Saturday, April 28, 2012

Review: Certain Girls

Certain Girls
Certain Girls by Jennifer Weiner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This gets that extra star for making me cry in a cafe in Kuala Lumpur. Weiner may not write challenging books, but she writes about subjects that I relate to all too well and then pulls me through the emotional wringer and brings me out the other side believing that things will be okay. That is no small thing.

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Friday, April 27, 2012

Review: Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America

Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America
Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America by Robert Charles Wilson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don't know if it's just because I read this while travelling solo, so it was my constant companion for 2 days, or if it really is worth the 4.5 stars I would give it if I could, but I loved this look at what the world might be like after oil. I laughed my ass off when I realized the author was Canadian, what with Canada becoming either a state or a battleground between the Americans and the Europeans.

The day after I finished this, I went to visit Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur. Petronus being an oil company. Yep.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Review: Brian's Winter

Brian's Winter
Brian's Winter by Gary Paulsen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The details in this book are fascinating. The Canadian winter is a scary place.

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Review: Earthquake at Dawn

Earthquake at Dawn
Earthquake at Dawn by Kristiana Gregory

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The characters should have been interesting and sympathetic and the plot should have been riveting. Neither was the case. Informative though.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Review: The Postmistress

The Postmistress
The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I didn't really take in, when I picked this book up, that I was once again going to be reading a novel set right before America enters WWII, just as in A Separate Peace. It's a fairly fascinating time to look at. The themes of loneliness and access to information were interesting. I found Frankie's story the most interesting - her reporting of the Blitz, but especially the train ride. Emma's character seemed to function largely to illustrate the need to have someone to care about you, to focus their attention on you which made Frankie's realization that she couldn't get the whole story, that families were left without the knowledge of the fates of their loved ones.

This book left me heartbroken, thinking about all those families out there, separated by the confused flight from danger to refuge or through death. This story, though set in the past, has so much to say about the present. All those children out there, lacking that attention focused on them through war, famine, AIDS. It's late and I'm not putting this well, but I think it's worth the read.

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Monday, April 09, 2012

Review: The Day They Came to Arrest the Book

The Day They Came to Arrest the Book
The Day They Came to Arrest the Book by Nat Hentoff

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a book meant more to illustrate the various perspectives in a debate on censorship than entertain. And in that sense it does a good job. Unfortunately, though censorship, and in particular the censorship of Huckleberry Finn, is a timeless issue, this book manages to date itself. First there are the rather hilarious references to communism and a fear of the Russians. Then there are the potshots the book takes at feminism. It's not just that the feminist student is an extreme character, because really all of the characters are written to represent extremes, but the little disparaging comment made by a female teacher about gender neutral language and the term Ms.

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Sunday, April 08, 2012

Review: A Separate Peace

A Separate Peace
A Separate Peace by John Knowles

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It seems impossible not to compare this coming-of-age story set in a boys boarding school with The Catcher in the Rye - and I liked this a lot more. It also vaguely reminded me of Never Let Me Go in the way that the boys live a life safely apart from something "out there" and instead develop their own separate sense of what the world is. I enjoyed the book both as a meditation on how outside forces can come to define and shape our existence and also as a story of adolescent friendship and the tragedy of a moment's meanness. I have Peace Breaks Out, but I think I may give myself a buffer book in between.

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Thursday, April 05, 2012

Review: Incendiary

Incendiary by Chris Cleave

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read the entire first section of Incendiary on the couch in my boyfriend's apartment in South Korea, but when I stopped reading that night I was almost startled not to be in my flat in Edinburgh, in a slowly gentrifying neighborhood where I'd often stop and have a smoke in the close with a ned who lived one floor down. The language and class analysis brought me right into the story. What took me out of it was that like Little Bee the ending was just ridiculous. There were slightly absurd plot points along the way, but I was able to roll with them right up to the scene in Parliament Square. The ending was frustratingly disappointing. That said, some of the book just slayed me. Having the narrator quote her son's age so precisely, so often was incredibly powerful. The attempt to fill the emptiness with sexual relationships. The desperate need to exert control on the things around her. I just wish Cleve would work on his endings.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Review: Oleanna

Oleanna by David Mamet

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I saw this at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival one year.

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Monday, April 02, 2012

Review: The Humbling

The Humbling
The Humbling by Philip Roth

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I don't entirely know what to think about this slim novel. The main character bored me a lot until he started his relationship with the much younger lesbian. The idea of trying on another kind of life to see if it could fit interests me. And the end was certainly dramatic. But the aging, failing actor was hard to maintain interest in. It's more like 2.5 stars, but since I did feel compelled to read it in one gulp, I'm going to be generous and round up.

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Review: Please Look After Mom

Please Look After Mom
Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you ever want to think about how you take your parents for granted, this book will start you off. I really enjoyed it, though the timing of the read was to finish it while I was still in Korea and that turned out to be unimportant. The Korea of this book is not my Korea. Mom would only be twelve years older than my own parents and thus the narrators not too much older than myself, but the world they describe seems almost impossible to relate to the place I live now. It makes me marvel once again at how amazing those generations of Koreans are to have gone from the devetations of the wars to the Seoul I have lived in over the past 6.5 years.

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Sunday, April 01, 2012


I stepped ashore one May night
in the cool moonshine
where grass and flowers were grey
but the scent green.

I glided up the slope
in the colour-blind night
while white stones
signalled to the moon.

A period of time
a few minutes long
fifty-eight years wide.

And behind me
beyond the lead-shimmering waters
was the other shore
and those who ruled.

People with a future
instead of a face.