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Search tags: book-riot-challenge
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review 2018-05-07 19:42
The Poisonwood Bible / Barbara Kingsolver
The Poisonwood Bible - Barbara Kingsolver

The Poisonwood Bible is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it -- from garden seeds to Scripture -- is calamitously transformed on African soil. What follows is a suspenseful epic of one family's tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa.

 

 

“Oh, mercy. If it catches you in the wrong frame of mind, the King James Bible can make you want to drink poison in no uncertain terms.”

A well written book with an engaging exploration of hubris. The hubris of colonial powers who think they are superior to their colonies. The hubris of men who think they are superior to women. And the hubris of religious men who think their religion is superior to all others.

In many ways, Nathan Price's attempt to grow an American garden in the Congo is representative of all those endeavours. First, he uses methods which work in Georgia and refuses all advice from local people. When his work gets washed away by the rains, he relents and uses local techniques. Then, his crops appear to flourish and grow luxurious foliage, but no fruits or seeds manifest. Eventually he realizes there are no pollinators for his pumpkins and beans, which will never amount to anything edible.

After the failure of his garden, Nathan gives up any attempt to feed and care for his wife and daughters. Instead, they must fend for themselves and face physical violence if they don't care for his needs. He remains obsessed with converting the Congolese to Christianity, while ignoring his own unChristian behaviour. Simultaneously, his Congolese neighbours display great charity, placing eggs under the Prices' chickens and depositing food in the kitchen under the cover of night. Instead of ministering to the natives, they minister to the Price family.

Nathan also refuses to study the local language to be able to express himself clearly. As a result, he is constantly saying, "Jesus is poisonwood" when he thinks he is proclaiming the greatness of Christ. He inhabits his own reality, which bears no resemblance to that of any one around him. His lack of empathy for others undercuts his message constantly. When confronted by missionaries who practice compassionate Christianity, Nathan becomes even more truculent and resistant, rather than recognizing the value of care and kindness.

The Price women are every bit as colonized as the Congo, as they are unwillingly exported from Georgia. All their dreams and desires are over-ridden by their patriarch's obsessions and goals. I found myself cheering for them as they (and the Congo) chose independence, with varying degrees of success.

Colonial powers and the patriarchy may deny the reality of their colonies and of women, but that reality nonetheless exists. As Rachel Price says, "The way I see Africa, you don't have to like it but you sure have to admit it's out there."

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review 2018-03-26 17:16
Midwinter Sacrifice / Mons Kallentoft
Midwinter Sacrifice - Mons Kallentoft

The snow covered all the tracks, as the killer knew it would. But it couldn't hide the victim, the man who now hung naked from a lonely tree on a frozen plain.

Malin Fors is first on the scene. A thirty-one-year-old single mother, Malin is the most talented and ambitious detective on the Linkoping police force, but also the most unpredictable. She must lead the investigation while keeping her fractured life on the rails.

No one knows the identity of the dead man. Or perhaps no one ever wanted to know. When all the voices of the investigation have fallen silent, Malin can rely only on herself and her own instincts. And as she follows in the frigid wake of the killer, Malin begins to discover just how far the people in this small town are willing to go to keep their secrets buried.

 

Probably actually a 3.5 star book for me. It’s getting much harder to fool me, now that I’ve read a fair number of Nordic mysteries and I really treasure the books that do manage to pull the wool over my eyes. Midwinter Sacrifice managed to keep me guessing until the last chapters, when it just kind of stuttered to the end.

I liked Malin Fors, the female detective main character. I could appreciate her ambition and determination to solve a case. There was a little too much emphasis on her “feminine intuition” for me, since I think both men & women use their intuition and that police officers especially rely on it, no matter which gender they are.

I also like Malin’s daughter, Tove. Unlike so many detectives in mystery fiction, Malin lives with her daughter and tries to be a decent mother. Malin’s struggles to decide what is reasonable as a parent makes her very real to me.

Although I probably won’t hurry on to the next book, I can certainly imagine that I will get to it eventually to see what the Swedish detective investigates next.

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review 2018-03-26 16:59
Dear Fahrenheit 451 / Annie Spence
Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks - Annie Spence

A Gen-X librarian's snarky, laugh-out-loud funny, deeply moving collection of love letters and break-up notes to the books in her life.

Librarians spend their lives weeding--not weeds but books! Books that have reached the end of their shelf life, both literally and figuratively. They remove the books that patrons no longer check out. And they put back the books they treasure. Annie Spence, who has a decade of experience as a Midwestern librarian, does this not only at her Michigan library but also at home, for her neighbors, at cocktail parties—everywhere. In Dear Fahrenheit 451, she addresses those books directly. We read her love letters to The Goldfinch and Matilda, as well as her snarky break-ups with Fifty Shades of Grey and Dear John. Her notes to The Virgin Suicides and The Time Traveler’s Wife feel like classics, sure to strike a powerful chord with readers. Through the lens of the books in her life, Annie comments on everything from women’s psychology to gay culture to health to poverty to childhood aspirations.

 

I read this book to fill a Book Riot Reader Harder challenge (a book of essays). I can’t help but feel that I *should* have liked this book much more than I did. I suspect it’s not the author, it’s me. I’m a bit too old to appreciate the author's sense of humour fully, being on the cusp between the Baby Boomers and Gen-X. Still, her essays are letters written to books found while weeding the library and that should be right up my alley.

I did like the book. Three stars is not a bad rating in my opinion. I think the author would be fun to have a drink with and discuss all the weird things that one finds in the library stacks. I’m always amazed, as a library cataloguer, what our librarians choose to add to the collection and what I find while I’m looking for something else.

I was heartened that I had read or at least heard of many of the books mentioned (and some still lurk in my TBR pile).

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review 2018-02-26 22:31
The Story of my Life / Helen Keller
The Story of My Life - Helen Keller

This is my “Celebrity Memoir” book to fill the Book Riot Read Harder challenge for 2018.  Helen Keller was rather famous in her day, being the first deaf-blind person to earn a BA degree.  I believe she is still admired by many in the deaf community.

 

I don’t suppose it is surprising that she was an avid reader, once her teacher Miss Sullivan managed to make the breakthrough that allowed Helen’s education to begin.  It was an activity that she could pursue on her own at her own speed and, like all of us, gain information on subjects that intrigued her.

 

I was surprised by how much she loved poetry, however.  For me poetry is very much about hearing it—I often read it aloud in order to properly appreciate it.  Since Helen was unable to hear it, she must have had a very sophisticated sense of the rhythm of the words, probably seeing many more nuances in it than I do.  I was also amazed at the number of languages that she managed to master—German, French, Latin, Greek—and I wish I had the same facility with languages.  I struggle to maintain my little bit of French and Spanish!

 

I couldn’t help but notice how much the natural world and companion animals were part of her life.  The smells of the garden or the seaside were ways of opening up her world and her pet cats, dogs and horses provided unjudgemental companionship.

 

I had hoped that this was the story of Ms. Keller that I read during my childhood, but it was a different work.  I think the book that I was familiar with was based on the life of her teacher, Anne Sullivan, and I hope to track it down some day for a reminiscent read—I remember reading it many times as a child and loving it.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-02-19 08:01
Alchemy: Turning Silver to Gold
Alchemy: turning Silver to Gold - an historical psychological mystery thriller - Chris James

I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest review.

 

Mr James has done it again!  Another fantastic historical crime novel following the story of Jacob Silver.  Spanning the 20 odd years since Jacob Silver was hanged for the murders of his beloved models and his love's Sister, Rebecca. This story begins with Lizzie Weston convinced that Jacob was innocent of all the murders and may well be alive and well after she discovered his grave empty.

 

Within 3 years of setting out to clear his name, Miss Weston has convinced the police and convinced them to have him posthumously pardoned by Queen Victoria.  Unbeknownst to Lizzie and almost every other person on the planet, the Queen and Lizzie's father had their own plan to save Jacob from the hangman's noose. One that remains undiscovered for many years after both had passed away...

 

Crime is what Chris James knows, and his knowledge certainly shows with both this and the first novel in the series, Alchemy: A Perfect Murder.  I'm definitely eager to learn when the 3rd book in the series will be published.

 

This the second book in the Alchemy series gets 5/5 stars.

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