Friday, August 3, 2012

A trio of grown-up books

I read almost exclusively children's and young adult novels, but that doesn't mean I don't enjoy 'adult' books sometimes... they just have to be the right ones. :D One of my good friends, Katrina (hi!), has a book club that I would attend if I weren't teaching piano lessons, but occasionally she'll lend me books they've read and I always like them. Here's a recent batch she's let me borrow:

Alexander McCall Smith meets Jane Austen in this delightfully charming Indian novel about finding love.

What does an Indian man with a wealth of common sense do when his retirement becomes too monotonous for him to stand? Open a marriage bureau of course!

With a steady stream of clients to keep him busy, Mr. Ali sees his new business flourish as the indomitable Mrs. Ali and his careful assistant, Aruna, look on with vigilant eyes. There's the man who wants a tall son-in-law because his daughter is short; the divorced woman who ends up back with her ex-husband; a salesman who can't seem to sell himself; and a wealthy, young doctor for whom no match is ever perfect. But although his clients go away happy, little does Mr. Ali know that his esteemed Aruna hides a tragedy in her past-a misfortune that the bureau, as luck would have it, serendipitously undoes.

Bursting with the color and allure of India, and with a cast of endearing characters, The Marriage Bureau for Rich People has shades of Jane Austen and Alexander McCall Smith but with a resonance and originality entirely its own. Farahad's effortless style reveals a country still grappling with the politics of caste, religion, and civil unrest, all the while delivering a shamefully delightful read.

My rating: ****
First of all, this novel made me seriously crave Indian food. I regretted several times while I was reading that I no longer live in Provo, Utah where my favorite Indian restaurant, The Bombei House, is - also where I went on my first date with my husband :D. This book is charming and transported me right to India. It's so atmospheric.What a fascinating culture! Issues of race, religion, and caste are still a big deal there and the whole arranged marriage thing is so foreign to me that it was engrossing to read about. This book is funny and sweetly romantic at times. There are some fabulous characters. Highly recommended!

Written with a delightfully dry sense of humour and the wisdom of a born storyteller, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand explores the risks one takes when pursuing happiness in the face of family obligation and tradition.

When retired Major Pettigrew strikes up an unlikely friendship with Mrs. Ali, the Pakistani village shopkeeper, he is drawn out of his regimented world and forced to confront the realities of life in the twenty-first century. Brought together by a shared love of literature and the loss of their respective spouses, the Major and Mrs. Ali soon find their friendship on the cusp of blossoming into something more. But although the Major was actually born in Lahore, and Mrs. Ali was born in Cambridge, village society insists on embracing him as the quintessential local and her as a permanent foreigner. The Major has always taken special pride in the village, but will he be forced to choose between the place he calls home and a future with Mrs. Ali?

My rating: ****
I found this book so entertaining. That dry sense of humor mentioned? Totally clicked with me. I loved reading about life and changing traditions in the English countryside in modern times. Major Pettigrew himself is a fantastic character and I loved reading his romance with Mrs. Ali. You don't have to be young to fall in love. The whole thing is a very pleasant comedy of manners. My one complaint is that it took an unnecessarily dramatic turn at the end, while made it more of a melodrama than that pleasant comedy of manners I had been enjoying. There were just a couple scenes I thought were out of place. Overall though? I found it delightful.

In the opening pages of Jamie Ford's stunning debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Henry Lee comes upon a crowd gathered outside the Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle's Japantown. It has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has made an incredible discovery: the belongings of Japanese families, left when they were rounded up and sent to internment camps during World War II. As Henry looks on, the owner opens a Japanese parasol.

This simple act takes old Henry Lee back to the 1940s, at the height of the war, when young Henry's world is a jumble of confusion and excitement, and to his father, who is obsessed with the war in China and having Henry grow up American. While "scholarshipping" at the exclusive Rainier Elementary, where the white kids ignore him, Henry meets Keiko Okabe, a young Japanese American student. Amid the chaos of blackouts, curfews, and FBI raids, Henry and Keiko forge a bond of friendship - and innocent love - that transcends the long-standing prejudices of their Old World ancestors. And after Keiko and her family are swept up in the evacuations to the internment camps, she and Henry are left only with the hope that the war will end, and that their promise to each other will be kept.

Forty years later, Henry Lee is certain that the parasol belonged to Keiko. In the hotel's dark dusty basement he begins looking for signs of the Okabe family's belongings and for a long-lost object whose value he cannot begin to measure. Now a widower, Henry is still trying to find his voice - words that might explain the actions of his nationalistic father; words that might bridge the gap between him and his modern, Chinese American son; words that might help him confront the choices he made many years ago.

Set during one of the most conflicted and volatile times in American history, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is an extraordinary story of commitment and enduring hope. In Henry and Keiko, Jamie Ford has created an unforgettable duo whose story teaches us of the power of forgiveness and the human heart.

My rating: ****

Seems like it took me forever to read this, but only because I got bombarded by a pile of library books that just had to get read. And it truly was both bitter and sweet. It's not my typical kind of book, but that's because I don't like books that make me cry. Correction: I don't like books that make me cry because they are too sad. They can make me happy cry and I'm just fine with that. And you know, a certain amount of sad crying is acceptable, as long as everything turns out alright in the end. I was just so angry over all the racial injustice! And I hated the way Henry and Keiko were torn apart again and again. It was such a beautifully written book, though. I felt sucked in and right there on every page. It was a very moving story and even if it's not my favorite kind of book I don't regret reading it for a moment.

No comments: