Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer (2005)

I absolutely loved Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer, which was his first novel and so I decided to read this one as well...

Safran Foer is a very creative and original writer and in this book, he includes photographs, fingerprints, and all kinds of graphic additions to illustrate the story, which is about 9-year-old Oskar and his search for the lock that fits a key he has found in his father's closet.

Oskar's father died in 9/11. He was on the top floor of the World Trade Center and Oskar suspects that he jumped from the top of the building, but does not know for sure. The uncertainty haunts him and he struggles to come to terms with losing his father. He feels that he must solve the mystery of the key in order to make some sense of his father's death.

At the same time, the story is about Oskar's grandmother and grandfather, and their very difficult relationship which stems from their having both been in the bombings in Dresden during the Second World War and the losses they suffered back then. This is a theme that is central to his first novel and is of great interest to me, after having done a lot of genealogy research on my own immigrant ancestors: how do people move on with their lives in a brand new country after having suffered so much in the old country? How does the past continue to affect us in the present, and how do the traumas get passed down to later generations?

Just as Safran Foer was brilliant in his first novel with the voice of the Ukrainian translator, he is brilliant here as well with Oskar's voice, a very intelligent but troubled child, as well as his grandmother, a loving and slightly neurotic older German woman. It is wondrous to me how he does this so well and makes his characters so real. And just as in his first novel, the side characters get just as much attention to detail and love from the author to make them pop right off the page. The writing is breathtaking and the story is very moving.

The only character I felt that got a little bit ignored was that of Oskar's mother, but towards the end of the book you realize that she has been looking out for Oskar all along, while trying to give him space to grieve, and deal with her own grief at the same time.

I would definitely recommend this beautiful book, just as I highly recommend his first novel, Everything is Illuminated and his recent non-fiction book, Eating Animals.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Relin (2006)

A good friend of mine lent this book to me some time ago and for some reason it took me a long time to get started reading it. I recently had lunch with her in Brussels at an Ayurvedic vegetarian restaurant called Slurps and on the menu they had a version of the “butter tea” served in Pakistan that Greg Mortenson talks about in his book. It reminded me that I really needed to read the book so I could give it back to her. So the next day I started it and I was quickly hooked.

I learned a lot from this book. I knew very little about Pakistan and Afghanistan and I had never heard of Greg Mortenson. Greg, an American who had spent a good deal of his childhood in Africa, came to Pakistan originally to climb K2, one of the highest and most difficult climbs in the world. Due to circumstances beyond his control, he failed in his attempt and nearly died getting off the mountain but by accident ended up recuperating in a small isolated mountain village which was completely cut off from the rest of the world. While there, he saw a need for a school for the children of that village and before he left he promised the people there he would come back and build one for them.

Back in the US he struggled to find funding for his project, but eventually managed to scrape the money together and return. As it turns out, that first school was just the beginning. The book details the growth of his project from building just one school and all the mistakes and dangers of the early days, to the growth of his charity, Central Asia Institute, into a fully fledged NGO that not only builds many schools in Pakistan but also moves into war torn Afghanistan to try to help children there as well.

At times Greg takes great risks trying to get schools built in the most remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan, getting himself into precarious situations with local tribes. But he seems to have an angel watching over him as his friendly demeanor and carefully diplomatic respect for local customs allows him to earn the trust of the locals, in spite of the way that Americans are seen by many people in that part of the world.

It is a fascinating story and certainly Greg Mortenson is someone to be admired for his selflessness and dedication to helping children in what is a very difficult place to grow up. Hopefully his mission to create peace by giving those children a good education will be a force for good in the world in the coming years. More info at or

Friday, October 22, 2010

Challenged to write

I think most people who keep blogs really enjoy writing. And those of us who keep book blogs definitely appreciate good writing and the ability, talent and perserverance it takes to finish and publish a novel. Writing can be so cathartic and rewarding, and it is a way of communicating with others but also with yourself, since having to put your thoughts down in writing forces you to clarify what you are thinking.

I recently discovered a great website that is wonderful if you are interested in expanding the writing you do on a daily basis: it's called 750 Words and the idea is to write 750 words every day. The idea is based on the writer's practice of "morning pages" - that is, the first thing you do in the morning is write three pages on anything that comes into your mind. It's a great way to get your writer's flow going, use it for "brain dump" or just rant about whatever you want in the privacy of your own mind! The website makes it fun because you get badges for writing so many days in a row and there are other neat features that keep you motivated. Intrigued? Check it out - I love it!

Another great writing challenge is National Novel Writing Month which is coming up in another week or so. The idea is to write a 50,000 word novel in one month, November. This is a big challenge and I have always been a bit scared to sign up for it. But this year I decided, what the heck? It's worth a try, right? I already have my story idea stewing in my head, but I'm not going to say anything more about it til I'm done - I don't want to lose steam talking about it when I am going to need to be writing about it. To complete 50,000 words in one month you need to write about 1700 a day... please wish me luck and perserverance! Oh, and...anyone wanna join me?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Pompeii by Robert Harris (2003)

Good friends of ours lent my husband this book and he really enjoyed it, so I thought I would read it to see if it was appropriate for my kids who are doing Latin and Greek in high school, and it turned out to be a great read! (And yes, I think it is appropriate for my 15-year-old.)

The story follows a young "aquarius", the man responsible for maintaining the flow of water in the aqueducts that bring the precious liquid down from the springs to the coastal towns on the Bay of Naples. He has recently started his new job after the mysterious disappearance of the previous aquarius. Unfortunately, problems soon arise as one of the branches of the aqeduct suddenly runs dry and is contaminated by sulphur. He and his staff must figure out the problem as soon as they can, before there are problems in the coastal towns for the local leaders.

His mission takes him to Pompeii and the way he wants to solve the problem doesn't endear him to the town's leader, an ambitious and ruthless man. As the aquarius discovers just what is causing the problems with the water supply and the imminent threat of the eruption of Vesuvius, he realizes they are all in mortal danger.

The final part of the book details the eruption of Vesuvius and how that affected the people in various parts of the coast. It is fascinating and fast paced. It is also an interesting book as regards what it might have been like to live in roman times. I think my son will enjoy the Latin words that come up here and there as well!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Feather Crowns by Bobbie Ann Mason (1993)

Another one of my random picks from the library shelves... I was not familiar with the author but the book looked interesting and it turned out to be a wonderful read. Of course a book where the first three chapters are about a woman in labor and giving birth to quintuplets might not be everybody's cup of tea, but I was riveted. It is the story of a young tobacco farmer's wife who unexpectedly gives birth to five children in 1900, and what effect this has on her life, as well as her husband, older children, extended family, and the small rural community they live in.
This is an incredible story - warm, funny, tragic - and the author does such a great job of making the early years of the 20th century seem so real, as if she lived through those times herself.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Hateship, friendship, courtship, loveship, marriage by Alice Munro (2001)

Normally I am not a big fan of short stories...just as you are getting involved with the characters and the plot, there's a sudden twist and it's over! But there is one big exception for me and that would be the short story collections by Alice Munro, which are fantastic. Each story is like a perfect gem, or a spectacularly decorated tiny cupcake, to be savored. It is true what the blurbs on the back of her books say, she does manage to encapsule the depth and scope of a novel in each of her short stories. It is mastery, pure and simple - to die for.

I first read Munro's work a few years ago when her book, The View from Castle Rock came out. At the time I was very busy with genealogy and was intrigued by the idea of writing based on the history of one's ancestors, which she did in the short stories in this book. It's a great book that moves along gradually and bumpily through the lives of various immigrants, recent arrivals and longtime residents of Ontario, Canada, where she is from.
I recently picked up two of her short story books at my library. This particular volume, with the wonderful title Hateship, friendship, courtship, loveship, marriage, did not disappoint. The nine stories vibrate with detail and meaning, and let us be observers of all sorts of intimate relationships, personal struggles, the pain we cause and the sacrifices we make. Highly recommended!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Disobedient Girl by Ru Freeman (2009)

Another brand new book I discovered at the library. I was intrigued right away when I saw it was a first novel and it was by a writer from Sri Lanka, Ru Freeman. I had to take the book home and I am so glad I did - it was excellent.

The story takes place in modern Sri Lanka and moves back and forth between two women's stories - Latha, a young girl who is a servant in a wealthy home; and Biso, a mother of three small children who has decided to leave her abusive husband on the southern shore of the country and take her children to her aunt's home in the north - a long journey by train.

Latha's life is dramatic, due to her inability to resign herself to her fate as a servant. She wants to be seen as a person just as valuable as Thara, the daughter of the family she works for and the same age as herself. Her "disobedience" has far-reaching consequences, not just for her, but for the entire family.

Biso is an incredibly devoted mother but also "disobedient", also unable to resign herself to a loveless marriage and at the point when her husband's violence begins to include one of her children, she plans her escape, which is not without uncertainty or risk. This decision and their trip up north ends in unforseen tragedy, but not before they have some beautiful moments together and meet several random strangers who help them in unexpected ways.

First and foremost, this is a story of women. The men are a bit marginal to the plot and they nearly all let the women down or are dominated by women. It is a story of women as mothers, as daughters, as loyal friends and sisters; helping and supporting each other but also betraying each other. It is also a story about courage, about not giving up and fighting for what your heart desires and for your dignity. In spite of the tragedy in their lives, both Biso and Latha do the best they can with the resources they have, and even though they both make mistakes and suffer the consequences, the ending of the book is bittersweet.

This book is also a fine introduction to life in Sri Lanka, in several layers of its society. There are many scenes with cooking and food, clothing, housekeeping, and other daily routines that gives the reader a real feel for what life is like there.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and was sorry when it was finished - I would have liked to know the rest of Latha's story!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Plainsong by Kent Haruf (1999)

A little gem I found by accident...I was looking to see if my library had English translations of Haruki Marukami and thought they might have shelved them under HAR. No such luck but a couple of novels by Kent Haruf caught my eye and a when I saw he was a writer and professor at Southern Illinois University I was intrigued, so I took "Plainsong" home with me.

A delicately written realism...plain people struggling with difficult times in their lives...described with respect and a generous heart... I thoroughly enjoyed this book and was sorry when I finished it.

The author describes the lives of a few people in a small Colorado town - a young high school girl who discovers she is pregnant, a father and his two young sons struggling to come to grips with the fact that their wife and mother abandoned them, the high school teacher who helps her pregnant student in more ways than one and at the same time cares for her father with Alzheimers, and finally the two elderly bachelor farmers who take the risk of stepping out of their years of isolation and against better judgement, become involved in the lives of strangers. Little by little, the lives of these characters become intertwined and at the same time, the author gives us, through them, a portrait of the whole town, both good and bad. A book that had me truly caring for the characters by the end. I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Bone People by Keri Hulme (1984)

Keri Hulme (born 1947) is a writer from New Zealand and The Bone People is thus far her only novel; she has also written poetry and short stories. Her ancestors were native New Zealanders as well as Europeans.

In 1985 Hulme won the Booker Prize for The Bone People. This book is a mystical fable that weaves the history and language of the Maoris and the grim realities of contemporary life (alcoholism, poverty, child abuse) with the story of three individuals who become wrapped up in each other's lives.

The story begins with Kerewin Holmes, a reclusive intellectual and painter of mixed ancestry who lives in an isolated tower on the New Zealand coast. She spends her days fishing and drinking and is frustrated by her inability to paint. One day she finds a little boy, Simon, has broken into her home. She soon discovers he is mute, but very clever and has a reputation for being a thief and a trouble-maker. She keeps him at her house until his father, Joe, comes to pick him up.

Joe, a Maori, explains how he came to be blond Simon's father: Simon was found washed up on a local beach after a terrible storm and was the only survivor of the boat he was on. He was severely traumatized, and since he has never spoken, his origins were a complete mystery. Joe and his wife volunteerd to raise the boy as their own but soon thereafter, she and their infant son died, leaving Joe and Simon on their own.

Kerewin, Joe and Simon soon become friends and something of a family but at the same time, Kerewin begins to see that Simon is more than a handful for Joe, and while the father and son love each other devotedly, Joe simply cannot cope and is physically violent with Simon.

Kerewin herself (I kept thinking that she represented the author - look at the similarity of their names, profession and ancestry) has her own issues; she is estranged from her family and avoids all intimacy, and is struggling with her art.

Joe and Kerewin both try to make things work for Simon but the story takes a dramatic turn which results in severe injuries for Simon, prison for Joe and a life threatening illness for Kerewin - and they are all separated from one another, and forced to find their own way back.

This novel was a bit difficult to get into at the beginning due to author's very unique style of writing and my unfamiliarity with life in New Zealand but once I began to know and care about the three main characters, it was very difficult to put down. It was a painful book to read at times - I found it especially sad when it became clear that Joe was beating Simon, and it was so difficult to reconcile the caring father who hugged and kissed his son with the vicious drunk that violently abused him. I could understand why Kerewin tried to help them in the way she did, and also why it did not work in the end.

This book is also a fascinating introduction to New Zealand's culture and society. I would highly recommend it for "Books Around the World".

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris (2010)

I love looking at the "new arrivals" shelf in our library - sometimes I find a brand-new book by an author I never heard of and it intrigues me and I take it home and am swept away by a new story. This book was one of those.

I admit I hadn't hear of author Joshua Ferris before. His first novel was "Then We Came to the End", which won several awards. This is his second novel and I was immediately caught up by the premise: Tim is a partner at a prestigious law firm in Manhattan, with a lovely home in the suburbs, a wife who sells real estate and an overweight teenage daughter. Inexplicably, he suffers from a never before described disease that has incredible and far-reaching consequences for his life and everyone around him, and no one can determine if it is a physical illness or a mental disorder. Namely, he suffers from bouts of uncontrollable walking.

Are you intrigued? I was. I couldn't put the book down! The storyline shifts back and forth between different periods in his life when he suffers from the walking on a regular basis as well as the periods of remission in between, and little by little we learn what the disease really entails, how he manages it and what effects it has on him, his career, his wife and daughter and his relationships with them. Sometimes the story reminded me a bit of "The Time Traveler's Wife" by Audrey Nieffinger; towards the end of the book it often made me think of "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy.

The book deals with the idea of "til death do us part" in a marriage: to what lengths should a partner go to support the other partner with a debilitating illness? Should the sick partner stop accepting help and support from the other, and set them free to live a "better" life? Or is this also a kind of betrayal? It also adresses the question of a man's identity and how it can be so wrapped up in his career that nothing seems to be left when it is taken away from him.

Finally, the utter helplessness of the medical community when faced with something so unexplainable...the biggest question that I had in my mind all through the book was why didn't they consider amputating his legs? If that sounds barbaric, read the book and tell me if that doesn't occur to you as well, especially towards the end. Or does it seem that he finally finds some kind of peace with his existence? I couldn't decide.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell (2006)

On Saturday my youngest son had a badminton tournament so I wanted to have a gripping, fast read to keep me occupied during the long waits we have between matches. Out of my stack of library books, I chose this book by Maggie O'Farrell. I have read one of her books before, her debut novel "After You'd Gone" which I remembered as being gripping, un-put-downable, and with a twist at the end. So I thought this might be just the right kind of book!

Indeed it was! The story hooked me in from the get-go. Esme Lennox, of the title of the book, is the key character. She is a 70-something woman who has been kept in a mental institution in Edinburgh for 60 years. Her great-niece, Iris Lockhart, receives word that she is Esme's only remaining relative and is suddenly responsible for Esme, whom she never even knew existed before now. The mental institution is due to close and Iris has to make arrangements for Esme's further care.

Iris discovers that Esme was Iris's grandmother's younger sister. Iris's grandmother, Kathleen, who is in a nursing home with Alzheimer's, is no help in sorting out the mystery of why Esme was put in a mental home at the age of 16 and never released, never visited, never acknowledged as being a member of the family. As she learns more and more and gets to know Esme personally, she unearths long buried family secrets that have an enormous impact on her life.

This was a well-written story that moves along and is very hard to put down! The scenes of Esme and Kathleen's early childhood in colonial India and return to Scotland are well done - we can easily imagine the culture shock it must have been to move to such a different place for the two young girls. I also loved how the book not only focused on Esme, but is in fact the story of three women's lives: Kathleen and Iris are more than just side characters, the author's development of them adds great depth to the story and helps us understand more about the family and societal dynamics that led to the great tragedy of Esme's life.

Ultimately, this is a book about identity and how it is intertwined with our family and our ancestors as well as our descendants. As Esme realizes after she meets Iris:

We are all...just vessels through which identities pass: we are lent features, gestures, habits, and then we hand them on. Nothing is our own. We begin in the world as anagrams of our antecedents.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Known World by Edward P. Jones (2003)

I was so glad I found this in my library. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 2004 and was also one of Oprah's ten books she chose that made the most impact on her in the past ten years (latest issue of Oprah magazine). So I knew it would be thought-provoking.

The story follows various characters in Manchester County, Virginia in the mid 1800's, a time when white landowners had black slaves. What I didn't know is that free black landowners sometimes also had slaves, and one of the main characters in the book is Henry Townsend, a black farmer with a large estate and many slaves. Henry has done well due to the good graces of the County's most powerful white landowner, William Robbins, who allowed Henry's father to first purchase his own freedom and then his wife's and finally his son's. Before he had enough money to free his son, Robbins made Henry his personal valet and taught him much of what made him able to be successful when he finally had his own estate.

We become acquainted with so many characters: white, black, Native American; free, enslaved; educated, uneducated; those with values and morals and those with no scruples. This book also gives an incredible close view of life in those times: how people ate, worked, interacted, loved and hated. We see the lack of freedom of the slaves but also the other "second-hand citizens" of those times, i.e women, Native Americans, homosexuals. The portrayal of this society is also surprisingly violent, especially the conclusion of the novel.

The story is elegantly woven and tips back and forth between many characters, different points in time, and various points of view. Sometimes it is difficult to remember which character is which - as a reader you must be attentive with this book. But it is well worth it as towards the end you have a wide view of the humanity and inhumanity in Manchester County. I do agree that it is thought-provoking, eye-opening and very well written, and I learned a lot reading it.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (1999)

Let me start by saying this is one of the best books I have ever read. I read it a long time ago and picked it up at the library again recently because its subject matter has become very timely - this year Congo celebrates its 50th anniversary of becoming independant from Belgium, and the major events of the book take place during the violent period surrounding Congo's independence in 1960. At the moment there are many commemorative events planned here in Belgium to mark this anniversary and so I thought it a good time to re-read this book.

Aside from being a historical-political novel, which it certainly is, this is also an intimate portrait of a family. The family mirrors the family I grew up in, in that there are daughters. Their father, Reverend Price, a Baptist minister in Georgia, decides to take his wife Orelanna and their four girls to Congo as missionaries. He will be in charge of trying to convert the inhabitants of a small Congo village to christianity, a crusade he takes to with a fiery passion and without any regard for the local customs or diplomacy.

The four daughters are: Rachel, about to turn 16 and more concerned with her hair and clothes than anything else; Leah and Adah, 14-year-old twins who are both incredibly intelligent but still very different as Adah was born paralyzed on one side of her body and does not speak; and Ruth May, the precocious and brave baby of the family. Mother Orelanna has no idea what is in store for herself and her girls until they arrive in the village and discover how difficult it will be to survive the year. Especially when the political situation in the Congo becomes very precarious and her husband refuses to leave, despite the advice from his church. This results in the Price family becoming cut off from all outside support and left to survive on their own and with the good will of the villagers. This ends up having tragic consequences for the family.

As Leah says, "You can't just point to the one most terrible thing and wonder why it happened...Each bad thing causes something'll go crazy if you think it's all punishment for your sins. I see that plainly when I look at my parents. God doesn't need to punish us. He just grants us a long enough life to punish ourselves."

What I love about this book is that even after the disaster that ends up pulling the family apart, we still get to follow their lives and see what the long term effects of this experience had on the members of the family. This book also touches on so many themes that I care about: motherhood, marriage, the relationships between sisters, religion, respect for other cultures, living abroad, culture shock, the failure of foreign policy and politics to help African countries, and the nature of evil. At the end of the book, Leah, who once worshipped her father and believed in his goal of saving the world through christianity, must admit that "There is no justice in this world...this world has brought one vile abomination after another down on the heads of the gentle, and I'll not live to see the meek inherit anything." But at the same time she sees there is the possibility to love, live and experience grace: "What there is in this world, I think, is a tendency for human errors to level themselves like water throughout the sphere of their influence...there's the possibility of balance. Unbearable burdens that the world somehow does bear with a certain grace."

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Round Rock by Michelle Huneven (1997)

I have decided to try to be more proactive about blogging my reads - I find if I procrastinate I kind of forget what was most important to me in the book. I just finished this last night and brought it downstairs with me this morning and set it by the computer so I would remember to blog about it today...

There was a more recent novel by this author recommended in a recent Oprah magazine, but our library only had this book, her first. Since I love reading first novels, I took it home.

This starts out as a very quirky novel, it follows several characters in a small town in a California citrus producing valley, and a local mansion that is used as a facility for recovering alcoholics. It took me a while to get invested in the characters. There is Red Ray, the former alcoholic who runs the facility and is everyone's friend. Lewis, a messed up PhD student who doesn't want to see that he has a drinking problem. Libby, a woman living in a trailer after her architect husband left her. Billie, her best friend and heiress to a huge citrus fortune, who lives with her father and son in her mansion and is lawsuit happy. Add to that many more colorful characters and a small town mentality of everyone knowing everyone else's business... the more I read, the more interested I became.

The story has some twists and turns in the plot, and there is both sadness and resolution in the end. It was well written and makes me want to read more from this author.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (2009)

This book won the 2009 Man Booker Prize and when I saw it in paperback in our local bookstore that carries English books, I was intrigued. It was nice and thick (652 pages) and caught my interest because it was a historical novel about Thomas Cromwell, who was the most powerful of Henry the 8th's courtiers. I recently read a historical novel about Katherine of Aragon, Henry's first wife, so I decided that I would read this one as well - one of these days I am going to have those historical figures straight in my head!

The novel follows Thomas Cromwell from the time he is a boy, skims over his career abroad as a mercenary, and picks up when he returns to England as the right hand man of the Archbishop of York. The book is extremely well written and gives great insight into the intrigues, politics and brutal ugliness of life at court. But it also shows the main characters as human beings, people we could imagine in our society today. Anne Bolyen, in particular, and especially Henry the 8th himself stand out. But Thomas Cromwell is our hero, and however brutal he must be to defend his King's interests, he also is the beloved patriarch of his family, a loving husband and father, taking in young men as his apprentices and raising then as members of his extended family, making sure the young girls in his care marry well, and creating a very successful law practice and a warm home base.

This is a book to read slowly and savor. It does not always read easily, some passages are dense or cryptical, but it is worth it to experience the unfolding of the story.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Photograph by Penelope Lively (2002)

I was out with my kids yesterday and we made a stop at our main library downtown where they have a huge selection of English books. I picked out four to take home and I started on this one first. It was not very long and once I got into it, I couldn't put it down, just kept reading and reading until I was finished. It was a very compelling book.

The story starts out as Glyn, a 60 year old professor, is looking for a document in a cupboard and unexpectedly comes across a picture of his wife, Kath, holding hands with another man. As he looks closer, he sees that the other man is Nick, Kath's sister's husband. Glyn is in shock - what does this mean? He decides to find out and goes straight to Elaine, the sister, to find out if she knew about this. The book is about the consequences of him finding the picture but also about what happened to Kath, which we only find out little by little.

The book also examines two marriages, and the theme of paying attention to those closest to us, and how important this is. Glyn realizes, through his search for information, that there was a lot about his wife he simply didn't know, and this turns out to be tragic.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Recent reading

I've been reading (as always!) but been too lazy to sit down and write a respectable post about some of the books I've been enjoying. So here is a quick review of two books I got from the library:

Gilgamesh by Joan London (2001)
I loved this book! It was a bestseller in Australia and is a well written first novel about three generations of a family of outsiders in search of a place to call home. From London to the Australian wilderness, back to pre-war London, to Armenia, Persia, and back to Australia again... It was a quick read and I got completely caught up in it and finished it in one day. The characters came to life, as did the landscapes they travelled through. I highly recommend it - look for it at your library!

The Unredeemed Captive by John Demos (1994)
If you like history you will enjoy this. Based on original documents (diairies, letters, sermons) which are extensively quoted in the book, the author tells the story of Eunice Williams, a young girl who was captured from the town of Deerfield, Massachusetts in 1704 by a French and Indian war party, and adopted by an Indian family at a settlement in Canada. The rest of her family, along with many others in the town, are also captured or killed, some manage to escape. Her father, the prominent Puritan minister John Williams, is captured but released after a few years. He mananges to get the rest of his family back - all except for Eunice. And as they discover, after many years of negotiation with the French and the Indians, she doesn't want to come back. Fascinating story, very detailed and gives the reader a good idea of what life was really like for early Americans.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon (1992)

I loved the first installment of this series (see my post on it below), but I have to say I was a bit disappointed by the second book, "Dragonfly in Amber". Of course I wanted to find out what happened to Claire after she returned back to modern times and her first husband, of course I was dying to find out what happened to Jamie, her hot Scottish Highlander second husband...but the second book, once you got back to following Claire and Jamie's adventures in medieval France, began to drag on and on. I kept thinking Claire's pregnancy was taking forever and the same about Jamie's involvment in the spying and intrigues around Charles Edward Stuart and the plotting of his uprising in Scotland.

Perhaps this is the disadvantage to reading a series of books after they have all been published - you can hop right to the next one without having to wait a year or two in anticipation and forgetting some of the finer aspects of the plot and characters. Then it doesn't seem so dull when the second book rehashes some of these items to remind you.

In any case, I thoroughly enjoyed the originality of the first book, but I think I will be moving on to other things - especially since our library only had books 1, 2, 5 and 6.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (1991)

I heard about this series from my mom and was intrigued - apparently this book and the six that follow it in the series have a big fan base. So what I always do when my mom mentions an interesting book is go check the online catalog of our public library to see if they have it. They did so I picked it up and read it over Christmas....

...or should I say I got swept away by it over Christmas?! I can certainly understand the fans - this is a story that sucks you in and keeps you hooked because you want to know more. And it includes elements of the historical novel (Scotland in the 1700's and post WW2), romance novels (steamy sex), science fiction (time travel), action and adventure (clan warfare, intrigues, spies looting and plundering, wild rescues), social history (daily life in the 1700's) - so there is really something to appeal to everyone. It's also a satisfyingly thick book, great for a long trip.

The story is about Claire, a young woman who was a nurse in military hospitals in World War II. She is on a holiday with her husband, Frank, in Scotland, a sort of second honeymoon since they had been separated so long because of the war. Visiting an ancient mystical stone circle, she is somehow transported to 1743 and thrown at the mercy of a clan of Scottish warriors who, suspicious of a lone English woman in strange clothes, take her with them to determine whether she is an English spy. One thing leads to another and she is forced for her own safety to wed Jamie Fraser, a Scottish outlaw. The marriage of convenience quickly turns into a passionate union and while events take Claire and Jamie all over Scotland and even to northern France, they become a real team, intensely loyal and devoted to each other in the face of any obstacle. At its core this book is a love story in "Gone with the Wind" style!

I am now busy with book two in the series, "Dragonfly in Amber". More soon!