Thursday, October 01, 2009

Holiday Reading: Reviews

I got through almost the entire pile of books I took with me to Greece - such luxury, to have lots of time to read. The reviews, however, have sat half-written in my drafts folder. Here they are, finally, a month late!

Baking Cakes in Kigali (Gaile Parkin) ... one of my favourites from the holiday pile. Reminiscent of Alexander McCall's Number One Ladies Detective Agency in the picture it paints of life in Rwanda, but with more bite. As Tanzanian expat Angel takes orders for her spectacularly decorated cakes, she becomes involved in the lives of her clients - many touched either by the Rwandan holocaust or the scourge of Aids. Humour and optimism outweigh the tragic element. An easy but satisfying read.

The Independence of Miss Mary Bennett by Colleen McCullough ... more second rate blockbuster than Jane Austen. The author borrows her characters from Pride and Prejudice but (mercifully?) makes no attempt to copy Austen's style. After the death of her mother the middle Bennett daughter Mary launches herself into independence in a somewhat headstrong manner. Cue a thoroughly ridiculous, blockbusting plot involving romance, highwaymen, underground imprisonment and the reformation of Mr Darcy. Kind of entertaining as poolside reading, but Austen it is not.

Ithaka (Adele Geras) ... a young adult romance set in Ancient Greece. I just couldn't get into it so gave up.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (J.K.Rowling) ... I decided it was time for a reread after seeing Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. You either like Harry or you don't. I do.

Reading Lolita in Tehran (Azar Nafisi) ... reading this book made me long to go crazy with nail varnish, just because I can. The author's account of life as a woman in Iran after the Islamic revolutions left me hugely grateful for the freedoms we enjoy - little things like feeling the breeze in our hair and the sun on our skin. Not to mention being able to wear as much and as garish nail varnish as we like. In public. The structure of the book is based around literature the author read with a select group of women students after resigning her university post because of the constraints of the system. Well worth reading.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (Paul Torday) ... daft premise, equally daft book. A fisheries scientist is instructed by the British government to help a wealthy sheik to establish a salmon run in the Yemen. Lots about this book irritated me. On the positive side (?) I now know more about salmon and salmon fishing than I did.

The Amulet of Samarkand (Jonathan Stroud) ... first of a fantasy trilogy aimed at older children. I thoroughly enjoyed this fast paced magical adventure. A young magician's apprentice summons a djinni to take revenge on a magician who insulted him, only to find the consequences of his actions spiral out of control. I thought the story had a slightly Nesbit-ish feel - more modern and for older readers, but with a touch of sand fairy in the anarchic djinni. A word of warning: the magicians, with the exception of the young hero, are largely amoral, interested only in success and power. I want to read the rest of the trilogy and see how it pans out.

The Rose of Sebastopol by Katharine McMahon ... historical fiction set during the Crimean war. I was quite enjoying this, but lost impetus when I got home and it is still sitting half read on my bedside table. The plot revolves around a decorous young Victorian woman, happy at home with her needle, her doctor fiance, and her cousin, a determinedly independent young woman who follows Florence Nightingale to the Crimea to nurse wounded soldiers. I like the main character better than the other two, but overall a cautious thumbs up so far.


S/V Mari Hal-O-Jen said...

I've not read Reading Lolita in Tehran but just finished Lipstick Jihad which I really and truly found fascinating. Iranian-American raised in CA returns to Iran as a journalist. I keep wanting to reread bits now that Iran is stomping about in the news but the book is back in the library now...

A Gracious Home said...

I like to reread good books. I enjoyed your book reviews. Doylene

Kelly @ The Startup Wife said...

I had a similar reaction to reading Lolita in Tehran. If you haven't already, check out "Between Two Worlds," too--such an incredible memoir. (A woman whose family was heavily involved with Hussein and grew up under his tyranny.)