Reading for Me

The Books I Have Read…..Just for Me

#8: Please Look After Mom (Kyung-Sook Shin)

My reading life has been a bit slow so far this year, so when I found myself with some free time to dive into a novel, I wanted to make sure that I found something that was well-written and moving. That means I returned to My Library Shelf project and began reading Please Look After Mom, a touching story of love, loss, and family.

As you might guess from the cover art and the author’s name, the novel is set in South Korea. Mom and Dad are country people whose four children have moved to urban areas to pursue their careers. As the parents travel to Seoul by train, the two become separated in the busy train station and Mom is lost. The novel now revolves around the family’s efforts to locate their missing mother in this massive and fast-paced city.

As each child participates in the frantic search, the children reflect upon their relationship with Mom as well as numerous interactions with her throughout their lives. How did they fail to notice that she was becoming sicker with each passing day? Why did her questions frustrate them? Were they ashamed of her? Did they view her as an inconvenience and a nuisance instead of a treasure and source of wisdom?

Please Look After Mom came into my life while I was already struggling with being separated from my own parents. The novel’s messages have continued to resonate with me in light of my mother’s health challenges in the past week. (Thankfully my family was not facing that crisis while I was reading the novel; I’m certain that would have sent me over the cliff!) Shin’s novel is not an easy read. The English translation can sometimes be cumbersome while attempting to maintain as much of its distinctly Korean aspects as possible. Despite its occasional awkwardness, Please Look After Mom was a beautiful story of love, regret, and hope that is common to all families and will definitely stay with this reader for many years to come.

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#25: The Rosie Project (Graeme Simsion)

The final book of 2016 was another novel from My Library Shelf project. The Rosie Project is a perfect example of why I'm doing the project; it was a book I would have never selected by an author with whom I was totally unfamiliar. The book was a joy.

The Rosie Project featured Don, a genetic scientist who also suffers from an obvious social disorder. In order to find the perfect wife, Don embarks on the Wife Project — complete with questionnaire and website. As Don sifts through the applications submitted to the Project (unbelievable!), he is introduced to Rosie. She is the antithesis of Don's ideal woman, but Rosie quickly challenges his expectations and the two begin a journey to find love that is anything but typical.

All I can say is that it was great to smile as I read of this unlikely couple's experiences together. I'm looking forward to reading the sequel as part of the Library Shelf Project as well.

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#21: Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand (Helen Simonson)

It took me far longer than I had planned, but I finally finished my latest novel. I was fascinated by the story of Major Pettigrew, an English widower, and his growing relationship with the exotic Mrs. Ali, the Indian widow who operated the village market. Simonson’s novel examined the nature of growing love between mature adults while facing bigotry from an uninformed section of society. The plot further intensified as the impact the extended families — both English and Indian — upon the non-traditional union was considered.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is filled with humor as well as touching scenes. Simonson’s writing is actually quite beautiful. I especially enjoyed her statements about the importance of reading. Here are three passages that spoke to me so deeply that I had to stop my reading in order to write them down.

“There’s nothing useless about reading the classics,” said the Major, weighing the books in his hand. “I salute your continued efforts. Too few people today appreciate and pursue the delights of civilized culture for their own sake.” (Simonson, 46)

“. . .I tell myself that it does not matter what one reads — favorite authors, particular themes — as long as we read something.” (Simonson, 63)

“I think that even if you dislike them, knowing one’s parents helps a child understand where he or she came from,” said the Major.  “We measure ourselves against our parents, and each generation we try to do a little better.” (Simonson, 352)

I doubt that I would have read Simonson’s work if I had not decided to re-ignite the “My Library Shelf” project, but I’m certainly glad that I did. Now that I’m living in Plainview, I decided it was time to make a fresh attempt at the project and select a shelf in the Unger Library. (If you’d like to read more about the Library Shelf project, check out the blog post here.)

For those who might be interested, here are the books that are included in My Library Shelf.

  1. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand (Helen Simonson)
  2. The Summer Before the War (Helen Simonson)
  3. Reality Check! (Rikki Simons)
  4. Doomed to Die (Dorothy Simpson)
  5. Anywhere But Here (Mona Simpson)
  6. The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop and Cafe (Mary Simses)
  7. The Rules of Love and Grammar (Mary Simses)
  8. The Rosie Effect (Graeme Simsion)
  9. The Rosie Project (Graeme Simsion)
  10. Please Look After Mom (Kyung-Sook Shin)
  11. The Jungle (Upton Sinclair)
  12. World’s End (Upton Sinclair)
  13. The Collected Short Stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer
  14. The Estate (Isaac Bashevis Singer)
  15. Kiss of Snow (Nalini Singh)
  16. Tangle of Need (Nalini Singh)
  17. Shards of Hope (Nalini Singh)
  18. Prep (Curtis Sittenfeld)
  19. Sisterland (Curtis Sittenfeld)
  20. Eligible (Curtis Sittenfeld)
  21. The Whispering Muse (Victoria Cribb Sjon)
  22. The Locked Room (Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo)
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#19: Tomahawk (David Poyer)

I have been slothful about writing my review for the latest book on My Library Shelf. I suppose I could chalk my delay in writing to the fact that I actually read the novel while on vacation at the end of July. As soon as I returned to Arkansas, my attention shifted entirely to the move to the Texas Panhandle. Those would be valid excuses to most; the only problem is that they are not true. The truth is that I simply didn’t know what I was going to say about the book.

Tomahawk was a thriller set against a naval background. It had moments of excitement that kept my attention. Mostly, I was plowing through lots of military jargon and situations that bored me. This was one of the few books that I’ve encountered in My Library Shelf project that I finished only because it was on the list. There were really very few redeeming qualities in this reader’s opinion. To be honest, it took me a few weeks to fully recover from this horrible reading experience. Thankfully, I’m now settling into Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee and enjoying my reading life once again.

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#17: Reboot (Amy Tintera)

As I continue to work my way through My Library Shelf, I encountered Amy Tintera’s Reboot. The story is narrated by Wren, a HARC assassin identified as 178. Her number signifies the number of minutes she remained dead five years ago before she woke up — or before she was rebooted. In this futurist society in Texas, teens are being wiped out by a highly contagious virus. HARC, the Human Advancement and Repopulation Corporation, resurrects these victims and creates an army trained to follow orders without question. The result is a community marked by fear and governmental abuse. When Wren meets Callum, another Reboot, her opinion of the situation changes and the two set out to escape in order to obtain freedom.

I found Reboot a difficult book to dive into. The opening scenes felt stunted and contrived. Honestly, I found myself repeatedly thinking that Tintera was attempting to capitalize on the success of The Hunger Games. I found little exciting or original in the work. I don’t plan to read the sequel (Rebel) either. Here’s hoping that the positive reading experiences resume as I continue my way along My Library Shelf.

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#16: Masked Innocence (Alessandra Torre)

Let me begin by stating clearly that this post should not be confused with my recommendation that anyone read the novel. It is explicit and only appropriate for an adult audience. Read the book at your own risk.

Reading Masked Innocence was what I had feared most when beginning the Library Shelf project. I was afraid I would find a book that I was uncomfortable reading. When I began reading this work by Alessandra Torre, I was blushing in the privacy of my bedroom as I read of orgies and sexual escapades. This is not a genre of literature that I naturally pick up. I felt as though I was reading Fifty Shades of Grey! For those who might be interested in reading the book, I did learn that it is the second volume of the Innocence Trilogy (what an ironic title). You can learn more about the author and the series at http://www.AlessandraTorre.com.

If it’s possible to separate the sex from the storyline, the premise of the book was quite interesting. Julie is a young college student who has fallen for Brad, a partner in the law firm where she is interning. While working late, Julie overhears her boss having a tense conversation that seems to suggest he is involved in business with the mob. After the man is found dead on the floor of his office the next morning, Julie shares her suspicions with the police. Things become dangerous when Julie learns that the mob bosses are aware of her reports to the police and have ordered her death as well. The only one who can possibly save her is Brad…..but is Brad really who he appears to be? Julie’s world is turned upside down as the masks are ripped off and truths are revealed.

I was riveted by the twists and turns once the story began to unfold. (I’m not a total prude, folks!) I’m just not sure that I would have continued through the opening chapters if this book wasn’t included on the library shelf I selected to read through on October 31, 2014! Here’s to hoping that my next reading adventure is a bit more tame….I need to recover from the time I spent with Masked Innocence.

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#14: Brooklyn (Colm Toibin)

Completing this book marks the 1/3 mark in my Library Shelf project (book #7) and is the second of four novels by Colm Toibin on my shelf. I have a huge classic novel looming in the background that is calling my name since I had planned to read one of the Tolstoy novels during the first half of this project. (Can you tell that I am intimidated by War and Peace and Anna Karenna?)

I was first introduced to Colm Toibin’s writing when I began the Library Shelf project and read The Heathers Blazing. The current novel, Brooklyn, is another novel that pleasantly surprised me on this journey. The story follows a young Irish girl from her provincial home to the excitement of Brooklyn, New York in the mid-twentieth century. While in Brooklyn, Eilis becomes a strong, independent woman. She gains confidence as she trains to be a bookkeeper. Eilis learns much about modern society and the rights of women as she explores American fashion and converses with her fellow residents in Mrs. Kehoe’s boarding house. A trip to a Saturday night dance sponsored by the church begins her education about men, race relations, sexuality, and love.

In the final section of the novel, Eilis feels the pull of her Irish home because of the loss of her beloved sister. As she cares for her mother, Eilis finds herself enjoying the familiarity of Ireland and the respect she is given because of her American experience. Our vibrant heroine now finds herself torn between her past and the new life she has forged for herself in America. Toibin does not settle for a simple solution to bring the novel to its conclusion; the reader feels Eilis’ uncertainty as she carefully weighs her decision.

Brooklyn was especially moving for me. The text is lyrical. The emotions parallel my own as I prepare for my own future in light of the responsibilities and duties associated with home. I’m looking forward to reading Toibin’s remaining novels in this project — The Empty Family and The Master — to see if I will enjoy them just as much as the ones I’ve read so far.

 

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#11: The Good Thief (Hannah Tinti)

I am loving having a little down time to dive back into My Library Shelf project! I returned by reading The Good Thief. Since I was unfamiliar with Hannah Tinti’s writing, I didn’t really know what to expect. I found myself immersed in a great story and a fan of the author’s writing style.

The Good Thief is the story of Ren. Ren is living in a Catholic-run orphanage in New England and is constantly getting in trouble. His hopes of being adopted are constantly dashed because potential parents view his missing hand as an insurmountable obstacle. Just as Ren begins to accept a future that will include being sold into the army when he reaches age 18, his fortune unexpectedly changes. A young man of questionable intentions arrives at St. Anthony’s to select a son. Ren is adopted in spite of his handicap and it seems his luck has changed…..or has it?

The Good Thief follows Ren and his mentor, Benjamin, as they struggle to stay alive while avoiding trouble with those who want to hurt them. The plot twists and turns unexpectedly and will keep the reader coming back for more. This book was one of my favorites of the year so far and I’m definitely looking forward to reading Tinti’s other novel, Animal Crackers, in the future.

For now, I have another book on the horizon. June’s selection of the Reading with Jacqs project is White Teeth by Zadie Smith. I’ll start this national bestseller later today.

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#5: The Crazyladies of Pearl Street (Trevanian)

As I continue reading my way through the THO-TRE shelf of the Poplar and White Station branch of the Memphis Public Library, I am happy to say that The Crazyladies of Pearl Street was a pleasure to read. I had never encountered Trevanian’s writing and can now include him among the list of modern writers that I greatly enjoy reading.

Crazyladies is narrated by Jean-Luc, a pre-teen boy living in an Albany, New York slum with his mother and sister. Set in the 1930s and 1940s, Luke learns about the world’s challenges with the innocence of youth through his interactions with the people of Pearl Street and the surrounding community. The narrator understands love (and lust) at the Catholic School. His understanding of the European crisis is shaped by conversations with the Jewish store owner on the corner and his family’s prized possession, a second-hand radio. Having been abandoned by his father throughout his early years, Luke finds himself dealing with the pressure to provide for his mother and sister while growing to resent the responsibility that he never asked for. When a young cowboy arrives in the slum, Jean-Luc hopes the man will be a new father figure that he can admire that will also provide for the struggling family. Despite hopes and promises, the young family finds themselves deserted again, struggling to make ends meet in a new location without a job.

Trevanian combines artfully developed characters with gentle humor and heart-warming drama in a wonderful tale of trial, war, and heartache and its impact on a growing boy. I look forward to exploring more of Trevanian’s novels in the future.

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#3: Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned (Wells Tower)

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned is the debut collection of short stories by the American author, Wells Tower. I was thrilled to see a brand new voice included on “My Library Shelf” project. However, reviewing a collection of unrelated stories can be challenging.

The theme of familial relationships united many of the stories in Everything Ravaged. Sometimes the families were traditional; others were groups with common bonds that made them like family. Almost without fail, the families described would be classified as dysfunctional. A teenage girl preparing for a tryst with a man older than her father. A boy is sexually molested in a carnival bathroom while his father is on a blind date. A pre-teen boy pretends to pass out in the driveway due to the exertion caused by walking to the mailbox; his charade leads to the intervention of the police.

Tower’s stories are enjoyable pieces for the most part, although they left this reader a bit unfulfilled with each conclusion. The issue for me was not that things were left unresolved; consistently, the story just seemed to end abruptly. There was no ambiguity to be considered. There was no image that was burned into the mind’s eye. After reading the final story, I admitted that they were nicely told….but I wouldn’t say they made a tremendous impact on the audience. They were simply stories — in the most basic sense of the word.

I read the collection. I wouldn’t be opposed to reading Tower’s future works. Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned did not inspire me to actively seek out the author’s periodical publications. I’m left a little uninspired to say the least.

What’s coming up for me? I’ve got several books in the active stack at the moment.

  1. The Crazyladies of Pearl Street – Trevanian
  2. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Mark Haddon
  3. Menahem Pressler: Artistry in Piano Teaching – William Brown
  4. Mendelssohn: A Life in Music – R. Larry Todd

With that stack of books, I suppose I should get my glasses on and get to work.

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