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Terrible Reviews of Great Books: Catch-22 by Heller

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There is no such thing as a universally loved book. Each month, we’ll feature a book from Time’s list of the best 100 English language novels of all time. From the nasty to the snarky to the downright absurd, we’ll highlight some of the strange reasons why some people hate these great reads. This month we’ll be taking a look at reviews for Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.

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Non 1001 Book Review: The Atomic Weight of Love Elizabeth Church

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The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J Church
Published in: 2016
Reviewed by: Book Worm
Rating: ★★★★
Find it here: The Atomic Weight of Love

This ARC was provided by Algonquin Books (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis from Goodreads: In her sweeping debut novel, Elizabeth J. Church takes us from the World War II years in Chicago to the vast sun-parched canyons of New Mexico in the 1970s as we follow the journey of a driven, spirited young woman, Meridian Wallace, whose scientific ambitions are subverted by the expectations of her era.

In 1941, at seventeen years old, Meridian begins her ornithology studies at the University of Chicago. She is soon drawn to Alden Whetstone, a brilliant, complicated physics professor who opens her eyes to the fundamentals and poetry of his field, the beauty of motion, space and time, the delicate balance of force and energy that allows a bird to fly.

Entranced and in love, Meridian defers her own career path and follows Alden west to Los Alamos, where he is engaged in a secret government project (later known to be the atomic bomb). In married life, though, she feels lost and left behind. She channels her academic ambitions into studying a particular family of crows, whose free life and companionship are the very things that seem beyond her reach. There in her canyons, years later at the dawn of the 1970s, with counterculture youth filling the streets and protests against the war rupturing college campuses across the country, Meridian meets Clay, a young geologist and veteran of the Vietnam War, and together they seek ways to mend what the world has broken.

Exquisitely capturing the claustrophobic eras of 1940s and 1950s America, The Atomic Weight of Love also examines the changing roles of women during the decades that followed. And in Meridian Wallace we find an unforgettable heroine whose metamorphosis shows how the women’s movement opened up the world for a whole generation.

Book Worm’s Thoughts: This is a thoughtful book about what it meant to be woman discovering yourself in the 1940’s. At first Meridian seems to have it all, a college education and a thesis studying the language and behavior of crows, and a man who loves and inspires her. However, things start going wrong after her marriage, when she discovers that she is expected to follow her man and sacrifice her dreams in the process.

Meridian is a strong character and she struggles with the confines life has put on her. She tries to be a happy and supportive wife but finds that this is hard to do when you harbor resentment and your husband is oblivious to your feelings. As the years progress we see Meridian sacrifice more and more for a marriage that will not bring her happiness. While I could have quite cheerfully left Alden alone in the desert, it is clear to the reader that despite his faults Meridian still loves the man she first met.

I loved the way each chapter opened with a description about various birds and the crow diaries that Meridian keeps are fascinating. I also liked the desert setting which really added to the feelings of isolation with which Meridian suffers. The title is also very apt as atoms are a central part of the story and the cover is intelligent as well as beautiful, I mean look at it!

Who would like this? Ultimately this is a book about one woman’s life and the choices she makes against the backdrop of what society expects. So I would recommend this to those who like stories with strong female characters and a feminist viewpoint.

Want to try it for yourself? You can find a copy here: The Atomic Weight of Love

We want to hear from you! Have you read this book? What did you think? 

Summer Olympics Reading Challenge Update

Those of you who are regular followers of our blog know that we’ve been hosting a summer reading challenge based on the 2016 summer Olympics. With only four more days left in the challenge, we thought we’d post an update. Five teams of 5 people have been competing for a chance to win cool bookish prizes. Here’s how things are going… Read more

The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan

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The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan
Published in: 2013
Reviewed by: Book Worm
Rating: ★★★★
Find it here: The Valley of Amazement

Synopsis from Amazon (as Goodreads had too many spoilers): An expansive, heartbreaking novel from the internationally bestselling author of ‘The Joy Luck Club’.

In turn-of-the-century Shanghai, Violet Minturn is raised by her American mother, the mistress of the city’s most renowned courtesan house. When the revolution comes, a cruel deception forces Violet to become a virgin courtesan.

‘The Valley of Amazement’ is the story of three women, bound by blood and betrayal. But, as she struggles to understand her heritage, it is Violet’s determination to forge her own destiny that propels this bittersweet tale of family secrets, changing identities and lost love.

Book Worm’s Thoughts: I am counting this book for my read different challenge because the author is a female, first generation Asian American and the book is set in Shanghai (different from my own background and location).

I really loved the first 3/4 of this book as we followed Violet growing up in a high class courtesan house run by her American mother. We see how she copes with the change in circumstances that lead to her becoming a virgin courtesan herself.

The details about the life of the courtesans and the etiquette involved in courting a courtesan, as well as the details of what happens to the courtesans when they get older,  was detailed, colorful, and felt very genuine. The characters had a real depth, especially Magic Gourd, who becomes Violet’s best friend and mother figure. The clients were all different. Some were cruel, some kind, but all distinct from each other. The rival courtesans were portrayed as women who could understand each other and sympathise with each other but who would also stab each other in the back to save themselves. Jealousy and competition were rife and in a world where you are judged and valued by your beauty and the male attention you can get, this felt entirely believable.

I also liked the details about Chinese honour and the place of courtesans in family life. It was interesting to see what the change in regime meant for the foreigners who had made Shanghai their home.

I didn’t really enjoy the last 1/4 of the book which explained about the American side of the family. There was not so much depth to the descriptions of the landscape or to the characters and I was left feeling like this section was tacked on simply to tie up loose ends. I know some readers will love the ending, but I felt Violet’s story was enough on its own. That’s not to say the last 1/4 was bad. it just lacked the magic of the rest of the book.

Favourite Quotes:

“To save myself I destroyed another, and in doing so I destroyed myself”

“Only Americans think they have rights,” Magic Gourd said. “What  laws of heaven give you more rights and allow you to keep them? They are words on paper written by men who make them up and claim them. One day they will blow away, just like that.”

“How could any girl think this was a lucky life? And yet if I were Chinese and compared this life with all the possibilities, I, too, might believe over time that I was lucky to be here.”

“Remember this, Violet, when you step on the stage, you are not loved for who you are. When you stop off, you may not be loved at all.”

“I was most puzzled by my own reaction. No matter how American I was -or wanted to be-China was, in my heart, my homeland”

Who would like this book? I would recommend this to anyone who enjoyed Memoirs of a Geisha and to anyone with an interest in learning about Shanghai and the courtesan traditions. I would also recommend this to those who like strong female characters and the relationships between them.

Want to try it for yourself? You can find a copy here: The Valley of Amazement

We want to hear from you! Have you read this book? What did you think? Have you read others by Amy Tan? Which books of hers are your favorites? 

 

1001 Book Review: The Jungle Upton Sinclair

 

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I have finally returned to the land of the living. The last two days I’ve been knocked out by a horrendous cold which my daughter brought home from kindergarten. She had a mildly stuffy nose, while I felt like I was dying. I was even too sick to read. If you’d like to get a sense of what happens when you try to review a book while under the influence of a 103 degree fever you can check out this review. Anyway, I’m feeling well enough now to actually schedule a joint 1001 review that we read a while back: The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. Check out what we thought. Read more

National Book Award for Fiction Nominees

‘Tis the season for literary awards. Earlier this week The Man Booker judges released their shortlist while the National Book Foundation released their nominees for poetry, nonfiction, and young peoples literature. Today they released their nominees for fiction. Interestingly, there is surprisingly little overlap between the awards (Bailey’s prize, Man Booker, and National Book Awards) proving once again that judging books is completely subjective. Here is the list of fiction nominees for the National Book Awards. Read more

Non 1001 Book Review: Shylock is my Name Howard Jacobson

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After a run of Man Booker features we are slowly returning to our regular schedule. Book Worm read this book a while ago and has been waiting for me to get to it too. I have yet to crack open the book so rather than prolonging the process, we decided to go ahead and post her review. Here’s what she thought.

Shylock is my Name by Howard Jacobson
Published in: 2016
Reviewed by: Book Worm
Rating: ★★★
Find it here: Shylock is my name

Synopsis from Goodreads: Man Booker Prize-winner Howard Jacobson brings his singular brilliance to this modern re-imagining of one of Shakespeare’s most unforgettable characters: Shylock

Winter, a cemetery, Shylock. In this provocative and profound interpretation of “The Merchant of Venice,” Shylock is juxtaposed against his present-day counterpart in the character of art dealer and conflicted father Simon Strulovitch. With characteristic irony, Jacobson presents Shylock as a man of incisive wit and passion, concerned still with questions of identity, parenthood, anti-Semitism and revenge. While Strulovich struggles to reconcile himself to his daughter Beatrice’s “betrayal” of her family and heritage – as she is carried away by the excitement of Manchester high society, and into the arms of a footballer notorious for giving a Nazi salute on the field – Shylock alternates grief for his beloved wife with rage against his own daughter’s rejection of her Jewish upbringing. Culminating in a shocking twist on Shylock’s demand for the infamous pound of flesh, Jacobson’s insightful retelling examines contemporary, acutely relevant questions of Jewish identity while maintaining a poignant sympathy for its characters and a genuine spiritual kinship with its antecedent—a drama which Jacobson himself considers to be “the most troubling of Shakespeare’s plays for anyone, but, for an English novelist who happens to be Jewish, also the most challenging.”

Book Worm’s Thoughts: I am ambivalent towards this book. I spent a lot of time thinking would this make more sense if I had actually read The Merchant of Venice. Unlike The Gap of Time this is not a modernized retelling of the Shakespeare play. Instead it is a continuation of the play as we speculate about what happens after Shylock fails to receive his pound of flesh.

From what I can gather the central theme of The Merchant of Venice has stayed intact. There is a Jew who makes a bargain with a Christian which is reneged on, leading to the Jew’s public embarrassment. However, that Jewish man is not Shylock. Shylock has remained away from centre stage while directing the action. There is also the conflict between fathers and daughters suffered by both Shylock and his fellow Jew.

I found the beginning of the book confusing, however as it progressed I began to understand and enjoy it more. What did take away from my enjoyment was the anti-Jewish sentiments expressed by some of the characters. I do understand that these sentiments are central to the story but that doesn’t mean I have to like them.

What I did like about the book was Shylock’s interaction with his dead wife Leah. Although no longer physically here, spiritually she is beside Shylock trying to guide and comfort him. I also liked Shylock’s role as manipulator and conspirator.

This book is very well written I just never really warmed to it.

Who would like this book: I would say anyone like me who is reading the Shakespeare retold series and anyone who enjoyed The Merchant of Venice and wants a new perspective on it.

Want to try it for yourself? You can find a copy here: Shylock is my name.

We want to hear from you! Have you read this book? What did you think? 

2016 Man Booker Shortlist

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It official. The 2016 Man Booker shortlist was announced this morning. Yesterday we made our predictions. How did we do? Here are the 6 books that made the cut:  Read more

2016 Man Booker Shortlist: Our Predictions

Combined our shadow panel of 5 judges managed to read all 13 books. We rated all the books on the following criteria: 1) writing quality; 2) originality; 3) character development; 4) plot development; and 5) enjoyment. Unlike some of the other shadow panels and reviewers out there (you should read the (Wo)man Booker shadow panel reviews if you haven’t already done so), our consensus about the list was that it was pretty strong.  Keep reading to find out how each book was ranked and which books we predict will make the list. Read more

Our Man Booker 2016 Longlist Musings

Those of you who have been following our blog know that we’ve been doing a shadow panel for the Man Booker longlist books. Our 5 judges (myself included) have been reading through the longlist and tomorrow we will be making our predictions for which books we think will make the shortlist. However, before we get to the shortlist, we wanted to share some of our thoughts about the longlist books. Want to know which author we’d like to have dinner with, which cover we liked best, which book gave us nightmares? Keep reading to find out.

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