Location: Reading Wednesday
I keep track of all the books I read and try to read more books each year than the previous year. Unlike most poeple who track their books from January to January, I track from July to July. Not sure why but I think because that is when I began keeping track.
So, as of right now I’m way ahead of my goal of reaching 75 books for the year at 41 books. And The Testaments by Margaret Atwood is right at the top of my favorites so far this year. A fabulous story.
I’ve read a lot of Margaret Atwood and she really hits the mark on some stories, while other novels of hers leave me perplexed. My favorite Atwood book is the 35 year old The Handmaid’s Tale – truly one of the best and most unique books I’ve ever read.
And so it was with both excitement and trepidation that I set out to read the sequel to The Handmaids Tale, The Testaments. I waited months on the library list for this book, and without a doubt it was worth the wait.
If you enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale you will love The Testaments. But you don’t need to have read The Handmaid’s Tale to understand The Testaments. I can’t imagine how difficult it must of been to write a sequel to a best seller like Handmaids, and to do so 35 years later. But it’s a brilliant piece of literature.
Atwood develops the characters and the dystopian society of the Republic of Gilead (the former USA) that oppresses women in a chilling and male authoritarian society. Throughout the book, told in the voice of three women (one old and cunning, two young and naive) you are kept on the edge of your seat as Atwood weaves the elaborate and complex story. I couldn’t put it down.
The book, like all books, has its critiques but I found it astonishingly believable and frightening as well as artfully crafted by a gifted storyteller.
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Five Stars for The Testaments by Margaret Atwood. Read last week’s review of Bear Town.
Location: Reading Wednesday
I wanted to love this book.
I wanted to love it because EVERYONE else seems to love it.
I wanted to love it because I LOVED A Man Called Ove and My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry also by Fredrik Backman.
But, I just didn’t love it and I can’t really put my finger on why.
Bear Town is the story of a small town, a dying small town like so many small towns. But a small town with a big dream.
Bear Town is also a story of how athletes are often given a free pass in situations where the rest of us are not. How the goal of winning can create tunnel-vision and for some people lose sight of morality and truth.
Bear Town is a story of different families and how raising our children to be honest and good is the most important thing in the world.
Bear Town is depressing but also courageous – taking the reader through a violent event that tears a town apart but ultimately shows who has the courage to tell the truth.
Perhaps it was just too real for me. I’ve seen behavior like this first hand. Perhaps your experience reading Bear Town will be less visceral.
⭐️⭐️⭐️Three stars for Bear Town by Fredrik Backman. Read last week’s review of The Lowland
This book was written six years ago. My husband said he was sure I had read it, but I started it anyway after finding a paperback in a hotel in Yangon.
I had not read it, but I am sure glad I did. It’s a remarkable story and I enjoyed it very much.
The Lowland is a sad but fascinating story of an Indian family that takes the reader over four decades and three generations from The Lowland of Calcutta to Rhode Island.
Lahiri is a beautiful storyteller with a instinctive ability to portray both the intimate and far-reaching implications of decisions made, customs and beliefs held dear, and family ties.
Bengali brothers Sabhash and his brother Udayan are so close in age growing up they are nearly inseperable despite their very different personalities. Sabhash the eldest is more conventional with a scientific mind. He wants to be a scientist and heads to America for his college studies. Udayan, always the braver of the two, is distracted, dissatisfied and a rebel.
Udayan’s ideologies find him involved in the Indian Naxalite insurgency and he is executed in front of his parents and wife.
Subhash returns to India to find his parents beyond consoling. Subhash takes Udayan’s wife and the unborn daughter she carries and returns to the USA to raise the child as his own.
The scope of this story is fascinating as it explores family and tradition, parental expectation and truth, martyrdom and secrets and the immigrant experience in the United States. It’s also educational and eye-popping if you are unfamiliar with the brutality and suppression of peasants in India.
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Four stars for The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri. Read last week’s review of I Am, I Am, I Am.
From time to time I have moments that catch my breath when I think of a few near death experiences I have had in my life. The four moments that occasionally remind me of how lucky I am to still be kicking around. Three of these occurred in a car and one on a horse – inches and seconds from disaster.
In her memoir I Am, I Am, I Am, O’Farrell looks back on her own life where she can count 17 separate incidents of stepping too close to her own death. Several instances the reader can easily relate to, while others seem unfathomable to most of us.
But the part of the book that caught me somewhat off guard was the story of O’Farrell’s adult life struggle to keep her own daughter alive. A day to day process that involves constant monitoring of every item her daughter eats, breaths, touches…as O’Farrell and her family deal with a child with severe immune-system disorder.
This is the first time I have read O’Farrell’s work although she has numerous memoirs and novels. I enjoyed this story dispite it’s sometimes gut-wrenching detail.
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Four stars for I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell. Read last week’s review of Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond.
Shout out to my husband Arne for his first book review. Enjoy.
This is a fascinating read that takes on the subject of how the modern world came to be dominated by the West. Diamond makes the case that this is not due to any inherent superiority of Western culture or peoples, but was enabled by a combination of random environmental factors present in Eurasia and not in other parts of the world.
These simple factors included easily domesticated plants and animals, and the geography that allowed for easier communication of new ideas and technologies. These elements allowed for more dense populations, the formation of states, and the development of superior technologies like written language and boats capable of crossing oceans.
Another far less intentional key that Diamond explains in great detail is the evolution of epidemic infectious diseases in the West. This came as a result of the close quarters resulting from those more dense populations. Epidemic disease created an huge unplanned advantage when the Old World began to meet and clash with the New World. As brutal and well-armed as the armies of the Old World were, those diseases killed off far more of the enemy than any weapon.
There are a lot of details and a fair amount of repetitive arguments in this book; it’s a long and fairly dry read. Can you open your mind to the concept that the modern dominance of the West wasn’t achieved through higher intelligence and moral superiority? If you can, you will find interesting this book’s premise that the West’s legacy of a better food supply and inherited tolerance to devastating diseases brought us to where we are today. Diamond’s work may forever change your thinking about how the modern world came to be.
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Four stars for Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond. Read last week’s review of Burmese Days.
Location: Reading Wednesday
This book kept popping up at shops around Myanmar while I was visiting there last month. I had read Orwell in high school (1984 and Animal Farm) but never any more. But I picked up this paperback and decided to check it out.
First of all it was clearly a pirated book. Although the cover looked like a Penguin Classic Book, the inside was printed poorly on cheap paper and within the first few chapters it began to fall apart. Oh well, I just kept trying to hold the book together.
Written in 1934 the book is a fictional tale of the waning days of the British Colonial period in Burma (now Myanmar). This is a time when Burma was ruled by Britian from Delhi as part of British India.
Orwell himself spent time in Burma, so the book (his first) is based on his first hand experience there.
The book uses serious racist language that today is completely frowned upon, and reflects the true superior British societal approach to the people of Burma. The debasing effect the empire had on the native people of the time is frankly, disgusting.
But I’m glad I read it. Even though Britian eventually revoked it’s colonial rights through out the region as well as in other regions, the deep scar Britian left is still today part of life in Myanmar and in other countries like India. Colonialism was and is a blight on people of the world and Burmese Days spells it out in a sad and honest tale of the people who were there.
⭐️⭐️⭐️Three stars for Burmese Days. Read last week’s review of Remarkable Creatures.
Location: Reading Wednesday
Oh I enjoyed this book so much. When I saw this book by Tracy Chevalier, author of The Girl With The Pearl Earring, I knew I would love it – I loved The Girl With The Pearl Earring.
So I was kind of surprised I had never heard of this book. But I am glad to have found it. It’s just the kind of story I love; history, science and strong-willed women from an era of female suppression.
Set in England in the early 1800’s a time where females had no rights, and without a husband, basically no life. Here Chevalier takes real people from the past and combines them with intriguing fictional characters to create a wonderful voyage of discovery in Remarkable Creatures.
The name of this book refers both to our two herions and the discoveries they make.
Mary Anning a real person from Lyme England is one of the early discoverers of fossils. Despite her lack of education or status, her work will lead to the scientific advances on dinosaurs and extinction. Mary will not however, get credit for most of her work since she is “just a female”.
Chevalier creates fictional Elizabeth Philpot, a spinster with a broad mind and interest in fossils. Newly arrived to Lyme she befriends Mary Anning and they begin an unlikely relationship. Part envy, part loyalty, and part mutual appreciation the two women will use each others strengths to trail blaze the science, navigate the prickly issue of female rights, and help each other through love and loss.
A fascinating book with just enough science as well as a beautiful love story and test of true friendship.
Five Stars for Remarkable Creatures. Read last week’s review of About the Night.