Monday, January 27, 2014

Review: The Wedding Girl

Book: The Wedding Girl
Author: Madeleine Wickham
Genre: Chick-Lit
My rating: 2.5 Stars

When I was browsing the library bookshelves, Madeleine Wickham’s “The wedding girl” caught my eye. I like to alternate heavy reads with something light and Sophie Kinsella books have always been a favorite. I’ve never read anything written by her as Madeleine Wickham until now so I figured this was a good time to pick this book.

Book Description (from the author’s website)
At the age of eighteen, in that first golden Oxford summer, Milly was up for anything. Rupert and his American lover Allan were all part of her new, exciting life, and when Rupert suggested to her that she and Allan should get married, just so that Allan could stay in the country, Milly didn’t hesitate, and to make it seem real she dressed up in cheap wedding finery and posed on the steps of the registry office for photographs.

Ten years later, Milly is a very different person. Engaged to Simon - who is wealthy, serious, and believes her to be perfect - she is facing the biggest and most elaborate wedding imaginable. Her mother has it planned to the finest detail, from the massive marquee to the sculpted ice swans filled with oysters. Her dreadful secret is locked away so securely she has almost persuaded herself that it doesn’t exist - until, with only four days to go, her past catches up with her. Suddenly, her carefully constructed world is about to crash in ruins around her. How can she tell Simon she’s already married? How can she tell her mother? But as the crisis develops, more secrets are revealed than Milly could possibly have realised...

My thoughts
I didn’t enjoy the book as much as I thought I would (which was quite a disappointment). When I first saw that this book was about “a very silly heroine who gets herself into real pickle” I expected a very light, funny read not very different from the shopaholic books I’ve read and loved. The wedding girl was however a little more serious and touched upon difficult adult topics (infidelity, homosexuality, faith, abortion, etc to name a few) and I didn’t really feel the sync between the attempted light tone and the actual issues dealt with the book. I couldn’t warm up to any of the characters in the book – definitely neither Milly nor her fiancĂ© Simon – which made it all the more difficult to get in to the book. The reveal of Milly’s big secret a few days before the wedding sets off a series of big secret reveals – a dominoes effect of sorts – but it felt like a little too much. Why did every single character have to have a back story and a secret to reveal? I think I might have enjoyed the book more if I hadn’t begun reading it expecting a shopaholic style novel.

On the bright side, like all her other books I’ve read, The Wedding Girl was a quick read. There were no dull parts and you kept reading and wondering what was actually going to happen at the end. I don’t think I am giving up on Madeleine Wickham books. I’ll just be a little more careful with my expectation and prepare myself for more “grounded” books than those written by her as Sophie Kinsella.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Reading with Laya: Blueberries for Sal

When picking books to read with a three year old, you can't go wrong with classics. Blueberries for Sal is one such book.

The first thing I noticed about the book is that the illustrations are in black and white. It is such a stark difference compared to the brightly colored books we've been reading lately (especially the barefoot books!) and I didn't know if it would keep Laya's interest. Surprisingly, the lack of color made her concentrate more on the drawing and she notices things in the illustrations that I didnt really notice!

Blueberries for Sal is a really cute book.. A little bear cub and little Sal go with their respective mothers to Blueberry hill and suddenly start following the wrong mothers. The mistaken identity and the mothers' reactions crack Laya up totally! She loves this book and we read it often during our evening snacks especially when we have a big bowl of blueberries to dig into.

It's also a very informative and educational book. We used this book as an opportunity to talk about bears and how they stock up on food during summer and fall so that they can hiberate during the winters. I also tried telling her about seasonal fruits and vegetables but I think she's still a little too young to understand that especially since she gets her berries year round!

We have a puffin story time CD along with the book and when I am busy cooking or doing something else, Laya likes to play the CD and follow along with the pictures in the book. I should get more of these read along CDs!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Review: The Lion Seeker

Book: The Lion Seeker
Author: Kenneth Bonert
My Rating: 4.5 Stars
Quick review: A fabulous debut novel about Lithuanian Jewish immigrants in South Africa.

The Lion Seeker, at first glance, looks like a very intimidating read. In addition to the 561 pages length,  a random page test gives you glimpses of foreign phrases and snippets of a particularly complicated version of English during conversations. But the minute you start reading, Kenneth Bonert ensures from page 1 that you pulled in to the story and transported to South Africa in the early to mid-1900s – during the years of the Great Depression – the period between the world wars. 

The prologue begins in Lithuania where a young lady, Gitelle is bidding farewell to her siblings and the rest of her family to take her two children and reunite with her husband, who has moved to South Africa. Gitelle comes to South Africa with her children hoping to start fresh and make it big in the new place. Her husband, Abel, is a watch repairman who is happy and satisfied with what little he has. He has no big ambitions and takes pride in his honest labor. Gitelle realizes that her dreams of achieving big things can only be realized through her son, Isaac. From his childhood, she trains him to think out of the box. She keeps asking him one question – “are you clever, or are you stupid?”. 

And by that, she makes him understand that at every point in life he has to stop and think before taking a decision. A clever move will be one where he gets ahead himself. A stupid move would allow others to take advantage of him. Little does she realize that this cut throat attitude that she teaches her son would come and bite her back in the future. We follow Isaac’s life from childhood through adolescence all the way to adulthood in this book against a backdrop of the world war 2. 

Gitelle’s struggles to get her family out of Lithuania and in to South Africa are heart wrenching when you realize that her story is not a unique experience. A majority of South Africa’s Jewish population are descendants of Lithuanian immigrants (including Kenneth Bonert himself). Every Lithuanian immigrant who left family behind would have gone through the turmoils of Gitelle. 

I could go on and on about the book. I’ve read a lot of books about the Holocaust. But this was the first book where I got to understand the experience of Jews that actually escaped the Holocaust. 

The language that is spoken by Isaac is a mix of English with Yiddish, Afrikaans and a heavy South African accent. While this was a little hard to follow at the beginning, it was easy to get used to. And by the end of the book, you realize that it was a big part of what made the book so “un-putdown-able”.

The Lion Seeker is a very well written novel and doesn’t read like a debut novel at all. There are a few places where the book appears to deviate from its tone and become a little melodramatic and the epilogue feels very disjoint from the rest of the book – almost like it was written as a quick after thought. But apart from these very minor points, it was an amazing read.

I highly recommend this book to all those interested in family sagas or Jewish literature. I can’t wait to read more books from Kenneth Bonert.