sumofparts: picture of books with text 'books are humanity in print' (books)
[personal profile] sumofparts
I finished my second set of 50, yay and started a new set. Below are some thoughts on the books.

Remainder of second set:
39. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
40. A Gesture Life by Chang-rae Lee
41. Orange Mint and Honey by Carleen Brice
42. Zone One by Colson Whitehead
43. The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd
44. The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi
45. Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai
46. Snakes and Ladders by Gita Mehta
47. The End of East by Jen Sookfong Lee
48. Beijing Confidential by Jan Wong
49. Something Fierce by Carmen Aguirre
50. Brick Lane by Monica Ali
New set:
1. Decoded by Jay-Z

Cut for length )
muccamukk: Spiral staircase decending multiple levels inside a tower.. (DW: Bookworm)
[personal profile] muccamukk
Hiero and me threaded through Montmartre’s grey streets not talking. Once the home of jazz so fresh it wouldn't take no for a answer, the clubs had all gone Boot now. Nearly overnight the cafés filled with well-fed broads in torn stockings crooning awful songs to Gestapo.

The book takes place in Berlin in Paris in the 1930s and '40s then fifty years later in America and Europe, in alternating chapters. It follows the possibly slightly unreliable narration of Sid, an mixed race bass player from Baltimore who's on the European jazz circuit right before World War II. It follows the mystery of what happened to Hieronymus, a brilliant young trumpet player; how and why they were recording in Nazi-occupied Paris, and what Louis Armstrong has to do with any of this. It's very much a love poem to jazz, but also a comment on how love poems to jazz can land you in a lot of trouble.

I think I loved this book mostly for it's language. It's written in close first person, in varying levels of vernacular, and the flow and sway of the prose is beautiful, laden with humour and surprising. Also the difference in tone between the sections set in the '30s and '40s and the stuff in the '90s is subtle and well done. It's clearly the same narrator, but also clearly one who's deeply altered by the intervening time.

The structure of the mystery plays out very elegantly as well. The sooner something is made clear to the reader, the more questions it opens, and one moment will turn everything on its head then around again until the whole book has a completely different perspective. Given that, it doesn't feel artificially constructed or too clever for it's own good. The order the narrator tells the story in makes sense for the story. I should make time to read it again, because I think it would play out rather differently the second time through. My only real complaint was that the ending felt abrupt and a little unresolved, but I suspect that was intentional on Edugyan's part.

I found the characters vividly drawn, and not especially likeable, but not to the point where I hated them. Edugyan managed a balance of sympathetic yet deeply, deeply screwed up people, while exploring how they got that way. There was a love triangle element that irritated me, and felt a little unneeded, but it didn't take up as much of the plot as I thought it was going to.

I was also worried that the book was going to focus on Nazis Are Bad to the point of fetishisation, but it really doesn't. The Nazis certainly do horrible things, and that drives the plot. It's not a story that could take place anywhere or when else, but the Evils of World War II don't overwhelm the story. That said, I'd certainly warn for dehumanisation, racism, anti-Semitism and sexism, and not entirely just on the part of the Nazis. If that's not the kind of thing you're comfortable reading about, perhaps best avoid this book.
snowynight: Kino in a suit with brown background (Default)
[personal profile] snowynight
Title: Math Girls
Author: Hiroshi Yuki
Author Nationality and race: Japanese
Original language: Japanese
Publish place: Japan
Genre: Fiction
Length: novel
Subject: Math

Amazon summary: Combining mathematical rigor with light romance, Math Girls is a unique introduction to advanced mathematics, delivered through the eyes of three students as they learn to deal with problems seldom found in textbooks. Math Girls has something for everyone, from advanced high school students to math majors and educators.

Review: To be honest, I don't like additional maths such as calculus but it's recced to me because of fascinating female characters. It delivers maths, which I have mixed feeling about because of my own limitation and interesting female characters, which I just hope I can skip the middle man of the narrator to see more about their interaction. I''ll be looking forward to the sequel though.
Link: Math Girls on Amazon

ext_48823: 42, the answer to life, the universe and everything (Default)
[identity profile]
Haven't posted in a while. Here's a series of mini-reviews with some spoilers. Also, some of the books contain potentially triggering content.

6. Un-Nappily in Love by Trisha R. Thomas
7. Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat
8. Tracks by Louise Erdrich
9. The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
10. Umbrella by Taro Yashima
11. Little Joy by Ruowen Wang
12. Why War is Never a Good Idea by Alice Walker
13. Erika-san by Allen Say
14. Dahanu Road by Anosh Irani
15. What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell
16. The Automatic Detective by A. Lee Martinez
17. In the Company of Ogres by A. Lee Martinez
18. Gil's All Fright Diner by A. Lee Martinez
19. Divine Misfortune by A. Lee Martinez
20. Monster by A. Lee  Martinez
21. Certainty by Madeleine Thien
22. So Long Been Dreaming edited by Nalo Hopkinson and Uppinder Mehan
23. A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo
24. Too Many Curses by A. Lee Martinez
25. A Nameless Witch by A. Lee Martinez
26. A Person of Interest by Susan Choi
27. Apex Hides the Hurt by Colson Whitehead

Mention (not counted)
Josias, Hold the Book by Jennifer Riesmeyer Elvgren (white); illustrated by Nicole Tadgell (person of colour)

Read more... )
[identity profile]
I've been meaning to read this book since I first heard of it back in 2006, when it won the Giller beating out odds-on favourite De Niro's Game (which would go on to win the Booker). The reason it took so long for me to eventually get around to reading it was because it had two things against it: Bloodletting is a collection of short stories and everyone knows short story collections are a chore to plow through* and the stories were written by a doctor, who had set his stories in the medical community. The book sounded dreary and so I kept passing up chances to read it until finally, prompted by a desire to finish this challenge, and a second personal challenge to try and read all the Giller winners, I picked up the book.

Bloodletting is a bit unusual in that it is a short story cycle: the short stories are all loosely linked by four doctors, introduced in the first two stories: Fitz, Ming, Sri and Cheng. 

There is something here for everyone though the opening story How to Get into Medical School Part I was easily my favourite. How to opens with two University of Ottawa students struggling through finals. Ming and Fitz have been study partners, but they both feel their relationship deepening into something more. Ming is quick to put a stop to this, sighting a dedication to getting into medical school as a cause, though she is also put off by the fact that Fitz is white, something her Chinese family would never approve of.  Lam does a brilliant job of unfolding the delicate dance between Ming, who is all sensibility, and Fitz who is all sense as they try to deny their attraction at the same time as they give in to it. The story works completely on its own, but there is a great follow up How to Get into Medical School Part II, which is equally worth reading. 

However Lam has greater ambitions than to simply follow the personal dramas of his collection of doctors. As the book branches out the doctors become secondary characters and the patients begin to take over although this is brilliantly reversed as the book draws to a close as in later stories the doctors contract diseases themselves, slipping into the position of patient as they weaken and eventually die.

A gritty, interesting work, and a peak at the vulnerability of doctors who snap at patients, who go through the motions, who sometimes barely understand it is that they are doing.

*Sarcasm for all the times I have been told this. Once I started actually reading short story collections I realized I loved them, and the people who denounce them are usually people who have never read one in their life.
[identity profile]
I was lucky to see Kei Miller reading from this at a recent writers' festival (during which he charmed me, and I suspect much of the audience, into buying the book). This gave me an idea of how the (two very distinct) narrative voices should sound, which I think was helpful in reading the book.

On to the review, which contains vague spoilers )

Worth reading for anyone who can stand a little unreliable narration.

Miller has a website and blog here.
[identity profile]
6. On the Eve of Uncertain Tomorrows by Neil Bissoondath (New York: Lester & Orpen Dennys, 1991)

I like my chocolate with caramel or nuts or maybe a nice crispy wafer. Bear with me, I have a point. On a similar note, I have a distinct preference for genre fiction. I love the slices of life and beautiful language and insights into human nature that make up good literary fic, but I enjoy those things even more with the added chew or crunch of speculative fiction or historicals or mysteries.

Neil Bissoondath's On the Eve of Uncertain Tomorrows is a strong collection of short stories that focus largely on the aftermath of political violence and the complications of Canadian multiculturalism. I enjoyed Bissoondath's style and his characters (although his female characters felt rather less genuine than his male ones), but ultimately I felt like I was biting into a piece of plain chocolate, thinking: "And...?"

If you're a regular fiction fan interested in tough, true-to-life tales that make the most of the short story medium, you'll probably enjoy this book. For me, it was a good way to pass a few evenings, but I'm not likely to seek out more of Bissoondath's work for casual reading.
[identity profile]
4. The Jade Peony by Wayson Choy (Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1996)

In three related novellas, The Jade Peony relates the experiences of a trio of siblings growing up in Vancouver's Chinatown in the 1930s and 40s. The result is simply one of the best books I have ever read.

Choy's writing is beautiful, and his characterization is at once perceptive and unflinching but also endlessly sympathetic. Usually in pieced work stories like this, at least one narrative falls flat, but I enjoyed and was impressed by all three sections equally: the story of Jook-Liang, who wants to be like Shirley Temple and who forms an unlikely friendship with an elderly family friend; Jung-Sum, who grapples with the past regarding his first family, and with the future regarding his sexuality; Sekky, who more than anyone deals with the blurring lines between Chinese and Canadian, home and away, and friend and foe; and, in the corners of the children's narratives, the story of their parents and grandmother.

I can't recommend this book enough to anyone who likes coming of age stories, and I'm looking forward to reading more of Choy's work.
[identity profile]
3. The End of East by Jen Sookfong Lee (New York: Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press, 2008)

Sammy Chan, the protagonist of The End of East, is newly returned to Vancouver, having left behind a boyfriend and thesis in Montreal in order to look after her widowed mother. Soon after, she discovers some papers belonging to her late grandfather, and the story begins to weave in and out of the past, looking at the lives of Sammy's parents and grandparents, the family's relationship with Chinatown, and the way familial bonds are both borne as burdens and desperately sought.

I have a general rule about stories featuring dysfunctional families: I already have one of those, so if I'm going to read about an imaginary one, there had better be something more going on than "Tsk, isn't that awful?" Jen Sookfong Lee does some interesting things with distance in this book (Sammy's point of view is so immediate that it may be difficult to have any idea what's really going on with her, but her family is presented from afar, so objectively that emotion may be blunted), and there are individual scenes that are written beautifully and subtly, but on the whole, this story felt underdeveloped and needlessly episodic to me, and too familiarly bleak and brittle for me to enjoy on an aesthetic level.

This is the author's debut novel, and based on the things I did like about her writing here, I would pick up one of her subsequent works, but I wouldn't be interested in re-reading The End of East.

Additional note: For those who look to avoid such content, The End of East contains a fairly graphic and sudden rape scene.


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Writers of Color 50 Books Challenge

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