Many books, one post

Here it is, already November, and, despite my best intentions, I never got around to reviewing most of my October reads. So here they are, wrap-up style. (And, despite the lack of lengthy reviews, there are some real gems in the bunch.

In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner

4 stars

I would hesitate to guess that this book could be as easily classified as memoir instead of fiction. The story is based on the author’s childhood, surviving the Khmer Rouge takeover of Cambodia. It’s horrifying, violent and tragic; but it’s also beautiful in the way she captures innocence and hope. I learned much and felt deeply, both things I find satisfying from a good “socially responsible” novel.

“Had I owned the words I would’ve told him what my heart intuited – that joy and sorrow often travel the same road and sometimes, whether by grace or misfortune, they meet and become each other’s companion.”

The Weird Sisters (audio)  by Eleanor Brown

3 stars

I was very back and forth on the book as I read it.  It had components I loved – smart Shakespearean references, strong women, and an unusual linguistic approach. Brown uses the third person plural “we” to great effect. But I never quite connected to these women, who seemed too immature to be believed. The story went on (and on and on) – not helped by the overacting of the audio book’s narrator. In the end, I wanted to like it more than I did, but I’d try Brown again.

“We’d wrap ourselves in cloaks woven of self-pity and victimhood.”

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

3.5 stars

This book is so different in style than anything I usually read that it took me quite a while to catch the rhythm. Epistolary in format, we get a glimpse into the perspectives of Bernadette, her husband, her daughter and neighbors, coworkers and old friends. Honestly, I found it a little confusing and the sheer number of voices kept me from completely connecting. But I loved Bernadette despite her many flaws. I got her and rooted for her and, admittedly, wanted more. I only wish I felt more part of the book than viewing it from a distance.

“It’s like a hypnotist put everyone from Seattle into a collective trance. “You are getting sleepy, when you wake up you will want to live only in a Craftsman house, the year won’t matter to you, all that will matter is that the walls will be thick, the windows tiny, the rooms dark, the ceilings low, and it will be poorly situated on the lot.”

The Forgetting Tree by Tatjana Soli

3 stars

A strange, strange book, Soli take co-dependence to a whole new level. I wanted to love this book as much as I loved The Lotus Eaters, but I never connected to the characters. It’s not that they’re under-developed. Both Claire and Minna stand out as complex, broken souls. It’s just that I never really liked either of them and I just could not believe anyone in the book would have accepted Claire’s “living arrangement” with Minna. It was too far-fetched even for my suspension of disbelief. That said, Soli writes beautifully. It was the quality of this writing that carried me through this very long novel. (and also what raises my rating to 3 stars)

“She regretted nothing, except that making one choice canceled out the possibility of so many others. As she continued to watch, there was the smallest opening in Minna’s dance, like a dervish spinning for enlightenment, a pinhole through which Claire caught a glimpse of other possible lives than the one she had chosen.”

Fool (audio) by Christopher Moore

4 stars

I was entertained the entire time I listened to this book. I find Christopher Moore brilliant and have a deep appreciation for his irreverent, dark humor. Without any real effort to adhere to the original storyline, he tells his own version of Shakespeare’s King Lear, from the Fool’s perspective. Mixing time periods, languages, continents and cultural references, he still produces a cohesive book that had me giggling (and sometimes blushing) the whole time. I still think Sacre Bleu: A Comedy d’Art is better, but I liked this enough to keep going through the Moore collection.

“The castle’s full of villainy and intrigue. They’ll need comic relief between all the murders and flattery.”

What else?

Somehow I managed to post three full book reviews in October…

We Need to Talk About Kevin

The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag

Beautiful Ruins

Astray — review to come this week, but if you’re really curious you can find it on Goodreads.

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