After You [A Review]

After You, by Jojo Moyes

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   [Image courtesy of Goodreads]

Few sequels have managed to impress me. This one didn’t either.

This book is about letting go, living, family love and teenagers, among many other things. But it has not managed to move me. In fact, it’s a miracle I managed to finish the book.

Okay, maybe that was a bit harsh. I did enjoy the part when Lily went missing and I was hoping she would be all right. And then there was the part when Sam met with an “incident” on the job. Even though the events were a little cliche and expected. (I shall not elaborate further else I give away the bits that are worth reading.)

Oh, and yes, the British humour Moyes injected into the narrative helped.

VERDICT: Do not expect an emotional ride like what Me Before You is capable of giving.

Wonder [A Review]

Wonder, by R.J.Palacio

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   [Image courtesy of Goodreads]

 

Depending on how you normally view things in the world, this book can read like one that inspires hope. Or it can read like one that sounds so phoney that it’s almost like a fantasy story.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed the book, and it made me feel really good reading it, especially with the fact that I have a young child and how she copes with school life (and real life) worries me all the time. The story reassures me that there is more kindness than meanness in the world. People are born good, and bad behaviour loses its attraction over time.

Plus, the writer’s manipulation of events and situations in the story, and his ability to make the voices of the characters sound so authentic make the story a great read. A kid sounded like a kid, and a teenager sounded like a teenager. 

Yet, I can’t help feeling that what happened in the book seems so far from reality most of the time. I mean, how often do we get children (and adults for that matter) like Summer and Jack who can resist being part of the popular group and have the courage to stand up for what they think is right or better? I’m not saying there aren’t such folks around, just that they are few and far between. I’m not even sure I’d have the courage to be Summer or Jack as an adult.

Nevertheless, I picked up the book because they’ve made a movie out of it, and I wanted to read it before I watched it. I think I’m looking forward to the movie. Of course, the fact that Julia Roberts is going to be the mum helps. I hope it won’t disappoint.

And yes, I will strive to spread a little bit of kindness each day. To quote from Mr Browne’s first precept in the book, it’s more important to be kind than to be right all the time.

VERDICT: Read it before you watch it… if you’re going to watch it that is.

The Last Lesson of Mrs De Souza [A Review]

The Last Lesson of Mrs De Souza, by Cyril Wong

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   [Image courtesy of Epigram Books]

Another local book by Cyril Wong. It’s a novel this time, albeit a short one.

The plot was predictable, but I think credit must be given for the way Wong has crafted the entire tale, from the way Mrs De Souza’s story was drawn out, to the way different strands of emotion were injected into the storytelling. I really like how Wong has so aptly described the way one’s perception and memory of events can be shaped by one’s biases and beliefs, and can therefore end up being highly unreliable. 

Yet, I’m not sure Cyril Wong will ever be one of my favourite local authors, either because of the constant melancholy I feel whenever I read his works, or because of the themes he usually chooses for his stories. I do appreciate good humour and playful jabs at the ironies in life sometimes, and that seems to be missing in Wong’s writings. But I suppose that’s just a matter of style and personal preferences. Wong probably just has something different to say, and that something does not resonate as strongly with me.

VERDICT: If you had tried “Ten Things My Father Never Taught Me” and had liked the short stories, this longer story is written in a similar style and might appeal to you.

The River’s Song [A Review]

The River’s Song, by Suchen Christine Lim

   [Image courtesy of suchenchristinelim.com]

 

I fell in love with Lim’s writing when I was just a teenager and discovered “Rice Bowl” and “Gift from the Gods” in the local library. At that time, she was one of the few local writers who got published, and those two books opened my eyes to the fact that local stories could touch my heart as powerfully as, if not more than, one from a foreign writer.

I cannot remember what happened after those two books, because I’ve not read one of her latter novels since (there have been four, including “The River’s Song”). But I’m glad I found this, again thanks to the recent read-local campaign. 

I love the way Lim has skilfully weaved historical and cultural elements into her story of love, life, family and identity. The twist at the end about Ping’s parentage and her relationship with her mother added a dash of surprise and smartly goaded the reader (or at least me) to think about our own assumptions and biases in life. I also love the way local places are vividly described in the story, and how the writer has used Chinese classical and folk music as an emotional thread throughout the book. I could almost hear or feel the music in Lim’s descriptions, and I’m now itching to find some of those pieces to listen to.

I’m going to find those other three books of hers that I had missed out for the last twenty years.

VERDICT: Some might say the plot is not entirely something new, but the writer’s beautiful prose and storytelling prowess more than make up for it. I say try it!

Ten Things My Father Never Taught Me [A Review]

Ten Things My Father Never Taught Me, by Cyril Wong

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   [Image courtesy of Epigram Books]

 

Another book of short stories! And a local one too.

Cyril Wong’s books have always caught my attention with their curious titles, but I have never gotten round to any of them. Until now, that is. The bookstore in town had a members’ sale and feeling particularly lavish (and very starved for good books), I grabbed any book that caught my eye while I was there. This happened to be one of them. I rationalized to myself that this was one of those books that had been in my mental TBR list anyway, and the recent read-local campaign was still fresh in my mind.

Ironically, the title story wasn’t one of my favourite ones in the book. It could even be one of my least favourite, despite it reading like the author’s autobiography, maybe even a creative one. Perhaps it’s got to do with the somewhat melancholic tone I detected. I was kind of disturbed at the end of the story. Well, some people might think that’s good, but I sure didn’t like it.

The story that managed to draw me in was the one about a boy who could see spirits. It actually managed to send a chill down my spine. It not only took me a while to shake off the eerie feeling, but also brought to mind how lonely and desperate for companionship we city dwellers sometimes are.

What I got from the stories are probably derived from my own experiences, emotional baggage and perspectives, and may not be what Wong had tried to paint. But I suppose that is the magic of literature. 

VERDICT: You will either hate this collection, or love it. But other than a few references to local places, attitudes and slang, you might not even realize the stories came from a Singaporean writer. 

The Bookshop on the Corner [A Review]

The Bookshop on the Corner, by Jenny Colgan

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   [Image courtesy of HarperCollins]

 

I’m so disappointed!

Well, this book actually started as a pretty good read for me, with a bookish female protagonist – Nina – who got axed by the library because of funding issues and decided to start her own book van in the countryside. Granted, it’s not exactly a new theme, but it resonated with me because I’ve always dreamed of leaving my nine-to-five job and setting up my very own bookshop. Plus, Jenny Colgan tried to describe how the move brought reading back to a quiet town and changed some people’s lives. 

And then, somewhere in the middle of the book, the story spiraled into not one but two love stories, and Nina degenerated from a kind (albeit sometimes silly) bookseller into a woman desperate for a man, and yes, sex. I shall not say more about the love stories, except that I feel the book had a rather abrupt and unsatisfying ending, even though Colgan gave it a happy ever after conclusion.

As a book lover who has a personal fantasy of owning a book place, I was hoping for a deeper story about the book van bringing more than books to the sleepy town and its people. I would have liked to get to know more about Ainslee, the girl who had to take care of her bedridden mum and eight-year-old brother and couldn’t afford to buy any books, or the two elderly folks at the town bar who, surprisingly, couldn’t put down the books that Nina purposely left behind for them.  

So yes, I’m so disappointed.

VERDICT: This book will serve as a very light read during a summer vacation at best. Please don’t expect more, unless you’re looking for a happy ever after love story with an abrupt ending.

Small Great Things [A Review]

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

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   [Image courtesy of Goodreads]

 

My first Jodi Picoult was Nineteen Minutes. I was hooked from the first couple of chapters and went into “devour mode” whenever I came across her books, before I decided that I had to stop before I went into depression. The irony was that she writes well, so much so that her vivid descriptions of what can go wrong in one’s health scared me, and her explanation of the legal system (and its failings) saddened me. Of course, there are often bright sides and valuable life lessons in her stories, but for me, her books have to be read with long intervals in between if I don’t want to be sucked dry emotionally.

And so, it’s been a long while since my last Picoult book, and this has to be one of my favorites. 

In Small Great Things, Picoult had used her signature style of writing from the perspectives of each of her key characters, and that really helps one to understand and look at the issues from different (often opposite and diverse) angles. I’m not sure if her depiction of the black-white situation reads true, but it has opened my eyes to issues beyond racial discrimination, such as how the world has traditionally been designed in a way that is biased against left-handed people, physically challenged folks, and maybe even the elderly. Picoult has also, through her narration of Kennedy’s emotional and mental growth, highlighted the need for racial equity, as opposed to racial equality. This is a new concept to me.

I think Picoult’s strengths lie in her ability to induce in readers strong feelings of empathy for her characters. Interestingly, I recently picked up a new book by Paul Bloom – Against Empathy – which argues against the merits of trying to feel what another person is feeling. I’m now keen to find out whether, according to Bloom’s theory, her kind of writing is actually good or bad for this world.

VERDICT: If you’re not yet a Jodi Picoult fan, this might make you one. If you are already one, what are you waiting for?

And here’s an overview of the storyline from Goodreads:

Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years’ experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she’s been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don’t want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene?

Ruth hesitates before performing CPR and, as a result, is charged with a serious crime. Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, takes her case but gives unexpected advice: Kennedy insists that mentioning race in the courtroom is not a winning strategy. Conflicted by Kennedy’s counsel, Ruth tries to keep life as normal as possible for her family—especially her teenage son—as the case becomes a media sensation. As the trial moves forward, Ruth and Kennedy must gain each other’s trust, and come to see that what they’ve been taught their whole lives about others—and themselves—might be wrong.