Saturday, December 4, 2010

November Books: Recommended or Not

I don't know if anyone ever scans through my list of books at the bottom of my blog.  I keep it there in case other readers are looking for a good book to read.  I suspect, however, that the list is really for my own benefit, because it helps me track many of the books I've been reading.

That being said, I thought this might help some of the people who read my blog whom I know are avid readers.  Here are most of my November reads, sorted into three groups:  those I'd recommend; those I feel indifferent about; and those I would clearly not recommend.

1. November Books I Recommend
  • Little Bee, by Chris Cleave.  I'd never read anything else written by Cleave, but I will.  Despite the cutesy title given to the book, it's really not a book that I would characterize as cutesy.  Little Bee is a Nigerian-born girl who has taught herself to speak like the Queen of England; she has been detained in an immigration detention centre just outside of London, and the book begins with her release from that place and her meeting up with the only person in London that she has ever met.  The plot builds to a moment that is referred to from early on in the book, a moment that explains how these two unlikely friends met, in terrible circumstances.   I loved the book, despite the sometimes unlikeable characters; I loved the little boy in the story who copes with life by dressing up as Batman (twenty-four hours a day); I loved the hope-filled way in which the story wove its way to the end; and I thought that much of the writing was lovely.  It's a book I'd recommend.
  • The book I just finished reading last night is one that I feel mixed about.  It's Solar, by Ian McEwan.  I don't know why I even picked it up, because I really did not like two of his previous books (Atonement and On Chesil Beach).  I guess I figured I'd give him one more shot at capturing my attention.  Well, he did that.  The book is about a man by the name of Michael Beard, who is a nobel-winning, womanizing physicist who is past his prime.  At times, the book bored me because of the seemingly endless monologues about the types of physics that Beard was involved with.  Fortunately, those sections of the book were clumped together nicely (like a scene where one of Beard's speeches is written out in full), so I could just skim through those pages and get to the rest of it...which was good.  And the rest of the book I thought was really quite excellent.  Though Beard is not a particularly likeable character, the author showed incredible depth, at times, in his portrayal of him, to the point where I actually found myself feeling compassion for this guy, whose actions really were, at times, deplorable.  And I liked the ending - true to form, but hopeful, somehow.  So hats off to McEwan, in my opinion, despite the boring details about physics that I really didn't want to know so much about.  The writing was eloquent and poignant, and occasionally prompting of deep belly laughter as he wrote about some of the situations Beard got himself into.
  • The Betrayal, by Helen Dunmore (short-listed for the 2010 Man Booker prize and worthy of it).  This is a follow-up book to an earlier Dunmore novel, The Siege, though one needn't read the first to appreciate the second in full. While The Siege detailed a family's struggle to survive the 1941-1942 siege of Leningrad, The Betrayal picked the story up ten years later.  Though the war has ended by the beginning of the book, it was set in a time when Stalin still maintained tight control over every aspect of life in Leningrad.  The story centered around Anna, her brother Kolya, and her husband, Andrei; and the plot deals with the aftermath of Andrei (a doctor) treating the son of one of Stalin's secret police bosses, who was admitted to Andrei's hospital with cancer, and other resulting complications.  It would be difficult to say more without ruining the plot.  I knew virtually nothing about life in Russia around this time period, and I was captivated (in a horrified way, at times) by the contrast between how this family lived and protected their private lives while being required to live their 'public' life so very cautiously.  It was like shining a microscope on just one of the millions of families who were affected by the horrors of Stalin.  My few words can, in no way, do justice to the scope of this novel.
  • City of Veils, by Zoe Ferraris.  This book was interesting on a number of fronts.  First, it is set in Saudi Arabia which, as a closed society, is something I found fascinating.  Saudi Arabia follows a literal interpretation of Islam, in which criminals are executed in public, and where women are hidden behind suffocating black garb.  The story is set in the city of Jeddah, and centers around a Bedouin guide by the name of Nayir, and a female forensic scientist by the name of Katya.  Second, it is a good crime novel; the two main characters investigate the murder of a young Saudi woman from a wealthy family, and the murder seems tied to the disappearance of an American man, Eric Walker, whose wife, Miriam meets one obstacle after another in her attempts to find her husband in the context of a society which is not designed assist women (foreign or otherwise).  This is a very interesting, modern crime novel written about (and in) a claustrophobic society, by an American woman who lived in Saudi Arabia with her ex-husband for about ten years.  It was worth the read.
  • The Room, by Emma Donoghue.  I wrote about this book in a recent blog post, so if you'd like to know more about it, please go here.

2.  November Books I feel Indifferent Towards
  • The Yellow House, by Patricia Falvey.  I enjoyed the read, actually, and found it quite well written...I already just don't remember that much about it a month it couldn't have affected me much one way or another.
  • Palace of Impossible Dreams, by Jennifer Fallon.  This was book #3 in a three-part series written by Fallon.  Though I quite enjoyed the first one (The Immortal Prince) and sort of enjoyed the second one (The Gods of Amyrantha), this one was a wee bit of a disappointment.  I felt obligated to finish it, in order to learn how all of the loose ends from the first two novels were tied up.  As a fantasy-like series of books, I'm genuinely amazed by how Fallon created the worlds that she wrote about.  But I can't really say I'd recommend it to most people.

3.  November books I do not recommend (fortunately, just one, though I read two others that didn't even make my list because they were so not-notable and not-recommendable!)
  • Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel.  Though the winner of the 2009 Man Booker prize, and a book I've been waiting for a year to read, Wolf Hall was a real disappointment.  Given the plethora of fictionalized accounts of Henry VIII and Ann Boleyn, I can't understand why this one was given the prize.  Granted, it was told from a unique perspective (that of Thomas Cromwell, the machiavellian lawyer one has undoubtedly heard about from past history courses), and granted, there were some very beautifully written words from time to time.  But for a 650-page book that I struggled to get through from the first to the last page, it was not worth it.  The only reason I stuck to it was because it was one of the chosen books of my book club.  Otherwise, I would have applied my newish rule of tossing a book aside if, after 100 pages, I just can't get into it.


  1. I regularly check your book list Ruth (and marvel at how many you read!!!) I always add your * books to my must read list- thanks for telling us about your Nov. additions. I just added the The Betrayal and City of Veils to my list (the other 2 were there already). Here's some for you that I really enjoyed:
    -Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder (Rebecca Wells)
    -13th Tale (Dianne Setterfield)
    -Forgotten Garden (Kate Morton)
    -Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet (Jaime Ford)
    -Rooftops of Tehran (Mahbod Seraji)
    -One True Thing (Anna Quindlen)

  2. Thanks for the great suggestions, Kristin!! I have a few of your suggestions on my must-read list already, and a few I've never even heard of (the Setterfield, Ford, and Wells books). Many thanks - I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE book suggestions!!