Book Reviews: October 2015

Last month’s reviews spark some interesting discussion, so here we are again. These are the books I read in October (this time I have actual hard copies of the books – except for one – so I decided to take a photo. Sorry for the gnarly state of my Kindle, it’s old and much used):

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What Katy Did At School & What Katy Did Next by Susan Coolidge:

I have a genre of books I call “easy reading”. They’re very specific – mostly about girls in the late 19th/early 20th century, with simple plots concerning everyday life, charming characters, and usually lots of descriptions of pretty landscapes and such. You know, Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, books like that. And now I’m adding this book to the list as well. It’s about a girl named Katy Carr and her adventures (actually, calling them “adventures” would be a bit of an exaggeration) at a New England boarding school and later on in Europe. They’re the last two in a trilogy, so I had a hard time figuring out who’s who at first, but I didn’t care enough to read the first book to find out. It’s boring, that’s what I’m saying. But at least not offensively so. 2/5

Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi:

I really want to like this. It is, ostensibly, a take on the tale of Bluebeard: a famous writer, St. John Fox, has the habit of killing off the female characters in his books, and is now challenged by his imaginary muse, Mary Foxe, to stop it. Sounds great, right? What it really is, though, is a series of short stories about women and violence done to women, with the aforementioned story of Mr. Fox and Mary Foxe as a kind of loose frame. I think I would much prefer it if it was presented simply as a short story collection. As a novel, it feels very fragmented and unsatisfying. I guess form does affect content. 3.5/5

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley:

I saw the Vietnamese translation of this at a book fair and decided to seek out the original version (as a translator myself, I prefer to read English books in their original language.) It’s a murder mystery about a young aspiring chemist/poison expert who launches an investigation after a dead snipe with a stamp in its beak turns up on her doorstep, followed soon after by a dead man. I was surprised to see it categorized as Adult Mystery instead of Young Adult, since the main character, Flavia de Luce, is 11 years old. Even though she is the most eloquent and observant 11-year-old you have ever met, I think this hurts the story a bit – it doesn’t know who its audience is. Flavia is too mature to appeal to young readers, while the mystery itself doesn’t have enough twists and turns to appeal to older readers. Still, it’s an interesting enough premise, and I will definitely check out other books in the series. 3/5

So, three books, all with female leads, albeit very different ones. Let’s hear about what you guys read (or, if you’ve read any of these books, what you think of them.)

P/S: Happy Back to the Future Day, fellow nerds! Remember, we’re supposed to be dressing like this now.

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3 Comments on “Book Reviews: October 2015”

  1. Mike says:

    Hey all! Here are the books that I’ve read (and still reading!) for October. This first one, “I Will Always Write Back” is the one that I started to talk about last month, but was not finished with it at the time. It is written by co-authors Caitlin Alifirenka and Martin Ganda, along with Liz Welch. This is a remarkable true story about how two teens from two very different worlds, became pen pals, and eventually best friends. And it all began with one letter that was sent by Caitlin, an American girl from Hatfield, Pennsylvania to Zimbabwe where Martin lives. As you read the story, you can see both Caitlin’s and Martin’s relationship in regards to their friendship growing as they both learn about each other’s cultures and the difficulties that the other faces. One of the great things about how the book is written is that instead of chapters, it is divided up between Martin’s and Caitlin’s point of view and it switches back and forth between the two. And one of the most endearing aspects of the book is how well the two friends get along and really come to care for one another. This is especially shown from Caitlin’s point of view when she learns how impoverished Martin and his family really are. While there is no sign of tension between the two at all, as you read the story from Caitlin’s point of view, you begin to see her heart really changing and her determination to help Martin increases exponentially, especially when she begins sending him things in the mail other than the letters that they originally started with. I won’t spoil it for you and am hoping that you are curious enough to go read the book for yourself to find out some of the awesome parcels that she sends him. But it’s not just Caitlin who is growing in this unique exchange. We also see Martin coming to love Caitlin as a sister, even going so far as to call her an “angel”. By the end the book, Martin and Caitlin finally get to meet in person for the first time and just by how it is written, you can tell that it is an emotional moment for both of them. They both faced many challenges for this moment to take place, as you will see when you read the book, but by some grand miracle, they both overcome every obstacle that they faced and Martin is finally able to meet his American family, his second family that helped him for the eight years that he and Caitlin shared through letters.

    I want to give a small editorial for this book, as it truly touched my heart in so many ways. First off, let me say that it is stories like this that help me realize that there are some pretty awesome people in the world. While it’s true that there are some real jerks, idiots and morons out there, there are a lot of good people in the world too. This story is just one of many that I have heard of that proves that cultural differences and barriers can get crossed and do get crossed. Indeed, we as a whole still have a long way to go, but in some ways, I think that we are off to a pretty good start. When you have two people of different countries, different ways of living, different genders and even different skin colors, becoming best friends though pen pal letters, that’s pretty powerful. And that’s what makes this story so endearing and heart wrenching. Caitlin and Martin’s story is not the first, or the only one that displays such passion. I’ve read two other books in the past that have an equal appeal to their experience and once again, can prove that people who are so different outwardly, can still love each other. The other books I’ve read are, “Hope Runs” by Claire Diaz and Samual Ikua Gachagua, and “A Long Way Home” by Saroo Brierley. Both of these are excellent reads if you enjoy cross cultural interactions and relationships as I do, and like with Caitlin and Martin’s story, they will draw you in and you won’t be able to put the books down. I sure wasn’t able to!

    The second book that I’m reading is called “The Girl Who Wrote Loneliness” by Kyung-Sook Shin. I’m about a quarter of the way through this one so I can’t give a full review on it this time but I have to say that I’m liking it so far. It has a nice slow feel to it, almost melancholic, but not quite somber, if you know what I mean. The story is told in first person by the main character, a teenage Korean girl (who is not named) and depicts her hardships of living in the 1970s, working in a “sweatshop” along with her cousin, and having to face the challenges of being paid the lowest wages while trying to make ends meet. It’s a good read and I am enjoying the story, but as I said, it does read a bit slow. It’s not your typical read. I’ll be back on in November for the next discussion once I finish and give a full review of what I thought.

    So until then, keep reading everyone!

  2. Mike says:

    I’m going to follow Salazar’s rating system and give “I Will Always Write Back” a 5/5, as I really enjoyed it.
    I forgot to do this earlier as I was in a bit of a rush.
    More to come later.

  3. Mike says:

    Oh yeah, that’s right! Today is the famous day for the all time favorite movie “Back To The Future” (was finally able to read your post in full Salazar; busy day). While I’m not much of a fan of the series, I did see the first one and seeing that date, I remember thinking, “wow! 2015… We’ll never live long enough to see that date!” How wrong I was, because here we are. 😛


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