Archive for March 2011

Book Review: Be With You by Takuji Ichikawa

Be With You by Takuji Ichikawa I’ve had Be With You by Takuji Ichikawa on my wishlist for awhile, having found it on Amazon and thinking it seemed interesting at the time. I’m not sure what caught my eye, but it didn’t really meet my expectations.

We meet Takumi Aio, a young man in his late 20s and single father to 6-year-old Yuji. They’re both still adjusting to the death of Mio, Takumi’s wife and Yuji’s mother, although they don’t realize just how poorly they’ve adjusted. This changes when they go for a walk and see a woman who looks awfully like Mio, just a bit younger and appearing to have lost her memory.

The writing style is fairly simple and straightforward, which I liked, but the story started to drag a bit for me, as Takumi starts describing how he and Mio met. He goes all the way back to their school days, and it crawled along slowly after that, to get to the present day. I just didn’t feel like I cared as much about this lengthy history as I did about what was happening, though it did loop back eventually.

There’s a bit of vaguely supernatural tone to the story, which is ok, but I just didn’t feel attached to the story after the first few chapters. Apparently, this book was so popular in Japan that it was followed up by a manga version and later made into a TV series. Just not my thing, I guess.

Book Review: The Laws of Evening: Stories by Mary Yukari Waters

The Laws of Evening: Stories by Mary Yukari Waters After reading The Favorites by Mary Yukari Waters, which was a really wonderful book, I wanted to read anything else Waters had written. Her only other published work is The Laws of Evening: Stories, a collection of short stories, which I found at the library. Unfortunately, I was rather disappointed when I read it.

Whereas The Favorites was deliciously slow and every little detail was there to be enjoyed, as can happen with a novel, the short stories in The Laws of Evening felt so rushed and too fast-paced. I think this comes mostly from the nature of the format, so I tried to be forgiving as I read on.

However, I felt a bit tired from the somewhat repetitive stories. Some of them were obviously developed into The Favorites, so I’d already seen some of these pieces, just with different characters. And the stories that didn’t fall into this category just didn’t keep my interest that much and felt a bit stale.

I won’t say that The Laws of Evening is a bad read, but I just didn’t enjoy it as much as The Favorites. It might have been better if I’d read them in the other order, but I am still glad to have read and enjoyed The Favorites as I did.

Book Review: The Favorites by Mary Yukari Waters

The Favorites by Mary Yukari Waters I don’t remember how I found The Favorites by Mary Yukari Waters, but I’m so very glad I did. It was such a delightful read that it’s one of my favorites now.

Yes, the story meanders a bit, and it might feel like not much happens overall. But the journey there is what really makes this book, and it’s such a very Japanese book at that.

The details of the scenery and surroundings are simple, but they slow you down and make you want to savor the images created in your mind. I wanted to pause after a section or chapter, just to let it sit in my mind before moving to something new.

It is definitely a book about culture, but also about relationships, mainly about how things aren’t always so black and white. The characters felt very real to me, and I wanted to step into their shoes a bit more, even if just to see the places they inhabited.


Book Review: A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka I don’t remember how I’d first heard about A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka, but I hadn’t looked into it at the time. I found it at the library, after looking for books about people from Eastern Europe or Russia, I think, and it turned out to be a decent read.

The book focuses on two somewhat estranged sisters living in England, which is where their parents emigrated to from the Ukraine before the younger one was born. They end up working together to try and prevent their widowed father from marrying a Ukrainian woman much younger than him, for fear that she’s trying to take advantage of him to get a British passport.

Interspersed with the main story are segments from a book their father is writing, with the same title as the novel itself. The passages are sometimes connected to the story, though I got a little tired of them after a bit.

All in all, the story was interesting, especially as we see how the family conflict changes the sisters’ relationship and their view of other people. A little slow in parts, but, still, an interesting book.

Book Review: Little Man, What Now? by Hans Fallada

Little Man, What Now? by Hans Fallada Last year, I read Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada, which was a tragic but well-written book, and after reading a bit about Fallada’s life, I wanted to read some of his other books. The first one I was able to find at the library was Little Man, What Now? by Hans Fallada, though I waited until I was in the right mood for it before checking it out.

The story follows a young couple starting a new life together in Germany after the economic collapse of the late 1920s and early 1930s. We see how they struggle to make ends meet, due to the combined problems from unstable employment, the high cost of everyday items, and their occasional mistakes in household budgeting.

This isn’t the most uplifting of books, but the writing is so light and moves along at a nice pace, and something about all the details of their everyday life pulled me in. You do really want the best for them, and you hope things will work out, and it’s hard when they run into various stumbling blocks.

I thought it was an interesting book, at least to see what problems everyday Germans were dealing with in this time period. Knowing what happened shortly after this period in time, you can get a sense of why that is.

I will add that I read an older translation, and I’ve heard that the newer one is much better. I’m curious how it differs, but I think I’ll wait a bit before I look into it.

Book Review: The Russian Dreambook of Color and Flight by Gina Ochsner

The Russian Dreambook of Color and Flight by Gina Ochsner I came across The Russian Dreambook of Color and Flight by Gina Ochsner after more digging through my library’s online catalog, and it sounded interesting from the descriptions I found online. Sadly, it didn’t quite live up to my hopes for it.

The book follows a loosely associated group of people living in the same decaying apartment building in Perm, Russia, and it changes perspective between several of the characters. It was hard to tell what time period this took place, though it seemed to be the recent past, aside from the occasional flashback. It was definitely post-Soviet era, but some of the elements felt older.

It was also hard to get a grip on who was really the main character, since the perspective changes weren’t really balanced. A lot of focus was put on Olga, a translator for a propaganda newspaper, but then most of the plot eventually circled around Tanya, a girl in her 20s working in a museum while trying to figure out what she’d rather do with her life. It was frustrating when the perspective switched to some of the lesser characters, especially since those chapters didn’t feel like they added much to the story.

The story itself was rather loosely pieced together, and it just kind of fell away as I read on. I wanted something more out of the characters and the potential the early story seemed to have, but it never quite got there.

Overall, I’d say it was just an ok book. Some elements were interesting, but, ultimately, it just never felt real or compelling enough.

Book Review: 13, rue Thérèse by Elena Mauli Shapiro

13, rue Thérèse by Elena Mauli Shapiro I was a little apprehensive when I picked up 13, rue Thérèse by Elena Mauli Shapiro, due to the unique presentation of the book itself. Images of scanned photos, letters, and other ephemera are interspersed with the text, and on the last pages, there were special barcodes for use with a smartphone, which made me a bit wary. However, I decided to let it go and just take the book for what it was, and I’m glad I did.

The book is strange and unique and yet, it’s also interesting and exciting. We briefly learn about a collection of items left for American professor Trevor Stratton, who has just arrived in Paris to translate French poetry. As the book progresses, he gets drawn into this story and people behind this “documentation,” as he calls the items, and you feel yourself drawn in as well.

The story jumps between the Trevor’s perspective and that of Louise Brunet, the woman who owned the items Trevor is examining. The line between their worlds blurs more and more, and it helped to suspend disbelief, especially towards the end.

I will say that I was a little disappointed with the ending, especially after the build-up along the way. It just didn’t feel like the resolution was as weighty as the story that got you there. That said, I really enjoyed the book, as it kept me wondering what piece of the puzzle might be revealed next.

Book Review: A Long Long Time Ago and Essentially True by Brigid Pasulka

A Long Long Time Ago and Essentially True by Brigid Pasulka I was playing around with my library’s online catalog, browsing through the subject listings for fiction books, and I ended up finding A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True by Brigid Pasulka while looking at novels that take place in Poland. The summary sounded interesting enough, so I picked this up the next time I went to the library, and I’m glad I did.

The book follows several generations of families from a Polish village, switching between the time around WWII and the mid-90s, after the end of communism. Sometimes this sort of construction can be confusing, but I think it was really nicely done, and you end up piecing together the family and their stories as you read along.

Another element I liked was that Polish words are interspersed with the English. I knew a few already (my mother’s side of the family is originally from Poland), but most are easily figured out from context, though you might want to look at the pronunciation guide on the author’s web site.

It’s hard to put my finger on what made this book so enjoyable to me, though I did feel a bit of connection to the author, whose family is Polish and settled in Illinois as well. Even so, I think it was a really nice book, and I would highly recommend it.

Book Review: Henrietta Sees It Through: More News From The Homefront 1942-1945 by Joyce Dennys

Henrietta Sees It Through: More News From The Homefront 1942-1945 by Joyce Dennys After giving up on several books that just weren’t that good, I was glad to receive a copy of Henrietta Sees It Through: More News from the Home Front 1942-1945 by Joyce Dennys in the mail, as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. I’m a bit behind on reviewing some of the other books I’ve gotten recently, so I decided to start this one right away.

Written as letters to a friend fighting in Europe during WWII, “Henrietta Sees It Through” follows Henrietta Brown, her family, and friends through the trials and tribulations of wartime England. However, it’s a lot lighter than most WWII books I’ve read recently, including amusing illustrations throughout, and it focuses on some of the everyday things that changed at this time.

I thought this was such a sweet book, and it felt slightly reminiscent of P.G. Wodehouse, though Henrietta and her friends are not quite as mischievous as Bertie Wooster and his friends. It’s a very enjoyable read, even if you’ve not read the first volume, as I hadn’t. I plan on looking for that first volume, as well as the other books in this collection from Bloomsbury Group.

Book Review: This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All by Marilyn Johnson

This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All by Marilyn Johnson I was browsing the “Staff Picks” section at a local library when I came across This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All by Marilyn Johnson. I like libraries, have considered becoming a librarian, and know some librarians, so this sounded just right for me.

The book is a really light read, which was nice, since I usually don’t like reading nonfiction that’s rather heavy. It presented different aspects of being a librarian and running a library, including some different takes on libraries, both good and bad. My only complaint was that it had way too much about librarians who use Second Life, which I found really boring. The rest of the book was enjoyable though, and has made me think again about pursuing a library science degree.