Friday, May 3, 2013

Book Reviews Up In Here!

I've been seriously slacking on my book reviews lately, but I really want to have a list of what I've read this year - so I'm going to hit you with three (and a half) today!

1) The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon

This was our book club book 2 months ago.  It's the first book Michael Chabon ever wrote (in fact, it was his senior thesis [or maybe master's thesis?] in college).  And I sort of have a hard time reviewing the book not thinking about that.  Basically, this is an awesome first book.  It has little glimpses here and there of the incredible writer Chabon would become a few books down the line.  But I'm not sure I would necessarily recommend this book.  I'm not unhappy I read it - I actually really enjoyed the story - but it felt a little juvenile, maybe?  Chabon himself, when asked about the book, responded with something along the lines of, "dude, I was 22 when I wrote it."  Enough said.

One aspect of the book I really enjoyed, though, was the homosexual plot line.  I haven't read a lot (or any??) gay fiction, so this felt refreshing and new.  And fun fact: Michael Chabon, who is now married to a woman, said he's had both heterosexual and homosexual relationships in the past.

2) The Round House by Louise Erdrich

Read this book.  Go to the library/bookstore/amazon Kindle site and get yourself a copy.  This was one of the best books I've read in a long time.  The writing was great, the plot was engaging, and the characters were unique and memorable.

It's the story of a native american family who live on a reservation.  A horrific rape takes place and we see its impact on the family through the eyes of the 12-13 year old son.  It's a little bit of mystery, a little bit of coming-of-age, a little bit of social commentary on Indians vs. white men, and a little bit of a call for justice regarding laws for prosecution of on-reservation crime.  This was the first piece of native american literature I've ever read and really, truly enjoyed.  And I've read a fair amount.

Side note: in the afterward at the end of the book, the author says 1 in 3 Indian women who live on reservations are raped by white men.  1 in 3!  I'm horrified and disgusted by that number - I thought you might be, too.

3) Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

My friend Brooke really likes Lisa See and offered Shanghai Girls as an option for February book club (we decided on Mysteries of Pittsburgh instead).  But I decided to read this anyway.  Lisa See has a ton of books, so I figured she must be appealing to the masses if she keeps getting published.

I enjoyed this book and read it in the same fast way I fly through YA fiction or chick lit.  It's not necessarily chick lit - but I also wouldn't say it's "high literature" the way Michael Chabon or The Round House are.

It spans many years of two sisters' lives.  It begins in pre-war Shanghai and ends in 1950s Los Angeles.  The sisters' relationship is the stand-out aspect of the novel.  I loved getting everything from Pearl's perspective (the older sister), but then hearing what May (younger sister) had to say when the two would have arguments.  May would call Pearl out on something she was doing wrong, and as the reader (since I'd only been in Pearl's head), it was like, "oh - wait - she's right!"  I also loved seeing what the American racism against Chinese people felt like from the inside.

This book ends on a serious cliff hanger - so it's clearly part of a planned series (or at least a set of two).  And I will most certainly read the follow-up - I'll also probably check out more of Lisa See's books.

3.5) Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

This book is just a .5 because I didn't finish.  I came upon this because we've recently discovered the public library's e-book collection (which, by the way, is awesome for e-books users - check it out in Memphis or your own city).  The selection of really good literature is heavily outweighed by Harlequin romance and books like one I found called "Baby Momma."  So when I saw a title I had heard of, Swamplandia, I added it to my queue.

This is the story of a family who own an amusement-type park in the Florida Keys called Swamplandia! that is on the steady decline.  The mother (and star of the park) has just passed away, the grandfather (and founder) has been sent to a retirement home, and the dad and three kids are left to fend for themselves and try to keep the park alive.

It's kind of a weird story.  The writing is pretty good, but as hard as I tried, I just couldn't stay super interested in what was going on.  In fact, it was a little depressing in a real-life sort of way (that is, yet another family business going under and having serious financial concerns).  Couple those things with the fact it was a library book (and thus had an expiration) and I didn't finish.  I don't really have any desire to go back and finish.  But that being said, I don't necessarily suggest you avoid the book.  It's quirky - if you like quirky books this could be right up your alley.  And I definitely laughed out loud at some of the parts related to the brother - so maybe there's more of that as you continue reading?

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