11 July 2016

Princess by Jean Sasson

     Princess by Jean Sasson is the first story in a trilogy of tales of Princess Sultana, a real royal member of the Saudi royal family. It's a story of a woman frustrated by a society that keeps the women in a constant state of subservience to men. Told from the perspective of a brave young woman who risks possible death to tell her tale in order to fight for the advancement of Saudi women....or is it?
     I have to say it is a very interesting read. I finished it pretty quickly because it was exciting, but as I read my first thoughts were, "How on earth did the Saudis not figure out who this was?" The details were vivid and while they were purportedly changed it seemed impossible to not figure out who Sultana was. I mean, this wasn't just like, average Saudi woman. This was a member of the royal family. That has to be pretty easy to narrow down.
     Also, as I read it it seemed more and more like the book an American would write for other Americans. "Hah! I knew those middle easterners were up to no good!" It started when Princess Sultana made the claim that women weren't allowed in the mosques in Saudi Arabia. Now, I knew that couldn't be right since usually there are special "woman places" in mosques so women don't like....I don't know, distract men. I looked it up and there are apparently a few places where women aren't allowed in mosques, Saudi Arabia is not one of them.
     Also, I realize there have been injustices to women in Saudi Arabia (heck, there are some in this country). I personally have some issues with veiling and the direction they take modesty (an otherwise good trait, by the way), and I am trying to be careful because I know there are women who actually consider veiling in the same way I would consider my own modesty. I think not allowing women to drive is pretty outrageous, but the instances of injustice in this book are almost too crazy. I know there are cruel people in this world, but it's hard to get me to believe every Saudi man is the worst possible kind of sadist imaginable. Everything cruel that could be done, they did in this book.
     Apparently there is some controversy over this book and over whether Princess Sultana actually exists. So, my instincts were maybe justified. I did enjoy reading the book and since I happen to have the second book I kind of want to go ahead and read it, and it is a trilogy so no harm in reading the third I suppose. I am not....sure I would recommend it necessarily. It's not like the writing was blow-me-out-of-the-water good. It did hold my attention, though I found the Princess herself to be a bit troublesome. The book is about her personal struggle for advancement of women in a culture bent on opposing her, but it just seemed like she protested everything. One of my least favorite main characters is "the hot head," and maybe this is unfair but that goes double if it's a woman. The female protagonist who shrilly declares, "My way or no way!" is just very annoying.  There are times to stand up to oppression but you should pick your battles a little more carefully in my opinion.
     If the author Princess owned up to writing a novel I might tell others I found it pretty interesting, just because it does make for an engaging read. Though in our current political climate it might do more harm than good. I want to finish the series, but you should take it with a grain of salt. 

25 January 2016

Persuasion by Jane Austen

               Oh, what to say about Persuasion? What to say about any classic really other than, “I loved it!” Even the fourth time around I love it. I’ll love it when I read it again a fifth time too. I read it along with a good friend of mine from Oregon. We have been reading a couple of books simultaneously in order to send each other good quotes over text. Also, we have found it has deepened our friendship because we definitely learn things about ourselves and each other by talking about these books.
                Persuasion, for the person who hasn’t experienced its delights, is the best last of Jane Austen’s books, and it reads like a mature book. The main character, Anne Elliot is 27, so you know, pretty much an old maid (haw haw) and it’s even set in the Fall so it just sounds…more mature. That’s really the only way to describe it. Also, it’s one of the only Austen novels that really allows you to see as clearly into the mind of the main character. In my opinion you get a clearer understanding of how Anne Elliot thinks than you get with say, Emma Woodhouse or Catherine Moreland
                It is the story of Anne Elliot, who turned down Frederick Wentworth eight years before the novel started due to the advice given her by family friend and surrogate mother Lady Russell. When the story opens the Elliot family is losing money and is forced to let their family home and take a smaller apartment elsewhere. Fate has it that the Frederick Wentworth’s sister and her husband are the new tenants throwing Anne and Frederick together again.
                I am always struck when reading this at the “goodness” of Anne Elliot. Austen herself said that Anne Elliot was “almost too good” for her in a letter to a friend. Anne respectfully listened to well-intentioned advice from Lady Russell, and even though it perhaps robbed her of eight years of happiness she never regretted it or turned on this woman who was just doing her best to raise her in place of Anne’s late mother. Also, she comports herself well. She is bold with Wentworth when she needs to be but doesn’t do anything outrageous for a lady in this era (unlike the movie would have you believe, which has her running down the street after him). She is just cool and collected and strong and wise. Shall I go on? Can you tell that I think she is awesome?
                Something I didn't necessarily foresee was (even though I have read this more than once before), this book is so funny. In places it was laugh out loud funny. I forget that I also love Austen because of her great absurd characters.
                Personal note, when Husband and I first met…about eight years before we started dating (ahem), I learned that his favorite Austen novel was Persuasion. It really was meant to be. 
                Personal note Number 2: I have this weird feeling that I have said most of this before, but I seriously went through my whole blog to see if I have already blogged about this book, and I couldn't find anything. So, who knows. I'm sure if I go about re-reading good books I'll mention them more than once, and it would be nice to see how my opinions change anyway.

31 October 2015

Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

This month the Reading to Know bookclub’s choice was The Hound of the Baskervilles. It was picked by Sky. I was glad to read along because I remember really disliking Sherlock Holmes when I was younger and I haven’t picked up a book about him in years. I was interested to find out what adult me thought about teenaged me’s opinions.

Reading to Know - Book Club

     As it turns out teenaged me was 100% correct. Sherlock Holmes is terrible. His poor friend Watson seems to exist merely for Holmes to project how incredibly smart he is compared to Watson. He just seemed annoyingly impressed with himself, and even though he is supposed to be very observant and intelligent I didn’t feel like it was an excuse to act like that. I was wrong however, in the story itself. I was actually pulled in right from the start and despite my aversion to the main character I found the plot interesting and even though I had a general idea (thanks Wishbone!) of how it ended, I was very engaged the entire way through.
     After the mysterious and possibly supernatural death of Sir Charles Baskerville, Sherlock Holmes is asked to look into the matter before the arrival of Sir Charles’s nephew. There is an old family legend that a supernatural Hound of Hell haunts the family because of a wicked ancestor and it is believed that the hound was the reason Sir Charles died. Holmes sends the ever ready Watson with Sir Charles’s nephew and asks him to report everything that happens. There are mysterious love interests, a bog that swallows unwitting travelers and an escaped convict. It’s all very thrilling and a quick and entertaining read.
     I am very glad I returned to it, but I don’t think Holmes will ever go down as my favorite literary character or anything. I will however, read more of the Holmes stories. As an interesting aside, I have found a series of books featuring Sherlock Holmes. The first book is set in WWI and Holmes has partnered with a fifteen year old girl to help solve crimes. I just started it so I’m not sure if it’s a terrible idea or a great one. 

(Update) After reading the other posts on this book I realize that everyone has already discovered the later Holmes stories beginning with The Beekeeper's Apprentice. And apparently they are really good. So, I'm glad I was able to start the first one.

01 October 2015

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

                Every once in a while a book comes along that is so convicting I actually have to stop while reading it and pray. Every time I read The Screwtape Letters this is the experience I have.

 Reading to Know - Book Club
                The Screwtape Letters is an epistolary novel documenting the fictional correspondence of a senior demon to his nephew, telling the nephew how best to tempt his patient (a new believer) away from The Enemy (God) and toward Our Father Below (Satan). You actually only read the letters from the elder demon, Screwtape, but you are given some sense of what the younger demon is writing since Screwtape answers some of his questions.
                First of all, that is just clever. Who would think to use demons to demonstrate the pitfalls sinners will encounter on earth? In some instances, the reader is terrified by how accurate the temptations are, but there are actually some pretty humorous parts of the letters as well. Lewis opens the book with a preface explaining that when speaking of demons one can dismiss them altogether or be too fascinated with them. I think this book is the perfect blend of seriousness over sin and temptation mixed with a little mockery of the demons themselves. Over the whole book there is a constant repetition of the Love of God for mankind. The demons find this disgusting, but Lewis cleverly and continually introduces this theme. The result is convicting and beautiful.
                This time I went through the book with highlighter in hand and I found myself just highlighting huge paragraphs because everything with perfect. I’m sure everyone has very clever things to say about this book so I’m just going to share some passages that hit me. I’ll limit myself to three really good ones.
                “You are much more likely to make your man a sound drunkard by pressing drink on him as an anodyne hen he is dull and weary than by encouraging him to use it as a means of merriment among his friends when he is happy and expansive. Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not ours.” Wow! Isn’t that awesome? Sometimes I just don’t think about how God is a God of pleasure. Sometimes I tend to think of pleasures as vaguely unspiritual. What a great way of looking at life! Later Screwtape talks about how even the reading of a good book can reinvigorate the spiritual life of a believer. Can you see why I love this book?
                Screwtape suggests his nephew tempt his patient by using the aspect of humor called flippancy. “Flippancy is best of all…any of them can be trained to talk as if virtue were funny. Among flippant people the Joke is always assumed to have been made. No one actually makes it; but every serious subject is discussed in a manner which implies that they have already found a ridiculous side to it. If prolonged, the habit of Flippancy builds up around a man the finest armour-plating against the enemy that I know.” Now, even if you aren’t one to be flippant about serious things, have you ever been part of a conversation where everyone else is being flippant and you don’t want to be the kill joy with “no sense of humor.” I know I for sure have and have probably been tempted to just go along with what everyone else is saying. That definitely gave me something to think about. Earlier in the book Screwtape mentions how the word “Puritanical” (I think…or maybe it was just puritan) has been one of their greatest triumphs. I would maybe add the word “judgmental” or “legalistic.” Somehow just being serious about sin makes you instantly “judgmental.” Such a great reminder to be on the lookout for little cracks in our defenses where the devil finds a way in!
                Eventually the patient suffers his first waning of religious feeling after his conversion. He is still going to church, which Screwtape thinks is good since he still considers himself a Christian since he retains the habits of one. “While he thinks that, we do not have to contend with the explicit repentance of a definite, fully recognized sin, but only with the vague, though uneasy, feeling that he hasn’t been doing very well lately.” This is where I paused and though, “oh no, this is about to be very convicting.” Further down the page Screwtape goes on to say, “If such a feeling is allowed to live but not allowed to become irresistible and flower into real repentance, it has one invaluable tendency. It increases the patient’s reluctance to think about the Enemy. All humans at nearly all times have some such reluctance; but when thinking of Him involves facing and intensifying a whole vague cloud of half-conscious guilt, this reluctance is increased tenfold.” Uhm, yes, I have felt like that.
                Those are just three of dozens that I had highlighted. If you haven’t read this book yet, please read it. Aside from a galvanization of my prayer life, I experienced an intense desire to read more Lewis. I think two years ago, I made a New Year’s Resolution to read all his books. I never did that, but I did read quite a few. I now want to read even more of them. Thanks, Barbara from StrayThoughts and thanks Carrie from Reading to Know for giving us a great recommendation and a forum for what I am sure will be a great conversation.

23 September 2015

All The Light We Cannot See Between Two Oceans by Anthony Doerr or M.L. Stedman

So, I have been confusing this book

With this book

     Can you blame me? They both have light in the title. They both have buildings on the cover. They both were getting pretty good reviews. And they both are blue-ish. Even more confusing both books deal with World Wars. Just not the same ones.

     The Light Between Two Oceans is about an Austrailian man living in the aftermath of World War I and struggling with his own demons by retreating to be a lighthouse keeper. His life changes when he brings a wife to the lighthouse, and when a baby appears mysteriously he is forced to make some tough decisions. I liked this one a lot. I don’t think much of Austrailia in either of the wars though I know they were a big deal during the siege of Constantinople, and honestly the book didn’t dig too deep into the history of Anzac Day or Austrailia’s part in WWI. It was mainly a love story, and a very good one. I also loved how the book showed how much lies can destroy and once a lie is told it can only compound and become more and more complex and destructive. 

     All The Light We Cannot See  is a story about a young German boy and a young French girl whose paths converge during World War II. The boy is Werner Pfennig, a young German conscripted into the German army because of his natural intelligence with engineering, particularly the ability to track radio activity. The other is a blind French girl, Marie Laure. Her father worked at a museum harboring a diamond believed to protect the one who carried it at the cost of all around him. When the Germans invade, copies of the diamond are made and sent with each museum worker as they escape the city. Marie Laure and her father go to her great uncle’s house to wait out the occupation. While there Marie-Laure meets Werner in a convergence of a lot of things. I’m trying to be guarded because as emotionally hard to read as this book is, I think it is a great book. The writing is a lot more lyrical than a lot of people are going to get behind, but I love that kind of thing to begin with. But the story is surprisingly easy to read and very interesting.

     So, these books aren’t very much like each other, but they were both pretty good, and I believe I ended up giving both five stars on Goodreads.I plan on reading other books by Anthony Doerr for sure and if M.L. Stedman comes out with another I would be willing to try that one too.