Saturday, December 31, 2011

Multiple Reviews

Well, it's happened again. Months have gone by and I've been terrible at updating my book blog. I'm home sick in bed, so what better to do than take some time to make things current. Even though we're well into 2012, I'm dating this December 31, 2011, because these are all books I finished last year. My next post will catch things up from January through April 2012.

I wasn't super excited about this pick for my last book club meeting. I've read only one Christopher Moore book before (Fluke), and while it had started out strong, it quickly deteriorated into a ridiculous and annoying mess. I also didn't appreciate having to put down the incredible book about WWI that I was reading so that I could finish Lamb in time for our next meeting. But I sucked it up, and, in the end, it wasn't so bad. It was written in the same zany style Moore seems to use for all of his books, and was certainly an interesting interpretation of Jesus's life and early years (as told from the perspective of his best friend Biff). But there were definitely some laugh-out-loud moments, and I appreciated the knowledge and understanding of the Bible that Moore clearly needed to have in order to write such a book. That said, I don't think I'll be recommending it over other books I've read, unless someone is looking for something Biblical that will also make you laugh. MY RATING: 5/10

So, it's official: I have become a WWI buff. I'm not quite sure how it happened, and I'm by no means a true historical devotee, but now that I've finished off a 500 page work of non-fiction, in addition to the several other novels (see 1, 2, 3, and 4) I've read on the subject, I'm putting myself into the 'buff' category. This was an incredible piece of work. Hochschild manages to give us a history of the Great War from a unique perspective while keeping the reader riveted and disgusted at the same time. The war is framed in the context of conflict between a huge anti-war contingency and fight for women's suffrage that was occurring in England at the time the war broke out, and throughout its duration. Activists who had worked together for years to get women the right to vote were divided, and this division had significant implications for the twists and turns throughout the war, particularly as it related to the top British generals' strategic (or not so strategic decisions). The ineptitude of those in charge, and the devastating results and completely unnecessary loss of lives, was maddening to read about (one general judged the success of battles based on the number of fatalities - anything under 10,000 was a battle lost). Hochschild packed an incredible amount of information into a relatively short work of non-fiction, and I always wanted to turn the page. MY RATING: 9/10

A colleague at work recommended this book, and it was a perfect autumn read. The plot centers around a murder mystery - a Hudson Bay Company man is murdered in his cabin in a frontier town in northern Ontario. His neighbour, a shy teenage boy is also missing, and is therefore a prime suspect. It is 1867, and the small town is shaken to its core by the turn of events, especially because it is reminded of the unsolved disappearance of two teenage sisters several years before. As both mysteries are unraveled, the reader is taken on an adventure through the wintery boreal forest to Scandinavian utopian communities, derelict Company outposts, and remote hunting cabins. The complexity of First Nations exploitation by the Hudson Bay Company, resulting poverty and, and loss of culture and identity is explored, all without being in-your-face or taking over the plot. Stef Penney had an uncanny ability of bringing the reader into the surroundings completely, to the point where I often needed a blanket around my shoulders when I was reading. My only criticism is that certain plot points fell into place a bit conveniently at the end, so everything seemed too neat and tidy. But it is a forgivable flaw given the caliber of the storytelling and imagery. MY RATING: 7/10.

Another fun read by Tahir Shah. The Caliph's House is actually the book Shah wrote prior to In Arabian Nights, and I wish I had read it first because it provides a lot of context and back-story that would have been useful to know before picking up the next one. Oh well, not to worry. Both do well as stand-alone books, and his unassuming style and ability to talk about his life, family, and the trials and tribulations of buying an renovating a crumbling mansion are endearing. If you're entertaining any romantic notions about buying a house in a third world country steeped in tradition, I recommend reading this book first. MY RATING: 7/10.

I'm updating this blog post a couple weeks after I first posted it because I completely forgot that I read this book last year. This is not because it was a terrible book - it wasn't. But it wasn't an amazing book, and it was quite upsetting. Mira Bartok and her sister grew up with a mother who was truly psychotic (multiple voices, multiple personalities, dangerous, violent, you name it), and suffered throughout her life because of it. Reading about all of the terrible things she lived through and had to cope with as a child was truly heartbreaking, but I found myself constantly wanting to put down the book, not continue reading to find out how she emerged. MY RATING: 6/10.

My friends at book club picked this book during a meeting I couldn't attend. Who knows if I would have gone for it at the time, but it was not the kind of book I wanted to end the year on. I hate to say it, because one wants to be congratulatory and charitable of someone who overcame the atrocities of war-torn Liberia, spousal abuse, and rapid procreation (4 kids in almost as many years) to rise to a position of influence within the post-war government. And I am impressed by Gbowee's strength and determination. But the book sucked. I wonder seriously who the editor was, or if there even was an editor, because it was practically unreadable. I could only read the first third, and then I put it down, so perhaps it improved (although my book club friends told me it did not), so I won't give a rating. If you're looking for an inspirational story about overcoming the hardships of war, there are better ones out there.

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