Welcome to my blog. I write about fitting in, sticking out, and missing the motherland as a serial foreigner.

June 2014 books

The Children of MenThe Children of Men by P.D. James

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I'm not sure, but I think I was supposed to like the protagonist of this book (Theo), or at least feel sympathy for him, or at least root for him. But I didn't, and that made the book fall flat. The only person I could really get behind was the bad guy, Xan, because he was the only one who didn't move/think/feel like he was encased in self-pitying molasses. He got (ok, mostly evil) things DONE, instead of moping around and fussing about the love that he mourns "not for having lost, but for having never experienced."

Also, I have to wonder if this book's future is based on an alternate version of the present, as it was in 1992. Many of the aspects of 2021 society as described in this book seem extremely improbable. A complete overhaul of Britain's system of government in 20ish years? No mobile phone presence at all? Extremely complicated international immigration issues dealt with simplistically? The whole idea of a Quietus? A free hand for sending criminals to an island prison? NO FLYING CARS?? So unlikely.

Elsewhere on the list of things that didn't make sense to me:

- I know it's not the point, but seriously, what is with the mass infertility? Sometimes the book seemed to say outright that women were barren, but then also the men were barren? Which is it? Both?

- So you can steal a purse and accidentally knock someone down in the process and get sent to prison (the island prison) for it, but Omegas can perform human sacrifice mere meters from inhabited villages and it's no big deal?

- Are the Omegas evil because they are genetically "off," or are they evil because they were spoiled from birth by all of human society?

- If Julian experienced what she did, surely others could have, too. Why is that possibility never raised in the book?

(As I posted this, I realized this book was written by the same author who wrote Death Comes to Pemberley, which I hated. So I should have known better than to pick this one up.)

Jerusalem: The BiographyJerusalem: The Biography by Simon Sebag Montefiore

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is technically a DNF, but yeesh, reading 3/4 of a behemoth book like this deserves a proper rating and a place on my Read shelf on Goodreads. I went through two lending periods with this book and still couldn't make it all the way through. Near the end, I found that I wasn't even looking forward to reading it anymore, especially as the narrative entered the more modern era (and thus more familiar ground).

ANYWAY. I've never read a "biography" of a place before, and it took some getting used to. Imagine Jerusalem with a spotlight shining on it. You only ever see what goes on in that spotlight. Anything on the periphery is in shadow, even when major characters of the story move in and out of those shadows. It was disorienting at times for people to pop up in the story, leave for chapters at a time, and then pop up again with hardly a reference to where they'd been and what they'd been doing, except for a quick catch-up aside like, "by this time, so-and-so was on his fifth wife and had murdered three sons in the course of a dispute over the succession, and had changed religions a few times..." So yes, the focus is on the PLACE, not the people.

But it works. More than any other book I've read this year, Jerusalem: The Biography has changed the way I think about the world, about religion, about history, and about how places and things become sacred to large groups of people. I wish I could have read this before I went to Jerusalem in 2007; alternatively, perhaps I should visit there again now that I have read it!

Montefiore has written a thorough, usually interesting book, but I sometimes tired of all the suppurating and eviscerating and philandering that he takes great pains to describe with a kind of creepy glee. History is messy, I get it, but I did NOT need to know the intimate details of all those famous ancient kings' bowel problems, etc.

Again, this book is a bit long to get through in the course of a library loan period. I think it's better suited to an occasional reading of a chapter/section over the course of a few months so there's time to digest it all.

Into the Still Blue (Under the Never Sky, #3)Into the Still Blue by Veronica Rossi

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars. This is a really nice series. Ultimately, as I read I felt I should be caring about these characters and this story more than I did. But it was nice. Nice nice nice.

The Forgotten GardenThe Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ahhhhh, just what I needed - to lose myself in a good book for an hour or two, or seven. This book reminded me quite a bit of The Thirteenth Tale, but less squicky. I liked The Forgotten Garden much better. It's a book for true book lovers. How do I know? Because the story - all five generations of it - could be summarized in about three paragraphs, and yet this book is some 600+ pages long.

600+ glorious pages. Like I said: ahhhhhhh.

Ruin and Rising (The Grisha, #3)Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have THE WORST case of TEABS (The End of an Awesome Book Syndrome) right now. I tried to stretch this book out as much as I could to stave off its onset, but it was no use - in the end I was hiding from my family, curled up in a corner of the majlis, reading frantically.

And now it's over. Sigh. This is one of my favorite trilogies, and unlike most trilogies these days, I was really happy with the final installment. If I had to have a complaint, it would be that this book is, at times, overly pert. But I enjoy a good helping of pert every now and again, especially when the Darkling is threatening to destroy life as Ravka knows it.

Speaking of Ravka, the world that Bardugo created is one of my favorite things about these books. Sometimes the world of a book is just an afterthought, and you find yourself skipping over the weirdly overwrought vocabulary and place names and mythology. NOT SO with this trilogy. My childhood fascination with all things Romanov plus my time living in Russia made this an extra rich read.

I'm happy to see that Bardugo is writing another book. Too bad I can't read it NOW NOW NOW.

In the land of Nadia Comaneci

The true story behind Calico Captive