The first month of 2014’s Around the World reading challenge has taken off in fine form, with a wide range of countries visited (and ALL continents!) and books read (12 books read from 12 different countries – no doubling-up in January!). Here’s the challenge round-up – and don’t worry if you linked your review late, I’ll just include it in February’s round-up!
Note: Reviewer links go to the reviewer’s blog page; title links will take you to the book’s Goodreads page.
Shonna Froebel, who reviews at Canadian Bookworm, reviewed Teatime for the Firefly by Shona Patel, an historical fiction novel set in 1940s Assam, India. It tells the story of seventeen-year-old Layla who, inspired and motivated by her grandfather’s belief and work towards educating girls and women, trains to be a teacher. Then she meets a young man, Manik, who is betrothed to a girl down the street in an arranged marriage. Shonna says of the novel,
“The historical events of India and partition come alive, but what is really brought to life here is Assam itself. The geography, scenery, and climate are well described, and life on the tea plantations comes alive for the reader. Their remote location, and how that draws misfits and thus unusual friendships is a big part of this story, as is the paternal relationship between the plantation managers and the workers.
Layla and Malik both grow through the challenges and circumstances that their lives bring them. This provides a glimpse of a life in a certain place at a certain time in an engaging read.”
Marj of Marj’s Mysteries reviewed The Shrunken Head by Robert Fish, a mystery/suspense novel featuring Captain Jose da Silva of Rio de Janiero, the third in the series.
First published in 1963, Marj commented on the fact that the book is a product of its time, especially in relation to the men’s attitudes to women.
“With that in mind, I still enjoyed this book, to the point I finished it in one sitting. … I found it kept my attention throughout the book, and I liked the relationship between da Silva and Wilson.”
At Book’d Out, Shelleyrae reviewed The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules by Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg. This new release novel is about Martha Anderson and her friends who, when their retirement home comes under new management and rate increases and service cuts cause them to feel they’d be better off in prison cells, decide to commit a criminal act in order to enjoy the luxuries of said prison cells.
Shelleyrae notes that “Commentary on the marginalisation of the elderly and their vulnerability to the power of care institutions, more concerned with profit margins than the well-being of their clientele, is inevitable though tempered by the idea of ‘growing old disgracefully’. You can’t help but admire the group’s sense of fun and mischief.” She found that “it’s an entertaining, feel good crime caper which will have you cheering for the elderly rebels on the wrong side of the law.”
Ekatarina of In My Book reviewed Russian author Yuri Bondarev’s 1975 war novel, The Shore. Twenty-six years after World War II ended, two writers are invited to Germany to discuss the novels of one of them; they share their war experiences and the evolution of post-war Germany.
Ekatarina notes: “The book seems to be about love, but it’s not. It’s about the permanent changes war makes in individuals and nations, how decades after it’s finished it’s still the main factor in the lives of those who have survived it. It’s a very sad book, which leaves a lot to think about, and it’s also very psychologically precise: you will not find one-dimensional characters here. There is not a lot of descriptions of military operations in this book, so if you don’t particularly enjoy them, it’s a plus.”
Dorothee takes us to England over at Life as a Journey with Robert MacFarlane’s non-fiction travel book, The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot. It does seem to be a great way to see a place like England, by foot!
Apparently, though, it’s about much more than geological sight-seeing, as the title suggests; as Dorothee says:
“Actually, it’s a book on multiple journeys, or rather: a wonderful, reflective book about walking, about the way mankind always walked and created pathes, and how following those pathes is leading you to new places, both geographically, but also in the mind.”
At Let’s Read, Marianne reviewed Modern Greece: A Short History by CM Woodhouse, first published in 1968. Marianne notes that it is neither particularly short, at almost 400 pages, nor exactly modern, as it covers Greek history from as far back as the year 324.
But of course, as Marianne goes on to say, it is through history that we come to an understanding of the present. “If you are at all interested in the history of the world, this is an excellent account of Ancient and Modern Greece and how it developed into the country it is today. … [A] Great analysis of a people that formed our modern day world.”
Here at Giraffe Days, I reviewed Sabina Berman’s 2012 novel, Me, Who Dove into the Heart of the Sea. This book completely swept me up into the first-person world of autistic savant Karen Nieto, who spent the first dozen years of her life as a wild thing with no language, eating fistfuls of sand and being beaten by her mother until she died of a brain anuerism at the age of 67. Her aunt, Isobelle, inherits her grandfather’s tuna cannery and arrives from California to take over, and discovers “the thing” that lives in the big old house.
She cleans Karen, teaches her to speak and read and write, and encourages her to become involved in the factory. Mexican tuna has been boycotted by the States for the harming of dolphins, and Karen’s ideas for changing the way they do things sets up the cannery as the first dolphin-friendly tuna cannery in the country. But the fight doesn’t end there, in fact it’s just beginning.
Marj of Marj’s Mysteries reviewed Still Life by Louise Penny, a crime novel and the first book in the Inspector Gamache series. The mystery takes place in the rural village of Three Pines in Quebec, Canada, and Marj says:
“I found the mystery to be fairly good, but what really pulled me into the story was the interaction between Gamache, Bearvoir, and Nichols, and the insights into their private lives. I also found Gamache’s thoughts on the villagers to be interesting.”
Also at In My Book, Ekatarina reviewed Geraldine Brook’s Caleb’s Crossing, about the first ever native American to graduate from university: Harvard, in 1665. Education was attainable only through conversion to Christianity and the understanding that the sponsorship of a place at Harvard would be repaid through lifelong religious preaching.
Ekatarina notes that, as fascinating as this is, it is not the main focus of Brooks’ novel; instead, it’s more the story of a white woman, Bethia, “who meets Caleb when they are both children and introduces him to her world.” Ekatarina says of the book,
“Caleb’s Crossing is very well researched, and it was very interesting to read about the early settlements, communication with the natives and the towns and universities of that time. The ugliness of the treatment of women and the Indians (and especially Indian women) is not smoothed, and the state of the medicine is really horrifying. Science also leaves much to be desired, as it was very mixed with and dependent on religion, and pretty useless for the most part.”
“As is usual in these, Amelia Peabody Emerson and her husband, Radcliffe, are busy on an archeological dig in Egypt, this time accompanied by their precocious four year old, known as Ramses, and their servant, John, who is supposed to help keep an eye on Ramses and keep him out of trouble. And also, as is usual, they become involved in solving a murder or two.
I reviewed Jennifer McVeigh’s historical fiction novel, The Fever Tree here at Giraffe Days. Set in 1880 it tells the story of Frances Irvine whose self-made merchant father loses everything in the North Pacific Railway crash and dies soon after, leaving her an impoverished orphan. To escape living out the rest of her life as a drudge and nanny at her aunt’s house in Manchester, she resentfully accepts the marriage proposal of her cousin, Dr Edwin Matthews, who now lives in South Africa.
On the boat journey south she meets a confident man, William Westbrook, the cousin of the rich and powerful man who owns most of the diamond mines at Kimberley, who seduces Frances into loving him and giving herself to him, then ditches her. Her only recourse is to go ahead with marrying Edwin and living on the veldt, but adjusting to the harsh climate of South Africa during a drought is a challenge she must rise to, or risk her future happiness. Also about diamond mining and smuggling, women’s rights, class barriers and corruption, this was a very well-written novel that I highly enjoyed.
Brona of Brona’s Books visited Hokitika on the western coast of the South Island of NZ in Eleanor Catton’s award-winning novel, The Luminaries. Of this historical fiction novel, set in a gold mining town in 1866, Brona says:
“I was mesmerised from start to finish. I was able to keep track of the long list of characters thanks to the chart in the front of the book. I loved how Catton weaved together all the various elements, revealing just enough juicy titbits to keep me guessing.
I enjoyed the sense of time & place and I loved how the ending revealed the love story hidden in the mystery. … This is not high literature or literature with a capital L; but The Luminaries is entertaining, well-written & deserving of awards & praise.”