September Book Reviews by Marlene

512px-Peru_Machu_Picchu_Sunrise_2At Night We walk in Circles by Daniel Alarcón. We are in an unnamed place which is most decidedly Perú (after the “war years” but references abound to that period of time) and we travel around the country to small Andean towns with a set of characters that will draw you into their unfolding drama. We are given hints that disaster will befall one of the characters but it will be a surprising turn of events that bring about Nelson’s downfall.  This is an engaging novel, with marvelous descriptions of country villages (can’t wait to experience some of them!) and lively dialogue. The characters will draw you in even as you know you never want to meet them. I was attracted to this book as Alarcón is a “Peruvian author” but left Perú as a youngster and lives in LA. But he is Peruvian at heart and I think he has pegged his native land well with this well-written novel. A recommend.

Lost City Radio  by Daniel Alarcón.  I discovered with this second book by Alarcón that I have been listening to his radio station as part of my Spanish studies. Small world! Again, we are placed in a country after a war that hasn’t changed much in the country’s politics. It centers around a radio personality, whom you will get to know very well. We are introduced to the horrors and costs (in all senses) of civil war. The aftermath of a corrupt government and ruthless terrorists set the stage for the story as Alarcón weaves timelines and events to help us understand the sad events and the torn lives of people involved in fighting for their freedom as well as reuniting their families. There are people living double lives, people being strangled with hope and lost souls all over the place. Alarcón is a master storyteller and you will be captivated by the story. A recommend!

Death in the Andes by Mario Vargas llosa.  Another book in preparation for my Peru sojourn in October by a well celebrated Peruvian author. This is again, full of tales of war, resistance fighters and violence that will make your hair curl. I sincerely hope that the Senderistas (Shining Path) guerrillas have calmed down as has been reported.  This story combines modern events with age-old traditions of the indigenous Indians of the Andes. There are delightful and awful characters that Ilosa will introduce you to and make you keep reading to find out what will happen next. I have to admit I did keep my fingers crossed for several as I didn’t want them to have unhappy endings.  See, I am serious in that you will become involved.  A high recommend.

Machu Picchu by John Hemming.  Here is a more sophisticated look at Machu Picchu with more depth than last month’s book on same subject. There is a wealth of information, great photos and intriguing theories. A must read for those on their way there, even if only from your armchair!

The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg.  A very interesting glimpse behind the scenes in Afghanistan whose patriarchal society, culture and religion gives precedence to males. Unfortunately most societies discriminate against women, but we are talking extreme here: girls may not go outside, their sole purpose on earth is to have male children and they are married off at early ages. In other words, they are to have no other life than that as wife and mother, under the complete rule of men. The family’s honor centers on having a male child. And if there isn’t a male offspring?  Some families resort to having a bacha posh, (translated literally from Dari as “dressed up as a boy”) a girl temporarily raised as a boy. When puberty starts, the girls are expected to be now women and soon will be married off to start having children. Nordberg follows several of these girls, telling tales that will have you immersed into their lives. It is indeed a sad account on all sides as no one wins in the end, men included. Nordberg also touches on the Western push for women’s rights, the politics of Afghan households and the hopes for change.  A recommend.

Tree of Rivers The Story of the Amazon by John Hemming.  What a fabulous journey through the centuries to present day with the meanderings of this mighty river and the region it dominates. Hemming covers many aspects from indigenous groups, first explorers and then settlers, the rubber boom, the influx of naturalists and then building of roads and timbering of the forests of the Amazon. It’s an amazing collection of facts, well presented and intriguing to follow the development with the added bonus of a collection of fine photographs.  It will break your heart of the treatment of both the indigenous people and the unique biodiversity environment.  But it will give you a clear understanding of the Amazon and a new appreciation for its power to enthrall and entice. A recommend. This is a ZIP book from my library, meaning a patron used grant funds to purchase a book for the library.  I am thankful that we now have this book available.

Audio

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult.  This author loves to tackle ticklish subjects and here she does it with a school shooting. The descriptive writing is too good as you will feel you are right there. Your heart will be wrenched by some of the characters as they deal with the tragedy and you will shake your head with others’ deplorable behavior.  This book brings out in shining lights and shouting emphasis the dangers of school bullying. I cringe at the thought that any child suffers as this child did and I have to admit to wanting the extremes to be for the drama of the book. I fervently hope that teachers nowadays are more cognizant and would stop bullying before it goes too far.    It’s a novel, but too close to reality. A recommend as a cliff hanger but not for the faint of heart. Hmm, I would also recommend it to anyone with school-age children.

The Perfect Landscape by Ragna Sigurdardottir.  I was drawn to this book because mysteries are fun and I wanted to know more about Iceland.  Sadly, it doesn’t do much for evoking the feeling of Iceland except in descriptions of Icelandic art.  You will learn  a bit about how forgeries are worked but the story plods along and the characters won’t involve your emotions. I recommend you give this one a pass.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini.  Another sojourn into Afghanistan and the world of women with a story that spans many decades.  We follow the lives of the well-drawn characters through the many struggles of Afghanistan from Soviet invasion, Taliban rule and the fall of the Taliban, the resistance rule of the Mujahedeen and the current warlord battles . It is story that will enlighten you to the plight of Afghans and educate you about how a culture is shaped by events and ruling powers.  It’s a moving story of love and friendship, the will and tenacity to survive all the changes and the hope of a better future.  It is devastating to read of the plight of Afghan women but also of the very fabric of its citizenry and how this poor country has been subject to such atrocities, within and without.  May the hope that Hosseini ends his novel blossom.  A definite, high recommend.

The Kalahari Typing School for Men by Alexander McCall Smith.  Here’s an easy and relaxing read of quiet life in Botswana.  Smith continues his saga of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency with the usual set of characters with their attributes and their foibles. There are little mysteries to solve but nothing earth-shattering.  I may have even read this before so mild is the story and it is early in the life of the agency.  But it’s a pleasant read and a nice break from novels of  heavy-duty war-torn countries.  A recommend for light reading.

Sins of the Fathers  by Ruth Rendell.   Here is an earlier Inspector Wexford novel and so may seem a bit dated.  It doesn’t have quite the twists and turns of later Wexford novels but you will enjoy an  entertaining mystery.  You may solve it early on but how the characters will discover the truth is an interesting read.  I thought it very sad  that a man of God should be so short-sighted about the love of his son’s life but there are far worse thoughts out there that bring people to worse actions. But credit to Rendell for having characters that grow with the story.  So, a step into the past  with interesting mystery to solve. A medium recommend.

MOVIES:

“The Gift” a thriller movie that is fast-paced and scary!  I was glad I was not the only female in the theater who screamed at certain moments.  There are layers that are getting folded back, little by little as you are wrapped into discovering the solution to the mystery. A recommend.

Happy reading, listening and viewing!

Marlene

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