Books read, October 2012

Way late, but that’s because I came home with a cold and then, just as I was recovering from it, contracted a different one! Yay! Wait, not yay. Anti-yay.

Saba: Under the Hyena’s Foot, Jane Kurtz. This was a startlingly political book. It’s part of the Girls of Many Lands series, which is the “rest of the world” companion to the American Girl thing, i.e. the dolls you may have seen. It takes place in Ethiopia in 1846, and features kidnappings, assassinations, and palace coups — in other words, a lot more in the way of political intrigue than I would have expected out of an “intermediate fiction” doll tie-in book. They’re all written by different authors, so the quality is undoubtedly all over the place, but I note that Laurance Yep wrote a Chinese book for the series (Spring Pearl: The Last Flower) and Chitra Banerjee Divarakuni wrote an Indian one (Neela: Victory Song), so I’m inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt and say they’re worth checking out.

Unspoken, Sarah Rees Brennan. YA update of the old “gothic” genre. I was mildly distracted by the part-Japanese protagonist being named “Kami” (though there’s an explanation for it in the story), and early on I felt like the peppiness of the narrator’s voice was at odds with the gothic mood. But the peppiness settled down as the story went on, and the explanation for the name came along, and I ended up quite enjoying this one. The premise — and this comes out early enough that I don’t think it’s a spoiler — is that Kami has always had an “imaginary friend” in her head, a guy named Jared that she talks to all the time. And then Jared shows up. Because he’s a real person. And one of the things I liked best about the book was how this was not a Wonderful Thing, but a shocking development neither of them can quite cope with, because they’re not what each other expected and yet they know each other really well and it’s really traumatic to lose something that was both a deep source of comfort and a constant risk of being thought genuinely delusional by those around you.

Fair warning, though: the book, while it does resolve the central mystery, leaves a whole mess of things dangling for future plot development. So if you are looking for a nice tidy satisfying package of a book, this is not it.

Wieliczka: Historic Salt Mine, Janusz Podlecki. Very short book, mostly consisting of photographs. A souvenir of this place, which I will be reporting on soon if I ever get around to blogging about the Poland trip.

The Jews in the Time of Jesus: An Introduction, Stephen M. Wylen. A discussion of what first-century Judaism was like, and its relationship both to modern Judaism and modern Christianity. I’ve studied the early Church before, and that entailed a bit of talking about Judaism, but this was kind of the other side of that picture. It’s not wholly focused on the first century and its aftermath, though: in order to make that part make sense, it starts with a very concise little potted history of Judaism in general, which I also needed and was grateful for. (Things like “the Babylonian Exile” are more than just phrases to me now.)

Writing-wise, I kind of wanted to smack the author. He has a tendency to write in short, declarative sentences. The sentences I’m using here are examples. This gets tedious after a while. Also, there’s a very didactic tone in places, like where he patiently takes you by the hand and explains that the “pious Jewish” interpretation of X and the “pious Christian” interpretation of X are not the same as the “secular historical” interpretation of X, and I’m like, no shit, Sherlock. Occasionally I feels he fails as a historian, too, like when he says “The Pharisees were much more important when [the Mishnah and the New Testament] were being written than they were in the time of Jesus and the Temple” (okay) and then later says “The attention [the Pharisees] receive in [the New Testament] tells us that they really were important in the time of Jesus.” Um. I think your editor missed something there, sir.

Despite those nitpicks, however, overall I found the book quite useful.

This was the month of Not Finishing Books, either because I quit on them or because I only needed to read pieces or because I hadn’t finished them yet. (November has already featured the completion of two books I started in October.)

And now I convince myself not to go fall asleep again.

0 Responses to “Books read, October 2012”

  1. between4walls

    I was really fond of the Girls of Many Lands books (and dolls) growing up and while the quality does vary they tackle lots of “adult” subjects. Too bad the series was discontinued after just eight books.

    If you want to check out any others, Leyla (about a Georgian slave in the Ottoman Empire) has a lot palace intrigue in the harem, though maybe less directly political than Saba, which I haven’t read. Minuk (about a Yupik Alaskan girl) is the best-crafted of the series that I’ve read so far, a low-key story about culture clash, gender roles, and village life with an unexpectedly intense ending. Neela is more predictable in its storyline but about a subject dear to my heart, the Indian independence movement. It’s also quite funny.

    • between4walls

      And rereading the post I realize you were cautiously saying they were worth checking out, not asking if they were worth checking out. Oops.

      • Marie Brennan

        No worries! I appreciate the info on the others. I like reading historical fiction as part of familiarizing myself with a period/place.

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