Tag Archives: education

The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt

DATE FINISHED: June 21st, 2012 

RATED: *****

SYNOPSIS:  Ludo is a child prodigy with a voracious thirst for knowledge; his mother, Sybilla (equally gifted), is trying to earn enough money for them to get by through mind-numbing, soul-destroying work, whilst finding the energy and inspiration to feed both of their appetites for language and literature. Sybilla tries to fill the father-shaped gap in Ludo’s life with a video of the Japanese classic, The Seven Samurai. But Ludo just wants a father, and as soon as he is old enough, determines to find one.

THOUGHTS:  At first told from Sybilla’s perspective, a torrent of thoughts and ideas are unleashed resulting in a slightly fragmented narrative mirroring the distracted concentration one imagines the harried mother of a (maddeningly voracious) child might experience. Sometimes sentences are left hanging mid-flow Read more of this post

On Loving Josiah by Olivia Fane

DATE FINISHED: June 18th, 2012 

RATED: ****

SYNOPSIS:  Eve is a charming, untameable, sexually liberated wild child, with sociopathic tendencies and a psychiatrist who has utterly fallen for her charms. But Eve bears a child to an earthy, grounded gardener, who takes on the responsibility of tending to the young Josiah along with his plants, while Eve continues to float about happily, perhaps manically, upsetting their care workers. Plucked from their care at the age of 7, Josiah is tumbled from foster home to foster home to residential care home, until at the age of 14 he meets classical scholar Thomas and a world of love he has not known opens up to him. This is the story of a boy who has fallen through too many gaps in ‘the system’.

THOUGHTS:  Eve is a wonderfully drawn, extraordinarily vivid and spirited character – perhaps on the cusp of insanity, but perhaps just ‘different’. Thomas’ introspection and academia are equally well realised, although the nature of his love for Josiah makes reading from his perspective a more uncomfortable experience. Read more of this post

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

DATE FINISHED: September 11th, 2011

RATED: ***

SYNOPSIS:  Kimberley Chang and her mother have high hopes for their new life in America, despite barely speaking a word of English between them.  However, it soon becomes clear that the aunt who paid for their passage has no qualms about leaving them to live in a slum rental property without heating, and having them work long factory hours for pitiful remuneration.  Will they still find a way to live the American Dream?

THOUGHTS:  The narrative is quiet and understated; an easy read.  But Kimberley and her mother face their challenges so stoically, it is hard to see them as challenges.   Read more of this post

Ceremony of Innocence by James D. Forman

DATE FINISHED: August 31st, 2011

RATED: **

SYNOPSIS:  Hans and Sophie are arrested by the Gestapo after disseminating leaflets they have written denouncing Hitler and Nazi Germany.  Will Hans recant and confess to wrongdoing, or are he and his sister destined to become martyrs for their cause?  Based on a true story.

THOUGHTS:  Perhaps because it is based on the lives of existing historical figures, the characters in this short (young adult?) novel never actually feel very fleshed out or easy to relate to.   Read more of this post

No and Me by Delphine de Vigan

DATE FINISHED: August 19th, 2011

RATED: ***

SYNOPSIS:  A schoolgirl with a high IQ and a mother in deep depression, befriends a homeless girl for a school project, but soon finds she is out of her depth.

THOUGHTS:  I think if I had read this book as a teenager I would have loved it.   Read more of this post

Florence & Giles by John Harding

DATE FINISHED: April 30th, 2011

RATED: *** (3.5)

SYNOPSIS:  In a gothic mansion, Florence and her younger brother Giles are in the ‘care’ of their absentee uncle. The uncle has forbidden his niece from learning to read (and education of any kind), but she has secretly defied him and spends every available moment devouring the contents of the library. When Giles is returned home from boarding school, a governess enters Blithe House – soon to be followed by a second governess, after the first suffers a tragic accident. Florence is convinced that Blithe is now haunted, and that Miss Taylor harbours the spirit of her predecessor.  Florence is also determined to foil Miss Taylor’s plans to steal her brother away…

THOUGHTS:   Read more of this post

Duchess of Nothing by Heather McGowan

DATE FINISHED: March 27th, 2011

RATED: *****

SYNOPSIS: Abandoned by her lover in Rome, a woman finds herself taking care of the young brother who has also been left behind, and trying to balance the need for bread against the desire for new hats.  Told in stream-of-consciousness style, this story is not as straightforward as it might seem.

THOUGHTS: Read more of this post

Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones

DATE FINISHED: March 26th, 2011

RATED: **

SYNOPSIS: The only white man on the island of Bougainville becomes teacher to the local children while a civil war impacts on the lives around them.  Mr. Watts introduces the children to Mister Dickens through the adventures of Pip in Great Expectations, but as the narrator, 13 year old Matilda, comes to consider Pip a personal friend, she inadvertently draws unwanted and dangerous attention to their little village.

THOUGHTS: Read more of this post