Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Mini reviews - Don't Look Now, How to Be an American Housewife and The Education of a British-Protected Child

I've got such a backlog of books to review that I'm going to do a few minis to make it a bit easier to get caught up. All of the following are from my personal library.

Don't Look Now by Daphne du Maurier is a collection of 5 of du Maurier's creepy short stories, most of which I would guess are closer to novella length. My copy was printed in 1971, when Dame du Maurier was apparently still churning out bestsellers, the copyright date: 1966.

The title story, "Don't Look Now" is my favorite. It begins in a Venice cafe, where a grief-stricken couple, John and Laura, have traveled to try to lift Laura's spirits. While playing a silly game, imagining things about people nearby, they meet two older women. One of the women makes a dire prediction and accurately describes their deceased child, whom she claims to have seen happily sitting at the table with her parents. But, she is blind. After the old woman warns them something is going to happen and says John should leave Venice soon, their vacation takes a frightening turn. Is the blind lady truly psychic? What is the meaning of her warning to John?

"Don't Look Now" is one of those stories that is just predictable enough to make you want to say aloud, "No! Don't go down that alley!" But, it's still surprising enough to satisfy. The remaining 4 stories are a little less fulfilling. "The Breakthrough" tells the story of an engineer who gets tangled up in a frightening experiment. "A Border-Line Case" is the story of a woman who tries to fulfill her father's dying wish but ends up in a frightening situation that leads to a revelation she probably was best off not knowing. And, "The Way of the Cross" is about entanglements and intrigue on a group tour to Israel.

"Not After Midnight" was really the only other story that fully captured me -- enough so that after finishing the story I went on a search for someone to chat with about it. I'm not certain I understood the ending (I didn't find anyone to discuss it with, so if you have the book on hand and want to chat with me, I'll happily reread it). "Not After Midnight" is about an art teacher who becomes intrigued by the odd behavior of an American couple while on a painting holiday in Greece and finds himself falling into the same traps as a man whose curiosity led to his death, the year before.

While only 2 of the 5 stories really thrilled me, I still recommend Don't Look Now. Du Maurier's writing is always vivid and atmospheric; the collection is worth checking out, if only for the title story and would have made an excellent read for the RIP Challenge if I'd ever bothered to sign up. In the fall, I always feel compelled to read something spooky, signed up or not.

How to Be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway tells the story of Shoko, an ailing Japanese woman who married an American soldier just after WWII. Her damaged heart may not hold out much longer; and, she longs to return to her home country to reunite with her estranged brother before she dies. After her doctor forbids her to travel, she takes a dramatic turn for the worse. So, she asks her daughter to go to Japan in her place.

Divorced mother Sue agrees to travel in Shoko's stead and takes her daughter along on the journey. In Japan, Sue becomes privy to family secrets and helps to heal the wounds Shoko and her brother have carried with them for decades.

How to Be an American Housewife is told in two parts, the first part from Shoko's point of view and the latter from Sue's. The change of perspective was a little jarring, at first, because I'd grown to love Shoko and the author did an excellent job of giving the two women distinctive voices. Her skill at making the characters distinctive made the transition difficult, in other words. By the mid-point, I also found that I was predisposed to dislike Sue because Shoko doesn't understand her. It doesn't take long to see events described by Shoko from Sue's perspective and to like her, as well.

I loved this story for many reasons. First and foremost, the storyline drew me in and the pages flew. But, apart from that, I loved stepping into Shoko's shoes and seeing what it's like to move to a spouse's home country and leave your own behind. I also liked reading the WWII scenes and some of them were so genuine that I was not surprised to find out they really happened. Highly recommended!

The Education of a British-Protected Child by Chinua Achebe is a book that Amy of Amy Reads talked me into buying when we met up at my local Borders as it was in its dying days. It wasn't a hard sell. I'm always fascinated by Amy's choices but they're far removed from my own, so I was excited to have her point out a book she particularly enjoyed.

The Education of a British-Protected Child is a collection of essays that mainly focus on education, the Nigerian experience (war, politics, imperialism), slavery and other topics important to Achebe, Nigerians and blacks in general. Although it's one of the most post-it filled books I've read, this year, when I first sat down to write about the book I was so overwhelmed by all the passages worth quoting that I think I'm best off just saying that it's worth the time.

Achebe has a unique perspective in being a highly-educated African who has experienced imperialism from the side of the natives, excellent education in an impoverished nation, a wide variety of experiences in other countries (teaching, travel, even more schooling) and war on his own turf. I learned a great deal from this book and felt like my own beliefs were challenged a bit. At times, I disagreed with Achebe, sometimes I was enlightened and in general I was quite simply in awe of him. I may share some quotes in a future post.

My Face-to-Face book group meets to discuss Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, tonight! I can't wait! Happy Wednesday to all!

©2011 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.


  1. I'm really anxious to read How to Be an American Housewife!

  2. Yay I'm so glad you enjoyed Achebe. He is such a fantastic author.

  3. I very much enjoyed How to Be an American Housewife too!

    After reading your review of Chinua Achebe's book I am going to add it to my wishlist. The only book of his I have read is Things Fall Apart (in college), and I remember it being very good.

  4. Kathy,

    I think you'll love How to Be an American Housewife, when you get to it.


    Thanks for handing it to me! Now, I've got to find my copy of Things Fall Apart. I think I know which bookshelf it's on, but naturally the books are double-shelved so it'll require a bit of work to find.


    Isn't it wonderful? I might have to reread HtBaAH, someday, now that I'm all crazy in love with Japan.

    I haven't read any of Achebe's fiction, although I do have a copy of Things Fall Apart buried around here, somewhere. Now I'm really dying to read it. Must find!

  5. His fiction is very different, especially Things Fall Apart which is sometimes considered drier than his other fiction works, but I still like them. Looking forward to your thoughts, eventually.

  6. Amy,

    I'll let you know when I get to it (but don't hold your breath -- I have at least a dozen books hollering at me, right at this moment).

  7. Completely understandable, I think we're all in a similar boat :)

  8. Amy,

    LOL I'm sure we are! It's hard being obsessed with books, but somebody's gotta do it.

  9. How was book club? mine meets tomorrow.

  10. Care,

    It was great! I just got home at 9:30. CL,CL definitely generated some terrific discussion. Are you discussing The Paris Wife?

  11. Well, they just moved our meeting back an hour and so I won't be able to attend. I tried to move my tutoring today but we couldn't find another time, so I have to skip bookclub. I didn't like the book much - didn't get past the first quarter of it so I would only be an annoying whiny nuisance, anyway. But I wish I could go... oh well. StupidME for having a j-o-b. I need to play the lottery more and hit it rich.

  12. Care,

    Aw, sorry. Even if you didn't like the book, it's fun to hang out with everyone. You could sell off and live on your boat. Except . . . winter might be a problem.

  13. Glad to see you loved the American Housewife book. Shoko's story grabbed me more than her daughter's, but the whole book was great. Reminded me of The Joy Luck Club in a way, with the whole cultural differences between mother and daughter thing. ;) I'll link to your post on War Through the Generations.

  14. Anna,

    Shoko's story was still my favorite, but I was relieved when I grew to enjoy hearing Sue's side and found that she was a likable character, too. It didn't remind me of The Joy Luck Club at all! I saw all sorts of comparisons at Amazon and was kind of baffled. But, since you put it that way -- the cultural differences and mother/daughter thing are definitely two similarities. I thought they were very, very different books, although I read The Joy Luck Club when it was new, so . . . it's been a while. :)

  15. Oooooh, how I love Daphne du Maurier's short stories!!! Okay, I've only read one collection of the them...but I did positively adore them! Don't Look Now was in it, and it was one of my favorites. Not After Midnight was also in it, but I'm having trouble remembering the details of it (it was one of two in the collection that I didn't fall madly in love with). Anyway, I'm so glad you wrote about this book--you've reminded me how much I really need to search out another of her short story collections.

    And you've totally sold me on the Achebe essay collection. I love essays, and this one sounds positively wonderful!

  16. Debi,

    I think these are the first short stories I've read by du Maurier and I enjoyed them but "Don't Look Now" was the only one that I thought was really wonderful. Someday, you need to dig out that collection and reread "Not After Midnight" with me. I didn't fall madly in love with it, either, but I found it intriguing.

    I think you'll like the Achebe collection. It's very thought-provoking.

  17. I'm glad you read Daphne's books too! So I just finished reading Don't look now but I don't understand how John foresaw his death. I know he saw a little girl in red running away but I really didn't understand the ending. Please help me understand! Thanks!

  18. I've never read anything by dy Maurier, sadly. These stories sound spooky!

  19. Meredith,

    I'll dash over to your blog to chat with you about it! It's been about a month since I read "Don't Look Now" but I remember that story pretty well. :)


    Oh, wow, you really must at least read Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier. It's by far her best book (and the one you can find most easily). I also loved Frenchman's Creek and Jamaica Inn. There's one other that I love, but I'm going blank. Anyway, sometimes her stories fall flat but you can't lose with Rebecca. It is absolutely wonderful.

  20. Meredith,

    Uh-oh, I just discovered you don't have a blog!!! So . . . in case someone who plans to read "DON'T LOOK NOW" happens by:


    Here's what I got out of it. The blind lady correctly determined that John was also psychic. So, when he saw the boat pass by with his wife looking upset and accompanied by the older women? That was not actually happening. He was seeing the future -- what was going to happen if he didn't leave Venice as he was warned to do. Because he didn't realize that was a premonition, he returned to Venice and sealed his own fate. I think the little girl in red was actually the murderer but he had just been reminded of his daughter and there was a little transference thing going on. Because he'd been thinking about her, he wanted her to be real. And, because he wanted her to be real, he made the mistake of following her and trying to "protect" her. Another "sealing his fate" thing. Make sense?


  21. I read Don't Look Now (the collection of short stories) in 2006, so I'm a bit sketchy on the details. Looking back at my review, I see that I enjoyed the stories and gave the book a 8/10 rating. The only specific notation about the stories, though is that neither Rod or I saw the finale coming in A Border-Line Case. I wish I had written more about each story. I vaguely recall The Way of the Cross and Not After Midnight, but unfortunately, not well enough to discuss them.

    Your mini-review on How to Be an American Housewife has piqued my interest. Off to add it to my list.

  22. Les,

    Unfortunately, I did see that ending coming in "A Border-Line Case," which kind of defeated the purpose. That particular story just annoyed me. Darn, too bad you don't remember "Not After Midnight"! I still haven't found anyone to discuss it with.

    How to be an American Housewife is great. I think you'll like it. :)


Thank you for visiting my blog! I use comment moderation because apparently my blog is a spam magnet. Don't worry. If you're not a robot, your comment will eventually show up and I will respond, with a few exceptions. If a comment smacks of advertising, contains a dubious link or is offensive, it will be deleted. I love to hear from real people! I'm a really chatty gal and I love your comments!