Falling Leaves

Adeline Yen Mah’s memoir is heartbreaking. She does an excellent job of recounting her dysfunctional family history while simultaneously documenting the turbulent periods that influenced her development. Mah’s pursuit to be part of her family provides an insight into the Chinese culture when daughters were unwanted, ultimately considered a burden. However, this autobiography is not just a cultural study of a Chinese woman’s longing to be accepted in a society where males were the preferred offspring. Psychologically, doesn’t it make sense that anyone despite culture and race would want familial love and acceptance regardless of the abuses experienced? A rational being such as Mah knows the love craved is impossible to achieve, yet that desire is deeply ingrained and impossible to ignore.

This book struck a cord personally. Unfortunately, I can relate to Mah’s abandonment by her family. I have experienced the desire for reconciliation, love, understanding and acceptance knowing it will forever be impossible due to factors beyond my control. Niang (Step Mother) behaved as she did due to cultural influences, however, I believe mental illness probably played a substantial role in her despicable conduct. Mental illness, drug and alcohol, sexual, emotional and physical abuses, taint relationships causing horrific family dysfunction. I have had to learn to accept the things I cannot change as well as not take on the dysfunction of others. Nevertheless, the ache for a different better outcome will always be buried deep within. I imagine these feelings are similar for Mah.


This Ann Patchett read was slow to start and much harder to get into then I had expected. However, halfway in the tale flew. Patchett is a true master at creating strong, realist characters that evolve page by page. She also incorporates interesting themes, weaving them effortlessly into the story. In this book fatherhood, loyalty (sometimes misplaced), loss, and the complexities of love and friendship are explored. By the end of Taft I was so caught up I wished for more. I wonder if Patchett purposely intended an ending where the reader would continue to imagine the characters and contemplate what they would do next. 

One Vacant Chair

James is the only character I liked in this novel. He was quirky, while endearing. Most of Joe Coomer’s characters were flat, boring or mean spirited, especially in their dealings with each other. Sarah and Edna were so abrasive that their cruelty to one another made me uncomfortable, even anxious. The harsh style Coomer chose when writing interactions between characters seemed overly nasty and hence not realistic. The story was painfully slow. I actually skimmed sections of the book. (Probably the reason I finished the book in a few days.) Not until the very, very end is there significant, somewhat interesting movement in the story. Coomer posed philosophical questions about life, death and families, while also incorporating decent symbolism, yet there are other better-constructed and far more interesting books that demonstrate and accomplish these attributes.

Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children

While at Barnes & Noble I found a quirky, little hardcover book with strange photographs interspersed into the narrative. The photographs, all black and white, provide for an eerie and creative element. The cover photo was the initial draw. How can a little girl, levitating in the forest in what appears to be 1940’s garb not be appealing? The book's jacket blurb was also intriguing. At first glance I thought it was an adult mystery, but upon deeper inspection, I learned this book is actually targeted towards young adults. Ransom Riggs is probably desperately hoping this will be the next Harry Potter or Hunger Games. Reading the first few pages I was ensnared. I had to purchase this book.

To my surprise and disappointment, the book was not a true mystery but instead transformed into fantasy, a genre I tend not to enjoy. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children features time-travel, nasty creatures and strange made up terms that I imagine attract fantasy fans. I am having a challenging time pinpointing the genre I had hoped this book would have represented. I suppose I wanted the magic realism found in a Sarah Addison Allen work or a book like Night Circus, which allows the reader to entertain and accept a fantastically strange yet realistic reality. Although this book did not fully absorb me I can see how it would for a different type of reader as well as adolescents. I am very curious to hear from my reading friends their thoughts on this book. Another issue to be aware of is that this is only book one. About fifty pages until the end I realized, there was no way the book could be wrapped up. Even though I was not overly impressed or engaged I will have to read the other works to discover what transpires for these characters. I hope Riggs wraps these books up in a sequel, trilogy at most. I suppose the success may dictate the number of books, unless Riggs has already formulated his plan.

What makes this book truly unique and worth the read is the use of photography. The photographs take the book to another level. It is interesting to experience how the artwork contributes to the storytelling and plot line. There have been mentions of creating a Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children movie. The photos are such a critical aspect of the experience of the book. I am not sure how a movie could be done. I guess I will have to wait and see.

Life of Pi - The Movie

The movie, Life of Pi was good, very entertaining, visually beautiful, but not as strong as the book. The book is funny. This is not apparent in the movie. The details described in the novel masterfully connect the storyline. Martel is thoughtful where as the screenplay glosses over major points, which would have contributed positively to the viewer’s experience of the movie. Unfortunately, the movie watcher may miss or not fully grasp some major aspects of the plot because it is not completely clear. I thought a boy in a boat with a tiger, lost at sea might get boring to read. Not so! The book captured me from beginning to end, while parts of the movie were flat, unnecessary and not well told.  

Life of Pi

I can admit it. I was skeptical. My friend/colleague raved about the movie. He insisted that I needed to see it, but I did not go. He knows I write this blog, thus for Christmas Life of Pi came courtesy of my friend via Amazon. Instead of embarking on my next Ann Patchett I dived into this adventurous, philosophical and theological read. I am glad I did, as I loved the book and am now jumping to see the movie. 
The storytelling is smart, rousing, original and grand. I had immense difficulty with the vivid gory parts in the lifeboat, but skimmed these paragraphs so that my mind would not be bogged by nasty, negative imagery. Putting this aside Yann Martel’s book has my highest praise.
I enjoyed Martel’s comparison of hotel management to zoo keeping. It is hysterically brilliant. I loved the good zoo enclosures/habitats, human house analogy. My heart was warmed when Pi declares his allegiance to three religions. I was tickled when Martel had the three religious figures fighting over Pi and his need to pick a singular religion. Pi was practicing all these religions with such dedication and true love. Insisting on making him choose illustrates the ridiculousness of these religious figures and (sorry if I offend) religion at times. I was struck how the book exceptionally illustrated how in awful situations we can lose our humanness and revert to animalistic measures while our psyche conveniently provides a protective shield.
Finally, I am thrilled that, I think, I grasped the religious undertones present. Usually these concepts are lost on me due to my lack of religion or religious upbringing. (I have had absolutely no religious education therefore I never understand Judeo-Christian references.) In Life of Pi one simply needs to understand three concepts to philosophize the author’s message. 1) Many people have deep faith in a God. 2) Many people believe there is no God. 3) Many people believe that it is impossible to know whether there is a God.

Pi provides two explanations for his horrendous ordeal. One story would indicate a believer in God while the other, an atheist. If one cannot choose which version of the tale is correct, then one would be an agnostic. What a very interesting and creative way to illustrate these three concepts. Martel began the book by stating that the tale will make a reader believe in God. I wish he had not taken this approach and left this part unsaid as the book would have been even more powerful.
If my analysis were correct, I would choose the story, which translates, to a God believer. The God believer story is exciting, amazing while far less disturbing and gruesome. That is why I choose this story, not because I believe or now believe in God. Life of Pi is not a story that makes you believe in God. Martel is succeeding in the complete opposite effect actually illustrating that people prefer to believe in religions or a God as it is better then the gritty, sad reality. He also shows how the mind through hallucination and great story telling, not God, protects the person to enable survival. Regardless of my small critiques this is an excellent read. Martel made me think as well as kept me entertained.
I am excited for my next book, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. I was suppose to read Taft but I am too intrigued by this other strange, little book filled with bizarre photos. I will let you know how it turns out. 


Run reads like a Jodi Picoult. I am not joking. It has Picoult undertones, although lacks the romantic piece consistent in all her books. I was immediately captured by Run. It is unique, intertwining destinies of the characters in a creative plot. I am also a sucker for lore, therefore was easily captivated. Fellow reviewers overwhelmingly did not like this book. I imagine people expect more of Ann Patchett then a story about complicated dynamics confronted by individuals and families. She does introduce meaty topics such as race, poverty, class, and social responsibility but not in any depth that readers may be accustomed to when embarking on a Patchett novel. Breezing through and genuinely enjoying Run when so many readers made negative comments makes me want to analyze my reading preferences especially in light that I did not engage (or complete) Patchett's Pen/Faulkner Award-winning novel Bel Canto. 


Andorra had excellent promise, especially with its compelling start and jacket cover description. I was immediately intrigued by the unlikable, but interestingly strange characters. I was excited to learn more of Mr. Dent's escape. I wanted to watch the unfolding of the Alex's relationship with Jean. I was hoping to discover more details of Nancy's seedy past and present. Yet, sadly these story lines were glossed over as the book continued. Then the end meandered, causing me to question what exactly I read. I dislike taking time with a book to feel as if I did not follow or comprehend its meaning. I feel as if I missed something crucial especially with the rave reviews from fans and praise from critics. Why the harbor murders? Why was Alex a suspect? Why did Cameron not develop this plot line further when it could have solidified some of the story? Why the confession? Why create interesting characters but only develop them superficially? Why recreate the geography of Andorra? (In reality Andorra is a landlocked country in the Pyrenees.) Why not choose a coastal, Mediterranean town in Italy for example? Why are the story and its characters so disconnected? If you are a reader who needs closure or to be provided more concrete answers, this book may not satisfy. Even with all of these critiques I would not discourage this book. It was oddly entertaining. Ultimately, more elaboration would have had me better satisfied, but maybe I need to take the perspective that the book is a bit like participating in someone else's dream. 

What’s next on the reading list?

In the office’s lending library one of my colleagues left Taft, which was written by Ann Patchett. I picked it up and put it in my reading pile. A week after bringing Taft home, another colleague personally delivered me Run. I guess these two Patchett books are calling out to me. I truly enjoyed The Patron Saint of Liars and State of Wonder, my first Patchett book. I tried Bel Canto. I read about hundred pages. It was so darn slow. I couldn’t get through it. I gave up, although it is still in my book pile. I’m not ready to part with it yet. Although I have a stack of books, I am drawn to explore these two Patchett reads. My next read will be Run. I am crossing my fingers that I like it. Feel free to make comments on your thoughts. Just please do not give anything away. 

Toby's Room

I read Toby’s Room in less than two days. It was a very quick, but strange story situated during WWI. I did not dislike it, but I did not particularly enjoy this book either.
Pat Barker poses and introduces endless questions and themes. She forces the reader to compare the views of homosexuality then and now. She focuses on how a woman artist looks at war versus her male counterpart. She illustrates the archaic belief that women were inferior to men and not able to manage the same challenges. She concentrates on loss, identity, responsibility and truth. Finally, Barker indicates that the enormity of war tortures all it’s victims including the periphery.
My biggest complaint and confusion is why incest plays a role in this story? Elinor could have been obsessed with Toby and then tormented by his unexplained death without Barker introducing an incestuous relationship. The incest incident sheds a horrendous light on the fact that Toby was gay. The issue of a gay military officer exposed which leads to his death during the 1900’s is the topic for discussion. Why Toby and Elinor engaged in a sexual relationship takes focus away from and tarnishes the fact that Toby was homosexual. I would love to hear other opinions on this aspect of the plot. Was the incest needed? Did it actually further the storyline in a way I am missing?