Mini Reviews of the Fictional Variety

by Kim on June 22, 2011 · 24 comments

As I sat down to start writing my review for today, I realized I have a bunch of books in the queue that I just don’t have a lot to say about. They all happen to be fiction, which is probably because I’m out of practice writing fiction reviews. I also didn’t take take any notes on these books, which made writing long reviews impossible.

I kept all of these to two paragraphs (super short for me!), so if you have more specific questions about any of the books, leave them in the comments and I’ll answer them as soon as I can.

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

the housekeeper and the professorIn The Housekeeper and the Professor a young woman accepts a job working as a housekeeper for a brilliant math professor with a difficult problem — he only has 80 minutes of short-term memory (like a tape that rewinds every 80 minutes, his sister-in-law explains), meaning the two re-meet each other every morning when the Housekeeper arrives. After a time, the housekeeper brings her son, whom the Professor nicknames “Root,” to the Professor’s home each day, forming a small family. Although he cannot remember the present, the Professor’s mind is still full of numbers, and it’s through his love of elegant equations that the three really connect with each other.

I checked out this book from the library as part of my “palate cleansing” after Twitter recommendations from Rebecca, Amanda, and Sue. At a slim 180 pages, I was able to start and finish in the book in a single car ride. It was the perfect book to immerse myself into for a time, with a unique challenge for the characters, beautiful writing, and a story that emphasized themes of family and finding connections (mathematical or personal) between unlikely pieces. I really liked this one (despite all the math, which I’m normally not a fan of), and would recommend it.

Rating: ★★★★☆

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

the imperfectionistsThe Imperfectionists takes place at an English-language newspaper in Rome, which has been a source of international news for expats for 50 years. The book is a series of connected short stories about the tumultuous personal and professional lives of the journalists, editors, and publishers of the paper set against the monumental shifts from print to online in the newspaper industry.

I read this one for my book club and absolutely loved it. Of course I was predisposed — I have a thing for books by or about journalists, after all — but the book does a lot more than that. Each of the stories has both humor and sadness in it. As one person in my book club noted, each story has the best and the worst of what people can be in it, which makes the entire book move up and down very quickly. Many stories were funny, others cringe-inducing, and others quite sweet… I didn’t want to put it down.

Rating: ★★★★☆

The Center of Everything by Laura Moriarty

the center of everythingThe Center of Everything is set, literally, at the center of everything — Kansas, which Evelyn Bucknow, the protagonist, has always seen as the very center of maps of the world. The book starts when Evelyn is a 4th grader living with her single and irresponsible mother. The book follows her from impressionable elementary school student through her high school graduation, exploring her beliefs, making friends, and watching them make tragic mistakes while she tries to make it out of her small town and on to college.

This is a book that I read while I was at the gym, so you know it had a few things going for it — clean, uncomplicated writing; an engaging main character; and a narrative that moved forward simply and without too much fuss. Those aren’t bad things at all; in fact, they were most of the things I enjoyed about the book. Evelyn is a fantastic main character — smart for her age (but not too smart), and I loved reading about her as she tried different identities in the process of growing up. She did exactly the sort of questioning, exploring, and forgiving you want to see people in real life do. This book worked perfectly for me as a gym read, so thanks to Melissa for mentioning it.

Rating: ★★★½☆

Scenes from an Impending Marriage by Adrian Tomine

scenes from an impending marriageScenes from an Impending Marriage is a slim, 56-page comic book is a collection of short strips showing the silly and serious process of getting married. I can’t remember why I checked this one out from the library, but since it was so short I read it in a really short time. I loved the sense of humor Tomine and his now-wife showed through the process of preparing for their wedding — accepting and teasing about the absurd but coming together when it was important. Tomine originally drew the book as a wedding favor for their guests, and I think it would make a sweet shower gift for anyone going through this process.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Amy June 22, 2011 at 7:34 am

Hmmm I didn’t know The Housekeeper and the Professor included math, I like math :)

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Kim June 24, 2011 at 5:47 am

I didn’t realize it had math when I checked it out, just as I started reading. I used to love math, but then I took calculus and my love for it dwindled a bit :)

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Rebecca Reid June 22, 2011 at 12:41 pm

I’m glad you enjoyed HOUSEKEEPER AND THE PROFESSOR. I think it’s a sweet one.

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Kim June 24, 2011 at 5:48 am

It was really sweet, without being too silly. The drama in it was just enough that I was really engaged with the story.

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Marie June 22, 2011 at 4:00 pm

Nice reviews. I adored “The Housekeeper and the Professor”. I’m not a math person, but I really enjoyed that part. I’ll keep my eye out for the others.

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Kim June 24, 2011 at 5:48 am

I like the way the author made math into something elegant and beautiful, not utilitarian like I often think of it. I liked the new perspective.

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Christy (A Good Stopping Point) June 22, 2011 at 6:16 pm

Glad to see you enjoyed Moriarty’s The Center of Everything. I read it years ago and was quite impressed.

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Kim June 24, 2011 at 5:49 am

I liked that book even more than I was initially expecting too. Evelyn is such a superb narrator, it’s hard not to get absorbed in her story.

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christa @ mental foodie June 22, 2011 at 7:24 pm

I quite enjoyed The Housekeeper and the Professor. Not my usual genre but glad I gave it a try. My review: http://mentalfoodie.blogspot.com/2010/06/book-review-housekeeper-and-professor.html

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Kim June 24, 2011 at 5:49 am

It’s not my usual genre either, but for reading in the car — and cleansing from nonfiction — it was perfect.

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Jennifer June 22, 2011 at 8:06 pm

Great mini reviews with some books that sounds really great. The Imperfectionists has been on my radar for a while so I’m definitely glad to hear that you enjoyed that one. The Housekeeper and the Professor sounds really interesting too. I feel like it would be perfect for my sister who is a total math nerd. And The Center of Everything sounds like a perfect gym book which I am in need of since i have started working out again.

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Kim June 24, 2011 at 5:50 am

I loved The Imperfectionists! It was just really amazing — lots of ups and downs with the characters, some that you love and some that you just hate.

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softdrink June 22, 2011 at 9:13 pm

I’m glad you liked The Imperfectionists. Didn’t you say you were interested in it because of the journalism connection? I still think of the story featuring the financial officer (I can’t think of the mean name that they called her, though)…I think that one shocked me the most.

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Kim June 24, 2011 at 5:51 am

Yup, loved the journalism :) And yes, the financial officer story (Abby, I think) was just amazing. I mean, I did NOT see the end coming — it was so sweet up until then.

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Jean Lewis June 23, 2011 at 6:09 am

Love the mini reviews! I totally understand having more books to write about than stuff to actually say about them. Thanks for this.

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Kim June 24, 2011 at 5:51 am

I want to at least mention the books I’ve been reading, since I did enjoy all of them, I just didn’t know what to say! Mini reviews it is :)

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Dawn - She Is Too Fond of Books June 24, 2011 at 7:46 pm

ha! That SCENES FROM AN IMPENDING MARRIAGE does look like a great shower/engagement token gift. My sister-in-law just got engaged; I’ll have to look for this.

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Kim June 26, 2011 at 8:27 pm

I get anyone going through all the wedding planning whatnot would find the book pretty funny, or at least pretty recognizable.

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Aths June 26, 2011 at 9:57 am

Those are some great books! I just bought The Imperfectionists the other day and cannot wait to start it. I also want to read Tomine’s graphic books – I’ve been hearing about them for a while. My library doesn’t have any of his books though, so I’m going to have to find them somehow. The Housekeeper and the Professor is another book I’ve been hearing so much about.

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Kim June 26, 2011 at 8:28 pm

I really enjoyed The Imperfectionists — it has so many ups and downs and emotional moments… just really fun to read.

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