Sunday, March 02, 2008

Review Roundup

I can't believe it...this is blog post #200!

There are a few books I've read this year that I haven't talked about, so I'll try to pull it all together here.

Polite Lies - Kyoko Mori. When Mori wrote this book in 1997, she was 40 years old and she'd lived exactly half her life in Japan and half her life in the US. Her upbringing in Japan was sad. Her distant father had two mistresses and didn't bother to hide it from her mother. When Mori was 12, her mother committed suicide rather than live a dishonorable life. A month later, her father married one of the mistresses --an unsympathetic woman with no warm feelings for young Kyoko -- and moved her into that same apartment. At 20, Kyoko Mori left Japan to go to college in the US and it became her permanent home, with only occasional visits back to Japan. In Polite Lies, she examines the different ways the two cultures handle different issues. It's obvious that her unhappy childhood colored many of her perceptions about Japan, but overall, I think she strives to be fair. Much of her discussion of Japan reminded me of how things are done in Korea. Highly recommended for those who enjoy reading about people caught between cultures.

The Uninvited - Geling Yan. This satirical novel is also known as The Banquet Bug. Dan Dong, an unemployed Chinese factory worker, lives in a crappy apartment with his wife. While going for a job interview one day, he accidentally is mistaken for a journalist and invited to a banquet the company is giving. It's a great deal: Dan gets to eat exotic food and the company slips journalists an envelope with a little money as a thanks-in-advance for any publicity they might get. Pretty soon, being a banquet bug is Dan's new career and all goes well until a journalist named Happy takes an interest in Dan's rapport with a famous, ageing artist, and the companies are slowly starting to get wise that they've got banquet bugs everywhere, and have alerted the police. In spite of the crackdown, Dan sneaks his wife into a banquet so she can sample some of the fare for herself. Unfortunately, she's about as journalist-like as the minced pigeons with tofu on the menu. A big thank you to Herschelian at The 3 Rs for sending this to me!

How To Be Good - Nick Hornby. Katie Carr is married to an extremely angry man, who prides himself on his anger and sarcasm. She's had enough of his attitude after so many years, but one day, he goes to a faith healer who not only heals his back pain, he completely wipes out her husband's sour state of mind, causing him to do a 180. Now he's determined that he and his family will make the world a better place, starting with letting the faith healer, DJ GoodNews move in. But this new and improved husband isn't exactly what Katie wanted, either. A really funny novel that makes some pointed observations about how we, as a society, want to be "good" and help others as long as we're not inconvenienced or caused discomfort in any way. Sometimes Hornby writing as a female character didn't work for me, but he is is very good at depicting those petty, grinding arguments that long-married couples are wont to have.

A Bad Case Of Stripes - David Shannon. Lame children's picture book. And I'm not saying that just because I'm older'n dirt. Let me put it another way: Seuss and Sendak don't have any competition here.

The Case of Madeleine Smith - Rick Geary. A well-drawn, excellently researched graphic novel about a case in 1857 Scotland in which a young woman from a well-off family may or may not have poisoned her secret lover.

The Borden Tragedy - Rick Geary. The Lizzie Borden story has been told many times, but this graphic novel version is a knockout. The research is terrific and the art is great -- especially Geary's detailed drawings of the layout of the Borden home.

The Almost Moon - Alice Sebold. For most of her life, Helen has been the caretaker for her mother, Clair, who seems to have always been mentally ill, and now suffers from dementia. One day, after her mother has soiled herself, Helen goes to clean her as usual, then suddenly snaps. The next 24 hours detail Helen's life, past and present, as she tries to figure out how long she has left before others discover what she's done. Parts of The Almost Moon take the reader back to Helen's childhood, and as her mother's illness is revealed, the shadowy figure of her father is also illuminated, and one is left wondering, with a totally non-nurturing background like that, why Helen didn't cross the line sooner. Surprisingly, this novel is darkly funny in places.


raidergirl3 said...

I really liked How to Be Good. And that is what marriage is about - getting through those rough patches when you are in different places.
And trying to be good, but not inconvenienced. Good point. It's like the environment. Drive less or carpool, but that will involve relying on someone else or having to follow the bus schedule. So, is convenience more important? Or conserving fuel?

Eva said...

Congrats on 200 posts! I'm most attracted to Polite Lies and The Uninvited, so those two are going on the TBR list. Poor Kokyo. :(

Sam said...

200 posts is a nice milestone, so congrats on that.

I found your take on "The Almost Moon" to be interesting...did you "like" the book or did you find it impossible to use that term because of the subject matter? Personally, I'm not sure that I "liked" it, but I was damned impressed with the unflinching way the plot was handled. She's quite a writer, IMO.

Kathy said...

The Uninvited sounded so interesting, I just ordered it. And congrats on the 200 posts.

Bybee said...

Yeah, I think Hornby writes about marriage and domestic life really well. I was a little surprised and pleased.

Both of those books were knockouts..I meant to blog about them together in their own little entry because of the Asian connection.

Actually, I did like the book...(I can just see my mother's eyebrows going up in horror!) much better than I liked The Lovely Bones.

Bybee said...

I'm glad you ordered The Uninvited and hope you enjoy it.

Thanks to all for the congrats. I never thought I'd get that far when I started out back in 2004.

Dewey said...

I should reread How to Be Good!

The Almost Moon got some really snarky reviews. You don't sound like you thought it was all that bad at all. But I hated The Lovely Bones so much that I will probably never give anything else of hers a try.

Wow, a Lizzie Borden graphic novels. That sounds like something I need to check out, even if I am worried there'll be images of axed up people and blood everywhere!

Bybee said...

I hated The Lovely Bones and it almost put me off of reading The Almost Moon. Since all the reviews were opposite my thinking, I knew I'd like this one better. Don't worry about The Borden Tragedy. It's all in black and white and the violence is unmistakable but not gratutious or in poor taste.

tanabata said...

I was waiting for you to mention Polite Lies after seeing that you'd read it recently. I picked it up a few years ago but still it sits unread on the shelves. Thanks for the review.

Jeane said...

I love A Bad Case of Stripes! Especially when she becomes the bedroom. It's great. (I could never even read Lovely Bones)

Bybee said...

I'll be interested to see what you think of it since you actually live there in Japan. Some criticisms of the book are that she's complaining about conditions in Japan that are old-school thinking, not common practice nowadays, nor when the book was written in 1997.

The art was clever but the storyline seemed a little lame, even for a children's picture book.

Tara said...

Congrats on 200 posts! Polite Lies sounds really interesting. You've done a lot of reading lately! Some people make a big fuss over David Shannon, but I've never really understood it.