Showing posts with label africa. Show all posts
Showing posts with label africa. Show all posts

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Book Review: Larger Than Life by Jodi Picoult


Title: Larger Than Life
Author: Jodi Picoult
Publisher: Ballantine
Publication Date: August 4, 2014
Source: personal purchase

Summary from Goodreads

From Jodi Picoult, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Storyteller and My Sister’s Keeper, comes a gripping and beautifully written novella, now available exclusively as an eBook. Set in the wilds of Africa, Larger Than Life introduces Alice, the unforgettable character at the center of Picoult’s anticipated new novel, Leaving Time
 
A researcher studying memory in elephants, Alice is fascinated by the bonds between mother and calf—the mother’s powerful protective instincts and her newborn’s unwavering loyalty. Living on a game reserve in Botswana, Alice is able to view the animals in their natural habitat—while following an important rule: She must only observe and never interfere. Then she finds an orphaned young elephant in the bush and cannot bear to leave the helpless baby behind. Thinking back on her own childhood, and on her shifting relationship with her mother, Alice risks her career to care for the calf. Yet what she comes to understand is the depth of a parent’s love.


My Review:

This will be short and sweet, partly because I already said quite a bit about this selection earlier in the week, and partly because the novella is pretty short and sweet on its own.  This is a great precursor to Jodi Picoult's new book, Leaving Time, which is being released in about 2 weeks.  Despite the small size of Larger Than Life, by the time I hit the last page, I felt invested in the characters and was dying to know what would come next for them in Leaving Time.  This gives you an interesting POV too, because Alice (the protagonist in Larger Than Life) has disappeared after an accident when you encounter her in Leaving Time.  This will definitely leave you curious about where Alice's story will fit in to the longer novel.

This novella does not match exactly what you've come to expect from Jodi Picoult's novels.  No multiple-POV format, no legal case, no crazy-twist ending.  It does, however, include all of the emotional upheaval and deep character development that she is known for.  By the end, I was impressed by how many heart-wrenching scenes she was able to place into one small package.  No loss of passion here, that's for sure.

If the purpose of this novella is to get you ravenously interested in Leaving Time, then as you may have guessed: mission accomplished.

Have you ever read a "companion" book to a larger novel or series?  What did you think?  Was it helpful, or did it feel unnecessary?

Monday, February 25, 2013

Book Review: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad



Title: Heart of Darkness
Author: Joseph Conrad
Publisher: Blackwoods Magazine (originally published there in three parts)
Publication Date: 1899
Source: personal purchase

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

One of Conrad's finest stories, loosely based on the author's experience of rescuing a company agent from a remote station in the heart of the Congo, Heart of Darkness is set in an atmosphere of mystery and lurking danger, and tells of Marlow's perilous journey up the Congo River to relieve his employer's agent, the fabled and terrifying Mr. Kurtz. What Marlow sees on his journey horrifies and perplexes him, and what his encounter with Kurtz reveals calls into question all of his assumptions about civilization and human nature. 

My Review:

Last week, when I reviewed Just One Day, I was complaining to myself that there is nothing harder than reviewing a book that is a wildly-popular current fave.  But I was wrong--it's harder to review a classic!  What can you say about a book that's been around for 100+ years that hasn't already been said?

And what if you thought it was...just okay?  How do you approach a review of a classic with, "Eh, you know, it was so-so"?  English professors the world over would promptly drop dead.

Well, English profs, get your heart meds handy, because Heart of Darkness is going solidly in my "meh" category.  (The horror!)

...yes, that was a bit of a meta-joke, for those who got it.

Anyway, I think part of the issue for me was that my expectations were high.  I had no idea that the movie Apocalypse Now was based on this novella, and I think we can all agree that Apocalypse Now is a fan-friggin-tastic movie.  So when I found that out, I was pretty stoked.  However, I quickly realized that the movie is based more on the themes and tone of this book, rather than the actual details.

Heart of Darkness is the tale of Marlow, currently on a ship in England, who is telling his shipmates about a previous journey he took as a steamboat captain in the Belgian Congo.  The purpose of this journey was to recover Mr. Kurtz, an ivory trader gone rogue in the wilderness.  Which, if you've seen the movie, will get you amped up for some really weird stuff, because the movie-version Kurtz (Marlon Brando) is CRAY-CRAY.  However, the book-version Kurtz actually has very little physical presence in the story--he is only around for a small portion of it.  Instead, the "idea" of him and what he represents plays a much bigger role in the plot than what he actually says and does.

Don't get me wrong, the book is not a total disappointment.  I understand why it's used so much in literature classes, because Conrad touches on a lot of important themes (good vs evil, roles of women, colonialism, etc).  And the narrative style is interesting: Marlow is telling the story to his shipmates, so you get steeped in the plot for a while, and then randomly get pulled out of it as Marlow jumps back to present day at times. If I felt like doing a lot of analysis and interpretations, there's plenty here to keep me busy.  However, as far as just straight entertainment value, the book moved a lot slower than I expected, and ended on a rather anticlimactic note.

Overall, it's a classic, so I won't deter anyone from reading it.  It's one of those books you just have to say you've read at some point (at 105 pages, you have no excuse!).  But it's certainly a book to save for when you have the time for thoughtful reflection.

What are some of the best classics you've read lately?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Book Review: White Dog Fell From The Sky by Eleanor Morse

Title: White Dog Fell From The Sky
Author: Eleanor Morse
Publisher: Viking Adult
Publication Date: January 3, 2013
Source: ARC received from publisher for an honest review

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

In apartheid South Africa in 1976, medical student Isaac Muthethe is forced to flee his country after witnessing a friend murdered by white members of the South African Defense Force. He is smuggled into Botswana, where he is hired as a gardener by a young American woman, Alice Mendelssohn, who has abandoned her Ph.D. studies to follow her husband to Africa. When Isaac goes missing and Alice goes searching for him, what she finds will change her life and inextricably bind her to this sunburned, beautiful land.

My Review:

Let's cut to the chase here: I loved this book.  I had no idea what to expect going in (as we know from previous posts, I do not often read the full description), but what unfolded in these pages was equal parts tragic, poetic, and disarming.

This is the first book I've read by Morse, and it certainly won't be the last.  Her writing stopped me in my tracks.  Having never traveled to Africa myself, Morse made Botswana come alive for me: its stark beauty, its harsh ecosystems, and its political turbulence.  However, she takes you on a journey through more than just the setting.  I felt like I was constantly on a mental trek with each character, as they worked through their own versions of love, loss, and rebirth.

The real kicker for me was the dichotomy between Alice and Isaac throughout the novel.  Their situations are so very different: Alice, a 32-year-old American expat dealing with divorce and the previously-unexplored possibility of being childless.  And Isaac, a 27-year-old South African medical student who is forced to leave his country and find a way to still support the mother and siblings he left behind.  At first, I was honestly unsure of how parallels would be drawn between these two.  Given the political and economic realities of Isaac's situation, I was afraid that Alice's problems would become petty in comparison.  However, I soon realized that Morse wasn't trying to make me compare the two.  Instead, Alice and Isaac, though both dealing with issues of loss and healing, make much of their progress throughout the novel separately, and only later do they come together and use these experiences to help each other grow.  I was so impressed with how the author managed to weave these two very different journeys together into one cohesive tale.

Beyond that, this is one of those novels that constantly makes you feel like there is some deeper meaning happening behind the scenes.  For example, White Dog (a small mutt that Isaac unintentionally adopts upon coming to Botswana): what is her purpose?  Obviously, she's a title character, so I spent a lot of time considering her place in the novel.  Is she meant to represent a higher power of some kind?  A sense of comfort even in the worst of times?  My best guess is a combination of these.  But either way, I found her presence to be an interesting stabilizer around which the rest of the novel could orbit.

Bottom line: the positively gorgeous prose is reason enough to read this novel, but Morse gives you fascinating characters and settings to boot.  A great choice for fans of The Poisonwood Bible or A Thousand Splendid Suns.

Check out some other reviews of White Dog Fell From The Sky:
Caribou's Mom
Book Belle

What are some of your favorite historical fiction novels?  Any set in Africa?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Where do your books take you?

Any parent will tell you that life pre-kids is very different than life post-kids.  "Different" doesn't mean better or worse--just different!  You have to give some parts of your carefree lifestyle up, but you get an awesome bundle of awesome in their place.  WIN.

One of the things that the husband and I gave up after Small Fry's arrival was our frequent travel.  We traveled a LOT in the 6 years of our relationship before the little dude was born.  We still travel now, but child-related travel (wholesome family fun in the Outer Banks) is way different than pre-child travel (let's go to Vegas and see how quickly I can double-fist margaritas).
Not really kidding about those margaritas.
Anyway, now that we travel less in person, I find myself wanting to travel more in the literary sense.  I love reading books that either take me back to the beautiful places we've been, or transport me to new destinations that I haven't yet had the chance to explore.  I guess that's part of why I'm so into Giraffe Day's Around The World in 12 Books challenge this year.

With that in mind, here are a few books that have helped me travel to both once-visited and new-to-me destinations:

Italy

The Borgia Bride and I, Mona Lisa by Jeanne Kalogridis
The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons by Dan Brown
Juliet by Anne Fortier

Italian cities are some of my favorites to visit in novels.  I've been to Florence, Rome, and Naples, and these particular books cover those cities very well.  The authors get VERY detailed about places, people, and atmosphere, and it really transports you right along with the characters.  Plus, how fun to go to Italy and try to retrace Langdon's steps?

The Netherlands

A Heart of Stone by Renate Dorrestein

I already talked your ear off about Park's novel and how beautifully he portrays Amsterdam, but Dorrestein is a Dutch author who sets most of her books in that country as well.  A Heart of Stone is not a lighthearted read by any measure, but I enjoyed that it was set in the Netherlands and told from a native's perspective.

Coastal North Carolina

Basically all Nicholas Sparks books ever

I read a lot of Sparks novels before we visited the OBX last summer, and once we got there, I realized why he likes to use the beaches of North Carolina in his books.  They're beautiful, peaceful, and relaxed...very conducive to romance.  I am not the biggest Sparks fan in general, but I do love his settings.

Nantucket, Massachusetts

Basically all Elin Hilderbrand books ever

I've never been to Nantucket, but Hilderbrand's romances are usually set there, and they make me desperate for a beach vacation.

The UK/Ireland

Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson
Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
The Lace Makers of Glenmara by Heather Barbieri
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

I have never been to the UK or Ireland, but I am DYING TO GO.  (I know I have some UK readers, who wants to put up this ginger for a week or two?)  There are so many good books that highlight the flavor of these countries--this list is but a few.  You can also read pretty much any Sophie Kinsella or Jane Green novel to get a London fix.

Hawaii

Moloka'i by Alan Brennert

This book highlights some of the more devastating parts of Hawaii's past, but the islands themselves are painted so gorgeously by Brennert.  I want to go to there.

Sweden

The Millennium trilogy by Stieg Larsson

Nothing could ever make me more interested in Stockholm as a vacation destination than The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo series.  I was researching flights by the end of the trilogy.  Larsson wins for making it sound awesome to eat open-faced sandwiches in the cold.

Africa

A Change in Altitude by Anita Shreve
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

None of these books illustrate Africa in the most positive of lights, but as a lover of travel, they leave me feeling intrigued about what a trip to the continent might be like.

Mount Everest

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

Krakauer does not make climbing Everest sound fun.  At all.  (See: parts of book where 8 people die trying to climb it.)  But I'd be lying if I said it didn't make me wonder what it would be like to scale the darn thing.  Maybe just to base camp?

Russia

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (or any classic Russian lit, really)
Stalin's Children by Owen Matthews

I know this is a tad crazy, because neither of these books make Russia seem like the most inviting place in the world.  Plus, Russia is actually not a very safe place for American travel these days, but books set in that country make me insanely interested in checking it out.  Maybe one day.

Around the Globe!

13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson
A Cook's Tour by Anthony Bourdain
Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Can't argue with a novel that basically takes you around the globe!  And two of these are nonfiction books, making the travel experiences even more vivid for the reader.  (Bonus: Bourdain's book will make you want to Eat All The Things.)

There are also a few favorite destinations that I haven't read books for yet.  Have you read any books set in these locations?  I'm dying to find some!:

Bermuda
Spain (specifically Barcelona)
Montreal
Turkey
Greece (either Athens or the islands, Mykonos and such)

Do you like to "travel" when you read?  What are some of your favorite literary settings?

 
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