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review 2019-04-24 11:55
Ballad of a Broken Nose by Arne Svingen, translated by Kari Dickson
The Ballad of a Broken Nose - Arne Svingen,Kari Dickson

Bart is an eternal optimist. At thirteen years old, he’s had a hard life. But Bart knows that things won’t get any better if you have a negative attitude. His mother has pushed him into boxing lessons so that Bart can protect himself, but Bart already has defense mechanisms: he is relentlessly positive…and he loves opera. Listening to—and singing—opera is Bart’s greatest escape, but he’s too shy to share this with anyone. Then popular Ada befriends him and encourages him to perform at the school talent show. Ada can’t keep a secret to save her life, but Bart bonds with her anyway, and her openness helps him realize that his troubles are not burdens that he must bear alone. The Ballad of a Broken Nose is a sweet story about bravery, fear, bullying, sports, and music. But most of all it is about the important days of your life, days when everything seems to happen at once and nothing will ever be the same again.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

Thirteen year old Bart has had the kind of childhood that forces one to grow up quick. In addition to managing his school work, he also juggles boxing lessons, assisting the apartment building super, and taking care of his mother who is obese, a bit of a hoarder, only sporadically employed, and unsuccessfully hiding a growing drinking problem. Though her mothering leaves something to be desired --- Bart's often stuck eating crackers or other snack foods in place of balanced meals --- she is a kind soul who does honestly care for her son. She's just got some stuff she needs to work out in her head.

Bart's main passion in life is opera music. He dreams of one day being a famous opera singer himself, and secretly has the talent, but his stage fright is so bad the only place he can sing is in the bathroom with the door locked. He takes boxing lessons because he gets the impression that his mother would prefer to have a "tough guy" kind of son. She even named him after Bart Simpson because she said the cartoon boy seemed like someone who could easily take care of themselves in life. (Bart doesn't tell his mom he has pretty much zero natural talent at the sport).

Making an impulse decision one day, Bart decides to share his secret love of opera with friend Ada, in the strictest confidence, of course. Well, not surprisingly, the secret "mysteriously" gets out. Now Bart is simultaneously trying to fend off bullies and dodge requests to be in the upcoming school talent show! 

Poor kid is just emotionally exhausted all the time, but he's trying to make the best of the lemons life has handed him. Growing up in Norway, Bart's never known his American dad, only having stories to go by... so, with the help of a trusty search engine, he sets out to finally track him down. He also pushes his neighbors to work toward a building clean up. Sure, it's pretty squalid low income housing with people shooting up in the hallways and stairwells, but Bart convinces them that collectively their little community can do better! 

After Ada's initial blabbing of the opera secret, Bart sees that pursuing his dream may be his main ticket out of the depressing life situation he's currently stuck in. 

It all sounds a bit heavy for a middle-grade / YA read, I know... and at times it can have that undeniable feel of "well this just got real, didn't it!", but what keeps things on the light end is Bart's sweet soul and his sense of humor, the two combining to create an inspiring sense of optimism for readers! Bart's not unaware of his hardships, he just accepts them as reality and tries to roll with it all the best he can. Who can knock that message! Though I wasn't 100% content with the ending here, I did quite enjoy getting to know Bart and his social circle and I love that the story leaves you with this reminder to unashamedly love what you love and make the most of your life. 

 

 

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review 2017-09-15 03:19
THE DINNER by Herman Koch
The Dinner - Herman Koch,Sam Garrett

Paul and Claire meet his brother, Serge and his wife Babette, for dinner one evening to talk about their children.  Serge is running for Prime Minister and wants to do damage control.  The other three have other ideas.

 

The story is told in flashbacks of the relationships and events of Paul's life.  I liked Paul but I never warmed to most of the characters.  I have a lot of questions for them. 

 

This is probably a book I would never have picked up on my own had it not been for my book club.  There is a lot to discuss and think about in this book.  How do people make the choices they do?  Very thought provoking and timely.

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review 2017-06-12 05:11
Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Infidel - Ayaan Hirsi Ali

This is a fascinating memoir from an impressive author. Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born in Somalia; just a generation before, her family were nomadic herders. She spent her early years in Somalia before her father’s political involvement forced the family to flee; she and her siblings spent their teenage years in Kenya, where the author briefly joined the Muslim Brotherhood while her mother longed for the “pure” Islam of Saudi Arabia. Her family was troubled to say the least, though she doesn’t quite seem to blame either of her parents. As the region became even less stable in the early 90s, her father decided to save her by arranging her an unwanted marriage, at age 22, to a Somali man in Canada seeking a traditional Somali wife. But the author managed to escape and claim asylum in Holland, where she worked, educated herself and went to college for political science. Her intellectual awakening distanced her from Islam, and she eventually became a member of Parliament, promoting rights for Muslim women and a greater integration of immigrants into Dutch society. Proving her point, this outspokenness provoked a violent response.

As a piece of literature, this is quite good. The author writes well; it’s a compelling story and written with the sort of physical and emotional detail that promotes a high level of engagement from the reader. At times it’s downright dramatic. Although the author is political, it never reads like a public relations piece; she’s no angel here, and there are no clear villains. She does portray herself as a victim rather often, but this rarely seems related to any political agenda; her mother is sometimes abusive, but the council of elders convened to determine the legitimacy of her leaving her husband respects her decision. There are some tough scenes in this book – the author and her sister undergo female genital mutilation early on, for instance – but life goes on and people can’t simply suffer all the time; my concern that the book would read as a catalogue of atrocity turned out to be unfounded. The author has a strong viewpoint, yes, but people are complicated and this book shows that, rather than attempting to reduce all of life to a political agenda. You could read this as fiction and come away satisfied.

Nevertheless, the author is a political figure, accounting for much of the polarized reaction to this book; I think much of the negativity comes from information outside its pages, and a brief perusal of her Twitter feed explains why. At the time period covered in this book – when the author is a student and a young politician – she’s wrestling with big questions and fighting for reforms that could make life better for Muslim immigrants in Holland: for instance, by ending funding for religious schools, as Muslim schools tend to focus on memorization and obedience rather than real learning. And she’s frustrated by the way Dutch values of toleration can prevent a response to abuse among Muslim immigrants. She calls for reform in Islam, so that people can question its tenets without being subject to violence.

But the threats she receives (not to mention the brutal murder of a filmmaker with whom she makes a short piece questioning Islam’s demands for submission) and the reluctance of non-Muslims to believe how bad things can get seem to push her toward hatred of Islam as a whole. We see a little of that in the book: her efforts to convince the public of social problems among Muslim immigrants sometimes seem more geared toward proving that Islam is a problem than finding practical solutions. Her public statements now seem even more slanted in that direction (though she is working in the U.S. to increase penalties for FGM, for instance). I respect her strength and dedication, and generally agree with her critiques of the Muslim world. But promoting divisiveness is a terrible idea, and I’m concerned that may be the primary effect of her advocacy. This isn’t a criticism of the book, necessarily; if anything, it shows how honestly the author comes by her opinions.

In summary, then: this is an excellent story, well worth reading. It is not, for the most part, a political book, and I don’t judge it Islamophobic, defining Islamophobia as prejudice toward individual Muslims or a crusade against Islam while knowing little about it. It made me think, and that’s a strength in any book.

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review 2016-08-20 22:14
Good...But
The Light of Amsterdam - David Park

“She wondered if it was ever possible in the world to be anything other than on your own and whether that wasn’t the best way to be.”

 

This is a not altogether nice look at the inner lives of the three featured characters. There’s Alan, who cheated on his wife and now finds himself having to entertain his sixteen year old son during a weekend in Amsterdam. Karen is a single mother who’s sacrificed a lot to give her daughter everything she wanted only to be faced with what she considers the ultimate betrayal by that daughter. Marion is a middle aged woman with doubts about her husband’s loyalty who decides to take rather drastic (and I might add overly dramatic) action to deal with the situation. Because we see events through their eyes only, are living in their heads, and hearing only their thoughts, we are confronted with the inherent selfishness we’re probably all guilty off but prefer not to acknowledge. On more than one occasion I found myself thinking ‘you’re just not that nice’ only to realise that I might well have reacted in the same way and thought the same thoughts when faced with the situation that character found themselves in.

 

Reading this at times brutally honest book about the shortcomings all of us have in common made me realise that I do prefer it when stories portray people in a somewhat idolised fashion—the way we ought to behave and think rather than the way we all too often do. Something else that felt very realistic and yet threw me at times were the repetitions in what people thought, sometimes showing up as complete and literal reproductions of sentences that had been used before. While I completely agree that our thoughts often run in circles and are repetitive, it’s not something I can read without thinking ‘you could have phrased that differently this time’.

 

I’m feeling somewhat ambiguous about this book. On the one hand the issues the three main characters are struggling with aren’t earth-shattering—quite the opposite in fact. I mean the fast majority of teenagers are withdrawn and sulky, regardless of whether or not their parents are still together. Most children will want to meet and get to know the parent who abandoned them before they were born, given half a chance just as most relationships will become less sexually active over time. So part of me was constantly thinking ‘get over it already, neither you nor your situation is anything special’. On the other hand, it was the fact that David Parks managed to convincingly portray how those run of the mill concerns can mess with our heads and our lives that really impressed me. And I think he is spot on when he portrays the loneliness we can feel even while surrounded by thousands of others and spending time with those we’re supposed to be close to and comfortable with.

 

The fabulous and entirely accurate descriptions of Amsterdam in this book delighted me. The author has either been there or did a fabulous job researching the city because I always knew exactly where in Amsterdam his characters were. Even if I had hated the story (which I didn’t) that sense of being in the city where I was born and grew up was fantastic.

 

Overall this was a very well written book that managed to captivate me despite the fact that I kept on losing my patience with the characters.

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review 2016-07-25 18:47
Really not a guide
Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Discover The Best Places Where To Go, Eat, Sleep And Enjoy And Get The Best Out Of Amsterdam ! - World City Guides

I got this when it was offered for free on Amazon. If I had spent 2.99, which is the listed price, I would have been upset. The book is very, very general and not detailed very much. While on the plus side, it does mention some lesser known museums, it is baffling in the major museums that it leaves out. It isn't complete in terms of description or much else.

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