Saturday, January 31, 2009
Onitsha by J.M.G. Le Clezio
Thursday, January 29, 2009
Divine Justice by David Baldacci
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
The Subway Chronicles by Jacquelin Cangro
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Cakes And Ale by W. Somerset Maugham
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
The Road Home by Rose Tremain
The Road Home starts with a bus journey. Depressed by his wife's death and his sawmill job disappearing, Lev is leaving his Eastern European home, immigrating to England to try to restart his life. The book follows Lev for the year he spends in England, and his rebirth and resurgerance of purpose by the time he returns home. Lev starts as a leaflet deliveryman. From there he becomes the dishwasher in an up-and-coming restaurant, and when that goes well, the prep chef. After leaving that job, Lev works as a farmworker for a season, picking asparagus and other crops. He has come to love food, however, and goes back to London and becomes a waiter. As he moves from job to job, he begins to see a plan for the rest of his life, and he returns to his home in Eastern Europe, determined to live his dream.
Along Lev's journey, the reader meets many individuals. There is Rudi, Lev's best friend at home. Rudi is a larger than life figure, always dreaming and scheming and forcing life to bend to his will. Lev has a five year old daughter, Maya, whom he leaves with his mother, Ina. In London, Lev rents a room from an Irishman, Christy Slane, who becomes a fast friend. He helps Lev adjust to England, and in turn, Lev helps Christy get his life back together. Sophie is Lev's English love, and the book follows their love affair. There are Jimmy and Sonny Ming, Chinese immigrants who work with Lev in the fields. G.K. Ashe is the restauranteur who gives Lev his first chance and demands excellence from him. There is also Lydia. Lev meets Lydia on the bus, and although she is also an immigrant, she seems more in tune with various processes, and whenever Lev encounters difficulties, Lydia is the one he turns to for help.
The Road Home won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2008. Rose Tremain has written several other novels that were acclaimed, such as Music And Silence, The Colour, and Restoration. One of her strengths as an author is character development. She writes characters that are instantly believable, and that the reader cares about. Even minor characters are fully developed, written in such depth that the reader feels they would recognize the characters if they passed on the street. There is also an underlying beat of hope in her novels that draws in the reader and makes her books compelling reads.
I enjoyed this book quite a lot. I cared about Lev, rejoiced in his triumphs and grieved at his setbacks. The resilience he showed after tragedy made him a sympathetic figure. His kindness and refusal to let life beat him down makes him a memorable character. This book is highly recommended.
Friday, January 16, 2009
Songs For The Missing by Stewart O'Nan
Songs For The Missing by Stewart O'Nan follows a typical family's life after their teenage daughter goes missing. Kim Larsen is home for her last summer before college. She disappears one afternoon between an outing with friends and going to work. The book follows lives in the time following the disappearance, showing how this occurrence affects each individual as well as the family dynamic. It explores how such an event can unravel familial and friendship ties and explores the stages of grief.
O'Nan is masterful at showing how the disappearance affects everyone. Ed Larsen, the father and a real estate broker affected by the economy and bad financial decisions, feels guilty that he hasn't prevented the disappearance and protected Kim as he feels a father should do. He stays busy at first searching, then becomes depressed as time moves on. Fran, the mom, goes into super-organizer mode, lining up volunteers, publicity, and donations. The disappearance and the organization of the events necessary for a full-fledged search become her life. When she isn't working on it, she knocks herself out with sleeping pills. Lindsay, Kim's younger sister, is confused and angry. Always in Kim's shadow as the little sister, now she has to create a new life with her own identity. Not only family, but friends are also affected. The book follows the lives of Kim's best friend and boyfriend as they also try to cope with the tragedy.
As time goes on, support from volunteers starts to dwindle and the police check in less often as the disappearance becomes a cold case. Kim's friends move on, starting their college careers, and forming new relationships. The Larsen family is faced with the dilemma of how long the disappearance can remain the primary focus of their lives. Is it fair to Lindsay to allow her life to be second to that of Kim's forever? Can they sustain the strength that focused their search? As time moves on, the family moves through the recognized stages of grief and finally finds acceptance that they will probably never see Kim again.
I've heard great things about O'Nan for quite a while, and this is my first experience with his writing. The writing is not overblown, which would be easy to do with this situation. While the situation is grim, the book is not depressing. Relationships and their exploration seems to be a real strength for O'Nan. He gets the tone of the average family in a small town exactly right, and takes the reader into the experience of losing your child without knowing what has happened. This book is highly recommended for all readers. I rate it four stars and enjoyed it despite the material.
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson
The book follows the life of Trond Sander with two focuses. It concentrates on his current life as a sixty-seven year old man who has moved to a remote house in the country after the death of his wife three years before in a car accident. He chooses to return to the area where he had spent several summers with his father as a teenager in the country. His only current neighbor is Lars, whom he realises is the same Lars who was a neighbor's child back then. Once he realises this, the book focuses on his memories of those summers, and especially the summer when he was fifteen.
Like most fifteen year old boys, he was in that half-boy, half-man stage and testing everything. He loves and admires his father, but wonders at his frequent absences from the family back in Oslo. His best friend in the country, Jon, faces a family tragedy that Lars is also a pivotal part of, and leaves the family. Trond starts to put together pieces of his own family's history and to understand the relationships going on around him that he had been oblivious to as a child.
One of the big secrets he discovers has to do with those absences. It turns out that his father was involved in a network of Norwegian resistance workers who smuggled out documents and later people during World War II. Other members of the network included his father's best friend, and Jon and Lar's mother. Trond is a bit in love with this woman, and starts to act out his emerging sexuality with her by putting his arms around her in front of her husband and his father. That shocks them enough that the physical work they were doing is interrupted and an accident occurs, injuring the husband. Trond is shocked later to observe his father and Jon's mother kissing, making it evident that they are involved in an affair. That leads to the last secret, the fact that when Trond returns to his mother and sister at the end of the summer, his father stays behind. He leaves them and starts another life with Jon's mother. Trond never sees his father again.
I really enjoyed this book. The language is poetic, and reflects the stark beauty of the Norwegian countryside. The secrets are revealed slowly and with each secret, the reader feels that another piece of a jigsaw puzzle is slotted into place. The issues of family, relationships, and control are explored. This book is recommended for all readers.
Friday, January 9, 2009
The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
Sunday, January 4, 2009
The Trouble With Boys by Peg Tyre
I found this book fascinating. Tyre talks about the educational history that led to this current problem. Societal changes such as unskilled jobs being outsourced overseas, have forced the education system to focus on reading, writing and math skills as those are the skillsets that are required in typical jobs in the United States these days. Unfortunately, this emphasis has led to techniques that tend to favor the innate abilities of girls and that often disparage the innate abilities of boys. Changes in schools such as reduced recess, emphasis on early writing and small-motor coordination, organizational skills and collaboration rather than competition, tend to showcase girls' abilities. Male characteristics such as kinetic movement, noisiness, and the willingness to take chances are less valued and often emphatically discouraged.
Tyre covers many topics. She talks about the rapid rise in ADHD diagnosis, with a 48% rise in cases between 2000 and 2005. Since true ADHD is a fairly rare neurological issue, the large rise in diagnosis makes many experts question who is doing the diagnosing and what are the criteria they use. The rise of "redshirting", keeping a child out of school for an extra year of maturation, is another rising phenomenon. The impact of reading choices in the classroom, and the effect of video gaming are both explored, as is the issue of one-sex schools or classes. She also covers several projects and trials that are attempting to reverse the poor performance of males, and reports on their effectiveness.
A final area I found interesting was the chapter that spelled out why this poor performance by so many boys is a reason for all of us to be concerned. If boys are turned off to education, it is unlikely that they will continue on to college, and more and more, college is the mealticket to a stable, finanically rewarding career. When boys aren't represented in college, girls will be less willing to get married to those men who are less educated and have less money-making potential. Already one in three women make more money than their husbands, and this is a significant change in our society that will have far-reaching effects that are as yet unknown. As a sidenote, when there are fewer male applicants to college, less qualified males tend to be selected over those women who are qualified, but whose selection would make an imbalance in the incoming class.
The research in the book seems quite well-done. I particularly liked that Tyre pointed out areas of disagreement as well as areas in which she agreed with various researchers. This book is highly recommended for all parents. It will be a valuable resource for parents of sons who are starting to have issues with their education, and a thought-provocating read for those who have daughters. This book is highly recommended.
The Woman In The Wing by Jean Sheldon
When Char refuses, she is taken off the flying rotation and given an alternate assignment. She is assigned to work undercover in a plant that builds aircraft, and that has been experiencing sabotage and accidents. Char is to room with an FBI agent named Ellie, and they work at riveting plane wings while trying to discover the spy responsible for the problems. People start to die, both plant employees and women pilots, and the book revolves around the investigation until the spy is captured at the book's climax.
This book is recommended, both for mystery fans and for those interested in World War II history. While I'd heard of the sterotype of Rosie the Riveteer and the work these women performed, I had never heard of the WASP, and the women who served their country in this fashion. I found the history as interesting as the plotline and welcomed the chance to learn more about a time that helped lay the groundwork for the women's liberation movement in the next generation.