Review: The Song of Kahunsha, by Anosh Irani

299773A friend was giving away some of his books because he’s running out of room, and of course being the book lover I am, I decided to pick out a few to add to my own collection. One of them was this Canada Reads book from 2007 that I had never heard of.

The Song of Kahunsha is about a 10 year old orphan boy who lives in Bombay. One day he learns that the orphanage is going to be shut down, and instead of going that rout he decides to take his fate in his own hands, and sets out to find his birth father who left him on the steps so long ago.

One of the great things about this book is the innocence that Chamdi has, no matter how many hardships he faces. This comes across as a child’s method of coping, and it’s written in a magical way that pulls the reader through his world. His world is one of heartache, pain, and violence but also one of incredibly colours, hope, and belief. He learns that the world is rough, and even though he meets up with two children around his own age, Sumdi and Guddi, things are going to get a lot harder. Together they start collecting money for Anand Bhai, who “turns people into boxes”. Chamdi’s world is further shaken when on the day he is supposed to steal from a local temple, something terrible happens (as if enough had not already happened).

Still, Chamdi finds beauty. He sees things with the eyes of a child and he’s unable to completely give up his child-like ways, even though he sees evils all around him, evils that the reader understands but that the 10 year old Chamdi cannot.

This isn’t a happy ending book but sometimes you need something deeply emotional to shake you up a little and get you out of a reading rut.

4/5 Stars

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At the Water’s Edge – by Sara Gruen

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The year is 1942, and Maddie and Ellis Hyde are out enjoying themselves at a New Year’s Eve party. Unfortunately neither one conducts themselves very well, and somehow through a weird series of incidents, they end up being financially cut off from their family, and headed to Scotland in the middle of a war to prove that the Loch Ness monster is a thing.

What?

Maddie and Ellis (married) are friends with Hank (who is also very wealthy) and all three head to Scotland on a ship in the middle of a war. Of course that’s not how we’re introduced to the book. First we learn of a mysterious woman who has just found out that her husband was killed, and their child has just died, and she is heartbroken so she kills herself by drowning in the lake that the Loch Ness monster lives in. If you think this book is a story about the Loch Ness monster, you would be incorrect. While this is the main theme played up in the beginning of the book, it becomes the background story and then resurfaces again near the end. Instead this book is about spoiled adults who treat each other poorly, and secret romances where in the end it’s all tied up neatly in a ‘too good to be true’ formula. Ellis is entitled, rude, and just plain mean. He treats Maddie poorly throughout the entire book and there’s never a redeeming quality about him in any chapter. He’s constantly drunk and making snide remarks about social standings. The reader is very obviously supposed to dislike him, but it comes across as being a bit too much. Especially near the end of the book where he completely loses it in a number of ways that I just couldn’t believe. Hank starts off as being exactly like Ellis, but then as we reach the end of the book we feel like we should forgive him because he has seen the error of his ways. I also didn’t quite believe this. Finally there’s Maddie, who is treated poorly but never stands up for herself, even though she talks about doing it often. She follows along to Scotland, begs her Dad for help, has her world fall apart, falls in love with another man while still being married, excuses her unfaithful behaviour by the reasoning that her own husband is horrid (which he is, but is that a reason to cheat?), has her father die, and yet still manages to ‘win it all’ by the end.

Honestly the best part of this book was the story of the widower, and we weren’t given enough information at all about his circumstances or enough details about the Lock Ness. Instead it just seemed like a cheap attempt at pulling at heartstrings (which worked) until everything all worked out at the last possible second. It’s too easy to feel happy about this outcome when the main character experiences nothing but hardship throughout the entire book (whether it is because of her own doing or otherwise).

An easy read and probably a good one for a lazy Sunday afternoon, but not highly recommended.

3 / 5 stars.

 

Review: The Giver, by Lois Lowry

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For some reason, unlike many of my friends, I did not read this book growing up. In fact I hadn’t even heard of it until someone mentioned the movie was coming out a while ago, and then I saw it in the book store and decided it was well past time I gave it a read (I have no interest in watching the movie at all, it just happened to come up in discussion).

It an easy read describing the day to day life of one Jonas. He talks about his community. He talks about how everyone is assigned a role. There’s no war. No fear. No choice. Everyone knows what is expected of them, and they’re trained to do exactly that. Jonas gets a very special role in his community, he is to be taught by ‘The Giver’. This is supposed to be high praise for him, that he has been selected and chosen. As he begins his teachings, he realizes that something is not right. That things are not as they seem. He begins learning and experiencing things that no one else has to go through. He begins to see both literally and figuratively.

This book is powerful. I know the opinions on it are varied and that’s part of the charm about it, but to me it spoke on a very personal level. It’s also one of those books where you don’t want to discuss what the ‘big thing’ is that happens in the book for fear of giving away the story. I know reviews like to talk about all the details, but honestly some things are better off left as surprises.

The Giver made me think. It made me consider things about life in a different light than what I had considered them with previously. It made me sad to think that what Jonas was living through could be considered normal. That he was the only one who slowly discovered that it wasn’t normal at all. It made me realize how privileged I am. How lucky. I came away from the book with so many thoughts and ideas that it took me a bit to work through everything and to collect my thoughts.

My only ‘issue’ with the book if it can be called that is the unsatisfying ending that leaves everything hanging. Of course that’s the point, the point is that the reader should imagine at that time what happens next, what path Jonas was headed down. I can hardly fault a book for that. In the end, if you’re looking for a laid back dystopian read and for some reason you haven’t picked up The Giver yet, I would suggest you give it a try.

4/5 stars

Review: The Harem Midwife

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I enjoyed reading the first book by Roberta Rich, The Midwife of Venice, but I ended up having much of the same issues. Unlike many series, the reader will want to read the first book before reading this one. The story will make much more sense that way. My problem of course is the ending. Again.

We meet up with Hannah and her husband Isaac, this time they’re living in Constantinople, with the baby that Hannah stole and brought with her. She starts up her midwife business again, and do to her amazing skills, she falls into good graces with the Sultan’s Harem. Aside from the story of Hannah and Isaac, there are two new characters brought into the fold. The stories of these two new characters blend with Hannah and Isaac, and much drama ensues. About half way into the book the reader is almost overwhelmed with all of the drama and negativity that is going on. It looks like there is absolutely no way that the families involved can get away unscathed – and yet – in true Roberta Rich fashion, in the last 15% of the book, everything magically comes together and works out.

This. Frustrates. Me.

It frustrated me in the previous book, and it frustrates me again now. The books themselves are incredibly detailed, beautiful, well written works that I enjoy on such an enormous level – but the endings constantly leave me shaking my head sadly and wondering “Wow. Did I really just read the entire thing to have it end like THAT?”.

It is so incredibly disheartening.

3/5 stars

The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey

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This is a book I had never even heard of before, so it wasn’t on my radar whatsoever in 2014. It was first published back in 2012, and I’m surprised that I had never read it. A friend made the suggestion to me that I would probably enjoy it, after they heard about it on a CBC radio show. The announcer wasn’t actually discussing the book per say on the show, but speaking to someone else who happened to mention they were reading it. This book was one I couldn’t put down, I kept wanting to see what would happen next. It is about a married couple, Jack and Mabel. They lose a child early in their marriage, and it sends each of them into their own pits of despair. They decide to move out to Alaska on their own and take up farming. Jack, in his need to provide, won’t let Mabel help with any of the work that needs to be done to prepare the fields (and there is a lot to be done). Mabel starts falling into a heavy stint of depression, and the opening scene of the book is one of heartbreak.

Together during the early winter they create a snowman, and mysteriously after they create this snowman, they start spotting a girl darting through the trees in the forest near their home (meanwhile the snowman they have created has been stripped of its clothing, and lays in a pile of broken snowballs). The young girl has a pet fox that trails after her through the forest, and  the real story begins from that point on as the focus shifts.

As always I don’t want to give too much away, except to say that this book was beautifully written, and the story was haunting. It was probably my 2nd favourite book of 2014, and I highly recommend it.

5/5 star review

I Know This Much Is True – By Wally Lamb

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This book  is one of my favourites from this year. It made me think, and then made me think some more. The story follows the life of Dominick Birdsey and his interactions with his family. His twin brother suffers from schizophrenia and at the onset of the book he chops off his hand – in a public library. Right from the start you’re pulled into the incredible turmoil of family life. Dominick loves and hates his brother at the same time. He has his own problems, his families problems, and his brother’s problems. Some how he has to deal with them all and not get pulled down by the weight of life.

There are side stories throughout that involve other family members and how their lives affected Dominick and helped to shape who he was. Some of my favourites include passages from his grandfather’s life though these stories are certainly not for the faint of heart and they are very emotional. They made me realize I have much to be thankful for and while this was a made up story and not “real life” a book that makes you think in relation to your own life is a great book. A book that can make you feel like this one did is a fantastic one.

Don’t be put off by the length, either. Yes, it’s a long book but as you read it the pages seem to fly by because you’re completely wrapped up in Dominick’s world.

5 / 5 stars

The Midwife of Venice – By Roberta Rich

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I had been meaning to read this book for a while now, but I actually heard about the series because of the second one in line (which I’m hoping to read next). This is book one of the midwife series, and I couldn’t put it down.

The story follows the life of Hannah Levi, a midwife in sixteenth-century Venice. With that being said, I should note that I know absolutely nothing about Venice, or life in that era, so when people in other reviews complain about the inaccuracy, I don’t have an argument. What I can say is that the writing was well done and the story drew me in right from the start.

Hannah is Jewish, and her husband is missing, held captive on Malta as a slave. Her goal is to go and rescue him, and she’ll do anything she can to accomplish this goal. The love that this woman feels for her husband is etched into every word of the book, and I really appreciated that.

Isaac, her husband, is working on making his way back to her. I felt his story was lacking in places and was a bit too good to be true. He shares the same passion when it comes to the love of his wife, and I liked how in love these two felt for one another.

Hannah is asked to help birth a Christian baby, which is against the law. She also has a special tool she uses to help ease the baby out, which others consider to be tools of evil. She doesn’t care, and continues to use the tools because they help.

Life is difficult, the story is dark. Problem after problem seems to follow Hannah around, but she doesn’t give up and she keeps working towards the overall goal of rescuing her husband.

This is where I start to have problems with the book. The final 15 percent or so seemed incredibly rushed. Suddenly after an entire book of problems, heartache, and darkness, the clouds just instantly clear and everything magically fits together and works out. It did not seem to fit with the rest of the book and it ruined the ending for me.

I’m still going to move forward with the second book to the series because the story was incredibly moving, but I hope the ending doesn’t fizzle out like the first book.

3 / 5 stars