Once again we have a backlog of reviews to get out so to clear out the backlog we’ll be doing another series of mini reviews for the 1001 list books we’ve both read over the last few months. We’ll be giving your our verdict on each of the books to help you decide whether you should read it or pass. Let us know if any strike your fancy. Click on the title links to buy the book on Amazon.
City of God by E L Doctorow
Reviewed by: Book Worm and Jen
Synopsis from Good Reads: A breathtaking collage of memories, events, visions, and provocative thought, all centered on the idea of a modern reality of God. At the heart of this stylistically daring and dazzling inventive tour-de-force is a riveting detective story about a cross that vanishes from a Lower-East-Side church, only to reappear on the roof of an Upper-West-Side synagogue. Vast in scope, biblical in tone, it is a monumental work of spiritual reflection, philosophy, and history by America’s preeminent novelist and chronicler of our time.
Book Worm: 4 stars. If you are looking for a straightforward mystery narrative with a nicely summed up conclusion and characters you can get your teeth into then this isn’t the book for you. If, however, you love a narrative that mixes things up, you enjoy multiple viewpoints on subjects that at first appear unconnected, and if you have an interest in physics and how religion is seen in the modern world, then grab this book with both hands. While I do love the subject matter and the narrative technique, it was missing the emotional pull that adds the extra magic needed for a 5 star rating.
Jen: I loved parts of this book, highlighted quotes and passages throughout, and found it deep and thought-provoking, but after a while I found the switching narratives and piecemeal approach somewhat tedious. It is a very slow read and requires that you really digest the material in order to understand the messaging and connect the dots. It requires a fair amount of intellectual energy and to be perfectly honest, I simply ran out of steam in the second half. I agree with many (but not all) of Doctorow’s musings about religion and spirituality and this is probably because I am a secular scientist — I favor evidence and rationalism over faith. City of God touches a lot of issues related to spirituality and his conclusions about religious doctrine/traditions will probably not appeal to those who are strong believers.
Verdict: A tentative “Read it” if the subject matter appeals to you. Not a book that will appeal to all readers.
The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai
Reviewed by: Book Worm and Jen
Synopsis from Goodreads: In a crumbling, isolated house at the foot of Mount Kanchenjunga lives an embittered old judge who wants to retire in peace when his orphaned granddaughter Sai arrives on his doorstep. The judge’s chatty cook watches over her, but his thoughts are mostly with his son, Biju, hopscotching from one New York restaurant job to another, trying to stay a step ahead of the INS, forced to consider his country’s place in the world. When a Nepalese insurgency in the mountains threatens Sai’s new-sprung romance with her handsome Nepali tutor and causes their lives to descend into chaos, they, too, are forced to confront their colliding interests. The nation fights itself. The cook witnesses the hierarchy being overturned and discarded. The judge must revisit his past, his own role in this grasping world of conflicting desires-every moment holding out the possibility for hope or betrayal. A novel of depth and emotion, Desai’s second, long-awaited novel fulfills the grand promise established by her first.
Jen: This was a 3-star read for me. It is beautifully written (e.g,, lush descriptions of the landscape and setting) but I felt a lack of connection to the story and I typically love Indian literature. I read this book in Feb of last year and barely remember anything about it so while it is a highly lauded book in critic circles, it was not memorable for me.
Book Worm: This is a solidly written book and there are several quotes I loved throughout the story, however I have only given it 3 stars as the ending was bleak (realistic) for almost all the characters and with a few exceptions (Biju & Cook) the more I got to know the characters the less I liked them. I felt that to add an extra dimension of fear and misunderstanding the author portrayed the characters in the blackest light rather than in the various shades of grey that humans really are.
Jack Maggs Peter Carey
Reviewed by: Book Worm andor Jen
Synopsis from Goodreads: Jack Maggs is a variation on Great Expectations, in which Dickens’s tale is told from the viewpoint of Australian convict Abel Magwitch. The names, it’s true, have been tinkered with, but the book’s literary paternity is unmistakable. So, too, is the postcolonial spin that Carey puts on Dickens’s material: this time around, the prodigal Maggs is perceived less as an invading alien than a righteous (if not particularly welcome) refugee. Throw in a wicked mastery of period slang, a subplot about Victorian mesmerism (of which Dickens was, in fact, a practitioner), and an amazing storytelling gift, and you have a novel which meets and exceeds almost any expectation one might bring to it.
Book Worm’s: I loved this book, originally when I finished it I rated it 4 stars but then I just kept thinking more and more about the subtle things hidden within the story — the social commentary not only on Dickensian England but also on Great Expectations — and revised my rating up to 5 stars. First and foremost this is a new take on Great Expectations and a social commentary about the English penal system particularly exile to Australia. It is also a book that examines the role of the writer and questions how writers get their inspiration and whether the stories that we all love to read should ever have been written from a moral point of view.
Jen: I too loved the book. It is well written, humorous, and thoroughly engaging. Filled with whole host of unsavory characters (including one writer who seems to be a humorous portrayal of Dicks), its well worth the read and the audio is fantastic. I highly recommend it to fans of Dickens but it will appeal to a much wider audience than just Dickens fans.
Verdict: Read it!
Their Eyes were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Reviewed by: Book Worm and Jen
Synopsis from Goodreads: When Janie, at sixteen, is caught kissing shiftless Johnny Taylor, her grandmother swiftly marries her off to an old man with sixty acres. Janie endures two stifling marriages before meeting the man of her dreams, who offers not diamonds, but a packet of flowering seeds.
Book Worm: Once you get into the style of writing and specifically the use of patois, this is quite a fast read about a light skinned black woman, Janie and her life and relationships. Due to the way she defies convention, Janie is doomed to be an outsider. This is especially clear in the black settlement of Eatonville where her husband sets himself up as mayor. While Janie wants to integrate with the people around her, her husband keeps her apart making the townsfolk feel as if she has set herself above them. When Janie fed up with his constant belittling of her stands up to her husband publically this is also frowned upon and it is Janie who is subject to their gossip and hard words. Despite all this when the chips are down Janie would rather return to Eatonville and the gossip than continue to make a place for herself among the “muck” with people who really care about her. While Janie may appear to be defined by the men in her life she is actually ahead of her time in the fact that she will make independent choices and go against the grain of society when there is something she wants.
Jen: It’s hard to believe that I only recently got around to reading this wonderful book. It is beautifully written, emotional, and the author was ahead of her times with respect to her view of race and gender relations. I’ve seen people complain about the use of dialect in this book (which kind of makes me roll my eyes) but the book is mostly dialogue and is written in a way that genuinely captures how this woman would speak. To me it felt authentic and fitting.
Verdict: Read it!
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
Reviewed by: Book Worm and Jen
Synopsis from Goodreads: The most nostalgic and reflective of Evelyn Waugh’s novels, Brideshead Revisited looks back to the golden age before the Second World War. It tells the story of Charles Ryder’s infatuation with the Marchmains and the rapidly-disappearing world of privilege they inhabit. Enchanted first by Sebastian at Oxford, then by his doomed Catholic family, in particular his remote sister, Julia, Charles comes finally to recognize only his spiritual and social distance from them.
Jen: This is one of those novels that drops you right into the midst of an era and the commentary is subtle but brilliant. The writing is dazzling, emotional, and constantly witty. It was my first encounter with Waugh’s writing and it won’t be my last.
Book Worm: This is a book that can be read on 2 levels: one is a religious commentary which literally passed me by and then there is the story of a golden age romance which is how I read and enjoyed the book. In many ways this reminded me of The Go Between another novel about looking back on your younger days and viewing with an adult eye the things you originally interpreted as a younger person. The writing is beautiful and the characters feel alive, I can highly recommend visiting the house and family, literally of course 🙂
Verdict: Read it.
Perfume by Patrick Suskind
Reviewed by: Book Worm and/or Jen
Synopsis from Goodreads: Patrick Suskind’s classic novel provokes a terrifying examination of what happens when one man’s indulgence in his greatest passion — his sense of smell — leads to murder.
In the slums of eighteenth-century France, the infant Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born with one sublime gift — an absolute sense of smell. As a boy, he lives to decipher the odors of Paris, and apprentices himself to a prominent perfumer who teaches him the ancient art of mixing precious oils and herbs. But Grenouille’s genius is such that he is not satisfied to stop there, and he becomes obsessed with capturing the smells of objects such as brass doorknobs and fresh-cut wood. Then one day he catches a hint of a scent that will drive him on an ever-more-terrifying quest to create the “ultimate perfume” — the scent of a beautiful young virgin. Told with dazzling narrative brilliance, Perfume is a hauntingly powerful tale of murder and sensual depravity.
Book Worm: From the description I wasn’t really expecting to enjoy this so I was pleasantly surprised when most of the book was a 4 star read, however there are events in the last 20 or so pages that are just so silly and beyond belief that I had to knock my rating down to 3 stars. What I liked most about the book was the real sense of time and place, I loved the descriptions of 18th century Paris the smells and stenches the hardships of life for the poor, the role of the church and the life of an apprentice. I also loved the descriptions of the perfume trade and the variety of ways that scent can be extracted. While I found Grenouille to be a repulsive character this did not put me off the story and to a certain extent I could understand his obsession and his need to be more than he was born to be. In some ways he reminded me of Patrick Bateman from American Psycho with the graphic violence toned down leaving only the cold and infinitely scarier sociopath behind.
Jen: Honestly the concept of this book sounded fairly repulsive to me but I ended up really appreciating the book and ultimately it was a 4 star read for me. The book was beautifully written (I’m sounding like a broken record here but this particular list is filled with beautifully-written books) and unlike anything I’ve read before. The main character is abhorrent yet he is the hero of the book (one whom you sometimes find yourself rooting for) and quite an interesting one at that. Definitely a unique and fascinating read.
We want to hear from you. Which books have you read? Which ones would your recommend to read or pass?