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The English Patient

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Despite its position as one of Ondaatje's most famous novels, I found The English Patient less convincing than what I had read previously (Anil's Ghost, Running in the Family, Coming Through Slaughter). Maybe this is because of the oddly shifting times and locations of the narrative, or the choice of an unfamiliar setting, or the fact that although much of the story is told from a female character's point of view, she never feels like a woman — but rather a man's image of a woman.Whatever the reason, I found this book more of a struggle than I expected (hence the perhaps overly low rating.) Nonetheless, the beauty of Ondaatje's prose holds throughout, and his ability to evoke images of exotic times and places is used to full force in this book. I recommend first-time Ondaatje readers start elsewhere, and work their way back to this one.
The Audacity of Hope

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Although I've been meaning to read this book since it came out three years ago, it's especially timely now, with Obama in the White House. The Audacity of Hope follows Obama's journey to the Senate seat he occupied before becoming president, exploring the issues he sees as as important to modern American society and politics.The book is well written and engaging, although Obama has a tendency to devolve into policy speak a bit more often than I'd like – reading this book, I was more interested in his thought processes than in the exact number of jobs he believed need to be created. Still, the book is an honest and serious reflection on the state of American politics and what it means to be a politician. I'd recommend it to anyone who wants a better understanding of where the current President of the United States is coming from, or who simply wants a piece of genial political conversation.
The Cloud Messenger

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In this nostalgic, meandering book about what might have been, we follow the life of Mehran from Karachi, Pakistan, to London, living through the '70s, '80s, and '90s. It's a relatively short novel, with chapter sometimes as small as half a page. But it took me a while to read, because it's a book that's easily put down (and easily picked back up again, but certainly not a page-turner.)I loved the constant reference to Persian and Urdu poetry, the honest exploration of what it means to be place-less, the tangled mix of British and South Asian cultures. But I also found the back-and-forth between first and third person to be unsettling, and I found none of the characters sympthetic.In short, there are a number of elements in this book that I liked, but it's lacking some polish. The book did leave me intrigued about Hussein as an author, though, and I would probably pick up another book of his in the future.
Thanksgiving at the Inn

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In the first chapter, we find out that the protagonist's grandfather (a well-loved and successful businessman nicknamed 'Senior') has left his alcoholic, struggling writer son a ramshackle old B&B in Maine with the requirement that he must take care of it for 3 months and earn the approval of a motley crew of tenants in order to inherit Senior's considerable fortune. This sets the tone for the rest of the book.The book was a quick, light read, with the requisite happy ending. But the characterizations and plotlines are so simple and earnest as to be preachy, and Whitney seems to think that writing for young people is like writing for stupid adults. This is Whitney's first book, and I think he is a promising writer, but if he's going to deal with issues like alcoholism, autism, and prison time, he's going to have to tackle the darker sides of his material.
The KunstlerCast: Conversations with James Howard Kunstler

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This book is Duncan Crary's homage to James Howard Kunstler: a rewriting of the transcripts of a number of conversations first recorded as a podcast. Although I have read a number of Kunstler's books and find some of his critiques interesting, I do not share Crary's unwavering enthusiasm for the man. As a result, I quickly tired of the tone of Crary's questions and his presentation. In addition, I found the structure to be weak: less organic than a true conversation, but less cohesive than a traditional book.For long-time fans, this may be a welcome supplement to the books already on their bookshelf. For newcomers to Kunstler's work, however, it will likely feel too proseltysing and unstructured. I'd recommend skipping this book and diving straight into Kunstler's own writing: most of his books are quite accessible and will give a better picture of the author and his ideas in any case.
Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do About It

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I thought this would be an fascinating book, given my interest in eating well and in climate change. Unfortunately, far from living up to her mother's fame, Anna Lappé repeats tired information, writes unconvincingly, and in the end offers little in the way of solutions to the climate crisis.Granted, I've done a fair bit of reading on the subject, but I learned nothing new from this book. Instead, I wondered several times how much needless environmental damage Ms. Lappé had done over the course of her reporting.Not recommended.
Running in the Family

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Oondaatje's family memoir is a beautiful, evocative mix of poetry and prose, memory and inventiveness.Although he is based in Canada, Ondaatje masterfully captures the environment of Sri Lanka's cities and estates, and presents a compelling portrait of his eclectic family. Reading this book in the middle of English winter, I found myself suddenly a million miles away, in a land of coconuts and jasmine and secret marriages and drunken military officers holding up night trains.Even if you don't like memoirs and couldn't care less about Sri Lanka, read this book for the language. His poetry is exquisite, but so is his prose: tender, descriptive, nearly sing-song in places. An absolute must-read.
Powers: A Novel

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This has got to be one of the weirdest, least engaging books I've read in a long time. To be fair, this is the second book in a series, and perhaps I'm missing something crucial by not having read the first book. But I think the problem goes beyond that. I found the hodge-podge Christianity-flavored religion (Standing) to be frankly grating, the setting hard to believe, and the characters flat and stereotyped. The plot lost me from the start, and there seemed to be no character development.I'm not sure what to categorize this story as: horror? thriller? fantasy? In any case, although I'm not familiar with the culture of southern Louisiana that the author is evoking, I imagine there are few people who would not be somewhat offended by this book: for religious reasons, cultural appropriation, or simply poor aesthetics. Not recommended.
Lyra's Oxford

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I haven't quite outgrown my love of pop-up books and books with pieces you can pull out of them, so I was delighted to come across this little gem. It contains a (very) short story set in the same universe as Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, and an assortment of maps, postcards, and random dictionary pages that either accompany it or just add more depth to the mythical Oxford he's constructed.For Oxonians, it's particularly fun to spot the differences, and retrace Lyra's steps – map in hand – imagining a world with Daemons and witches and University lectures on alchemy.
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