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Sunday Salon: the Thunderstorm Post

May 24, 2009

The Sunday Salon.comETA: WordPress managed to delete part of my post, and I just realised it. The coding got all weird, so my paragraph about Tibet, Tibet disappeared but the cover image remained next to my whining about The Virgin Blue. Anyway, see my thoughts on Tibet, Tibet. I really liked it!!!.It feels so good to be getting back into Sunday Salon mode! :) The weather here is delicious: I love thunderstorms, but we don’t get them nearly as often as back in Texas. I’m hoping it clears up tomorrow, though, because my mom’s doing the ‘Bolder Boulder,’ a 10K race, tomorrow, and I imagine it will significantly less fun in the rain.

This was a weird week in reading for me. I actually gave a book ‘one star’ for the first time this year, and then a couple days later, I did it again. Several of the other books I read left me with mixed feelings, but I did have two solid five star reads as well, so that’s good! :)

dreamsandshadowsFirst, I’m going to briefly talk about a book I read last week, but since I didn’t do a Sunday Salon I don’t want it to feel left out. Dreams and Shadows by Robin Wright is an incredible book that looks at contemporary Middle Eastern politics, both the region’s larger trends and what individual countries are experiencing. I had high expectations for this one: Wright is a journalist fluent in Arabic with decades of experience in the Middle East, and she didn’t disappoint me at all. While the book contains a lot of fascinating information, it’s written for an intelligent lay audience; her writing style is brisk, not technical, and you won’t encounter any international relations theory here (that makes me happy: I hate theory!). Wright interviewed all sorts of people for the book, and their personal stories really add an extra dimension. I highly recommend this one if you’re looking to understand the Middle East today.

talismanringTo balance the nonfiction reading, I picked up The Talisman Ring by Georgette Heyer. This is my third or fourth Heyer, and I really enjoyed it (though the title of my favourite Heyer still firmly belongs to Friday’s Child). It’s not one of her regency novels, since it’s set a couple decades earlier, which means there isn’t a ton of slang in it. Also, it all takes place over a few days for the most part in a country inn; you won’t find the ton involved. The story’s a romp; young Eugenie is determined to clear her cousin Ludovic of his murder accusation, so that he can legally come back to England, claim his title, and marry her. She has help from a new older woman friend (I think she’s twenty eight) and her other cousin, in his early thirties, who is immune to the romanticism of the rest of the party. They must find the real murderer, who will be given away by his possession of a signet ring, while keeping Ludovic hidden from the authorities. It has a lot of farcical elements of course, but the characters still feel like people (silly people, sometimes, but still), and I’d recommend it for people looking for some well-written fluffy fiction that will make you laugh.

tibetibetNext I finished Tibet, Tibet by Patrick French. This is the last of the books I got during my travelogue phase, and it’s definitely well written. I also know way more about Tibet than I used to, which is cool. The book alternates chapters about French’s experiences with Tibet (travelling there, campaigning on its behalf) with chapters about Tibetan and Chinese history. Additionally, there are sprinkles of French’s evolving views on how the West and Tibet interact. While sometimes the book gets a touch bogged down, the majority of it is pretty quick moving: since the history chapters include both general overviews and stories of people French has interviewed, they really come to life. What I loved about it was that French as an older man comes to a more nuanced, shaded view of the issues than his youthful fervor. He’s obviously quite intelligent, so his analyses of the situation, since they weren’t one-sided, felt strong to me. If you’re at all curious about Tibet, I think this would be a great book to read!

virginblueThen came the first one-star book of the year:Tracy Chevalier’s The Virgin Blue. I know a lot of people really like her, but I’ve reached a point where I’m not interested in gratuitous, depressing events. The book is split between the story of a modern woman who moves to France with her husband and the story of her medieval ancestor. But it all just felt pointless. I didn’t sympathise with any of the characters, they didn’t feel particularly real to me, and I saw the horrible thing that was going to happen (the ‘shocking’ ending) when I was a third of the way in. And quite frankly, it pissed me off. The book didn’t need to have it happen, it wasn’t explored in an intelligent way, and I’m annoyed that I spent time reading this one. (Sorry: I don’t do negative reviews that often, but this one upset me.)

Fortunately, I then read two five star novels in a row! Each deserves their own review, so for now I’ll just say that This Earth of Mankind by Pramoedya Ananta Toer and Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce both rocked. They’re completely different books, of course, but either one of them would be a wonderful read for anyone.

And now we get to the books I felt ambiguous about. I’m sorry this isn’t going to be the most positive Sunday Salon ever, but what can you do?!

grainofpoetryHerbert Kohl’s A Grain of Poetry: How to Read Contemporary Poems and Make Them Part of Your Life started out great. I agreed with everything he said in the introduction, and I loved almost all of the poems. Unfortunately, the rest of the book felt a bit too cursory (in the ‘how to read a poem aloud’ section, he kept talking about how important it is to establish a flow, but he never actually said how to handle line breaks vs. punctuation, etc.), and I wasn’t a big fan of most of the poems he selected. I think I’ve ODed on ‘how to read poetry’ books, though, so others who haven’t read in the genre might like this one more!

The other book I gave one star to, Spoken Here by Mark Abley, is getting its own review, since I have sooooooo much to say about it.

aintmythbehavingThen I finished up Ain’t Myth Behavin’ by Kate Macalister. It has two novellas: one about Cernunnos and the other focused on Vikings and Norse mythology. Both are humorous looks at what might happen if ancient mythological guys fell in love with twenty-first century, mortal American girls. This wasn’t a bad book, it just wasn’t my type of book. I prefer good, strong writing even in my superficial reading (i.e.: Heyer), so even though Macalister had cute stories, her style didn’t appeal to me. If you enjoy the comedy romance genre (there are several explicit sex scenes-I thought they were well written, but if you don’t like that in a book, this isn’t for you), and value plot more than style, I bet this would be a great pick! :)

And finally, there’s Gifted by Nikita Lalwani. I’ll be giving this one a separate review too. For now, I’ll say that while Lalwani’s a wonderful writer, the subject matter of the book had me so stressed out I couldn’t really enjoy it.

So this wasn’t my best reading week ever. But I’m in the middle of two great books right now: Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope and Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation by Olivia Judson. I love reading both of them, and they’re highly recommended! Oh, and I’m sampling short stories from a great anthology: Children of the Night, ed. by Gloria Naylor. It’s full of contemporary African American writers. So I’m still ending on a good note. :D

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30 Comments leave one →
  1. May 24, 2009 1:33 pm

    I wish we were having thunderstorms over here instead of the miserable ever lasting rain!! Sounds like you had a very mixed reading week Eva – I remember reading The Virgin Blue ages ago and enjoying it but to be honest I can’t really remember all that much about it now! Have you read any other Chevalier books??

  2. May 24, 2009 1:47 pm

    I’m so glad you loved Toer’s book! I’ll be waiting eagerly for your review as I haven’t read that particular title. Have you read any other Tracy Chevalier title? I haven’t really been interested in reading her, but now curious if her other books received better opinion from you?

  3. May 24, 2009 2:59 pm

    Eva – Dreams and Shadows sound fabulous, I will add it to my list.. Have a good week.

  4. May 24, 2009 3:36 pm

    Looks like you’ve had a great reading week, even with the two one-stars. Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation is such an interesting title!

  5. May 24, 2009 3:53 pm

    Dreams and Shadows sounds great! I’m hoping to read it for the World Citizen Challenge.

    Are you going to be up in Boulder with your mom tomorrow? I live in Boulder and would love to meet you in person for tea or something :) I know you have a lot of readers and probably don’t “know” me as well as I “know” you, but you sound like such an awesome person I think it would be great to meet. Anyway, let me know if you are interested!

  6. May 24, 2009 4:18 pm

    Sorry you had some bummers this week, but you still managed to read a huge number of books, so it’s no surprise that some of them would rise to the top while others sink to the bottom.

    Thanks for reviewing the Heyer in more depth. I’ve long been intrigued by her work, but I haven’t had the opportunity to try any of it myself yet, so it was nice to get a clearer sense of her style and tone! Many of the other reviews I’ve read have compared her to Jane Austen, but this definitely sounds more playful and satirical.

    Also, I have to say that Ain’t Myth-Behaving sounds like a lot of fun, but I probably wouldn’t read it as I fear my chicklit days might be largely behind me!

  7. May 24, 2009 4:51 pm

    I just picked up The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor not too long ago at a used bookstore. It looks promising. I vaguely remember seeing the movie that Oprah made when I was younger.

    Looks like you hit a few dud, but glad to see that there were some gems as well.

  8. May 24, 2009 5:32 pm

    I love thunderstorms. The cats don’t especially, I’m afraid, but I like them. :-)

    Dreams and Shadows sounds like a really interesting book. I’ll have to add that one immediately to my wish list. Thanks for bringing it to my attention! From the sounds of it, you had a mixed reading week, some not so good mixed in with a few good ones. Hopefully this next week will bring more winners than losers your way.

    I hope you have a great week!

  9. May 24, 2009 7:58 pm

    Dreams and Shadows sounds amazing! I’ve been looking for a book on that very topic, so I’m hoping my library has a copy!

  10. May 24, 2009 9:31 pm

    They don’t have good thunderstorms here; the rain is timid and drippy.
    Hooray for your mom!

  11. May 24, 2009 9:54 pm

    I think my favorite Heyer is A Civil Contract, which is very unlike her other novels. I’ll have to try Friday’s Child at some point, and this one is indeed a fun romp!

  12. May 24, 2009 10:00 pm

    I am so sorry you didn’t like Tibet, Tibet. I had wanted to read that book but now I’ll give it some more thought :)

    I just own one Heyer book but I still have to read it.

  13. adevotedreader permalink
    May 25, 2009 3:24 am

    I’ve only read Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier (which I enjoyed), but have The Virgin Blue and a few others by her in the TBR pile. I’m tempted to dig it out to see why you disliked so much!

    Heyer and Trollope are both wonderful comfort reads for me, I’m glad to hear you’ve been enjoying them.

    Re the McAllister book, for an fluffy but still well written read I’d recommend Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips. It follows the ancient Greek Gods now living in 21st century London and is very funny (and rather rude).

  14. musingsfromthesofa permalink
    May 25, 2009 5:13 am

    I was just going to recommend ‘Gods Behaving Badly’ too!
    Ah, ‘Tom’s Midnight Garden’ – love it. It was a TV series when I was a kid too. And if you haven’t already, I recommend Heyer’s ‘Venetia’. Hands down my favourite of hers. I recently re-read The Talisman Ring too, and I agree that it’s fun.

  15. May 25, 2009 7:35 am

    I’ve never really been too keen on any of Tracy Chevalier’s books besides Girl with a Pearl Earring. I’m not sure why. You had a very mixed reading week. I hope the next one is better!

  16. May 25, 2009 7:37 am

    Curious about the same thing as Claire – if you have read other Tracy Chevalier titles and liked them. A friend and I both enjoyed the first novel we read by her, kind of enjoyed the second, and then our level of interest and enjoyment kept trailing off from there. We could not help but feel a great sense of familiarity with her writing style that did not continue to engage but began to put us asleep. We both objectively admire her writing but are just not engaged anymore. Big question. Happy reading!

  17. May 25, 2009 12:15 pm

    Oh Eva, you are too awesome! I almost bought Dreams and Shadows a few weeks back. But I now get so paranoid about an author’s perspective, worry about them having some sort of bias, etc., when it comes to books about international relations. So what popped into my head…”Debi, just wait to buy this book until you ask Eva about it.” And just look, you provided me with my answer before I could even remember to ask! :D

    You’ve got me really curious about Gifted…that’s a book I’ve been meaning to read.

  18. May 25, 2009 1:10 pm

    I didn’t like The Virgin Blue, either. Or any of her books, really. Love it when I’m not alone in my opinion, so thanks! Also, I always really enjoy Georgette Heyer as a little escapist reading. I’ll check out that title :)

  19. stacybuckeye permalink
    May 25, 2009 2:02 pm

    Dreams & Shadows sounds great! Thanks for the recommendation.

  20. May 27, 2009 5:50 am

    Oh dear! I think I have a copy of Spoken Here buried somewhere in my TBR. I’m looking forward to your review though and hearing what all you didn’t like about it. I also have a copy of Tibet, Tibet and am glad to hear you did like that one.

  21. May 27, 2009 10:13 am

    I think Tracy Chevalier is a terrific object lesson in how contemporary publishing can really ruin a writer’s career: you write a successful first book and then you are somehow sucked into re-writing that book for the rest of your life! I think her agent and editor haven’t served her well by encouraging her to stick so close to the sort of thing she’s done before.

    But what I REALLY want to say is that I LOVE Barchester Towers and I’m so happy you’ll be reading it!

  22. May 27, 2009 2:26 pm

    MacAlister and I have had our differences but I think Ain’t Myth-Behaving and Blow Me Down are her best two.

  23. May 29, 2009 1:44 pm

    I too was disappointed with The Virgin Blue, and I couldn’t even get through The Lady and the Unicorn. But I really, REALLY liked Girl With a Pearl Earring and Falling Angels (perhaps my favorite of hers).

    Re: the McAllister. I used to really enjoy her more chick-lit style books and the first couple in the Dark Ones series. But I didn’t care for Ain’t Myth-Behavin and can’t get past page one on the Aisling Grey/Dragon books.

  24. May 30, 2009 8:38 pm

    A Georgette Heyer book without tons of slang! Really? I need to read that one. :)

    I thought The Virgin Blue was predictable and the ending pissed me off, too, but I still enjoyed it because I have some Huguenot ancestry and I really didn’t know a thing about Huguenots beyond the fact that they were Protestants and excellent craftsman, so it was kind of fun learning a bit more. And, yet . . . I haven’t read another Tracy Chevalier book since that title. I do have one more in a cabinet, somewhere.

    I love your reviews. Wish I could read as fast as you do!

  25. June 5, 2009 2:11 pm

    I LOVE Georgette Heyer. Talisman Ring is one of my favorites, but I also really love Cotillion and Black Sheep. And Friday’s Child is excellent as well. I hope you read more of her!

  26. June 6, 2009 12:35 pm

    “…but I’ve reached a point where I’m not interested in gratuitous, depressing events.”

    I’m totally with you. No thanks! Why do I need that? I really, really don’t.

    The rest of your list looks amazing. I love the variety!

  27. June 10, 2009 5:28 pm

    I hope your mother had good weather for her 10K run!

    About a month ago I posted that I picked up THE VIRGIN BLUE. I got a lot of responses like yours, readers who weren’t happy with it. I wonder if it’s because we’re holding the yardstick of THE GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING up to it (?) I haven’t yet read it, but I’m not in a hurry!

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