Monday, August 12, 2013

Books Read: April, May, June, July

Blogging pretty much fell by the wayside when I was depressed, so I am very behind with these book posts! Excited to catch up, as it always gives me a feeling of satisfaction to remember what I've read/learned lately.

April 1st: Sons of the Yellow Emperor: A History of the Chinese Diaspora, Lynn Pan. History about an interesting topic (migration out of China over the last few hundred years, a massive movement of people!). By a non-historian though and suffers in objectivity/scholarship as a result. Grade: C+.

April 2nd: How to Calm a Challenging Child, Miriam Chachamu. R actually isn't a challenging child (she has an "easy" temperament) but this book was great anyway. Wonderful, practical advice; short; and with illustrations. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Grade: A.

April 3rd: Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life, Martin E. P. Seligman. Very well-known book by the expert in the field. I liked it a lot and found it very helpful, both for combating depression and for forming more positive thinking habits. It claims perhaps more than it delivers, though. Grade: A-.

April 3rd: Life of Pi, Yann Martel. I saw the movie first (which is amazing: I loved it!!). I really enjoyed the book too, but to be honest thought the movie was better (they deleted the book's silliest and most unfortunate plot point, for example). Grade: A-.

April 5th: The Ruby in the Smoke, Philip Pullman. His Dark Materials series is one of my favorite all-time reads, so I wanted to reread this series (haven't read it since I was a child). Enjoyed it but nowhere near as much as Dark Materials: I missed the talking polar bears. Does have a spunky heroine and cool historical setting though. Grade: B+

April 6th: Mr. China: A Memoir, Tim Clissold. Memoir about the author's time in China attempting to invest in state-owned enterprises trying to enter the private sector. I am very interested in this topic so enjoyed it: anyone interested in business in China or cross-cultural business issues would too. Others can probably skip it. Grade: B-.

April 10th: The Book Thief, Markus Zusak. Easy read despite long length. Too sentimental for my taste; plus evil Nazis are just so cliched that I can't enjoy books about them any more. Grade: C.

April 11th: The Idle Parent: Why Laid-Back Parents Raise Happier and Healthier Kids, Tom Hodgkinson. Love the concept (since it agrees with my hope to save myself trouble in parenting), dislike the execution, especially the author's smug, snide (and very British) tone. And why living in the country without TV is necessary for idleness (both choices seem like more work, not less) was not made clear. Grade: D.

April 13th: The Shadow in the North, Philip Pullman. Second in Sally Lockhart Series. Not as good as the first. Grade: B-.

April 14th: A Pale View of Hills, Kazuo Ishiguro. I really enjoy this author though all his books simultaneously frustrate me with their intentional vagueness and emotional understatement (I'm a little socially tone deaf or something so subtle emotional cues are hard for me to pick up). Interesting and haunting read. Grade: A-.

April 16th: Rice Wine and Dancing Girls, Wong Seng Chow. The author confusingly wrote this memoir about his cinema-manager father as if he were the father. Lively descriptions of mid-century Singaporean/SE Asian life (so much has changed!). Deeper insight is lacking though. Grade: B-.

April 17th: Bossypants, Tina Fey. I like Tina Fey along with everyone else, and I liked this book too. She is funny. It is lacking as a memoir though, because she shies away from deeper issues or emotional honesty. Humor here is more of a shield than an illuminator. Grade: C+.

April 24th: The Tiger in the Well, Philip Pullman. Third in Sally Lockhart series. Really interesting for its inclusion of some of the dark sides of Victorian society (racism, exploitation of the poor, horrible hygiene, domestic violence...). Only flaw was inaccurate portrayal of Sally's toddler (in that it was unbelievable as a real child). Grade: A-.

April 25th: Sold for Silver: An Autobiography of a Girl Sold into Slavery in Southeast Asia, Janet Lim. She had a fascinating life (sold into slavery by her parents, raised in an religious orphanage, shipwrecked in a WW2 bombing, imprisoned and tortured by the Japanese...). Not very well written but great from the historical perspective. Grade: B.

April 29th: Last Seen Wearing, Hillary Waugh. Murder mystery. Fun if very dated (so fifties! actually maybe that's a recommendation if you are interested in the period?). Grade: B.

May 1st: The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Last read this in high school, when I didn't like it. Really enjoyed it this time: characters are odious and unsympathetic, but I think that's intentional. His prose is beautiful. Grade: B+.

May 13th: The Tin Princess, Philip Pullman. Last in Sally Lockhart series (though she herself barely features). Plot is silly and unbelievable. Grade: C.

May 26th: The War at Troy, Lindsay Clarke. I read the sequel to this first, which was OK. This one was a tiny bit worse (though maybe I just thought that because I don't like the Iliad as much as the Odyssey?). Grade: C-.

May 27th: Nancy Mitford: A Biography, Selina Hastings. A quick read if not very memorable. What a sad life she had, never finding what she longed for most (love). Sort of a demonstration of the problems with an emotionally lacking upbringing, really. Grade: B-.

May 30th: The Blessing, Nancy Mitford. Comic silliness about a French-British couple in 1950s Paris and their naughty child. Fun though nowhere as good as her previous novels. Grade: B.

June 6th: Poirot Investigates, Agatha Christie. Just like every other Poirot book, so I liked it. The mental equivalent of eating marshmallows so yum! Grade: B.

June 7th: The Inimitable Jeeves, P. G. Wodehouse. See above, except funny instead of a "puzzler". Grade: B+. 

June 9th: The Rendezvous and Other Stories, Daphne du Maurier. Slightly creepy stories that I can't remember much else about.

June 14th: A Single Eye, Susan Dunlap. Read for the setting (northern California). Bad. Grade: D.

June 18th: Woman from Shanghai: Tales of Survival from a Chinese Labor Camp, Xianhui Yang. This is actually nonfiction (published for political reasons as fiction) about prison camps in Communist China. Surprise, they are completely horrible and almost everyone dies, for no reason! But impressive for the evidence of the undaunted human spirit. The kind of book that stays with you. Grade: A-.

June 20th, The Big Four, Agatha Christie. I dislike the "international conspiracy" books by Christie, maybe because I don't like her politics. The "country house" mysteries are much better. Grade: C-.

June 21st: Hungry Ghosts, Susan Dunlap. Wanted to finish because I liked the title. A sequel to A Single Eye and also bad. Grade: D. 

June 24th: Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese. I did not like this and had a really hard time finishing it. Not sure why, the settings are interesting (especially the scenes in Addis Adaba) and the action is definitely dramatic. Something about it just seemed insincere and cliched (which is a weird thing to say when the main characters are Siamese twins born to a nun in Ethiopia). Grade: C-.

June 28th: Potty Training Girls the Easy Way: A Stress-Free Guide to Helping Your Daughter Learn Quickly, Caroline Fertleman. Did not work for me or R.

June 29th, Medici Money: Banking, Metaphysics, and Art in Fifteenth-Century Florence, Tim Parks. Surprisingly dull given the topic (Renaissance Italy! Financial wheeling and dealing!). Learned some things I did not know, but I think another author would have done better on the topic. Grade: B-.

July 3rd, The Oysters of Locmariaquer, Eleanor Clark. LOVED this!! One of the original books on local food, it's all about one community and their food traditions, as well as the natural history, history, and culture of the place. Quirky and fascinating. And now I want to try Belon oysters. Grade: A. 

July 6th, The Paris Wife, Paula McLain. Meh, another book club selection. About Ernest Hemingway's first wife, so I hated it from the start (I am opposed to investigating women just based on who they were married to, rather than their own personal qualities/accomplishments). Apparently pretty accurate in its portrayals of Jazz-Age Americans in Paris, and if so they were a bunch of selfish, privileged drunks unaware of the fact. Grade: D+.

July 14th: Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell. Very literary (where how the story is told is as important as what is told) but entertaining, thought-provoking and highly successful all the same. I saw the movie (which is just OK), but the book is far better. Excellent! Grade: A.

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