Review of The Marriage Bureau for Rich People, by Farahad Zama

marriage_bureauThe Marriage Bureau for Rich People

by Farahad Zama

Amy Einhorn Books (Putnam’s), 2009. 293 pages.
Starred Review
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2010: #7 Fiction

The Marriage Bureau for Rich People is one I will be recommending to many, many library patrons as a pleasant, light-hearted read that will lift your spirits. It also gives you a taste of life in India.

Mr. Ali needs something to do after retirement. His wife tells him,

“After retiring, you’ve been like an unemployed barber who shaves his cat for want of anything better to do. Let’s hope that from today you will be a bit busier and I get some peace.”

Mr. Ali has decided to open a Marriage Bureau for Rich People. And in fact, he gets so much business he can’t handle it all himself. He deals with Muslims, Hindus, and Christians, and people of different castes. Sometimes parents, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles seek his services for their relatives, and sometimes the prospective matches come themselves. He learns much about human nature and has many insights on what leads to happiness.

Mrs. Ali finds her husband an assistant, Aruna, to help with the work load. Aruna has her own sad story, since her father’s recent illness strapped the family finances and destroyed her marriage prospects.

The book tells stories of some of the people they successfully match up, and some with whom they are not so lucky. Through it all, we hear about the Alis’ conflicts with their own son, who is involved in political protests, as well as Aruna’s difficulties. Fortunately, events take a happy turn.

This book introduces you to delightful people, tells interesting stories about them, and gives you a taste of India. Thinking about it still makes me smile. In some ways, this reminded me of The Number One Detective Agency, by Alexander McCall Smith — the same pleasant tone, and the same basic idea: friendly main characters interacting with a wide variety of people, with insights on human nature given along the way. Both give a taste of the country where they are set, with The Marriage Bureau for Rich People in India, instead of Botswana.

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Review of Summer on Blossom Street, by Debbie Macomber

summer_on_blossom_streetSummer on Blossom Street

by Debbie Macomber

Mira, 2009. 361 pages.
Starred Review

Debbie Macomber’s Blossom Street books are like a refreshing break with friends. The books revolve around Lydia Goetz’s yarn shop in Seattle, A Good Yarn. As in the other books, in Summer on Blossom Street, we hear the stories of a small group of people who have come together for a knitting class — and then find their lives knitting together.

In this fifth book of the series, Lydia is starting a class called “Knit to Quit.” Alix, a friend who’s been with us since the first book, and now a newlywed, is trying to, once again, quit smoking. A new customer signs up — to help herself quit loving her ex-fiance, who was arrested, for the second time, for solicitation. He still wants her back, and is very persuasive. What’s more, her own mother is trying to get her to forgive him and take him back. Also in the class, to make things more interesting, a man signs up, told by his doctor to do activities to lower his blood pressure.

Meanwhile further threads and storylines follow Lydia, who would like to adopt, and Anne Marie Roche, bookstore owner, who recently has adopted. The alternating chapters, telling different people’s storylines, keep you interested. I admit, I found myself most interested in Phoebe’s story, and I got a tiny bit impatient when there were too many other chapters breaking that part up. But mostly all the stories were intriguing enough to hook me.

These books are wholesome, uplifting, and encouraging, with enough problems hitting the characters that we don’t just think they’ve got it too easy — but definitely still stories that end up happy. I have decided I want to go back and read the installment I missed, Twenty Wishes, which is the fourth book. I read the third book, Back on Blossom Street, at a time when I wasn’t getting many books reviewed. You can get away with reading these books out of order, but it’s more fun to read along with the series and watch some of our old friends return, still growing and enjoying life.

Another nice thing about the Blossom Street books is that they each include a knitting pattern, the one the characters knit in the class. I haven’t tried any of them out yet, but it adds to the feeling that reading these books is like being in a knitting circle with friends.

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Review of The Breakup Bible, by Melissa Kantor

The Breakup Bible
by Melissa Kantor

Hyperion Paperbacks, New York, 2007. 265 pages.

High school Junior Jennifer Lewis’s almost-too-good-to-be-true boyfriend suddenly decided to “just be friends.” She is not handling it well.

When her well-meaning grandma gives her a book of advice called The Breakup Bible, Jennifer is ready to throw it in the trash. She continues on, obsessed with Max, analyzing his every word to her, wondering if he’s thinking about getting back together.

Then she finds out the identity of the real reason he broke up with her, and her devastation is complete.

This time, Nana comes over and reads the book aloud:

“‘”So he’s with someone else,”‘ she read. ‘”Yeah, it hurts. Yeah, you miss him. But you know what? You’re not going to miss him for long. Because if you follow my simple steps, you can go from heartache to happiness before you can say, I’m over you!“‘

“Nana was looking up at me, a triumphant expression on her face. ‘See?’ she said. ‘You’re not the only one.’

“‘Nana, you don’t understand,’ I said. ‘That book –‘ I pointed at it. ‘Books like that don’t help.’ Had Nana not observed the obese hordes with their terrible hair and bad jeans crowding the self-help aisles at Barnes & Noble, reading books like Who Moved My Destiny? and You’re Not Weird, You’re Special!

“‘Just how do you know that, Miss Smartypants?’ She pointed at me. ‘You won’t even give it a chance.’ Then her features softened, and she smiled. ‘Give it a chance, darling. For me, for Nana.'”

Jennifer does give it a chance, for her grandma’s sake. It doesn’t, perhaps, go quite like the book’s author intended, but Jennifer does, little by little, make progress in getting over Max.

I’m a little embarrassed by how comforted I was by reading about a teenager getting over a breakup and how oddly similar the principles of recovery are for someone getting over a midlife divorce.

In both cases, it’s helpful to remind yourself that there are some good things about not having him in your life, and to focus on interests you can get excited about for YOU.

It’s also highly therapeutic to read about someone else handling it badly! It’s easy to see in Jennifer’s case where her faithful love is misplaced, but anyone who’s ever been there will feel plenty of compassion. And I never noticed before just how funny a breakup can be.

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Review of Tea Time for the Traditionally Built, by Alexander McCall Smith

Tea Time for the Traditionally Built
by Alexander McCall Smith

Pantheon Books, New York, 2009. 212 pages.
Starred Review

This is now the tenth book in the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. I love Alexander McCall Smith’s titles. Reading these books make me feel that I’ve been, as another title suggests, In the Company of Cheerful Ladies.

You can probably read these books happily without having read the books before, but why would you want to? In the latest installment, we finally learn the name of the younger apprentice, and Mma Ramotswe must come to terms (or not) with the demise of the tiny white van. The nefarious Violet Sephotho has designs on Mma Makutsi’s oblivious fiance. And the main case they deal with has them figuring out why a popular soccer team is losing. You would think that would be out of Mma Ramotswe’s element, but as usual she is good at getting to the heart of the matter.

As with the others, I love these books for their pleasant and wise observations on life, and the feeling that the characters are becoming my kind and insightful friends. Truly a delightful book.

“It was the same with life in general, thought Mma Ramotswe. If we worried away at troublesome issues, we often only ended up making things worse. It was far better to let things sort themselves out.”

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Review of You Can Never Find a Rickshaw When It Monsoons, by Mo Willems


You Can Never Find a Rickshaw When It Monsoons

The World on One Cartoon a Day

by Mo Willems

with a foreword by Dave Barry

Hyperion Paperbacks, New York, 2006.  396 pages.

Back in 1990, when the brilliant cartoonist Mo Willems was young and fresh out of college and not ready to leap into the grown-up world of work, he was fortunate enough to take a trip around the world.

We are fortunate that he recorded his experiences in the form of one cartoon drawn each day of his journey.

He wrote a caption and date for each cartoon, and the modern author has filled in some details that inspired the drawing.

The result is a delightful and quirky window on the world, from the eyes of one of those scruffy backpackers.  I lived in Europe for ten years, so even though I was there after Mo Willems had already left, I felt like I had seen him!

On top of the interesting way of looking at the world, his gifts as a brilliant cartoonist were already showing.  He expresses the people of the world, and the experiences of travel with a few lines.  Yet the result is instantly recognizable.

Take an amusing armchair journey around the world with this book.

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Review of The Facttracker, by Jason Carter Eaton


The Facttracker

by Jason Carter Eaton

illustrations by Pascale Constantin

HarperCollins, 2008.  260 pages.

Reminiscent of The Phantom Tollbooth, The Facttracker tells of the town Traakerfaxx, where the townspeople get Facts from the Facttracker in his Factory and sell them to the world.

One person in Traakerfaxx does not have any facts about himself.  A sad and lonely boy lives there.  He is small, but not too small.  The facts about the just small enough boy were lost shortly after he was born.  He has gotten messages that the Facttracker is looking for them, but hasn’t heard anything for quite some time.

All is going well until the day of the explosion.  That’s the day the just small enough boy gets to enter the Factory and meet the Facttracker.

After the Factory explodes (and you wouldn’t want me to spoil the surprise and tell you why, would you?), the Facttracker’s twin brother Ersatz shows up.  Ersatz takes the Seed of Truth and builds, in place of the Factory, a Liebrary.  He shows the townspeople and their clever, handsome mayor that lies are a lot more fun to sell than facts.

The Facttracker is imprisioned in the belly of the Liebrary, and it’s up to the just small enough boy to save the world.

This book is a lot of silly fun, if you can keep yourself from objecting to the places where the analogy breaks down.  If you’re willing to take it all with tongue in cheek, you will have plenty to enjoy.

The author is full of authorial asides to the reader and lots of playing with authorial conventions.  For example, Chapter 13 has the heading crossed out, with the title, “There Will Not Be a Chapter 13 Because It Might Be Unlucky and the Facttracker Needs All the Luck He Can Get Now.”

If you’re willing to not take it too seriously, you can have a good deal of fun reading this book.

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Review of Punished, by David Lubar



by David Lubar

Darby Creek Publishing, 2006.  96 pages.

Logan knew he shouldn’t run in the library.  But how can you keep from it when your friend tags you It?  He certainly didn’t mean to run into that old guy who looked like a retired teacher.

Logan tries to apologize, but the man says maybe he needs to be punished, and blows some book dust on him.  When Logan leaves the library, suddenly everything he says gets people groaning or giggling.

It takes Logan awhile to figure out that every sentence he utters comes out as a bad pun.  Soon the old man isn’t the only one planning to punish him.

Logan’s only way to lift the curse involves finding oxymorons, anagrams, and palindromes.  If he can’t find the required number in time, he will be cursed to spout puns forever.

This book celebrates word play in a way that invites the reader to try it for yourself.  It’s a nice quick read for groan boys and girls ready for full-fledged chapter books.  Silly fun with silly puns!

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Review of Princess Ben, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock


Princess Ben

Being a Wholly Truthful Account of Her Various Discoveries and Misadventures, Recounted to the Best of Her Recollection, in Four Parts

by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 2008.  344 pages.

Starred Review.

I dearly loved Princess Ben!  This is exactly my favorite sort of book — an original fairy tale, with princes and princesses and magic and danger and enchantments and adventure and romance.

Princess Ben is no damsel in distress who waits around to be saved by the prince!  (In fact, there’s a delightful fairy tale reversal toward the end.  I dare say no more!)

At the start, Princess Benevolence’s parents meet a dreadful fate, with circumstances pointing to assassination at the order of the neighboring, or rather surrounding kingdom of Drachensbett.  As in so many other princess tales, Ben must now learn to be a proper princess, under the stern direction of her aunt the Queen.

Naturally, there are also plans to marry Ben off in the service of diplomacy.  However, matters get complicated when Ben discovers a secret passageway to a magic room and a book of magic.  She begins learning how to perform magic and use it to serve her own purposes, like get some decent food.

But as in any fairy tale, before the end the fate of the kingdom lies in Princess Ben’s hands.  The reader can’t help but root for things to end Happily Ever After.

Ben’s a delightful character, a princess with spunk and a weight problem.  The plot is nicely twisted to keep things interesting.  Utterly charming and a whole lot of fun.  Not a book that’s easy to stop reading.

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Review of The Uncommon Reader, by Alan Bennett


The Uncommon Reader

by Alan Bennett

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2007.  120 pages.

It was the dogs’ fault.  The Queen of England’s dogs lost control of themselves and ran into the City of Westminster travelling library.  Once there, the Queen felt obligated to borrow a book.  Once she had the book, the Queen started reading it.  Once she started reading, she finished it.

“That was the way one was brought up.  Books, bread and butter, mashed potato — one finishes what’s on one’s plate.  That’s always been my philosophy.”

One book leads to another, and another. . . .  The Queen learns all kinds of places and times she can fit reading into her life.

“She’d got quite good at reading and waving, the trick being to keep the book below the level of the window and to keep focused on it and not on the crowds.  The duke didn’t like it one bit, of course, but goodness it helped.”

Unfortunately, the Queen’s new habit causes great consternation among her staff.  Then drastic changes in her habits, her conversations, and even her outlook on life.

This book was chosen as the All Fairfax Reads selection for 2008.  It celebrates the joys of reading and the way reading can change a life.  The book is short and humorous and good fun.  Some food for thought as well!

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Review of Mozart’s Ghost, by Julia Cameron


Mozart’s Ghost

by Julia Cameron

Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin’s Press, 2008.  278 pages.

Starred Review.

When a writer has written fabulous books about writing (The Right to Write is one of Julia Cameron’s that I’ve read.), one always hopes that their own fiction is something you’d want to emulate.  Can they practice what they preach?

Julia Cameron can.  Mozart’s Ghost is a light and delightful love story, with quirky characters you enjoy spending your time with.

All her life, Anna has seen and talked to ghosts.  Now, as a single adult, she lives in New York City and makes her living — well, supplements her substitute teaching income — as a medium.  She lets people know what their loved ones who have gone before want to say to them.

But now a classical pianist named Edward has moved into Anna’s building.  In the first place, his constant practicing is tremendously distracting.  She can’t properly hear the ghosts.  In the second place, there’s a ghost hanging around him, trying to reach the musician through Anna.  This ghost thinks himself tremendously important and wants to help Edward so that his own music will be properly appreciated.  Anna is not impressed.

But Edward finds a place in her heart despite all her resistance.  However, she has no intention of telling him her real job, since she finds most men can’t handle dating a medium.

The course of their romance is comically beset with obstacles, like Anna’s complete lack of appreciation for Edward’s playing, her twin brother’s interference, and even the ghost’s interference.  We feel for Anna and her desire to live a normal life, which simply doesn’t seem to be in the cards for her.

This novel is tremendous fun, and peopled with quirky characters who seem like people you might just meet if you happened to knock on an apartment door in New York City.

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