Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian

In The Double Bind, Bobby Crocker, a schizophrenic, indigent, and formerly homeless man dies and leaves behind a bunch of photographs. Almost nothing is known about his life or his past. He had said that the photographs were his, but no one knows for sure if that’s true. Laurel, from the homeless shelter where Bobby once lived, is determined to find out about his life and possibly find his family. She has her own past to contend with while she becomes obsessed with her pursuit of Bobby’s secrets.

Bohjalian presents an awesome mystery with great characters. I love how he builds suspense by offering just enough information to leave the reader wanting more. I wish I could have read this book in one sitting; I just didn’t want to put it down. I loved it. My favourite aspect of this book was that the author incorporated many of the characters from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby into this story. It’s a brilliant concept and wonderful execution!

The book also offers an interesting look at mental illness. The author shows us the illness from the inside, as experienced by the sufferer, and the outside, as it is viewed by the family and friends. I found it extremely interesting.

As with all good mysteries, there’s a shocking, yet wonderful twist at the end. Mostly it was a surprise, however, I guessed at the how it was going to end shortly before the author revealed the twist. I hate when that happens. I still really enjoyed it, though.

I had a very odd sensation while reading the book. Bohjalian’s characters were very believable and real. However, I knew that the characters from The Great Gatsby were fictional, so I had to keep reminding myself that this was fiction; these characters only existed on the written page. All very strange considering how the book ended. [I’m not about to give that away!]

While it’s not absolutely essential, some familiarity with the characters of The Great Gatsby would be helpful; therefore, I’d recommend reading that book beforehand.

Highly recommended. I generally don’t reread books, but I’d definitely like to read this one again. I’ve also read Midwives by Bohjalian and I’d recommend that, too. I’m look forward to reading more works by this author.

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

Every time I read short stories, I wonder why I don’t read more of them. I love them and this book is no exception.

In Unaccustomed Earth, Jhumpa Lahiri presents a powerful, wonderful and diverse collection of short stories featuring spectacular and believable Indian characters. The book is split into two sections. The first section features 5 separate unrelated short stories. Each one of these is superb. If I had to pick a favourite, it would be Unaccustomed Earth, which lends it’s title to the book. The second section features 3 short stories that follow two characters, Hema and Kaushik, from childhood to adulthood. While the stories are related, each can and does stand on it’s own merits. My favourite of these is Once in a Lifetime. I love the style in which it is written. It’s from Hema’s point of view and it’s as though she talking to her childhood memory of Kaushik:

I had seen you before, too many times to count, but a farewell that my family threw for yours, at our house in Inman Square, is when I begin to recall your presence in my life.

While most of the stories in this collection deal with love, it’s not just romantic love that is featured. Lahiri’s stories deal with parental love, sibling love, dating, arranged marriages and infidelity. Alcoholism or alcohol abuse is also present in a few of the stories. The stories are complex, emotional, and sometimes, despite the heavy subject matter, even a little humorous. Her characters are exceptional and I suspect that they will stay with me for a long time.

I never tire of stories about the Indian culture. It doesn’t matter if the setting is India, Europe or the West. The food, the customs and traditions, the beliefs; it is fascinating. In these stories, the characters are faced with keeping old traditions while fitting into the new world. The younger generations are usually more eager to fit in and give up old traditions, but as we soon discover, that’s not always true.

This is the second book of Lahiri’s that I’ve read. Interpreter of Maladies is also a short story collection. I remember being moved to tears by a few of the stories in that collection. I’d highly recommend it.

I hope to read many more works by Jhumpa Lahiri. She's definitely among my favourite authors.

Highly recommended.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Twelve Months of Knitting by Joanne Yordanou

In Twelve Months of Knitting, Joanne Yordanou has designed a variety of projects to keep knitters busy throughout the year. From skimpy bikinis and complicated cabled sweaters and cardigans to a delicate mohair bookmark and a felted carryall, the patterns she’s included in this book are gorgeous, fashionable and up-to-date.

I was absolutely enamored with the patterns in this book. Joanne’s passion for knitting and designing are evident. Each pattern is a gem and I can see myself making each and every one. In addition to the patterns, she includes a lot of little extras that make this book special. I especially like the chart at the beginning of the book that allows the knitter to plan and then make the projects at the appropriate time of year. It’s based on average knitting times, so it may vary from knitter to knitter, but it’s an interesting idea. She also offers plenty of relevant tips covering topics like increasing, blocking, circular needles, double-pointed needles and so much more. I learned a lot just from reading these.

I was so excited by these patterns I couldn’t wait to get started. Since I adore ribbing, I knew I had to start with the Ski Lodge Scoop Vest and matching Ski Lodge Bag. [These would be for my inner ski-bunny, since I don’t ski.] The suggested wool, Manos del Uruguay, isn’t available in my area (yet), so I used Aran, which according to another chart at the back of the book is of similar weight. I’m so pleased with the results. I much prefer the wonderful red color of the items in the book, but I love the style so much, I’d be happy with any color. I’ll definitely be making another scoop vest for next winter. The bag, by the way, makes a perfect place to store the vest during the summer months.

Despite my two knitting handicaps (I’m self taught and left-handed), I easily followed the patterns provided and only had to look up one technique on the Internet. All in all, making the items were very positive experiences.

Having said all that, I do have a couple of complaints regarding mistakes in the book. In one of the patterns, the material list is missing a needle requirement. On the vest I made the blocking diagram has the wrong measurements. Finally, one pattern lists a circular needle in the requirements; however, the pattern doesn’t seem to use one. These are little things, I know, but could leave some knitters disappointed.

My only other problem is deciding what to make next. Perhaps the Boat Launch Cables (cross-over sweater vest made from bamboo yarn) or the cottage socks or perhaps even the Adirondack Lap Blanket. I can’t wait to start my next project and knitting adventure.

Highly recommended for knitters of every skill level.

Another Thing to Fall by Laura Lippman

In Another Thing to Fall, Tess Monaghan, private detective, is hired as security for a temperamental actress on the set of a new television series being filmed in Baltimore. Some strange things have been happening on the set of Mann of Steal and everyone wants to make sure nothing happens to Selene, the “draw” for the series. When one of the members of the crew is found dead and the mishaps continue, Tess does some of her own investigating to uncover the truth.

In the latest instalment of the Tess Monaghan series, Lippman delivers a fast paced, well-written mystery. It’s humorous despite the deaths and quite the page-turner. I didn’t want to put it down. In this story, she offers a fascinating behind the scenes look at the making of a television show. Since I watch way too much TV, I really liked getting the inside scoop on things. I also liked that Lippman wrote parts of the story from points of view other than the main character.

Lippman’s characters are varied, interesting and fun to read about. I think Tess is a great character, but I also liked Johnny Tampa, Flip and Selene. It’s not everyday you run across a character named “Marie”, and while she wasn’t someone I was particularly drawn to, I loved her name. ;)

I have read a couple of other books by Laura Lippman. The Sugar House also from this series, is quite good. What the Dead Know, a non-series book, is excellent. I’d recommend both. There are many more books in this series. I hope to read at more of them.

Recommended. I look forward to reading more of Lippman’s work.

Remembering the Bones by Frances Itani

In Remembering the Bones, Georgie has been invited to dine with the Queen of England because they share the same birthday. As she drives to the airport, she loses control of her car and ends up at the bottom of a ravine. She has been thrown from the car and is seriously hurt. As she lies there assessing her physical condition, she recounts events that shaped her life including memorizing the bones of the body using her grandfather’s copy of Grey’s Anatomy.

Essentially this novel is the story of one woman’s life. Each chapter is named for a bone in the human body and loosely relates to that part of the body. I think it’s very cleverly done and I loved it. Itani’s writing is breathtaking, her storytelling superb and her characters wonderful and believable. Her books are such a joy to read. Her characters interact with their environment and events appropriate to the time period in which the story is set. That makes them all the more real.

The last 50 pages or so were so hard for me to get through, but I adored every single word of the ending. I cried my eyes out. Not the “few-tears-I’ll-get-over-it-in-5-minutes” type of cry. This was a “gut-wrenching-all-out-bawl-I-still-felt-days-later” type of cry. These characters will stick with me for a long time.

This is my second book by Itani. While I loved Deafening, I loved this one more. I think it was the character of Georgie that did it for me. She was wonderful.

Highly recommended. I’ll be looking for more of Itani’s work.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

In The Great Gatsby, the eccentric and mysterious millionaire, Jay Gatsby wants to be reunited with his lover, Daisy whom he met before the war. Daisy has since married Tom Buchanan, but that doesn’t mean she can’t cavort with her former lover especially since Tom isn’t exactly faithful. Even though Jay’s dream of being with Daisy has materialized, a deadly car accident changes that and their lives are turned upside down.

Although this book is relatively short, it is not an easy book to read. It took me awhile to get into it. Once I did, I quite enjoyed it. I’m pretty sure I was supposed to read this back in high school. If I did read it, I remember very little. I wasn’t much of a reader back then and I’m sure I found this book incredibly dull. However, now that I read a lot more, I can appreciate this book and it’s characters.

My favourite character was Gatsby. I actually liked him and the whole mystery surrounding his background. He was arrogant and tried to manipulate those around him to get what he wants. While those are not admirable qualities, they made for an interesting character. There are plenty of lessons to be learned from Gatsby’s desires and lifestyle.

The story, too, was quite interesting and I loved the setting of the roaring twenties.

Overall, I’d definitely recommend it.

[If you have read this book, you might want to check out The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian. He uses characters from The Great Gatsby in addition to some new characters to create a new fantastic mystery. I’d definitely recommend it.]

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Eye of Jade by Diane Wei Liang

In The Eye of Jade, Mei Wang, a Chinese private detective, is asked to find an artefact, a jade seal known as the Eye of Jade. Being a detective in China is illegal and she must be careful she is not found out. While tackling the mystery, she learns that her mother is dying and her former lover has returned to Beijing. Her job almost becomes secondary before she learns of a long-buried family secret. It is then that the line between her private life and her job blurs.

What a fantastic book! It’s not your ordinary, run-of-the-mill mystery, but I loved it. The well-written and beautifully told story is fast-paced and gripping. The characters were believable, interesting and varied. Mei Wang makes an excellent female private detective. She doesn’t back down from tough situations and faces problems head on. She’s independent, strong-willed and determined to find the jade.

This is the first book I’ve read set in China. Liang, provides plenty of information regarding life in modern day China and at the time of the Cultural Revolution. It’s all very fascinating. It reminded me that I must brush up on my Chinese history. This glimpse into everyday life in China is my favourite part of the book.

The second book in the series, Paper Butterfly, is due to be released May 2008. I can’t wait.

Recommended. I’d love to read more of Liang’s work.