JLee22
!!! spoiler alert !!! Review
3.5 Stars
Adios Muchachos
Adios Muchachos - Daniel Chavarría, Daniel Chavarría, Carlos Lopez

Overall impression: This would be a great Tarantino movie.

 

The first character introduced is Alicia who is refreshingly pragmatic to the point of potentially discomfiting the reader. She engages in a clever form of prostitution, using a unique ploy involving a combination of the bicycle, outfit, and natural assets as shown in the cover picture, accepting only practical gifts like air conditioners or the like from her lovers, then selling the items on the black market for cash. Her ultimate goal is to pick the richest and most tolerable of her lovers to marry and live the rest of her life in luxury. One of the great things about her character is how close she is to her mother to the point that her mom is part of her scheme and later she refuses to leave her mother behind when an opportunity for a better life comes up.

 

The other main characters include a businessman (read: conman) going by the name Victor King (which is a GREAT name for a criminal, by the way) and a character so defined by his peculiarly large facial trait that he is frequently referred to as The Nose. Clearly, I was not as impressed by them as the character of Alicia.

 

I would be interested in reading this in the original Spanish, partially because I'm sure the jokes about Victor King's Mexican accent would be hilarious. That aside, trigger warnings apply. This is also not a novel for the faint of heart because the sex scenes are graphic and, er, creative.

 

-- "When her clients were around, Alicia made a point of using strategic bits of profanity. Two elegant women who knew how to employ timely profanities gave the impression of being above it all, emancipated, liberal, chic. No decent woman of humble origins would ever curse in the presence of someone she was trying to impress. And these foreigners, accustomed as they were to the subjugation of prostitutes in the Third World, found the offhand use of obscenity by these two Cuban women surprising and, ultimately, captivating."

 

-- "Damn, she's good, Alicia thought. The old bird is not going to try to convince me not to do it; she's making me convince her that I shouldn't go through with it.Reverse psychology for the win.

 

-- "The foreign tourists lounging around the pool who saw the maneuver were all from countries where it was very unseemly for people to notice or comment on other people's affairs. There were some Cuban witnesses, of course, but they figured that as long as these foreigners kept the tips coming in and did nothing openly offensive, well, they could have their luggage delivered to their rooms any way they wished." This is probably my most favorite line in the whole book because of how many things it summarizes in such a perfectly concise way.

World Books Challenge

Per the idea borrowed from Merle, the goal is to "travel the world" by reading one book set in every country of the world as listed below with preference given to books by a native author.

 

List format is also borrowed from Merle. :)

 

10 out of 200 countries = 5%

 

North America and the Caribbean 
1 out of 24 countries = 4%

Canada: ?
United States: Capital Dames by Cokie Roberts
Mexico: ?

Belize: 
Nicaragua: 
Costa Rica
El Salvador
Guatemala
Honduras
Panama

Antigua & Barbuda:
Barbados:
Cuba: Adios Muchachos by Daniel Chavarria
Dominica: 
Dominican Republic:
Haiti: ?
Jamaica:
Puerto Rico:
Bahamas
Grenada
St. Kitts & Nevis 
St. Lucia
St. Vincent & the Grenadines
Trinidad & Tobago 


South America 
0 out of 12 countries = 0%

Argentina: 
Brazil: 
Chile: Deep Down Dark by Hector Tobar? / My Documents by Alejandro Zambra?
Colombia: 
Peru: 
Uruguay: 
Venezuela:
Bolivia
Ecuador 
Guyana 
Paraguay 
Suriname 


Africa 
1 out of 54 countries = 2%

Algeria: 
Egypt: The Automobile Club of Egypt by Alaa Al Aswany
Libya: 
Morocco: 
Tunisia

Cape Verde:
Ghana: 
Guinea: 
Ivory Coast: 
Liberia: The House at Sugar Beach by Helene Cooper?
Mali:
Nigeria: The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives by Lola Shoneyin?
Senegal: 
Sierra Leone:
Togo: 
Benin
Burkina Faso
Gambia 
Guinea-Bissau
Mauritania
Niger 

Cameroon:
Democratic Republic of the Congo: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver?
Sao Tome & Principe: 
Central African Republic
Chad
Republic of the Congo 
Equatorial Guinea
Gabon

Ethiopia:
Kenya: Find Me Unafraid by Kennedy Odede
Rwanda: 
Somalia: 
Sudan: 
Tanzania:
Uganda: 
Burundi
Djibouti
Eritrea
South Sudan

Botswana: 
Mauritius: 
Mozambique:
South Africa: 
Zambia: 
Zimbabwe:
Angola
Comoros
Lesotho 
Madagascar
Malawi 
Namibia 
Seychelles
Swaziland


Europe 
2 out of 49 countries = 4%

France: Marivaux?
Germany: 
Greenland: 
Iceland: 
Ireland: Colm Toibin?
Italy: 
Netherlands: Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier?
Spain: Manolito Gafotas?
Sweden: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
Switzerland: 
United Kingdom: The Dead Duke, His Missing Wife, and the Secret Corpse by Piu Marie Eatwell
Andorra
Austria 
Belgium: All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque?
Denmark 
Finland 
Liechtenstein
Luxembourg
Malta ?
Monaco
Norway 
Portugal 
San Marino
Vatican City

Albania: 
Azerbaijan: 
Bulgaria: 
Chechnya: 
Croatia: 
Georgia: 
Greece: Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis?
Hungary: 
Montenegro:
Romania: 
Russia: 
Serbia: 
Ukraine: 
Armenia
Belarus
Bosnia & Herzegovina 
Czech Republic 
Estonia 
Latvia
Lithuania
Macedonia
Moldova
Poland 
Slovakia
Slovenia


Middle East 
1 out of 16 countries = 6%

Iran: Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi? / Children of the Jacaranda Tree by Sahar Delijani?
Iraq: 
Israel: 
Kuwait: 
Lebanon: 
Qatar: 
Palestine: 
Saudi Arabia: In the Land of Invisible Women by Qanta A. Ahmed

Turkey:
Yemen: Henna House by Nomi Eve?
Bahrain
Cyprus
Jordan
Oman
Syria 
United Arab Emirates


Asia 

5 out of 31 countries = 16%

Afghanistan: The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg? / In My Father's Country by Saima Wahab
Kazakhstan:
Kyrgyzstan: 
Tajikistan:
Turkmenistan 
Uzbekistan 

Bangladesh:
India: Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
Nepal:
Sri Lanka: A Disobedient Girl by Ru Freeman?
Pakistan:
Bhutan 
Maldives

China: Leaving Mother Lake by Yang Erche Namu, Christine Mathieu? / Four Sisters of Hofei by Annping Chin?
Japan: Geisha, a Life by Mineko Iwasaki
Mongolia: 
North Korea: In Order to Live by Yeonmi Park
South Korea: The Calligrapher's Daughter by Eugenia Kim
Taiwan:
Tibet:

East Timor: 
Indonesia: 
Malaysia:
Myanmar: The Lady and the Peacock by Peter Popham?
Philippines: Monstress by Lysley Tenorio?
Singapore: Aunty Lee's Delights by Ovidia Yu?
Thailand:
Vietnam: The Novice by Thich Nhat Hanh
Brunei
Cambodia: First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung
Laos


Australia and the Pacific 
0 out of 14 countries = 0%

Australia: Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay(?) / Fly Away, Peter by David Malouf(?)
New Zealand: 
Fiji 
Kiribati 
Marshall Islands 
Micronesia 
Nauru
Palau
Papua New Guinea 
Samoa
Solomon Islands 
Tonga 
Tuvalu 
Vanuatu

!!! spoiler alert !!! Review
3 Stars
A Royal Duty
A Royal Duty: Updated with New Material - Paul Burrell

Eh, a solid 3. I didn't realize that I had started this book about 2 1/2 years ago but never finished it because life. Clearly it wasn't engrossing enough that I had-to-must-read-now-now-now-read-it! As an insider's reference, it is surely invaluable. I noted with amusement how it was one of the citations in Sex with the Queen when I read that book. The author, Paul Burrell, worked as a servant inside Buckingham Palace, working for Queen Elizabeth, then Prince Charles and Princess Diana, then working solely as Diana's butler. As a result, he talks at length about the duties of being a modern day servant, including the anachronistic traditions, the politics and inter-personal relationships behind the scenes, and, of course, about his relationship with Diana.

 

To be frank, the whole book reads like a contemporary version of one of those historical fiction novels of the servant who is the closest confidante of the king/queen - they alone will save their master and, thus, prevent the destruction of the realm!!!

 

Yet I actually do believe the account as being truthful. He confesses to his own weaknesses freely, perhaps even too critically, and scorns the inefficiencies of the bureaucracy that led to his own arrest under suspicion of theft after Princess Diana's death in the late 90s. He spills the beans and names names except when it comes to the most private aspects of Diana's life, specifically it seemed that he avoided mentioning the names of her lover(s). His account can be compared more to that of a whistleblower, desperate to get his side of the story out into the public.

 

It boggled my mind that people could be so... subservient is not the right word, but accommodating is not strong enough. Burrell was, and still is probably, obsessed with Diana, not in a sexual way, but to the point where he literally could not function when he was not allowed to work for her or towards her memory after her death. Likewise, he mentions repeatedly that Diana's friends supported her in great ways, but if you have a dozen or so people going to the lengths those people did, either you're a saint (no, she was very vindictive, evident in even Burrell's biased words) or exceptionally needy. I can't help it but my personal feelings about certain archetypes colors my perception on subjects I read about.

 

The epilogue was an addendum to the book in which Burrell mentioned that within the UK there was still a lot animosity towards him, but in America and elsewhere abroad he was regarded as a good man for doing what he did for Princess Diana. I think he nailed it on the head when he said the aristocratic and classist culture of England played a large unspoken part in his story. Food for thought.

Review
3.5 Stars
Concussion
Concussion - Jeanne Marie Laskas

The beginning threw me off because I have seen the documentary on Netflix about this subject and expected the book to delve right into the matter but instead it starts with the childhood of Dr. Bennet Omalu, basically resulting in a biography for the first third or so of the book. Alright, I can roll with that. But then the author made the interesting stylistic choice of cutting in Omalu's own narration of his POV of certain events covered in the book in an italicized sentence here, paragraph there; I was absolutely convinced that this was meant to imply that Omalu was schizophrenic in the same way that it is implied throughout the book that he is emotionally immature. Regarding the latter, I think the book does a great job of showing how intelligence is not necessarily linked to emotional development, because while Dr. Omalu is clearly intelligent and good at his job, he is also portrayed as being gullible, resulting in his skills being taken advantage of first by his mentor and then, later, by the personalities involved with covering up his discovery or taking credit for it.

 

My favorite aspect was the comparison of the NFL with big tobacco companies and their cover up practices. Reminds me of those anti-smoking ads that used to run on TV. But anytime there are multi-billion dollar industries involved, shouldn't corruption be the default assumption? :P

 

Apparently the point of the book was to bring Dr. Omalu's role in the events into light, and in that I do believe it succeeded. After all, there is now a movie version starring Will Smith. I also liked the comparisons between Nigerian and American culture which made me more eager to read something from Nigeria for my world books challenge.

Review
3 Stars
In the Land of Invisible Women
In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor's Journey in the Saudi Kingdom - Qanta A. Ahmed

This took me forever to read. It was just really hard to get into until I forced myself to sit down and blitz through it last night. Part of the problem is the descriptive language seemed so off the wall sometimes, I thought I was reading something by Stephenie Meyer or E.L. James which is not a compliment at all. Not to say that it was bizarrely immature figurative language, just... odd. In hindsight, I suppose that is what happens when the author is a highly educated person such as a doctor as Ahmed is. It's sort of like those common proverbs translated into lawyer-speak worksheets we used to get in school.

 

After I got over that bit, it was quite interesting. The feelings I had during reading were similar to that which I experienced when reading The Feminine Mystique. As a female reader, many things will make you mad or upset. It's definitely not a book for anyone who is sensitive to triggers, particularly those related to sexual discrimination or assault (this is about the country where all women, regardless of nationality or religion, are required to be veiled in public at all times and it just goes downhill from there) and 9/11.

 

Qanta Ahmed is an American by choice, born in England from a Pakistani family, and you sure can tell. One thing I realized when traveling is that anyone in any country or culture can be of any personality, good or bad; yet there is something about where and how you grow up that indelibly structures the foundation of your core beliefs of how the world should work and everything you else you experience in life is built around that foundation. Ahmed definitely has the Western value system that women are not meant to be invisible or weak, and the whole book is her trying to reconcile her values with her religion as it is practiced in Saudi Arabia. If the country follows religious law, Islamic law at that, shouldn't everything be fine? But she repeatedly runs into examples of how everyone, even the privileged figures of native Saudi males, live in a mind-bending dichotomy of constant fear of the religious police and reckless abandon with their lives and that of everyone around them.

 

Her critical eye noted many things, presenting a rather balanced view of life in Saudi Arabia, as much as a female expat can have anyway. There are good and bad things, and mostly she spends the book working out her feelings and thoughts about them. The longest running train of thought is, of course, how women fit into their place in Islamic culture and how the teachings of the faith are corrupted for sociopolitical gain.

 

The one glaring arrogance from Ahmed, however, is that the whole reason she decided to go to Saudi Arabia in the first place was that she thought she would fit in just fine, having been raised Muslim, without thinking about how cultural influences and national law would mean her notion of female independence as a right would be turned upside down. This also leads into her problem with relating to the people she meets abroad because what is instinctively repulsive to her is natural to them. Likewise, her ingrained tolerance for people of other races and religions is a product of growing up in the UK and America, so she is doubly shocked by the racism and anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism she experiences; I've been there myself, but still, why are people always surprised that the rest of world doesn't think kindly of the Western powers? That, again, is another example of arrogance. These negatives do not detract from the story however.

!!! spoiler alert !!! Review
4.5 Stars
Geisha, a Life
Geisha, a Life - Rande Brown, Mineko Iwasaki

I kept re-writing my comments on this bit because I feel so conflicted that I can't write a comprehensive sentence about it.

 

Likes: historical first person account. Original, native speaker. Detailed descriptions about unique aspects of cultural setting.

 

Dislikes: the general personality of the narrator as it comes across in text (although credit for her recounting everything in seemingly an honest manner) 

 

Anyway, as a historical resource or reference, it is quite excellent.

 

-- "Maiko and geiko start off their careers living and training in an establishment called an okiya, usually translated as geisha house. They follow an extremely rigorous regimen of constant classes and rehearsal, similar in intensity to that of a prima ballerina, concert pianist, or opera singer in the West." This has always been my impression even from stories that took fictional liberties such as Memoirs of a Geisha, although not how others interpreted it if I remember the media at the time.

 

-- "The female society of Gion Kobu is organized along the lines of nominal kinship, with seniority determined by status. Thus, regardless of age, the owners of the okiya and ochaya are referred to as mothers or aunts, while the maiko and geiko are called older sister by anyone who has begun active service after they have. In addition, every maiko and geiko is assigned a senior sponsor who is known as her particular Onesan, or Older Sister." Matriarchal social structure in application? See teacher/student archetype.

Yoneyu... was a classic beauty and men fell all over her. One her sponsors was a very important Baron who kept her on a generous retainer. He paid her a stipend so that she would be available to entertain him and his guests whenever he so desired.

 

This sort of arrangement is not unusual. Having a principal geiko at your beck and call is a major status symbol in Japanese society... The district attracted guests from all over, men from the highest ranks of the business world and the aristocracy. They competed with each other to help support the most popular geiko. It is somewhat similar to the patronage of, say, the opera, but instead of being on the board of the opera house, a man would choose to support his favorite diva. And in the same way that a patron of the opera house does not expect sexual favors from the diva, the Baron supported Yoneyu solely because of the artistic perfection that she embodied and the luster that she lent to his reputation.

 

However... You can't put talented, beautiful, elegant women together with rich and powerful men and expect nothing to happen. Romantic entanglements happen all the time, some leading to marriage and others to heartache.

This is suspiciously close to the plot of Memoirs of a Geisha, hmmm....

 

-- "I don't mean to imply that a geiko can't be married. Some of the most successful geiko I knew were married and lived independently from their okiya... But most of us found the idea too daunting and waited until we retired to get married. Other's enjoyed their independence so much they never gave it up." An interesting occupation for female liberation.

 

-- "Many noble families became impoverished after the Meiji Restoration and found livelihood for their girls in the karyukai. Here was a place where they could practice the dance and tea ceremony they had learned at home, wear the higher quality kimono they were used to, become financially independent, and have a chance at making a decent marriage." Not a social stigma as previously implied in Western sources?

 

-- "Frankly, it is possible for a maiko... to coast for a while on her magnificent costumes and childlike charisma, but her career can't blossom unless she capitalizes on her talent." IIRC, one of the reasons why the older a geisha is, the less white make up she wears, because by then she is so skilled at conversation and her artistic talents that she doesn't need the flashy costume. Basically, maikos can sit there and look pretty.

 

-- "The bottom line, though, is that the geiko has been hired to amuse the host of the ozashiki and his or her guests. She is there to make people feel good. When a geiko enters an ozashiki she is required to go over to whoever is seated in the place of honor and engage that person in conversation. No matter what she is feeling, her expression must declare: "I couldn't wait to come right over and speak to you." If her face says, "I can't stand you," she doesn't deserve to be a geiko. It is her job to find something likable about everyone." Customer service in a nutshell.

 

-- "The geiko of Gion Kobu make famously prized wives for rich and powerful men. One couldn't ask for a more beautiful or sophisticated hostess, especially if one travels in diplomatic or international business circles. And a geiko brings with her the cornucopia of connections she has cultivated over her career, which can be very important for a young man starting out." Dissimilarity to marrying an actress or arts performer in the West? Perhaps a modernism, take into account time periods and Japanese economic influences...

Review
2.5 Stars
Sackett's Land
Sackett's Land (Audio) - Louis L'Amour

One of those books that kicks off a "family coming to America" saga, exploring descendent generations as the series goes on, at least that's how I understand the genre. This being the first book in the series, it focuses on the founding father of the line and how he turns a chance opportunity - finding some old gold coins - into an enterprising adventure - going to America to trade goods for prized furs - and eventually decides that he likes the country enough that he would like to settle there permanently, establish a trade post, and explore the land.

 

This being a L'Amour novel, he also has a love interest (who shows up in the most improbable of circumstances of course) and numerous near death experiences. One thing about L'Amour's books is that it's never boring; he follows the rule of always putting his characters in conflict with an antagonistic force, be it human rival, minor character of passing interest, nature, or self.

 

My one major dislike was that there seemed to be a lot of pointed commentary that, while true from a historical standpoint as it led to the establishment and eventual separation of the colonies and founding of America and so on and so forth, pushed the Manifest Destiny philosophy to a distasteful degree IMHO.

Quote
"When I think I might die without seeing a hundredth of all there is to see it makes me feel," he paused, then added, "well, humble, I suppose. And very angry, of course."

Pratchett, Terry. The Color of Magic. Kindle ed. HarperCollins, 2009. 253. Electronic.

World Books Challenge

So the last update got stuck in the drafts and backdated after the fact; this one had better go live on time! A bit of a slow month since I spent a lot of time gaming, but oh well.

 

Italicized titles are possible TBRs that I have located copies of. Question marks are books exist that I want to read but have not found a copy of yet, titles noted elsewhere. Blank is yet to be found. Underlined is read but review/notes not written up and linked properly yet.

 

--

 

Per the idea borrowed from Merle, the goal is to "travel the world" by reading one book set in every country of the world as listed below with preference given to books by a native author.

 

List format is also borrowed from Merle. :)

 

9 out of 200 countries = 4.5%

 

North America and the Caribbean 
1 out of 24 countries = 4%

Canada: ?
United States: Capital Dames by Cokie Roberts
Mexico: ?

Belize: 
Nicaragua: 
Costa Rica
El Salvador
Guatemala
Honduras
Panama

Antigua & Barbuda:
Barbados:
Cuba: Adios Muchachos by Daniel Chavarria
Dominica: 
Dominican Republic:
Haiti: ?
Jamaica:
Puerto Rico:
Bahamas
Grenada
St. Kitts & Nevis 
St. Lucia
St. Vincent & the Grenadines
Trinidad & Tobago 


South America 
0 out of 12 countries = 0%

Argentina: 
Brazil: 
Chile: Deep Down Dark by Hector Tobar? / My Documents by Alejandro Zambra?
Colombia: 
Peru: 
Uruguay: 
Venezuela:
Bolivia
Ecuador 
Guyana 
Paraguay 
Suriname 


Africa 
1 out of 54 countries = 2%

Algeria: 
Egypt: The Automobile Club of Egypt by Alaa Al Aswany
Libya: 
Morocco: 
Tunisia

Cape Verde:
Ghana: 
Guinea: 
Ivory Coast: 
Liberia: The House at Sugar Beach by Helene Cooper?
Mali:
Nigeria: The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives by Lola Shoneyin?
Senegal: 
Sierra Leone:
Togo: 
Benin
Burkina Faso
Gambia 
Guinea-Bissau
Mauritania
Niger 

Cameroon:
Democratic Republic of the Congo: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver?
Sao Tome & Principe: 
Central African Republic
Chad
Republic of the Congo 
Equatorial Guinea
Gabon

Ethiopia:
Kenya: Find Me Unafraid by Kennedy Odede
Rwanda: 
Somalia: 
Sudan: 
Tanzania:
Uganda: 
Burundi
Djibouti
Eritrea
South Sudan

Botswana: 
Mauritius: 
Mozambique:
South Africa: 
Zambia: 
Zimbabwe:
Angola
Comoros
Lesotho 
Madagascar
Malawi 
Namibia 
Seychelles
Swaziland


Europe 
2 out of 49 countries = 4%

France: Marivaux?
Germany: 
Greenland: 
Iceland: 
Ireland: Colm Toibin?
Italy: 
Netherlands: 
Spain: Manolito Gafotas?
Sweden: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
Switzerland: 
United Kingdom: The Dead Duke, His Missing Wife, and the Secret Corpse by Piu Marie Eatwell
Andorra
Austria 
Belgium
Denmark 
Finland 
Liechtenstein
Luxembourg
Malta ?
Monaco
Norway 
Portugal 
San Marino
Vatican City

Albania: 
Azerbaijan: 
Bulgaria: 
Chechnya: 
Croatia: 
Georgia: 
Greece: Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis?
Hungary: 
Montenegro:
Romania: 
Russia: 
Serbia: 
Ukraine: 
Armenia
Belarus
Bosnia & Herzegovina 
Czech Republic 
Estonia 
Latvia
Lithuania
Macedonia
Moldova
Poland 
Slovakia
Slovenia


Middle East 
0 out of 16 countries = 0%

Iran: Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi? / Children of the Jacaranda Tree by Sahar Delijani?
Iraq: 
Israel: 
Kuwait: 
Lebanon: 
Qatar: 
Palestine: 
Saudi Arabia: In the Land of Invisible Women by Qanta A. Ahmed?

Turkey:
Yemen: Henna House by Nomi Eve?
Bahrain
Cyprus
Jordan
Oman
Syria 
United Arab Emirates


Asia 

5 out of 31 countries = 16%

Afghanistan: The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg? / In My Father's Country by Saima Wahab
Kazakhstan:
Kyrgyzstan: 
Tajikistan:
Turkmenistan 
Uzbekistan 

Bangladesh:
India: Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
Nepal:
Sri Lanka: A Disobedient Girl by Ru Freeman?
Pakistan:
Bhutan 
Maldives

China: Leaving Mother Lake by Yang Erche Namu, Christine Mathieu? / Four Sisters of Hofei by Annping Chin?
Japan: Geisha, a Life by Mineko Iwasaki
Mongolia: 
North Korea: In Order to Live by Yeonmi Park
South Korea: The Calligrapher's Daughter by Eugenia Kim?
Taiwan:
Tibet:

East Timor: 
Indonesia: 
Malaysia:
Myanmar: The Lady and the Peacock by Peter Popham?
Philippines: Monstress by Lysley Tenorio?
Singapore: Aunty Lee's Delights by Ovidia Yu?
Thailand:
Vietnam: The Novice by Thich Nhat Hanh
Brunei
Cambodia: First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung
Laos


Australia and the Pacific 
0 out of 14 countries = 0%

Australia: 
New Zealand: 
Fiji 
Kiribati 
Marshall Islands 
Micronesia 
Nauru
Palau
Papua New Guinea 
Samoa
Solomon Islands 
Tonga 
Tuvalu 
Vanuatu

!!! spoiler alert !!! Review
3.5 Stars
Below Stairs
Below Stairs: The Classic Kitchen Maid's Memoir That Inspired "Upstairs, Downstairs" and "Downton Abbey" - Leigh Crutchley, Margaret Powell

This is a memoir that reads like a polished transcription of an audio interview. The colloquialisms and patronizing language remain intact, but it should be noted that the book was originally published in 1968 and Margaret Powell was already 61 years old by then. If it reads in your grandmother's scolding tones ("things are so different nowadays, why in my day we... blah blah blah"), then it's because she was certainly old enough to speak that way. I found it annoying and, eventually, a little endearing. Perhaps things are not as "polite" nowadays (and considering she was talking about late 60's England, wow, haha) but it is that mindset that evolved out of the oppression she despised in her own youth and what, arguably, prevents it from reemerging in the same way. I always find the irony too amusing when the elderly start going off on those rants... (I'm almost old enough to start doing it myself actually.)

 

The first half dozen or so chapters are about her childhood and the extreme poverty she grew up in. This sets up the explanation for why she starts working as soon as she becomes a teenager, and why she eventually goes into domestic service, working as a kitchen maid and then kind of faking her way into a job as a cook. The commentary and matter of fact speech is engaging (for example, boys are still the same a century later; probably you could pick up some tips if you wanted; also I hunted up the cookbook on Scribd) and insightful.

 

Her values were definitely different from what a modern reader would be able to relate to, but that is a sign of the times as Powell herself mentions frequently. She is also very upfront about the fact that her goal the entire time was to get married to someone who wasn't also in domestic service so she could quit working. Hmmm... not much of a moral, but it is at least an unvarnished recounting of history from someone who was there and witnessed an interesting time of change - that is, the swift decline of domestic servitude as a primary career for the lower classes and change in what defined aristocratic culture.

 

-- "I know I used to wonder why, when things were so hard, Mum kept having babies... You see that was the only pleasure poor people could afford. It cost nothing - at least at the time when you were actually making the children. The fact that it would cost you something later on, well, the working-class people never looked ahead in those days. They didn't dare. It was enough to live for the present." This is almost word for word the exact sentiment expressed by the woman who wrote the essay my high school English teacher gave us all copies of; it was about her impoverished circumstances in a small American town mid- to late 20th century.

 

-- "My mother immediately remembered that she'd read an article in a newspaper about how all young girls disappeared as soon as they got to London and were never heard of again. It was well known, she said, that those women, and by 'those women' of course she meant prostitutes, originally were innocent young girls who'd gone to London in the same way that I was suggesting, and been lured away by promises of easy money and a life of luxury. I remember saying, 'Oh, don't worry, Mum. I'll tell them when I'm standing on the corner that I'm waiting for a bus.' That didn't console my mother."

 

-- "Even nowadays when see an economic recipe and they say you cant tell the difference from the original, well probably you can't if you've never eaten the original, but if you have there's a vast difference." See: apple pie.

 

-- "It's a sad fact that uniform does nothing for a woman at all, it just accentuates all the wrong bulges, but even the most insignificant male seems to look masculine when he's got a uniform on. Maybe because it's cut to show off whatever points he has got (I'm not being vulgar), I mean to accentuate them.

They were, of course, delighted to be the centre of interest. What man wouldn't be if he had five or six females fluttering around him, plying him with biscuits, and cups of tea, and hanging on to his words with bated breath. Men are very susceptible to flattery. Even a man with a face like the back of a bus, if you tell him he doesn't look too bad, believes you. You can stuff men up with any old yarn. They believe anything. You've only got to gaze into their eyes, and sound as though you mean what you say. I've tried it so I know it's true." A lot funnier when you take into account all of the disparaging things she says about her own appearance and personality and her continually failed efforts with boyfriends.

 

-- "The only thing that kept me and those like me from staying off the straight and narrow was ignorance and fear. Ignorance of how not to have a baby, and fear of catching a disease.. That's why so many deviate now because those two fears have gone, haven't they?" I love the contradictions, the hypocrisy in her very speech as the book progresses; it is very human.

 

-- "It's a funny thing, but the less cooking you know how to do, the more competent you feel. It's only when you know how to cook that it worries you when it goes wrong, because when you don't know, you don't know it's gone wrong. The more experienced I got the more I worried. I soon realized when a dish wasn't perfection." I added white wine on a whim to the vegetables I was cooking with copious amounts of butter and garlic tonight and cooked it out. Turned out pretty delicious actually; good call in hindsight. Or perhaps lucky is the right word? Haha.

 

-- "A month is a long time when people are unpleasant to you, and the two old dears, although I didn't make things any worse for them, resented that I could get out, that I'd got a future, and that they hadn't. They'd only got the past and that hadn't been too good."

 

-- "I came to the conclusion that aggression only achieved results when it was allied to beauty or power. Well, I had neither of these desirable traits, so common sense should have taken over from there and convinced me that my position in life was just to be a sort of down-trodden housewife, one of the great army of housewives who've got aspirations, but never manage to do anything about it." Literally one of my greatest fears!

 

-- "I think that [a parent] can be too ambitious. You educate [children], you send them into a social community of which they can't be one. People have the same herd instinct as animals. There's only got to be one that's different and they kick hell out of him." Although I edited it to fit the context of the particular chapter it was pulled from, the quote could also apply to Powell's life herself. She was educated enough to the point where she stood at the precipice of curiosity, and her voracious reading habits and natural intellectualism made her even more dissatisfied with her lot in life, which in turn fed into the negative interactions she had with many of her coworkers and employers.

Quote
Karyukai means "the flower and willow world." Each geisha is like a flower, beautiful in her own way, and like a willow tree, gracious, flexible, and strong.

Iwasaki, Mineko, and Rande Brown. Geisha: A Life. Atria, 2002. 340. Electronic.

!!! spoiler alert !!! Review
3.5 Stars
The Light Fantastic
The Light Fantastic  - Terry Pratchett

I had considered switching to audiobooks for the rest of the Discworld series for the sake of convenience (also, I really need to finish stitching that quilt I've been working on) but this book convinced me that would not be a good idea. There are just far too many jokes and puns that would not be as understandable hearing it as it is to see the difference, relying on the wonderful, varied, and confusing vocabulary of the English language as it does. My fave thing.

 

I'm annoyed that my Kindle fritzed and the new updated system is so weird; somehow it has lost my digital copy of the book from the library and I subsequently lost the bookmarks and notes I had made too. Quite annoying. Whatever.

 

I found this book a little hard to follow with the quick changes, maybe because I was so distracted by life and other books so I didn't read it as quickly, but the jumps from one point to another in the story are kind of also one of the most amusing things that happen. Also, I had to mark this one for "survival" because Rincewind is truly amazing at not dying - truly an inspiration.

 

Twoflower matured, a tiny bit, the Luggage is still my favorite character, the rock trolls were great, weather and virgin sacrifices! Star people! The magical university is somehow more interesting than I thought if only for the absolutely vicious hierarchy, like Hogwarts fanfiction taken to 11. Cohen the Barbarian! The baby galaxies (universes?) are just too adorable. <3

!!! spoiler alert !!! Review
2 Stars
Beyond the Wall: Exploring George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire
Beyond the Wall: Exploring George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire - James Lowder

Despite the fact that only one name is listed for author on Booklikes, this is one of those anthology collections of critical essays. The "critical" part being debatable. My notes on it are long and subdivided by individual essay. Also, it annoyed me that for a collection that was supposedly edited, there were quite a few mistakes in the text - unforgivable.

 

The Palace Of Love, The Palace Of Sorrow: Romanticism In A Song Of Ice And Fire

 

-- "Our meaning when we discuss romanticism in relation to Martin's work is quite specific; an emphasis on emotionality and the individual, a gaze aimed firmly at the past, and a belief in the indomitable human spirit. All of these things were traits of the Romantic movement of the nineteenth century..." With this definition, then, yes, it is quite easy to see ASoIaF becoming classical literature from the 21st century. It will be surreal to explain the atmosphere of the media and fandom to our (great) grandchildren!

 

-- "The melancholic mythologizing with which many characters recall [events of Robert's rebellion] provide an interesting vantage from which to consider romanticism in the series, as it combines one of the topics Martin generally depicts most viscerally - the violence of war - with the tendency to elide the horrors in favor of poignant remembrances of things lost." Another reflection of real life and something I love and find infinitely frustrating in the story: one side says one thing, the other says the opposite, so who is telling the truth? It lies somewhere in the middle (or never happened at all).

 

-- "What chiefly ended the Kingsguard's place as the epitome of chivalry and honor in Westerosi thought was the murder of Aerys by Jaime Lannister." Interesting that it was the very public - by rumor? song? other news? -  brutal action by one of the Kingsguard that tarnishes the group's reputation when the silent behind-the-scenes deliberate inaction of the guards (re: the queen's rape, beating, etc.) is never acknowledged by anyone except Jaime. In context of what Jaime knew, he did do the honorable thing, didn't he?

 

-- "The romanticism of the misunderstood, brilliant man... It has survived into modern literature and media, too. There is a certain exceptionalism inherent in romanticism, a focus on the individual as a key figure who needs to be understood to be fully appreciated. The sins of the past might be forgiven, or at least reevaluated, when placed in the fuller context of the character's inner workings." Sherlock and Dr. House pop into mind, although in this quote they are talking about Jaime Lannister.

 

-- "The Great Man Theory is very much a reflection of the Romantic era, in that it supposes the history of the world is largely driven by outstanding individuals initiating world-changing events." A reflection of sociocultural influences as well, declining in favor as scientific methodology and (the attempt at) unbiased observations became more popular.

 

-- "Readers identify with characters, not socioeconomic trends, so it's natural to position protagonists and antagonists as the primary instigators of events." A tendency reflected in real life despite the above musing; we have definite representative figures for every era and major event in human history.

 

-- "the "sparrows" who follow the Seven who gather together to protect one another against the predations of war..." A reaction to the atrocities permitted by Tywin Lannister, etc, and empowered by Cersei's incompetent law administration.

 

-- "...it's a story that's romantic in part because it's not yet been fully told." And so ends what I think is my favorite essay in the book, because how true that statement is!

 

Men And Monsters: Rape, Myth-Making, And The Rise And Fall Of Nations In A Song Of Ice And Fire

 

Now this one was interesting as it discussed a particularly touchy subject about the series. I've yet to see a discussion about it on the ASoIaF Reddit that didn't erupt into a flame war. A good argument is made, however, that rape is the line in the sand when it comes to the questionable nature of Westerosi morals.

 

Firstly, "the fact that women are property in the Iron Islands in a way that makes Westeros look like a feminist paradise - is one of the markers set for the reader to show that Theon is in a corrupt and dangerous country." An intriguing idea when read with the later essay about Theon as negatively affected sufferer of PTSD. The morality and culture of the Iron Islands is the opposite of Theon's own supposed beliefs which seemed, at times, to be more Northern.

 

Secondly, the example of Daenerys, who herself could be considered from a certain point of view as a victim; "the woman she saves from assault views her actions as naïve paternalism, and it convinces many of Drogo's followers that Daenerys is alienating him from their common values" and "her efforts to rule compassionately... mark Daenerys as a vulnerable ruler... It's a tragic testament to the limited power of good intentions in the face of deeply ingrained and intractable cultural practices." The more I think on it, the more it seems to me like another way that the reader is given to see that Daenerys does not belong in Essos. She is trying to impose Westerosi values in a foreign country, literally. And it backfires spectacularly.

 

Then we address the escalation of violence that is set off in the first book when both Robert and Ned Stark are killed, courtesy of King Joffrey of course: "...one of the clearest signs that Baratheon rule in Westeros is breaking down is the erosion of sexual norms, particularly those that protect noblewomen from assault beyond the court. The Lannisters begin to recognize that their position with the common people in King's Landing may truly be untenable after the riot in which Lollys Stokeworth, a minor and not particularly popular member of the court, is gang raped by more than fifty men. Her assault is a sign of how deep the public contempt for the regime runs." Not to say that Joffrey is the sole cause of it all, but he definitely tarnishes the public image of the ruling family by making hanging his dirty laundry in public. The disdain and disregard for the public and selfish concern for power by the likes of Cersei, various nobles, the Kingsguard, and suddenly changing roster of officials does not help.

 

And lastly, the two likeliest characters for greatest offender: Gregor Clegane when he confesses to raping Elia Martell in a rageful rant ("It's a monstrous way to end a fight, and one that forces polite Westerosi society to acknowledge what kind of beast they've tolerated in their midst all these years. They could ignore Clegane's atrocities while he himself was quiet about them. His public affirmation of his guilt, though, indicts the nobility for harboring him.") and Ramsay Snow ("While it may be decidedly antimodern to blame children who are the product of rape for his parents' sins, there's something to the idea that unpunished rape is a sin that carries implications far beyond individual victims and perpetrators, a crime that comes back to haunt the society that permits and enables it."). Somehow these two ideas had never occurred to me despite all the character debates I've been following since discovering ASoIaF. I rather think I agree.

 

Same Song In A Different Key: Adapting A Game Of Thrones As A Graphic Novel

 

-- "I have chosen to age Daenerys up to match our legal standards, even though it means telling the story of an immature, controlled, and sheltered young woman rather than a powerful, exploited, and complex child." While I understand the legal considerations for doing this (as is discussed by the writer at length in this essay), I found this sentence to especially hit the nail on the head about my mixed feelings for the character of Daenerys. On the one hand, reading the series, she is a fantastic female protagonist - strong, naive sometimes, taken advantage, but also opportunistic and learning to take and wield power. On the other hand, due to the influence of the TV series which faced the same legal (and moral) quandary, it forces the impression of a girl, or young woman as the case may be, who should be old enough to know better a lot of the times; we are quite unforgiving, as a species, of naivete in the aged. I feel that it unfortunately diminishes the value of Daenerys character in a world where all of these different media interpretations jumble together.

 

An Unreliable World: History And Timekeeping In Westeros

 

I find the debates raging about time (or the lack of it) in Westeros to be very interesting, kind of like how people debate geological versus biblical age of the planet nowadays. Martin did an interesting thing implying that the maesters of the Citadel "believe that magic should be made obsolete and stamped out wherever it is encountered for the benefit of science." In theory, that should mean they would be able to fill in the gap with technological advancement, but what form would that take in Planetos? I should have liked this essay more if it had at least touched on that topic and expanded into how time is or could be tracked by the maesters.

 

Back To The Egg: The Prequels To A Song Of Ice And Fire

 

I shudder in fear at the thought suggested by the writer of this essay that writing prequels is one way in which the author of a famous series can find escape from the pressures of finishing the next book; but it's a bit of paradox in that writing prequels answers questions or fills in blanks for dedicated readers, which just fuels the lust for the next book even more! Is that really what's happening with GRRM? Uh oh...

 

Art Imitates War: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder In A Song Of Ice And Fire

 

-- "[GRRM] got an essential and often missed aspect of PTSD exactly right: sometimes traumatic experiences profoundly damage a character, but sometimes they enfranchise and strengthen the sufferer. These polar opposite, yet fully authentic PTSD reactions, are exhibited in A Song of Ice and Fire through two major characters: Arya Stark, enfranchised as a result of trauma, and Theon Greyjoy, destroyed by it." This was a gem - never encountered this observation before!

 

-- "Some may argue that Theon's seizure of Winterfell is the bold action of a man intent on standing alone and proving his worth to a family that judges men by their feats of arms. I see it more as the spiteful lashing out of a child wounded by everyone around him, all those he loves and might love. This is classic Condition Black: Theon engages in highly risky behavior, flailing in reaction to trauma he cannot handle. Arya's choices are deliberate, empowered. Theon's are reactive, driven by his inability to reconcile the real world with the one he thought he'd lived in." Must read the suggested text on PTSD symptoms and behavior; on TBR list.

 

- "Where Arya's litany is one of empowerment - a hit list of her enemies - Theon's is a reminder to adhere to a path of self-destruction: "Serve and obey and remember your name. Reek, Reek, it rhymes with meek." That is something that I had noticed but not quite registered given how often the refrain occurs in Theon's POV chapters, especially as the chapter titles keep changing as his sense of self is defined by his captors. I must admit that I shrugged it off as one of the GRRM's writing tics where he repeats the same darned phrases over and over again trying to stretch out page count to break readers' wrists.

 

The Brutal Cost Of Redemption In Westeros: Or, What Moral Ambiguity?

 

Another interesting take on morality in Westeros, suggesting that it is less about individual morals/values and more about decisions made that have an effect on the country or world at large: positive values reflect doing good for everyone and are rewarded, negative values reflect doing good only for one's self and are punished. "They commit sins against the unity necessary to survive the coming darkness, either to such a level that they become irredeemable, or to lesser extents, with failure or refusal to comprehend the seriousness of their wrongdoings." And among the examples listed include Robb Stark being murdered for 'selfishly' marrying Jeyne Westerling for the sake of her honor rather than honoring his agreement with Lord Frey for the sake of the Northern alliance. Additionally, "when Ned Stark attempts to send Sansa back to Winterfell, she commits the unforgivable sin in Westeros. She focuses on her own personal wishes instead of the well-being of her family or the people she imagines she will one day serve as queen," and she starts down the path of woobieness.

 

-- "Afterward, [Jaime Lannister] takes a seat on the Iron Throne - but he makes no move to claim it. He hands it over to Ned Stark and Robert Baratheon without a battle, creating unity and seeing to the good of the whole, even if he probably does not grasp the importance of his choice." A counterexample, which I rather like as I hope Jaime gets a decent ending in the series.

 

Of Direwolves And Gods

 

-- "Even heartless Cersei Lannister is portrayed as a once-frightened child who lost out on the chance at a great destiny and also as a fiercely protective mother, both traits that engender some measure of empathy - just enough to keep the reader from cheering unconditionally at her degrading downfall." I'm sorry, did we read the same book?! I was under the impression this essay (this entire book even) was talking about the written series but this sounds way more like the TV series and their poor attempts at trying to make Cersei actually likable. Her actress, yes, exceptional woman, but no one really cares about Cersei Lannister at this point.

 

A Sword Without A Hilt: The Dangers Of Magic In (And To) Westeros

 

-- "There is some indication that the maesters, or a conspiratorial subset of them, may have worked to suppress magic in the world. It is unclear how the last dragons died, and while the first legends we learn say Aegon III poisoned them, Archmaester Marwyn tells Sam Tarly a different tale: "Who do you think killed all the dragons the last time around?..." Now this could be taken in consideration with the previous essay about timekeeping and magic vs. what passes for science in-universe. Potentially true? Revisit discussions on the power and influence of maesters and what a lie it probably is that they forsake their Houses.

 

-- ...another theory is that the dark magic of the Others is not as dependent on dragons as the magic practiced south of the Wall. Whatever the cause, though, there's no denying that magic holds a greater sway over the lands beyond the Wall." Why is that? The Ice vs. Fire theme of the series? Ice magic originating from the Land of Always Winter against Fire magic from... Asshai, Valyria?

 

Petyr Baelish And The Mask Of Sanity

 

-- "All of those who seek to best him share one fatal mistake: they assume that Littlefinger operates by the same rules that they do." Happens not just to Ned but Cersei, Tyrion... maybe Varys?

 

-- "Littlefinger's skill at manipulating others might only be bested by Varys's. What differentiates Littlefinger from the Spider, though, is motive. Varys acts to preserve the stability of the kingdom. His peers may consider him untrustworthy, and he may very well be, but it is because his allegiance is to crown and country rather than any particular individual. Littlefinger's allegiance is to Littlefinger." So what I got out of this was that Varys is Batman, or rather, Spiderman! Haha. Also, Littlefinger just got creepier in my mind.

"When there's a darkly seductive [item]... luring the righteous off the path of the just, we can continue to cleave to the illusion that evil is something outside of us instead of existing as a potential within us all."

 

"Few of us play a game of thrones. Most of us are limited to, at most, a game of cubicles. But there are heroes and villains among us, and  some days we can play both roles. We also have our own Littlefingers. Some lurk in dark alleys with axes, while others siphon away our pensions and turn our government against us. Some of them are as close as the apartment next door, or perhaps even the nearest mirror."

A Different Kind Of Other: The Role Of Freaks And Outcasts In A Song Of Ice And Fire

 

Regarding the stereotypical hero of a fantasy story: "But just how much are these characters really outsiders? Sure, these boys and men of privilege have usually lost some of their standing in the world, and they learn valuable lessons by trying to get it back. That said, they're still almost always boys and men of privilege. / This paradigm made sense in its time. After all, most of these tropes date from a pre-Enlightenment era when attitudes about the minorities and outsiders were so entrenched that it was difficult to even conceive of a hero as anyone other than a boy or man of privilege. It was just obvious that big problems could only be solved by just such a person. And let's face it: it was men of privilege who were invariably financing and disseminating these stories, too. / Still, if protagonists in these tales are outsiders at all, it's usually only due to circumstances, not as a result of anything innate about them."

 

-- "Just because the men of the Night's Watch are all outcasts themselves doesn't mean they can't reject others, too. On the contrary, creating social codes that play outsiders against each other has long been an important way those in power have maintained their control." I am reminded of the suggestion that when more nobles took the black, that they were the ones who were given commanding posts within the NW over the lower class members.

 

-- "When writing about outcast or minority characters, many authors fall into exactly this trap. But the idea of the "noble savage" - the notion that being a despised other always endows you with great dignity and wisdom - is just another stereotype. It's a well-intentioned one, but it's almost as limiting as the others."

"One argument against such brutal content, and it's a compelling one, is that the sexual humiliation of women in A Song of Ice and Fire is just too cavalier, too omnipresent - that it overwhelms other aspects of the books. How would male readers react to an epic story written by a woman where virtually every chapter features a man being violently assaulted?

 

The counterargument posits that, by presenting all the raping and whoring so casually, Martin is commenting on women and powerlessness, perhaps even making an ironic point: women are the ultimate outsiders. Their complete and vicious degradation is so commonplace that almost no one in Westeros notices. For the majority of characters - including Tyrion, who usually has a keen eye for fellow outcasts, and even many of the other women in the cast - the nonstop violence against women is mostly invisible, barely even worth a mention.

 

This violence, of course, is true not just in Westeros and Essos: it's been true for most of real-world human history. Is it any more visible in our history books and museums?

History, they say, is written by the victors."

 -- "In fact, despite her gender, [Daenerys] may be the books' most classic fantasy story line: a royal in exile seeking to reclaim her throne who is given the benefit of several mentors and a magic item, in the form of three dragon's eggs. Whether her destiny is real or not, she certainly believes it is, so much so that she is impervious to fire." Ohhhh, interesting idea - what if Daenerys' abilities are result of her belief only? Contrast with accident (Thoros) or intent (Melisandre, the woods witch).

 

Power And Feminism In Westeros

 

-- "In situations where she might begin to gain some personal power by refusing to participate in Littlefinger's plans - or, like her sister Arya, concocting plans of her own - Sansa remains the passive pawn. / In this, she fills the role of the traditional princess of medieval fantasy. But in assigning her that role, Martin is making a powerful point about the dangers inherent in fantasy: how fanciful myths hide - and perpetuate - a fundamentally oppressive social structure." A good point and probably further proves the irony in that Sansa is one of the least popular characters of the series yet the "princess culture" is still perpetuated in modern society.

 

-- "Sansa and Arya were Starks, Westerosi royalty. Once Ned is killed, their identities become murky. Because they are female, their identities are largely dependent on designations of male power - the rank, land holdings, and wealth of their fathers or husbands. Take those away and they become, in essence, no one, non-people." But that is the point, isn't it? The Starks as a known (united) family have to die in the story; the mythology implies that the Starks might be the only House that can end or help bring about the end of an apocalyptic winter, so they have to be metaphorically or literally destroyed for that climax to be reached. Then, by reassuming their identities and/or reuniting, they can 'save the day' although I doubt it will be a happy ending. Also, Arya literally practices to become No One, because it is advantageous to her situation and future character development. (Yay, assassin school!)

 

-- "The only sons who will sit on the Iron Throne after Robert dies are those of the queen's Lannister bloodline alone. That they are children by her twin implies a mirroring of herself in their creation, a startling statement of control and self-defined identity." Hmmm... a deliberate or subconscious attempt to establish something as close to a matrilineal ruling line as possible?

 

Collecting Ice And Fire In The Age Of Nook And Kindle

 

Literally a waste of space. I don't know why, exactly, this was included. It is not an essay criticizing anything particular besides the trivialities of fluctuating book prices; about as interesting and practical as trading on the stock market. If collecting books is, perchance, one's hobby, then I suppose it is interesting. Otherwise, a poor choice to include in the book.

 

Beyond The Ghetto: How George R.R. Martin Fights The Genre Wars

 

A nice ending essay, but not terribly memorable nor interesting to me. I felt that the writing could have been stronger; it was definitely too long and would probably have benefited from some judicious cutting and reorganization of key points.

!!! spoiler alert !!! Review
4 Stars
And Then There Were None
And Then There Were None CD: And Then There Were None CD - Agatha Christie

One of the channels aired (or reran?) the new 2-part miniseries version a couple weeks ago and it is FANTASTIC. Fabulous, so well-done. The acting, the underlying air of superiority and class and old British values, the mounting paranoia, suspicion, feelings of guilt... And there was more than one moment where I was practically screaming at the screen, "Don't trust Tywin Lannister, YOU FOOL!"

 

Anyway.

 

I was compelled to use one of my Scribd credits before they switched over their membership structure, just in case, and could not resist getting this one. Could have borrowed it from the library for free, but the impulsive "want this NOW" was too strong. It's been years since I read the book itself, maybe I wasn't paying too close attention back then, but listening to it again recently, it was suddenly just very obvious to me how racist and classist the story is! Maybe it was the remarkable levels of utter disdain the narrator was able to convey, or maybe it was just my foreigner's perception of his British accent, haha..

 

I know of the controversy about the title of the book, and I will admit that I am not an Agatha Christie biographer or anything, but I doubt if the author herself had any unusually strong prejudices for her time. Rather, it is like reading anything from a different period of time when attitudes and cultural norms reflected a different set of values. Well, most people's values, anyway.

 

Such a good story, riding that edge between mystery and horror. I am tempted to listen again with only candles for ambient lighting. It would end quite nicely with the actual "and then there were none..." line, but the two epilogues - the logical aftermath involving the authorities and the explanatory ending revealing how everything happened behind-the-scenes so to speak - aren't horrible. I must give credit to the live-action version, however, which puts a lovely twist on the mastermind murderer U.N. Owen ending. :)

!!! spoiler alert !!! Review
3.5 Stars
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest - Stieg Larsson

It bothers me that the cover picture for this book on Booklikes does no match the others. Very annoying on a petty yet profound level of my bookworm soul.

 

This book resolved the problems that appear, and escalate to a ridiculous yet realistic degree, in Lisbeth Salander's life during The Girl Who Played with Fire. I would say you could read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as a stand-alone novel, but the second and third really must be read together.

 

It is rather satisfying that Teleborian (sp?) and the other 'villains' get their comeuppance in the end. I'm not quite sure how I feel about the side-plot of the independent, well, it's kinda like the Swedish MI6? But more secretive/unknown by the public, reminds me of the Section in the old Nikita TV series actually. Although it does resolve the issue of Zalachenko quite succinctly, it just seemed like a lot of time spent on this subplot that will never be relevant again. If the series had been continued, I feel like it may have reappeared again in later storylines. Haven't read The Girl in the Spider's Web so unsure if it is important to that story.

 

Also, Blomkvist and Salander's continual Astrid Lindgren jokes to each other. I really need to find out if they offer the detective stories in translation. Pippi Longstocking was a popular cartoon movie on TV all the time when I was a kid, but I don't think I ever read the book? I should really educate myself on Swedish culture and history and then reread the Millennium trilogy because I feel like there are a lot more jokes and ironic details that I could understand as a foreign reader reading a translated copy - or listening, as the case may be.

!!! spoiler alert !!! Review
3 Stars
Sex with the Queen
Sex with the Queen: 900 Years of Vile Kings, Virile Lovers, and Passionate Politics - Eleanor Herman

Sex with the Queen is the sequel of sorts to Herman's Sex with the King. I imagine it was a little bit harder to dig up some salacious examples that had enough sources to be rendered truthful and thus nonfiction. But I must say, the writing in this book seemed two adjectives and an oddly phrased metaphor away from being on the same level as Twilight. Didn't stop me from enjoying most of it though.

 

Note to self: remember to re-read Sex with the King and compare the two. I feel like some of the anecdotes are crossovers and/or also mentioned from the opposite perspective in the other book. Should absolutely mine it for creative writing ideas. Also, double check with the European royalty family tree and cross reference with pedigree collapse chart. Bastards are not included unless legitimized? May need to make up a CK2 style family dynasty chart to track all of it. (OT: Create your own dynasty mod on Steam.)

 

Anyway, quotes:

The ancient double standard - men rutting with their mistresses while their wives sewed altar cloths - was rooted not in misogyny, but in biology.

 

"Consider of what importance to society the chastity of women is," said the renowned wit and scholar Dr. Samuel Johnson, who wrote the first English dictionary in 1757. "Upon that all the property in the world depends. We hang a thief for stealing a sheep, but the unchastity of a woman transfers sheep, and farm, and all from the right owner."

Hmmm... Disagree. Biology, yes, that point is true in all cases (involving humans anyway) with the caveat caused by the new "male pregnancy" experiments - cannot recall if it was successful or not - because of the necessity of the X-chromosome. However, female chastity is required only in patriarchal societies. In a matriarchal society, the property would pass down the female line, female chastity would be a moot point, male chastity would be irrelevant except for reasons due to social morality.

 

-- "Scowling at his doctor, Louis snapped, "I would have lived much longer if it had not been for you." This accurately sums up my feelings about doctors. I kinda want to embroider this and frame it up on the wall.

 

-- "We can imagine that many a nervous young man was too terrified to rise to the occasion. His entire future and that of his family were at stake, based solely on the hardness of his penis." This actually made me think about how much more difficult it might be for men to advance socially via sexual favor in the face of erectile dysfunction; a rather crude joke made by a comedienne I forgot the name of comes to mind - "I can go to sleep and mine still works."

 

-- "His face and his manner were perfectly suited to the hero of a novel, though not of a French novel, for he had neither the brilliance nor the frivolity." Made me think of The Count of Monte Cristo (2002). Ah, Jim Caviezel. <3

 

Since human nature had not changed along with human morals, male adultery was not to be given up, but to be kept politely concealed to avoid causing scandal or hurting the wife's feelings. The husband, pretending to visit a gentlemen's club, would instead visit his mistress and no one would be the wiser. The wife, of course, would not commit adultery at all. The ideal wife didn't even enjoy sex with her husband, but sacrificed herself now and then upon the altar of wifely duty.

currently reading

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Cyrano de Bergerac - Evelyne Amon, Edmond Rostand
The Night Manager - John le Carré
The Calligrapher's Daughter - Eugenia Kim