Wednesday, February 2, 2011

January Book Picks

My January Picks:
  • Purge, written by Finnish-Estonian novelist, playwright, and activist Sofi Oksanen.  She is not an author well known in the English-speaking world, but this is her third novel, and her first to win multiple awards in Finland.  The book is quiet in tone, for the most part, and it starts a little slowly.  It tells the story of two seemingly-unconnected women over the span of about forty years.  The biggest portion of the book is about the elderly Aliide Truu, who has lived her life in the Estonia that was part of the Soviet Union and dominated by the Communist party, a time when neighbours and friends spied on each other.  The other storyline centers around a young woman, Zara, who is a sex-trafficking victim in the west who escapes her captors and ends up on the doorstep of Aliide.  This is not a book for the faint-hearted.  It deals with some difficult subject matters and about lives full of trials and struggles and the ability to survive difficult circumstances.  The further I got into the book, moving back and forth in time, the more convinced I was of the author's brilliance in how she wove the various pieces of the plot together. The story reveals itself slowly and relentlessly, and pulls forward the never-ending fight for dignity in a society dominated by communist power.  From a literary point of view, from the point of view that the novel is captivating, I would recommend this book.
  • I can't remember how I heard about Danna Raybourn's Dark Road to Darjeeling, but what a find it turned out to be.  This is the fourth book in the Lady Jane Grey series of books, and I'd like to go back and read the first three, having enjoyed this one so much.  Set in 1889, I would classify this book as a historical mystery.  The book begins at the completion of the honeymoon of British Lady Julia Grey and her new husband, private detective Nicholas Brisbane.  Julia's sister and brother persuade the pair to travel to India to unravel a mystery surrounding the death of a family friend.  Amid the lush foothills of the Himalayas of India, the Brisbanes uncover scandal and secrets with their investigative talents, and ultimately bring closure to the mystery at hand.  It is a mystery interlaced with the proper English decorum commensurate with the time period, and really quite a delightful read.  I was captivated from the first page, and plan to go back at some point and read the first in the series, Silent in the Grave, which apparently won an Agatha Award.
  • The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins.  I'm not sure why this book was categorized as a Young Adult book, other than because the main characters are teens - surely this book would be of interest to an intergenerational audience.  The book takes place in the future, after the destruction of North America, in a nation called Panem; the main (and very wealthy) city is called Capitol and the surrounding (impoverished) twelve areas are called districts.  As punishment for a rebellious uprising by the districts some time in the past, every district must annually select one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 and force them to participate in the Hunger Games, a televised even where participants ("tributes") must fight to the death in a dangerous outdoor arena until only one remains.  The two volunteers from District 12 are Katniss, the book's narrator, and a boy named Peeta, who once saved Katniss' life.  The fact that the book is written in the future wasn't a particularly appealing aspect of the book for me, and very little was made about this, making me wonder why this was even included in the story (other than, perhaps, to assure the reading audience that this could surely never happen in today's N.America!).  Nonetheless, the book is a striking, riveting read that I had a hard time putting down.  It delves into things that we don't normally think about, or ever even want to think about, and I thought it was quite masterfully done.  Since finishing it, I have learned that The Hunger Games is part one of a three-part series, so I'll be sure to check out the other two!  I encourage you to, too!
  • It must be Young Adult month for me, because I also just read Cassandra Clare's three-part series: City of Bones; City of Ashes; and City of Glass.  I'd heard from various people that these books were terrific reads so I decided to dive in.  It's easy to see why this series was rated as Young Adult, primarily because the themes (like Twilight) revolve around creatures of other 'dimensions.'  Shadowhunters, Downworlers, demons, angels, werewolves, good guys and bad guys...they all appear here.  I confess that it took me about 3/4 of the first book to get into the storyline, and the only reason I started book #2 was because I found them to be quick and easy reads and I wanted some sense of the resolution of the various threads of the story.  By mid-book #2, I was hooked enough to really want to finish the series and I then enjoyed the remaining 1.5 books!  The story centres around a fifteen-year-old girl by the name of Clary, and the relationship she has with her best friend, Simon, and her new friends Jace, Isabelle and Alec (who introduce her to a totally new world).   If you're looking for a light, fun read with a decent plot, check these books out.  Fortunately, or unfortunately, I just discovered that these books, too, are apparently part of a wider series yet to be published - #4 is due out in April.  Sigh - sometimes I really hate the ongoing sagas because you then have to wait for them, for what seems like forever.  I thought book #3 ended rather well, and so I might just leave it there, rather than allowing myself to get sucked back in.  Oh, and apparently there are movies now being made about these books...of course.
I read a few others during the month, but they clearly didn't resonate enough with me to make it worth my while to write about them!


  1. Have you read "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett? I just finished it and it was fantastic - one of the best books I've read in a long time!

  2. Hi Melissa -
    I haven't read it yet, but it's in my soon-to-be-read pile. I've heard it's excellent before, and I'm so glad for your recommendation. Now I can hardly wait to read it.