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Kinga's Reading

After the Fire, A Still Small Voice - Evie Wyld

What can I say about a book that had me gripped in alternate chapters and skimming the text in the others? Leon's story was the one I wanted more of and the one I couldn't wait to read. Frank's story is, to me, bit more boring and dull with predictable experiences of the "angry young man".

When this book first came out, many book bloggers RAVED about it. And it is a good book, but I'd really have preferred just Leon's story, told in uninterrupted prose. It would make for a shorter book, but a more interesting one. The four stars that I think this book deserves shows just how much I found Leon's experiences fascinating.

The London Train - Tessa Hadley It was a slow-starter and a slow-grower (if there is such a thing). Immediately after finishing, I thought "meh". But, with some time to reflect and ponder, I really liked this book.
We Were The Mulvaneys (The Perennial Collection) - Joyce Carol Oates In a book where none of the characters appealed to me, Joyce Carol Oates somehow wrote a book that I liked. Half-way through, I considered abandoning it because the misery, the utter hopelessness was too much and the characters living in the book were too annoying. I struggle with Michael Mulvaney, Sr. especially, but that is the intent of the author, I believe. Corinne, Patrick and Mule were all unreliable in their own way. I wish more time was spent with Marianne, but I was two-thirds through the book before she became a more frequent presence and we learned of her point of view (after the move). In the end, Joyce Carol Oates seems to say "what is a family if not the memories that follow each family member around?" Interesting.
The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared - Jonas Jonasson Allan Karlsson leaves a nursing home on the day of his 100th Birthday and gets himself in all sorts of complicated situations. This was a humorous (notice: I did not say funny) book that had a lot of the "slapstick" element to it. Allan's life seems to take him into amazing adventures from which he mostly escapes unscathed, including a dinner with Stalin that goes wrong. It is an amusing and light read, but I did not laugh out loud even once.
Gillespie and I - Jane  Harris I loved this book. Jane Harris takes us on a journey back to the Glasgow Exhibition in the late 19th century, where we meet Miss Harriet Baxter and the Gillespie family. The pages kept on flying by and I found myself fascinated by the story. Harriet cleaves herself to the Gillespies and has an especially soft spot for the husband, Ned Gillespie, who is also a painter. Through a horrible event, which destroys the friendship and probably the Gillespie family, I began to wonder if things were as they first seemed. I kept on backtracking and re-reading passages to see if my memory was correct. It was one of those books that I could have read all day long, if life hadn't intervened.
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration - Isabel Wilkerson Three stars is probably not adequate for a book that I liked a lot, but three stars is what I feel I should give. The Warmth of Other Suns is a great masterpiece of research that focuses on the movement of black people from the south to the north of the US. This took place in the 20th Century, following World War I until the early 70s. Isabel Wilkerson weaves through her research stories of men and women (and children) who, unable to stand the racism and segregation of the southern states, moved their familes up to the northern states. Their stories of life in the south are heartbreaking and difficult to read, at times. There is no respite from the horrors once these people arrive up north, though. The three main characters Ida Mae, George and Robert come out of the pages and their stories are fascinating as much as they are painful. So far, so good.The aspects of this book which made me drop a star in my review were small and insignificant, but they built up over the length of this book. There's a lot of repetition: in the stories of the three main people, in the analysis, in the treatment of blacks down south or up north. Everytime the story swung back to Ida Mae, George or Robert, we got a little summation of what they'd been up to until now. But this was unnecessary and boring after a while because I'd just read about their story a few pages back. I was paying attention. There's also some repetition in the fact of housing: black people found it difficult to move outside of the acknowledged "black" area and were often forced out of the "white" areas by violence. This is an awful fact, but there is no need to mention it over and over and over again. I was, as I said, paying attention. Caste is a word that was overused. I understand that the division between the black population and white population was one similar to caste, but surely other words could have been used. In the UK we talk of classes, but races and minorities and groups in society would have sufficed. Instead we got caste, caste, caste. I suppose it was for some shock value or to indicate just how bad things were...but it would have been better to use the word throughout the text, interspersing it with others also applicable.This book was extremely well research and I learned a lot from it. Some of the stories hit me hard and I carried them around with me for days. But, in the end, what I found to be the shortcomings of this book were too much for me.
The No-Nonsense Guide to Religion - Symon Hill This book is a concise explanation of religion and the role it plays in today's society. It contains brief descriptions of the major religions in the world (including Jainism and Baha'ism), which are detailed enough to get some understanding of the underlying beliefs of each. The author then goes on to explore religion as a tool of studying the truth, the influence of religion on power and opression, the role of religion in resistance and uprisings, religious freedom and the role that religion often plays in excusing the start of wars. This a lovely and readable book of less than 130 that gives the reader an idea about religion, its past and its future.
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle - David Wroblewski The benefits of being sick, but not too sick, is racing through nearly 200 pages in a day. As I read this book, I wasn't sure how much I liked it. The language David Wroblewski used was beautiful and full of lushness. The descriptions were wonderful and I found myself looking up the map of northern Wisconsin more than once on my maps software to try and place the farm. Somewhere near Mellen and Ashland. But the Hamlet-esque turn of the book, with ghosts appearing and younger brothers moving in wavered my admiration. I didn't want to re-read what Shakespeare already wrote and what my high school teachers made me read (but Hamlet is, you know, pretty good so needs no rewriting). So I lost my enjoyment with the book, but persevered anyway.The last 100 pages had me gripped. I read them up, almost swallowing the words. What would happen? Would Edgar go back? Would anybody survive? Would Edgar get his revenge on Claude? I didn't like the end. But it left me winded, and I thought about the book for the rest of the day, unable to pick anything else up. And I was sad.The story is long, maybe a bit too long. But the length builds a picture of a wonderful life, which is shattered. I think it helped me to feel a lot of empathy for Edgar and the difficult position in which he found himself. As my first read 2013, I couldn't have asked for much more.
The Corrections - Jonathan Franzen It is unbelievable to think that I liked almost none of the characters in this book and yet I enjoyed the book itself. Some have referred to Franzen as a simplified DeLillo. If so, I might never give DeLillo another chance because why would I punish myself with his prose, when the more accessible Franzen is available? A book about a disfunctional family, with 5 very different members all trying to find happiness in an unhappy life. Most annoying was probably Caroline, but Gary and her deserve each other in their smugness and hands-off parenting routine. Chip grew on me like fungus, slowly and quietly, until I found him palatable towards the end of the book. Denise was uptight, but alright. Enid made some bad choices and had to live with them, and though I wouldn't envy her life, she annoyed me the most. Al...well...the most complex and the least understood of them all...this book was really about Alfred.The storyline unfolds slowly and little happens initially, except for flashbacks and filling in, but I really enjoyed the last half of the book. The language is easy to digest, but the message can be heavy, which is my favourite sort of book. I have Freedom on my shelves and might be reaching for that, as well as, researching Jonathan Franzen's back catalogue.
The 19th Wife - David Ebershoff There is enough in this book for two books. I would have loved following Ann Eliza's story alone. The other half of the book, set in modern times is less interesting and the ending falls a bit flat.
Interpreter of Maladies - Jhumpa Lahiri A fantastic collection of short stories from Ms Lahiri, focusing mainly on the lives of immigrants from the Indian subcontinent. She brings to surface the mixed emotions of people in uncomfortable situations and new places. Really lovely.
Get Shorty - Elmore Leonard In an unusual turn of events, I watched the film before reading the book. I remember really enjoying the film, but the book was ok. It moves fairly quickly and Chili Palmer is a likeable character. The book was quite funny in places and satisfied my need for a light, enjoyable read.
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet - Jamie Ford Set in Seattle during World War II, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is about a Chinese-American, Henry Lee, and his friendship with a Japanese-American girl, Keiko. It is a fascinating story of national identities and persistence. Henry's father insists that he wears a "I'm Chinese" button, while sending him to an all-white American elementary school. There, he meets and becomes friends with Keiko, who is a second-generation Japanese-American. As this story unfolds during World War II, their friendship is far from simple. Faced with racist taunts from their classmates and Henry's father's hate of the Japanese, Henry and Keiko's relationship deepens until they are separated by the deportation of all Japanese further inland, as ordered by the American government. I had two minor historical quibbles (Marty couldn't have run an online Chemistry group, as there really wasn't much internet in 1986, not even for summa cum laude graduates. Also, the Japanese remained in China until 1945, so it is unlikely that the Canton region would be considered "safe" in 1942), but otherwise, this was a great page-turner.
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? - Jeanette Winterson This is a book that you'll either love or hate and I fell into the former category. As a reader, we follow Jeanette Winterson as she grows up in, what can only be described as, a dysfunctional household where she's locked out on the front step overnight by her adopted mother. Fortunately, Ms Winterson discovers books and manages to flee both her "home" and Accrington. The book then charts her time at Oxford, her search for the birth mother and a mental breakdown. The words flow freely and the structure is jumbled but out of the seeming chaos, a work of beauty emerges. What resonates through is her love of books and her fierce belief in herself. Which is amazing, as she grew up with very little love or support. I read this book in multiple sittings over two days only because my family won't let me sit and read for an entire day, which I would have loved to do with this book.
Sushi and Beyond: One Family's Remarkable Journey Through the Greatest Food Nation on Earth - Michael Booth Michael Booth is so very lucky and has possibly the greatest job on Earth: he writes about food. In this book, he goes to Japan for 3 or 4 months with his family to eat and learn about Japanese food. Being quite in love with Japanese food, this book made me hungry pretty much on every page. It was not a literary masterpiece, but his dry sense of humour shines through nicely. Recommended for Japanophiles everywhere.
Buddha in the Attic - Julie Otsuka The Buddha in the Attic describes tales of Japanese mail order brides, who sailed to America at the start of last century. The reader is treated to their innermost thoughts on the journey, meeting their husbands, childbirth, work, raising children in a strange land and, finally, their deportation to interment camps during World War II. The beauty of this book is that each chapter is composed of the thoughts of many women. There are no named characters, no plotlines...what we get instead is a steady flow of different thoughts. Otsuka did some magnificent research for this book and she captured perfectly the lives of these women.