Saturday, December 18, 2010

Wife of the Gods by Kwei Quartey

Wife of the Gods by Kwei Quartey of Ghana was an intriguing murder mystery. The novel kept me engaged, throughout. The most interesting part for me, again, was my introduction to a piece of the Ghanaian culture and customs...specifically the religious custom of fetish priests and trokosi (Wives of the Gods)which is the practice of marrying teenaged virgin daughters to these priests to atone for sins against the gods. The novel brings in the concern about AIDS in Ghana and the efforts to educate the people to end the spread of AIDS in Ghana.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

The genre of The Hunger Game books is definitely not my favorite and is usually very difficult for me to get through. I enjoyed this series, very much, even though the violence is so hard to get past. I know that Collins is making a statement about war, killing, power, etc., but it was a difficult thing to witness as you came to love the characters of the novels. I was specifically disappointed with the way Collins kills Finnick with no real honor or is almost an aside that he is killed as they flee the mutts that are chasing the rebels through the tunnel. Perhaps it is another statement that, in the end, death is a common thing and there is no real glory or heroism in it. I am just not sure.

I noticed a motif of flowers throughout the novels that I have also not figured out. Many characters names suggest flowers, real or fictious (Katniss, Gale Hawthorne, Prim [Primrose], Rue, Buttercup,and others. Then, there are Snow's roses, Katniss burying Rue under the flowers, the flowers of the meadows, daisies in the song, and a dandelion in the final paragraph of the last chapter. I am not sure if the flowers are significant and symbolic or much more simply there and should not be overanalyzed.

I look forward to the movie version of this series, although I cannot imagine how I can enjoy the gory violence that will have to be a part of this.

Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy

I really enjoyed this tragic story by Hardy! I definitely agree with those who say to skip the first 50 pages or so...losts of description of the heath that I cannot figure out how it was so important to the development of the story and characters. The description, itself, is poetic and thorough in its description, so if you are interested in that, you will love the first part of the book. I nearly quit reading, but plowed on because it is listed on one of the lists I have of the best 100 books of all-time. The development of the characters in the novel are fascinating. Descriptions of everything from the people to the locations are so well-done that it is easy to visualize the entire story and feel such a part of it.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev

I had been very nervous about getting into this book because I have often found the Russian authors so complicated in their writing. I enjoyed this novel very much! Turgenev's development of Bazarov as a character was amazing. The novel was interesting to me because it deals historically with a transition time in Russia from a more authoritarian society to one where people question the past and what is really truth. Sets up the situation of why people of Russia would later embrace communism.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Small Kingdoms by Anastasia Hobbet

I really enjoyed reading this book set in Kuwait between the Gulf Wars. It is a interesting look at the contradictions that occur between faith, politics, and culture in the Middle East. This novel is especially interesting because of the many different cultures from all over the world that come together in Kuwait...especially for impoverished people who come there to work as domestic help and are treated less than humanely.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced by Nujood Ali

While the topic was fascinating, this book was not as well written as many which have portrayed life as a woman (and this case, girl) in a conservative Muslim culture. Nujood was given to a man in his 30's to be his wife. The laws of Yemen and the Islam faith allow for such a marriage, but do not allow the marriage to be consummated until after the bride has passed puberty by a year. The courage and wisdom of this 10 year old girl to go to the authorities and ask for a divorce is inspirational...and has helped many other girls in the same situation to seek the same help. A very quick read.

Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes

Probably the longest book I have ever read. I expected the story to be much more similar to the familiar "Man of La Mancha." The novel is clearly a historical masterpiece. Considered by many to be the first real novel in any language, Cervantes also standardized and unified the Spanish language. Even within the novel, Cervantes' characters continuously run into problems caused by people not being able to understand the various dialects found in 14th century Spain.

What an endearing character Don Quixote is. Even more so, I came to love, so much, his squire Sancho Panza. "Man of La Mancha" changes his character (and makes Dulcinea an actual character actively involved in the story--not true in Don Quixote). He is a simpleton, but so extremely wise and praiseworthy. For me, he is the real hero of the novel as he philosophizes about people, government, and what is really important and of value. Truly one of the most memorable characters of all-time in literature.

The novel just seems to go on and on with not a lot of progression of characters and storyline. I think that a person wanting to read Don Quixote should simply find a good abridged version of the novel. I am certain I would have enjoyed the book much better that way.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Cane River by Lalita Tademy

Cane River is a very interesting read which was one of the Oprah's Book Club selections. In this historical novel, the author, Lalita Tademy, deals with 137 years of her family's history of dealing with slavery and the aftermath. She begins with her 4th great-grandmother who was a slave in Virginia and then sold into French Cajun/Creole Louisiana. Elizabeth's daughter with fellow slave Gerasime, Suzette, is the first in a line of women who become impregnated by a white man. The next three generations are born into slavery because the owners refuse to free their colored children. The novel portrays the life situation of the colored children who can not overcome the Negro part of their heritage within the Southern society even after the Civil War is long over and the children are generally fair skinned.

Another interesting piece of the novel is the introduction of the freed Negroes who become slave owners, themselves. Tademy reveals the social hierarchy of wealthy plantation owners, poor white farmers, free Negroes, and slaves.

Beautifully written and very engaging story.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

This was a lovely book and another book of value for those who dare to look at some of the dark history of our country. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is set in Seattle, WA during WWII. The story gives a picture of what Japanese-Americans experienced during this time...the prejudice, the interment camps, the denial of civil rights simply based upon ancestry. It is a complicated issue, as we have experienced more recently since 9/11. How does a country have the faith that American citizens of specific ancestry or culture will not return in their loyalty to their "roots." It made me think, quite a bit, actually, about my own personal fears following 9/11 when I was on a plane or in other places with someone of Arabic background. "Is this person one of my enemies?"

I was also interested in the tie in the story of the Chinese history with the Japanese in this novel. I was made more aware of the ill feelings that Chinese people generally feel towards Japanese while I was in China. That is based on a long history of attack by Japan upon China. So, the age-old ill will is part of the conflict in this novel, as well.

The novel is engaging and interesting, although the plot was fairly predictable. Nonetheless, a book I would highly recommend to others to read.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman

We tend to be ethnocentric, especially as Americans. I consider this book a must-read book for any who want to come to a better understanding of what people of other cultures, religions, and languages experience as they try to become "American." At the center of this book is the problem the medical community faces in dealing with large numbers of immigrants...especially from countries we have less experience with culturally and linguistically. Doctors are basically reduced to practicing veterinary medicine with these people because of the inability to communicate. Another idea developed in the book is that of the medical community treating the whole person and not being so clinical. Thought-provoking work in ethics...what is right and wrong and how do we decide what is best?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Nicaragua: A Decade of Revolution by Lou Dematteis and Chris Vail

I think that reading all of these books from and about other countries has become a very dangerous thing for me. I have gained more and more insight about what is going on in other countries and how the U.S. has impacted other countries...and it is often not a good thing. I have lost that innocent, wide-eyed attitude that the U.S. is the hero and defender of freedom around the world. This book gives a lot on insight into the revolution of the 1980's-1990's in Nicaragua. I understand, now, so much more about the role of the Sandanistas and of the Contras. I have learned how the U.S. disrespected the right of the people of Nicaragua to choose their own form of government and their leaders through direct election. The U.S. often seems to be more concerned with its own best interest and not those of other countries. It is so discouraging. I become more and more concerned as I hear indoctrination against any form of socialism now. Socialism has become the new ugly word to replace communism. Somehow, Americans have to be taught that socialism does not necessarily equal Stalinism.

Little Boys Come From the Stars by Emmanuel Dongala

Emmanuel Dongala created such an interesting read. His storytelling is endearing and clever. He uses humor as he presents some very serious insight into the political struggles of the Congo (Brazaville) as it moves from a Communist dictatorship to a more democratic nation. Again, for most Americans, this is a situation most of us are totally unaware. Also interesting is the exposure that Dongala gives to the tribal religious and cultural traditions.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Colour by Rose Tremain

Interesting, well-written novel based upon the New Zealand Gold Rush of the 1860's. Insightful. Interesting, rich characters. Warning: sexually explicit, including some homosexuality.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

I am disappointed that I did not read this book when I was younger. It truly is a classic! I was especially fascinated by Crusoe's personal experience with religion and his discovery of God on his own as he lives his solitary life on the island. Great messages and truths to be found in this novel, especially of God's personal love and concern for each one of us. My complaint against the novel is that I do not understand why Defoe did not end the novel shortly after Crusoe's rescue from the island. The other adventures seemed to distract from the story. I suppose that Defoe was writing before the time when it was in vogue to write sequels to your novels.

Candide by Voltaire

I have read parts of this book in English classes in college, but never read the whole thing. I am certain that much of the humor in the story was better understood by people contemporary with Voltaire because it is clear that some of his jabs had to do with issues and people of the times. Would people 200 years from now understand what you are talking about with references to Watergate, etc.? It is clear that there are many jabs at government and governments, religions (and specifically the Catholic Church), and contemporary figureheads. I appreciated that so much of it was funny to me, knowing that I was not fully in on all of the jokes. I found his commentary on philosophers and philosophies the most humorous part.

Friday, August 27, 2010

A House for Mr. Biswas by V.S. Naipaul

I had mixed feelings about this book. It was a frustrating story for me. The central character, Mohun Biswas, spends his entire life trying to establish an independent identity for himself, symbolized by his aspirations of owning his own house. Some say that the symbolism also is a commentary on colonialism...the struggle of nations to free themselves from colonial rule (such as England over Trinidad and Tobago). Mr. Biswas struggles because he lacks the skills needed to push himself out of dependence upon his wife's family because of lack of education and opportunity.

The exposure to Indo-Hindu culture was interesting for me.

Naipaul is a Nobel Prize winner and this book is the one that thrust him into worldwide acclaim as a writer.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

I found this book so engaging, I could hardly put it down. There is some serious language and sexual content, so be warned about that. Nonetheless, I thought the story was so interesting and the characters so well developed. The book is told from the eyes of a man (both at the time the events occured and later when the same man is in his nineties and in a nursing home) who worked as a zoo vet. Set in the time of the end of the Great Depression, it brings in much of the perspective of that era, as well. I actually listened to this as a book on tape and would highly recommend it. They had two different men representing Jacob as a young man and one who read the old man part. The gentleman who read as the old man was fabulous and made the story come all the more alive for me. The younger man did a wonderful job with going between different accents of the characters. A very well done book on tape! Some great messages on relationships with animals and on aging.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar

I really enjoyed reading In the Country of Men! I found it a difficult book to put down and would have preferred to read it in a single sitting. The most interesting thing about the book is that it describes life in Libya under Muammar el-Qaddafi following the Libyan Revolution. It describes the heroism of many as they fought for democracy against the tyrannical government. Inspiring as Matar tells his story through the eyes of a nine year boy living in this situation.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Child Called "It": One Child's Courage to Survive by Dave Pelzer

WOW! The must-read, inspirational story of Dave Pelzer's survival of childhood abuse. Dave Pelzer's story gives hope of surviving the worst of situations and rising above those those to still love and forgive. Looking to read the other books written by Mr. Pelzer!

The Brass Dolphin by Joanna Trollope

Set in Malta, The Brass Dolphin is an almost Jane Austen-ish story of life and love in Malta during the time of the 2nd World War. The history and culture of Malta was unknown to me, so I found that very interesting. I thought the writing was beautiful and captivating as was the story, itself.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Flame Trees of Thika by Elspeth Huxley

Beautifully written, The Flame Trees of Thika is a classic story portraying the European settlement of Africa (specifically Kenya) during the early part of the twentieth century. Interesting memoir told through the the insights of a child growing up as a European in Africa. Interesting insight to some of the different native cultures and tribes of Africa.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Krik? Krak! by Edwidge Danticat

Krik? Krak, is a fascinating collection of stories that gives insight into the lives of men and women in Haiti as they have dealt with extreme cruelties and brutalities under the country's dictator and because of superstitious beliefs. I believe that all of us would have a greater compassion and understanding of why the people are willing to risk their lives to flee to America as "boat people" as they read this finalist for the National Book Award.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Here's the Story by Maureen McCormick

I enjoyed reading this book. It was interesting to me because of how faithfully I watched The Brady Bunch while I was a young teenager and I have a keen interest in the effects fame and the entertainment industry have upon child entertainers. The book was very revealing. Her openness and honesty were amazingly brave. Not particularly well-written, but an interesting memoir, nonetheless.

Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark

The value in this book, in my opinion, is the exposure to the Aztec culture of Peru. Otherwise, the story was a strange one and I am not exactly sure what the message was. I felt that there was a lot of loose ends and unexplained. Nonetheless, I did find the Aztec culture information very interesting.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

Thoroughly enjoyable book! Mma Ramotswe's detective cases are used to reveal her life story and her own dreams and sorrows. I loved how the author, Alexander McCall Smith, truly does make this an African story as he exposes us to the cultures of several African nations.

I will look forward to getting to know Mma Precious Ramotswe better as I read other books in this series.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

Reading Lolita in Tehran is the fascinating memoir of a woman professor who lived and taught in Tehran during the time of the revolution and Iran-Iraqi war. Wonderful insight into what life is like for a woman under radical Islamic leadership. I learned a lot about what was going on inside Iran during the time of the Ayatollah Khomeni. I consider this book a "must read"--especially for women who want to understand more about the plight of women in other cultures.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Plague by Albert Camus

Interesting, but strange. A clearly existential book in which the author seems to say that we really cannot control anything around us, so we just need to live with it. I understand that some feel it is actually a metaphorical work commenting on the response of various French people to the invasion of their country by the Germans in WWII.

I did appreciate the ending in which the main character, Dr. Rieux in reflecting upon the plague epidemic comes to the conclusion that there is more to admire than despise in people.

Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

I did not enjoy this book as much as I thought I would. I was mesmerized by the movie when I was younger and thought that the book would have the same effect. I often found myself having a hard time keeping track of who was who and found the ending so unsatisfying. Not the great romance novel I expected. Even the history of the Bolshevik Revolution was hard to follow. Disappointed.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

Sarah's Key is a fascinating historical novel that covers a little known part of the events leading up to World War II...the persecution of Jews in German-occupied France by the Vichy government. The story weaves the past and the present together as journalist Julia Jarmond investigates the 1942 Vel'd'Hiv' round up and the subsequent disappearance of a 10 year old girl and her family and discovers the connection that this disappearance has to her own family. I highly recommend this book to others who enjoy historical fiction!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Amos Fortune: Free Man

This was a very interesting read for me...discussing some different aspects of slavery that you do not often read about. It is interesting to read about the issues pre-Revolutionary War and occuring in the North. Even more interesting because the story is based upon a real person.

Wonderful discussion about what it truly means to be free and how we become free...when we truly are free. A great quote from the book: "It does a man no good to be free until he learns how to live." Highly recommended reading for all.

Friday, April 23, 2010

North Korea: Another Country by Bruce Cumings

Interesting inside view of what the root of the problems between America and North Korea actually is. Also, I believe people's perspective of North Korea as one of the "axis of evil" countries will be changed by reading this. It becomes discouraging to me as an American to learn more and more about how little we practice what we is not okay for Saddam Hussein to use chemical weapons upon people, but it okay for the U.S. It is okay for us to have nuclear weapons pointed at North Korea, but not okay for them to have the same. Of course, we believe that they have an insane person running their country...we certainly would never worry about that because we do not have those kind of eglomaniacs running our country....Eye-opening and told by an expert on Korea.

Strength in What Remains: A Journey of Remembrance and Forgiveness by Tracy Kidder

This was such an amazing and impactful book for me. Kidder is an wonderful writer whose narrative is such a joy to follow.

Strength in What Remains: A Journey of Remembrance and Forgiveness is the story of Deo, a refugee to America from Burundi. We often hear of the genocide occuring in Rwanda...this is the same thing (Hutus vs. Tutsis). It is horrifying to read of what is going on in these countries and to realize that America has done so very little to help. Why are we not more aware? Is it because it is occurring in Africa in a country that does not have the oil we need?

It was also eye-opening to see what life was like in America as he came here with very little money or other resources. The account of his personal strength to overcome...going from being a homeless person sleeping to Central Park in NYC to graduating from medical school is inspirational. Then, even more amazing, is to witness his selflessness as he returns to his native Burundi to help build medical clinics 15 years after he fled. It was very moving to go with Deo to the places that he witnessed the most horrifying of events and share in a small way his shocking experiences.

I heartily recommend this book as one that others in America (especially) should read as we step outside of our comfortable world and into the reality of what life is for others who have not been blessed as we have. It is interesting to me to ponder whether we are creating, in America, the kind of society of Hutus and Tutsis where we would do horrifying things to each other simply because of the meaningless title that has been affixed to us.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong

I loved this story of making the "impossible" happen! Another of the great themes is that of not prejudging people...getting to know people and finding their strengths. This is an important story for children and youth to read and internalize. Amazing thing happens as the children of Shora dare to dream the impossible and bring the entire village together as they never have been in order to make their dream come true.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Bambi by Felix Salten

Not your Disney version of this classic story! Salten does an amazing, poetic job in giving voice to the animals of the story and painting a picture of undisturbed...and disturbed....nature. Interesting social commentary on the interaction between nature and man and between the various animals. Rather dark, at times...especially when Salten brings in the problem of a character coming to trust man too much.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

One of the most enjoyable Newberry Award winners that I have read! Mr. Curtis portrays the story of a young black orphan living during the Great Depression--telling the story through the boy's point of view and his 10 year old manner of speaking. It was delightful! Another on my list of books that people who enjoy good literature must read!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes

I wonder if I would have loved this book as much if I had read it when I was younger. It was most inspiring to me. I loved how Ms. Forbes introduces her reader to some of the lesser known characters of the Revolutionary War period. I was reminded of the importance of freedom of the press. I shall long be inspired by James Otis' words as to why it was important for people to be doing what they were doing and to be willing to sacrifice what they did...not just for the freedom in this country, but for the freedom of people around the world. Inspiring, insightful, and motivating for me in the work that I am involved in that seems so thankless, at times.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

To Destroy You is No Loss: The Odyssey of a Cambodian Family by JoAn D. Criddle

I have been grateful for my decision to participate in the Olympic Reading Challenge because it has given me the opportunity to learn about people, places, and events that I would probably not have learned about, otherwise. This book is the story of Teeda Butt Mam who grew up in an elite, wealthy family in Phnom Penh prior to the fall of the Cambodian government under the Khmer Rouge. It details the genocide of millions of Cambodians under the hands of the Communist government. It is amazing to me that I was totally unaware of this happening in my lifetime! The book helped me to continue to change my outlook on the rest of the world and the individual worth of people all around us. It is so easy to get wrapped up into our prideful, nationalistic ways and not have the appropriate love and respect that we should have for people wherever they live...and to do more to reach out a hand to those in need of support and understanding. I am resolved to do more about the problem of refugees around the world who long for peace and freedom!

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

This has been one of the more memorable books that I have read in a long time! It was difficult for me, at times, not to think that I was reading some Newberry Award winning book where the author tells the story od some fictious family with the strangest things happening to them; children with some of the weirdest parents of all times making it because of the strength of character of the children in the family. But then, I remember that this is the writer's memoir and she is telling the true story of her childhood.
It was so very impactful and full of wonderful insights into the lives of children raised by parents dealing with alcoholism and mental problems and how it is that many people find themselves living on the streets...and even choosing to do so. I highly recommend this book to all! You will be amazed by the Walls' children!

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley

I truly enjoyed reading this Newberry Award winner. It was a book that I had a difficult time putting down. I am not a huge fan of a lot of fantasy novels, but this one was such a fun read. The heroine is a female who is not beautiful and has many flaws, but still very noble and heroic in character. While it was clear where Ms. McKinley was going to take you in the novel, nonetheless, the trip there was enjoyable.
I look forward to reading other books by Ms. McKinley. I think that The Hero and the Crown is a book that will be enjoyed by both young adult and adult readers. One of my highly recommended reads...not for any earth-shaking moral statement or wisdom, but simply as an enjoyable read.