Saturday, June 26, 2010

Color of the Sea by John Hamamura

Color of the SeaThe story begins pre-WWII and follows the life of 9 year old Isamu (Sam). Sam leaves his mother and siblings in Japan to join his father in Hawaii. From a proud Samurai family, Sam's father has become an alcoholic, blue collar laborer working in the cane fields of Hawaii. His dream for Isamu (like all parents) is that the boy transcend the his fathers station by being educated in English and ultimately to study at an American College. This story is deeply spiritual and the writing is superb. Hamamura understands the concept of "less is more" when it comes to writing.   He writes with creatively colorful descriptions, with an eloquent style, and weaves a beautiful message within the rich story set in an historically challenging time for Japanese Americans. His descriptions of the personal and spiritual development of Isamu ("Sam"), the main character struck a deep chord and resonated with me  The explanations of "mu" and "ki" in Japanese cultural and spiritual experience were especially beautiful.  At times, the writing seems "cutesy" but, overall, this book was beautiful and stirring.  I especially loved how the Sensei got Sam to see colors everywhere he looked.

Rating: 4 Recommend

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Piano Teacher by Janice Lee

The Piano Teacher: A Novel
This book transitions back and forth in Hong Kong between the events of war in 1941 and some of the same people in 1952.  It kept me engrossed throughout and I found myself looking forward to going back to it.

Claire Pendleton, newly married and arrived in Hong Kong in 1952, finds work giving piano lessons to the daughter of Melody and Victor Chen, a wealthy Chinese couple. While the girl is less than interested in music, the Chens' flinty British expat driver, Will Truesdale, is certainly interested in Claire, and vice versa. Their fast-blossoming affair is juxtaposed against a plot line beginning in 1941 when Will gets swept up by the beautiful and tempestuous Trudy Liang, and then follows through his life during the Japanese occupation. As Claire and Will's affair becomes common knowledge, so do the specifics of Will's murky past, Trudy's motivations and Victor's role in past events. The rippling of past actions through to the present lends the narrative layers of intrigue and more than a few unexpected twists. Lee covers a little-known time in Chinese history without melodrama, and deconstructs without judgment the choices people make in order to live one more day under torturous circumstances.

Rating: 4.2 Recommend

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Where Rivers Change Direction by Mark Spragg

This is a luscious litWhere Rivers Change Directiontle book that captures a by growing up in rural Wyoming.  It is both a sweet book about this wonderful little boy and a wonderful story of how every boy should be raised - with horses and in the wilderness and allowed to have solitude and discover who he is.

Mark Spragg learned early to read the stars, at 11 he was instructed to quit dreaming, and he went to work for his father on the land. "I was paid thirty dollars a month, had my own bed in the bunkhouse, and three large, plain meals each day." The ranch is a sprawling place where winter brings months of solitude and summer brings tourists from the real world--city types who want a taste of the outdoors and stare at the author and his family as if they were members of some exotic tribe: "Our guests were New Jersey gas station owners, New York congressmen, Iowa farmers, judges, actors, plumbers, Europeans who had read of Buffalo Bill and Sitting Bull and came to experience the American West, the retired, the just beginning." By the age of 14, he and his younger brother are leading them on camping trips into deep woods. "No one ever asked why we had no televisions, no daily paper. They came for what my brother and I took for granted. They came to live the anachronism that we considered our normal lives."

I don't generally like auto-biographies and would never have picked this up were it not for a friend raving about it.  I lovied this book - thanks Luce!

Rating: 4.8 Recommend

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick

A Reliable WifeWhen Catherine Land, who's survived a traumatic early life by using her wits and sexuality as weapons, happens on a newspaper ad from a well-to-do businessman in need of a "reliable wife," she invents a plan to benefit from his riches and his need. Her new husband, Ralph Truitt, discovers she's deceived him the moment she arrives in his remote hometown. Driven by a complex mix of emotions and simple animal attraction, he marries her anyway.

A Reliable Wife is a book club selection that I probably wouldn't have read.  It has more twists and turns than a hairpin racetrack.  There was a lot of suspense and foreshadowing.  Everytime I thought I knew what was going to happen, something else unfolded and I had to adjust where I thought the book was going.  Thanks Ann for picking this book.  The writing is excellent and it captures the 1900's Wisconsin town and dynamics so well.

Rating: 3.4 Mediocre

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Beneath the Lion's Gaze by Maaza Mengiste

Beneath the Lion's Gaze: A NovelThe brutal 1970s civil war in Ethiopia is the dramatic setting in this first novel, told from searing personal viewpoints that humanize the politics from many sides and without slick messages. The story is told in detail: between Emperor Haile Selassi in his lush palace set against the famine outside. The focus is on the family of physician Hailu, first before the revolution and then after the brutal regime takes over. His older son tries to lead a quiet life and look the other way, until Hailu is taken and tortured. The younger son joins the mass demonstrations, exhilarated that change has come, then deflated when he confronts the new tyranny. The clear narrative voices also include the women in the family and others on all sides, who experience the graphic violence, both in the old feudal system, where a rich kid regularly rapes a servant, and in the new dictatorship with torture in the name of freedom.

I thought with two boys and a father who was a doctor and the setting in Ethiopia that this would be similar to Cutting for Stone.  Unfortunately, despite starting off promising, it soon started to drag so, I am moving on to other more compelling books.

Rating: 1 Do not Recommend

Wrapped in Rain by Charles Martin

WRAPPED IN RAINThe first few pages of this book captured my heart with this sweet little boy, Tucker Mason, who is the motherless son of a wealthy, abusive alcoholic in a small Alabama town. While Dad spends most of his time in an Atlanta high-rise, Tucker grows up in an enormous manse--complete with a "chandelier made from elk horns"--tutored by an African-American widow in common courtesy, love and the gospel. After a few years, an illegitimate son turns up at the Mason compound, Tucker's half-brother, Mutt. Then the book changes to when Tucker is an adult. I found characters, especially the evil characters, too caricaturish and one-dimensional to engage me.

Rating: 1 Do NOT Recommend

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Property by Valerie Martin

PropertySet in Louisiana in 1828, Property relays the life experiences of Manon, the white wife of a Louisiana plantation owner during the time of slavery. Manon is disgusted by her husband but is hardly more sympathetic herself. The book expresses the hypocrisy and evils of slave ownership through Manon's petty distinctions between her vulgar, brutal husband, and her idealized view of her father. Ultimately, there are no hero's of this tale. Each character is uniquely flawed and human, and the beauty of this book is its realistic recreation of the time period without appealing to sentimentality or melodrama.

This was a ver quick read. Like any good depiction of the human grotesque, reading 'Property' feels like watching a car accident, you are disgusted and appalled, yet you can't look away. A small book that from the very first chapter packs a punch - highly charged with emotion and uncomfortable to read but, I believe it captures that way of life.  So glad it is in the past but, definitely something we shouldn't forget.  This book will stay with me.

Rating: 4.1 Recommend

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Map of The Invisible World by Tash Aw

am, 16, barely recalls his older sibling. The two orphans were separated long ago, and he has lived peacefully on an island with his adoptive father, Karl. When soldiers drag the Dutchman away as part of governmental repatriation, the boy searches for Karl in mainland Jakarta. Aw’s evocative descriptions cast the city as long past its glory and turn it into a poignant character: “In the half darkness it was easy to imagine that here, in this warren of streets, the city had not changed in two hundred years. Trapped in a maze of dead ends and unnamed streets, he could not see tower blocks or concrete.”
Map of the Invisible World: A Novel
With moving settings and memorable characters, this atmospheric and complicated tale of a rediscovered past and recovered family will engage readers interested in distant lands and timeless tales of bonds of blood and place.  It is a good book but, not the same quality as The Gift of Rain.

Rating: 3.4 OK

Mad Desire to Dance by Elie Weisel

Doriel Waldman, a Polish Jew born in 1936, is 60 years old, miserable, alone and on the verge of insanity.  This novel unfolds in tje office of Dr. Thérèse Goldschmidt, Doriel's shrink, where he reveals himself to be an uncooperative patient, and his aggressive, obsessive rants on the origins of his troubles make for difficult reading.  This is a multilayered narrative emerges: the journey through sadness and madness is a volatile one that plods, on and on.  It does an excellent job of capturing the rantings of a madman but, it didn't make for pleasant reading.

Rating: 1 Do NOT Recommend

Empire of the Sun by J.G. Ballard

Set in Shanghai during WWII, the novel follows a young British boy named Jim as he struggles to survive after being separated from his parents. Jim is crazy about airplanes and wants to be a pilot when he grows up. He admires the bravery of the Japanese soldiers and continues to idolize them, even after he is locked up in an internment camp where he sees up close the ugliness of war.

This story just did not grab me.  None of the characters had any depth and the plot was very poorly held together.  Spielberg did an amazing job with the movie but, for the first time in my experience, the book was not better.

Rating: 0 Do NOT Recommend

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Good to a Fault by Marina Endicott

The quiet, circumscribed world of divorcée Clara Purdy gets shaken up when she gets in a car accident with the Gage family, who are homeless and have been living in their car. In the aftermath, the mother, Lorraine Gage, is diagnosed with cancer, and Clara takes the family into her home while Lorraine undergoes treatment. The father absconds almost immediately, and Lorraine's mother, Mrs. Pell, proves to be deeply unpleasant. Clara, however, continues to visit Lorraine in the hospital, tend to the three children, and eventually takes in Lorraine's alcoholic brother as well. Her willingness to go to such lengths for strangers is a perpetual curiosity to those around her, and just as the Gage family solidifies around her and she begins a new relationship, Lorraine's health takes a surprising turn and Clara must decide again, what is the right thing to do.

This writing in this book was alright but, the story line and the characters were not well developed and quickly wore very thin.

Rating: 1 Do NOT Recommend