Monday, September 29, 2014

A World Elsewhere by Sigrid MacRae ****

A World Elsewhere by Sigrid MacRae and the recently reviewed The Underground Girls of Kabul are both non-fiction about strong women in extraordinarily difficult situations. The current book is about the author's mother Aimee living in Germany during World War II.

I want to start with the most obvious difficulty the author faced, which was echoed by an American officer when Aimee, along with her US passport, requested help at the end of the war,
Tell this woman that she and her kind are worse that the Nazis.
Aimee was an American heiress with resources and connections. She spent most of the war on her farm far away from the cities targeted by Allied bombers, and, as a WASP, away from the concentration camps. Certainly her family and six children suffered, so MacRae's challenge was to chronicle Aimee's tribulations without making her sound like a whiner. (see First World Problems) In this the author mostly successful, but it helps to forget everything you know about the holocaust.

One interesting incident reflected on  The Underground Girls of Kabul which examined the practice of dressing girls as boys in Afghanistan, asking how prevalent this practice was in other places.
Aimee had heard enough about Russians raping anything female to make her consider cutting the child's glorious hair and putting her in boy's clothes.

We need more history books that are not about politicians and generals, both that chronicle the lives of families, parents, and children. This is an excellent addition to the canon.

I won a copy of this book in a Goodreads First Reads giveaway on August 6, 2014. I received my copy on August 13, 2014.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Blind Spot by Reed Farrel Coleman ****

The copyright for Robert B. Parker's Blind Spot (A Jesse Stone Novel) by Reed Farrel Coleman belongs to The Estate of Robert B Parker, but more on that later.

 Jesse Stone, formerly of the LAPD, is a Chief of Police of a quaint Massachusetts coastal town named Paradise. The story opens with a murder and an abduction, but after it gets complicated. In an intricately plot mystery, at least a half-dozen intertwined plots interact and ultimately come together at the end.

The men are swimming in testosterone, and women sexy and responsive. Everyone drinks, mostly too much. The body count is in the single digits, and violence is limited.

In eighty-four four-page chapters Coleman keeps the story moving forward and the pages turning. Enjoyable light reading.

As promised ... what does it mean if the copyright date is four year after the copyright owner's death. The choices are endless, I guess, but consider 1) the completed work was discovered in the author's papers, 2) an incomplete work was discovered, or 3) this work is derivative of the author's published work.

I discard (1) because we have an author shown on the cover. Since there have been seven other similarly titled books published, I also discard (2). I imagine this book is work-for-hire and based on the style and charcters created by Robert B Parker during his lifetime (3).

Given the constraints of a deceased author and estate administration, I feel we get an interesting product. The plot is intricate, but the characters are flat. The main plot lines are nice tied up at the end, but several subplots are left open. Much like a super-hero comic book, one significant villain is allowed to escape to fight another day. I imagine the estate's hand in the managing the product development.

A good read, none the less.

I won a copy of this book in a Goodreads First Reads giveaway on July 16, 2014. I received my copy on August 1, 2014.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg *****

Taliban. Women. Pakistan. Malala. Afghanistan. Fantasy.

As with any complex issue, the story is more complex then presented by the media and fund raisers. The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg goes so much deeper with a minimum of violence and maximum of hope, hope based on parents, the girls themselves, and not foreign intervention. This might be both the most realistic and optimistic book on women's rights in the middle east, ever.

Jenny Nordberg puts a human face on patriarchy and the women trapped within it. She finds reasons to hope and reasons to believe that progress will occur, without ignoring the violence against women so rampant in this culture and society.

Bacha Posh: Dressed up as a boy

In this culture boys are honored and girls are subjugated. Any male is superior to any female. A women without a son dishonors herself and her family. A family without a son is at real risk, but on a more practical level, sons, as young a 6-8, can work in the family business, earn money, run errands, escort his sisters, whereas daughter can not leave the house unescorted.

For these reasons, and others elucidated in the book, a family with a shortage of sons, might dress their daughters as boys and present them to the world as boys. They might also do this for more subversive reasons, such as education and consciousness raising.

This book follows the lives of a handful of Bacha Posh. A most fascinating, instructive, and hopeful read. The most optimistic book about the middle east published since Europe exited the dark ages aided by the science saved in the Middle East.

Taliban. Women. Pakistan. Malala. Afghanistan. Fantasy. If you care, this is the book to read.

I won a copy of this book in a Goodreads First Reads giveaway on July 18, 2014. I received my copy on August 1, 2014. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Panther by Nelson DeMIlle ****

The Panther by Nelson DeMille is a military/black-ops procedural. Aside from a skirmish quickly ended by Predator Drones and Hellfire Missiles, the action is delayed until the last 100 pages of this 800 page tome.

However, do not despair. The narrator and main character (John Corey) has a wonderful sense of humor, delivering more LOL moments than many comedy/humorous books I've read.
He instructed us, "If death or capture seems imminent, destroy the phones and radios." He suggested, "A bullet will do it."
If I have a bullet left, I'm not shooting my phone.
I reminded her, "Aim for the center of mass... Heart is on the right."
"His left, your right, Doctor."
Great. I mean, you know you're bored when you look forward to a visit from Al Qaeda.
Overall and enjoyable read, but if you're looking for action, be prepared to skim great sections of "As you know Bob" info-dumps, but that is the essence of procedures, so don't say you weren't warned.

A comfortable read and ideal companion for a long plane ride (mine was 12 hours).

Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb *****

Fitz, slang for bastard, in the bastard son of King-in-waiting Chivalry. As a young boy he is brought to the palace, but rather than this being a turn for the better, his father first abdicates and dies under suspicious circumstances. The question of his father's death is not resolved in this first volume of the Farseer Trilogy.

Fitz is trained in the Skill, power used by the ruler and defenders of the Six Duchies to communicate with each other, and, more powerfully, to enter the minds of enemies to enter confusion, doubt, fear, and misunderstanding. For example, when the Red-Ships attack, Verity, now King-in-waiting, Skills the ships' captains to cause the ships to crash against the rocks. Unfortunately, Fitz's training is a failure.

The Red-Ships terrorize the coastal cities of the Six Duchies by Forging captives. Forged captives are stripped of their humanity and all ability to empathize with others or even care about anything beyond their own animal desires. Families of forged victims consider that death of loved ones might be preferable.

In the midst of the battle between the Six Duchies and the Red-Ships, there is intrigue around new alliances, succession, and a marriage of alliance, while Fitz struggle to discover his fate and destiny.

Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb is written by one of today's best fantasy writers. It has well-developed characters, and an intricately constructed world. Highly recommended to any fantasy reader.

I won a copy of this book in a Goodreads First Reads giveaway on June 2, 2014. I received my copy on July 30, 2014.