Friday, April 1, 2016

Michalea's March Reads

And Then All Hell Broke Loose: Two Decades in the Middle East - Richard Engel

Synopsis:  Based on two decades of reporting, NBC’s chief foreign correspondent’s riveting story of the Middle East revolutions, the Arab Spring, war, and terrorism seen up-close—sometimes dangerously so.

My take: Early on, Richard Engel says the Middle East is the story of his generation and maybe the next generation, too. At the end, he says the Middle East sucks in great powers -- and journalists; he bought a ticket on this train of history and it's been a wild ride. As someone who continually strives to understand what's going on, I'm glad he did.

Engel is my favorite correspondent. When something happens in the Middle East, I wait for his reports before I form an opinion. I vividly remember feeling sick when terrorists kidnapped him and  utter relief at his released. (The book covers this event.) I like him so much because he reports more in sorrow than anger. He writes/reports about places he loves, and their current state saddens and angers him. That love, sadness, and anger shine in this book.

At the end of the book, there was a chilling passage should all contemplate.
In one notorious ISIS video, a Chechen militant hands his pistol to his son, and the boy shoots several prisoners kneeling in front of them. Can kids like these regain their appreciation of human life? They will be in their twenties and thirties when people my age are in their fifties and sixties. They will not be like convicted murderers in the United States, who are released from prison as old men, usually too broken and tired to commit another crime. These young Muslim men will be in the prime of their killing years.
As one reviewer said "Richard Engel does a yeoman's job of explaining the world history that led to the conditions, conflicts, and jealousies characterizing the contemporary Middle East." Read this book, and you may come to a basic understanding of what's happening over there.

Underwater - Anthony Buoni (Editor), Alisha Costanzo  (Editor)

Synopsis:  When was the last time you came face-to-face with a mermaid? Ever explore a hidden underwater cave or been haunted by an unearthly creature? Did that passionate childhood fantasy turn into a real, sexy encounter? When was the last time you discovered a bell concealing the entrance to a faerie mound? Have you wondered what would happen if New Orleans was entombed in radioactive water?

My take: Confession: I bought this book because a friend.has one of the 16 stories in the anthology.

Many of the stories were predictable and tedious lust-fests covered in mermaid scales. Some of them were huge info dumps rather than stories, and writing felt pedantic. The following stand-out stories, however, more than made up for the clunkers.

"Fossegrimmen" by Megan McFerran -a  charming tale based on a mythical Norwegian water-creature. It was a great choice as the first story since it made me want to read the rest of the anthology.

"Baiting the Hook" by R. Judas Brown,- an exploration of the terror of the ordinary that possibly played around with the myth of sirens as opposed to the tired old mermaid trope.

"The Water-Harp"  by Jean Roberta - a well-written Cinderella tale with religion, gothicism, and incest, but hardly any supernatural elements. It reads like a well-steeped mystery.

"Heart of Gold" by Rebecca Lynch - Neil Gaiman's American Gods meets the daughter of King Midas  Kalypso, and selkies. Politics take a strange twist. House of Cards watch out.

"Crushed" by Case C. Capehart - a displaced Lamia teaches a lecherous Merman a lesson. This one turned  mermaid lust on its ear.

Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women - Geraldine Brooks

Synopsis:  Prizewinning foreign correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Geraldine Brooks spent six years in the Middle East. In this book, headline events become the backdrop to the daily life of Muslim women. Nine Parts of Desire is the story of  an understanding of the women behind the veils, and of the often contradictory political, religious, and cultural forces that shape their lives.

My take: I found a copy of this book at a garage sale years ago, and I think about it frequently. When it showed up in my recommended list, I decided to read it again. So, there's a recommendation in and of itself: worth rereading. I am also a fan of Geraldine Brooks; Year of Wonders was one of my favorite reads, and The Secret Chord is next on my reading list.

We rarely hear about Muslim women, except as victims, or a monolithic hijab, niqab and burka-wearing group. This book presents a more balanced picture without sugarcoating the real issues facing contemporary Muslim women. It explores the origins of current "rules" for women, which originated with issues the Prophet had with his wives. If for no other reason, you should read this book for the interview with Mrs. Ayatollah Khomeini and the female students involved in the American Embassy hostage situation. You might not like them any better, but you won't think of them in the same way.

The Siren - Kiera Cass

Synopsis:  Kahlen is a Siren, bound to serve the Ocean by luring humans to watery graves with her voice, which is deadly to any human who hears it. Akinli is human—a kind, handsome boy who's everything Kahlen ever dreamed of. Falling in love puts them both in danger . . . but Kahlen can't bear to stay away. Will she risk everything to follow her heart?

My take:  The Siren was previously self-published; this brand-new edition has been completely rewritten and redesigned. Kiera Cass became a best-selling author based on The Selection series, which was excellent and the reason I picked up The Siren, which was equally excellent. Sometimes,it seems success in getting your book published is purely accidental. A mixture of talent and a big dollop of luck.

The Siren is a tender, unconventional love story with a character who fights against her nature and risks her life to find two kinds of love. Akinli is only one of the great love stories in the novel, the other being with Ocean. The unconventional take on the siren mythology works well, and Ocean is every Mother-we-didn't-understand-but-loved.

Witch Hunt - Syd Moore

Synopsis: A chilling, haunting ghost story that delves into the dark past of the 16th century Essex witch trials. Sadie Asquith has been fascinated by the dark past of Essex’s witch hunts for as long as she can remember. And for good reason: between 1560 and 1680, over 500 women were tried for witchcraft in the county of Essex. But as she researches a book on the subject, Sadie experiences strange, ghostly visions. She hears noises at night, a sobbing sound that follows her, and black moths appear from nowhere. It’s as if, by digging up the truth about the witch hunts, she has opened an unearthly connection to the women treated so cruelly and killed centuries before.

My take:  Seeing Witch earlier this year revived my interest in witch stories. Then, a recommendation came across for this one. The English do witch novels much better than we do, such as Daughters of the Witching Hill, which I loved, and this one They do have more source material. Americans are pretty much limited to Salem; the entire saga lasted less than a  year (February to May 1692) with a 200 accused and 20 executed. Clearly we're amateurs when it comes to witch hunts. English witch trials began in 1441 and went well into the early 19th century.

This book was creepily modern and blended in the history without huge info dumps. Moore did a great job in making Sadie a convincing character who just happens to be writer, which gives the story a more believable plot. A more clever reader might have foreseen the end, but I didn't. Highly enjoyable.

Girls of Riyadh - Rajaa Alsanea (Author, Translator), Marilyn Booth

Synopsis:  When Rajaa Alsanea boldly chose to open up the hidden world of Saudi women—their private lives and their conflicts with the traditions of their culture—she caused a sensation across the Arab world. Now in English, Alsanea’s tale of the personal struggles of four young upper-class women offers Westerners an unprecedented glimpse into a society often veiled from view. Living in restrictive Riyadh but traveling all over the globe, these modern Saudi women literally and figuratively shed traditional garb as they search for love, fulfillment, and their place somewhere in between Western society and their Islamic home.
My take:  This book comes up frequently on my Amazon recommendation list, and I've seen it a lot in used bookstores and garage sales. I finally took the plunge this month, and I'm sorry I did. It was just plain boring. Maybe if I'd read it ten years ago when it came out, it might have been more fascinating and the revelations more revelatory , but I think not. The girls are pretty one-dimensional, as are their lovers. Truthfully, it was hard to keep them and the stories straight, because they were so similar. The book was banned in Saudi Arabia for its scandalous treatment of secular life. Or maybe the censors were just bored. Read Nine Parts of Desire instead.