Tuesday, July 6, 2010

2010 second quarter reading round up

Posted by lea at 12:03 PM
Brief review of books read between April-June 2010:

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot
Quite a fascinating account of a woman whose 'immortal' cells led to countless breakthroughs in medical science, and the family she left behind, who still feel cheated at having not seen a single cent from her multi-billion dollar legacy (as her cells were taken without her knowledge).

Les Miserables (volume 1), Victor Hugo
That Victor Hugo sure can write. It's a long trek of a book but well worth it, with characters fleshed out and weaving storylines that will break your heart and leave you a sobbing mess on public transport.

Isabel's Bed, Elinor Lipman
A re-read from my bookshelf of a great modern writer who manages to evoke the atmosphere of an indie film.

Mister Pip, Lloyd Jones
I was moved. but didn't love this book as much as I knew I was supposed to. Maybe because it was written from the perspective of a young adolescent girl, but the voice just didn't ring true to me. Lovely story though, in the Dead Poets Society sort of vein, set in an Indigenous community in Papua New Guinea.

The Lives of Christopher Chant, Diana Wynne-Jones
Diana Wynne-Jones did magic with words way before Harry Potter, and most of her books are, as they are now labelled on the cover, 'hotter than Potter', but this wasn't one of them.

Just Courage, Gary Haugen
A truly inspiring book by the founder of the International Justice Mission, an organisation that fights human trafficking around the globe. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in finding out more about trafficking and what we can do to prevent it.

31 Dream Street, Lisa Jewell
Another re-read from my bookshelf - I really like this book because the protagonists (Leah and Toby) are so ordinary but lovely, and their story is gentle and romantic and feel-good.

A Friend of the Family, Lisa Jewell
... so I decided to read another Lisa Jewell book, but it didn't prove to be quite as rewarding. Pretty good, but not great.

The Monday Night Cooking Club, Erica Bauermeister
... but not as bad as this dud of a book. About a third of the way through, I had to start skimming because the eyeball-rolling and head-shaking was getting distracting.

Tea Time for the Traditionally Built, Alexander McCall Smith
Now this is a book I knew I could rely on (from the Number One Ladies' Detective Agency series), and it didn't disappoint. I love Precious Ramotswe and her band of patriotic Botswanians (is that right?). It's like hot chocolate on a freezing cold day.

Thanks for the Memories, Cecelia Ahern
Where do I start with this stinker of a book? Firstly, the idea that you can transfer memories from a blood transfusion was just ridiculous. Organ donation, okay I understand, but blood?? It was a cheap ruse to keep the two connected parties alive long enough to fall in love. Terribly contrived.

The Truth About Melody Browne, Lisa Jewell
Boy was I on a chicklit roll this quarter. I think I was feeling a little down or PMS-y and wanted a lift. This is quite a nice read about a woman who loses her memory after a fire during childhood, but starts unravelling the mystery years later. In Lisa Jewell's style, it's a gentle and comforting read.

Two Caravans, Marina Lewycka
A comical on-the-road story about a mixed group of European travellers in the UK, making money from strawberry-picking and working on a poultry farm (it's enough to turn you off chickens for good). There doesn't seem to be a fixed central storyline, but we follow the characters in their adventures (and misadventures) and hear from each of them in first person, which is an interesting technique, and one from which much of the humour is derived.

Eric, Shaun Tan
Just gorgeous. Shaun Tan is an incredible artist whose illustrations evoke so much atmosphere and emotion. I challenge you not to go 'awwwww' when you reach the end.

You Don't Have to be Evil to Work Here But it Helps, Tom Holt
Magical comic fantasy, but not as good as his previous work. It's set in London in an organisation that deals with magical business, and as usual, a not-too-bright but kind-hearted young twenty-something English lad gets thrown into it without his knowledge or consent, and has to fumble about trying to make things right. The ideas are intriguing and really quite smart, but I preferred Holt's previous characters.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Paul Torday
Another re-read from my bookshelf (please suggest some new reading material!), but I found it a little more depressing this time round. It's a funny and easy read, but it does provide some food for thought.

A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole
This is one of my favourites - the account of its obese and arrogant hero, Ignatius O'Reilly, is hilarious and intelligently written. The first time I read it, I was completely diverted (the Austen definition - entertained) by his antics, but this time around I couldn't help but feel the tragedy behind some of the secondary characters, especially those affected by his actions, like the overlooked and much maligned police officer Mancuso, and the relationship between the wealthy but unhappy Levys. It's a witty and humorous book, but you do feel the despair that no doubt caused the author to commit suicide. Although he manages to find humour in almost every situation, it's a bleak view of the world, with no beauty or wisdom, and only folly to laugh at.

Chart Throb, Ben Elton
Chart Throb is the culmination of Ben Elton's sharp observations of the talent quest phenomenon (think [insert country] Idol), a good modern read.

Spellmans Strike Again, Lisa Lutz
Too much of a good thing is still too much. This is part four of Lisa Lutz's Spellman series, and although it's probably just as funny and well-written as the first book, after a certain point you just don't enjoy it as much anymore.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery 
Slow to start, but much like the central character, once you pass the surface there is much to like about this book. It's not an easy read as it requires at least 90% of your functioning brain to understand, but it's a good insight into the French class system (despite their protests of egalitarianism) set alongside the story of the burgeoning relationships between Renee (the lowly concierge in a rich people's building), the young, intelligent and privileged Paloma, and Mr Ozu, the Japanese newcomer to the building. I wasn't happy with the ending though, not because it's not a 'happy ending', but because it's a cheap way to reward readers who invest so much into the book.


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