Archive for the ‘recommendations’ Category

May Reading Wrap-Up

May 30, 2008

I read 14 books in May. I likely would have read more, had it not been for the reading ennui I experienced near the beginning of the month and the resulting theme read of some long books. If I hadn’t had two four-hour plane rides and a fair amount of time in airports and on public transit, I probably wouldn’t have attained 14. It didn’t hurt that both “Monique and the Mango Rains” and “Someday My Prince Will Come” were so engaging that I read them each in basically one sitting.

Of these books, two were read for ReaderViews, three (well, 2.5) for a theme read on Dracula/vampires, one was provided by Literary Ventures Fund, one was read for book club, one for LibraryThing Early Reviewers, one for a LibraryThing group read, two ‘just because,’ and three were sent to me for review.

Note: The titles of the books link to my reviews.

My Reading Wrap-Up for May

Fiction (Novels)

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova – Buy on Amazon

Dracula by Bram Stoker – Buy on Amazon

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – Buy on Amazon

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson (review to follow later today) – Preorder on Amazon

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (review to follow after book club) – Buy on Amazon

Fiction (Short Stories)

Politics Noir edited by Gary Phillips – Buy on Amazon

Historical Fiction

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff – Preorder on Amazon

The Aviary Gate by Katie Hickman – Buy on Amazon

Memoir

Someday My Prince Will Come by Jerramy Fine – Buy on Amazon

Monique and the Mango Rains by Kris Holloway – Buy on Amazon

Have I Got A Guy for You! edited by Alix Strauss (review coming) – Buy on Amazon

Storm Over Morocco by Frank Romano – Buy on Amazon

Nonfiction

Kings and Queens of England: A Tourist Guide by Jane Murray

Vlad the Impaler by M.J. Trow – Buy on Amazon

Top Pick for the Month

Monique and the Mango Rains cover

“Monique and the Mango Rains,” by Kris Holloway, is the story of Kris’ time in the Peace Corps in Mali, particularly her interaction with Monique Dembele, Kris’ host and the village midwife. Monique was an amazing woman and this is a well written, amazing story. David Ebershoff’s “The 19th Wife,” Andrew Davidson’s “The Gargoyle,” and Jerramy Fine’s “Someday My Prince Will Come” were in a close three-way tie for second place with “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Middlesex” not far behind (man, I read some fantastic books this month!), but there was such power in Holloway’s story, that I was compelled to choose it for the top honor. The only thing that could have made this book better was if it was three times as long.

Reminder: There is still time to get in on the contest! All of these books (and any others I have reviewed) are up for grabs!

Sacred History of Britain – Book Review

March 28, 2008

Sacred History of Britain CoverI found The Sacred History of Britain by Martin Palmer on the discount table at Half Price Books for $5. Sometimes there is a good reason that books are on the discount table, but I decided to give it a chance anyway. Religion? British history? A bargain? Count me in!

I am very glad that I gave this book a chance, as it was quite intriguing. In all seriousness, it was a very interesting book. As the title perhaps implies, Palmer traces the idea of the ‘sacred’ from British prehistory, by use of archeology through the advent of Christianity in the isles up to the present day panoply of religions in Britain (including the profusion of Christian sects).

I really appreciated Palmer’s evenhandedness on this subject. He is a Christian, I would guess an Anglican from the work, and he sets out that fact from the beginning of the book so that you can be aware of any possible bias. He was more than willing, however, to be candid about issues the church has had with corruption, etc. He seemed to try very hard to divorce his personal emotions regarding the church from this work. He was almost poetic about some of his experiences with sacred places in Britain, yet he de-romanticized everything from pre-historic religion to the Reformation.

Palmer is a great writer who kept the history interesting and kept the pace of the book moving. I would recommend this to anyone who has an interest either in the history of religion or in the history of Britain. Secular history buffs won’t feel preached at and should enjoy a different perspective on British history.

Buy this book on Amazon:The Sacred History of Britain: Landscape, Myth & Power:The Forces That Have Shaped Britain’s Spirituality

Memoirs of Cleopatra – Book Review

March 26, 2008

Memoirs of CleopatraMargaret George’s “Memoirs of Cleopatra” begins with the young princess Cleopatra‘s memory of General Pompey coming to Egypt and her role in charming him with her wit and personality in order to help her father keep his kingdom and of course tells her story up through her infamous death.

I feel like I did not give this book the attention it needed. Due to my large stack of TBR books (all still sitting in the bathroom, waiting for the bookshelves to go back, by the way), I just didn’t have patience for a 950 page book. I see that I had read 250 pages, and then be annoyed that it barely seemed like I had gotten anywhere.

That being said, I don’t think that the book seemed as if it were long just for the sake of being long, I don’t think that there was much in the story that was superfluous. George is a great author, and I felt that I could experience what the characters were experiencing. What I didn’t expect was the fact that I did not feel that I became Cleopatra’s partisan. I understood her motivations and didn’t think them ‘bad’ or ‘wrong,’ but I also understood the motivations of Octavian and others who were her ‘enemies’. Sure, I tended to think that Octavian was more ‘bad’ than Cleopatra, but I did not feel that he was really being vilified. Surely that is a gift, to write relatively sympathetically an historical character and yet not demonize her opponents. I really just got the impression that, for the most part, people were acting as they felt they needed to do for the good of their countries and their families.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the book for me, though, was the afterward, explaining what in the book was historical and what was not. I wish more historical fiction did this. I found it fascinating how much of her story that most of us know as written by renowned Roman poets and writers was written by men who were indeed her enemies.

I will give this book the highest praise I can give historical fiction: it made me want to go and read more about all of the characters involved, including perhaps from some primary sources.

Buy this book on Amazon: The Memoirs of Cleopatra: A Novel

The Translator: A Tribesman’s Memoir of Darfur – Book Review

March 12, 2008

The Translator coverI was lucky enough to receive a copy of The Translator: A Tribesman’s Memoir of Darfur by Daoud Hari from someone who received it as an Early Reviewer and passed it along to me:

This was a very poignant memoir of a very important issue. Daoud is a Zaghawa tribesman from Darfur. After being educated, he leaves the country to find work and make money to send home to his family. Daoud returns home to Darfur in the midst of the genocide to check on his family. Shortly after he arrives, their village is attacked and everyone who survives is forced to flee for the border with Chad. It is in the refugee camps in Chad that Daoud finds his role in fighting the genocide: as a speaker of Zaghawa, Arabic, and English, Daoud is able to act as a translator first for UN and aid workers serving the refugees and later for reporters going into Sudan to report on the genocide first hand. While describing his experiences, Daoud is quite good about explaining the history of the conflict and of the region as a whole in a very understandable way.

Daoud Hari’s voice is supremely evident in this memoir. As I was reading I felt that I was sitting in front of him, listening to him tell me about what he had seen and experienced. I was actually glad only to be reading the account, not hearing it personally; there was so much pain and hardship in the words that I know I could never bear to hear those words with an emotional voice behind them. The story comes out both with a freshing straight-forwardness as well as with elegant use of foreshadowing and building the narrative, it is really beautifully told. This book should be purchased and then passed on to as many people as you can get to read it so that more people can actually feel what is happening in Darfur, instead of just hearing about it in a detached manner.

Buy this book on Amazon: The Translator: A Tribesman’s Memoir of Darfur

The Other Boleyn Girl – Movie Review

March 1, 2008

Tonight I dragged my fiance to see The Other Boleyn Girl, the movie based on the book of the same name by Philippa Gregory. Here’s the short, non-spoiler version of the review: it is entertaining. If you like historical fiction, but know little to nothing about this time period, other than the fact that Anne married Henry VIII and lost her head, you will probably quite enjoy this movie. If you have read Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl, some parts will slightly annoy you, but overall you will probably like it. If you have studied that period in England, or if you have read a lot of historical fiction around that period in England, you will still mostly enjoy it, but be extrememly annoyed by a lot of it. Essentially, the movie seemed to stick with the book where the book most differed from the historical record and veer from the book where the book most stuck with historical record, making for a rather un-historical film. Sure, the basic history’s there, as my fiance pointed out: Anne, Mary, and Henry are all there; it is set in England; Anne dies. If you would like to see some of my specific issues with the movie (and potential spoilers) please click the link to read the rest of this entry. The story was already about power, sex, betrayal, and religion, why bother changing it? (more…)

Three Cups of Tea – Book Review

March 1, 2008

Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time, By Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

Three Cups of Tea coverThree cups of tea is the story of an accidental philanthropist and peace/education advocate. Greg Mortenson was a climber who failed to summit K2 after having to rescue another climber in his group on the ascent. On the descent he got separated from the group and from his porter. He made it down the mountain, but made a wrong turn and instead of ending up in the larger town of Skadu, wandered into the small village of Korphe, where he was taken care of while he recuperated. Before he left, he offered to send supplies to their school as a thank you, and was taken and shown what their ‘school’ was: teacher-less children (they shared a teacher with another village) sitting on the ground, doing their lessons on their own with sticks in the dirt. He vowed then that, one way or another, he would build them a school, and thus began an all-encompassing drive to educate and empower the children of the Pakistani hinterlands, particularly the girls.

Reading this book I frequently got the feeling that this HAD to be fiction, it simply was too crazy to be believed. The amount of drive Mortenson had was unbelievable; he did the impossible again and again. Discussing the book at my book club last night, one of my friends admitted that he almost made her feel bad about herself. She is teaching in an extremely difficult school on the South Side of Chicago, and he made her feel almost inadequate for being tired at the end of the day and not doing more than what she is currently doing. It was easy to get pulled into this type of thinking: Mortenson was practically living in his car while trying to raise the money for his first school, it really makes you question what you’ve been doing with your life all this time. It also makes you want to send him money.

Perhaps one of the most powerful things about the book was the interaction Greg had with the people of Pakistan. It really came across how much he had learned from them, and how he learned to be a humble servant, not the arrongant American coming to ‘save’ them. He had a great respect for their culture, and I think it would be beneficial to our country if more Americans would read books like this one, where they come into contact with REAL people in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and other countries in that region, where they could have an opportunity to see these people as fellow human beings. Most of the people with whom Mortenson was in contact just wanted their children to be educated and to have more options than they did – not so different from people in America. It was very heartening to see the mutual love and respect between Mortenson and the people with whom he was working. He was actually in Pakistan on 9/11 and all of his friends kept sympathizing with him for what had happened in ‘the village of New York’. The US Embassy kept urging him to leave, but Mortenson’s friends in Pakistan were protecting him with their lives.

After 9/11 Mortenson became an even stronger advocate for education, now as a way to combat terrorism. He lobbied Congress to get them to keep their promises of rebuilding Afghanistan, telling them, essentially, that they had to give people a reason to choose life over a fighter’s death. Perhaps if they had listened to him, the Taliban wouldn’t be making a comeback there now.

Buy this book on Amazon: Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time

Beginning “Holding Her Head High”

February 25, 2008

I received “Holding Her Head High: 12 Single Mothers Who Championed Their Children and Changed History” by Janine Turner as an early reviewer copy from LibraryThing at the end of last week. I was in the middle of Jean Plaidy’s “Queen of this Realm” about Elizabeth I at the time, so I just started it today. I have to say, I am not currently impressed. I read the publisher information before requesting the book, and so far I do not feel like it describes this book very well at all. Strangely enough, this hasn’t made me want to stop reading. Quite to the contrary, I want to plow through this book as soon as possible in order to confirm or disprove my theory about how this book is going. Plus, my obligation as an early reviewer is to write a review, and I want to be fully informed for my review. I have been noting this I am having issues with. At this point I do not think that this is going to be a BAD book, but I think that I am going to be disappointed because it is not what it was advertised to be. I think they are going to have to re-market this book to get anywhere with it.

Anyway, more on this when I finish and write a full review!

Edit: The review is up here.