February Reading Progress Post

Books attempted: 7

Books finished: 6

This was a stall month.  A few poor choices and a really busy non-reading life, led to me to now being 2 books behind on my goal of reading 150 books in a year.  It doesn’t help that I’m tackling Gone with the Wind right now, which is fabulous — but a huge brick of a book. I’m also a little behind in posting reviews.  It looks like the reality of my goal is setting in.  I’m not giving up, but I do need to take this endeavor a bit more seriously and limit my facebook time!

I’m back in a really interesting book, so hopefully that will help me get back on track.

One bright spot of this month was reading City of Thorns, which will likely make the top 10 books of the year for me.

The biggest disappointment was starting and not finishing The little Paris Bookshop, which I didn’t even bother reviewing because I couldn’t make it past 25%.

The goal for March is to get 12 books read, so I better get reading!

 

 

Around the World in 80 Days

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I thought it would be a good idea to read this book this year, since I am attempting a read around the world in 80 books.  I’ve heard of this book ever since I was a small child and (gasp) watched the movie several years ago — before I read the book.  This is one of those rare instances where the movie far outperforms the book.  The book has lots of description of time – racing against the clock – and not nearly as much about the countries he traveled through.  What I missed was really being able to see these places for what they were at that time. I recognize that much of his time was spent on boats, as was the nature of travel at that time — so perhaps my expectations were a bit unrealistic.   It seemed as through the only places that had any story line at all were British colonies and the United States.

And while I understand that this book is reflective of the times in which it is written, I struggled a bit with the blatant racism and cultural ethnocentrism.

That said, I found the contrast between the characters of Phinneas Fogg and his brand new French valet Passepartout to be fun to read.  Fogg’s untiring patience and confidence, coupled with Passepartout’s anxiety about the whole endeavor was rather entertaining to read.  The element of chase, with Detective Fix on their heals, also added to the drama.

I’m glad I read it and it has inspired me to add more classics to my reading list this year, but it certainly wasn’t what I had expected and that probably explains my reluctance to rate it higher.

Breakfast Served Anytime

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I loved the premise of this book and it involved some interesting characters, including a boxer puppy.  It involves a summer of growth and change for a group of talented young people who attend a month long camp at state college.  The novel centers around one teen-aged girl and three new friends who end up in the same strand of the program.  It includes some of the teen angsty stuff that I have grown a bit tired of — Really — how can you fall in love hate-love with someone through the window of your dorm?  And Gloria (the main character) was at times a bit overly reflective about things, which lent a sense of drama to the whole narrative that was a little tiresome.  And I could have done without the butterfly sub-metaphor that ran through the book.

At the same time — boxer puppy!  So cool that a dog got to play such a key role in the formation of these young people.  And the adults, while rarely in the picture, are rather cool people when they are — not in a “We all want to be your friends way,” but in a “We have lives of our own and we will share those lives with you if you let us” way.  There are also some great literary references in here and good conversations about books and the importance of reading in shaping lives.

Overall, I liked the book.  I didn’t love it, mainly because I found it so hard to relate to Gloria, but I did find it a nice quick read.   I am also not this book’s intended audience, so readers who are in their teens may find in this book a dear set of friends.  I would certainly not hesitate to recommend it to my young adult readers.

To learn more about this book, visit Goodreads.

City of Thorns

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This. book. wrecked. me.  So much preventable suffering and death.  Pointless and heartbreaking.

I can’t stop thinking about it.  I can’t stop thinking about the families who have spent the majority (in some cases ALL) of their lives in a refugee camp.  I can’t stop thinking about the stories that my own students and friends could tell about their experiences with camp life and the events that drove them to flee to what they assumed would provide health and safety.

Rawlence tells the story of refugee camp through the lives of nine individuals.  We hear directly from men and women, boys and girls. We hear from people whose only memories are from camp life and from more recent arrivals, who fled famine in 2010.  We see people living, making do, learning, suffering, finding work in a shadow economy, waiting, arguing, falling in love, and even having some fun.  We see the human stories behind those media blips that occasionally come across our internet or cable news sources.

But to me, this is more than just nine stories — it is the story of a place that should not have to exist.  A place that exists only because instead of peace, we see war and corruption. We see people benefiting off the chaos that comes with fighting and famine.  I think I was most surprised (why I’m still surprised at this point in my life speaks to the rather innocent nature of my little peace loving heart) at how much and how many people benefit from prolonging the instability in Somalia.  And that is what wrecked me.

I finished this book with these words on my lips, “Lord have mercy.”  Have mercy on them and have mercy on all of us.  I don’t know what to do with the knowledge I now have other than to pray.  And to love my neighbors, many of whom came directly from refugee camps.

I don’t know how you will respond to this book, but I do know that I want you to read it.  I already bought a copy and mailed it to my son.  I knew at the end of the year that I was planning to compile of list of must reads, but I can’t wait.  Please — if you have refugees in your community, go to your library or your local bookstore and get the book.  It will not be an easy, fun read.  But I think you will be glad you did.

To learn more about this book, check out Goodreads.

Mukiwa

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I had no idea what I was reading when I picked up this book. I think I expected a coming of age story, filled with lots of memories of the author’s early years in Zimbabwe. And I certainly got that. His memories of early life with his nanny and the other servants, as well as his times in school reveal a sensitive child, who struggles at times to understand the brutality of the world around him. At the same time, he has a comfort and detachment with death that comes from having a mother whose work involves, at times, digging up graves. He lived a fascinating childhood and this book is filled wit interesting, well-told stories.

What I didn’t expect, was to read of his time in the war that broke out when he was in his late teens. There are hints of fighting all around the edges of his childhood, but once the narrative turns to his calling up in the military, we get an up close look at his experiences with war. This wasn’t the Zimbabwe that I wanted to read about, but it was probably the Zimbabwe that I needed to read about. Some of the stories from this time period, as well as those that come after he is a journalist are hard to read. There are some brutal atrocities in here — and as with much of war, I find the fighting to be cruel and without purpose. In many cases it is hard to know who is on what side — at one point late in the book he meets up with a soldier who was on the other side in one of this skirmishes. Godwin prepares a speech to say how he didn’t want to fight and he was young, but the other man shushes him by saying, “We were both soldiers.” And that was that — as though war is a thing that men go out to do and when it is over, they come home and tell stories of their exploits.

I’m learning this year that when you read the world, you need to be prepared to read of great joy and great suffering. This book has both in abundance.

To learn more about this book, check out Goodreads.

 

Once Upon a Time In Russia

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Read in December, 2015

Once Upon a Time . . . such a perfect title for this not so fairy tale like tale of the rise and fall of the of the once wealthiest man in Russia. I was living in the former Soviet Union during the rise of the oligarchs and remember hearing about these men on the television and in the homes of my friends. In most cases, they were looked up with great disgust as the city where I lived faced unemployment rates in the high 70% and even those who were employed were often paid in bags of salt or potatoes to sell at the bazaar. The 90s were difficult years for families who were not connected to wealth and power. These years were also, apparently, a fabulous time to make unheard of sums of money and that is what this story is about.

The events of this book are true, but it read like something out of the pages of a thriller. Mezrich is a master storyteller and is able to take the events and people of history and make them accessible for his readers. I found myself lost in the story many times — and even eventually rooting for a man who was a bit of a villain. I highly recommend this book to those who are interested in history and the makings of power.

Check out Goodreads to learn more about this book.

Travels in Mauritania

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My reading year almost stalled out on this book. As I slogged my way through this read, I felt as thought I might have felt journeying through the desert on the back of a camel. Will this never end?

In fairness, this book is not terribly written, nor would it be all that boring to the reader who loves sand.  Hudson has marvelous descriptive abilities and is able to draw out interesting tidbits from that which is rather dry and sandy.   But I am not so long suffering when it comes to this type of writing.  My favorite exchange in the book comes when Hudson returns to his friend Sekouba in the capital from his long trip in the desert.  It goes like this:

“Where have you been?” he asked.
“In the desert,” I replied.
“And how is it there? he said.
“Very Nice,” I said.
And with that he knew all he wished to know about the desert.

And with that, Sekouba became my favorite person in the book.  The desert portion nearly did me in.

I am certain there would be many readers who might find this book very interesting.  Hudson does not make the narrative all about him, but rather places the focus on the land and people — which is not an easy task.  If you are tempted to read this book, don’t let my review steer you away.  I just grew weary of the sand.

To learn more about this book, check out Goodreads.