Category Archives: Books

Book Review: South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami

I borrowed this from my sister when we were both back in Malaysia last month to celebrate my father’s 80th birthday. She is a huge fan of Murakami. I have read one other book of his which I reviewed here. There is another book I sort of read but I can’t even remember the title of it now, let alone the plot. I borrowed that from the library and had to return it without having read it completely because it was due back at the library and I wasn’t keen to be fined. And, I had maxed out the renewals. So, obviously the book didn’t really grab me.

At under 190 pages long, this is an easy read. The story is told in the first person, Hajime.

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Book Review: One for My Baby by Tony Parsons

I went back to Malaysia in September to visit my parents and to celebrate my father’s 80th birthday. While I was there, I perused their bookshelves — being former university professors, they have a formidable collection — and came across some novels which my sister had bought and left there. I asked her if I could borrow a couple and she graciously agreed. So I brought them back with me to Melbourne.

One for My Baby is narrated by the protagonist, a thirty-something widower by the name of Alfie Budd. Unable to cope with the loss of his wife after a scuba diving accident in Hong Kong, he moves back in with his parents in London. His father has a mid-life crisis, sabotaging his marriage by running off with the Czech maid. Alfie’s paternal grandmother is suffering from ill-health and it is up to Alfie’s mother to help look after her. Can Alfie, who believes his one chance of finding love is over, start again?

This was an easy read, but I found myself being annoyed with Alfie. I know everyone experiences grief in their own way, but Alfie takes it to a whole new level. He finds a job as an English teacher to foreign students and shamelessly sleeps with his female students. Wait a minute! Isn’t that unethical? (Yes. Yes, it is.)

One of the people who crosses his path is single mum, Jackie Day, the cleaning lady at the Language School. She wants Alfie to help her pass her A-Levels English exam so she can have a better job, and therefore life, for her and her daughter, Plum. Shades of Educating Rita.

Alfie Budd also shares similarities with Macon Leary, the protagonist in Anne Tyler’s The Accidental Tourist. Both have experienced profound loss, both watch their life crumble, and both meet single mums with a child. If you know what happened to Macon at the end, you can guess what happens to Alfie at the end of One for My Baby. Same old, same old.

Alfie meets an old Chinese man doing Tai Chi while out jogging. (Yes, old Chinese men doing Tai Chi is such a stereotype!) He befriends the man, George Chang, and meets the rest of George’s close-knit family. Several generations live under the one roof right above their Chinese restaurant. More stereotyping and predictable storylines.

There were some acute observations of life in Hong Kong which I enjoyed reading. There was also about a two-page spread where Alfie’s students explored the various nuances of the F-word, depending on the suffix and other add-ons.

Overall, the characters and the storylines were pedestrian and predictable. Your mileage may vary.

Book Review: The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen

I came across this book in the library when I looking for some Alexander McCall Smith books. I looked in the regular section and noticed that I had read all the McCall Smith books there already, so I headed over to the Large Print section. There were no McCall Smith books there, but I saw several other books with the same code, a couple of which were by Grace McCleen.

I took The Land of Decoration off the shelf, read the blurb at the back, opened it up and had a scan of its contents. The writing style looked simple enough and there looked to be conversations with God. Was this a religious book? Was one of the characters delusional? Or…both?

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Book Review: My Italian Bulldozer by Alexander McCall Smith

I borrowed the Audiobook version from my local library and we listened to it on a car trip up to my mother-in-law’s place and back again. I found it difficult to catch everything that was read (maybe our car is old and noisy), so I’m sure that affected our enjoyment of it.

Image result for my italian bulldozer

Paul Stewart is a food writer who is going through a serious case of writer’s block in large part due to his girlfriend of four years, Becky, leaving him for her personal trainer. His editor, Gloria, suggests that he do some in-the-field research for his overdue book on Italian cuisine by going to Tuscany. Upon his arrival at the airport, he discovers that his rental car is not available and, after some frustrating moments, Paul is offered the use of a bulldozer. Thus begins his three-week adventure in Italy.

Although Paul is a food writer in Italy, I found that there wasn’t really much devoted to that in the book. Also, the bulldozer didn’t feature that prominently either.

What the book did focus on was Paul’s obsession with Becky and his seemingly inability to move on with his life. He meets someone in Italy and wonders if this new friendship might possibly blossom into something more.

I think the best way to sum up this book is “A romance book with a male protagonist”.

It was okay, but not as enjoyable as McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series.

Book Review: The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

Before I get into the review of this book, allow me to tell you story. I most probably would not have picked it up on my own, so I should tell you how I came to hear of it.

Earlier this year on Facebook, a friend of a friend posted a picture of their third-grade class. He tagged her, which is how it appeared on my Facebook newsfeed. He asked if anyone else recognised anybody in the photo and requested that we tag ourselves or the people in question.

I was astonished when I saw the photo because I have the exact same photo in my albums!

Ms Helen Aoyagi’s Third Grade Class 1979-1980

Front row: Yours Truly (from Malaysia), Amy, Joe, Neuzeil (sp?, from Hong Kong), ??, Ms Aoyagi, Priscilla, Tommy, Jennifer, Jenny, Hiro (from Japan)

Second row: Ron (from Israel), Kent, Karine, Karen, Flavia (from Brazil), Adam (from Australia)

Third row: Jay, Mohsin (from Pakistan), Douglas, Alejandro (from Venezuela), Adi, Amanda, Hobbie, Bobby, Lisa, Michael, Christine

This is what I remember. It may not be 100% correct.

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Book Review: The Miracle at Speedy Motors by Alexander McCall Smith

Borrowed this from the library.

I have been reading — and very much enjoying — Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. This is the ninth book in the series and the characters are getting more and more interesting.

Books in this series I have read and reviewed:
Tears of the Giraffe (Book #2)
The Full Cupboard of Life (Book #5)
The Good Husband of Zebra Drive (Book #8)

 

miracle-at-speedy-motors

The Miracle at Speedy Motors is the ninth book in the series.

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Book Review: The Good Husband of Zebra Drive by Alexander McCall Smith

Borrowed this from the library.

This is book #8 of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith. I am on a McCall Smith kick at the moment and borrowed a small stack of his books from the library. Not all the titles from this series were available at the library when I was there, but I did manage to get about seven and am trying to read them in order. Although the series features a detective agency, it is not really the cases themselves that form the focus of the books. Also, the cases are not that difficult to solve. Rather, with each book, the characters and their relationships with each other grow and develop, and it is this — plus the philosophical questions raised — that make for great reading and contemplation (and discussion).

good husband of zebra drive

In this installment, Mma Ramotswe is asked to investigate some deaths at a hospital — three deaths in six months in the same bed. Coincidence or not?

Also, who is behind the thefts at the printing works? Mma Potokwani, the matron of the orphan farm, suggests that love and trust go a long way in giving a thief much-needed self-esteem. Will giving the suspected thief the keys to the  printing supplies work?

Meanwhile, Charlie, the older of the two perpetual apprentices at the Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, wants out of his apprenticeship and wants to start his own taxi service. Will Charlie finally behave responsibly?

Mma Grace Makutsi, the Associate Detective of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, also seeks greener pastures. She goes to a job recruitment agency and comes face to face with her old nemesis from the Botswana Secretarial College, Violet Sephotho. (This Violet Sephotho is probably the personification of evil itself and appears in several later books as well, each time doing a different line of work, but each time making life difficult for Grace.)

What does it mean to trust? Should trust be unconditional? What happens when trust is betrayed? How to balance grace/mercy with justice? These are some of the questions one has to face and try to answer in this book.

Highly recommended.

 

Book Review: The Full Cupboard of Life by Alexander McCall Smith

Borrowed this from the library.

I discovered this author about a month ago and he is now on my list of  Favourite Authors.

The Full Cupboard of Life is the fifth book in the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. The stories are set in Gaborone, Botswana and feature Mma Precious Ramotswe, the Senior Detective; Mma Grace Makutsi, the Associate Detective; Mr J. L. B. Matekoni, the owner of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors and Mma Ramotswe’s fiancé. There are also a handful of minor characters.

Full Cupboard of Life

In this installment, Mma Ramotswe is asked by a woman who runs a successful hair salon to do a background check on her four suitors. Are they really interested in her or her money?

Mr J. L. B. Matekoni is approached by Mma Potokwani of the orphan farm (again) to do a good deed (again) which requires him to summon all his courage (more so than adopting two children). She wants him to do a sponsored parachute jump to benefit the orphans. Even kind, gentle, magnanimous men have limits to their selflessness. But one does not simply say “No” to people like Mma Potokwani. Will he be able to pull it off?

On a personal level, he has been engaged to Mma Ramotswe for a long time now and so far, no steps has been taken to upgrade the relationship status. When will there be a wedding?

On a professional level, Mr J. L. B. Matekoni encounters an unscrupulous competitor and tries his best to redeem the reputation of all Botswana mechanics.

As with the other books in the series, McCall Smith’s writing style is gentle and slow-paced, but full of questions of morality and ethics. My nine-year-old and I took turns reading this and she loved it — especially the ending!

 

 

 

Book Review: Precious and the Mystery of Meerkat Hill by Alexander McCall Smith

Borrowed from the library.

This is the second book about Precious Ramotswe as a seven-year-old written by Alexander McCall Smith. This book is on the Victorian Premiers’ Reading Challenge List for Grades 3-4 (eight to ten year olds). My nine-year-old read this out loud to me. Although this books was written for children, the story is not at all childish or patronising.

This time, Precious’ two new friends at school enlist her help in finding their missing cow. Where did it go and how will she find it?

As in the first book in this series, there is mention of African outlook and ways of life; names of people, places and animals; and universal themes of friendship and loyalty.

A fun tale about friendship and using intelligence and cunning to help one’s friends.

Precious and the Mystery of Meerkat Hill

 

Book Review: Precious and the Monkeys by Alexander McCall Smith

Borrowed this book from the library.

The full title is: Precious and the Monkeys: Precious Ramotswe’s Very First Case

I found this book in the Junior Fiction section of my library. It appears in the Victorian Premiers’ Reading Challenge Grade 3-4 list, so the target audience is 8-10 year olds. We have taken part in the VPRC before but have not done so for several years now. My children do read a lot, so reading is not really a “challenge”.

Precious and the Monkeys

McCall Smith is a very talented writer who writes just as artfully for children as he does for adults.

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