler – it’s pretty obvious from an early stage of the book.

But the magic that kept me reading from cover to cover is the manner in which the tale is told.  Saramago wrote about the type of people he grew up with. He combines an intimate knowledge of details regarding every aspect of their life with sympathy and warmth , creating a sense for me of having watched these people in a movie, they feel so real.

Saramago’s telling includes beauty and even humor in this tale of woe, with unique metaphors and vivid descriptions.

The author tells this story from different points of view, moving seamlessly, (sometimes in the same sentence!) from one character to the other.  This feat particularly blew me away. There’s an escalating dialogue between a group of hungry local men, trying to strike in order to get a slight raise, and a group of desperate workers that have come farther away, eager to take their place no matter how bad the conditions are.  This entire confrontation scene shifts constantly from words spoken by one side to the counter-arguments of the other side, yet is all perfectly clear. Words such as “he said” “they replied” are not used in this book.

This is one of Saramago’s earliest books but was translated into English after he won a Nobel Prize and passed away.  The politics are clear and his indignation raw. No message is shrouded in allegory. I understand that publishers didn’t think a translation of this book would sell well  – a mix of his trademark slow, run-on sentences with politics.

I’m glad it was translated.

I’m glad I read it.

Saturday’s Book: “The Patron Saint Of Liars” by Ann Patchett

Those who observe…
Naomi’s Photos

Ann Patchett is certainly one of my favorite authors.

I absolutely LOVED “State of Wonder” and “Run”.

“Bel Canto” and “Commonwealth” tie for second place.

The Magician’s Assistant was good too – I had that one as an audiobook!

“Truth and Beauty” is something else completely, not fiction,  I enjoyed it as well.

All these books were written after her debut novel,  (published in 1992), “The Patron Saint of Liars”, which I only recently got my hands on.

While I certainly enjoyed reading the book, I found it to be not as good as her later ones. This is to be expected, though perhaps my expectations that this would the case influenced my judgment. Her trademark movement of the plot forward from the point of view of different characters is a pleasure and I truly truly applaud her for her ability to deal with human drama in a moving way without turning the plot into a soap opera tear-jerker type of thing.  You think you know exactly what’s going to happen, but then events don’t unfold that way.

It’s just that the basic story itself, about Rose from California, who walked out on everything, went to a temporary home intended for Catholic unwed mothers to have their babies in Kentucky, and ended up staying there for years, isn’t that the compelling.  Though frankly, with all that is going on in the USA now related to the topic of abortions, you could say the plot is more relevant than ever.

I hesitate to say it but I think the book could have been improved by being a bit shorter, especially the part told by the man’s point of view.

BTW, the first few pages are a prologue and can be read on its own as well. The descriptions and the way she presents the events are stunning, riveting and so beautifully written! Perhaps I felt a bit of a let down afterward because of the comparison.

I certainly recommend this book, but not as your first book by Ann Patchett, if you have never read anything written by her before.