Sunday, July 27, 2008

Review: The Commoner by John Burnham Schwartz

Ok, I have so many books on my 'to be read' pile now that I used a Random Number Generator to choose which one in my pile to read!! Now that's crazy!! Moving on....

Well, I've never heard of John Burnham Schwartz before, but I'm starting to regret that he has three other books out there that I haven't read. Staying with the theme of the Far East, we have here the story of the Empress of Japan, told in her voice in a book written by a man. And very cleverly done, indeed.

This is the story of a girl, who in the 1950's is the first 'commoner' ever to be chosen to marry the Crown Prince of Japan. I'm smiling as I read it, thinking of Princess Diana and the childish dream of becoming a princess....

But the story that follows -- the isolation, the restrictions, the horror of it -- oh, you just feel so for her and all she goes through. I know it's a work of fiction, but I know it was meticulously researched and I can just see how so much of it must be born of truth. What a shame that people are so lost in pomp and circumstance, so overcome by tradition, that they forget how to be human and have human relationships.

Absolutely beautifully written and not to be missed!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Review: The Foreigner by Francie Lin

Another free book I received from the Early Reviewers Group at Library Thing!! And boy, did they get this match right, because.....

This is one of the best books I've read this year. As Francie Lin's first book, you can't help but wonder what she'll do as a follow up! It's absolutely brilliant, well-written and fast paced. Even with my hopelessly busy schedule, I simply couldn't put it down (it helped that our Internet service was out for a day!).

One of the things I've realized lately is how much I love a book written in the first person. I love being told a story from the character's point of view, feeling almost as if I am the character as I'm living their story with them. And I'm amazed in this book (as I was amazed conversely at how great Arthur Golden wrote as a woman in Memoirs of a Geisha) at how Francie Lin writes from a man's perspective - a man's voice - so well. You'd think she was a man -- but the picture on the back cover says it's not so!

Anyway, It's the story of Emerson Chang, a forty year old financial analyst in San Francisco. When his mother dies, he goes to Taiwan in search of his long lost brother. This begins a dramatic, suspenseful and beautiful journey with all kinds of twists and turns. Just trust me, you'll love it. It's going to be on my short list for the best book of the year. Here's an example of some of Francie Lin's gorgeous way with words:

It was the hour of the night when cities show themselves. Traffic lights blinked, off-line; street dogs wandered in the alleys, carrying away trash and scraps, shitting in the gutters. The pavements gave off steam like a long, collective breath, and the smell of open drains hung in the air. In my mother's stories about the old country, Taipei had been a land with a single train going to and from school, a church and a priest, fresh sugarcane, candy stores, earthquakes, curfew. One more death, I thought vaguely, sleepy -- death of a memory, of an image.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Review: The People's Act of Love by James Meek

I've had this book on my reading list for a couple of years and finally got to it. I've never read anything but good about it, but actually struggled at about 100 pages over whether or not I wanted to finish it. There are a lot of characters, all with Russian and Czech names, and the author makes the assumption that you know something about what happened in Siberia in the first World War. I thought that I would probably give it a not-so-good review.

But now that I've finished, I have to say that I liked the book and I'm glad I read it. I wish I had read it at a time when I could really dedicate some time to sorting out all the characters and maybe looking into some background information about what happened in this time period in Siberia. Most of my negative reactions are probably my own fault.

Still, combine a freaky religious sect (apparently based on the truth) with a squadron of Czech soldiers.. lay on top of that the town widow and her son who have past connections with certain characters in the town. Pretty fascinating. And then, out of the forest walks a convict with a story about cannibalism that turns the town upside down. All in all, it requires some patience to read but it's a very good story. You'll learn some things -- and you might just enjoy yourself!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Win a Book!

Hey! Run over to Lori's Reading Corner to win a copy of The Host!! You know you want it!!

Review: Say You're One of Them by Uwem Akpan

I belong to a group on Library Thing called 'Reading Globally'. Each month they read a book based in a certain country, or by an author from that country. July's choice is Nigeria, which I was thinking of passing on -- because I'm so busy and I've already read Half of a Yellow Sun, which is the quintessential Nigerian read. But then....there was an article in our paper about a new book out by a Nigerian author...Say You're One of Them. So I changed my mind and read.

This book is a collection of short stories - 5 of them. From the slums of Kenya to the massacres in Rwanda to a treacherous bus ride through Nigeria, these stories are hair-raising one and all. I wish the world was such that no one could even imagine things horrible enough to write a book like this. But alas, this stuff didn't come out of thin air...I'm sure that these stories are thinly veiled fictional accounts of the truth. The worst part is, most of the stories are about the struggles of children in horrible circumstances like this. It's true that they highlight the resilience of children and the bond between siblings -- but I can't imagine my kids ever having to face such tragedy. I don't want to be naive, but really - it's a truth I wish I didn't know. The writing is great, but the content is highly disturbing.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Review: Loose Girl by Kerry Cohen

I requested this book from the Early Reviewers program at Library Thing because I'm a psychotherapist. Women who use sex and love to feel worthy are abundant, and the residue of these experiences can be hard to work through. I thought this might be a good book to have in my library for clients.

Well, I really liked the book, but I don't know that I would give it to clients. This is a fascinating look at promiscuity - what it's roots are and the internal damage it can do. I could barely put it down, which is unusual for me since I'm not a huge fan of non-fiction.

But, like other reviewers, I wanted more at the end. I wanted to hear her conclusions about what happened to her and how she makes sense of it now, especially since she's now a psychotherapist herself. I wanted to know what the journey was like between then and now. To give it to a client, I'd want some kind of a diary about how to get out of the pattern, not just a diary of the pattern.

Ahem...a sequel, maybe?

I also had difficulty with the present tense, first person style. Here's an example:

Once, Susan calls me to the window to see a fox in their backyard.

I'm sure this is grammatically fine, but she is saying "once" as in, in the past, and then the rest of the sentence is present tense...? This style tripped me up, and several times, like with this sentence, I found myself re-reading the sentence and saying "huh?" to myself. As I say, I'm sure it's defendable grammatically, but I just didn't like it much.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Review: The Interloper by Antoine Wilson

I read some of the other reviews of this book, trying to figure out what people liked about it. I did read it all the way through, something I doubt I would have done if it wasn't an Early Reviewer book from Library Thing. The main character just gets crazier and crazier, more and more bizarre, as the book carries on. As I read other reviewers comments, I realized I had to admit that this was certainly the author's intent. The discomfiture I felt watching him lose his mind was carefully crafted by the author, and I'm sure that I felt just as he wanted me to feel!

Still, as a psychotherapist, I was really stuck in the idea that "There's medication for this, ya know??" It really is a very good piece if you want to see in action what delusional disorder is really all about. But a warning: YOU might go crazy reading about it!