Category Archives: Books I enjoy!

Time for a Book! “An Unnecessary Woman” by R. Alameddine

Recording the passing of time… Naomi’s Photos  (Taken in the Beyer Watch & Clock Museum)

Do you know the genre of books in which a troubled/sad/lonely person’s life improves dramatically, as you read, mainly because he/she began reading books?

This isn’t that kind of book.

The narrator of this book has read voraciously for most of her 72 years. These books, their characters, and authors (not to mention some composers) have become the lenses through which she views life, struggles to make sense of life, or perhaps escapes from it.

This comes with a price.

And Aaliya, the narrator knows it well. Immersing herself in literature from around the world does not make her any less “an unnecessary woman” – a point she examines, perhaps “discusses” with her literary world.

Aaliya not only reads books but is a “closet translator” (completed translations are boxed away) – there are fascinating commentaries on translations and the process of translating.

But that’s not all there is in this book.

What you see on the clock depends on your perspective… Naomi’s Photos (Taken in the Beyer Watch & Clock Museum)

A life unfolds.

In a city.

Books and the City – that could be a subtitle.

Aaliya has spent all of her life in Beirut. Since she was born in the late 30s, she has lived through a great many very turbulent times. She watches the changes in her city, noticing, commenting, and often criticizing.

In fact, every element of life in the city, along with her colorful neighbors her relatives, and every character in Aaliya’s life, quite literally, comes under scrutiny using an amazing variety of literary characters.

The ending surprised me, in a good way.

I really enjoyed reading this book!

The unique style of writing drew me in immediately!

I’m not going to give you any more details – the author does it so much better than I, so why spoil the experience for yourself?

ENJOY!

 

 

A Book for Our Times – “The Bone Fire” by Gyorgy Dragoman

I had already read more than half of THE BONE FIRE when the war in Ukraine began.

It was certainly a timely book to read.

The story doesn’t take place during a war. It’s a book about the generation/two generations after a war. About generations who not only have grown up dealing with the war scars of their parents/grandparents but have spent their lives behind the iron curtain.

The story takes place in an unnamed Eastern European country that has very recently been freed from life behind “the iron curtain”.  Those who know claim that it’s Romania.

The book is a combination of a coming of age story of 13-year-old Emma, recently orphaned, living with her mystical grandmother. While dealing with typical teenage angst (first menstruation, clothes, first crush, etc…) she must also deal with the harshness of an educational system scarred by the unforgiving brutality of a communist regime and the ghosts of war haunting her grandmother.

Yet her grandmother has special gifts and wisdom to pass down to Emma, gifts that become her own.

Learning to spread your wings… Naomi’s Photos

Beyond everything, the writing is unique and absolutely captivating.  Except for one part in the middle when I felt the author got too bogged down in details of teenage angst for too long, I was very taken by how the story is told and the manner in which the plot progresses. I can’t analyze the storytelling technique the way the New York Times Reviewer does (a review I read after reading the book!) but I don’t feel I need to. What matters is how it made me feel.

Fortunately, my son purchased the book following the New York Times review and suggested I read it as well.

I’m so glad I did.

I only wish that war in an area that had experienced life behind the iron curtain wasn’t taking place as I was reading the book…

Time for a Book: “The Library Book” by Orlean

Celebrating books / Naomi’s Photos

This is a very engaging non-fiction book about A specific library and about libraries in general. While highlighting the role of libraries in our lives, Orlean takes us through different time periods, to different countries and cultures, to times of war, of book censorship, to the surprising connection between billionaires and the advent of women librarians and to beloved writers whom we never would have heard about if they hadn’t had a library in their lives.

And so much more…

The book’s framework is investigative journalism, researching the unsolved mystery of who set fire to the Los Angeles Central Library in 1986, and why. Not only were more than 400,000 precious books lost, it became a mythic fire in its proportions and unique characteristics, the kind most firefighters, thankfully, have never seen. How does a library recover from such a devastating event?

Naomi’s Photos

The answer to the question of why most of us have never heard of this incredible fire is interesting too!

The author also discusses the role of public libraries in homeless people’s lives. This was new to me as it is not something I have encountered here.

The book could have been a bit shorter, but otherwise, I really enjoyed it!

Time for a Book: “Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead” Olga  Tokarczuk 

Natural harmony… Naomi’s Photos

I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to read this book as the title is rather off-putting. However, after seeing both my husband and our younger son get excited about the book, I decided to give it a try.

I’m so glad I did.

What a unique book!

The style of writing captured my interest right away – I was hooked within minutes.

The book is written so cleverly that the story is, at the same time, all of these things and more:

  •  a vivid personal account of thoughts and events as seen through the eyes of an unusual woman who lives on a fairly secluded mountain top.
  • a murder mystery full of action and suspense.
  • a relentless cry to respect and protect animals and nature
  • keen observations on human nature, society, and bureaucracy.
  • humorous moments
  • a homage to William Blake
  • a fascinating window into the joys and complexities of translating poetry
  • a delightful use of language.

There, I haven’t spoiled anything for you – give the book a chance!

I’m looking forward to reading other books by Tokarczuk.

Books about Nature: The End of Nature, It’s Calming Effect & Human Nature

We’re ignoring you…
“The Children’s Bible” by Lydia Millet

WOW.

This is certainly a clever book that packs a punch.

Remember when Greta Thunberg thundered:

“My message is that we’ll be watching you. This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you. You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. Yet I am one of the lucky ones. People are suffering.”

In case you were wondering how exactly ignoring climate change/not protecting the planet steals children’s futures, Lydia Millet spells it out for you in a very clever way, using the familiar framework of well-known stories from the Bible, as told by children.  You know there’s no happy ending here but you can’t stop reading…

Gripping, clever, and so scary as it is all too real for comfort.

Is the coast clear? Naomi’s Photos
The Second Sleep by Robert Harris

After the previous book, I was looking for something different to read next. When I saw this book by Harris I knew I would get a fast-paced tale, full of suspense, all told within a historical framework. So I just began it without knowing a thing about the book.

While the book is certainly all of that, the history part is actually set in the future, 800 years after the apocalypse!

This time Nature recovers and survives, but the human race is having a much harder time bouncing back. Not many people survived because (as the author is wont to remind us) people who cannot produce food are only 6 meals away from starvation when technology collapses completely…

800 years later finds Britain back in the Middle Ages with an all-powerful Church who has outlawed science and technology – that brought about the end of the world, so it’s obviously evil, right?

Our heroes are, naturally, a very curious bunch who are looking for answers the Church won’t provide.

Sailing, without a boat! Naomi’s Photos
The Narrowboat Summer by Anne Youngson

There is some calming magic in Youngson’s writing style, I began to feel it by page two!

Here nature is relaxing. When you navigate a narrowboat through Britain’s canals and locks, you must adjust to a slower pace of life, with plenty of time for contemplating and looking at your surroundings. Spending time outdoors isn’t some event you plan for once a month.

No one is rejecting technology in this book or even complaining about it. Rather the necessity of making nature a part of your daily life in some way or another is emphasized as having a strong connection to well-being.

If you haven’t read anything by Anne Youngson, start with “Meet Me at the Museum”. That one is much better but I still enjoyed reading this one too.

Naomi’s Photos
168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam

The title is great clickbait but resist temptation.

Don’t read this book.

While the author only lets the word “lazy” slip once, it resonates pretty loudly in the book. It’s not clear whether she studied human nature or Mr. Spok’s Vulcan character.

While I do agree with certain very specific points Vanderkam makes, I reject her overall attitude completely. Not everything you do is about excelling. You do not have to focus only on the hobby you are good at and hone it to perfection – it’s perfectly fine to enjoy dancing or playing the guitar even if you are truly bad at it. Or just dabble in photography…

Your volunteer work is worthwhile even if you happily remain the one who carries the boxes of donated clothes for years and don’t even think about joining the board of trustees.

Worse, Vanderkam floored me when she was talking about children and the home. Was she living in a different world from mine? To be fair, she truly emphasizes the importance of parents spending time with their children. No argument there.

BUT…

How can she discuss managing to stick to your rigid schedule dividing work time and parent/child time, while ignoring the mornings when your mind is mush because you were up half the night with a teething baby, a sick child, or one who just has nightmares?  Sleepless nights for so many parents are more than twice-yearly events that playing catch up over the weekend can solve all issues.

Then there’s the part about food.

I am truly respectful of anyone who makes a conscious decision to rely heavily on ready-made frozen or tinned food as meals.  Everyone has to balance his/her life choices, I can understand that.  However, calling such food healthy and nutritious is beyond my comprehension.

In short – skip this one and read the next one.

Small but meaningful
Naomi’s Photos
Atomic Habits by James Clear

Unlike the previous book, I felt that this book was very relatable.

No wonder so many people recommend it, particularly to teachers! I see many quotes referring to it.

James Clear presents his methods for creating habits (or breaking bad ones) in small steps with realistic examples. Not only does he not expect you to constantly have lofty goals, but he also emphasizes the process. I had never realized how much focusing on the process (as opposed to just the final goal ) could serve as a motivating factor.

Throughout the book Clear repeats and summarizes his four principles, again and again, highlighting how they fit together. I found this to be helpful.

I haven’t had a chance to try out anything in class yet. Or actually, perhaps I have, at least to some degree.  While Clear focuses on what you do for yourself,  the book “Switch” by Heath and Heath discusses some of the same points from the perspective of making the habit/ behavior you hope your employees/students do be the easiest choice available. In that respect, I think the books complement each other.

I also enjoy Clear’s brief weekly newsletter – reminds me of what I have read.

I have no shiny new habits to share.

Yet.

But I’m blogging more regularly again!

 

 

Two “Feel Good” Books

I don’t know if you could call it “Cerulean” but it IS the sea… Naomi’s Photos

One review that fits two different books.

Now that’s a first.

I just feel pretty much the same about both books.

“The House in the Cerulean Sea” by T.J. Klune and “Britt Marie was Here” by Fredrik Backman

Both books have a basic plot that is clear from the beginning and it isn’t a spoiler. You know  that the main character, a person who lacks self confidence, is ignored by everyone and leads a limited existence,  will learn to spread his/her wings.

In both books the issue is ” the how”  – more than “the what”.  I particularly liked the  self dialogue the main characters held with themselves in both books. In the book about Britt Marie the commentary is also delightful. In the other book the dialogues with the children are a real treat!

Both books promote inclusion and learning to see those who are different from you. Linus, the case worker, teaches others that “magical beings” (as far as I’m concerned, that reads as “children with special needs) should be respected and integrated into society.  LGBQT as well.  Britt Marie meets people whom society would rather not see – you miss them a bit when you have finished reading the book since you now care about their lives.

In short – well written “feel good books”.

Note: I saw the trailer for the film “Britt Marie was here” and I wasn’t pleased. Britt Marie NEVER did jumping jacks with the children, she spread her wings but in a way that was consistent to who she was. I may be judging hastily but the movie looks as if it crossed the line between “feel good” and “Kitsch”…

Time for a Book! “Umami” by Laia Jufressa

Unusual neighbors…
Naomi’s Photos

What a unique book!

It’s difficult to define exactly what makes this book so special – it’s like the difficulty in defining what exactly “umami” is, which is something not only discussed in the book but plays a role in the story as well.

It’s a novel which mainly takes place in Mexico City. It follows the intertwined lives of the different people who live in “Belldrop Mews” (I had to look up the term  “mews”!). It’s written from the point of view of several characters, some of whom are children. Their “voices” are so real, that I now miss them a bit – as if they were people I had met.

While all the neighbors are dealing with grief,  this is not a “depressing” book. There are very sad moments along with ones of wonder and amusement.

More importantly, I found the combination of “voices” relating the same events, particularly the children’s voices, to be a powerful storytelling method in this context. The children questioned, wondered at, or even directly challenged the adults’ way of handling grief, and highlighted the many layers and aspects of how life moves forward after a tragedy.

Naomi’s Photos

And yes, there is hope, and new beginnings in this book. Slow changes for the better that start small but mean a lot (no fairy godmothers here…).

I recommend that you don’t read too much about the book in advance – it’s best to understand things as they are presented.

Enjoy!

 

Time for a Book: “Frog Music” by Emma Donoghue

Try to hear the music… Naomi’s Photos

I really enjoy reading books by Donoghue but this is the one I enjoyed the least.

Don’t get me wrong, it IS a good book but I’m not particularly fond of the “whodunnit”  format, particularly in a historical drama. The constant moving between time frames (the murder is right at the beginning of the book, it’s not a spoiler!) bothered me somewhat. When reading Donoghue I’m used to really getting to know the character and the period before such a dramatic event.  Judging by the reviews online most people were not bothered by this at all!

This book, with its many musical references, might have been more enjoyable as an audiobook  – they tend to sing such things when possible,  Reading the afterword helped me realize the significance of the references and their relevance to the period and to the plot. I admit that I needed the explanations.

In fact, the afterword helped me appreciate the book more, as the author explains which historical facts were available to her about the two main characters’ lives (and deaths)  and how she used them to create the story. I was fascinated by that part!

The book takes place in 1876  in San Francisco –  a lot it takes place in Chinatown. The author’s depictions of the shameful way the Chinese immigrants were treated tied in with the information I learned from two other books I’ve recently read, “Interior Chinatown” by Charles Yu and “Disappearing Moon Cafe” by Sky Lee (this is set in Vancouver but covers a lot of the same ground as the other two).

There are still many books by Donaghue I haven’t read – I’m looking forward to reading them!

Books from “Far Away” – A Medly

In these times of living with a pandemic, everywhere that isn’t right next door seems far away.

Nonetheless, when I read these books I felt that they were set particularly far away, either geographically, historically, or in a magical realm.

Magic? Step on board… Naomi’s Photos
The Night Circus by Morgenstern

A story set inside a magical, very magical, circus. Lovely descriptions, a love story, suspense, good triumphs evil. I enjoyed it, but I think it would have been even better if it had been a bit shorter.

Selling food at all hours…
Naomi’s Photos
The Convenience Store Woman by Murata

The story is set inside a Japanese Convenience store, which seems to be quite different from convenience stores I have encountered.  I never imagined salespeople being instructed to shout their polite responses to customers!

While I understand that the book is presenting a critique of pressure to conform in Japanese society (at the workplace, the pressure to get married and “fit in”), to me the book is set inside the mind of a woman with “autism spectrum disorder”.

I kept wanting to say to people in the book: “Leave her alone! She has worked at this store for so many years because a predictable environment with clear-cut ways to behave in every situation feels comfortable and safe to her!”

Which way? Naomi’s Photos
Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon

I almost didn’t read this book as I’m not much a fan of “swashbuckling adventure” – you know, the horseriding bandits with the heart of gold who save the day? But it was a short audiobook, an intriguing setting with a great reader and I’m glad I did.

It is set in Khazaria (Southwest Russia today) and takes place around AD 950. It was a period where Judaism was more widely spread, including some of the warring factions in the region. Our two tough, dangerous, brave, and generous “bandits” are Jewish, a fact which was important to the author, as Chabon himself expands on in a very interesting endnote to the audiobook.

Can you hear me? /Naomi’s Photos
Aquarium by Ya’ara Shehori

Place markers of any kind are hardly mentioned in this book – the story could have taken place anywhere, everywhere, and nowhere. It was written in Hebrew and but readers of the English translation could place the story in their town just as easily.

It’s a story of girls brought up in isolation and what happens after they are no longer secluded from the world.

It’s a story of a Deaf family trying to escape the intervention of the “hearing world”, but ends up denying reality. Such denials come with a heavy price.

At first, I was concerned about some aspects of the behaviors of some of the Deaf characters and wondered how well the author had researched the subject of Deafness. But all anomalies were explained and made complete sense later on in the book. I was amused to see that the author studied Sign Language with a former student of mine!

It isn’t an easy read. There are whole passages trying to be poetic or philosophical and too drawn out in my taste. I found some parts tiresome and rather boring.

Mixed feelings.

Well, it is on the pier… Naomi’s Photos
The Pier Falls – by  Haddon

Each story is set somewhere else – the first one is set in Britain while the next one takes you straight into Greek Mythology.

While the writing is excellent and gripping, I did not finish the book. Besides my habitual difficulties in reading short story collections by the same author (the basic style is too similar), the stories all seemed to be about people in hopeless situations facing horrible outcomes. There’s only so much of that I can take, even if it is well written.

Connections…
Naomi’s Photos
Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

A clever, engrossing book that takes familiar fairy tale tropes (particularly Rumplestilskin) and gives them a completely new twist.

A feminist twist.

With lots of other messages.

A book supposedly set in “fantasy land” but it sounds a great deal like places I know of from history lessons (or genealogy research!). To me, it seems to be set in  Lithuania, or the vicinity of, with forests lurking with danger,  poor hamlets with fraught relations between the peasants and the Jews, the noblemen in the city killing each other for power, and more…

Strong women who come together, ignoring class and religion, save the day.

That’s not a spoiler – there’s much to read here (it’s a bit too long, I admit)!

Enjoy!

 

 

Time for a Book! “Deacon King Kong” by McBride

Naomi’s Photos

When was the last time you stopped reading a book after a few pages just so you could savor the beauty of the writing?

Well, this is the book to make you stop and pay attention to “the how” as well as the “what”. They must be teaching the opening chapter of “Deacon King Kong” in creative writing classes. What a way to introduce the characters and the setting!

The setting is a public housing project in Brooklyn N.Y in 1969 with a variety of characters living/operating there.

The pace is fast, there is a well-balanced combination of humor, drama, romance, and serious commentary on society and race in the United States.

I didn’t want to stop reading!