Wednesday, December 14, 2011

too many books, too little time: shorties.

Once again, not enough time to write up full reviews for all of these -- but wanted to give you the skinny on a few books I've read recently.

The Secret of Chimneys by Agatha Christie -- Have to say, not my favorite. I've never been a big fan of Christie's "thrillers" (especially Passenger to Frankfurt -- I don't think I've ever made it to the end of this one, though I have given it the ol' college try so many times!), and this one was especially frustrating. It has the makings for a great story -- international espionage, the assassination of a prince who was hiding in the English countryside, incriminating letters which are subsequently stolen, a beautiful and clever heroine and a dashing adventurer who loves her...but I just couldn't get into it. Part of my frustration is that so many of the characters are in disguise, sometimes as other characters who also exist in the novel, so I had to keep flipping back and forth to try to remember who was who! I had the same experience when I read Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy -- I wanted so much to like it, but keeping track of the story with all its twists and turns started to feel like a homework assignment rather than a pleasure read. That being said, if you like those kinds of stories, you would probably really enjoy this one.

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See -- I haven't read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, but I thought See's novel about two sisters who must escape from China during the Sino-Japanese War was captivating: they find themselves dealing with the death of their family members, arranged marriages to men they despise, an unexpected pregnancy, the difficulties of establishing citizenship in the United States, and the trials of life as immigrant women in mid-20th century America. I read this book while I was still pregnant with L, and I found the passages about motherhood to be especially moving and heartbreaking. I like how See has us sympathize with her main character, Pearl, but also gives us the opportunity to see her faults and weaknesses through others' eyes, especially in one very painful scene near the end of the novel. Definitely worth reading.

City of Thieves by David Benioff -- A good friend let me borrow this book from her ages ago, saying that she was curious to know my opinion about how Benioff sets the stage for the story of two unlikely friends who must brave the brutal Russian winter during the Nazis' siege of Leningrad in order to find a dozen eggs that will ultimately save their lives. Benioff starts the novel in the first person with a memory of his grandfather. Or is it? It's unclear whether the David of the preface is supposed to be the author, or if we are meant to think that simply as a way to draw us closer into an almost-unbelievable story. Regardless, the friendship between Lev and Kolya that develops in this moving, poignant novel is worth the read whether it's based in reality or not. You know how I feel about sad endings -- so as a fair warning, I'll tell you that I almost can't recommend this one to you for that reason. (Beth, I promise I'll finally give this back to you!)

My Grandfather's Blessings by Rachel Naomi Remen -- This is a collection of short essays all about working towards living a blessed life. Based on the title and the beginning of the book, I thought that it would be much more focused on the lessons the author learned from her time with her grandfather, an Orthodox rabbi. Instead, Remen spends most of the book talking about her own personal experiences as a doctor and counselor for terminally ill patients, which is still certainly valuable but not exactly what I was hoping for, and only references her grandfather in passing after the first few vignettes. I was also a little turned off by the chapter on the idea of l'chaim, since Remen spelled it wrong throughout -- it's true that lots of Hebrew words have alternate spellings, but this is one that really doesn't. Shouldn't she know that, or at least have an editor who does? A petty concern, I suppose...but I can't help myself!

That's it for this week -- check back next Wednesday for another book review!


  1. Wow, that is a lot of books to read! Good luck :) But it is the best season to get your reading on. I think that local coffee shop is calling your name! haha

  2. You're making me want to read more fiction. I'm generally a non-fiction kinda gal (in books that is) but I really like a good fiction novel once in awhile. Have you read Room by Emma Donoghue? It's quite good, though a bit disturbing. It's about a mother and son who are held hostage for many years, the son was born in captivity and doesn't know anything else exists but himself, his mother, a room, and a man who comes at night. I couldn't stop inputting myself in the mother's role, she's 27 (my age when I read it) and so that got to me, but it's told from the 5 year old boy's perspective and written very uniquely. I recommend it.