Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Review: The Outside Boy by Jeanine Cummins

Title: The Outside Boy
Author: Jeanine Cummins
Year Published: 2010

Genre: Adult Fiction
Pages: 360
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location (my 2014 Google Reading map): Ireland

FTC Disclosure: I received this book as a gift

Summary (from the back of the book): Ireland, 1959: Young Christopher Hurley is a tinker, a Pavee Gypsy who roams with his father and extended family from town to town, carrying all their worldly possessions in their wagons. Christy carries with him a burden of guilt as well, haunted by the story of his mother's death in childbirth.

The wandering life is the only one Christy has ever known, but when his grandfather dies, everything changes. His father decides to settle briefly in a town, where Christy and his cousin can receive proper schooling and prepare for their first Communion. But still, always, they are treated as outsiders. As Christy struggles to find his way amid the more conventional lives of his new classmates, he starts to question who he is and where he belongs. But then the discovery of an old newspaper photograph and a long-buried secret from his mother's mysterious past change his life forever....

Review: I am on a kick of books set outside the United States that seem to feel "gentle" to me. Must be the mood I am in. I've also taken adult fiction books off my TBR shelf and FINALLY gotten around to reading them. That feels good.

I don't have a lot to say about this book, but I liked it. I enjoyed the setting of Ireland and the author did a great job of getting me to feel as if I were there through the not-too-poetic descriptions of the towns, the family, the scenery, and the people, but it's the use of the Gypsy dialect that best sets the scene. The use of words and the cadence of the language really helped me feel I was hearing the story through Christy and not just some narrator.

I also felt for Christy. He is twelve years old, but seems to be an old soul; he questions life, is smart, can read and write (unlike many pavees), and through reading is interested in the world. He loves his life on the road, yet yearns for friends, roots, and most of all wants to know about his mother. While I would normally be mad at the father character for not sharing more about his wife with Christy, I felt for Christopher, Sr and his grief over his lost love. I really cared about these characters (even the horse and dog who play important roles in Christy's life).

If you're interested in learning more about the life of the Irish travellers, being taken back in time to the 1950s, and investing in the life of a boy, then this book is a good one!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Review: Rooftops of Tehran by Mahbod Seraji

Title: Rooftops of Tehran
Author: Mahbod Seraji
Year Published: 2009

Genre: Adult Fiction
Pages: 345
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location (my 2014 Google Reading map): Iran

FTC Disclosure: I received this book as a gift

Summary (from the back of the book): In a middle-class neighborhood in Iran's sprawling capital city, seventeen-year-old Pasha Shahed spends the summer of 1973 on his rooftop with his best friend, Ahmed, joking around and talking about the future. Even as Pasha asks burning questions about life, he also wrestles with a crushing secret. He has fallen in love with his beautiful neighbor Zari, who has been betrothed since birth to another man. And despite Pasha's guilt-ridden feelings for her, over the long, hot days his tentative friendship with Zari deepens into a rich emotional bond.

But the bliss of those perfect stolen months is shattered in a single night, when Pasha unwittingly acts as a beacon for the Shah's secret police. The violent consequences awaken Pasha and his friends to the reality of living under the rule of a powerful despot ,and lead Zari to make a shocking choice from which Pasha may never fully recover.

Review: Not only is this a good story, but I learned about life in Iran, life under the Shah, and about the Iranian culture.

In many ways this book is a gentle book. I felt like the writing style and the story takes the reader on a slow look at life in "the alley" where all the characters live. We read of their visits for tea, the boys hanging out on the rooftops, getting to know the girls they like, interacting with family and friends. All of that is done at a slow pace, like life, as we live the every day things that make up our lives.

However, in amongst the gentle, slow, and "regular" life in this Tehran neighborhood, there is also anguish, fear, bravery, and violence. The characters are living on the edge every day under the dictatorship of the Shah in the 1970s and any small action can have dire consequences. I was nervous for the characters as they discussed political issues, hating America and the CIA for backing the Shah, and fighting the laws implemented by the Shah. I feel like I got a real sense for what life was like for regular people who just trying to do their best at that time in Iran. Their lives were like mine in the regular and every day, yet so different in the pressures and issues!

If you enjoy getting to know a neighborhood (I loved the concept of them all living in the same alley with home connected by the rooftops), cheering on young love and those that fight for what is right, read this book.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Review: Asylum City by Liad Shoham

Title: Asylum City
Author: Liad Shoham
Year Published: 2014

Genre: Adult Mystery
Pages: 319
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2014 Google Reading map): Israel

FTC Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher

Summary (from the back of the book): When the young social activist Michal Poleg is found dead in her Tel Aviv apartment, her body showing signs of severe violence, officer Anat Nachmias is given the lead on her first murder investigation. Eager to find answers, the talented and sensitive cop looks to the victim's past for clues, focusing on the last days before her death. Could one of the asylum seekers Michal worked with be behind this crime?

Then a young African man confesses to the murder, and Anat's commanders say the case is closed. But the cop isn't convinced. She believes that Michal, a tiny girl with a gift for irritating people, became involved in something far too big and dangerous for her to handle. Joined by Michal's clumsy yet charming boss, Anat is pulled deep into a perplexing shadow world, where war victims and criminals, angels and demons, idealists and cynics, aid organizations ands criminal syndicates, intersect. But the truth maybe more than Anat can handle, bringing her face-to-face with an evil she's never before experienced.

Review: Combining my love of books set outside the United States and a good mystery, this one is a winner! I have never read a book set in Israel that was written by an Israeli so that was an added pleasure.

This didn't feel like a typical murder mystery because I felt like I was learning so much as I read it. The author did a great job of making me "see" Tel Aviv through the eyes of the characters. I got a variety of viewpoints as different characters narrated the chapters: the racist Israeli who wants the asylum seekers to go back to Eritrea; the police who deal with the poverty and crime associated with illegal immigrants; and the activists who work to protect the asylum seekers.

The mystery itself is also well done. So many different people had motive to kill Michal that I really wasn't able to figure it out until just pages before the author revealed it all. I like that I didn't have it all figured out ahead of time and that it was a good solution.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Review: The Language of Threads by Gail Tsukiyama

Title: The Language of Threads
Author: Gail Tsukiyama
Year Published: 1999

Genre: Adult Fiction
Pages: 276
Rating: 5 out of 5

Location (my 2014 Google Reading map): Hong Kong

FTC Disclosure: I received this book as a gift

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Readers of Women of the Silk never forgot the moving story of Pei, brought to work in the silk house as a young girl. Now we learn what happened to Pei as she arrives in 1930s Hong Kong with a young orphan, Ji Shen, in her care. Soon Pei and Ji Shen find a new life in the home of Mrs. Finch, a British expatriate. But war, and the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong, tear everything apart, and Pei is once again forced to make her own way, struggling to survive and to keep her extended family alive.

Review: I love all of Gail Tsukiyama's books that I've read! Women of the Silk, the book that comes before The Language of Threads, was a wonderful book, and Tsukiyama's The Samurai's Garden is one of my all-time favorites.

What is so wonderful about Tsukiyama's books?

Setting--as an American reader I love delving into books about other countries since I feel like I learn about the language, history, customs, food, and people in an interesting way. Tsukiyama sets her books beautifully. She doesn't over do the descriptive sections (which turns me off) and instead allows the experiences of the characters to reveal the setting. Hong Kong in the 1930s and '40s was such an interesting time and I feel like I got to know the pace of life, the struggles for immigrants, whether Chinese or European, and the changes that took place as the Japanese took over during World War II.
Plot--Continuing the story of Pei as she leaves the insular life with her sisters working the silk is genius. I care about Pei and Ji Shen as well as the people who come into their lives. They face such hardship, but manage to take it in stride, remaining calm, centered and determined to persevere. The characters face such difficult situations due to the times and their social class but I still felt like there was always hope.

Characters--I love Tsukiyama's characters! Pei comes from nothing: a small village in rural China to the bustling city of Hong Kong and we are on that journey with her as she faces difficult times, good times, her loved ones dying and making new friends.

Writing--The only way I can think to describe Tsukiyama's writing is gentle. I feel calm when I read her books even when the lives of her characters are troubled.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Review: Sycamore Row by John Grisham

Title: Sycamore Row
Author: John Grisham
Year Published: 2013

Genre: Adult Mystery
Pages: 637
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2014 Google Reading map): USA (Mississippi and Alaska)

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): One of the most popular novels of our time, A Time to Kill, established John Grisham as the master of the legal thriller. Now we return to Ford County as Jake Brigance finds himself embroiled in a fiercely controversial trial that exposes a tortured history of racial tension.

Seth Hubbard is a wealthy man dying of lung cancer. He trusts no one. Before he hangs himself from a sycamore tree, Hubbard leaves a new, handwritten will. It is an at that drags his adult children, his black maid, and Jake into a conflict as riveting and dramatic as the murder trial that made Brigance one of Ford County's most notorious citizens, just three years earlier. The second will raises many more questions than it answers. Why would Hubbard leave nearly all of his fortune to his maid? Had chemotherapy and painkillers affected his ability to think clearly? And what does it all have to do with a piece of land once known as Sycamore Row?

Review: John Grisham. I can always count on one of his novels to keep me turning pages, keep me intrigued by what is going to happen next, and leave me wasted at the end as he brings it all together. I don't have a lot to say about this novel except that Grisham really tells a good story. His characters are real, the scene is clear, and I believe that what I am reading could possibly be true.

Grisham does such a good job of capturing the feeling of the towns and people he writes about. They are always interesting, believable, and just a tad unlikable. And I think that's important. No characters are perfect, the towns have history and flaws, and that makes the story better.

I do think this is one of Grishams' best, so if you enjoy his novels, definitely read this one