Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Loved These Books

I have been reading quite a bit more than usual lately, due in large part to my recent trips to Phoenix, Vermont, and San Diego; I've read a few good ones, and I thought I would list a few of my favorites.

 Loved, loved, loved The Last Chinese Chef.  Mones effortlessly ties so many strands together within the novel to create a strong plot with beautifully developed characters.  She manageds to include Chinese culinary history, a woman's coming to terms with grief and loss, the examination of secrets in relationships, feeling like an outsider, the effect that race/ethnicity/culture have on one's definition of self, the sensuality of food, family relations, and a love story all in only 300 pages without making the novel feel overcrowded.

In fact, I enjoyed this novel so much that after finishing it I proceeded to buy and devour the author's other two novels, which were also set in China.  Mones's first novel is called Lost in Translation, but don't let that keep you from reading it.  It has absolutely nothing in common with the movie of the same name except maybe the underlying theme of a woman's feeling lost and finding herself through her experiences in an Asian country.  Her other novel, A Cup of Light, has similar themes, but features a woman discovering China through it's ancient pottery.

Motherless Brooklyn is a great novel because it takes a relatively common theme: the detective noir story, and turns it on its ear.  This Brooklyn raised orphan turned detective narrator has Tourette's Syndrome.  Not only are we following the path to find the murderer of Lionel Essrog's father figure slash mob boss, but we're inside the head of someone who suffers from the uncontrollable need to spout nonsense nonstop throughout the entire book.  It's a testament to Jonathan Lethem's talent that whether irritating, funny or sympathetic, the repetitive words spewing from Lionel's mouth never get old.

The Hunger Games is a phenomenal young adult book that I recommend to  adults anytime we talk books.  It was so good that I literally could not stop reading it until I finished it; I ignored conversation, guests, and yes, even food, until I had raced through the pages.

In this post-apocalyptic world, two teens are chosen from each territory to take part in the Hunger Games, a pop culture event where they must fight to the death.  Even if you are not wild about science fiction, I still recommend this because the characters are amazing and it is a fascinating (and quick) read. 

The second book in the series, Catching Fire, was also amazing.  Should you begin reading the series, you'll be as tortured as I am waiting for the final book, The Mockingjay, which is not coming out until the end of August.
The description of Little Bee sets this novel up as having a very surprising secret horror that will be given away if too much is explained about the plot.  After reading it, I don't understand why the publishers chose to set it up like this.  Though the event on the beach was horrible, it's not particularly surprising by the time you read about it.  The event has connected the lives of a 16-year old Nigerian orphan, called Little Bee, and a well off English journalist couple and brings about the retelling in both Little Bee and the wife, Sara's, voices.  The story accurately illustrates the struggle of refugees fleeing to the UK, of which many of us here in the United States are unaware.  Another book I could not put down, though reading it in a public place was a risk due to the fact I ended up in tears as my plane landed.  (It was dark; I don't think anyone noticed.)

I read the very French The Elegance of the Hedgehog with mixed emotions; though I am not usually a lover of philosophical and satiric novels, I found myself enjoying it immensely anyway.  The delightful main characters: 12-year-old Paloma Josse, her building's dumpy concierge, RenĂ©e Michel, and shrewd wealthy resident, Kakuro Ozu, make this bittersweet novel a lovely read even during the more laborious philosophical passages.  It's no surprise to discover that author, Muriel Barbery is a philosophy professor, but it was a surprise to find how some of those philosophical questions lingered in my mind after closing the book.

I have definitely been recommending The Help to people lately, but that one is getting more than its share of publicity already, so I figured that I wouldn't spend much of my shout out on it because chances are you'll hear about it from someone else too.  Needless to say, it's good.  I have read some negative comments about the voices of the black women in this novel, but it certainly never felt offensive to me, merely loving.

Oh, and I was just thinking of another one I read a little while ago and thought I'd add it because it's truly a lovely (and very funny) look at Judaism in particular and religion as a whole.  For someone who has a hard time defining herself as a follower of any specific religion, it put a lot of my feelings in perspective regarding spirituality.  Plus, it was pretty darn funny!  Author, A.J. Jacobs, a New York Jewish agnostic, (Jewish "in the same way the Olive Garden is an Italian restaurant.") decides to follow the laws and rules of the Bible, beginning with the Old Testament, for one year.  The conclusions he draws from his time fully immersed in his quest end up being incredibly moving and reverent.

1 comment:

  1. Now that I don't have a wedding to plan I can get back to reading again! I will have to take your list to the library and bookstore!!!

    I read Chelsea Handler's new book on my honeymoon and it was hilarious. She is vulgar and not going to cure cancer anytime soon, but it was a fun and easy read!!