The Joy Luck Club – Not much joy, little luck

One of my classes requires me to read The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan.  My first thought after reading it – Ugh, this is boring.

The Joy Luck Club is a story of four mothers and their four daughters.  The mothers were all born in China but moved to San Francisco.  They hope their daughters will have a better life in America and want to raise them with American options but Chinese heritage.  My main problem with this book is that each chapter is from a different person’s perspective, which is not necessarily a bad thing.  In this book however, it causes the flow to be choppy and it takes a long time to get to know and understand the characters.

As a whole, the stories are all interesting but it feels as though you are reading a different book each time a new chapter is started.  Sometimes the details are unbearably mundane and made me lose interest quickly.  The main plot is the mothers expectations of their daughters and the daughters feeling as though they will never live up to those expectations. One story is a bit different since the mother has died and her story is told from her daughter’s perspective.

I think if the book would have concentrated on one mother/daughter storyline it would have been a much more compelling read.   As it stand, this book is one that I could have lived without reading.

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The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Review

Neil Gaiman’s newest book The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a short one but a good one.  A man returns to his childhood home for a funeral and finds himself arriving where his childhood home no longer stands and where a distant memory returns at the side of a pond that is really an ocean.

Although this book is being promoted as Gaiman’s first adult novel in several years, most of the book reads as YA.  Not to say it wasn’t enjoyable, just that the bulk of this relatively short novel (178 pages) takes place while the main character is 7 and his friend appears to be 11.  Gaiman is a master at conjuring up vivid images and putting them into the readers head.  From the creatures that threaten to torment the young boy to a violent struggle in the middle of the book, the reader is provided with great detail as well as emotion.  I feel the loneliness of the boy at the beginning as well as the comfort he feels when Lettie and Old and Young Hempstock take him in and fight for his survival.  The child caretaker that comes to live with the boy and his family is a nightmare come true and the boy must find a way to get her out of his house before she takes him down a path of no return.  The pond on the Hempstock land isn’t what it appears to be and holds it’s own secrets as well.

This book is a mixture of fantasy and horror and won’t disappoint if you enjoy that genre.  The shortness of the novel is not noticeable since Gaiman packs so much into his book – I found myself caring for the boy and Lettie and wishing there was more while at the same time happy with how it ended.  One line that really struck me in this book is “adults follow paths, children explore…”  Gaiman allows you to be the exploring child while following the path of his imagination.  One that I will happily follow again.

“The Book Thief” will steal your heart

The Book Thief is a moving story by Markus Zusak about a young girl named Liesel Meminger, living in Germany during World War II, who is sent to live with her foster parents Hans and Rosa, and how all their lives are affected by each other.  The book is narrated by Death.  Although this story sounds depressing (and it is sad) the story is told with compassion, hope, and love.  A thanks to Blogs Of A Bookaholic for having this on her to be read pile, otherwise don’t think I would have ever come across this book.

Liesel is on the train to go live with her foster parents.  The train ride is doubly sad since not only is she being sent away by her mother, but her brother dies on the train ride there.  While her brother is buried, Liesel is compelled to steal a book from the gravesite, even though she cannot read. This theft truly starts Liesel on the journey to her new life and her new persona as a book thief.  When Liesel arrives at her new home, she quickly bonds with her foster-father, Hans.  Hans is a kind compassionate soul who stays next to Liesel as she sleeps and is there when she wakes up from her nightmares.  Hans takes the time to teach Liesel how to read and this endears him even more to Liesel, striking a strong bond between father and child.  Rosa, although rough and tough on the outside loves Liesel just as much, as vice versa.

This is, of course, Nazi Germany.  A time when the country is full of hatred and hard times.  Due to Hans’ past and a promise he made, a visitor comes to the family home.  The visitor is a Jewish man, Max, who asks for help, which Hans cannot refuse.  Even though this visitor puts the family in great danger, they welcome him into their home.  As Liesel warms up to Max they too strike a bond.  Max lives through Liesel since he cannot go outside due to fear of death.  Liesel is the bright spot in Max’s life and he also helps with her reading.  Inspired by her stories of the outside world and the bond they build up, Max gives Liesel a moving present one day.  The way Zusak portrays this present was one of the most moving moments in this book (and this book is full of moving moments).  It was one of my favorite parts – it really shows the connections people can make and how a story can mean the world to a person.

Liesel’s close friend Rudy is also a bright spot.  He’s faithful to Liesel and is there when she needs him as well as she is there for him.  There is so much to this book it’s hard to capture it all.  From the mayor and his wife to the neighbor who spits on the family door, a wealth of characters.  The story told by Death is done with compassion, emotion, and care.  Not what one would normally associate with Death.  Zusak has Death narrate in a way that the reader knows Death is a good person who is tortured by his relationship with humans.  He cares for them so much, and that is a problem for him.  He deals with it in the most caring way he can, by being there at the end and making sure the soul is taken in a compassionate way.

Although this book is solemn, bleak, sad, full of death, and hardship, it is also full of hope, cheer, and shows the best and worst sides of humanity.  I highly recommend this book to anyone.  It’s classified as a young adult book but it’s a YA book for the masses.  The Book Thief is not one anyone should pass up.

Short Story Savior

The past several weeks have been crazy busy for me – mostly due to school and some big group projects sucking the life out of me and taking away precious reading time.  Luckily I found a great book of short stories by Manuel Gonzales called “The Miniature Wife, and other stories.”  This is the first book by this author and I found it truly enjoyable.  I thought all of the 18 short stories were well written and kept me engaged even though the content was brief.

The title story is about a man who works at a company that shrinks things and he one day accidentally shrinks his wife.  The ensuing repercussions of this make for an interesting tale of the struggles of a relationship.  The first story, “Pilot, Copilot, Writer” is about a passenger stuck on a plane that circles the city for twenty years.  A worst case scenario for those afraid of flying and also a disturbing picture of a life lived with limitations while watching and thinking of how those not on the plane continue below.  I particularly liked the five different stories about a person with “….A Meritirious Life.”  Each of these short and sweet stories were about a person and a certain talent or quality possessed and how their life was affected by it.  These five stories are quick and fast but so throughly written that the three or four pages seemed like a long, involved story.  The story titled “All of Me” was about the dichotomy of being a zombie but trying to live life as a human.  A zombie story with humor and sadness is always well worth it.

So, if you are short on time and are fighting the overwhelming need to read, I highly recommend this book.  You can read a quick story without taking a lot of time and still fulfill your reading fix.  I hope to see many more books by Manuel Gonzales.  If this collection of short stories is any indication of his potential, I’m looking forward to future reads.

Procrastination blamed on reading

This weekend rather than work on my homework, I read two books from my pile of “to read” book pile.  My books were screaming out to me and I could not resist their forlorn cries of unread words.  The first book, read on Saturday, was Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn.  I had read Gone Girl and really enjoyed it so I thought I give her other books a try.  Sharp Objects was an enjoyable, easy read (took me one day), but a little predictable.  This was Flynn’s first novel and you can see how she made her way to Gone Girl.  Flynn’s character’s are certainly twisted and disturbed.  Good book for a quick read and does not require too much mental thought.

The second book, which I just finished (read in one day as well), was The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green.  I’ve read other reviews of this book and wholeheartedly agree – it is an incredible book.  It’s classified as a YA book but the subject matter is definitely not YA.  It’s a story of two teenagers with cancer (one has a terminal diagnosis) and what happens in their lives after they meet.  I found this book absolutely impossible to put down.  I loved the two main characters and thought the humor that was used throughout the book was witty.  This is one story that has you laughing one second and then crying the next.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who hasn’t read it.  The subject matter is a bit bleak – it’s about kids with cancer – but the story is told in such a lighthearted yet real manner that the book is not bleak to read.

So, now I have to ignore the cries of my pile of books (although it is so hard when they are screaming so loud!), stop my procrastination, and get on with my homework.  If only my school work cried out as loud as my pile of books.

Reading can be “A Dirty Job”

I had to travel for work this past week which has put me behind in my tv viewing for about the next two weeks.  Travel also caused a mini hiatus to the “daily” opine (don’t post daily, but at least try every few days).  Since I’m of the mind that any of my posts about tv should be done in a timely manner and I’m behind right now, I’m going with a different entertainment medium – books.   Books I love, in particular.  I do a fair amount of reading, not a “promiscuous reader” (per Michael Chabon), but a reader who always has a stack of books at the ready.  I tend more towards fiction horror, fiction literature, some YA, and fiction humor, but will read anything that I think would be interesting.

So, what book would I recommend to someone?  One that pops into mind is A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore .  Moore is an author with a quick wit and a bit of a twisted mind mixed with some humor.   He has several excellent books and A Dirty Job is my favorite.  The main character of the book, Charlie Asher, is a “normal” guy.  Not a leader but not quite a follower – more of a middle of the road kind of dude.  Charlie owns a second-hand store and his wife is expecting their first child.  Shortly after giving birth, his wife passes away which changes Charlie’s life in so many ways.  People start dying all around Charlie and he starts to belive he’s the grim reaper.  Charlie’s employees of the store play great sidekicks and bring additional twisted humor to the book.

I was surprised how attached I become to the character by the end of the book and had that “I’m happy I’m done but I really miss this book already” feeling once I finished.  I think that’s a great hallmark of a book – how attached you become to it and how you feel just a bit empty when reaching the end since this character is no longer in your life. Some characters make appearances in Moore’s trilogy of Blood Sucking Fiends, You Suck, and Bite Me, but you don’t really have to read those three before this one (please do though, all are fun reads as well!).

So, if you like some twisted humor with your fiction, I highly recommend this book.  Many more “books I love” reviews to come.  Hope to find some more great books out there by hearing from others and looking forward to many more great reads.