Friday, April 29, 2016

The Tigress and the Yogi: A review

A talking tigress.
A wandering yogi.
A young Untouchable's harrowing journey through an ancient land where chaos threatens gods and mortals alike.

Shelley Schanfield's novel, The Tigress and the Yogi, is the first book in her Sadhana Trilogy. The novels tell the personal and spiritual struggles of women who knew Siddhartha, better known as the Bhudda.

Writing about mythic-historical, larger-than-life people who change the course of the world is hard. Everyone has an opinion, whether or not those opinions are supported by fact, and will judge your book based on those opinions. My knowledge of the Buddha is a hazy, college memory of a World Religions course and reading Hesse's Siddhartha. In other words, I was pretty much a blank slate.
Moreover, writing such a novel requires courage, a leap of faith, and kick-ass writing skills. Schandfield performs  like a virtuoso.

Although a long book (382 pages) by today's standards, it was clear from the first page I was going to finish this book. It tempted me to learn more about the Buddha. Temptation to learn is always a good sign in a book.

This first book focuses on Mala, whom Schanfield later reveals is a totally fictional character. I think this was a smart choice, because it totally cuts off those readers who might be tempted to stray into "I-know-more-about-the-Bhudda-than-you" harangues.

Mala's story  is poignant, adventurous, and seething with sensuality and violence. She is in many ways a proverbial Everywoman, seeking a purpose in life and wondering "Is this all there is." If you think life as Everywoman is hard in the 21st century, life hits Mala with a double whammy. She is a woman at a time when the status of women couldn't have been much worse. She is also an Untouchable, the lowest-caste among Hindu with whom contact is traditionally held to defile members of higher castes. Instant conflict and tension. Then, Schanfield ups the ante, because Mala is also intelligent enough to realize what she's facing.

Along her journey, Mala meets kings, thieves, corrupt nobles, yogis, and a white tigress who might be Mala's true spirit guide. Her adventures are the stuff of true historical fantasy. She suffers great losses, the kind that would break most people; yet in spite, or perhaps because, of them, she becomes a warrior, both literally and figurative. You root for her like you do for so many of fiction's bold young heroines, such as Katniss Everdeen. In crafting Mala's story and world, Schanfield's has clearly done her research and provides a wealth of about Hinduism, Buddhism and the mythic history of India.

While I wholeheartedly encourage you to read this book, I do have a caveat.

Describing a religion and politics unfamiliar to most  Westerners is a tricky bit. I'm not sure I ever understood the political structure. There were times when so many Indian terms were  introduced I found myself floundering. (Yes, there is a glossary, but looking up five or six words on a page does take you out of the story.) At other times, the book veered into parables. As one review said, "the length and density of the spiritual message may put off casual readers. This impressive debut is more appropriate for those with an interest in Eastern philosophies."

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Going to Iceland Part 1 -- Glaciers, Vikings, Food, Þingvellir, Hot spots, & Ponies

“Neither mine nor other people's prospects seem particularly pleasing just at the moment, and I have fantasies of going to Iceland, never to return. . . .”
― Edward Gorey, Floating Worlds: The Letters of Edward Gorey and Peter F. Neumeyer

I went to Iceland for the Iceland Writers' Retreat; but let's be honest, I wanted to see Iceland as much as I wanted to retreat with my writing. Getting from Quincy, IL to Rekjavik takes some serious planning. I had to take a train to Chicago, fly from Chicago to New York City, and from New York City to Rekjavik. As always, the birds of New York City act as greeters, particularly in the airport. We arrived in Iceland, just as the sun was rising. When you finally reach, Rekjavik, you realize that yes you are in a foreign country.

My traveling companions were Ellan, my stalwart companion at writing conferences, and Tom, my former English lit professor.

Our hotel was very concerned that we understand Icelandic culture, so they posted this list of common phrases in the elevator for our edification.

My favorite, which is not on this list was

þá er það Rúsínan i pylsuendanum
Then it is the raisin at the end of the hot-dog 
(something that makes a good situtation even better)

Try as I might, I found no raisin at the end of any hotdog in all of Iceland.

However, I was also rather inspired by the "You are such a Latte-drinking wool scarf." I was thinking that if Reykjavik was Austin, it could be modified to "You are such a micro-brewery drinking Birkenstock with socks."

A word about the food. I ate both Mink whale and horse. Both of them looked and tasted like steak, so no photo ops there. Iceland imports most of its food, so it tended to be rather expensive. We saw some greenhouses that were powered by thermal energy. Our guide informed us that they mostly grew tomatoes, cucumbers, and carrots.

I was pleased to discover that one of the local beers was named after Snorri Sturluson, (born 1179, Hvammur, Iceland—died Sept. 22, 1241, Reykjaholt) Icelandic poet, historian, and chieftain, author of the Prose Edda and the Heimskringla.

Our first tour featured off-road glacier-walking.On our first day in Iceland while we were still un-jetlagging, I read an article called "Ten rules so Iceland  won't kill you." The first rule was "Read the fucking signs." On this tour, our guide roared passed signs that said IMPASSABLESTOP, and (I'm less sure about this one as it was in Islandic) Abandon All Hope Ye Who Go Pass this Sign. We went to far off-road that the driver of that big jeep Ellan is standing by had to periodically deflate his studded tires so we stopped sliding around. He also clenched his fist and leaned aggressively over the steering wheel. At one point, I remember thinking if this guy strokes out or the jeep rolls over him while he's deflating tires, we are SO dead. But it was exciting and beautiful.

We also saw some less heart-stopping sights. We visted  Þingvellir National Park (or Thingvellir National Park). It is where the Alþingi ("Althing" in English), the Icelandic Parliament, was established at Þingvellir in 930 and remained there until 1798. It is worth noting that they camped out on that flat plain, so there is no actual building. Þingvellir National Parkis also the location where north American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet and has some stunning lava flows.

We also visited a stunning waterfall that was glacier melt that came out from under the lava flow.

We rounded out this tour with some thermal hot springs, cute Icelandic horses, and a drive along the fjords.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Ancient Egypt this week: Breakfast with Cleopatra

This week's post is rather long to make up for my two-week absence. I was in Iceland, and the internet connection was rather spotty. If you're interested, I'll be posting Iceland pictures later this week. Now, back to our regularly scheduled new from Ancient Egypt.

Ancient Egyptian statue sold by Northampton museum to leave the country

The ancient Egyptian statue that was the jewel in the crown of Northampton Museum’s collection, before being sold off by the council, is to leave the UK after campaigners failed to raise the funds to prevent its departure.

Say goodbye to the Ancient Egyptian statue of Sekhemka

After a year of controversy, April 2016 saw the temporary export ban lifted on the 4500-year-old ancient Egyptian statue, "Sekhemka", sold in 2014 for £15.76m sterling to an anonymous Qatari Millionaire in an auction at the Britain’s Museum of Northampton.

The Alternative Lifestyle and Loves of Pinudjem II

Pinudjem II was one of the most famous rulers of southern Egypt during the Third Intermediate Period. He gave the world an important pharaoh and also a scandalous love story.

He was a High Priest of Amun from 990 BC – 969 BC and married to two women – Isetemkheb D and Neskhons. The first one was his sister, the second his niece and the daughter of his brother Smendes II, who didn’t rule for very long and was succeeded by Pinudjem.

Want To Eat Breakfast With Cleopatra?

Kellogg's wants to take its customers to ancient Egypt to eat breakfast beside Cleopatra, thanks to its developed virtual reality experience.

Tombs of ancient gods discovered in Egypt

Archaeologists discover shrine to ‘afterlife’ at Gebel el Silsila.

AIRO – A large necropolis – some 3,500 years old – has been discovered at Gebel el Silsila, a site known since antiquity for its sandstone quarries, in Egypt by a team of Swedish and British archaeologists.

The burial ground dates back to the 18th Dynasty (1500 BCE – 1292 BCE). Its sheer dimensions demonstrate the importance of the quarrying site, from which rock used in building the ancient Egyptian monuments had been extracted for thousands of years.

Something new to Tut about?

VALLEY OF THE KINGS, Egypt – Egypt on Friday invited archaeologists from all over the world to examine new, more extensive scanning conducted on King Tutankhamun’s tomb to discover whether chambers have been hidden for millennia behind two walls in the boy king’s burial place and determine what could be inside.

The open invitation, issued by Egyptian Antiquities Minister Khaled el-Anani at a news conference just outside the tomb in the Valley of the Kings, holds a double purpose. First, it would bring broader scientific review to the new exploration of the tomb, which was prompted by a theory advanced by British Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves.

New project to showcase Egypt's ancient military history

Egypt's Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany gave the go-ahead for a major project to retell the country's military history from the ancient Egyptian era to the present day through the opening of several historical sites to tourists as well as the setting up of new museum displays.

A new discovery sheds light on ancient Egypt’s most successful female pharaoh

Hatshepsut was no ordinary Egyptian ruler.

After her husband died, Hatshepsut didn't just keep the "throne" warm for her stepson to come of age. She became a pharaoh in her own right, and in doing so, became one of ancient Egypt's first female rulers. While there were likely two or three female pharaohs during the "dynastic" period, Hatshepsut is considered to be the most successful; she ruled for at least 15 years and was a prolific builder.

 Erased name of queen Hatshepsut (Photo German Archaeological Institute) Erased name of Hatshepsut (German Archaeological Institute)
After her death, her stepson assumed full kingship and most mentions of Hatshepsut's name and likeness were destroyed, erased and replaced. Over the past several decades, researchers have uncovered and described more and more evidence of her reign as a female ruler during the 1400s


Nocturnal, solitary and fiercely territorial the adult Egyptian pigmy shrew—one of the smallest mammals on earth—weighs just 7 grams. French zoologist Isidore Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire first described this tiny-eyed, pointy snouted insect eater in 1826 from 2,000-year-old mummified specimens excavated inside an ancient temple in Thebes, Egypt. He named it Crocidura religiosa, or the sacred shrew.


Understanding Hathor, the ancient Egyptian goddess of music, is understanding how one of human kinds most fascinating civilization’s thought of music’s relationship to life. Understanding Hathor can help us judge what aspects of life we associate music with.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Isis and Osiris: The Opera reviews

I have been interested in this opera since first hearing about it last year since it covers the same subject matter as my novel Queen of Heka. I even considered going to Toronto to see it. A trip to Iceland scheduled for the same time as the performance put an end to that little fantasy.

The ancient Egyptian goddess Isis is a juicy topic. The most enduring of the Egyptian gods, her worship endured for a mind-staggering 6000 years and her last temple officially closed in the 6th Century AD. Her story is one of love and tragedy. She married her brother Osiris after falling in love with him in their mother's womb. They are credited for civilizing a savage civilization and transforming it into the grandeur of ancient Egypt that we all know and love. The story might have come to a tragic end when their brother Set murdered Osiris, but Isis persevered and resurrected him twice before conceiving their son Horus and making him Lord of the Underworld. The story of Isis and Osiris offered ancient Egyptians the promise of immortality. Every Pharaoh claimed Isis as his mother and was known as the living Horus during his life and became Osiris upon his death. There is some evidence that Christianity borrowed much from this story, and its iconography of Virgin and Child is strikingly similar to representations of Isis and Horus. So love, treachery, murder, resurrection, and the promise of eternal life. Perfect material for an opera.

The opera opened on April 1 to mostly good reviews, which you can read here. Well done, you! Congratulations to Sharon Singer for making her dream come true. I hope to see more about Isis and Osiris in the future.

So, now for the reviews.

Isis and Osiris Opera review

A marvelous success!

Few endeavours are riskier than creating a new opera. So many things can go wrong. We can only be grateful that librettist Sharon Singer persevered with her idea (actually more of an idée-fixe) of dramatizing ancient Egyptian mythology and that she eventually linked up with a composer, Peter-Anthony Togni, whose music is more than just apt or sympathetic but seems equally inspired

World premiere of Canadian opera a testament to expertise

Mounting a brand-new opera production may be the most daunting and difficult task in the entire world of contemporary performing arts. The vast floods of money, time, dedication, sweat, and toil it takes to make this fusion of the arts come together on a stage in front of an audience is astonishing. When it’s a new Canadian opera, double that.

Isis and Osiris – Gods of Egypt

I caught the second and final performance of Isis and Osiris – Gods of Egypt presented by Voicebox:Opera in Concert yesterday.  It’s a new piece with a libretto by Sharon Singer and music by Peter-Anthony Togni.  It tells the story of mythical ancient Egypt under the rule of sibling consorts Isis and Osiris and there struggle with their brother Seth who embodies violence and chaos.  In the process Seth disposes of Osiris in fourteen pieces but Isis manages to gather up all save the phallus.  A golden replacement is made, Osiris is revived and the cosmic order restored.  It’s quite a promising premise but it never really comes off.

Isis and Osiris, Gods of Egypt

I saw the second of two performances in the world premiere run of Isis and Osiris, Gods of Egypt, a new opera composed by Peter Togni from a libretto by Sharon Singer, presented by Opera in Concert – Voicebox. There are so many possible ways of approaching a write-up in response to a new work, I hope you’ll forgive me if I insult your intelligence for a moment in summarizing some of the possibilities.

Opera going Toronto Isis and Osiris Review

Concluding its 2015/16 season, Voicebox: Opera in Concert ventures deep into the depths of faith and politics, a dangerous world on edge where gods are born mortal and love is spiritual. Debuted to an eager crowd at the St. Lawrence Centre’s Jane Mallett Theatre, Isis and Osiris: Gods of Egypt, music by Halifax-based composer Peter-Anthony Togni, libretto by poet and spoken word performer Sharon Singer, boldly announced its arrival on the Canadian arts scene, a mature, intelligent opera rich in story-telling. Still a touch rough around the edges, much in need of editing, the work, over three years in development, yields a goodly share of theatrical rewards.

In Review: Isis and Osiris

I spent a snowy, blustery, Sunday afternoon in the comfort of the St. Lawrence Centre's Jane Mallett Theatre to witness the culmination of over four years of preparation for the world premiere of Peter-Anthony Togni and Sharon Singer's Isis and Osiris: Gods of Egypt. Presented by the new incarnation of one of Toronto's oldest opera companies, VOICEBOX: Opera In Concert, Isis and Osiris was from start to finish a delicious, musical feast.

‘Isis and Osiris’ Opera World Premiere

We think of ancient Egypt and images of the pyramids, the sphinx, and giant temples rush to mind. Columns still resting as if only having been put up yesteryear tell us of the grandeur of a past civilization. Opera, in this context, is perhaps a musical art form that best is suited to bring ancient Egypt alive. We are all familiar with Radames and the larger-than-life march in Verdi’s Aïda and can also recall the trials Tamino had to endure in Mozart’s Zauberflöte. This is why it’s a special occasion to be able to witness the world premiere of a new Canadian opera set in ancient Egypt: Isis and Osiris: Gods of Egypt.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Ancient Egypt this week: Party like Pharoah; play like an Egyptian; talk about Tut tomb

Party like Pharaoh

Cleveland Museum of Art celebrated their newest attraction "Pharaoh: King of Ancient Egypt,"  'MIX: Pharaoh' that includes Egyptian themed cuisine, music, dancing and tours of the exhibit.

Play like an Egyptian

Releasing a new video, Clarus Victoria today unveiled that Egypt Civilization is currently collecting votes via Steam Greenlight here. In this turn-based strategy based on the history of Ancient Egypt, players will act as the Grand Vizier, right-hand man of the almighty Pharaoh, ruler of Egypt to guide the Egyptians through all the hardships to prosperity and power. The game covers almost 4000 years of Egyptian history, starting from the dawn in 5000 BC till the decay in 1070 BC.
During the game players will control all three capitals of Ancient Egypt. Hierakonpolis - predynastic period. Memphis - Old Kingdom. Thebes - Middle and New Kingdom. All cities are accurately rebuilt according to historical and archeological documents.
Egypt Civilization is scheduled to be released in Q3 2016 for Windows and Mac OS X.


3,400-Year-Old Necropolis Hints at Ancient Egyptian Life

The ruins of a long-lost necropolis have been uncovered at a quarry that supplied the building blocks for many of ancient Egypt’s grandest buildings. The remains date back about 3,400 years and include hundreds of artifacts and dozens of tombs that may be the resting places of many ancient Egyptian nobles.

W.Va. Supreme Court of Appeals Justice Aids Archaeologists in Egypt

When he's not digging into court records while weighing how he'll ruling on a landmark case, West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Justice Brent Benjamin likes to spend time unearthing millenia-old treasures in Egypt's Valley of the Kings.

Brouhaha over block engraving on Egypt's Elephantine Island

A block engraved with the Star of David has been removed from the Osiris Nesmeti Temple on Elephantine Island in Aswan/

The Times of Israel, in reporting on this, said "The island of Elephantine was also once home to a Jewish community in antiquity, complete with a Jewish temple where sacrifices were offered, approximately 2,600 years ago."

Stolen ancient Egyptian statue on its way back from Belgium

The Egyptian embassy in Brussels, Belgium received an Egyptian Middle Kingdom statue as a preliminary step in bringing back to Egypt, said Egyptian Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Eldamaty.

Isis and Osiris opera tells a story of incest, lust, murder and intrigue 

Four years or so after that chance meeting, Togni and Singer’s Isis and Osiris will be making its world premiere Friday in a semi-staged production, directed by Guillermo Silva-Marin, as part of his Voicebox: Opera in Concert series, with a cast featuring Lucia Cesaroni, Michael Barrett, Julie Nesrallah and Michael Nyby in the four lead roles, all conducted by Robert Cooper.


Sharon Singer has always been fascinated by ancient Egypt. That’s part of the reason she wrote Isis and Osiris, God of Egypt, an opera about the timeless Egyptian myth and love story.

Singer, who’s a Toronto-based writer, poet, spoken word artist and now librettist, has worked for a number of years to put Isis and Osiris on stage and in the hands of a talented group of singers. Now, her two-hour-long opera will finally have its world premiere on April 1 at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Performing Arts.

Doubts, more study, what's going on in Tut's Tomb?

Exclusive Pictures From Inside the Scan of King Tut's Tomb

A team of specialists performed a second round of radar scans inside the tomb of King Tutankhamun, as archaeologists continued investigating the theory that hidden chambers may lie behind the limestone walls.

Speaking at a press conference outside the tomb Friday morning, Khaled El-Enany, Egypt's newly-appointed Minister of Antiquities, said bluntly, "We cannot talk about results now." He expects that at least a week will be needed to analyze the data, which has been sent to experts in both Egypt and the United States.

More radar scanning done for hidden chambers at Egypt's King Tut tomb

LUXOR, Egypt, March 31 (Xinhua) -- A radar scanning of the tomb of Egypt's ancient King Tutankhamun in Luxor was conducted Thursday, with another vertical scanning to be carried out by the end of April to determine if the tomb has more hidden chambers, according to Egyptian antiquities authority.

"We take scientific steps to get more facts ... this is the third scanning operation already," Egyptian Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany said during the scanning process in Luxor city's Valley of the Kings tourist district.
Tutankhamun re-exploration project needs further study

During an inspection tour of Karnak Temple, Minister of Antiquities Khaled El-Enany told Ahram Online that he would attend the radar survey today evening on Tutankhamun’s burial chamber, because the Ministry of Antiquities has started a scientific investigation to test the theory launched last August by British Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves who claimed that the burial place of Queen Nefertiti is hidden inside the tomb of her son-in-law, the boy king Tutankhamun.

Experts Doubt Claims of 'Hidden Chambers' in King Tut's Tomb

Radar experts are casting doubt on claims that King Tutankhamun's tomb contains hidden, undiscovered chambers — and they're calling for more data to be released.

At a March 17 newsconference, officials at Egypt's antiquities ministry released radar data that they said showed the presence of hidden cavities inside the tomb of King Tut. The scans, carried out by Japanese radar technologist Hirokatsu Watanabe, "suggest the presence of two empty spaces or cavities beyond the decorated North and West walls of the burial chamber," they said in a statement. The scans also suggest the "presence of metallic and organic substances," and show what could be door lintels that indicate the presence of doorways, they said.
Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves, Director of the Amarna Royal Tombs Project, said the cavities may contain the burial of Tutankhamun's stepmom, Queen Nefertiti. [See Photos of King Tut's Burial and Radar Scans]

However, Live Science contacted radar experts not affiliated with the project, and they said they doubt the validity of these claims. Some of these experts noted that the geology of the Valley of the Kings, which contains many natural voids, makes it difficult for radar to distinguish arAchaeological features from natural ones.

Nefertiti or Nofertiti? So which is it? (More on Tut's tomb)

In this article I take a skeptical look at the media show that currently surrounds the tomb of Tutankhamen in Egypt. I was hesitant to don my skeptical hat. It’s not my preferred attire. It is very good at lending its wearer a voice of authority. As such it is a disguise often usurped by naysayers and reactionaries to stifle unwanted progress or change. But it is also a hat that can be worn when urging caution and for redirecting a discussion towards more appropriate paths. Appropriate paths in Egyptology and archaeology always follow the scientific method; Hypothesis, followed by testing for facts, followed by logical analysis.

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.