Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Reviews coming

I just finished two non-fiction books that I greatly enjoyed. I am going to review both, probably tomorrow.

Why am I posting that I'm going to review them? Because it will make me do it.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Book Review: The House at Sugar Beach

Every time I went into a Starbucks for several months, I picked up a copy of The House at Sugar Beach, a memoir by Helene Cooper, and looked at it. I put a hold on it at the library, but after several months, I ran out of patience, so I finally bought the book

I have always been interested in African history, particularly that of West Africa. One reason I was drawn to this particular book is that I have a friend who grew up in Liberia. Although her background is different than that of the author, the country--and the war--is the same. And, although they left Liberia at different times, both of them had to flee the violence at about the same age.

Helene Cooper is a descendant of some of the first freemen from America who settled in Liberia in the 1820s. Her childhood was one of privilege and wealth until the 1980 coup. We first see life in Liberia from this point of view, getting glimpses of the what it was like before the wars began. Cooper loves her native country, and it comes through in her writing.

Her family flees to escape after the coup, and Cooper spends her high school and college years in the American south. She begins a career in journalism and becomes a successful international journalist. After nearly dying while covering the war in Iraq, she decides to return to Liberia to try to find her foster sister, who she had not seen in over 20 years.Even in the devastated country, she manages to find glimpses of the home she loved.

This book is a good introduction to the situation in Liberia for anyone who isn't familiar with the history of the strife there. The author is able to capture the naivete of her younger self . She tells a story that is always interesting, sometimes amusing, and often sad. This book becomes suggested reading for my students, both at home and in the classes I teach.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Book Review: Lydia Bennet's Story

I'm kind of picky about Pride and Prejudice sequels or knock-offs. I loved Pamela Aidan's Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman series. Other than that, most of them haven't passed muster.

I'm not a huge Austen fan, but I am an Austen fan. I won't likely notice if small details in the story don't jibe, but there is a certain feeling that needs to be present in a successful Austen sequel. And, as a historically-educated book freak, I hate anachronisms and the endowing of regency-era characters with modern sentiments.

So I always pick these books up with a dubious spirit. In fact, one of the two I brought home this time probably won't even be read after my daughter told me what she, Austen fan extraordinaire, had heard about it. But this book, Lydia Bennet's Story by Jane Odiwe is delightful.

It lets us into the head of Lydia, who is every bit as silly and naughty as we thought, and we see the events from her point of view. Maybe it is just because I was a very silly teen, but I found the depiction of Lydia's thoughts to be very realistic. I like the way the author didn't try to infuse Lydia with some modern sentiments that led her to behave in an unconventional way. She let her be what she was written as: a rather willful, silly, romantic twit.

The story that is added--the what came after--also fits the events of P&P and is true to the characters. It gave me a satisfying sense that yes, this could be how Lydia's story turns out. A most enjoyable read.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Lazy progress

I've read 17 books so far this year, but I'm feeling lazy. I've read lots of mystery/suspense, Only three of the books so far have been non-fiction. I haven't read anything that was a challenge. And I can't say this is going to change anytime soon. I'm heading to the library in a while and I'm going to try to get the next J.D. Robb book.

Yes, I'm reading the literary equivalent of potato chips.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Book review: Terrorist

I had never read anything by John Updike. I had heard that his books had a lot of sex, but had never heard much else. But last week, when he died, I read any number of posts that made me pretty sure that I was missing something.

I figured I would give Updike a try. So, at the library, I happened across Terrorist. It looked good and was relatively short, at 310 pages, so that if I didn't enjoy it I wouldn't be losing much.

What an excellent book! It is the story of an 18-year-old Muslim man who, through the influence of his local imam, is pulled into a terror plot. The characters and setting feel real. Yes, there was sex, but the way it was presented elucidated the characters and advanced the story.

I will definitely be reading more Updike.