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Book 2 of the Aya series (thoughts on the first one here) about four families in Yopougon, a neighborhood of Abidjan, Ivory’s Coast’s capital. It’s set in the 70s, when the country’s was going through an economic boom and it continues to be refreshing to see a side of modern Africa that’s not filled with war and AIDS. If you know of any other comics like these let me know.

Like Book 1, it’s not an action-packed story. I’m actually approaching it as a really smart and funny twist on a soap-opera: Adjoua’s new life as a young single mother, Bintou’s fashionable new love-interest from Paris (or is he?), the mystery around the girl with the wig, dramatic cliffhanger ending. Book 3 is called “The Secrets Come Out” and like another episode of an addictive soap-opera I’m really really want to know them!

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If I had one less positive point to make is that, although Aya is the name on the cover, she was rather passive, basically just a shoulder for her friends to cry and lean on. She has the potential to be such an interesting character – a steady young women who wants to be a doctor – that I’d like to know her a bit more.

This book also included a “Ivorian Bonus”, including a recipe for Chicken Kedjenou, a guide on how to wrap a baby on your back and a great short “essay” on how a popular Ivorian proverb is put into practice everyday.

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Other thoughts: Page 247, largehearted boy, My Favourite Books (yours?)

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image (2)Read for the A More Diverse Universe Challenge
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October is Sherlockian Month at Book Bloggers International and to celebrate it I listened to Benedict Cumberbatch read Sherlock Holmes: the Rediscovered Railway Mysteries and Other Stories by John Taylor using Canon Doyle’s style.

Come over and join the fun!

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geek_cover_1Happy Ada Lovelace Day everyone! A time to celebrate women in science, technology, engineering and maths.

When editors Annalee Newitz and Charlie Jane Anders had the idea for this anthology of essays about women in science, technology and geekdom in general the response was beyond their expectations. They were contacted by women from different fields, social backgrounds, sexual orientation and ethnic background. The strength of “She’s Such a Geek!” lies in this variety and the fact that the challenges and barriers these women had to face were, in the end, very similar.

One common thread was the identity of a girl and woman geek in a male-dominated world. My passion is words and languages and I work in communications, so I can only imagine what it’d be like to love physics instead and at a crucial time in my upbringing have a physics professor openly tell a class that women can never be as good as men. This happened to one of the essayists and also to one of my best friends, who today is a successful marine biologist.

To overcome something like this requires a lot of resilience, self-confidence and supportive family and peers, so it’s no wonder that so many women give up along the way. I was surprised by how many women benefited from taking women studies classes in college, even when their majors were it astronomy or theoretical physics, and not so surprised how having female role-models help them overcome their self-doubt.block1Credits: Hark, a vagrant

Another common topic, also connected to identity, is sexuality. Many of the essays talk about maneuvering the fine line between being attractive and being take seriously, which apparently are inversely proportional:

During my first year of graduate school, three female classmates who frequented the clubs of Boston hit a serious snag in their search for boyfriends. Time after time, guys approached them – only to walk away the minute the women mentioned their occupation. So my friends started lying. They claimed to be flight attendants, yoga instructors, or kindergarten teachers. And the dating pool magically widened.

Some of the essays about mathematics and genetics were a bit over my head, but I still enjoyed them for the writers’ pure passion for their fields – it was fascinating to read about the joy of solving an equation or the eureka moment when maths just clicks. Still, my favorite essays were written by the gamers. They’re also incredibly varied, from the players to the programmers, from the hacker of adult sites to the leader of an all-female war game squad, from tips on how to conquer a virtual empire to the ethics of topless-girl-on-bikes games. So. Much. Fun.

The essays were written by women who mostly grew up in the 60s, 70s and 80s, so I’d be curious to read a similar book written by younger generations. Would the same barriers come up?

coroners-lunch1If you’re looking for your next mysteries series, you might want to give this one a trial. It’s more Alexander McCall Smith than Jo Nesbø, but I’m reluctant to call it cozy. Just as the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, it’s main attraction is the different setting, this time Laos at the beginning of the communist rule, in 1976. I knew very little about this time and place and the book got me to cruise Wikipedia, which is a good sign in itself.

The “detective” is a 72 year-old doctor who’s reluctantly nominated as the county’s only coroner. He’s a “communist for convenience” and old enough not to care much about using his biting humor to point out the often comic surrealism of the system. He’s awesome!

The other characters and the plot are also interesting, but it’s definitely the setting that steals the show. Imagine the challenge of crime-solving in a bureaucratic dictatorship with very little resources.

There’s an element of the supernatural that I’m carefully apprehensive about, as I usually like my mysteries very much based on hard-core evidence and logic. I’d be able to accept it better if it didn’t actually contribute to solving the crime. It didn’t disturb me too much, I suspect because I was just focusing on the great setting-relate details, but I wonder what’ll happen in the next books once the novelty wears off.

I’m surprised this was first published in 2004 because it has everything to make it an instant favorite and I hadn’t hear about it until very recently.

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Other thoughts: Boston Bibliophile, Letters from a Hill Farm, Crime Scraps, Books and Quilts, Olduvai Reads, Book Lust, Crime Scraps Review (yours?)

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It took me way too long to read this. A bit over two months, to be exact, with others in between. For a moment there I was afraid it’d be a just-ok 900-page mammoth, but it got me hooked after the first fifth or so. It’s my first Sharon Kay Penman, but I actually had this and two others by her in the TBR, just because she sounded like something I’d really enjoy (do you also do this?).

The Sunne in Splendour is an epic novel about Richard III, that most controversial of Kings, the last Plantagenet, from his early childhood to his death. His life is one of those stories that feels to dramatic to be true, just like Henry VIII. Richard didn’t have six wives, but had the War of the Roses, the Princes in the Tower, and other such delights.

Sharon Kay Penman does it all this great justice, and writes a really extraordinary book. Huge, but no word wasted, and with the perfect pacing, which is not to be taken lightly in such a complex story. Kay Penman has a great instinct for how long to spend on a battle and when to add a private scene to let us get closer to the characters. I cannot even begin to imagine how many hours she must have spent preparing for this, deciding what to focus on each chapter, what to add and leave out, not to mention the research. Good historical fiction authors are the best! By the end of the book, I felt I really understood this extremely complicated bit of English history. I’m now looking forward a War of Roses round on pub quiz 🙂

If not for Dorothy Dunnett, The Sunne in Splendour might have become a top-of-the-tops favorite,  but Dunnett ruined all historical fiction for me. Despite the careful characterization (except that Richard might had been a teensy-weensy idealized?), I never felt too emotionally involved with any of the characters, even with Anne Neville, that had everything to win me over completely. I cannot clearly articulate why, only that if feels different with Dunnett – yes, I know, it’s unfair, but inescapable!

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Other thoughts: reading the end, Kristin King Author, Devourer of Books, Vulpes Libris, Semicolon, Pages of Julia (yours?)

fly_trap_hbEarlier this year I finally finished the Narnia series. I never read them as a kid and as I got from one book to the next I kept thinking that maybe I ought to have. By Last Battle it was clear that no, adulthood is exactly the right time to read Narnia, because at least now I’m aware of the heavy-handed indoctrination (Susan’s fate in The Last Battle, the Middle-Easterns Calormenes – urgh!) If in the future my son decides to read them, I know I’ll want us to discuss them together. (Actually, I’m curious about the general fascination with Narnia. Is it the plot or characterization? I found them rather weak. Childhood nostalgia?)

So after Narnia, I picked up another children/young adult fantasy – Fly Trap (Twilight Robbery in the UK) – and it was such a palate cleanser!

I loved Frances Hardinge’s first in the series, Fly by Night, and this one was even better. I’d also argue it can be read a stand-alone. It’s set right after Fly by Night, when the 12-year-old heroine Mosca Mye, her travel companion Eponymous Clent and Saracen, the goose, are looking for greener pastures after (accidentally) triggering a revolution. They end up in Toll, an apparently perfect town… until night falls.

Without giving too much away, in Hardinge’s world words and names have power. Each person is named according to the Saint (or Beloved) responsible for their birth day, but in Toll this has serious consequences. In Toll, all Beloveds have been divided into the bright, good ones and the villainous, dark ones. If you’re born under the right Beloved you’re allowed to live in Toll-by-Day, where life is well-organized and comfortable. Otherwise you’re banished to Toll-by-Night and for all intents and purposes you no longer exist. Mosca you see, was born under Beloved Palpitattle, He Who Keeps Flies out of Jams and Butter Churns. According to tradition, Palpitattle children are “judged to be villainous, verminous, and everywhere that they’re not wanted”.

Part of the plot is about how Toll go into such a society, and the rest is how Mosca deals with her status and her attempts to challenge it. And thus, once again our nomad trio find themselves entangled in new schemes and winding politics.

If I had just one word to describe Fly Trap it’d be “rich”. Rich in plot, that’s almost baroque in its twists, turns, leaps and layers. Rich in characterization, Mosca in particular is an amazing young female character, someone creative and independent, who’ll to survive at all costs, but also capable of great generosity and altruism. It’s rich in content and food for thought: the world building is the perfect basis to write about superstition and critical thinking. Or, if you want to go deeper, theology, crowd mentality and human nature. But, especially, the writing is rich. Hardinge continue to write her “gushy Valentine to the English language“. Here’s a taste:

“Revenge is a dish best served unexpectedly and from a distance – like a thrown trifle.”

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“A couple of expressions pulled Clent’s face to a fro between them, like puppies trying to fight their way out of a bag.”

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“I generally find,’ Clent murmured after a pause, ‘that it is best to treat borrowed time the same way as borrowed money. Spend it with panache, and try to be somewhere else when it runs out.’

‘And when we get found, Mr. Clent, when the creditors and bailiffs come after us and it’s payment time…’

‘…then we borrow more, madam, at a higher interest. We embark on a wilder gamble, make a bigger promise, tell a braver story, devise a more intricate lie, sell the hides of imaginary dragons to desperate men, climb to even higher and more precarious ground…and later, of course, our fall and catastrophe will be all the worse, but later will be our watchword, Mosca. We have nothing else – but we can at least make later later.”

A great read overall and I agree with Teresa 100%: it’d make the perfect Miyazaki movie!

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Other thoughts: Good Books and Good Wine, things mean a lot, David’s Book World (yours?)