Monday, March 31, 2014

What I read (December-March 2014)

I have fallen completely behind in my monthly recaps of what I've read, so this is my attempt to get caught up. For full reviews of these books (these are just excerpts of the reviews), click on the title to go to Marie's Book Garden.

Fiction
Code Name Verity (Code Name Verity, #1)
Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein
I LOVED this story about a female British spy, who is captured in Nazi-occupied France, and her best friend, a pilot. I finished it crying in the living room at 5:00 a.m. The book is not only beautifully written, but it's cleverly crafted. It's one of the most beautiful homages to friendship I've ever read. 
The Chaperone
The Chaperone, by Laura Moriarty
Cora Carlisle agrees to escort young Louise Brooks (of silent film fame), who heads to New York City to study dance. The story is more about Cora's life (which is fictional) than Louise's. But I enjoyed this book and learned some historical tidbits, always a great thing!


In the Woods, by Tana French
Rob Ryan, a crime victim 20 years before, is a murder detective in this literary thriller/detective novel. A young girl is murdered in the same area where his two best friends vanished when he was a child. My favorite character is Ryan's partner, Cassie Maddow, a tough, tender detective with secrets of her own.

The Weight of SilenceThe Weight of Silence, by Heather Gudenkauf
In this quiet, easy read, seven-year-old Calli Clark does not speak, but her best friend Petra speaks on her behalf. When the girls disappear early one morning, Calli's mother is forced to face what she has been trying to ignore. Gudenkauf portrays a family damaged by alcoholism and abuse, with two sensitive children who have been deeply scarred by the disease.
The Ayah's Tale, a novella by Sujata Massey
The Ayah's Tale, by Sujata Massey
This novella is about an Indian ayah and the English children under her care. The children in Menakshi's care are privileged and spoiled, but she becomes attached to to them. Menakshi's story starts and ends in Georgetown, Penang in Malaysia, a place I visited in 1988. Massey beautifully depicts the complicated relationships that people in the employ of their colonial employers had to deal with--and in fact, still deal with in many countries. 


My Basmati Bat MitzvahMy Basmati Bat Mitzvah, by Paula L. Freedman
Tara Feinstein is studying for her Bat Mitzvah while grappling with her combined Indian-Jewish heritage. Her parents are caring, engaged, and funny, and she worries a lot about disappointing them. She has a supportive extended family, a great rabbi, and close friends. Ultimately, Tara discovers that doubt does not mean a loss of faith, and she finds a way to happily marry both cultures in her Bat Mitzvah.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
Junior is keenly intelligent and creative in spite of being brain damaged at birth. He doesn't fit in well on the Spokane Indian Reservation and soon finds a way to go to the white school nearby. His community is not happy with him to say the least, including his best friend, who feels betrayed. In spite of the alcoholism, incessant poverty, and too frequent deaths around him, Junior excels in his white school. 
In addition to the stellar, well-crafted writing, Alexie included cartoons by artist Ellen Forney as Junior's art. I love stories of redemption in spite of overwhelming odds, and this is an excellent example of that genre.


Oryx and CrakeOryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood
In this frightening, dystopian novel--the first of a trilogy--cloning has gone wild, as has the pharmaceutical industry. Corporations run the world, and the powerless live in the "Pleeblands." A plague decimates most of the population. I've been reading Margaret Atwood for 30 years, and she is an exceptional writer. I've heard that the books only get better as they progress...and now that she's gotten me hooked, I will be reading the rest of the trilogy. But I might have to recover from this one first. It makes me truly worried for my children and grandchildren, because I can see these things happening so easily.

Nonfiction

I Am Malala, by Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb
What an inspiring young woman! Malala Yousafzai tells her story. In her village in the Swat valley, where people rejoice when a son is born, but not a daughter, her father was delighted to have a daughter. Because of her father's belief in girls' potential, Malala was able to pursue her dreams of education. Throughout her life, Malala has been an ambitious, competitive, and passionate young woman. I highly recommend this book, and I admire her passion and commitment to stand up for girls' education in her homeland.


Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, by Sheryl Sandberg
Every woman needs to read this book. Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, admits that she didn't always call herself a feminist. She admits she has a different perspective than lower-income, less-educated women, but many of her lessons apply to us all. She tackles the systemic issues of sexism and backs them up with personal stories and research. She issues a challenge for all of us to lean in, to rise to the challenge, to be confident in ourselves and the choices we make, and strive for greater equality in the workplace and in our broader culture at large. So yes, Sandberg might be a privileged, educated, white woman, but she is doing good work...necessary and overdue work, prompting women and men to look at our status quo and realize that many things are not right. 

Disappointing

A Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin
Or as I call it, A Game of Endless Unlikable Characters. I encourage you to read the full review, which lists my 10 reasons for actively disliking this book. The other day I read my review to my husband, who DEVOURS these books, and one of my close friends, who also loves them, and I wasn't sure if they'd ever speak to me again! My ten reasons in a nutshell are: far too many characters, lack of character development, lack of sympathetic characters, rape and brutal treatment of women, too much detail, way too long, endless plots, lack of geographic perspective, does not compel me to read any more, and sad outlook on humanity. If I'm going to read a dark, dark book, I need to get some satisfaction out of it. 
Thirteen Reasons Why
Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher
Before Hannah commits suicide, she creates audiotapes explaining her "13 reasons why." Many people LOVE this book, but I was not as taken with it. It sheds some light on the plight of a teenage girl who is often objectified and not treated with respect. But some of her "reasons" seemed inconsequential, and in fact they made me think of all the people in the world who endure far, far worse than what Hannah had. Suicide usually happens because the person is deeply depressed...yet the book does not touch on Hannah's depression. I felt that her relationships and personality were not fleshed out. So I was disappointed. 

I will attempt to do a better job keeping up with my book reviews, starting now! :)

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