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Sunday Salon: the Itty Bitty Post

September 6, 2009

The Sunday Salon.comDebi did a Itty Bitty Book Babble post yesterday that totally reminded me of how I do TSS. And her name was just so awesome that I shamelessly stole it! I didn’t actually read that many books this week, but I also didn’t review many either! So I have seven books to talk about. Amazingly, four of those are five-star reads, and another is four-stars, so there shall be gushing today. :)

BlackSheepFirst I finished one of Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances, Black Sheep. In the past, I’ve very much enjoyed escaping into Heyer’s books. While the plots are a bit frothy and the characters a bit obvious, the writing is witty and the period detail astounding. She is *not* a replacement to Jane Austen, but she’s a great comfort read. However, I’m not sure if Black Sheep wasn’t as good as the others or, more likely, I couldn’t quite relax enough to enjoy it as much as I expected. It’s set in Bath and tells the story of Abigail Wendover, a 28-year-old spinster aunt who returns from visiting to find that a suave fortune hunter has got his claws in her young niece. While trying to figure out how to save her niece, she also meets the fortune hunter’s uncle, just back from India where he was banished twenty years ago for some infamous scandal. Although the uncle refuses to play by any of society’s rules, he does have a worrisome ability to make Abigail laugh. You can see where this is going, and if you’re a Heyer fan, I think you’ll be quite satisfied. If you haven’t tried Heyer yet, but favourite that I’ve read so far is still Friday’s Child.

Then I finished Complications by Atul Gawande, which I adored, and wrote a gushing review of.

BookofSecretsNext I turned to M.G. Vassanji’s The Book of Secrets for the Orbis Terrarum Challenge. I had to get from South Africa to Palestine, and didn’t like my original choice, so this novel set in colonial East Africa and modern-day Tanzania by an author who was raised there seemed an excellent choice. It employs one of my favourite literary devices: a present-day character stumbles on to a secret from the past, and the novel alternates storyline and settings. In this case, the present-day character is an Indian teacher who came to Tanzania during the days of the Empire and stayed on after independence. He receives an old diary written in 1913 by a British colonial administrator, and he takes it upon himself to ‘fill in the gaps,’ so to speak. I loved this book! I loved the artful way Vassanji doles out information. I loved the pacing, with the first half more devoted to the past while the second half focuses more on the future. I love that not everything is tied up in a pretty bow at the end. And I found it fascinating to peek in at the Indian community in East Africa; while I knew there was one, I didn’t know much about it. I’d highly recommend this-it’s definitely literary but I found it completely accessible and entertaining!

ParadiseoftheBlindMeanwhile, I was reading another very different style international author-Vietnamese Duong Thu Huong and Paradise of the Blind for the Lost in Translation Challenge. This is set during Communist Vietnam and centers around Hang, a young Vietnamese woman, her mother and her Aunt Tam. While the book is a sad commentary on how the Communist government destroyed lives, it is also much more-a coming-of-age story, a look at family dynamics, and it made me feel like I was in Vietnam buying street food on the corner. Somewhere, I saw this classified as YA, and I can see that. Hang, the narrator, is around 20, and the book moves at a fast pace. But if it’s YA, it’s the kind that appeals to adults as much as teens. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy and quick a read it was, while at the same time it gave me much foood for thought. Oen I’d definitely recommend to anyone interested in life under a Communist regime, Vietnam, or other cultures in general! (This would work great as a Banned Book read as well, since the Vietnamese government censors it.)

MadeleinesGhostThen comes the unfortunate low note of the week: Madeleine’s Ghost by Robert Girardi. This was a R.I.P. read, and I couldn’t resist it since the blurb included present/past intertwined plots, ghosts, and New Orleans. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy this much at all, and I probably should have gone ahead and abandoned it. Firstly, Girardi is not from New Orleans, and in an author interview I found *after* I read the book he says he was only there for three days. It shows. His New Orleans, and the characters from it, feel like every stereotype ever. Then there’s the NYC scenes, which make up the bulk of the book. It’s all about screwed up people living hopeless, screwed up lives for no apparent reason. I didn’t like this. Finally, and the reason I should have simply stopped reading, is that Girardi’s female characters are horrendous. They’re all utter sexual objects, none of them feel like real women at all, and ugh. I didn’t like one. I think if you read the interview I mentioned, it’ll give you a good idea of whether Girardi’s fiction will appeal to you.

TheReefMoving on to happier things, I adored Edith Wharton’s The Reef. I’m a huge fan of Wharton’s writing style, but I hadn’t read a novel by her in several years (I do read the occasional short story, and of which she is a master). I’ve read her more famous novels, so when scrolling through my library’s catalog, this one caught my eye since the blurb mentioned a young American diplomat. I wanted to be a diplomat for several years, so it was enough to make me click ‘hold’! I didn’t know anything else about plot, and I think that worked out marvelously, although it was fairly easy to guess where it was going. After all, more than any other of my favourite classic authors, Wharton seems to delight in relentlessly tearing apart her character’s hopes and dreams. But she does it so marvelously, and everything that happens seems so genuinely *human,* that’s she’s wonderful to read anyway. So I highly recommend this, it lived up to all of my Wharton expectations, and I refuse to tell you anything about the plot or characters! :)

NotesFromtheHyenasBellyAnother five-star read this week is Notes From the Hyena’s Belly, a memoir by Nega Mezlekia. It’s about his life in Ethiopia, from birth until he left for Europe and grad school in his mid-twenties. I was worried about this one-I know enough about Ethiopian modern history to know that things weren’t good. And I try to avoid the ‘my sucky childhood’ genre of memoirs. But Mezlekia’s memoir is gorgeous-it’s literary in every positive sense of that word. He brings you into Ethiopian culture, which is light years away from anything I’ve experienced, and I felt like I was so privileged to get such a glimpse. The writing is lyrical and majestic; here’s the opening sentences:

I was born in the year of the paradox, in the labyrinthine city of Jijiga. After a three-year absence, the rains had come, swelling the rivers and streams. The clay desert, as dry as the skin of a drum, became green once more.

The first half of the book, before Ethiopia’s struggles began, was my favourite since Mezlekia has a marvelous ability to channel his childhood way of thinking. But the whole thing was amazing, and educating, and I’m glad I read this for the World Citizen Challenge.

GoTellItontheMountainFinally, I finished James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain last night before bed. I was totally intimated by this novel, and Baldwin, until I read a short story of his earlier this year. It blew me away, and I wanted to read more! This is my first selection for the Banned Books Challenge, and it was *so* incredible. It’s short, at just over 200 pages, and reminded me of Virginia Woolf with its stream-of-conscious style. (It’s not nearly so extreme, though, more like The Voyage Out than, say The Waves.) Opening the first page, I was immediately captured by the narrative and didn’t even glance up until I was over 50 pages into it! The kind of book, and the kind of characters, that will haunt me forever. I plan on reading more Baldwin as soon as I can. Needless to say, I think everyone should read this one!

40 Comments leave one →
  1. September 6, 2009 9:00 am

    lmao…didn’t get much read this week so you ONLY have 7 books to talk about this time!!! Man, what I wouldn’t do to consider that a slow week! :D
    You know after I finished that post, that’s exactly what I thought, “This looks just like an Eva Sunday Salon post!” (Of course, then you read it and think, “Well…no…she can’t talk about books anywhere nearly as intelligently as Eva does!”)
    You’ve left me really, really, really excited about both Paradise of the the Blind and Notes from the Hyena’s Belly!!! Those probably won’t be the only two that end up on my wish list, but they’ll be the most heavily starred.

  2. September 6, 2009 9:28 am

    Wow! Every single one of the books you read this week (with the exception of the Girardi) sounds amazing! I haven’t had any 5-star reads this year yet, so I am completely envious that you had so many in one week!
    And I’m totally with Debi – a slow week for me is when I don’t even finish one book, never mind having 7 things to talk about! That would be my busiest week ever!

  3. September 6, 2009 9:42 am

    Whoa! If you didn’t read “that many” books this week, what happens when you actually read a lot of books? You know what, your reading sometimes scares me. I’m like, is she human?

  4. September 6, 2009 9:54 am

    These look like wonderful books. Thanks for these reviews!

  5. September 6, 2009 9:59 am

    I read the Baldwin last year and just loved it. I had no idea what to expect from it, and it amazed me.

    And seriously, seven books is a slow week? Sigh. I feel like a hero when I manage more than two in a week.

  6. September 6, 2009 10:33 am

    Awesome reads! I’m always impressed with the diversity in your reading, Eva. Never know what I’m going to find when I land on your blog. :)

  7. September 6, 2009 10:56 am

    Must get my hands on that Wharton now! You have so many interesting reads, I can feel my wishlist grow every time I go to your blog.

  8. September 6, 2009 11:42 am

    I was just looking for a copy of Go Tell It On The Mountain the other day! Now I have to get my hands on it for sure! :-)


  9. historyofshe permalink
    September 6, 2009 12:28 pm

    Wow, seems like you’ve read a ton of awesome books lately! That stinks about Madeleine’s Ghost. It seems like it would have been perfect for RIP IV. New Orleans and ghost stories just go hand-in-hand. I think I may need to find one in order to complete my list. :)

  10. September 6, 2009 1:36 pm

    This is a slow week for you? Oh dear. I finished two this week and one was really an illustrated short story.

  11. September 6, 2009 1:48 pm

    I hate to think what you read in a good week, if seven books are a slow week.

  12. September 6, 2009 2:24 pm

    I’ve been thinking of adding The Book of Secrets into my to read list. I think I’ll go and do it just now. :)


  13. September 6, 2009 2:52 pm

    I really like Vassanji. Have you read anything else by him? I really liked The In-Between World of Vikram Lall. The Book of Secrets I haven’t read though. I’m glad you posted about it. I can read it for the Canadian Books Challenge!

  14. September 6, 2009 2:57 pm

    You’ve read a ton of great books, Eva. I have Gawande’s book and The Book of Secrets on hold at my library! Have a good week.

  15. September 6, 2009 3:22 pm

    This is a great idea. I’m so far behind on reviews I think I’m going to have to steal it, too!

  16. September 6, 2009 4:34 pm

    You crack me up – not much reading and yet you somehow managed to finish 7 books! Girl, you are crazy :)

    I really like the sound of Black Sheep. I’ve enjoyed the few Heyer books I’ve read and being that this one is set in Bath, I think it has to go on my list. Love Bath!

    Really enjoyed your mini reviews!

  17. September 6, 2009 5:07 pm

    I really like Georgette Heyer and she is a fun, easy and entertaining author to pick up now and again. It’s been a while since I’ve read any of her books–I think I have this one so may have to pull it or another out soon! And I love Edith Wharton, too. I think anything she writes is going to be really good!

  18. September 6, 2009 5:25 pm

    Eva, only you could think that seven books read in a week isn’t much reading! You amaze me :)

    And thanks for letting me know about an Edith Wharton novel I’ve missed reading! She is one of my all time favorites.

  19. September 6, 2009 7:42 pm

    You’ve read a lot books, Eva! If only I could read half as many books you read, haha.

    Ooh, I’ve Black Sheep and Friday’s Child in my pile and I can’t wait to read them! So many books, so little time! *sigh*

  20. September 6, 2009 8:06 pm

    Two more (at least!) to add to my list. Book of Secrets and Notes from a Hyena’s Belly. I’ve seen Georgette Heyer mentioned at several blogs lately, and then I saw an Agatha Christie-esque title by her at the bookstore last night. Is it a sign??? ;-)

  21. September 6, 2009 10:50 pm

    That opening from Notes from the Hyena’s Belly is wonderful.

    And a light week??? Geez…I’ll be lucky if I read 8 this month!

  22. September 7, 2009 7:16 am

    Debi, just develop a chronic illness that takes over your life and you too could consider 7 books a slow week! :p And stop insulting your intelligence! :p I hope you enjoy Paradise… and Notes…!

    Steph, maybe I have lower standards for five star reads? lol

    Hazra, lol-I’ve talked about this on my about page! I’m a sick human. ;)

    Rhapsody, I’m glad you enjoyed them!

    Teresa, isn’t it great going in with no expectations and being blown away?!

    Andi, thank you!

    Meghan, awww-thanks. :D The Wharton is excellent!

    Lezlie, I think you’d *definitely* really enjoy it.

    HistoryofShe, yep, it’s annoying. But from now on, I’ll make the author is FROM New Orleans before reading a book set there!

    Debnance, I have less of a life. ;)

    Vivienne, I guess seven wasn’t really slow-just slower than the past few weeks.

    Tiina, I hope you love it!

    Lahni, nope-this was my intro. But I definitely want to read more; I have Assassin’s Song on my TBR case, and I’ll definitely put your rec on my list!

    Gavin, I hope you enjoy them!

    Lisa, this is the only way I can possibly stay caught up on reviews. :)

    Iliana, I’ve realised I shouldn’t have said I didn’t get much reading done!!! lol Live and learn. :) I love Bath too.

    Danielle, I just started reading her last year, and now every few months I crave another novel of hers. :)

    Becca, I think the books were short!

    Melody, Friday’s Child wil fly by-I promise. :D

    Terri, she’s not anything like Agatha Christie, but it’s definitely a sign! Give her a try! :)

    Softdrink, isn’t it?!

  23. September 7, 2009 7:33 am

    For an itty bitty post, you’ve said a lot- now I’ve got several more books on my TBR, because they sound so good! I like the little mini reviews, just enough to tantalize me.

  24. September 7, 2009 1:37 pm

    I had the same experience this last week with an RIP read that turned out to be somewhat lame (The House at Midnight). My review will go up in a couple of weeks. This is a genre that I get really excited about and it was such a letdown to have a book that wasn’t what I thought it would be. I think this is when I grab my book of Muriel Spark ghost stories for some guaranteed fun!

  25. September 7, 2009 9:53 pm

    You didn’t read “that many” books this week? Wow! I’d be thrilled to finish one book in a week! *green with envy* But, you wrote some great itty bitty reviews on them! I like that name, too. Much catchier than “Mini reviews”.

    The Book of Secrets is the one that catches my attention the most.

  26. September 8, 2009 2:26 pm

    Jeane, yeah-my TSS posts tend to be ridiculously long!! I like mini-reviews too; they’re like appetisers. :D

    Kristen, boo to lame RIP books! I think I have higher expectations of this genre too. :)

    Rebecca, thanks! The Book of Secrets was awesome. :D

  27. September 8, 2009 5:35 pm

    The Heyer book I stumbled on at B&N was No Wind of Blame. Have you read any of her detective novels? I loved the cover of the one I saw!

  28. September 8, 2009 11:11 pm

    I regret to inform you that this doesn’t qualify as an itty-bitty post at all. ;o)

  29. September 9, 2009 6:59 am

    Wow, what a great list of books. I’ve always loved the Wharton books I’ve read, so I’ll have to check that one out.

  30. September 9, 2009 3:47 pm

    Terri, I read Why Shoot the Butler? I enjoyed it, but not as much as her regency stuff.

    Janet, lol! Debi’s post talked about more books!

    Rebecca, isn’t Wharton wonderful? Have you read her short story “Roman Fever”? It’s incredible!!!

  31. September 9, 2009 5:05 pm

    Eva, yes, I’ve read that story and love it! I’m sorry to say that is the only story i can name by Wharton so I should definitely find a volume…

  32. September 10, 2009 5:03 am

    Oh I love Edith Wharton. Enjoy!


  1. The Book of Secrets by M. G. Vassanji « Page247
  2. December Challenge Wrap-Ups « A Striped Armchair
  3. Travel by Books: 2009 Wrap-Up « A Striped Armchair
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  5. East African Authors « Diversify Your Reading
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  8. My Soul to Keep by Tananarive Due (thoughts) « A Striped Armchair

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