Archive for July 2011

Book Review: Let’s Kill Uncle by Rohan O’Grady

Let's Kill Uncle by Rohan O'Grady Let’s Kill Uncle by Rohan O’Grady is another book republished by the Bloomsbury Group, but it just wasn’t that enjoyable for me. The story is an odd mix of an adult story, but with elements that might appeal to children, so I wasn’t sure who the intended audience was.

Two children, a boy and girl, visit a Canadian island for a summer, and, despite fighting at the start, end up having fun together with the few local residents. However, the boy’s uncle is plotting to kill him, though no one will believe the children when they try to get help. They try to figure out how to kill him first, with the limited means they have, and get into trouble along the way.

The story was ok, but I got a bit tired with it after awhile, perhaps because I don’t usually like stories about children. If you do, you might enjoy it more than I did though.

Book Review: Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin

Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin I first heard about Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin on NPR, and my initial thought was that it sounded rather depressing, so it might not be a great book to read. However, I decided to request a copy at the library, and I’m so glad I did.

Yes, the story is depressing. The mother in a scattered family in Korea goes missing, lost in a train station when traveling with her husband to the city to visit her children. She has had some health issues and not been very clear of mind, so the family has to do all they can to find her.

The book switches perspective between different members of the family, most of whom end up focusing on their guilt in what happened, as well as in remembering the missing woman from years past. It’s a really difficult read, especially as the story unfolds, but it was really well written and I cried when I finished the book.

It feels like it’s been a long time since I’ve read a book that I got so emotional over, especially after quitting on so many mediocre books. I’m very glad I read this book though, and I would highly recommend it!

Book Review: Wolf Among Wolves by Hans Fallada

Wolf Among Wolves by Hans Fallada Working my way through the novels of Hans Fallada, I decided to read Wolf Among Wolves, mostly because it was available at the library. I’d read about this new translation as being much better than the original, partly for it not being censored, but also for a refresh of the language. However, it was not as great as the publisher or reviewers made it sound.

I initially struggled with the book, just due to the sheer number of characters Fallada introduces, from the manager of a farm to ex-soldiers living in Berlin. I eventually got into it a bit, but with mixed feelings, as the story was slow to progress.

However, what made it a really unpleasant read was the translation and poor editing (if there was any done) throughout the book. There were many typos scattered throughout, but even worse were the awkward translations that made it feel like someone used Babelfish and a very old German-English dictionary to directly translate. Some of the language used was very outdated and I had to look up some words; the larger issues were literal translations that I recognized from having learned German. It was like they’d taken the German text and just translated bits in place, rather than restructuring the language to make sense (and not sound awkward!) for native English readers.

So, the story itself was all right, but this new edition of the book was greatly disappointing and took away from the experience.

Book Review: Mrs. Tim of the Regiment by D. E. Stevenson

Mrs. Tim of the Regiment by D. E. Stevenson Among the Bloomsbury Group books I was working my way through, Mrs. Tim of the Regiment by D. E. Stevenson was another one I had high hopes for, after picking it up at the library. Unfortunately, it was somewhat boring to me, and I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I might.

The book is written in the style of a diary — based on the author’s actual diaries — kept by “Mrs. Tim,” the wife of a military man in the UK. She writes about everyday things, as well as what it’s like being married to the military, so to speak, especially as the family is uprooted and sent to Scotland.

I sometimes like reading about everyday things, but in this case, I wasn’t all that interested, possibly due to the behavior considered normal at that time. Tim doesn’t seem like the nicest of husbands, and is wife seems to cater to his every whim. She is essentially a housewife, but she has hired help to do the cooking and cleaning and raising her children, so I don’t know what she does other than organizing everyone.

Very little seems to happen in the book, aside from some silly drama here and there, but it’s not really that dramatic in and of itself. I read the whole book, and yet I didn’t feel like I got much out of it, so I don’t know that I’d recommend it. (Or, presumably, the other books in the series.)

Book Review: Henrietta’s War: News from the Home Front, 1939-1942 by Joyce Dennys

Henrietta's War: News from the Home Front, 1939-1942 by Joyce Dennys I read the first Henrietta’s War book earlier this year, and I liked it well enough. Though it was a sequel, I didn’t feel like I missed a lot, but I did want to read the first book, just in case.

Henrietta’s War: News from the Home Front, 1939-1942 by Joyce Dennys is a series of letters written by Henrietta, a housewife in England, to her childhood friend who is fighting in WWII. Henrietta writes about everyday things, per her friend’s request, and it shows a different side of the war, especially in a smaller town. Rationing and other preparations are becoming common, and Henrietta writes about how the people in town react to this new way of life.

Oddly, I almost didn’t like this volume as much as the second one, and I ended up wondering about characters not mentioned until the latter book. It’s still a nice book though.

Book Review: A Kid for Two Farthings by Wolf Mankowitz

A Kid for Two Farthings by Wolf Mankowitz I decided to read through some of the newest books published by Bloomsbury Group, and A Kid for Two Farthings by Wolf Mankowitz was one I was able to get from the library firsts. Unfortunately, it was probably the one I liked least, but so it goes.

The story focuses on a kid growing up in a rough part of London, where he makes friends with a tailor and other businesspeople in the neighborhood. His father is posted to Africa, and he wants to find a way to bring him home. When the tailor tells him stories about unicorns making wishes comes true, he figures this is his chance, and when he finds a one-horned goat in the market, he thinks he’s found a real unicorn.

There’s a sub-plot about the tailor’s assistant boxing to win some money, and between the two, I just sort of got bored with the story. I finished the book, but I sort of wish I’d quit earlier. Ok, but not really a book I’d recommend.

Book Review: Supermarket by Satoshi Azuchi

Supermarket by Satoshi Azuchi In his novel Supermarket, Satoshi Azuchi shares a glimpse of the inner workings of a Japanese business, in particular, that of a growing supermarket in Japan in the late 1960s/early 1970s, when the notion of supermarkets were still new in that country. The company portrayed seems to be doing quite well on the surface, but when a newly hired executive digs a bit further, he realizes there are many problems being overlooked or even hidden.

This book might not sound like an interesting story, but perhaps after having seen some unpleasant behaviors within large corporations, I found the psychological aspect of this a bit interesting. And the idea of supermarkets being new and exciting, and also interpreted differently for the Japanese market, was kind of neat. It did drag a bit later on though, and some of the company secrets were a bit much, but it was a decent read.

Book Review: Flashman by George MacDonald Fraser

Flashman: A Novel by George MacDonald Fraser I heard about the Flashman series by George MacDonald Fraser while watching a British show, in which various TV personalities shared some of the books that had made an impact on them in their lives. I can’t remember who had mentioned Flashman, but it sounded interesting, despite his disclaimer about some of the main character’s behavior.

I started with the first book in the series, presently titled as just Flashman, which introduces you to the character of the same name through papers supposedly found among his belongings after he died. He chronicles part of his childhood and experiences in a private school, and then jumps to the beginning of his military career, starting with training and then in traveling to the British colonies of India and Afghanistan.

You soon realize that Flashman is not as great a hero as others have found him to be. He is rather cowardly and is only interested in his own well-being, even causing another man’s death by running away from danger instead of fighting. He also does some pretty awful things, like raping a woman he meets while traveling; some people may have considered this acceptable at the time, but it’s hard to read about it in today’s times, even with that context.

Initially, I thought this book was interesting, but as Flashman’s true character became revealed, I had a harder time reading on. I tried to take him for what he was and read with that in mind, but eventually, I just had to skim to finish, and decided not to read further books in the series. The books aren’t badly written, but without anyone to cheer for, I just didn’t enjoy reading about Flashman.

Book Review: The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas

The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas I came across The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas while browsing Shelfari for historical fiction, and I thought it would be a nice change from my usual choices.

The story takes place in the late 1800s, when the Ottoman Empire was still in existence, and we learn of a prophesy about someone who will have great impact. The main character Eleonora, a young girl from Romania, seems like she might be that someone, especially as she stows away on a ship carrying her father to Stamboul to do business.

I don’t want to reveal further events in the book, as they might spoil it for other readers, but it did keep my interest for a bit. However, toward the end of the book, it just sort of fell away, and I was left thinking “that’s it?!” at the very end of the book. It was like the story kept building and building, and then it didn’t go anywhere interesting. It left me wondering if the writer just didn’t know what to do after all this, or if he did this intentionally, with plans to follow up with a sequel.

It could have been so much better than it was, but it was all right for what it was, I guess. You just may feel disappointed at the end.