Book Review

by Tina Fey:  This book followed the chronologically of Tina during an awkward girlhood, her teenage years with her gay friends, and her time at UVA.  The book is a little uneven, and some chapters seem loosely connected, but it is still loaded with her personality and insights into power and the kind of humor that translated into Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock.  It does leave you yearning for more of about how she developed her drive and toughness to have been the first woman writer for SNL.  All in all, I enjoyed the read and would recommend it to all that love SNL and 30 Rock!   **

The Lotus Eater by Tatjana Soli:  I am obviously drawn to anything Asian, but this book was delicious and mesmerizing! It was a good read about an inexperienced woman photo journalist arriving in Vietnam to cover the war in 1967.  It was a time of communism, a time when women reporters were not met with enthusiasm, but she connects with a veteran reporter who becomes a mentor and lover, and who eventually is killed.  Eventually her idealism erodes, though it's a story about identity, love of a country, and the horrors of war.  Linh, one of the main characters holds a secret war within himself, but eventually he gives in to love.  Linh captured my heart because he is a man who loses family and country, yet still finds the poetry in life!  I highly recommend this book if you are interested in the Vietnam War, a good love story, and the ambiance and character of my beloved Southeast Asia!   *****

EXPAT:  Women's tales of Life Abroad: by Danielle Alvarez  This book lured me from the get go with various stories of women who lived abroad.  The stories tap into the joys, surprises, and frustrations of living overseas.  It should how some overcame unexpected obstacles, the humor needed to live abroad, and it showed a good range of perspective, destinations, and circumstances.  If you have a wandering soul like I do, it's a good, fun read!  I thoroughly enjoyed it!   **

Happy Birthday or Whatever:  by Annie Choi:  Anything that has to do with Asia is fine with me, but this book was about a girl growing up in a Korean family in California.  The mother is a domineering character who is chronically dissatisfied with everything that Annie is about.  It drives Annie nuts, but she loves and respects her mom.  I grew to like Annie and the outrageous things that happen to her with her mom.  The focus was completely about a different culture, but all crazy families are relatively the same!  While mom dresses her in funny clothes, puts academic pressure on her, and tries to mold her into the perfect Korean girl, it's all with love.  When mom gets cancer, Annie shows what mom truly means to her, despite the neurotic nagging!  I enjoyed this easy, fun read!  **

Interpreter of Maladies:  by Jhumpa Lahiri  It took me a little bit to get into the book, but it is a series of  9 stories that takes you through the countryside of India where heat and dust can seem onerous, where monkeys can change in an instant from magical to ominous.  She has a tuned ear for irony and her ability to fuse a sense of irony with compassion for her characters is what I loved about the book.  There were tales of immigrants, focusing on changes that one experiences when moving out of their comfort zone while remaining loyal to their won traditions--I can definately relate! She brings attention to initimate details of daily life, and each story explores worlds of love and loss, fear and despair.  What I liked about the book was the purpose that while you may encounter many changes in life, there are things you never let go of!  I would recommend this book, and now I want to read the Namesake, her first book, so if anyone wants to send it, feel free!  ***

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo:  by Stieg Larson   I love being whisked away to another place and time by great story telling, and this book did it!  The way that the characters were set up in the beginning haunted me, and gave me enough of a grasp that I was completely hooked.  The themes in the book are not for the faint of heart though, as violence against women is pervasive, though it's not explained in detail, yet some scenes are tough to read.  The book actually has two story lines, first is the murder mystery of Harriet Vanger, the second is that of financial intrigue and fraud.  The author melds these two plots through two specific characters.  One of the characters, Lisbeth, drives a lot of the story line for me, and it is her complex character that kept me intrigued. Overall, it was an excellent read, a page turner, and I highly recommend it.  ****

The House on Mango Street:  by Sandra. Cisneros   I don't know where this book came from, but I wanted a quick read before going to 10 day training, and this book appeared.  It was filled with eloquent vignettes about the life of Esperanza, a young girl growing up in latino Chicago.  The stories were a snapshot we have of adults looking back on childhood.  It captures it well even though it was told very simply.  Much was going on beneath the surface, such as themes of poverty, racial discrimination, power, abuse, dreams of education.  It definitely wasn't a book to linger on, nor was it anywhere near a favorite coming of age story, but it was a sweet read, and well written. *

Stones into Schools:  by Greg Mortenson  There is an African Proverb that says..."if you teach a boy, you educate him; but if you teach a girl, you educate a community."  This quote changed Mortenson's life and shaped his beliefs.  His first book, 3 cups of tea, taught me so much of the real issues in that area of the world, as well as motivating me to become a PCV.  I couldn't resist picking up his second novel.  The book recaps his first, and shows first hand about CAI's work.  To see how 3 Cups has inspired people across the world while unifying people with seemingly incompatible views and beliefs, is truly inspiring.  While in the US we take education for granted, people in less prosperous countries are yearning for it.  Stones into Schools opens your eyes to the harsh realities of life around the world and teaches us that WE ALL CAN DO SOMETHING TO HELP!  ONE STEP AT A TIME!!!!!!!!  ****

Breakfast with Buddha: by Roland Merullo  This is a story of a man's journey to self discovery.  The book enchants the reader with a fresh awareness of how man confronts his spiritual side in a chaotic world.  The monk's character is rich with humor, silence, and understanding.  It matters not that his audience shares a religious conviction with this man, but that changes can occur in a skeptical soul.  These 2 unlikely companions share wit, food, yoga, and a round of bowling in the miles they traveled to North Dakota.  It was not one of my favorite reads, but it was a good read, going across part of the country with a normal guy and a monk.  **

The Traitor's Tale:  by Margaret Frazer   The time period is the summer of 1450, a time of great rebellion against the king.  These rebellions are interwoven into the story of Dame Frevisse, who only wants to spend her days in prayer with the other nuns in her convent.  But God has other plans when murder and violence hits the kingdom.  She emerges from her abbey to solve a string of politically motivated murders.  The author knows this medieval history well.  The convent, castles, trips through forests infested with killers are all part of the story, but I thought that parts moved slowly and were too wordy.  The book didn't grab me that much, but the time period was interesting to read about.   *

Reading Lolita in Tehran:  by Azar Nafisi   This is a book about a professor of English Lit at Tehran Univ.  Once  wearing a veil became mandatory and she refused, she was forced to quit teaching. One of the ways she came up with to fill her time was to gather several of her most dedicated students to form a book club of sorts.  She tells her story and some of the students stories through their group discussions of Lolita,  Great Gatsby, Daisy Miller, and Pride and Prejudice.  Questions of courage and identity are at the core of the book, as well as exploring the tumultuous times in Tehran, memoirs of being a professor, and theories on the books read and how they relate to the struggles and culture.   This was a deep and serious study of literature, yet I enjoyed her accounts of life in Tehran and her personal life.  It gave a painful glimpse into the lives of those under a kind of repression I can only imagine.  ***

Open: by Andre Agassi    I have loved tennis since early childhood, and I grew up watching Conners, Borg, Everett, and then Agassi.  He was cool, flashy, with personality, so it was a pleasure to pick up this book on his life.  I wasn't surprised, nor disappointed in his acknowledgement of his hating tennis, or dabbling in things he shouldn't because parents push kids like him, into sport with their ego and grandiose dreams of money.  This book was a remembrance of his life, a guy who won 8 grand slams, became a millionaire, then dealt with his demons, and does big time charitable work.  His last match at the US Open ended with a heart rendering I'll never forget.  Even if your not a tennis buff, this book was well written, and had heart...just like Agassi!   *****

Special Topics in Calmity of Physics:  by M. Pessl   This was a marathon book with strange metaphors, literary allusions and references, and a plot that didn't grab me until more than half way through when it became a satisfying murder mystery with a complex plot.  This book was about a bright teen, who since her mom's death, has travelled the country with her devoted, but arrogant father.  She spends her Sr. H.S. year at a private college in North Carolina where she encounters the bluebloods, an elite group of students who are proteges of a charismatic film studies teacher, Hannah, who eventually is found hanged during a camping trip.  The strength of this book lies in the murder plot, but also in the portrayal of the isolation and vulnerability of adolescence.  It was a long read!  *

The Space Between us:  by Thrity Umriger  This is a tragic story set against the vibrant backdrop of Bombay.  The book examines the class divide in Bombai through the relationship of a mistress and her servant---2 vivid characters.  In spite of their differences, their lives have many parallels.  Both have watched their faded marriages, both supported one another in hardship, and both pinned their future on the younger generation---a dream that shatters when their loyalty to their families and to each other is tested.  Sere and Bhima close up the space between them.  In a powerful scene, the way age old classes come together, in silence and darkness.  The book tackles issues affecting India---violence, aids, woman's rights, and education.  While the concept was nothing new, and sometime the prose was not overly done, it was still a decent read, and it makes you think!  **

Behind  Happy Faces: by Ross Szabo and Melanie Hall
Because I have distanced myself from the world of Psychology, I read this book because it was given to my by a fellow PCV, Ross Szabo.  Ross and Heidi are leaving in June, having finished their 2 year service in Botswana, and it's been a pleasure knowing them.  Last week in Maun, Ross and Heidi came to visit us, made us laugh, but most of all shared his book with us.  Ross suffered with Bipolar disease since he was a teenager, and even though this book is an account of mental health issues facing young adults, it was Ross' own account of his own mental health that captured me.  Ross is open and honest, a hell of a guy, and someone who had the inner fortitude to face his challenges, and direct them in a way that has worked to his benefit, and one that has helped so many people along the way.  I love this guy because he has so much heart! was a good book for young adults with issues to grab onto. ****

The North China Lover: by Marquetite Dura   This book was an extension of The Lover, and it is an autobiography of Dura's early years.  She was a French teen at school in Indochina in the early 1930's.  The book showed some of the tougher aspects of her youth.  It is a book filled with eroticism about Indochina and her affair with a Chinese son of a Millionaire.  Parts of the book sent a strange thrill of being in Indochina in those times, and also imparted that of suffering and despair.  It took some getting used to her haunting prose, and it read almost like a documentary.  But it was captivating in it's time and it showed a Romeo and Juliet quality about these two lovers.   All in all, I couldn't put the book down, but then again, I have an Asian soul!  ***

Pearl of China:  by Anchee Min  The story of Pearl Buck who was a nobel prize winner and an activist is simply a stunning story in itself.  It delved into a life long profound friendship between her and her best friend Willow, and interweaved the upheavals in communist China's history.  Pearl never forgot her roots in China, and China never forgot her which moved me to tears.  I couldn't put this book down, and now I sit here longing to be back in Asia!  Not knowing then, but I was once in the town that this book took place, and while in a tea shop, a Chinese woman said to me, "one of my friends was here."  I asked who, she said "Nixon."  In the book, Nixon visited this town, and in a poignant moment between him and Willow's daughter, I thought that the man had a heart after all!  It was Nixon that got Willow out of prison in China, and connected the two friends, even if it was just with words, back together again after such a long period of not being able to communicate.  I would highly recommend this book! *****

Bonobo Handshake:  by Vanessa Woods  Who doesn't love the chimps?  This was such a great story about someone who married a man who was on a quest to study the almost extinct bonobos in the Congo.  Instead, it was she that began doing the research projects.  The story was about her passions, her emotions, the war torn politics of the Congo, and our closest relatives...the chimps.  Vanessa is honest, personal, and open, and it was hard to stop yourself from joining in her happiness, anguish, and joy.  ****

Dreams of Joy:  by Lisa See  There hasn't been a book by Lisa See that I haven't thoroughly doesn't hurt that I'm an Asian freak!  The sequel to Shanghai Girls shows a vivid detail of an amazing journey across the 1950's China and what it meant to be a family.  Joy, after finding the truth of her parent lineage, flees to Shanghai from LA to find her bio dad, and to participate in Mao's Great Leap forward, but with profound consequences.  See gives an in depth look at a variety of lives and the global changes of Maoist Politics.  Moral of this story:  Listen to your Mother!  *****

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim:  by David Sedaris    Funny, well written, and an overall great read!  David's 1st person witty essays of his family really was fun to read, and I loved how he puts a nostalgic portrait, and sometimes unflattering picture of this family.  He has a unique humor, is honest, and has a skewed viewpoint of the world and his childhood dramas.  I've never read any of his other books, but after reading this, I'll devour more!  ****

Getting Stoned with Savages:  by Maarten Troost    Troost tells a funny account of life in in the farthest reaches of the world.  He and his wife move from the hustle of DC to Vanatu, where he immerses himself in the islands culture, forays himself into the world of cannibalism, volcanos, cyclones, and drinking Kava with the locals.  They move to Fiji to get better medical care for the upcoming baby, and after sharing some deeper thoughts, they decide to stop looking for paradise and move back to the states.  I liked that he integrated history into his travel tale, but it wasn't one of his better stories.  It also left me wondering what the hell happened to the cat they had in Vanatu.  **

 When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: by Peter Godwin  What a book!  Peter Godwin who was raised in Zimbabwe, and is now a Journalist living in NY, writes a heart wrenching story of a family secret set against the collapse of a country.  Peter began a series of pilgrimages back to Zim after his dad had a heart attack in '84.  There, he bore witness to Zim's dramatic spiral downward into violent chaos, presided over by an increasingly enraged dictator.  His parents refused to leave, and Godwin discovered a secret that helped explain their loyalty to Zim.  Africa was his dad's sanctuary from another identity---a Polish Jew.  I thought his writing was masterful, he was effective in his descriptions, added some needed historical facts, and the family saga haunted me.  It was the beauty and native spirit that drew his family there, and a place where finally, his father unburdened his secret to his son before his death.  *****

The Double Comfort Safari Club:  by Alexander McCall Smith
I guess I had to read just one of his books while in Botswana, but as I have ready many of the detective series, this was not one of my favorites, though the story takes them to the Okavanga Delta, where they don't know what to expect  of the wildlife.  Smith has his own distinctive style, warm, compassionate, and a message to be content with who you are, where you are, and do whatever you can to bring to others such contentment, joy, and understand that you have managed to find yourself.  There were several subplots in the book, but they were basically hired to track down an employee of a safari outfit to receive a small legacy from a former guest.  The more interesting plot though was Makuti's fiancé concerns and the aunt who was practically hijacking him from her.  Not one of his best stories, and it would have better if more detail was on the Delta.  *

Monkey Bridge:  by Lan Cao    Maybe yet another Vietnamese American experience in the aftermath of war, but it was like navigating a monkey bridge.  The narrative traverses perilously between worlds of east and west, myth and legend, between realities of the material world and world of spirits.  The story was told by a young girl and her mother.  There was political intrigue, family secrets, and revenge.  All in all in was an ok read---nothing to really write home about, but I always get sucked into the Asian ambiance described in these books.

The Little Stranger: by Sarah Waters:  I can't say that this was a gripping ghost story, though it had it's moments where I was unsettled and delightfully spooked.  It was a ghost story, though that plot, and the subliminal mind with dark corners should have been more developed.  It was a story of a Dr. falling in love with an impoverished and grief stricken family who occupy their ancestral home, a large country house around which most of the action takes place.  It was also a story, after WWII, of Class, and the changes that took place after the war.  This was not her best book by no means, but her writing is good, and at times quite engaging. *                                  
The Good Earth: by Pearl Buck:  Pearl won a Pulitzer Prize for the Good Earth.  It's about a humble farm boy dependent on the land for survival.  The novel follows his complex character marrying a slave girl, losing and gaining wealth, and losing his path after his wealth.  It was a story of the cyclical nature of life repeated.  Though I really liked the story, it's uneven in it's characterization with little hints of political unrest, little bits of insights into his sons life, and little bits of his concubine---a story of haves and have nots.  If he had come to love and appreciated his ugly, self-sacrificing wife, been a better dad, and didn't bring in a prostitute with his wealth, I would've liked him more.  But there were moments he showed gratitude, loyalty, and affection, and that made me read on. ***   

Moon over Manifest: by Clare Vanderpool:  A coming of age novel that is a historical mystery.  In times of the depression, the heroine of the book, doesn't understand why she is being sent away, but these are hard times. She arrives in a town, Manifest, where her father spent some of his childhood, but she knows she's just got a fraction of the stories. The novel has a framework to it---A modern day story with Abilene and her new friends who set about discovering clues to the past.  Then there is a flash back story that stars two young men who are best friends. The story sees one of the men going off to war and never coming home.  It shows the devastation of the Spanish influenza which is just the beginning.  This was such a well written and delightful book, one to read over and over again. ****             

Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic:  I loved The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic. This is the kind of book that you read and instantly fall in love with.  The kind of book that you want everyone to know about so they can read it themselves and discover how wonderful it is.  Persimmony Smudge, what a great name, lost her hat and thus saved the world.  She sought refuge, after being chased looking for her hat, in a hollow tree, where she heard conspirators talking about digging for the king's gold. If she hadn't heard that, she wouldn't have know to warn the King, and then she wouldn't have been sent on her quest that turned out to be so important.  She meets such characters along the way, some friendly, others not.  She created a world that was wonderful--a fantasy and an adventure rolled into one---just like being in the Peace Corps!  A pure joy to read!  *****

The Help: by Kathryn Stockett:  This was one of my favorite books, and so I re-read it, and enjoyed it even more this time around.  I love books about the old south, and this one had intensity, was emotional, thought provoking, and unforgettable.  Set in Mississippi in the early sixties with unforgettable characters, narrated by three of them.  Two black maids, and a young white woman who dreams of becoming a journalist or novelist.  Each narrator has their own story to tell, each is very human, unique, memorable, but each does not always have the freedom to tell it without big risks involved.  Miss Skeeter is writing a book about the maids her town, which is a secret project.  The details both humorous, sad, and true are moving no matter how you look at it.  What a story---what a time! *****

The Sun Also Rises: by Ernest Hemingway:  They say this book was written about and for the Lost Generation, but I don't think this generation was so lost.  The story though is told from the perspective of Jake Barnes, an expat from KC who does news grams from an American station in Paris.  He closely resembles Hemingway's own voice in that he likes booze, broads, and all things macho.  In some ways this novel is a structurally flawed mess, with a plot that goes nowhere, and a tendency to fall back on dialogue and prejudices--most of which are petty.  However, the character dynamics are fun at times, with the flamboyant Lady Brett Ashley in an age of moral bankruptcy, unrealistic love, and vanishing illusions, but when not all tied together, everything just seems episodic.  **

The Girl Who Played with Fire:  by Stieg Larsson:  From the first page to the last, this was a gripping story full of intrigue, mystery, action, and one revelation after another.  3 people dead, Salander's finger prints on the murder weapon, and Blomkvist is a better detective than the police. Salander's situation has to do with an expose of the Swedish sex trade two of the victims were working on.  I knew from the beginning that she didn't do it, but still, I didn't know who did it for quite some time into the story.  The depth of the mind of Salander, her unfolding parts of her history, and the fact that as a young teen, nobody would really give her any credence to her own account, and of her intelligence, of what happened was enough to keep me glued.   I don't always like mysteries, but this series is the best!  *****

Eva Moves the Furniture: by Margot Livesey  A deceptively simple coming of age story set in Scotland, tells the story of Eva McEwan in a relatively quiet life in the 1920's and 30's-a nurse in Glasglow during WWII, a failed romance with a charismatic Jewish Surgeon, and finally marriage and motherhood with a school teacher.  What's unusual about Eva's path, though, is that it's shaped by forces she doesn't quite understand, a pair of companions, a woman with a little girl, who keep her company, but who also interfere with her romantic and career plans.  Are they a blessing or a curse to Eva, whose mother died when she was born?  They do ease her childhood loneliness, but also burden her with this secret, making her feel odd and cut off.  The charm lies in the grace of Livesley writing, and how she creates mood and sensations of a specific, beloved, and vanished world.  I really enjoyed reading this story!  ****

Kitchen Chinese: by Ann Mah:  An overall light, enjoyable read, and food definitely has a knack of connecting people.  Some of her descriptions about the food in Beijing left me salivating, but then again, I am totally deprived here of Asian food.  Isabelle Lee is a 20 something journalist who just got fired from a NY fashion magazine, her boyfriend breaks up with her, and off she goes, taking a leap of faith to live with her sister in China.  Mah gives a look into a life of a girl who struggles to navigate a different culture, takes a peak back at her ancestry, and finally establishes herself somewhat in the world.  There were no huge surprises in the book, but enjoyable nonetheless, and the writing was well done.  **

Finding Nouf: by Zoe Ferraris   Finding Nouf is about the disappearance of a 16 year old girl, who by all accounts was surrounded by comforts, led a happy life, and was about to be married when she suddenly disappeared and later found dead.  This might have been a run of the mill mystery except for the fact that it's situated in Saudi Arabia, and gives us insights into it's culture.  The main protagonist is Nayir, a devout Muslim bachelor, who is asked by the family to do an investigation, along with Katya, a medical examiner who is to be married to Nouf's brother.  Together, they are an unlikely pair to work together in this kind of society, but Katya forces Nayir to open his mind.  This is a very well told mystery with secrets and sensuality, a book is well crafted and draws you into a society bound by muslim law.   Highly recommend!  *****

The House in Paris : by Elizabeth Bowen  A somewhat charming saga of young Henrietta who was sent to Paris to stay with a friend of grandma's.  There she meets a young boy, Leopold, who also is passing through.  Little did she know the fascinations the Fisher house itself contains, along with secrets that have the potential to topple a marriage, and redeem the life of a pretentious boy.  The author captured emotion well, pain and loss, and how childhood neglect feels, however, I didn't find her depictions of the motivation of some of the adults completely believable.  In all, I was torn between rejection and attraction to this story.  **

When God was a Rabbit: by Sarag Winman  This was a quirky  book about childhood friendship with eccentric characters, and a story about the relationship with her brother, who eventually was perished in 911.  The description of the love between brother and sister is especially well done, and I liked that the Elly and Jenny Penny are intrigued by religion and whether the people around them believe in God.  What draws the two together, especially in the transition to adulthood should have been emphasized more, and the book is kind of split in two halves which disappointed me a bit--but when your a PCV and desperate for a read, you'll take anything.  **

Six Bits: by Michael Ringering    Six Bits was an emotive story, though sometimes it dragged on in the middle, nonetheless, it was about Jack Clarke, a man consumed by a life of entitlement, excess, and temptation, and has grown ignorant of his moral decay.  Jack just delivered an ultimatum to his wife, and afterwards, an unlikely character delivers several messages that sends Jacks life spinning out of control.  The story goes on to be something between a Charles Dickens tale and It's a Wonderful Life.  Jack winds up stumbling on a unsuspecting journey of redemption and self-discovery that is heartwarming.  Overall, I enjoyed this 600 page book---it was well written and the chapters leave you to wanting know how things will end up for Jack.  ****

Whiteman: by Tony D'Souza:  Jack, nicknamed Adamo, an NGO worker, really a PCV, in the Ivory Coast of West Africa, is there to help those people get clean water.  The opening Chapter, when he tells of riots on the streets of Cote D'Ivoire, and slamming the door in a tormented monkey's face, actually, was a great metaphor I thought for how international workers often deal with Africa's sad realities.  At various times the story is humorous and heartbreaking when detailing daily life of an obvious outsider in a tiny village.  It strikes a familiar cord with me---as he becomes close to people in the village rather than doing what he set out to do.  The book is filled with his youth, vigor, it's engaging and candid.  This book reminds us that it's not the large projects we take on, but rather our vulnerability and desire to help which is half the battle.  ****

A Fortune Teller Told Me: by Tiziano Terzani    What a great premise for a book---a skeptical Italian Journalist is warned by Hong Kong fortune teller to avoid air travel for the year 1993.  He decides to head the warning partly as personal challenge, and partly to playfully indulge in superstition.  He's now on a land journey around SE Asia, journaling and seeking out all sorts of soothsayers to prophesies his life.  This book also becomes a reflection on how the west has impacted Asia's cultural developments, and his metaphysical musings.  Though I enjoyed his montage of experiences, at times I felt beat over the head with his amateur philosophies. Funny though, a fortune teller told me to join the Peace Corps! ***

Beyond Fences: by Helge Staby Deaton:  This was a memoir of a time growing up in one of the least known regions in Africa, the nation of South West Africa, now known as Namibia.  The area, so unknown, that a US Postal worker swore up and down that it didn't exist, thus, Deaton felt compelled to bring this swath of land and it's inhabitants into the light.  And that she did, tracing the history of the land back in time through the history of her own family, who emigrated from Germany in 1867.  Deaton paints an amazing picture of the locale, recounting and paying homage to the land and lives, telling her perspective on the end of the colonial era.  The book was touching and compelling, with a storyline that flowed wonderfully. ****  

A House in Fez:  by Suzanna Clark  Many times I am forever dreaming of relocating to an exotic land, but Fez---a mystique land from the Old Testament--Wow!  Like Under the Tuscan Sun, someone, a couple from Australia, fell in love with a place, dropping almost everything to buy and restore a 300 year old Riad to it's former glory.  Obviously having to come to terms with local customs, archaic laws, and the challenges of the building team, she weaves together history, culture, and her own personal life to create an image of on the most remarkable places in the world.  Though she fails to extract much humor from her experience, and at times I didn't want to hear anymore about which pipe goes where, still, it was a light and easy read, I enjoyed imagining what Fez is like, and the pictures of the finished product were extraordinary.  Now, I must plan a trip to Morocco! ***

Driving over Lemons: by Chris Stewart   Since someone sent me these, I'm on a roll with memoirs from ex-pats of their relocation to bucolic parts of the world.  This wasn't my favorite, as he doesn't have much to say about Spanish life, nor any real history, but he is self-effacing and down to earth, as he and his wife bought a farm and now running it.  Chris was actually a drummer for Genesis I believe in his former life, and then he wasn't!  But there is no touch of Genesis in this book, no noise, and to me, he didn't capture the humor that invariably comes with living in another culture.  Still, it makes you want to quit your crappy job and to something different.  **

Tojours Provence: by Peter Mayle  Ok, since I'm on a roll of reading travel novels, I have to say that I picked this one off my directors desk when I was fretting about my rent not being paid and thinking I would have to join the circus.  This book did not cheer me up--I found Peter a bit uppity, just like Provence turning into a playground for the rich.  I did not think his stories showed any humor, his so called memorable meals did not sound memorable to me, and his writing just didn't seem to flow.  Overall, I usually love travel tales of any kind, and I hated this one!  *

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle; A year of food life:  by Barbara Kinsolver   Barbara has definitely written better books no doubt, but this book covers the year she and her family spent eating only food they had either grown themselves, or purchasing from other local farmers.  I love reading about people who think differently, act differently, and live differently than the norm, and this she did.  It just goes to show that some are willing to live life with intention and deep conviction--while food is obviously the center of our culture, it is an important message about sustainability and environmental impact of our food ways.  I did identify with her zucchini issues, as I have had mine here, but I just continue to eat them whether the plant is having a bad day or not.  What it means to nourish ourselves is something everyone should ask themselves!  **

Three Men on the Bummel: by Jerome K. Jerome  The sequel to Three Men on a Boat is witty, charming, funny, and downright enjoyable to read.  Despite the fact that Jerome is writing to us from the Victorian Age, the humor is timeless.  He has an intricate way of conveying his acidic comments that leaves you in stitches.  The book about 3 Englishmen and a dog as they attempt to relax and escape their respective families to have perhaps a last flutter of freedom before middle age sets in.  His comments about bicycling, Germans, marriage, and tourism remain as true today as it did in 1900.  As they bike through Germany, hilarity and silliness ensues.  What a delightful read!  I never read his first book, and I also always wonder why parents give their children the same name as their last name!  ***

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox: by Maggie O'Farrell   An interesting novel about 3 women of the same family---a story full of past secrets and flashbacks.  Esme and Kitty Lennox, born in Colonial India were young kids when their brothers lives were claimed by typhoid fever, and the family then came back to Edinburgh.  Esme, unsettled by the death, became rebellious and her free spirit and intellect became great cause of concern.  So much so that she was put in an asylum because her sister said she was hallucinating.  61 years later, her niece, whom she doesn't know, takes her back into the family home, and from there family secrets unfold that led to Esme's incarceration.  I guess every family has a kook in it's ranks, but the notion of a wacky relative who may never really be the wacky one is what this book was about.  Back in those days, dr.'s didn't listen to kids, but maybe not so much has changed since then!  Good read!  ****

A Life Less Ordinary:  by Baby Halder   Written by a poor mother of three from India, the incidences were heart touching and at times it was all to easy to feel disgusted at the treatment women gets in this society.  It's an inspirational story---one I know I'll remember for a long time.  A story ultimately filled with hope and strength, and how strong women survive unbelievable hardship every second of every day.  This woman, after growing up being abused, and then married off an all to young age to one who also abused her, found someone to in her life to encourage her, and she ultimately became a published writer.  I really enjoyed this book---the prose was nice to read, the characters easy to connect with.  ***

Rocket Man: by William Elliott Hazelgrove    I wasn't sure I was gonna like this book, and it started out all to slow and boring, but it does get better.  It was about a man who doesn't know himself and is trying to find his place in his home and community.  He is a bit rebellious and doesn't want to conform---he's the type who's always pushing the envelope.  An author in a deep slump--middle class sentiments on our most current society.  Father and son relationship is strained, so he volunteered to be the Rocket Man for his sons scout troop, with hopes that Rocket Day will salvage his relationship with his son, and give him a sense of independence.  All in all the book was ok---I got lost at times, and the characters didn't wow me, but when your in the Peace Corps, you can't be so choosey on what you read.  **

River of Smoke:  by Amitav Ghosh  It took me forever to read this book, but it was a captivating story with engaging characters and narrative, along with how the novel careened through the history.  I really knew nothing about the Opium wars between the British, India, and isolationist China in the mid 1800's.  It was most interesting to get a sense of how the mostly white traders of Canton justified their dealing in opium despite the devastating effect it had on China.  It was really nice reading about the cultural landscape and linguistic creations that grew there at that time.  Sometimes this book felt sprawling and haphazard, but it was a good story nonetheless.  ***

The Ringmaster's Daughter: by Jostein Gaarder   Panina Manina, a trapeze artist falls and breaks her neck.  As the ringmaster bends over her, he notices an amulet of amber around her neck, the same trinket he had given his own lost child, swept away some 16 years ago.  What a wonderful, whimsical novel about a man over brimming with ideas, and uses his talents and imagination to become a ghost writer known as The Spider.  But he becomes involved in a sequence of literary deceits which come to a head at a book fair, at the same time as events conspire to bring him face to face with his own long lost daughter.  I so enjoyed this I couldn't put it down.  Petter tells stories in a way that reveal something of himself or something important that he can't flat out talk about.  Every story is amazing and tragic, and end with a twist.  Love, pain, intensity, mystery, all interwoven made for a special read!  *****

The Fogotten Garden: by Kate Morton  I had a really hard time finishing this book---it was long and complex with secret ingredients that I would typically love---but something was missing for me.  While this is ostensibly a novel of secrets spanning 4 generations, most were fairly obvious, yet the characters were compelling, and the bewitching dark fairy tale part of it did add a better dimension which kept me going.  In the end though, it was ultimately a book about mother/child abandonment issues.  **

Purple Hibiscus: by Chiminanda Ngozi Adichie   Dirty Politics, saga of the Catholic Church, domestic violence, Ok, give me something I haven't read before.  Even though this story was told through an endearing character, Kambili, a girl raised in a strict religious family, it wasn't the great read I was told it was.  I did like the depiction of Nigeria, and eventually the children rise, like a lone purple hibiscus among others of different color.  I won't go into the details of the book, but in some ways you have to feel for these African countries who have had such turmoil, and overall, it's a universal story, it just wasn't quite my cup of tea.  **

Honeymoon with my Brother: by Franz Wisner   If you're not getting it--any book that has to do with throwing the towel in and traveling is my cup of tea.  Two brothers who are not close, at least not yet---one brother jilted by his fiancé a few days before the wedding---brother reaches out to brother and both set out on the honeymoon that was meant to be, but now extended for a few years.  I enjoyed some of the anecdotes around the world, the finding of self discovery when maybe, that's not exactly what they were looking for, and the bond formed by the brothers.  I do wish it had a little more depth, but in the end, having sent postcards to an elderly relative all along--they come home to her dying, and lo and behold, she left her untouched stocks all these years to the boys, who now can wonder, write, and enjoy the riches of life.  ***

The Memory Keepers Daugher: by Kim Edwards;   A book about a life altering secret---a dr. having delivered and gave away a daughter born with Down's Syndrome while his wife lay unconscious.  Not the most realistic scenario, and certainly a selfish choice that was to cause guilt for many years to come.  Kim is a skilled writer though, the words flowed and there was even some brilliance in the characterizations, descriptions, and interactions, and though the story held my attention, it didn't wow me.  I wanted more!  ***
The Monk who Sold his Ferrari: by Robin Sharma    A catchy title, a lawyer who chucked it all to live a truly enlightened life.  A book filled with wisdom, a book that can add some essence to your life, and helps you ponder "what is life--" something I've done time and again here in the Peace Corps.  Overall it was a good read, a fable to think about.  ***

Dandy in the Underworld: by Sebastian Horsley  I actually loved this book in a warped kind of way---how could one not love a line like "I am a Peacock without a cause."  I say in a warped way because it's about a dysfunctional, rich, artistic, sadistic bohemian life filled with drugs and sex.  But it was much more than that, it was a book filled with aphorisms to describe ugly events and memories of childhood cruelty, adolescent anarchy and rebellion, and adult drug abuse and sex.  He had a fierce self hatred, and an equal amount of carefully cultivated egotism and self worship.  Yet it was tender, shocking, genuine, and vulnerable.  At times I laughed, at times I wanted to cry, at times I wanted to shake him out of it.  A well written, good read!  ****

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest:  by Stieg Larsson   Despite some implausible happenings, the last of the series is still a great read and a page turner.  Lisbeth is quite a character and I was almost glad it had a happy ending with her finally realizing that letting people in may not be such a bad idea.  Still, a good crime story is a good crime story!  ****

Tales from the Yoga Studio: by Rain Mitchell   I honestly thought this would be a cute, easy read, and in a way it was, but in most ways I don't know why I even bothered.  It was so L.A.!  So much so that it made me sick!  While some parts were ok and the reading was easy, it had little depth, just like LA, little spiritual insights, little to do about anything other than superficial LA relationships and a little yoga.  I could've written a far better book of this nature and I don't even own a yoga studio.  *

The Hobbit:  By JRR Tokien  Why I never read this before is beyond me, but from the first line to how he crafts the mythos of his characters is just enticing and beautiful.  A medieval fantasy about a little hobbit named Bilbo, who encounters such obstacles along their way with 13 dwarfs and a mighty wizard to recapture their mountain.  What a well written story, a book about the kind of wonder that makes kids, and kids at heart, take off on their bikes to explore things beyond their hometown limits.  The Hobbit is definitely an unlikely hero to fall in love with.  *****

Bless Me, Ultima:  by Rudolfo Anaya  A Six year old boy who bonds with Ultima, a curandera, one who cures with herbs and magic.  This story, set in the 1940's in small town in New Mexico blends the mysticism of his indigenous roots of his grandmother with the catholic religion of his mother.  The writer brings you in to feel the boys fears and challenges as he comes face to face with some events in his life.  There is an emphasis on the inclusion of humanity as a natural element, and it grapples  with conflicts of growing into a man in a multi faith, multi cultural setting.  I loved the way Ultima listened to the earth and her quiet strength--and Antonio for his awe in the face of beauty.  This was a wonderful story.  *****

1 comment:

  1. Loved The Lotus Eater! That was your pick Lynnie-loo-loo! Of course now your picking good books now that you have left us. . .ha,ha just kidding! Xoxoxo love and miss you!

    p.s. been spying on Marilyn and I'm happy to report she appears to be doing a fine job with the job of feeding the felines. Nico is as noisy as ever! Xoxoxo