22 August 2009

25. Sacred Hearts

Side note: I was diagnosed with the Swine flu on July 15th and was sick as a dog, so to speak, for two weeks. Because I was so weak that I could barely get out of the bed, I read probably ten books. I am now in the process of getting the reviews done for all of these books. Having not taken vacation days or sick days in years, it was nice to read. However, I wish you all well as the flu season approaches. I would not wish those two weeks on my worst enemy!

Thank you to Random House Publishing for the opportunity to read and review Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant. I found myself completely caught up in the life of the 16th century Italian convent. In the beginning of the novel, the reader feels much like young Serafina, a noblewoman who was to become a novice against her will – confined with wildly individualistic women who were all the same, nuns with vows of obedience defining their every movement – at least on the outside. As the reader comes to know these women, each has her own personality and difficulties. Serafina longs for her lover and fights against the ebb and flow of the convent. Suora Zuana, the convent’s medicine creator and dispenser, is charged with calming and nurturing the young girl who is none too happy. The nun in charge of the nuns-in-training feels a sense of jealousy over Zuana and Serafina’s relationship, not to mention the closeness of Zuana to the Headmistress, who must ultimately answer to God and men for all of the convent’s triumphs and failures. I enjoyed this book immensely. The twists and turns of convent life were amazingly drawn by Dunant. She gave voice to women who did not always have a voice in their own time.

TITLE: Sacred Hearts
AUTHOR: Sarah Dunant
COPYRIGHT: July 14, 2009
PAGES: 400
TYPE: historical fiction
RECOMMEND: Fascinating and engrossing

20 August 2009

24. Oh!: A mystery of 'mono no aware'

Oh!: A mystery of 'mono no aware' by Todd Shimoda, and beautifully illustrated by Todd’s wife, is a phenomenal experience. The copy I received from the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program was the final production copy. When I held the package in my hands, I wondered why in the world the package was so heavy. Even its arrival created a mystery! I opened the package and held one of the most beautiful books I have ever had the pleasure of seeing – and I work in a library. The cover design is a delight and the pages inside are silky like a fine art book. The chapter dividers are textured to match the beautiful artwork which adds to the story. I could not wait to see how the internal story would hold up to the external package.
I was not disappointed in any way. Shimoda’s story follows Japanese American Zach Hara, a young man who leaves his mundane job and part-time girlfriend in the United States to travel to Japan, hoping to find any emotion within himself. Zack seeks his ancestral past and in the process begins to teach English in a town close to the Aokigahara Forest, which my husband immediately recognized as the place where many people have gone to commit group suicide. Zach’s world becomes wrapped up in one of his students – an elderly gentleman who attempts to help Zach find emotive feelings by focusing on the theory of mono no aware - which might be loosely translated as the sadness of beautiful things. Turning page after beautiful page, the reader is treated to poetry written by Zach, again enhancing the story. Zach becomes immersed in the mystery of his grandfather’s life, the mystery of the disappearance of a young girl, and the mystery of why people commit suicide in groups. Ultimately I think he feels deeply. The writing is exquisite and the last page is as much a joy as the first. I could not put this book down and when I was done I was certain that I understood 'mono no aware'.

The author discusses the evolution of the book on his blog. He also shares how the artwork for the book was chosen. My favorite quote I have seen about this book is from NPR: Oh! was selected for National Public Radio's summer reading list. NPR reviewer Lucia Silva called it "a triumphant kick in the pants for anyone who doubts the future of paper-and-ink books." I could not agree more – this was a phenomenal experience and at the end all I could say was OH! And three weeks later, I am still thinking about it and can’t wait until my friend finishes it and we can talk about it and find our own emotions play all over the pages. Exceptional read!

TITLE: Oh!: A mystery of 'mono no aware'
AUTHOR: Todd Shimoda (beautifully illustrated by Linda Shimoda)
COPYRIGHT: June 1, 2009
PAGES: 310
TYPE: fiction, self-discovery of emotion within
RECOMMEND: Another even more stunningly beautiful book that I cannot forget.