Book Reviews: April 2016

I managed to read four books this month too (although one of them is very short), so let’s get to it!

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Zazie in the Metro by Raymond Queneau:

This 1960 French cult classic tells the story of Zazie, a foul-mouthed young girl sent to Paris to live with relatives for two days while her mom spends some time with her new boyfriend. Zazie’s sole desire is to ride the Metro, but unfortunately for her, her arrival in Paris coincides with a strike. And thus begins a wacky and often surreal adventure involving a cross-dressing uncle, a lecherous police officer, a man-crazy widow, and other colorful characters.

Now, this story seems to have just the right mix of quirkiness and magic realism reminiscent of Amelie or The Red Balloon, so I thought I would enjoy it. However, much of the book’s acclaim comes from its innovative use of language, a lot of which gets lost in translation (I read it in Vietnamese, though I imagine the English translation wouldn’t be much better, you pretty much have to understand French to enjoy it, I think), so I just couldn’t see its charm. 2/5

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson:

When I reviewed The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, I thought it was the most British book ever. I was wrong. “Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand” is, if possible, even more British than that. In fact, it shares some similarities with Harold Fry – both feature an elderly man as the main character, both deal with this character’s coming to terms with their past and facing an ever changing world (though I think you can’t escape those themes if you write a book about an elderly English man.) In this case, the main character is Major Ernest Pettigrew, who, after the sudden death of his brother, strikes up a relationship with Mrs. Ali, the Pakistani shopkeeper of his village, and in doing so, risks alienating himself from everything he’s lived for.

I enjoy this. The characters, like I said, are very British – prim, proper, all about keeping a stiff upper lip and being courteous and honorable at all cost – but they are multidimensional as well, and the story are involving and sometimes a little funny too. However, some of the characters feel a bit over the top (I can’t believe that people in this day and age can be so culturally ignorant/insensitive, no matter how conservative they are) and the story feels a little slow at times. Still, if you like Stella Gibbons, Dodie Smith, and Nancy Mitford, you’ll love this too. 4/5

The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey:

The “girl” here is Melanie, who’s very special. For one thing, she’s super smart for her age. She has no parents, only teachers – her favorite being Miss Justineau. She lives on a military base and has to be escorted to class by soldiers. That’s because she also happens to be a zombie, kept at the base to be studied by Dr. Caroline Caldwell and hopefully to help her develop a cure. Then one day, when the base is attacked by feral humans, Melanie goes on the run with Miss Justineau, Dr. Caldwell, and two soldiers, and soon she becomes their only hope for survival.

This is like a bloodier, more depressing version of Warm Bodies, even though the main character is a kid. Still, I really enjoy it. Carey is a comic book writer, so his writing is succinct and visual, and the structure is cinematic, just how I like it. I also like the book’s explanation of the zombie epidemic as well – most other zombie stories gloss over that fact and just focus on the survivors, but here it offers an explanation that sounds pretty plausible (an infection by a totally real fungus that can turn ants into zombies), which makes it all the more horrifying. My only complaint is that the ending is a bit abrupt. 4.5/5

Death of a Naturalist by Seamus Heaney:

Now this is something different for me – a poetry book. I’m not much of a poetry fan. The closest I get to poetry is song lyrics. But I’ve always been meaning to try reading some poetry – it helps with prose writing too. So after some thinking, I decided to start with Seamus Heaney, because he’s a big influence on one of my favorite musicians, Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol (they actually have a song called “Reading Heaney To Me“) and given my preference for all things Irish, I think a renowned Irish poet would be a good start.

And you know what? I think I’m converted. These poems are so beautiful in their simplicity, their vivid images, and powerful, sometimes heartbreaking, emotions (“Mid-term Break” almost made me cry). Some of my favorites in this collection are “Blackberry-Picking”, “Churning Day” (sweet, simple, beautifully accurate descriptions of everyday life), and “Honeymoon Flight” (it’s just like a Snow Patrol song). Others don’t register with me as much, but I’ll definitely read more. 4/5

So that’s my month in reading. What about you guys?

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4 Comments on “Book Reviews: April 2016”

  1. I read The Girl with All the Gifts last summer because someone had left it in the beach house we rented. I finished it like two days and enjoyed it! He has a new book out that I want to read, too. I’ve never heard of Warm Bodies, though, so now I’m intrigued.

    The only book I finished recently was Luke Skywalker Can’t Read and Other Geeky Truths. If you’re a nerdy pop culture aficionado with a penchant for literary references then this is the book for you. A lot of it went over my head (especially all the Moby Dick references since I’ve never read it) but some of it was fun.

    Right now I’m reading A Beginner’s Guide to Paradise: 9 Steps to Giving Up Everything which is about a guy who tries to move to a tropical island to re-evaluate his life. So far I’m enjoying it!

  2. I’ve heard of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, and I do love Dodie Smith and Stella Gibbons – so I think I’ll have to add it to my list!

  3. Mike says:

    First off, I want to apologize for posting late for this month’s book review. I am usually more punctual about this and am ready to talk about something book related each month, even if I don’t have any books fully read. But I have been dealing with some personal issues this week so I was slightly hindered, but not stopped. Like they say, better late than never, right?

    Anyway, that first book that you mentioned, “Zazie In The Metro”, sounds quite interesting, Salazar. Being a bus rider myself, I think I can certainly relate to the bus riding aspects that you mentioned in this book, but those characters that she meets along the way sound a bit over the top!

    Still, it might be an interesting read.

    Well, onto my reads.

    I’m embarrassed to say that I haven’t finished my current main read, “The Feast Of Roses” by Indu Sundaresan, though I’m well into it and will have it finished before the next review in May. The focus of the story seems to be shifting more towards Mehrunnisa and her rival, Jagat Gosini, as Jagat Gosini is still trying to upstage Mehrunnisa from the first book and ultimately shame her in order to win over Jahangir’s heart. I’ll give a fully review once I finish but I have to say that I’m really liking the story and am even more drawn into this book than I was with the first one and I am looking forward to what is ahead.

    I also have a few other books that you probably won’t be interested in reading (unless you’re a huge astronomy geek like me). It’s a series of children’s books (though adults can benefit from reading them too) called “Explore The Solar System”, part of the encyclopedia known as, “World Book”, a well know publisher in children’s educational books. Anyway, the series consists of 10 books that cover the solar system and all of the major celestial bodies that are in it. I like how the books group the planets together, like Mercury and Venus and Saturn and Uranus, etc. Only Mars and Jupiter get their own books.

    There’s also books in the series that deal with space exploration, telescopes and other topics relating to space. The books are highly illustrated, making it easy for someone of any age pretty much to pick up and learn some quick facts about the solar system, which I am all about since the adult books get into some pretty complicated and complex study, which is way over my head.

    So I am reading through all of these books as they are really short and just plain fun to look at.

    Okay, next topic. I am well into the series, “The 39 Clues” as those who have been keeping up with the book discussions the last few months know. I’m currently listening to book 3 of the 4th mini series within the saga called “Doublecross”, which has proven to be the most deeply involved story plot since the first series, “The Clue Hunt”. And the major maniac of this series calls himself “The Outcast”, which, as his name implies, was a member of the Cahill family that was cast out of it for reasons I do not yet know (or don’t remember if they explained it or not). And while the previous foes for the Cahill kids have proven to be borderline psychopaths, this new guy takes the word “psychopath” to a whole new level. His insane scheme is to re-create four major disasters in history, though adding a bit more of a sinister twist as to how he goes about in doing it. The first two books had him re-create the Titanic and Hindenburg disasters respectively, while the third one (the one I’m currently in) has him trying to re-create Hurricane Katrina. We’re talking major insanity here, folks. I haven’t finished this one yet but I’ll be curious as to how he’ll pull this latest lunacy off. Unfortunately, this will be the last 39 Clues book that I’ll listen to for a while as the 4th book of this series won’t be out until the end of June, called “Mission Atomic”. That should be an interesting one.

    So in the meantime, I found another book series by Scholastic that seems to be in the same class as “The 39 Clues” called “Tomb Quest”. Once I finish this latest 39 Clues book, I plan to check out this Tomb Quest series and see how that goes. If it’s anything like The 39 Clues, I will so be hooked on yet another children’s book series, which, let’s face it, that’s what we all want anyway, right; to be hooked on a children’s book series even though we’re all adults? Of course we do!

    See you all next month for the next review. Tell us what you’re reading!


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