2012 Book 159: The Garden of the Evening Mists, by Tan Twan Eng
Reason for Reading: Short-listed for the 2012 Booker Prize
Having suffered through a Japanese slave-camp during WWII, Yun Ling Teoh, a young Chinese-descent lawyer in Malaysia, carries around a lot of anger against the Japanese. However, she’d made a promise to her deceased sister that she would build a Japanese garden, so she reluctantly visits Aritomo – the only Japanese gardener in Malaysia. Aritomo refuses to design a garden for Yun Ling, but he offers to take her on as his apprentice so that she may design one herself. Yun Ling learns to let go of her anger as her friendship with Aritomo grows. But Aritomo has his own secrets.
How can I express what an amazing book this was? Sure, it had a couple of slowish spots (it WAS, after all, a book about gardening) but the story is magical. The historical and cultural backdrop is intriguing (I learned a lot while reading, but didn’t feel like I was being “taught”). Because the book takes place in two different times (current day and shortly after WWII), the story unfolds gracefully – allowing the reader to learn the story of Aritomo and Yun Ling at just the right rate…but yet somehow the time also blends together giving an impression of continuity that is particular to Eastern philosophy. On top of that, the more I learned about the story, the more fascinated I was by the two characters. This book is definitely worth your time.
Interpretive note with possible spoilers
One thing that struck me while I was reading this book is that I noticed an inconsistency in what the narrator (Yun Ling) was saying. At first, I wasn’t sure whether the author had made a mistake or if he had purposely introduced inconsistencies to show that Yun Ling had either an unreliable memory or was hiding something. I finally came to the later conclusion (though the unreliable memory was possible too). I think it’s fascinating that such inconsistencies added to the overall effect rather than subtracting from it. I applaud Tan Twan Eng for his careful writing of this book. 🙂
Book 158: The Marshal’s Promise, by Rhonda Gibson
In this sweet little Christian historical romance put out by the Harlequin publishing company, Rebecca Ramsey has been forced by her evil stepmother to answer an advert for a mail-order bride. But upon arriving in New Mexico territories, she discovers that her husband-to-be has been killed. With nowhere to go, she decides to make her home in New Mexico. Luckily, the Marshal offers her a job as his housekeeper. But does the Marshal have an ulterior motive for his offer? Sparks fly as these two learn that communication works better than secrets. This was a very cute little book, and there were some really sweetly romantic moments in it. There were also some tartly romantic moments. 😉 If you’re looking for a light historical romance, this is a good choice; however, this book has quite a few anachronisms in it so it’s not to be read by the seriously hard-core historical fiction readers. This book is meant to be fun and sweet, not cerebrally historic.
2012 Book 143: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred D. Taylor
Reason for Reading: This is my fourth and final book for Book Journey’s blog tour for Banned Books Week. This year, I read only YA books that I happened to have lying around in my TBR pile…it was fun! 🙂
In this Newbery Medal-winner, fourth grader Cassie Logan learns that African Americans are treated as second class citizens in Depression-era Mississippi. She and her family rebel the nasty Wallace brothers by arranging a boycott of their store. Wallace-brothers-and-friends respond with horrifying violence. This was an amazing book. The narrative was engaging, the characters were lovable, and suspense was high–I sincerely worried about what the ugly white-folk were going to do. While reading, I was struck by how similar in theme this book was to all the unoriginal dystopias that are being cranked out by the YA market these days. It was about a young girl realizing that her society was not as wonderful as she had grown up thinking…it was about fighting for your rights against a seemingly hopeless situation. But, wait! This book was actually meaningful because it was describing a REAL situation! Something tragic that people actually suffered! That makes Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry a much more powerful book than any of those dystopias can ever hope to be. I think an intelligent fourth grader who loves dystopias couldn’t help but love this book as well.
(Oh, wait, sorry, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry IS missing the cheesy cliche love triangle that YA dystopias all seem to have these days. Sorry girls!)
This book was banned because of racism, violence, and language (including the use of the infamous n-word). There is no doubt at all–This book HAD racism, violence, and the n-word. However, the purpose of the book was to show young readers the horrors of racism–so that they could learn a bit of history AND learn to be better people themselves. This book is not going to make children into racists. The bad influence of parents, role models, and friends lead to racism. This book, with the right discussion, will be a good influence on our children. Yes, the book has scary scenes in it, but nothing most fourth graders couldn’t handle. We can’t protect our children from the real world indefinitely, and as far as I’m concerned it’s better for them to know what it’s like than to enter it in compete innocence and immediately have their fresh young spirits crushed. My philosophy–breed them tough, because sheltering only hurts them later!
Reason for Reading: I’m leading a discussion on this book later this month
In the chaos of post-Civil War America, Anna flees her abusive uncle in New York and travels alone to Denver. On the way, she is kidnapped by some Cheyenne warriors and is forced to marry. But these disasters turn out to be a blessing in disguise as she finds God in the most unlikely of places. This is the second book I’ve read by Sandi Rog, and the second time I’ve been impressed at her poignant characters and deeply moving narrative. Although novels about the atrocities of white settlers on Native Americans abound, this one really holds its own. It is a book about atrocities, yes, but it’s also about love and forgiveness and about freedom and independence. In short, this is an amazing book that every Christian Fiction reader should pick up–but can also be enjoyed by lovers of historical romances.
2012 Book 125: Al Capone Shines my Shoes, by Gennifer Choldenko (8/24/2012)
Reason for Reading: Sequel to Al Capone Does My Shirts, which was adorable.
In this sequel to the Newbery Honor book
Al Capone Shines my Shoes, Moose Flanagan continues his adventures on Alcatraz Island–this time he must face consequences for choices he made in the previous book. VERY cute and funny and every bit as enjoyable as the first book.
2012 Book 117: Kidnapped, by Robert Louis Stevenson (7/30/2012)
Reason for Reading: It was one of the top 5 books in LibraryThing’s recommended list for me. 🙂
When 16-year-old David Balfour meets his estranged uncle for the first time, he is shocked by the man’s cruelty. Soon, Balfour has been kidnapped and he must rescue himself and travel back to the town of his uncle to claim his inheritance. This is an exciting little book…not quite up to scratch with Treasure Island, but still has quite an adventure. It would probably be a fun book for teenagers to read, if they like classics (or if you want to thrust classics upon them).
2012 Book 102: The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller (7/8/2012)
Categories: Speculative Fiction, Award Winner
Reason for Reading: This book won the Orange prize this year.
My Review 5/5 stars
On the outside, this book is a retelling of Achilles’ actions in Troy; however, Miller has incorporated deeper elements to the well-known story. The Song of Achilles is a celebration of Achilles’ humanity, rather than of his God-like martial skills. It is a touching love story between Achilles and his companion Patroclus. It is a story of forgiveness for human flaws. And it shows the reader that sometimes the best part of the story is forgotten in legends. Above all, it’s one of those books that sucks you right in…and then leaves you breathless when it’s over. Although Song of Achilles is technically fantasy, it is also a book that can be enjoyed by literary snobs and by people who don’t know much about Greek mythology. I loved it.
2012 Book 100: Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (7/5/2012)
Reason for Reading: Mostly, I read this book because I was interested it in…but it fit in nicely with Orange July.
My Review 5/5 stars
Half of a Yellow Sun takes place in Nigeria during the Nigeria/Biafa civil war. The narrative follows 3 characters: Ugwu, a village boy who is taken in by some politically-inclined academics as a house boy; Olanna, Ugwu’s mistress and a rich heiress; and Richard, a British expat who desperately wants to be accepted by the Biafrans as one of them. The stories of these three characters are superbly and tragically woven together on a backdrop of war, racial hatred, and famine. This is one of the most impressive books I’ve read in quite a while. The characters were so deep that I felt I knew them. The events described had an eerie realism to them that comes from the author’s intimate knowledge of the history and people. This is one of those books that makes you feel like every incident described is important and well-planned. This is a story not only of war, but of people–their dreams, their loves, their fears, their strengths and weaknesses. Half of a Yellow Sun is a must-read for anyone interested in international literature.