Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville

The Lieutenant focuses on the life of Lieutenant Daniel Rooke. As a young boy, he was obsessed with prime numbers and had an insatiable curiosity for science. Eventually he entered His Majesty's service, became an astronomer and, after some time, set sail to New South Wales with a ship of full of convicts. Once there, he befriended an Aboriginal child and through her got to know the Aboriginal people and their culture.

This was such a good book. It was based on real events (which are explained in the author's note at the end), but remains a work of fiction. I loved it from the very beginning. The story was accessible, interesting, heart-warming and tender. I was particularly fond of Rooke's work in astronomy and linguistics. His passion for these subjects were so thrilling, it was hard for me not to get caught up in it, too. When I got close to the end of the book, I had to put it down for and leave it for a few days. I generally have to do that when a book gets too emotional. No use me being a basket case for the rest of the day or not being able to sleep. Also, I really didn't want this book to end, so the little break prolonged it for me.

This book was written entirely from Rooke's point of view. While that was totally appropriate for this story, I couldn't help but wonder how the Aboriginal's felt about this "invasion". I would loved to have heard parts of this story told from their point of view.

While Rooke went to extraordinary efforts to learn the language, he still encountered some difficulties. When it says on page 149*: "He could hear it, but his mouth did not know how to make it.", I understood perfectly. I'm terribly inept at learning new languages. Part of the problem is that I have trouble replicating the sound that I hear.

As I said above, I was particularly interested in Rooke's astronomy work as well as his approach to learning the Aboriginal language. Because of this, two of my favourite quotes deal with those subjects. From pages 291* and 152* respectively.
The exquisite instruments of astronomy could add new stars to the sum of the world's knowledge, but it took a soul to wonder at the beauty of those already discovered.
But language was more than a list of words, more than a collection of fragments all jumbled together like a box of nuts and bolts. Language was a machine. To make it work, each part had to be understood in relation to all the other parts.

The author's note at the back explains the real events on which this book is based. Grenville notes, "This is a novel; it should not be mistaken for history". It's evident that a tremendous amount of research went into writing this book. I appreciate that a great deal.

New word alert: promontory = cape, headland, peninsula or outcrop.
"The forest-covered promontories seethed under gusts of wind that darkened the water to gunmetal grey." (page 219)*.

Highly recommended. I'd gladly read another book by Kate Grenville. Perhaps I'll look for a copy of The Secret River. It's won many awards and looks terrific.

Want to read another review? Here's Heather's over at Books and Quilts.

For more information about this book, please visit the HarperCollins Canada website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at HarperCollins Canada for this review copy.

The Lieutenant: A Novel by Kate Grenville, HarperCollins, ©2008. ISBN 9781554684328 (Uncorrected Proof), 302p.

*Please note: This book is an uncorrected proof edition. These quotes may or may not appear in the editions available to the general public. Also, the page numbers may not match other editions.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Short Girls by Bich Minh Nguyen

In Short Girls, Vietnamese-American sisters Van and Linny are estranged, but have agreed to travel to the home of their father to help him celebrate his new American citizenship. He is obsessed with his inventions, like the Luong Arm, designed to help short people, like his daughters and thinks citizenship will help him with his work. The novel takes us through the sisters' lives from careers and romances to life with their father, now deceased mother and other family members.

I enjoyed this novel. It wasn't at all what I was expecting. Even though it was mostly a serious book, there was more humour and the overall tone of the book was much more light-hearted than I had expected. The authors presents the story in two distinct voices. One for Van, the somewhat stuffy married lawyer. One of Linny, the less established and flighty sister. This approach outlined the differences in the sisters quite well and successfully brought forward the story.

I learned a bit about the Vietnamese culture despite the fact that the family is very Americanized. I loved the conflict that ensued as they struggled with their culture, family life and finding out who they really wanted to be. The other thing I really loved about the book was how the characters and their relationships with each other changed and grew over the course of the story. This was especially true of the relationship between Van and Linny.

Besides Van and Linny, I really enjoyed reading about their father, Mr. Luong. I think he equated being short with being inadequate somehow. His inventions were an attempt to change that. He was so passionate about them but really wasn't taken that seriously. It was nice to see that change (especially from his daughters) over the course of the novel.

If I'm not mistaken, there was one outstanding issue left unresolved in the book. To avoid exposing a spoiler, I'll just say that I found it refreshing to have an unknown at the end of the book, especially since it made sense to me to leaving the reader hanging.

I think this book would make a pretty good selection for book clubs. Many of the issues and themes (family relationships, estrangements, immigrants, inadequacies) would provide groups with plenty to discuss.

Recommended. I'd gladly read another book by this author.

For more information about this book, please visit the Penguin website.

For more information about the author and other interesting stuff, please visit Bich Minh Nguyen's website. Thanks to the back of the book, I now know her name is pronounced Bit Min Nwin.

I'd like to thank those nice people at Penguin for this review copy.

Short Girls: A Novel by Bich Minh Nguyen, Viking Penguin, ©2009. ISBN 9780670020812(Advance Uncorrected Proof), 292p.

Monday, October 26, 2009

How to Be an Explorer of the World by Keri Smith

How to Be an Explorer of the World: Portable Art Life Museum is filled with suggested activities for artists and everyday explorers of the world. Based on the idea that artists are essentially collectors, many of the activities include the gathering of items and then documenting the results or findings. Smith challenges the reader to set aside any preconceived notions or expectations and look at the world in many different ways.

I just knew I was going to like this book when I read the following on the back of the book:
To whoever has just picked up this book. If you find that you are unable to use your imagination, you should put this book back immediately. It is not for you. In this book you will be repeatedly asked to... suspend your disbelief, complete tasks that make you feel a bit strange, look at the world in ways that make you think differently, conduct experiments on a regular basis, and see inanimate objects as alive.

I didn't just like it, I adored it. It's unlike any other book I've ever come across. I've had it by my side for the last little while, thumbing through it when I had a spare few minutes. Every time I open it, something new jumps out at me. It starts with a fantastic introduction about how the book came about and also includes how to use the book, methods and tools for exploration, additional tips, how to get started and much more.

In addition to the activities, the book is also filled with wonderful thought-provoking quotes. Sometimes the quote is directly related to the activity it accompanies; other times the connection is a little more obscure.

The back of the book is filled with a variety of pages for documenting the activities as they progress or are completed. I'm not sure if I'm going to use these pages or come up with another method for tracking or displaying my finished projects. I have a few empty scrapbooks that would work, but I'd also love to have an online component.

A couple of examples of the activities:
Exploration #17: Instant Sculpture Consider that everything around you is a source for sculpture. Try making quick pieces using whatever you have around you in the moment.
Exploration #50: Found Smells Go for a walk. Make a list of all the smells in your neighborhood. Be as detailed as possible. Attempt to identify sources.

I'm not sure how to classify this book. It sort of looks like a children's book, but a very intelligent and sophisticated one. However, Chapters has is in the self-help section. Go figure. It would be perfect for the budding artist or anyone (young or old) with an active imagination.

I've always looked at things a little differently, taken photos of things that others pass by, picked up or kept things that others would throw away, noticed ordinary things and imagined other uses for everyday items. Generally, I've been curious about a lot of things that cross my path. For this, I've been labelled "weird". This book has given me the license to continue being me. ;) I was so smitten with this book, I immediately went out and purchased two of her other books: Wreck This Journal and This is Not a Book.

I'd like to thank Julie Wilson (aka The Book Madam) from Book Madam & Associates for this book. I won it from her fabulous Twitter contest. Go check her out!

For more information about this book, please visit Penguin's website.

For more information about the author or any of her other books, please visit Keri Smith's website. It's fantastic. Beware: I got information overload the first time I visited.

Highly recommended.

Friday, October 23, 2009

I'm still here.

I'm still here despite not having posted a new review in over a month. Some unforseen circumstances popped up and it couldn't be helped. I have been reading, though, and will have lots of new books to share with everyone in the near future.

With any luck, I should have some new reviews posted by early next week.

Stay tuned....