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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Review - City of God by Beverly Swerling

I am still trying to upload images (and do it properly) and failing miserably! The image of the book cover is fine but why do those extra bits come in. Help!!! someone out there who is more savvy than me.
Before I start on this review would like to just say that I was interviewed by Reading through Life ( and you can also find me there. I was quite chuffed really as this was my first interview.
Back to the book. The book was set in the era leading upto the Civil War and is set in New York city at a time when the city was just beginning to develop. The main characters of the story are from the Dewrey and Turner families - but the addition of a mistress from China whom Samuel just cannot bear to let go, the formation of a strong Jewish community in the city and the hypocricy prevalent at the time over the position of women in particular add to the nuances of the book. To this mix add a clash of views and interests between Protestants and Catholics (to this extent I never knew!) and you have a fascinating story of a fascinating family and a city both so very much linked with each other. Also add strong women in the form of Ah Chee the amah of the concubine, Carolina the lovely wife of Samuel who learns to fall out of love with a husband who never ever loved her, and Dr Nicholas Turner a very brave doctor who takes on Bellevue higher ups full on - determined to make something of this hospital which at the time was truly horrific.
If anyone would like to know what 19th century America was about this is a book to read. The book apart from being a family saga and a saga of a well loved city also highlights subjects such as slavery and abolition, the development of trade unions and strikes, new technologies in medicine, religious ideologies conflicting and so much more.
A fascinating book which I borrowed from Carnegie library.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Review - Our Spoons came from Woolworths by Barbara Comyns

I came across this book whilst looking for The Vet's Daughter which had been reviewed by Stuck in a Book. Very often I do get other books by the same author but never the book that is being reviewed. Its a bit frustrating but when one is limited in what one gets to hand, I generally take it and read it and am altogether happy (most of the time).

The writing is simple and straight forward. For me too simplistic and too naive to be absolutely believable! The book deals with a 20 year old in the 1930's who marries in haste and follows the repent at leisure part of the story. I guess for the 1930's and for the period which it depicts the story is plausible - how women were supposed to behave and finally how they did fall in line and give in to the idea that your husband was the sole authority of your life.

The book written in the first person depicts Sophia's life and career as a painters model and a sculptor of sorts speaks of her life as a wife, and a mother (the childbirth experience was horrific) but descriptive of the period and her ultimate escape from marriage. You do want Sophia to experience happiness and have a happily ever after ending after her sad beginning - the unwanted children, the forced abortion, the death of her second child and the inability of her husband to understand her feelings - Fortunately it does end happily for Sophia.

I was not enamoured by this book but it was a pleasant short read of just 260 pages. I will still be looking out for The Vet's Daughter.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Review - Within Arm's Reach - Ann Napolitano

I seem to be going along with my Irish trend with this book as well. Set amongst an Irish American family the story evolves around the emotions which would normally beset a large family.

Catherine the matriarch of the family seems to be the thread holding it together. Unfortunately brought up in an era of where it was considered distasteful and ugly to show your emotions, she is unable to show the love she feels for all of her family and her despair that everyone is growing further and further apart. Her grand daughter Gracie falling pregnant without the blessings of marriage seems to Catherine the only way out to bring this diverse family together.

The other strong character in the story is Kelly Catherine's eldest who is very conscious of her status, her position in life and the fact that she is doing better than all her other siblings. Add to the mix Lila Kelly's other daughter a pre med student who is so confused as to what she wants from her life and seems unable to decide.

A perfectly normal family - under currents running throughout its extended branches. Aunts jealous of nieces and nephews being either academically better or financially better, someone always wanting to be the boss and the best and others who cringe at the spotlight turning on them and husbands who do not know how to challenge strong, demanding women!

A very humane story - again one I can personally identify with. A good read.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Review of two books The Bishop goes to The University by Andrew m. Greeley and An Irish Country Village by Patrick Taylor

Review of Andrew M. Greeley - The Bishop goes to The University

(pls ignore the click here to buy below the image of this book. I havent a clue how to get rid of it!!!!)

This book was chosen by me mainly for its title. I know it sounds cheesy but I do like nice covers and now nice or rather different titles. It was only on further reading of the book that I discovered that Andrew M. Greeley is himself a Catholic priest and knows exactly what he is talking of.

The story of Bishop John Blackwood alias Blackie tries to solve the murder of a supposedly Russian bishop who has been murdered or rather head blasted away in a locked room. Add to this murder which takes place of course at The University several faculty members who seem a bit light headed and not quite there! As a Catholic reading this book I was not fazed by Greeley's writings of priests cussing, thinking about women and things which might confuse a non Catholic who may have different opinions on how Catholic priests should behave!!! This part was amusing. Greeley also questions whether Jesus should have not left the whole universe in charge of humans but should have taken it entirely on his shoulders and then the mess that we are in today would be not so insurmountable. Nice thought.

The book is amusing and tongue in the cheek humor. It also pokes fun gently at the Catholic church which is very refreshing. This was a first read of this author for me and I liked it.

Review of An Irish Country Village - Patrick Taylor

It was purely coincidence that I chose two books (on consecutive days) from my Carnegie library - both which involved a good dose of Catholicism. One of course an Americanized form in Andrew Greeley's book reviewed above and one an old fashioned dose set in idyllic Ireland.
The story revolves around two doctors O'Reilly and Laverty and the saga of having a medical practice in a quiet Irish village. Laverty starts off wrong footed with a medical diagnosis going wrong and the man eventually dying. Trying to correct his image to being a caring doctor is tough in a village where "outsiders" are viewed with suspicion and old prejudices die hard.
The book was a light read. Refreshingly simple, maybe too simple to be realistic but a pleasant one nevertheless. For someone not from Ireland or from Europe or the Western hemisphere it also gives one a different insight from the fast paced, modern society that is so often depicted as typical of Western society. Here we saw close knit communities and families, with extended families and community support, importance of kinsmen and clans so similar to Asian society! It was a different kind of read.
I enjoyed both books courtesy of Carnegie library.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Review Anna Quindlen Rise and Shine

The book is a story of two sisters Meghan and Bridget orphaned at an early age and brought up by an aunt who loved them dearly. The story looks back at their childhood in small doses but mainly concentrates on their lives as adults.
Meghan becomes a top class broadcaster while Bridget becomes a social worker and the categories of their work defines their own worlds. One where Meghan is completely at home with Presidents, private jets, and the whole gamut of New York Society literally at her feet, whilst Bridget the unknown one works stolidly with junkies, drug addicted mothers, the police and the hospitals trying to save as many mothers and families as she could.
The book also seems to be a commentary on the various stratas of New York society and you get quite a good idea of how the various sections actually operate. For someone who is not American and is unlikely to visit New York, I felt that this was an interesting part of the book though of course it may not appeal to others who are more familiar with the city and with American life. The book opens vistas which otherwise would be unknown to lots of people! Bridgets life with the downtrodden, with those whom she felt had never been given a chance to "rise" from the squalor of their lives is at variance with the general view held in the East that America is a land of opportunity never mind the milk and honey..
The story further evolves into the relationships that develop between the sisters, the tragic accident to Leo - Meghans son, the breakdown of Meghans marriage and the surprising news of Bridget's pregnancy at 43 much to the dismay of her live in lover Irving. All these add to make the story a family saga as well - though overpowering it all is Meghans job and what happens when she falls from grace - but her ultimate rise once again.
I liked the book not just from the NYC angle and Manhattan in particular but also from the family story angle as well. I will go back to this author again to see what else she has in store for me.
The book was from my library at Carnegie and hopefully they will have more of the same author.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Review - Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

Having read her other books, I knew I was in for a very pleasant reading time once I started this book. Like before, I had to read right to the finish and this morning can hardly open my eyes to start the day as a result!

The book (a Pulitzer prize winner) a collection of nine short stories, all with Bengali Indians as their main character and all set either in Calcutta or in the United States is a wonderful glimpse into everyday people's lives. The stories are down to earth, very realistic of the issues immigrants face in their search for a new life, how one overcomes these difficulties and gets on.
In the story of Mrs's Sen it also shows how some immigrants actually feel that they are "outsiders" throughout their life and how difficult it is for them to feel at home - ever. On the other hand you get Twinkle and Sanjeev (born and bred in the United States) quite at home and who only consider themselves Indian because they enjoy Indian food! The book covers characters as you would see them in real life - the girl next door, the neighbours who are quiet and well behaved, the single mother whom everyone wonders about. The secret of Lahiri's writing is that she brings them all so very much to life that one identifies oneself with some character of her book - Lahiri throughout the book also shows how cultural backgrounds could influence one's life, the irony mixed with compassion as shown to Boori Ma (a simple sweeper of apartments) the difficulty of being close to a person when one does not have any emotional links as in the arranged marriage of Mala and her husband (something that may be incomprehensible to some minds), but which arranges itself beautifully in the story.

Lahiri writes with simplicity and elegance and I do hope she does not stop! This book was also one I discovered at my library.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Review Informed Consent by Peter Turnbull

After picking up the book I realized that Peter Turnbull is a prolific writer though this is my first read for this author.

The story revolves around an unexpected murder of a middle aged, well dressed man on the streets of York not mugged, or robbed. The police are puzzled and going into the case they discover that a brother of Edwin Hoole died eighteen months previously, apparently of a stroke but the family think the death suspicious. A sister in law also died in the same period apparently a hit and run driver (never found) and though apparently unrelated further questioning and delving by the police discover that there are too many simple coincidences to let matters lie as they are.

It is an unexpected story - how a Company in this case 541, plots and plans to sell plans for equity - in this case purchasing property of individuals but allowing them to live in their property for a very minimal rent - and after a "reasonable" period of time, getting rid of them - hence the hit and run driver, the stroke victim etc and then moving in to sell the properties at enormous profit. Edwin Hoole was too nosy for his own good and that was why he had to be removed from the scene.

The story was a new twist on why people are murdered though as usual it invariably comes down to gain of some kind! It also looked at family and in this case it was an interesting one three brothers, their wives and ex wives as well and how the story evolved also through the anger and jealousy of an ex wife who felt that she was not compensated sufficiently through a divorce.

An interesting book.

Review - Girl Missing by Tess Gerritsen

I obviously need to concentrate more when posting as this is the second time in a week I have accidentally posted what is incomplete! Sorry. This is the first time I have been able to also post an image of the cover of the book which I have done a review and I am happy at least that I have been able to master this. I know that this must be such a simple operation for most people but I am not good at this part of the computer and am happy that at least I am willing to learn.

I was desperately looking for Still Missing (which has got such good reviews) and whilst looking for that came across this book Girl Missing. The story is around Kat a doctor who works at the city morgue who is not happy that autopsies of two and then later three corpses turn up with drug related deaths - but the drug is an unknown one. Kat is also troubled that the deaths are all of people in a low income block of flats and she feels that she is being stonewalled by the mayor and the police mainly because the people who died were junkies and were of no significance in the community. Add to this a missing step daughter of Adam who heads Cygnus a pharmaceutical laboratory which manufactures drugs and more importantly the drug which has killed these people. Kat attracted to Adam is still wary whether he is protecting his own interests while sweet talking her into finding his daughter who is to all intents involved with those marketing the drug illegally.

The story had a good mix - drugs and the spiral of how life is effected by habitual use, politics and how important it is to keep big business happy despite adverse effects and how politicians like to ignore those adverse effects as long as they get re-elected, a bit of romance, and police corruption which is supposedly rampant but it had quite a few loose ends which resulted in me being unsettled at the end of the story.

The book which was earlier published as Peggy Sue Got Murdered, was not one of the author's best efforts.

Review Girl Missing by Tess Gerritsen

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Review - The Little Women by Katharine Weber

A book I picked up as you guessed it (I liked the title!). The book involved Meg, Joanna and Amy (thats it) and their parents Janet and Lou. The similarity of the Louisa May Alcott's book with this one stopped after a couple of chapters i.e. the fairytale family background, everyone loving everyone else, though the happily ever after did come at the end.

The book deals with the relationship of children and parents. These three children brought up in an idyllic setting of no parental strife, no sibling quarreling (nothing major anyway) and no financial woes with the teenagers not even aware of from where the money comes in to pay for expensive high school tuition and extra curricular activities. Sounds very normal so far!!!

Their little world is shattered when they accidentally come across an email which indicates that their mother has had an adulterous relationship with Phillip and the worst thing in their minds is the fact that their father knows about it, and has not done anything about it.

At the time the eldest daughter is at university and they unilaterally decide to leave home, not to have anything to do with their parents and "go it alone". The story deals with the travails of living alone, having to fend for themselves and find the finances and resources to be able to live independently. Not as easy as they thought.

At the end of the first year, after a great deal of thinking it through Meg makes contact with their parents much to the dismay, anger, and passionate feelings of the other two siblings. Meg makes them realize that the "affair" of the parents is their problem and how they deal with it and that this does not have anything to do with how their parents feel about them - their daughters. Meg differentiates (which is oh so true) that their mother and father are separate entities in their own relationship and this should not effect them in their individual relationships with their parents.

An interesting book and one I picked up from my Carnegie library.

Review - The Little Women by Katharine Weber

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Review - Family album by Penelope Lively

I have not been very successful in finding out books in my TBR pile but I have in the course of my journey been able to pull out books which I have not heard mention amongst all the book blogs I visit. One of these was Family album. I liked the cover - six sets of Wellington boots obviously in a boot cupboard and when I read an excerpt I was hooked.

I like family stories and this one definitely is. Mix an earth mother with a distracted (so he seems) academic father who thinks he is a cut above the daily grind, six children (ok ok one of them is a result of an adulterous one off relationship with the au pair) but everyone ignores that bit and the family lives in ignorant bliss of all the ramifications of this and everything else in a mish mash of growing up in a large family. Overlooking it all is Aldersmead - which is the dominant character of the story and in hindsight influences all the children - from the way they want to live to the fact that no one wants to live their life in the same kind of sprawling house that they lived in as children.

The story is a simple one - of Allison who with much stoicism only wishes to be a mother to her brood - providing comfort in the form of good food for which she becomes renowned, to an almost absent father who distances himself from his children and from every issue and problem which needs a decision made, to the relationships that form between the siblings - some good, some not so.

The book is a comfortable read and one with which (I am repeating myself) that we could all identify irrespective of whether we come from single child or multiple child households!!! I enjoyed the simplicity of the story and the book and would like to recommend this book.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Chilly Melbourne still

Had a change of plans and am still in Melbourne - was scheduled to leave
yesterday and now will be leaving on 6th July.

This means of course more books and reading will get done and I do not need to be as frantic as before to get through as many on the TBR list as before. However, this list never seems to get less as I keep adding recommendations as I go along. I also dont seem to be able to pass books I
sort of just pick up as I go - nothing to do with lists and pre planned reading! The unplanned reading has turned out to be very good and I have had several books which I could not put down and finished in one go.

Just finished a Sharon Latham book of the post Pride and Prejudice sequel type. I never thought I'd get to read one of those since the library did not have any, and did not propose to get them either. That was a pleasant surprise to find - I finished the three Muriel Sparks books the last one being Aiding and Abetting - I am glad that I read them as so many bloggers had recommended them highly but sadly none of them did anything for me.

I have a good choice this week as well - and will come back with reviews once they are done.

Getting colder by the day here in Melbourne.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Review - Reflections of Sunflowers by Ruth Silvestre

I have done two posts in one day and this is purely for convenience as I want to sort out all my reviews of books read in Melbourne.

Reflections of Sunflowers is a memoir, a non fiction piece of work and a travelogue of sorts of life in South West France. It also encapsulates what a lot of us would like to do. Have a second home in idyllic surroundings, find congenial neighbours, revert to a life of peace and tranquility and still be able to maintain a home in your original country where friends and family reside. The best of both worlds actually and Ruth and Mike Silvestre have done exactly that.

The book outlines a very long period in the author's life - 25 years - of how the house was originally seen and bought and their journey in this house. It also marks happiness as well as sad events in their lives culiminating in the death of Mike and how the house helps to heal Ruth with its warmth and serenity after the death of her husband.

The book is warm, compelling and also very descriptive - particularly of the foods of the region. Mouthwatering, rustic as well as sophisticated food which anyone reading the book would long for!

I am glad I picked this up at the library despite not having heard of this author or this title before. The book highlights simple pleasures in life - the warmth of family, good friends, wonderful food and wine and travel.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Review - Gentleman's Relish by Patrick Gale

I have now discarded my TBR list as those books are not available at the library - I have decided to go with instinct now and pick up a couple of books - either the covers are nice (I know I sound cheesy but whats to be done), then I have faintly heard of the author before with some other book they have written etc etc or like this book I just liked the sound of the opening first story!

I picked up Patrick Gale mainly because it was a collection of short stories and I wanted something light to finish it today as well. The collection of stories cover the whole gamut of human emotions and passions and this is what made the book very readable. One could identify with characters at varying stages of the book - the passionless marriage of Jane wife of the Prison Governor, to Edith the nervous, timid spinster who is trying to write her book, to Hugo and Chris who are overtaken by powers stronger than them. All these characters are mundane and down to earth and very much part of who we encounter - the everyday things which sometimes lead to the totally unexpected.

The stories are poignant and touching. A very not put downable book.