Saturday, 30 January 2010

Karen Joy Fowler: The Jane Austen Book Club

Six people – five women and a man – meet once a month in California’s Central Valley to discuss Jane Austen’s novels. They are ordinary people, neither happy nor unhappy, but each of them is wounded in different ways, they are all mixed up about their lives and relationships. Over the six months they meet, marriages are tested, affairs begin, unsuitable arrangements become suitable – under the guiding eye of Jane Austen a couple of them even fall in love…

The book reminded me rather a lot of Elizabeth Noble's "The Reading Group", which at times was rather irritating me. The members of the reading groups meet at the different houses each month to discuss one novel by Austen and eventually they get to know each other and the reader gets to know each member. I liked Jocelyn, Bernadette, Prudie, Grigg, Allegra and Sylvia as characters but found some of their stories too far-fetched. A nice and light-hearted read, though.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Gervase Phinn: All these lonely people

Even with a huge problem to worry about, Father McKenzie still manages to see the good in everyone. His job is made more difficult by his nosy housekeeper and the gossips from the shop down the road. Will they succeed in spoiling things, or will Father McKenzie’s advice win the day? This charming tale shows the ups and downs of everyday life in a truly heart-warming way.

Although the topic might seem that this could be a slow read, the story is fast-paced and fascinating. It was interesting to find out the people's stories and why they are all so lonely that they turn up in church. And in the afterword the author explains the inspiration for his story around Miss Eleanor Rigby, Father McKenzie and the lonely people.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Xinran: Miss Chopsticks

This is the uplifting story of three sisters who, like so many migrant workers in today's China, leave their peasant community to seek their fortune in the big city. The Li sisters don't have much education, but one thing has been drummed into them: their mother is a failure because she hasn't managed to produce a son, and they themselves only merit a number as a name.Women, their father tells them, are like chopsticks: utilitarian and easily broken. Men, on the other hand, are the strong rafters that hold up the roof of a house. Yet when circumstances lead the sisters to seek work in distant Nanjing, the shocking new urban environment opens their eyes. While Three contributes to the success of a small fast-food restaurant, Five and Six learn new talents at a health spa and a bookshop/tearoom. And when the money they earn starts arriving back at the village, their father is forced to recognise that daughters are not so dispensable after all. Xinran has become known for her wonderful ability to take readers to the heart of Chinese society.

This is a lovely story with fairy-tale quality and lots of humour. Although Three, Five and Six come from the same family they are very different, yet in their own ways they are all successful. Surprisingly, perhaps, it is Five who is usually considered as "dumb and no-brains" that seems to have learnt best how to cope in the city and how to flourish despite the lack of education she experienced in her home village. However, this book also gives a great insight into Chinese culture and how China is now opening up to the Western world and in many ways seems trapped between ancient traditions and modernity.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Lyn Andrews: A mother's love

Eve and Eddie Dobson have been running the George pub in Liverpool for over twenty years. Now the Depression is taking hold and, with money in short supply, life becomes more difficult for the family, but at least their three daughters have never been a worry. Lily dreams of going on the stage, Sarah seems content to slog away as a waitress and Maggie's gently directing her devoted boyfriend to the altar. But when Eddie's flirtation with the hired help takes an unexpected turn, everything changes, leaving none of Eve's family untouched and calling on all the strength of a mother's love.

This is an intriguing story about the roles and responsibilities of different family members showing how the action of just one family member can cause the entire family to change and be uprooted. The characters are well-developed, believable and mostly likeable. Most of all, however, it was great that the story does not end in a total happy-end, although Lily's dramatic situation seemed a bit too far-fetched at the time. I did, however, enjoy reading about the life in a period, where there were no mobile phones or computers, and not even any cars....

Saturday, 2 January 2010

G. Schilddorfer und David Weiss: Ewig

Das Geheimnis der Kaiser - eine blutige Spur - ein uralter Code - ihn zu lösen, bringt den Tod!
Umgeben von brennenden Kerzen, die ein geheimnisvolles Symbol darstellen, liegt der Tote. Der brutale Mord in der Wiener Ruprechtskirche ruft Journalist Paul Wagner und Wissenschaftler Georg Sina auf den Plan. Sie sind einer mysteriösen Mordserie auf der Spur, die vor Jahrhunderten begann. Bald müssen Sina und Wagner selbst vor einem gnadenlosen Killer fliehen - und sie entdecken, was auf dem Spiel steht: die Zukunft der Menschheit!

Die Geschichte von Sina, Wagner und Berner, die dem Geheimnis des Friedrich III. und des ersten chinesischen Kaisers auf der Spur sind und dabei auch noch rätselhafte Morde zu klären haben, ist nicht nur mitreißend, sondern auch informativ. Die Autoren verbinden Fakt mit Fiktion in einer solchen Leichtigkeit, dass der Leser Lust verspürt sich selbst auf die Suche nach dem Geheimnis der Kaiser zu machen. Einzig Major Valerie Goldman und die damit verbundene, angedeutete, mögliche Liebesbeziehung zu Georg und/oder Paul und die Geschichte ihres Großvaters trüben das Lesevergnügen. Ansonsten ein Buch zum Immerwiederlesen....