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Book 79: Die Again by Tess Gerritsen

Book 79: Die Again (Rizzoli and Isles #11).
Author: Tess Gerritsen, 2014.
Genre: Crime Fiction. Forensic.
Other Details: ebook. 352 pages.

When Boston homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles are summoned to a crime scene, they find a killing worthy of the most ferocious beast—right down to the claw marks on the corpse. But only the most sinister human hands could have left renowned big-game hunter and taxidermist Leon Gott gruesomely displayed like the once-proud animals whose heads adorn his walls. Did Gott unwittingly awaken a predator more dangerous than any he’s ever hunted?

Maura fears that this isn’t the killer’s first slaughter, and that it won’t be the last. After linking the crime to a series of unsolved homicides in wilderness areas across the country, she wonders if the answers might actually be found in a remote corner of Africa.
- synopsis from author's website.

The novel opens with a journal entry written some six years before the events described above. These entries continue interspersed with the chapters set in present day Boston and eventually tie into the present day case.

It has been a while since I read Book 10 in this series and I was pleased to find that Tess Gerritsen had lost none of her skill in writing this kind of forensic crime thriller. I do love this series and felt that this was one of the best. Its theme of big cats and Africa especially appealed to me. Certainly the case kept me guessing.

I could have easily read it in a single day but forced myself to take it slow in order to savour the experience. I do hope that Tess Gerritsen is working on another in this excellent series.

Book 3: In an Antique Land - Amitav Ghosh

A really great book, though hard to categorize! It's partly a history of a slave mentioned in a 12th-century letter, an ordinary person spared from the anonimity that history usually accords to people in such roles. The other side of the book is a narration of Amitav Ghosh's time spent living in rural Egypt as a part of his research. The book is a very nice read, and Ghosh does a great job of holding together his historical research & episodes from life in Egypt in a way that demonstrates the stakes of the history he is creating, one which really focuses on the connections between people, the effects of colonization and development, and the preservation of the past. I ended up liking this one a lot - the writing is vivid and the subject matter is interesting. Plus I really appreciate his approach to narrative, where he is able to pull to light significant historical insights through his juxtaposition of these two stories.

All my reviews.

Book 1(?!?!): Foe, J.M. Coetzee

Hello folks! I'm getting a late start to this challenge, but I think this will be a really helpful motivator for me. The thing I'm challenging myself to do is to write reviews up of the books, so that I have a more substantial record of what I've been reading. Also, as someone who's going to eventually be designing quite a few syllabuses, it'll be super helpful to have reviews, summaries, and first thoughts written down that I can refer back to.


Foe is J.M. Coetzee's retelling of two Daniel Defoe novels, Robinson Crusoe and Roxana: A Fortunate Mistress. The story is told from the perspective of the "Roxana" character, Susan Barton, who arrives on the island with Friday and Cruso (in this novel, Coetzee drops the "e"). Much of the novel is told in the form of quotations from Susan's manuscripts and letters as she struggles with what it would mean to turn her story into a book. Throughout the novel, she is also haunted by Friday and his unwillingness or inability to communicate his story to her.


I really enjoyed this book - it's a nuanced & complex look at how speech and storytelling relate to systems of power & marginalization. It's not an easy text, but that's not too surprising since one of the central themes is about how to come into contact with the unverifiable. Also, for me, I appreciate this difficulty - since the book itself is beautifully written, the complexity and confusion that comes with reading it keeps you from being lulled into complacency. It's a great book, I think, for writers to read or for anyone interested in the relationship between language and power, and certainly gives you a lot to think about.



Cross-posted to my journal.

#68-71

#68 Ken Follett "A Dangerous Fortune" (audible)
One very hot sunny day, several boys in a boarding school defy the rector's prohibition and go for a swim. What happens on that day will have haunt them for years and will only be resolved much later. A completely engrossing book with wonderful characters - the types you can love or hate, but cannot remain cold. I've really enjoyed it.

#69 Priscilla Royal: Sorrow Without End: A Medieval Mystery #3
Another good mystery with prioress Eleanor and father Thomas. The doubts both of them are suffering make the plot nicely three-dimensional.

#70 Rosalind James: Just This Once (Escape to New Zealand)
I normally don't read chick-lit. Picked that one up, because it was about New Zealand. I guess, it is not a bad example of its genre, but it is the genre itself which does nothing but annoy me. The heroine is used to taking care of herself and not trusting anybody else to do it. The guy she meets is on the contrary inclined to take care of everything. She continuously snubs him, and he always patiently comes back, because he is understanding. I guess, an infinitely understanding rich and famous All Blacks captain is every girl's dream, but I just could not manage to suspend my disbelief.

#71 Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: "Purple Hibiscus"
I don't think I would ever buy this book. Picked it up at an exchange. Immensely powerful and deeply disturbing. The story told by a Nigerian girl, whose father is a very religious person, and manages to combine helping others (orphanages, schools, hospitals, people from his home village) with unbelievable cruelty to his own family. The extent of the cruelty does not become apparent immediately and what is even more horrible is the Stockholm syndrome, which the family members seem to have developed. For example, the wife keeps praising her husband for not exchanging her for a younger, more fertile woman, omitting to mention, the many babies she had lost because of the beating he has given her.
Book 174: Cutting for Stone.
Author: Abraham Verghese, 2009.
Genre: Period Fiction. Medical Drama. Family Saga.
Other Details: Paperback. 541 pages.

Marion and Shiva Stone are twin sons of a secret union between an Indian nun and a British surgeon at 'Missing' hospital in Addis Ababa. Orphaned by their mother's death in childbirth and their father's disappearance, bound together by a preternatural connection and a shared fascination with medicine, the brothers come of age as Ethiopia hovers on the brink of revolution. Yet it will be love, not politics-their passion for the same woman-that tears them apart and forces Marion to flee his homeland. He makes his way to America, finding refuge in his work as a surgical intern at an underfunded, overcrowded hospital. - synopsis from UK publisher's website.

A few people had raved about this novel and I admit that I did not find the premise all that enticing. However, once I started reading I was completely riveted by this powerful story of twin brothers.

Cutting for Stone was Abraham Verghese's début novel. He grew up in Addis Abba and is now a Professor of Medicine at Stanford University. All the medical procedures are described in great detail both in Ethiopia and the USA.

So I quickly revised my opinion and after finishing it I felt that it was one of the best books I have read in recent years. I could appreciate its popularity and the many accolades it has gained since publication. It was a library reading group selection and the entire group also loved it. It is a novel that I would happily read again.
Book 147: The Last Rhinos.
Author: Lawrence Anthony with Graham Spence, 2012.
Genre: Non-Fiction. Natural History. Africa. Conservation. Memoir.
Other Details: Paperback. 334 pages.

When Lawrence Anthony learned that the northern white rhino, living in the war-ravaged Congo, was on the very brink of extinction, he knew he had to act. If the world lost the sub-species, it would be the largest land mammal since the woolly mammoth to go extinct. In The Last Rhinos, Anthony recounts his attempts to save these remarkable animals. The demand for rhino horns in the Far East has turned poaching into a dangerous black market that threatens the lives of not just these rare beasts, but also the rangers who protect them. The northern white rhino’s last refuge was in an area controlled by the infamous Lord’s Resistance Army, one of the most vicious rebel groups in the world. In the face of unmoving government bureaucracy, Anthony made a perilous journey deep into the jungle to try to find and convince them to help save the rhino. - synopsis from 'Last Rhinos website.

There were a lot of unexpected bits in this memoir including Lawrence Anthony's dangerous trips into the jungle to negotiate with the warlord leaders of the Lord's Revolutionary Army for the protection of the last rhinos in that area and how he then was pulled into assisting with peace negotiations.

It also continues the story of Thula Thula and their on-going heart-breaking fight against the poachers determined to obtain rhino horn. I am very much in agreement with Lawrence Anthony in his opening condemnation of those countries that perpetuate the superstition of traditional medicines that utilize ingredients such as rhino horns and tiger bones. No matter how old those cultures are they deserve the world's condemnation for their responsibility for snuffing out these beautiful animals.

In the final section Graham Spence speaks about the sudden death of Lawrence Anthony, who was also his brother-in-law, and of the legacy he left behind. This was again a deeply inspiring memoir.

The Last Rhinos website - official website with photo gallery.

Book 145: The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi

Book 145: The Icarus Girl.
Author: Helen Oyeyemi, 2005.
Genre: Magical Realism. Contemporary. Africa.
Other Details: Paperback. 322 pages.

Jessamy Harrison is eight years old. Sensitive, whimsical, possessed of a powerful imagination, she spends hours writing, reading or simply hiding in the dark warmth of the airing cupboard. As the half-and-half child of an English father and a Nigerian mother, Jess just can't shake off the feeling of being alone wherever she goes, and other kids are wary of her terrified fits of screaming. When she is taken to her mother's family compound in Nigeria, she encounters Titiola, a ragged little girl her own age. It seems that at last Jess has found someone who will understand her. TillyTilly knows secrets both big and small. But as she shows Jess just how easy it is to hurt those around her, Jess begins to realise that she doesn't know who TillyTilly is at all. - synopsis from UK publisher's website.

I first read this novel in 2009 and was enchanted by it as evidenced by my initial review (2009 Book 97). So I was very pleased when I suggested it to our library reading group and members agreed that it seemed an interesting choice. On a second reading I was even more impressed by its beauty, strangeness and charm.

After recently reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah I felt that I was better able to appreciate The Icarus Girl's theme of race as experienced by a young woman of mixed racial heritage and the experience of encountering traditional African culture. The haunting - if that is what it was - by TillyTilly continued to be spine-chilling in its quiet menace. The kind of horror that plays on the primal fears of childhood.

The novel was well received by the reading group. Everyone was impressed by the youth of the author (she was 17 and still in school when it was written) and there was curiosity about her later work. Luckily the library had a few of these on the shelf and these were then checked out by various members. I felt pleased to have suggested this for the group as I feel she is an extraordinary writer and it felt good to introduce her to a wider audience locally.
An adventure featuring a non-existent twin who exists, and a fugitive atomic bomb that also doesn't exist--but weighs three megatons and is fairly difficult to hide. The protagonist is Nombeko, who at the start of the novel is fourteen and cleaning latrines in Soweto. It is the seventies, and apartheid is the social, political and economic reality that rules Nombeko’s life, and yet she makes the best of the situation, and ultimately saves the world. With Nombeko we travel from 1970's South Africa to 21st century Sweden.

Jonasson has created a captivating group of characters as well as an engaging plot that made this an entertaining and easy read. Nombeko is a self-taught mathematical genius who lives by her wits and cunning. Then there are the twins in Sweden, Holger One and Holger Two, only one of whom official exists. For reasons known only to himself when the twins are born their father decides only to register one of them. .The twins are born to a fanatical republican who is determined to eradicate the monarchy, a belief that Holger One learns to share. Of course our twins and Nombeko cross paths.

One of the best parts of the novel is when Nombeko is forced into indentured servitude. She is run over by the drunk and moronic engineer, Westhuizen, in Johannesburg after a long journey on foot from Soweto (she was hoping to make it to the National Library of Pretoria). The judge decided in favour of the engineer, a man who only graduated as an engineer due to nepotism and cheating. Obviously he is the perfect man to be in charge of South Africa’s nuclear weapons program. Due to his stupidity and constant drunkenness, and Nombeko’s mathematical brilliance she becomes his right hand man. They can get away with this because she is black and the cleaning woman and therefore ignored by all the politicians and the other engineers. Also featured in this part of the story are two Mossad agents, three Chinese sisters and various politicians.

Books 18-21

I’ve gotten woefully behind on my reading and even more behind on my posts, so here’s a quick catch-up entry.
18.   Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay – this was the June selection for my book club, and it elicited much discussion even though about half our members were away on vacation or end-of-school activities. Sarah is a young Jewish girl living in Paris in 1942, when her family is arrested and taken to a local arena for holding. Before leaving, she locks her younger brother in a cabinet, thinking she will be back in a few hours to release him. Her story is interwoven with that of Julia, an American journalist married to a Frenchman, living in Paris in 2002. Her editor assigns her to write an article about the upcoming anniversary commemoration of the event, and during her research she uncovers a family connection to Sarah’s life and also begins to question many aspects of her own life. Although some characters are a little one-dimensional and the plot sometimes relies too much on coincidences, this is a heart breaking and fascinating story that explores a little known situation in France during World War II.
19.   Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline – this was the May selection for my book club, but due to availability issues I didn’t read it until after we’d met. In spite of the inevitable spoilers from that scenario, I enjoyed this book. It’s another story that’s told with dual timelines in the past and present. Vivian is an elderly woman who employs Molly, a troubled teenager about to age out of the foster system, to help her clean out her attic and get her affairs in order. In the process we learn about Vivian’s history as a young girl who rode the “orphan train” from New York City to the Midwest in hopes of being adopted into a new family after her parents and sister are killed in a fire. Inevitably, despite their surface differences, the two bond over their similar biographies. This is an ambitious novel that for the most part seems to hit its mark.
20.   Insurgent by Veronica Roth – the second in the “Divergent” trilogy. There’s very little exposition at the opening of this book, so it doesn’t stand alone very well. It does move the story along considerably, however. I deliberately waited until I’d seen the first movie before moving onto the second book, and I’ll wait for the next movie before tackling the last book; however, I’m definitely looking forward to finding out how the story arc ends. In this installment, Tris and Four team up with old associates and also meet some new players in the city, as they try to find out just what the Erudite leader has planned and protect their friends from her machinations. We learn more about the faction system as well as hints about the overall milieu in which this system was created in the first place. On balance I don’t like this series quite as much as “Hunger Games” – and I can see some definite parallels – but I will reserve judgment until such time as I’ve completed the whole trilogy.
21.   The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith – another glaring hole in my mystery reading that has now been filled thanks to Amazon’s list of 100 mysteries/thrillers. On the other hand, this is not at all strictly a mystery or crime story. It’s more of a collection of vignettes with the loose through-line of a few puzzles that the protagonist (a Botswanese woman named Precious Ramotswe) solves by way of common sense, keen observation, intrepid sleuthing, and just plain nosiness. Since this is the first book in a series, we also learn a great deal about her childhood, her father, and especially her home in Botswana. She is a delightful main character, and I look forward to continuing the adventure with her as the series progresses.
Book 122: Americanah.
Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 2013.
Genre: Coming of Age. Contemporary. Romance. Literary. Racial Issues.
Other Details: Paperback. 477 pages.

As teenagers in Lagos, Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love. Their Nigeria is under military dictatorship, and people are fleeing the country if they can. The self-assured Ifemelu departs for America. There she suffers defeats and triumphs, finds and loses relationships, all the while feeling the weight of something she never thought of back home: race. Obinze had hoped to join her, but post-9/11 America will not let him in, and he plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Thirteen years later, Obinze is a wealthy man in a newly democratic Nigeria, while Ifemelu has achieved success as a blogger. But after so long apart and so many changes, will they find the courage to meet again, face to face? - synopsis from UK publisher's website.

This was the last novel that I read as part of the library shadowing group for the 2014 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction. I enjoyed it very much as an account of a young woman's coming of age as well as coming to terms with a new culture in which her race was suddenly a factor. It gave me a new appreciation of racial issues, especially in the USA, as well as being a moving story of lost and found love. Given that Obinze spends time in London, this also allows Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie some scope for examining the differences between racial issues in UK and the USA.

Ifemelu was a wonderful character and very much a clear voice throughout the novel. I especially loved her blog entries. The name of her blog was "Raceteenth: or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black”. I felt that her entries were thought-provoking and provided me with fresh perspectives.

Even while dealing with these weighty issues Americanah remains a light-hearted, warm and moving novel. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a writer of great skill who brings her characters vividly alive along with their surroundings. Her writing for me certainly transcends racial and cultural boundaries. I did wonder how much of the novel was informed by her own experience of moving from Nigeria to the USA in her late teens. When Ifemelu says to a friend after returning to Lagos “I discovered race in America and it fascinated me” was she echoing her creator's own experience?

I was very pleased to hear that Americanah will be getting film adaptation with Lupita Nyong'o cast as Ifemelu. Hopefully the adaptation will do the novel justice.

Due to time constraints I had to read this novel quite quickly and I do feel that I'd like to read it again. It would be ideal as a reading group selection as it is has plenty of material within for discussion while being very readable.
Book 80: The Elephant Whisperer.
Author: Lawrence Anthony with Graham Spence, 2009.
Genre: Non-Fiction. Natural History. Africa. Conservation. Memoir.
Other Details: Paperback. 368 pages.

When South African conservationist Lawrence Anthony was asked to accept a herd of 'rogue' elephants on his reserve at Thula Thula, his commonsense told him to refuse. But he was the herd's last chance of survival - notorious escape artists, they would all be killed if Lawrence wouldn't take them. He agreed, but before arrangements for the move could be completed the animals broke out again and the matriarch and her baby were shot. The remaining elephants were traumatised and very angry. As soon as they arrived at Thula Thula they started planning their escape...

As Lawrence battled to create a bond with the elephants and save them from execution, he came to realise that they had a lot to teach him about love, loyalty and freedom. Set against the background of life on the reserve, with unforgettable characters and exotic wildlife, this is a delightful book that will appeal to animal lovers everywhere.
- synopsis from UK publisher's website.

This memoir has been my out-and-about book for the last couple of months, reading it when I had a chance at the zoo or waiting for appointments and the like. I found it a very informative and inspiring account of Lawrence Anthony's work in Africa, not only with this adopted herd of elephants but dealing with the day-to-day challenges of running a game reserve. As might be expected the biggest issue was poaching, which led to some genuinely frightening confrontations.

There were some heart-breaking moments in the book as well as moving and funny ones. He doesn't sugar-coat the challenges associated with his work. I likely will read his latest (and sadly last) memoir, The Last Rhinos, that continues the story of Thula Thula though think it would be too upsetting to read Babylon's Ark about his work in Iraq during the 2003 invasion. Even the bits he shared here in the last chapters were inspiring but painful to read.

I was sad to read that Lawrence Anthony died in 2012 though his legacy continues at Thula Thula and with The Earth Organisation that he founded.

'The Elephant Whisperer' Official Website includes background and links to Thula Thula.
Originally posted by audrey_e at Book 47: Voyage au Bout de la Nuit / Journey to the End of the Night
47 VOYAGE AU BOUT DE LA NUIT / JOURNEY TO THE END OF THE NIGHT Louis-Ferdinand Céline (France, 1932)

2voyage

The life of Ferdinand Bardamu - an anti-hero and self-proclaimed coward - from his involvement in the Great War, to his life in the African colonies, his experience working for a Ford factory in the United States, and his return to France as a medical doctor in an asylum.

Céline's semi-autobiographical first novel is one of the most haunting texts I've ever read. His writing style combines slang with some deeply lyrical passages; the emotions are raw, disturbing, embarrassingly familiar.
The main character's experience of trench warfare is a trauma that sets the tone for the entire novel. Because of the great war, Bardamu is a pessimist, and yet his refusal to die, arguably despite the moral cost and the ugliness of life, is what pervades his journey; a journey that ultimately goes to the heart of human instincts.
Louis-Ferdinand Céline was no doubt a terrible human being, but this book is a must-read for anyone interested in 20th Century literary fiction. His work clearly influenced many of the great writers who came after him, such as Kurt Vonnegut and his Slaughterhouse-Five (the similarities between the two novels being very obvious).

5/5

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Title: Doctor Dolittle's Post Office
Author: Hugh Lofting
Genre: fantasy, animals

Doctor Dolittle wastes no time in setting up the most efficient mail service in the world when he discovers that there is not only an animal language, but animal writing as well. “The Swallow Mail”, as it is called, soon boasts good pens in the post office, postmen who tap once for a bill and twice for a letter, regular afternoon tea for both staff and customers, a reserve of thrush, gull, and penguin helpers to assist with deliveries in the colder climates, and most exciting of all – the great mail robbery. (from the inside flap)

A nice easy read.

On his way home from West Africa, where previous adventures have taken place, Dr. Dolittle is diverted to the (fictional) kingdom of Fantippo...where he discovers a 'post office' that doesn't work well because the principle was admired, no one in Fantippo had any idea how to run a postal service in a practical matter. So the doctor sets about fixing it – using the Royal Mail as his template – with the help of several animal friends, including a Cockney sparrow.

Soon, it becomes clear that running a postal service is a responsibility, an adventure, and can be an agent of change. The doctor cures diseases (which leads to a great line in the text, showing Lofting's ability to work with puns); makes new friends; changes the economic, cultural, and political life of the area he's in (in ways that the Star Trek fan in me reacted strongly to); hears stories from some extraordinary animals, and makes several discoveries in one of his main fields, natural history.

There's also a section in the middle in which the doctor, and some of his “pets” as the book calls them, tell stories they plan to publish in an animals' magazine. I think that's a great device, because each animal narrator's point of view says something about their species' “culture” and way of looking at the world. My favourite story – meaning the one I think is the best narrative – is told by the owl Too-Too...but I found the “Piggish Fairy Tale” (by Gub-Gub, a pig) and the very short tale of human-animal interaction in a domestic setting (narrated by the duck Dab-Dab) very interesting as well.

Overall, I liked the book – although references to the “ignorance” of “these people” (also described, at least by the cheeky sparrow, as “heathen”) – as as well as other instances of casual racism and (Great) White Man Saving The Day, were jarring and unwelcome (even if I knew the book was written in an era when they wouldn't be).

Book #8: Over to You by Roald Dahl

Title: Over to You
Author: Roald Dahl
Genre: historical fiction, short stories, World War II

Roald Dahl's ten early stories arise from his experiences as a wartime fighter pilot. They probe the minds of men living nightmares behind the nervy bonhomie of Ops room and Mess; men sent on one mission too many into chilling countries of the mind. (from the blurb)

Death of an Old Man Read more...Collapse )

An African Story Read more...Collapse )

A Piece of Cake Read more...Collapse )

Madame Rosette Read more...Collapse )

Katina Read more...Collapse )

Yesterday was Beautiful Read more...Collapse )

They Shall Not Grow Old Read more...Collapse )

Beware of the Dog Read more...Collapse )

Only This Read more...Collapse )

Someone Like You Read more...Collapse )

My favourite stories in this are the ones that are linked by common characters. Not that the standalone ones are any less affecting (the first story is the main case in point); they are, but it's always nice to see a character that was in a previous story, particularly if it's from a new point of view.

Each story here brought out a different aspect of being a pilot in World War II, and in some places it's quite clear that the descriptions *work* because they're from experience.

Overall, a strong set of stories with only a few misses.
Title: Mystery and Adventure Stories for Girls
Author: Various; edited by Eric Duthie
Genre: short story, anthology

This book, from 1962, is a collection of stories that - even while being labelled “for girls” (since girls are at least one of the main characters in each story, I wonder?) - I think can be enjoyed by anyone. Some modern readers may need to get used to some of the word choice, narrative styles, and some descriptions of girls' roles and expectations – in some cases the 'period piece' quality is quite clear. Another thing that may draw some readers out of the story briefly, or at least make things a little unclear, are indicators of the past such as now-defunct money denominations.

Wind, William MayneCollapse )

Ship Aground, Kathleen FidlerCollapse )

Risk, Margery SharpCollapse )

Sir Richard, Rosemary SutcliffCollapse )

Peril in the Hills, Gillian BaxterCollapse )

Flight to Adventure, Elisabeth BeresfordCollapse )

The Silver Chain, Rosemary WeirCollapse )

Just Fishin’, Margaret RuthinCollapse )

Adventure with a Film Camera, Michaela DenisCollapse )

Caroline and the Lunch Hour Mystery, Pamela MansbridgeCollapse )

Into the Blue, Viola BayleyCollapse )

Chienniang: A Chinese Ghost Story, retold by Lin YutangCollapse )

The Sire de Malétroit’s door, Robert Louis StevensonCollapse )

Finders Keepers, Showell StylesCollapse )

The Saint, Antonia WhiteCollapse )

The Children of Camp Fortuna, Pamela BrownCollapse )

Sentimental Value, Gerald BullettCollapse )

The Snake Pit, Gerald DurrellCollapse )

Overall, not bad at all. Most of these stories were hits rather than misses for me.


Number of pages: 530

This book is an anthology of travel writing, which I've been slowly reading over the last few months.

Throughout the book are several excerpts from diaries of explorers (some famous, others more obscure) and other writing about them by fellow travellers.

At times, I found this book quite heavy going, although I liked the fact that there was a separate chapter for each continent in the world, and it was enjoyable to know what these peoples' thoughts were as they went on their journeys.

At times it felt a bit repetitive, with a lot of accounts of meetings with naked, or nearly-naked, natives, but some of the incidents recounted were very entertaining to read. Probably the most enjoyable, and emotional, was reading about Roald Amundsen's journey to the South Pole, followed by Captain Scott's own journey, and his discovery that he was not the first person to reach it.

This book was at times quite long-winded, and it was hard to read large amounts in one sitting, but it is definitely a recommended book for anyone interested in exploration.

Next book: The Teleportation Accident (Ned Beauman)

Book 12: Out of Africa

Originally posted by audrey_e at Book 12: Out of Africa
12 OUT OF AFRICA Isak Dinesen/Karen Blixen (Denmark, 1937)

out of afric

Karen Blixen's memoir of her time in Africa, where she owned a farm on the Ngong hills, not far from Nairobi.

Having watched and enjoyed the film adaptation a couple of years ago, it suddenly occurred to me that I should read the book. Now Out of Africa is one of the few members of my "very much improved by Hollywood" Club, along with The English Patient and Fight Club.

My main issue with this memoir is that Blixen shares NOTHING about herself. She never mentions how and why she acquired the farm, where her husband is, and what is the real nature of her relationship with Denys Finch-Hatton. This absence of details is further rendered frustrating by the movie, since it included all the juicy information I wanted to see in the novel.
Instead, Blixen sees herself as an anthropologist. Her memoir is made of observations about the "natives", their behaviors and beliefs, as well as their relationship with the white population. Beyond the post-colonial criticism that could be applied to this book, the author's attempt to appear objective and learned makes her style mostly dry. And the sprinkles of lyrical descriptions do not save the book from being utterly boring.

1,5/5

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Noo Saro Wiwa is the daughter of Ken Saro Wiwa, a Nigerian politician who died in 1995, and was raised in London. This book recounts how she visited the country of her family's heritage, and describes all of the places she visited in meticulous detail. The Transwonderland of the title refers to a Disneyland-type theme park that is mentioned early on in the book.

Right from the start, I was fascinated by how the book describes life in Nigeria, talking about the crowds in Lagos, as well as the hawkers and people setting up makeshift mosques underneath the flyovers. As I read the book, I got a sense that it was getting more emotional, particularly with the author's account of returning to where she lived as a young child, in Port Harcourt, and visits her parents' house.

A lot of the book is spent discussing Nigeria's political situation, and there is also a lot of speculation about how the country is likely to develop in the next 20 or so years, but the best parts were how the author interacted with others, including people who asked why she did not have a Nigerian accent, and even wanted her to return to Nigeria permanently or get baptised.

For anyone who is interested in learning about another culture, this is definitely a recommended book; I loved the vivid picture that it painted for me of life in Nigeria.

Next book: The Plague Dogs (Richard Adams)

Books #35 - #42

I am running out of tiems... eeep!

#35 Red Seas under Red Skies by Scott Lynch

The sequel to the lies of Locke Lamora does not disappoint; It's gorgeous, evocative, full of shenanigans and awesome characters. especaially Zamira <3 PIRATES! CASINOES! INTRIGUE! :D

#36 Phule's Company by Robert Aspirin
#37 Phule's Paradise by Robert Aspirin

Phule's company is good, solid, funny albeit somewhat dated military scifi with all the planets and all the shenanigans. A solid cast of characters is what makes these books, though. Gotta love what is basically Tony Stark sans suit in Space!!!

#38 Old Man's War by John Scalzi
#39 The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi
#40 The Lost Colony by John Scalzi
#41 Zoe's Tale by John Scalzi

The Old Man's War and it's subsequent sequels are similar in vein to Starship Troopers nad the forever war - out there, it's human vs. alien deathmatch. The books chronicle the story of John Perry, who enlists to fight int he colonial army at the age of 75 and ends up with a brand new enhanced body and a ton of interstellar shenanigans. Overlal, this is probably my favorite "new" sci-fi series I've read in a long time; Scalzi's writing is funny and thoughtful and understanding.

#42 Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

Zoo City is set in an alternate version of the South African city of Johannesburg, in which people who have committed a crime are magically attached to an animal familiar – those who receive such punishment are said to be "animalled". The novel's chief protagonist, Zinzi December – who was "animalled" to a sloth after getting her brother killed – is a former journalist and recovering drug addict, and is attempting to repay the financial debt she owes her drug dealer by charging people for her special skill of finding lost objects, as well as making use of her writing abilities by drafting 419 fraud emails. The book's plot focuses on Zinzi's attempts to find the missing female member of a brother-and-sister pop duo for a music producer, in return for the money she needs to fully repay her dealer. (yes I cheated and copied it form wikipedia) this book is so gritty your teeth ache when reading with it, it pulls you in and spits you our t and was definitley the kind o a book I had to read in small doses- and every time it sucked me straight back in.


This is another book that I decided to read because I was intrigued by it, and I was glad I did.

The story centres around the search for a missing person, although that soon becomes secondary to the main story, which deals with a journey through the African wilderness, including encounters with tribespeople and adventures underground.

The characters are well developed, and some of the most memorable parts of the book are in the section when they meet a tribe of natives; at times, it is faintly amusing, as the characters convince the natives they have magic powers in order to avoid being killed, and also shocking because of the savage and barbaric portrayal of the native customs, and there are some brutal death scenes. There is a particularly shocking moment where a character is killed by an elephant.

Overall, I found the book to be very satisfying, and it did seem like Henry Rider Haggard had done a lot of research into typical native customs. If you’re into Adventure stories, or even just the Indiana Jones movies, this is definitely a book worth reading.

Next book: The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

#7: Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord

Amazon description:
Karen Lord's debut novel, which won the prestigious Frank Collymore Literary Prize in Barbados, is an intricately woven tale of adventure, magic, and the power of the human spirit.

Paama's husband is a fool and a glutton. Bad enough that he followed her to her parents' home in the village of Makendha, now he's disgraced himself by murdering livestock and stealing corn. When Paama leaves him for good, she attracts the attention of the undying ones--the djombi--who present her with a gift: the Chaos Stick, which allows her to manipulate the subtle forces of the world. Unfortunately, a wrathful djombi with indigo skin believes this power should be his and his alone.

Bursting with humor and rich in fantastic detail, Redemption in Indigo is a clever, contemporary fairy tale that introduces readers to a dynamic new voice in Caribbean literature. Lord's world of spider tricksters and indigo immortals, inspired in part by a Senegalese folk tale, will feel instantly familiar--but Paama's adventures are fresh, surprising, and utterly original.


This isn't my usual sort of fantasy novel, but when it was selected by my book club, I decided it was a chance to broaden my horizons. It proved to be a smooth and fast read. The tone of the book is completely conversational, like I'm sitting at the storyteller's feet as they tell the tale. I have read Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys, and that already introduced me to the basics of the trickster mythology in Africa. Redemption in Indigo goes deeper, but after the first few pages, I never felt like I was out of my depth.

The characters are especially strong. Paama is a genuinely good person, but she's not perfect. Her husband is appalling and comedic and tragic all at once; the djombi are incomprehensible, yet make sense at the same time.

I don't think this will be a keeper for my crowded shelves, but it was a good read, and I'm glad I was challenged to pick it up.


Title : The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency
Author : Alexander Mccall Smith

Genre : Fiction - Mystery/Detective
My rating : 4/5

Teaser : 

Wayward daughters. Missing Husbands. Philandering partners. Curious conmen. If you've got a problem, and no one else can help you, then pay a visit to Precious Ramotswe, Botswana's only - and finest - female private detective.
Her methods may not be conventional, and her manner not exactly Miss Marple, but she's got warmth, wit and canny intuition on her side, not to mention Mr J.L.B. Matekoni, the charming proprietor of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors. And Precious is going to need them all as she sets out on the trail of a missing child, a case that tumbles our heroine into a hotbed of strange situations and more than a little danger . . .


This book is the first of the Ladies Detective Agency series and it made me eager to read more of Smith's works. I'm definitely going to read the rest of the series. This book is a great introduction to Botswana and Africa with all the smiles and the tears from the land. It makes me want to know more about Botswana and drink the famous red bush tea. Bush tea seems to be a very comforting and calming drink. But then again, it might be just the effect of Precious Ramotswe or Mma Ramotswe. She's an endearing character and I find myself emotionally involved throughout the story. I really want to know what happens to her next. I gave the book 4 stars out 5 because the cases in the book did not provide me with that elements of surprise, awe and puzzlement. They're simple cases and sometimes very predictable but still delivered in a good and obviously not in a boring way. The book is more of a story about life in Botswana and the problems that come up in everyday life, instead of deep mystery detective story. But I'm loving it and will read more!

Tags:

Book 89: The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency .
Author: Alexander McCall Smith, 1998.
Genre: Mystery. African Culture.
Other Details: Paperback. 256 pages.

Following the death of her father Precious Ramotswe uses the money she receives from selling his herd of cattle to set herself up as Botswana's first female private investigator opening The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. In this introductory novel to the series she undertakes a number of cases using her common sense and intuition. While most of the cases are domestic, dealing with philandering husbands, conmen and wayward teenagers, one case involving a missing child does bring her into danger.

This delightful novel has been my 'book in handbag' for a couple of months as its short chapters made it perfect for dipping into at odd moments. I'd seen Anthony Minghella's series on the BBC and adored Mma Ramotswe and her world. While I was familiar with the cases making up the novel I found it much richer, fleshing out the characters and providing beautiful descriptions of Botswana and Africa.

Rather than a traditional mystery it is a series of linked vignettes featuring the cases undertaken by Mma Ramotswe that also provide insight into post-colonial Africa and the wider human condition. There is a great deal of warmth and humour without ignoring the darker side of human nature.

Alexander McCall Smith was born and raised in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) though moved to Scotland when he entered university. He returned to Africa during the 1980s where he taught law at the newly founded University of Botswana. His writing on this series has been described as 'love letters to Botswana' and that was exactly how it struck me when reading.

Tags:

Books 7 & 8

Book 7: "The Double Comfort Safari Club" by Alexander McCall Smith

Mma Ramotswe herself smiled at the recollection. “I went in at the shallow end,” she said. “It was not very deep, and I found that I could stand. But then I made a very interesting discovery.”
“That you could swim?”
Mma Ramotswe shook her head. “No, I did not find that I could swim. I found, though, that I could float. I very slowly took the weight off my legs, and do you know, Mma, I floated. It was very pleasant. I did not have to move my arms-I just floated.”
Mma Makutsi clapped her hands. “That is very good, Mma! Well done! Perhaps it is something to do with being so traditionally built. A thin person would sink. You floated.”
“Possibly,” said Mma Ramotswe. “But it was good to discover that I could do a sport after all.”
Mma Makutsi was not certain that floating could be called a sport. Was there a Botswana floating team? She thought not. What would such a team do? Would they have to float gently from one point to another, with the winner being the one who arrived first? Surely not.


Mma Makutsi's fiancee Phuti ends up in hospital after being injured in an accident, and she is thwarted in her attempts to care for him by his over-protective aunt tries to keep her at arm's length. On the other hand, it was nice to see a very different part of Botswana when Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi travelled to a safari camp in the Okavango Delta in search of a beneficiary to a will. But overall this isn't one of my favourite books in this series.

Book 8: "The Mother-in-Law" by Eve Makis

If he were't obsessed about Elvis, he'd be obsessing about something else. At last Elvis is a positive role model. I obsess about him myself sometimes, dressed in that black leather jumpsuit.
'Positive role model? Heavy drinker, pill-popper, philanderer?'
'We all have our foibles, Lydia. If Elvis drank stinky green tea and went to bed at eleven-thirty, do you think he would have been a rock and roll legend?'


Electra, the daughter-in-law, is a warm and vibrant woman, and a night-owl who uses eleven-thirty as an example of an early bedtime, but I didn't really warm to her, her husband Adam, or their family and friends, or care about their problems. Electra'a best friend Lydia, with her inadequate mothering style and bratty son, was especially annoying.

February Reading: Books #5-8

5. William T. Close, M.D, Ebola: A Documentary Novel Of Its First Explosion, 404 pages, Africa, Paperback, 1991. Very interesting, not at all what I expected; a novelization of the people involved and their reactions, made even more fascinating since I have had family do medical missionary work in Zaire before this time. 4/5

6. Tony Hillerman, The Sinister Pig, 318 pages, Mystery, Paperback, 2003 (Navajo Mysteries, Book 16). Bernie Manuelito working the Mexican border patrol with a case that ties to her friends in the Navajo Police up north. 4/5

7. Tony Hillerman, Skeleton Man, 241 pages, Mystery, Hardback, 2004 (Navajo Mysteries, Book 17). Cowboy Dashee enlists the help of his friends to clear his cousin of jewel theft by searching for the man who gave him a diamond from the wreckage of a plane at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. 3.5/5.

8. Tony Hillerman, The Shape Shifter, 276 pages, Mystery, Hardback, 2006 (Navajo Mysteries, Book 18). The final book of the series, with Joe Leaphorn solving a mystery he thought solved from his days as a rookie. 3/5.

Tags:

Book 13: Purple Hibiscus.
Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 2003.
Genre: Contemporary. Literary. Coming of Age. Religion.
Other Details: Paperback. 327 pages

"Things started to fall apart at home when my brother, Jaja, did not go to communion and Papa flung his heavy missal across the room and broke the figurines on the étagère."

The opening of this powerful début novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a young Nigerian-born writer, references Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. It perfectly captures in a few words the domestic tyranny that its narrator 15-year old Kambili Achik, her brother, Jaja, and mother, Beatrice, endure on a daily basis. Her father, Eugene, is a devout Catholic and also a wealthy businessman. Among his many ventures and charitable works he runs a newspaper that speaks out against political corruption and the oppressive regime. Set in the mid-1990s during the time of the military juntas, this is a brave stand to take. Although a benevolent father figure to the outside world he controls his wife and children with an iron grip.

After Jaja's act of defiance in the opening chapter, the story moves slightly backwards in time to detail how this act of rebellion came about. Kambili and Jaja had been sent on an extended visit to their father’s sister, Ifeoma, and her three children. While this family is not nearly as affluent as their own, it is a very liberal and nourishing environment and under the influence of their aunt and cousins both children begin to open up and become more willing to express their own opinions.

Set against a backdrop of political and social turmoil the novel explores themes of oppression and freedom in both the personal and wider sense. Other themes include the legacy of domestic violence and post-colonialism. Religion also plays a large part in the novel with a contrast between Eugene's very strict adherence to Catholicism and the more liberal Catholicism practised by their aunt. Traditional African religion also features and the various responses to that by those following a Christian faith.

Given its themes and setting I had expected a rather difficult read and was pleasantly surprised when it proved to be so accessible. It was actually hard to put down and quite a few members of the reading group for which it was the January selection expressed similar sentiments. Adichie very skilfully weaves aspects of local dialect and culture, including the food of the region, into her rich narrative.

This is an amazing book on so many levels that it is little wonder that it and its author attracted so much acclaim on its publication and was nominated for various literary awards including the Man Booker and Orange Prize for Fiction and won two Commonwealth Writers awards. A novel that is very African and yet universal. It is one I highly recommend.
Book 131: In a Strange Room.
Author: Damon Galgut, 2010.
Genre: Contemporary. Travel Fiction. Mental Health.
Other Details: Hardback. 180 pages.

There is a moment when any real journey begins. Sometimes it happens as you leave your house, sometimes it’s a long way from home…

In a Strange Room is comprised of three long stories, each about 60 pages. They chronicle three journeys of a South African man through Greece, Africa and India. He travels very lightly and in many ways appears to be fairly alienated from others and the places he passes through. In the journeys he takes on the respective roles of follower, lover and guardian.

In the first story,The Follower, he meets a handsome, enigmatic stranger in Greece and they wander together for a while. In the second,The Lover, he tags along with a group of European backpackers through Africa. Finally, in The Guardian, now in his middle years he is joined in India by a friend from South Africa who has severe mental health problems. Despite the man's best intentions, each journey ends in disaster.

It is written in an unusual style that could end in some readers throwing the book across the room. Like Cormac McCarthy, Galgut eschews the use of quotes to indicate dialogue. He also avoids the use of question marks giving the narrative a flat feel. He also switches narrative perspective from third person to first, sometimes in the same sentence. However, as each journey is an evocation of memory this does actually work. There was one section though where he seemed to lose this sense of being an impassive observer in the narrative of his travels. I won't say where it comes but the change of emotional tone is very marked even if he quickly draws back to his usual stance.

There seems to be an autobiographical aspect to the stories, not only because its narrator is named Damon, but because Galgut has said in an interview: “the project was to recall, as honestly and truthfully as I could, three journeys that I’ve taken at different points in my life.”. Yet when challenged as to whether this equated to a memoir rather than fiction, his response was "memory is fiction.".

This was another 2010 Man Booker short-listed title and I doubt that I would have even contemplated reading it if I hadn't been part of the Shadowing Group. Even though it took me a while to connect with Galgut's sparse style, I found it a haunting, poetic work that was deceptive in its simplicity. It felt very philosophical and contemplative.

Excerpt from 'The Lover' - from The Paris Review, where all the stories originally appeared, which gives a sense of his style.

34 - 38 + Audio


34. Switching Time: A Doctor's Harrowing Story of Treating a Woman with 17 Personalities - (8/24) - Richard Baer 368p
4/5

Since Sybil I have been fascinated by the idea of MPD, therefore it was no surprise that I found this book enthralling.

It's a pretty detailed account of 18 years of therapy identifying, diagnosing, and re-integrating 17 alternate personalities. It is disturbing, unfathomable, the kind of abuse suffered by this woman. Her parents make Jeanette Walls's parents look like Mike and Carole Brady.

The level of mental illness both in the child and the parents is staggering.

(GRAPHIC)

I find it all a little hard to believe. There were groups of people, the father, the grandfather, a priest, a policeman, etc involved in the abuse of this child. Not just sexual (and at a sickeningly young age) but mental and physical pain infliction. How does a dad decide to stick a pin through his daughters nipple? Or shove a plastic cross up inside her? How does a grandfather rape a child with a garden hose? How does a priest make kiddie porn? How does the mom ignore it all? How does this go on year after year after year with nobody intervening?

(END GRAPHIC)

It's heartbreaking. Heart-rending.

All of it seems so extreme that it just doesn't seem possible. It seems fictional. And yet , who would make that up? Who would spend 18-years in therapy with a made up disease? Only somebody really mentally ill. Ultimately, I have to believe it's true. Believing that means I have to believe that people are capable are doing this to their children.

The writing isn't fantastic, and parts got really repetitive. Like 17 times everything. But it was gripping and fascinating. When the first few alters integrated, I cried because it really was like a death or a character, but you know, but like number 8 I was over it.

If this subject interests you at all, I really recommend a fictional take on this topic, Set This House in Order by Matt Ruff. I plan to re-read it (I had to buy it again ... never lend a book to a boyfriend in rocky relationship.) After reading this, it was clear to me how much research Ruff did, and what a terrific job he did with the subject.


35. Mockingjay - (8/28) - Suzanne Collins 400p

3/5

I wasn't disappointed, per se, but I wasn't enthralled either. There was nothing about this book that grabbed me and wouldn't let go. Often, I was flat out bored, and sometime about the mid-point of the story, Collins started writing random fragment sentences. They were so jarring to me.

No idea if this is a spoiler or not, but I am proceeding with extreme caution:


 

The Hunger Games, without the games? Just not the same. I knew there was no possibility of games, but I didn't realize how much it would change the dynamic of the story and virtually remove all the excitement from it.

Bella, I mean, Katniss wasn't really herself. And how many near-death-experiences was that? She spent most of the book in the hospital.

Speaking of death, Collins hasn't been shy about killing off characters, but this seemed like overkill (ha!). And GRAPHIC. Holy cow! Extremely violent. Unnecessarily so.

End what probably wasn't at all a spoiler

So, I don't know. It sounds like I disliked the book, and I didn't. But it holds none of the allure of the first two, and I personally didn't find it a particularly satisfying ending to what was a great series. I know that the final outcome was, in a sense, pre-determined, but I think there could have been a better way to get there. Collins got a little wrapped up in finding creative ways for people to die. For the age group this is intended for, I found it too much, too harsh and frankly, too sad.



36. C - (9/5) - Tom McCarthy 320p
4/5
(review behind the link, no spoilers)

37. Gone with the Wind - (9/26) - Margaret Mitchell 860p
5/5

(My first time reading it!)

It became clear to me very early on in my reading that I thankfully remembered very little of the movie. What a great book! In my younger days this would have been a book which would have kept me up all night reading until I finished.

What was so phenomenal about this book was the characters. Wow, they were so brilliantly messed up. Aside from Rhett (who I adore), Melanie was my second favorite, which sort of surprised me.

I laughed, I cried. I rooted for Scarlett and Rhett the whole way through, even though I knew the ending.

It was so well done and I'm so glad I read it.


38. Little Bee - (9/30) - Chris Cleave 304p

5/5

I loved this book. It was getting a lot of buzz (ha! bee? get it?) so naturally I was skeptical.

At a very high level, a Nigerian girl ends up in the UK as a refugee. This is her story and the story of a British couple she met on a beach when they were vacationing in Nigeria.

The writing was lovely; at times poignant and beautiful. There were passages which reminded me of The Book Thief. A carving out of something beautiful in the midst of something horrific. It was fast-paced, engaging, sometimes funny, sometimes sad. The characters were unique, flawed, interesting. It could have been depressing, but it wasn't.

It alternates both points of view, and timelines. I felt like that worked really well for the story.

It wasn't a perfect book. In fact, for my taste, I found it a bit timid and some parts felt a bit like filler. This was a book that could have punched me in the gut, but the only time I felt "punched in the gut" was in the Q and A section where the author told the true story of what inspired the book. I think it's important to say, though, it takes a lot to punch me in the gut, so while I found it a bit timid, others may not feel that. It definitely is an intense subject matter.

It's an important topic, to be sure. I would encourage anybody on the fence about reading the book: Pick it up. If you've never thought of reading it: Pick it up.

It's absolutely one of my favorites of the year.


Audio 13 and 14

13. The Elegance of the Hedgehog - Muriel Barbery 3/5 stars

There were things I liked about this book, and things I didn't. The writing was pretty good, and I loved the humor. I liked the characters, Paloma most of all. But there were too many references I didn't get, and it was a bit too intellectual and philosophical for me.

Ultimately, had I been reading it instead of listening to the audio I don't think I would have finished. When Rene started her rambles, I sort of tuned it out.

I didn't dislike it by any means, and the audio was very well done.

14. Beatrice and Virgil - Yann Martel 2/5 stars

(review behind the link, no spoilers)

 

My complete list can be found here

My book blog

Books 28 and 29 - 2009

Book 28: A Kiss of Shadows by Laurell K. Hamilton - 521 pages

My little synopsis: Princess Meredith NicEssus is on the run from her dangerous cousin Prince Cel and her sadistic Aunt Andais, Queen of the Unseelie Court. While working for the Grey Detective Agency, a series of events reveals who she is to her previously unsuspecting friends and suddenly Meredith's aunt is beckoning her back to Court and to her side as co-heir to the Unseelie throne...if only Meredith can produce a child before Cel.

Really, my synopsis above gives a PG-rated version of events in A Kiss of Shadows. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed it. The characters are all engaging, all with their own strengths and neurouses and very well fleshed out. But flesh is definitely where a big part of this story lies. My God, the sex scenes are unbelievable! I have to admit I don't tend to read a lot of romance, as much as I love it, mostly because of this very reason. The sex scenes are so over the top sometimes it sickens me. I really think that most writers are very poor with sex scenes - they're either pornographic or so sickly romantic it makes me want to throw up (see: Harlequin romance novels). Whilst Hamilton leans more to the pornographic side, she does do a decent job. Though my own personal feelings question Meredith's approach to relationships I've come to accept it and just go with the fun of the story. Frankly, the sex I could overlook in comparison with the disgusting 'Hand of Flesh' ability that Meredith presents with some 150 pages in. Now, that was gross! And just when I thought I'd escaped it, it reared it ugly (dual, this time!) head again. I'm not looking forward to seeing it appear again in later books, but I was intrigued enough to chase down the second book from my local library. We'll see if reading them so close together will turn me against them. I actually picked up this series originally because of all the people that had reviewed Swallowing Darkness (book 7) on here when it came out last year, so thanks to everyone for introducing me to some pretty cool new material!


28 / 50 books. 56% done!


10575 / 15000 pages. 71% done!


Book 29: Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee - 220 pages

My little synopsis:
David Lurie, a middle-aged university professor in Cape Town, South Africa, has an impulsive affair with a student and ends up losing his job and his name. Retiring to the Eastern Cape to stay with his daughter Lucy, he finds for a time that he is becoming used to his new life. But then he and Lucy are the victims of a savage attack in their own home, and suddenly the changes in the post-apartheid country are revealed in all their staggering and shattering reality to David.

Um, how do I describe this book? It was very clinical, very impersonal, in both its writing style and its characters. I realise it won the Nobel Prize for Literature and the Booker Prize, but I really didn't engage with it. You cannot feel for either David or Lucy, regardless of the circumstances of their situation, because neither lends themselves to sympathy. They are definitely father and daughter in the fact that they are both so alike in their stubborn disregard for advice. Perhaps I missed something, because on the facebook profile for this book, nearly all the reviews are stellar. But I read the book after my brother, who's studying literature in amongst a variety of other uni subjects, leant it to me after having to read it for his class and he got the same impression as me. I don't like it when I can't feel for the characters, I don't like a story for the sake of a story and whilst I understood the point about the change in power in SA after apartheid, I didn't quite understand Coetzee's point - is he trying to make me sympathise with David and Lucy or with the situation of the black population of SA or is he just trying to present both sides of the argument? I don't know. I just didn't feel that it did either side any justice. I've got friends from both sides of apartheid - I work with about 15 South Africans of varying heritage - and I just don't think David and Lucy and any of the other characters did these people justice as countrymen. Oh well, you can't love every book you read can you?


29 / 50 books. 58% done!



10795 / 15000 pages. 72% done!


Currently reading:
- From Modernism to Postmodernism: An Anthology edited by Lawrence Cahoone - 600 pages
- The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant: Volume 2: The One Tree by Stephen Donaldson - 472 pages
- The True Story of Butterfish by Nick Earls - 280 pages

-
A Caress of Twilight by Laurell K. Hamilton - 326 pages

And coming up:
- The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory - 486 pages
- Next by Michael Crichton - 540 pages
- Angels and Demons by Dan Brown - 620 pages

Books 112 - 119 / 100

112. African Silences - Peter Matthiessen
A book about the author's travels in Africa during the '70's and '80's. He focuses mostly on the decimation of wildlife by poachers and locals, particularly the elephant before the ban on the ivory trade.
His style is very dry but also poetic, and exactly like his picture in the book. And there was an hysterical story about being attacked in the shower by a pet mongoose.

113. John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, a Private Life - Paul C. Nagel
A biography of America's sixth president. This was really way more interesting than I expected, and the author only devotes one chapter to JQA's presidency, which he felt was not the most important thing that he'd achieved, and so not representative of JQA. I found myself being jealous of all the educational and travel opportunities that he had, and all that book buying!

114. All's Well That Ends Well - William Shakespeare
One of Shakespeare's comedies. I didn't like it, since it's basically about a beautiful, intelligent, and virtuous woman throwing herself away on a lying cheat who doesn't appreciate her. Ha ha.

115. The Trojan Women - Euripides
This play is set right after the fall of Troy, before the Greeks sail away. Troy is burning, all the men are dead, and the women are about to sail off from their homeland as slaves. The focus is on Hecuba, Andromache, and Cassandra, who has the best insane monologues.

116. Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream - Barbara Ehrenreich
The author's premise is that there is no job security anymore, even if you're educated and have held good positions in the past. To show this, she presents herself as a job-seeker, and tries to get work, with little success.

117. The Wisdom of the Heart - Henry Miller
A collection of essays and excerpts by Miller. On topics as varied as Balzac and whores, but then, it is Henry Miller.

118. Sherlock Holmes: The Collected Novels and Stories: Volume II - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The second of two volumes. This one contained The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Valley of Fear, His Last Bow, and The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes. Throughly enjoyable.

119. The English Patient - Michael Ondaatje
Amazing. The movie is good, but the book is way better. I felt utterly cut adrift when I finished this.

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