February 4th, 2010


Book 13: Disobedience by Naomi Alderman

Book 13: Disobedience
Author: Naomi Alderman, 2006.
Genre: Contemporary. Faith. GLBT theme.
Other Details: Paperback. 277 pages.

Alderman and her publisher's claim that this is the first novel set in the world of British Orthodox Judaism since George Eliot's Daniel Deronda of 1876. It is a essentially the tale of two women: Ronit, the daughter of an esteemed rabbi who has rebelled and left for a secular life in New York, and her lover Esti, who remained within the community and married, even though she knows she will only ever be attracted to women.

When Ronit's father dies, she returns to Hendon, London to deal with the estate and attend his memorial. Her return is not popular with certain members of her father's synagogue for whom her very existence is an embarrassment. Ronit comes prepared to make some waves though she finds that her responses to the community and the faith she left behind is much more complex than she had imagined.

Naomi Alderman grew up in the Orthodox Jewish community of Hendon and her father is a noted writer on Anglo-Jewish history. It was Alderman's first novel and won the 2006 Orange Award for New Writers.

This was our first 2010 selection for my library reading group. Overall, it was well received by the group. I certainly enjoyed it for its warmth and rich narrative. Collapse )

One point Alderman makes through Ronit's voice is an observation that being gay and being Jewish are invisible states of being that one does not choose for oneself. She concludes that 'if you are, you are. There's nothing you can do to change it' but goes on to say that you can choose whether you practice or not, whether you choose to remain invisible or 'come out'. It was an interesting point and I've included more of the quote under the cut below. This proved an interesting talking point for the book. We also all enjoyed the interview with the author at the end of the book for the extra information it gave on the book's genesis. Certainly an accomplished début and I will look out for future works for this author.

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Naomi Alderman's blog.

Book 5

Title: As I Lay Dying
Author: William Faulkner
Themes/Topics: Religion, Penance, Death, Self-Service, Patriarchal Hierarchy

Ok Faulkner, you win. I was not at all pleased with Sanctuary that I read last month for my book club but was told that I would certainly like "As I Lay Dying" and I found this to be true.

I certainly didn't like all of the characters in this novel, as some of them were odious and/or falsely pious but the characters were rich and well written. I found this book to be very thought provoking and even funny at times.

Parts of it still seemed a bit over my head but I'm eager to discuss them. This was an enjoyable read and I'm glad I gave Faulkner another shot

#2 The Princes In The Tower - Alison Weir

Friends will know im an avid history buff. After reading the fictional 'White Princess' I decided to delve into fact and discover what really happened during the War of The Roses.
Alsion Weir has written two books that cover the period. The first is an overview of the Wars, the second concentrates on the famed mystery of the Princes in the Tower.
'The Princes' were King Edward V and his younger brother Richard Duke of York, the sons of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. Young Edward was 12 and York 9.
Edward V was overthrown by his Uncle Richard Duke of Gloucester (later Richard III) The boys were imprisoned away from thier family in the Tower Of London. They never came out and thier disapperance and subsequent murder has been the subject of intruige and fierce debate ever since.
I like Alison Weir and have read most of her books. I find them well researched, balanced in thier arguements and easy to read. Some History books can be quite stilted and heavy going, I dont find this with Weir.
I would recommend this book firstly to those who are looking to expand thier knowledge of History without acually wanting to study it.
Also recommended to anyone who likes a good old fashioned whodunnit. The story of the Princes is fascinating and even today people are still not agreed on thier fate. Why not give this a read and see what you think happened to them?
KK - Kelly

Books 4 - 6

4. Ship of Magic
by Robin Hobb

Started/Finished: 1/27/10 - 2/02/10

Not a bad book. I liked the pirates, I liked the ship. It dragged a bit in places, but overall I enjoyed it. Althea is a pretty cool character, for all her faults, although I don't think she's my favorite. I think I like Paragon more.


5. Wildside
by Steven Gould

Started/Finished: 2/02/10

One of my favorite books of all time, I think. This book was one that kicked off a lot of my inspirations and about a bazillion more daydreams. Every time I read it I just feel the motivation to go do something come to life. Doesn't even matter what, so long as it's something.


6. Foundation
by Mercedes Lackey

Started/Finished: 2/03/10

The Heralds of Valdemar have a unique existence. This book covers one of them, in the form of Mags. From a poor mine digger boy to Herald with unique talents, this book covers a good chunk of the transition. I look forward to seeing the sequels.


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Great Magyk Willoughbys Help Rampant Mouse

The Willoughbys, by Lois Lowry
The kind of parody that transcends parody and manages to ALSO be a top-rate exemplar of the genre it's parodying - without losing its sense of humour about itself (frex Gulliver's Travels). If you read many classic children's books as a child and are now a cynic, but still have fond memories - or if you wished the charmingly ironic Series of Unfortunate Events was both darker and sweeter.... you should definitely give this book a whirl. PS Some people may be interested to note that this book contains more than one Barnaby.

The Great Influenza, by John M Barry
Content very very interesting (1918 flu epidemic contextualized within a history of American medicine), writer's tone rather pompous and irritating. Thus, a slog, but one I'm glad I made. YMMV.

Magyk, by Angie Sage
Middle-grade fantasy, fairly straightforward and of course I grasped the entire outline of the overarching plot within the first thirty pages. But the descriptions are vivid, the characters are delightful, and the individual incidents that make up that predictable plot are engaging and original. A restful, endearing read.

The Help, by Kathryn Stockett
The good: This story was plenty engrossing and once I got past my initial irritation at the way the author rendered dialect, I was definitely hooked on finding out what happened to the characters, who felt real to me. The bad: As a whole, the book felt like "Maeve Binchy does Toni Morrison" - a book clubby kind of story for white ladies who don't feel comfortable reading important African American authors, maybe found they were "too angry" for their tastes, but still want to be able to empathize with the struggle for civil rights. I really don't think that's what the author set out to do and I feel vaguely guilty for having that dismissive reaction to what was, actually, a pretty interesting, not-all-sweetness-and-light story that I enjoyed reading. It has merits! But in the end, I'm not able to decontextualize it from my irritation at the assumptions I've made about its success.... which bums me out - the author seems to be writing from a sincere and vulnerable place. But in the end it just didn't feel right.

Rampant, by Diana Peterfreund
SO much fun!!! The heroine spends her childhood putting up with her mom's crazy delusions that she springs from a line of unicorn hunters (and that unicorns were both real and top-of-the-food-chain superpredators).... and then finds out her mom was right and unicorns aren't actually extinct. Astrid's dogged efforts to figure out rational explanations to flesh out her completely irrational new situation in life are both funny and empathy-generating. The violence is no-holds-barred and the characters cuss and make out and a very unpleasant thing happens that some may find triggery - but despite all of this, I was somehow put in mind of Madeleine L'Engle more than anyone else. Our protagonist is working very hard at being good (though she would never put it that way) and I felt that the characters who weren't fleshed out were actually much more complicated than what I was told about them. I loved it! (Thanks to maida_mac for telling me to read it often enough that I actually listened.)

Mouse Guard: Fall 1152, by David Petersen
I picked up a single issue of this comic at some point, tried it, and thought "WTF was everyone liking about this? It doesn't even make sense!!" Well, I should've started at the beginning. The story is slight but compelling - and the art is gorgeous. Full of adorably valiant mice and suitably terrifying snakes, crabs, etc. Whee!
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women, picasso, reading

7/50 American on Purpose by Craig Ferguson

       I like reading autobiographies of public figures. I want to hear their side of their story. You might know Craig Ferguson from The Drew Carey Show, but he is currrently hosting the Late Late Show  on CBS. He was born Scottish, but recently became a naturalized citizen of the United States. He talked about the application process, the testing, and the citizenship award ceremony on his show. He is very proud to be American-by-choice. He reminds me of things I have forgotten and taken for granted about being American. He is also funny as hell and has an interesting story to tell. My favorite line is "That is a quality I admire, but do not possess". I'm going to use that someday.

3/5 stars because, well...autobiographies aren't exactly literature.
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    impressed impressed

2 - 4

2. The Stand: Expanded Edition: For the First Time Complete and Uncut (Signet) - (1/24) - Stephen King 1141p

3/5 (and I'm being generous)

This review is LADEN with SPOILERS

A lot of Spoilers

You've been warned....

When I first started reading this book, I LOVED it. Couldn't get enough. Thought about it when I wasn't reading, and talked to anybody who would listen about it. The plague and post-plague world was so vividly drawn.

If you think about a pandemic of that nature, and devastation a survivor would face, you know that only one instinct could keep a person going. Self-preservation. If I was alive in the aftermath of that, I'd be a casualty of the "second plague", if I had the courage. Only something deeply innate could compel people forward. And I loved that aspect of it. Picking themselves up, dusting themselves off and branching out into a world that was a completely unknown.

I loved the book pretty much until everybody ended up in Nebraska. At that point, things fell apart for me and they never came back together.

The supernatural aspect of the book didn't have to ruin it for me. I'm not pre-disposed to disliking such things, but it's the way it was done. Oh, we all had a dream ... OK, I can buy that. Let's go to Nebraska. OK, I can buy that. OK, now we are all in love with this 108 year old woman. I'm out. I found Abigail, as the driving "force" of these people to be neither charismatic, nor endearing. Likewise, Randall Flagg (AKA....) was neither charismatic nor compelling. ALL this insane detail in this book and the two most critical driving forces in this novel were unlikeable, uninteresting, and unbelievable.

The whole book we read about how powerful Flagg was, but the first time we got to spend any amount of time with him, he was outsmarted by an old-man, a woman and a "feeb." Even his "bride" out-witted him. Uh? Where's the beef?

I kept finding myself thinking of TV shows where there's an actor, playing an actor, and looking out to the director and saying "What's my motivation?" The only motivation, to me, again is self-preservation. Yet, after everything these people had been through to get to Boulder, how easily they tossed that aside. Let's send an old man, a woman and a "feeb" to spy on the enemy. And let's hypnotize the "feeb" so he'll not be a "feeb." Sure, I'll go die. No problem. I survived the flu, and a walk across the country. You want me to get on a bike and go 800 miles into enemy camp. I'm in. Oh, and by the way, you don't even need to ask because I already know what you're going to say.

And Nadine the character in the book who probably had the biggest self-preservation drive, tosses herself away ... in basically one paragraph.

The detail was excruciating (and yes, indulgent). The fricken freeways they took were expounded upon, and road conditions, and what kinds of cars were in the way, and what the dead driver was wearing, but major important parts of the book were rushed through. We have 1071 pages of build up for the battle of good and evil and it was over in 2 paragraphs. I. WAS. PISSED.

Ultimately, I didn't care what happened to anybody. Major characters died and I didn't blink. Kojak was my favorite.

If it had ended as great as it began, it absolutely would have been a favorite. And I'm glad I read it. But if I were to ever recommend it to anybody, I would definitely suggest the abridged version.

3. Bite Me: A Love Story - (1/30) - Christopher Moore 320p

5/5 - review behind the link (no spoilers)

4. The Giver - (1/31) - Lois Lowry 208p


What a great little book. Super fast paced, read it in less than 3 hours. It's amazing how much punch such a little book could have. Brought you right in, and filled you with emotion.

It was so well-written, there were parts when I almost felt like I was experiencing something for the first time.

On a side note: Having recently read Jasper Fforde's "Shades of Grey", it seems to me that some of the ideas for that book, at least conceptually, must have come from this book. Fforde's is very different, but there are some fundamental similarities.

My complete list can be found here



The War of the Southern Rebellion has provided material for numerous posts, including battlefield visits and book reviews over the years. Most of the books so reviewed have narrow focus, as befits the interest of a reader with nearly fifty years' experience researching that war. John Keegan's The American Civil War: A Military History, the subject of Book Review No. 4, is different. Mr Keegan, who has lectured in military history at Sandhurst, might be envisioning an audience of European readers for whom an overview of the political issues, the logistical challenges, and the background living conditions of that quarrelsome overseas republic would prove instructive. At that, the book succeeds in a most readable way. Mr Keegan lays out the problems of fighting a continental war (with a little help from Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, both financing the International as war correspondents) and provides the logic behind the Union strategy that ultimately succeeded. He's less successful at internal organization. An overview cannot get into the unit-history specifics or minute-by-minute developments of even the major battles, thus Genl McClellan's debacle on the Peninsula and some of Genl Grant's setbacks in the Overland Campaign rate only a few paragraphs. But events get referenced or alluded to out of order, which might confuse an inexperienced reader and it annoyed me.

There are a few points where I take issue with Mr Keegan or would welcome elaboration not present in the book. His assessment of commanders evaluates Genl Thomas (Stonewall) Jackson as having improvisational abilities comparable to Germany's Erwin Rommel. Perhaps that's not easily done in an overview: the relatively few endnotes leaves me with more research than I have time to do. His comparison of Genl McClellan favorably with the Third Army's George Patton, endnotes or no, does not convince. I cannot conceive of Patton establishing a beachhead behind Richmond in the spring of 1862 and not immediately going through Genl Joseph Johnston's lines like the famous crap through the goose -- that Patton would also have fired Genl Butler for getting corked up at Bermuda Hundred the second time the Army of the Potomac paid for that real estate, but he's not making comparisons to Genl Grant. His evaluation of outstanding commanders makes no mention of Genl Longstreet, an odd omission given his repeated use of lessons forgotten after 1865 that commanders in The War to End All Wars had to relearn on the Somme and at Verdun and Gallipoli.

The book hints at topics for future research. The concluding sentence is "American socialism was stillborn on the battlefields of Shiloh and Gettysburg." Elsewhere, he refers to partisan warfare in the rebellious states. Deserters from the rebel armies, while not explicitly aligning themselves with the Union, nevertheless fought militias detailed to return those deserters to the service of the rebellion. Perhaps the reluctance of Genls Lee and Johnston to accede to Jefferson Davis's calls for partisan warfare reflected an awareness that gray-on-gray fratricide would harm whatever Southern cause remained and only assist whatever reconstruction efforts were being implemented from Washington. Consider also this British understatement on page 323. "[Genl McDowell] had served a year with the French army, until 1870 thought the best in the world."

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)