We decided to join the bandwagon and provide a monthly recap at the end of each month. That way you can all check out which books were standouts, which were duds, and which ones we plan to read the following month. We’ll end our wrap up with a calendar of book-related events/facts from the Month of May and we’ll look forward to some upcoming June content. We also want to hear from you so let us know what you read in May and what you look forward to reading in June. Read more
The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa
Published in: 2003
Translated from Japanese by: Stephen Snyder
Reviewed by: Jen
Rating: 5 stars
Find it here:The Housekeeper and the Professor
Every once in a while a book comes along that takes you by surprise. The Housekeeper and the Professor was one of those books for me. At only 180 pages the novel is short, simple, but emotionally touching and beautifully rendered. I picked this up because it has started to make the rounds in some of my reading circles. It was worth the buzz.
The book tells the story of a beautiful friendship between a housekeeper, her son, and a mathematics professor. In his youth, the Professor was involved in a tragic accident that resulted in his developing a form of anterograde amnesia. While he remembers events and people from prior to his accident, he is unable to encode new information. Every morning brings new introductions with the same questions. He wears a suit covered with pieces of paper to help him remember important facts. He spends his days immersed in mathematics, solving problems and sending them to various papers. When the Housekeeper is hired to take care of the Professor and his home, she and her 10 year old son become immersed in the Professor’s world of numbers. They grew to love the Professor and they learn to work around his memory deficits.
I found this to be a wonderful book. You can’t help but love the characters, especially the quirky Professor who makes math seem like the most exciting subject in the world. There are many math equations throughout the book but they are easy to follow and understand and they are integral to the emotions and events in the story. Who knew that math could be so interesting? The writing was simple and elegant but unpretentious. Not much happens in the way of plot because this is not a book about fast-paced adventures but rather one about quiet moments and meditation. I cried a little and smiled a lot. This was a special book that makes you contemplate the importance of living in the moment and appreciating the present. I highly recommend this book!
Have you read this book? If so, what did you think? If not, does it appeal to you?
Want to try it for yourself? You can buy a copy here: The Housekeeper and the Professor
Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy Sayers
Published in: 1933
Reviewed by: Jen
Rating: 4 stars
Find it here:Murder Must Advertise
I’ve always associated cozy mysteries with the types of mystery books that appeal to either children or older ladies with lots of cats. Read more
The Seducer Jan Kjaerstad
Original Language: Norwegian
Reviewed by: Book Worm
Rating: ★★★★★ ♥
Find it here: The Seducer: A Novel
Synopsis (from Amazon): Interludes of memory and fancy are mixed with a murder investigation in this panoramic vision of contemporary Norway. Jonas Wergeland, a successful TV producer and well-recognized ladies man, returns home to find his wife murdered and his life suddenly splayed open for all to see. As Jonas becomes a detective into his wife’s death, the reader also begins to investigate Jonas himself, and the road his life has taken to reach this point, asking How do the pieces of a life fit together? Do they fit together at all? The life Jonas has built begins to peel away like the layers of an onion, slowly growing smaller. His quest for the killer becomes a quest into himself, his past, and everything that has made him the man he seems to be. This bestselling Norwegian novel transports and transfixes readers who come along for the ride. Read more
I’ve been thinking a lot about bullying in the past two weeks, after the mom of one of E’s preschool friends told me about a scary bullying incident directed toward her 9 year-old daughter. So it was a nice change for me to shift gears and think about the positive and healthy elements of children’s friendships through this month’s book selection: Hopper and Wilson Fetch a Star by Maria van Lieshout. Read more
It’s time for an update on our Spring Cleaning Challenge! New followers and readers, there’s still lots of time to join in the fun for the chance to win some fun book prizes! Find the instructions for the challenge here. If you’ve been with us from the beginning, you have one more month left to rack up your points. Remember the more you read, the more you stack the odds in your favor.
It’s a tough race for first place between Tracy and Kate although in the last 2-3 weeks, Kate has pulled ahead slightly — although we may have slowed her down with her latest book pick. Will she make it through her current book? And, how will the battle for 3rd play out? Will Ellen keep her slim lead for third?
IMPORTANT INFO: I will be away traveling to Prague next week (May 24-31) so will have limited access to my email. If you finish a book while I’m away, just respond with a comment on the main challenge post (here) saying you are done with the book and my co-blogger, Book Worm will make sure to get you your next book assignment. I’ll check the reviews when I get back.
Final day to submit a review will be June 20th at midnight EST (or before I wake up on the 21st). We will announce the winners on the first day of summer!
Kate – 15
Tracy – 13
Ellen – 5
Andrea – 4
Becky – 4
Lynsey – 4
Nicole D – 4
Sushicat – 4
Brandy – 1
Tessa – 1
Tricia – 1
What do you think of the challenge thus far? Have you been surprised by any books (pleasantly or unpleasantly)?
Please take the time to read the reviews of books read thus far (since last update). You might find something you’d like to read. I’ve included hyperlinks to the book titles if anything strikes your fancy. You can also find all the books in our Amazon store here – under the spring challenge tab.
The Sea by John Bangle
Awards: Booker Prize 2005
Reviewed by: Jen
Rating: 4.5 stars
Find it here:The Sea
Every once in a while you encounter a book with writing so beautiful that it makes you never want to return to the world of “ordinary” writing. The Sea was one of those books.
The Sea is a seemingly simple, but in essence rather complicated novel about loss, grief, memory, and regret. The protagonist is an aging man who, after losing his wife to cancer, rents a room at a boardinghouse that played a significant role in his childhood. Banville takes his time in letting the reader discover what happened to Banville during his childhood. He glides back and forth in time, weaving in two significant life events. The reliability of the narrator is brought into question as memory is unreliable and impacted by the experience of loss and grief.
I make myself think of her, I do it as an exercise. She is lodged in me like a knife and yet I am beginning to forget her. Already the image of her that I hold in my head is fraying, bits of pigments, flakes of gold leaf, are chipping off. Will the entire canvas be empty one day? I have come to realize how little I knew her, I mean how shallowly I knew her, how ineptly. I do not blame myself for this. Perhaps I should. Was I too lazy, too inattentive, too self-absorbed? Yes, all of those things, and yet I cannot think it is a matter of blame, this forgetting, this not-having-known. I fancy, rather, that I expected too much, in the way of knowing. I know so little of myself, how should I think to know another?
This was my first introduction to Banville’s writing and it blew me away. I loved the beautiful prose and exquisitely crafted sentences. The story is slow and at times meandering and directionless. The narrator skips around in time and the shifts in time make it difficult to follow. I can see why some people were bored (as indicated by goodreads reviews for this book) by the slow pace of the book and the confusing shifts in time, but I found the writing so beautiful and captivating that I remained engaged throughout. As a psychologist, I was also captivated by the way the author made memories blend to provide a more complete understanding of the narrator’s “current” emotional state. The Sea is a psychologically and emotionally complex book that is brought to greater heights by the truly gorgeous albeit highly dense writing.
The book is not for everyone. There is no fast-moving plot and the language and sentence construction is complex. I admittedly had to pull out the dictionary on several occasions. Serious, literary fiction readers will appreciate this book for the beauty and complexity of the writing. That is not to say that the casual reader won’t enjoy this book, but that it is a book that requires a certain degree of investment – a willingness to dig a little deeper below the surface of plot line and think more deeply about the themes and issues raised by the author. Banville also references numerous literary works (both directly and indirectly) and while you can still appreciate the book without this background knowledge, the book is more enjoyable if you are able to recognize these references. I highly recommend this book!
Quotes I enjoyed:
Happiness was different in childhood. It was so much then a matter simply of accumulation, of taking things – new experiences, new emotions – and applying them like so many polished tiles to what would someday be the marvelously finished pavilion of the self.
Yes, this is what I thought adulthood would be, a kind of long Indian summer, a state of tranquility, of calm incuriousness, with nothing left of the barely bearable raw immediacy of childhood, all the things solved that had puzzled me when I was small, all mysteries settled, all questions answered, and the moments dripping away, unnoticed almost, drip by golden drip, toward the final, almost unnoticed, quietus.”
Life, authentic life, is supposed to be all struggle, unflagging action and affirmation, the will butting its blunt head against the world’s wall, suchlike, but when I look back I see that the greater part of my energies was always given over to the simple search for shelter, for comfort, for, yes, I admit it, for coziness. This is a surprising, not to say shocking, realization. Before, I saw myself as something of a buccaneer, facing all-comers with a cutlass in my teeth, but now I am compelled to acknowledge that this was a delusion. To be concealed, protected, guarded, that is all I have ever truly ever wanted, to burrow down into a place of womby warmth and cower there, hidden from the sky’s indifferent gaze and the air’s harsh damagings. That is why the past is just such a retreat for me, I go there eagerly, rubbing my hands and shaking off the cold present and the colder future. And yet, what existence, really, does it have, the past? After all, it is only what the present was, once, the present that is gone, no more than that. And yet.”
There are times, they occur with increasing frequency nowadays, when I seem to know nothing, when everything I know seems to have fallen out of my mind like a shower of rain, and I am gripped for a moment in paralyzed dismay, waiting for it all to come back but with no certainty that it will.
Want to try it out for yourself? You can find it here:The Sea
In 2013 the book was made into a movie. You can see the trailer below.
We want to hear from you! Have you seen the movie or read the book? What did you think?
The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
Published in: 2008
Reviewed by: Jen
Find it here:The Cellist of Sarajevo
The Cellist of Sarajevo was inspired by events during the siege of Sarajevo in the 1990s. When a mortar round kills twenty-two people waiting in line for bread, a cellist in the symphony orchestra engages in an act of defiance against the perpetrators: he vows to play Albinoni’s Adagio in G minor every day for 22 days to honor the victims. This moment sets the backdrop for a novel in which Galloway weaves the primary stories of three people living in Sarajevo at the time of the siege. Arrow is a woman whose decision to accept an assignment as a sniper killing soldiers starts to change her in numerous ways, questioning her ultimate humanity. Kegan is a young family man whose frequent trips to gather clean water for his family puts him in harm’s way on a regular basis. Degan is an older man with a wife and child who moved to Italy before the city was closed off. He encounters an old friend who forces him to question his life before the war.
The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Little
Published in: 2006
Original Language: French
Awards: Prix Goncourt 2006
Reviewed by: Book Worm
Find it here: The Kindly Ones
Amazon Synopsis: Dr Max Aue is a family man and owner of a lace factory in post-war France. He is an intellectual steeped in philosophy, literature, and classical music. He is also a former SS intelligence officer and cold-blooded assassin. He was an observer and then a participant in Nazi atrocities on the Eastern Front, he was present at the siege of Stalingrad, at the death camps, and finally caught up in the overthrow of the Nazis and the nightmarish fall of Berlin.
His world was peopled by Eichmann, Himmler, Göring, Speer and, of course, Hitler himself.
Max is looking back at his life with cool-eyed precision; he is speaking out now to set the record straight. Read more