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#27 And The Mountains Echoed – Khaled Hosseini

3 Jan
atmeAnd The Mountains Echoed - Khaled Hosseini

And The Mountains Echoed – Khaled Hosseini

Goodreads rating: 4.02/5 (68K+ ratings)

My rating: 7.5/10

First published: 21st May 2013

Genre: Historical Fiction, Drama

The third book by Khaled Hosseini (author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns), And The Mountains Echoed doesn’t disappoint. I had pretty high expectations as A Thousand Splendid Suns (ATSS) is one of my all time favourites, and although I found And The Mountains Echoed less full on than ATSS, it was still very enjoyable. 

Each chapter is almost written like a short story in itself. The overarching story starts with a boy, Abdullah, and his younger, beloved sister Pari who is sold to a rich family in Kabul without him. Each chapter follows the lives of a different character revolved around both of these children including Pari’s adoptive parents, her step uncle, the family next door who move to America, the Greek Doctor who moves into her childhood home during the war in Afghanistan, and a young, rich, oblivious boy. 

I’ve found other books written in a similar format, such as A Tale of Two Citiesreally hard to follow, but Hosseini has a great ability to fill you in on the background of each character, and help you get to know them in just a few pages. He also ties in each story to the overall theme really well and in an engaging way. Another thing I love not only about this book but Hosseini’s other novels, is his description of Afghanistan. In this story he describes pre-war Afghanistan and it sounds like a beautiful country – it’s a way i’ve never heard Afghanistan described as before, and just for that it’s worth reading.

This story is heartbreaking and touching, and totally worth the read. It’s a pretty quick and easy read, the language is really simple, but I definitely recommend it.

Notable quotes

A story is like a moving train: no matter where you hop onboard, you are bound to reach your destination sooner or later.

All my life, she gave to me a shovel and said, Fill these holes inside of me.

Beauty is an enormous, unmerited gift given randomly, stupidly.

Creating means vandalizing the lives of other people, turning them into unwilling and unwitting participants. You steal their desires, their dreams, pocket their flaws, their suffering. You take what does not belong to you. You do this knowingly.

If an avalanche buries you and you’re lying there underneath all that snow, you can’t tell which way is up or down. You want to dig yourself out but pick the wrong way, and you dig yourself to your own demise.

If culture is a house, then language was the key to the front door; to all the rooms inside. Without it, you ended up wayward, without a proper home or a legitimate identity.

It’s a funny thing, but people mostly have it backward. They think they live by what they want. But really, what guides them is what they’re afraid of. What they don’t want.

If you’ve read this, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts or reading your reviews so please share any links!

-H-

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#16 Lone Wolf – Jodi Picoult

17 Feb
Lone Wolf - Jodi Picoult

Lone Wolf – Jodi Picoult

Goodreads rating: 3.61/5 (22,100+ ratings)

My rating: 6/10

Why it’s on the list: I have read all Jodi Picoult’s books except for her latest, and Songs of the Humpback Whale. I went through a phase of reading all her books so of course I have to finish all of them!

First Published: February 28th, 2012 by Atria Books

Genre: Drama, Modern Fiction

For avid Picoult readers, the plot will probably be predictable, however a quick rundown – Estranged son Edward Warren has lived in Thailand for 6 years, when he finds out his dad and sister have been injured in a terrible accident back in the US. When he returns home and finds out his father is in a coma which he’s unlikely to recover from, Edward and his sister Cara, who holds a grudge against him, have to decide what is best for their father – whether to keep him hooked up to life support with the likelihood of being brain-dead, or to end the life support.

To add to this, Edward & Cara’s father, Luke, is a famous animal conservationist who became famous after living with a pack of wolves in the wild, and he now runs a wolf conserve.

This story was pretty weak, and I didn’t like the ending. Unlike many of her books, the underlying story was pretty boring, I didn’t really like any of the characters, and there are secrets to be revealed in the book but aren’t really built up to make you want to know what they are.

The only element that saved this book was the information about the wolves. Like most Picoult books, the themes are heavily researched, which is one thing I love about her books. Picoult describes the habits and characteristics of wolves really well, although I feel like she made them out to be much tamer and placid than they probably are in real life!

The chapters that were from Luke’s point of view about living with wolves in the wild were my favourite, I found them interesting and well thought out, as well as really well described – particularly the facts about how a pack works and the different rankings of wolves in a pack.

From reading this article on sheknows.com, Jodi Picoult wants readers to feel three things after reading this novel – Moved, Emotional, Smarter – and I did feel all three after finishing it, so I guess I got what she wanted the reader to get out of it. I mainly felt moved and emotional when thinking of being in the position of the children and having to make life and death decisions about my parents. And of course, as I mentioned, I felt smarter after reading all the wolf facts!

I think it’s worth reading if you’re a Picoult fan, but if not, you should definitely stick to some of her better books such as The Pact or My Sisters Keeper.

Bits & pieces

  • Debuted as Number One New York Times bestseller.
  • Picoult spent time with a man who actually did live with wolves in the wild, Shaun Ellis, for a year. She also met some wolves he had in captivity.
  • Picoult also learnt how to howl like a wolf.
  • When describing Lone Wolf in 140 characters or less, Picoult says – ‘When is it right to end a life? And why is a family like a pack of wolves?’

Sources: Caroline Leavitville blog; Jodi Picoult website; sheknows.com

Quotes

“Like a missing tooth, sometimes an absence is more noticeable than a presence.”

“Me, I was already jaded and tarnished, skeptical that a fantasy world could keep reality at bay.”

“The scariest thing in the world is thinking someone you love is going to die.”

“I used to believe everything my brother told me, because he was older and I figured he knew more about the world. But as it turns out, being a grown-up doesn’t mean you’re fearless. It just means you fear different things.”

-H-

#11 The Opal Desert – Di Morrissey

20 Jan
The Opal Desert - Di Morrissey

The Opal Desert – Di Morrissey

Goodreads rating: 3.58 (71 ratings)

My rating: 6/10

Why it’s on the list: I actually won this book from sending off a ‘Woman’s Day’ puzzle book entry. i won about 4 books I believe.

First published: November 1st, 2011 by Pan MacMillan Australia

Genre: Modern Fiction, Australiana, Drama

The Opal Desert is a fictional book surrounding 3 Australian women, in very different stages of life and areas of Australia. The book is separated into 3 sections, one for each women. It begins with Karen, a woman in her mid-40s whose famous sculptor husband dies suddenly, and who’s mother passes soon after. With older step children, and no children of her own, she is now lost as she spent most of her adult life devoted to her husbands work and reputation. A former art student, she decides to get away to the quiet outback of Australia and ends up at the mining community Opal Lake, where she meets the woman who is the focus of the second part of the book.

Shirley is almost 80, and lives a reclusive life in her childhood holiday home in the hills of Opal Lake. After being betrayed by her partner long ago, she has never found the motivation to leave her home. She inspires Karen to start painting again, and with Karen losing her mother, they develop a special bond.

The third woman is Anna, a professional runner from Adelaide who comes to Opal Lake to do some bar work while she figures out what she wants to do with her life. To be honest that is all you really get to know about her, because whilst there is a whole chapter meant to be about her, it ends up being more about Shirley and Karen. Anna seems to be a pretty obsolete character in this book, apart from the fact that she ends up revealing some personality traits of some other characters that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

When I opened this book, I was really apprehensive about reading it. The first paragraph is:

The desert. Red soil, white domed mullock heaps, a landscape scarred by acne eruptions of excavations, the excreta of miners’ enthusiasm and despair. Among the green smudged hillocks, dwellings were burrowed into the hillside. Other barely discernible buildings looked temporary. What was permanent was hidden below.

This made me cringe. It sounded like a book I would have been forced to read in high school, and it totally put me off. I’m glad I persevered though because the rest of the story is nice. It’s interesting, and relatable. However it’s no masterpiece. I enjoyed it because I’m from Australia and I liked reading about the landscape and the places, and when they were talking about Sydney (where I live) it was cool to be able to know the places they were talking about. But to be blunt, I wouldn’t have picked this book had I not won it, and I wouldn’t recommend people from other countries to read it.

I liked the characters and the setting, the story was easy to read, there was a little bit of mystery and wonder about what was going to happen, but nothing extraordinary.

-H-

#7 The Bronze Horseman – Paullina Simons

17 Dec
The Bronze Horseman - Front Cover

The Bronze Horseman – Front Cover

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find my copy of this book, so have taken this image from Google Books. This is the same edition of the book that I read.

Goodreads rating: 4.39 (11,100+ ratings)

My rating: 7/10

Why it’s on the list: Earlier this year, I went into Dymocks on the corner of Hunter & Pitt Street in the CBD and they had their top 50 books (or something like that), and you could buy 3 for the price of 2. I ended up buying this, Freedom, and something else I can’t remember.

First published: April 2nd, 2001 by HarperCollins

Genre: Romance, Drama, Historical Fiction

Set during WWII, originally in Leningrad, Russia, is a story of love and loss in a time of war. The Bronze Horseman starts on 22nd June 1942, the day that Russia enters the war, and main character Tatiana Metanova meets the mysterious Red Army officer Alexander Belov. Just shy of 17, Tatiana is naive and innocent when it comes to love, dating and sex. Unlike her older sister, Dasha, who ends up dating Alexander.

The war in Russia continues, and many people close to Tatiana die due to starvation or injuries. The main challenges she faces are, obviously, war and hunger, but also the struggle of suppressing her feelings for Alexander, and eventually the obstacles that keep them apart.

loved this book, and found it hard to put down. The first half, about Tatiana’s life in Leningrad, was long but so interesting to me. I love anything set in the world wars (particularly Europe in WWII), and the suffering her family endured was terrible. Later in the book, Tatiana and Alexander are finally having a life together, and this part dragged on for me. Basically there was a whole few hundred pages of Wake up. Have sex. Eat. Have sex. Swim. Have sex. Eat. Have sex. Tatiana do household duties. Have sex. which can get a bit tedious.

However once they are then separated again, you realise how much you miss their boring days of sex, eating and sleeping, and how badly you wish they could go back to that time in their lives. There are lots of hurdles, changes and issues that arise for Tatiana and Alexander, and the ending of this book is sad. However, there are 2 more books in the series, which are on my List.

A great thing about the edition I read, was that it had 2 maps in the cover. One of Russia and surrounding countries, with all the cities that are mentioned/visited in the book. And one of Leningrad, so you could see where Tatiana’s family lived, where she worked, and could track what was happening during the war. I’m a big fan of maps in books that have a lot to do with the geography of a place, so I definitely found this useful.

I highly recommend this book. You really get drawn in, and I personally really loved Tatiana’s character. Not so much Alexander’s, because I personally think he’s a bit of a pig, but she is lovely.

-H-

#3 Freedom – Jonathan Franzen

26 Nov
Freedom - Jonathan Franzen

Freedom Front Cover

Goodreads rating: 3.63 (62,900+ ratings)

My rating: 5/10

Why it’s on the list: I bought it as it was on Dymocks‘ top ‘something’ list, and I could get 3 books for 2. Plus it sounded like something I’d be interested in.

First published: August 31st, 2010 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Genre: Family Drama

I read this book whilst holidaying in Mexico & Hawaii, and it was quite a depressing story. I hated every. single. character. I found them all selfish, uncaring, dishonest and depressing. However, after reading up on this book more, I believe that was Franzen’s intention. Freedom has a sombre mood throughout, and just when you think something good is going to happen, or a character is finally happy – something happens to change that. Which is frustrating, because as a person you expect ‘happily ever after’.

Set over a 20 or so year period in different states of the US, Freedom is about a typical, middle-class, American family – The Berglund’s – made up of Walter, Patty, Jessica & Joey. It centers around this family, with the comings and goings of rock star Richard Katz (Walter’s friend), Lalitha (Walter’s work colleague) and Connie (Joey’s girlfriend).

The first third is told from different perspectives of different characters. The middle portion of the book is in the form of an Autobiography written by Patty, at the suggestion of her therapist. In the last third, we go back to being written in different perspectives, but it jumps ahead, past the time that Patty’s autobiography is written. Freedom jumps around in time which can become confusing if you’re not paying attention to the story. Personally, I enjoyed Patty’s autobiography section, as you learn a lot about her childhood, and why she’s ended up the way she has. I felt really sorry for her through parts of it, but in the end found myself blaming her for her problems. Although her depression is sad, and in some ways I can empathise with her there.

Freedom is depressing and sad, and is a perfect example of what I’d never like my life to be like. At the end of it, I found myself pretty disappointed with the ending and where it went. Despite all my negative comments, I still think it’s worth reading this book, for the mere fact that it’s an interesting look into what some people’s lives are like. I tend to agree with the review below.

Past reviews

“Despite the brilliance, or maybe even because of it, I found the novel quite unappealing, maybe because every line, every insight, seems covered with a light film of disdain. Franzen seems never to have met a normal, decent, struggling human being whom he didn’t want to make us feel ever so slightly superior to. His book just has too much brightness and not enough color.”  – Alan Cheuse, National Public Radio

Notable quotes

“Nice people don’t necessarily fall in love with nice people.”

“You may be poor, but the one thing nobody can take away from you is the freedom to fuck up your life whatever way you want to.”

“This isn’t funny, Joey. She’s very depressed. You’ve given her a depression and you need to stop messing around. Do you understand?”

-H-

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