Tuesday, July 31, 2012

What I read in July (2012)

July was a month of only fiction (after lots of nonfiction in June!)...some of it disappointing. For full reviews of these books, click on the title to go to Marie's Book Garden.
The Descendants, by Kaui Hart Hemmings
This book, expanded from a short story, was beautifully written. Hemmings has a keen understanding of the way teenagers think and act (especially those who do not get enough affection or guidance from their parents!). The book is stronger than the movie in that we get to understand Matt's inner life and motivations. His transformation is a bit deeper and more understandable in the book for that reason. It clearly is a novel of place. Hawaii is ever present, as is its culture, history, and tensions between native Hawaiians and white people. Hemmings also handles the concepts of death and grief in a sensitive, loving, and realistic way.

This Beautiful Life, by Helen Schulman

Jake Bergamot, 15, goes to an unchaperoned party where a 13-year-old, Daisy, flirts outrageously with him. He ends up becoming entangled with her that alcohol-soaked evening--he's flattered, they're both lonely--until his friends appear and mock him for robbing the cradle. He shrugs her off, telling her that she's too young for him. The next day an ex-rated video Daisy had made arrives in his e-mail. Shocked and a bit flattered, Jake sends the video to his best friend, who forwards it to a few other friends, and then--you guessed it--it goes viral. This book explores the changing technology landscape for teenagers. As mom of a teenager, this book freaked me out a bit.

Shutter Island, by Dennis Lehane
This is the type of book that totally screws with your mind. If you don't like such books, steer clear. I like Lehane's writing style and the book drew me in immediately. When I finished the book, I wasn't absolutely positive what was true in the end. I suppose that's because I don't usually read these noir types of books and am not the sort of reader who tries to figure things out and look for clues along the way. I'm intrigued enough by Lehane's writing and creativity to try another one of his. If you like psychological thrillers, you will probably like this one. Creepy and haunting!

The Teahouse Fire, by Ellis Avery
French girl Aurelia arrives in New York with her single mother to live with her priest uncle. She ends up going to Japan with her uncle to convert a "heathen" Japan. Yukako, the young woman who discovers Aurelia and takes her under her wing, is the daughter of a great tea ceremony master. Much of the book is about the ancient art of tea ceremony and how it evolves, particularly with the passing of the Shogun and the ushering in of the Meiji era modernizations. Aurelia leads a sad life...she's not only lost her mother--the only person she ever loved--but she also is shunned and misunderstood as a foreigner living in Japan in this time. It's fascinating to consider how little has changed in Japan since this novel's setting. Although women have more options now than they did then, Japanese culture is still strongly rooted in patriarchy. The Teahouse Fire, obviously meticulously researched, gets bogged down in too many details and characters. I found it difficult to get into and was looking forward to its end.

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