Thursday, March 31, 2011

YA, Mossad, Assad, a Mormon-hater, and more

This is turning into a monthly thing, and I'm OK with that. Book reviews, here we go!

Delirium, by Lauren Oliver. (Put me in a master's program and watch how quickly my reading material gets heavy on the YA.) I wanted to like this book more than I did. I liked Before I Fall by the same author - in that book, I thought Oliver took a familiar, straightforward plot and made something special out of it. But in Delirium, it's just a familiar, straightforward plot. Nothing special about it. If you've read The Host or Uglies (especially Uglies), then you've essentially read this book.

Adrift, by Steven Callahan. I gave this 3.5 stars (out of five) on Goodreads. This book reminded me so much of Taken on Trust. It had the feel of having been written by someone who spent A LOT of time alone in dubiously survivable circumstances. It was an enjoyable read but slightly too oblique for my taste.

Clockwork Angel, by Cassandra Clare. Sometimes you just want someone to tell you a story. That's what this book was for me. Just a pleasant story, interesting enough to hold my attention but not much more. I thought its plot was really similar to the books in the series to which it is a prequel but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Also, there is a line in this book that says, "His mouth tasted of metal and rage." I just wanted to point that out. (And no, it's not describing a kiss, sicko.)

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by C.S. Lewis. Miriam really liked this one. And it was fun for me to revisit all those good-creepy feelings from reading about the edge of the world when I was a kid.

Devil's Gate, by David Roberts. Uh, you might not want to get me started on this. Short answer: Look, there are a lot of bad things you could say about my religion that are true. I'm adult enough to admit that. So why do people (including Jon Krakauer, whose books I adore and love and worship except for the aberration that is Under the Banner of Heaven) insist on saying bad things about Mormons that are untrue and based on sloppy research? It drives me crazy in general, and it drove me crazy in this book. Long answer: click here.

Hunting Eichmann, by Neal Bascomb. This book didn't hit its stride until about halfway through. The beginning was very weak - aside from Eichmann, there is no one standout character. It's all a mess of 20- and 30-something newly minted Israeli Jewish men cluttering up a crowded background. I needed a hero to root for, to get behind, and there really wasn't one. The narrative suffered as a result. I realize that may have been how it was in real life, BUT: if you take a look at the footnotes, Bascomb took plenty of liberties with the story (choosing one version of "truth" over another equally "truthy" version), so he could have spun a central hero out of one of the men while he was at it.

But once Hunting Eichmann hit its stride, it was quite good. Still, I think I'll re-read One Day in September soon - that's a finer specimen of a Revenge of Mossad story.

The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman. I didn't actively dislike this book. Well, maybe I did, a little bit. I felt like it wasn't worth the time I spent reading it. If it had been a quicker read, or a more complex story, I could have liked it more. (Possible SPOILER ahead) But the whole book long, we're wondering what the mysterious reason is that Nobody's family was murdered. At the end, after a long, meandering, sometimes disturbing story, we find out that his family was murdered...drumroll...FOR A MYSTERIOUS REASON. Lame.

Hush, Hush, by Becca Fitzpatrick. Ahem. I feel like I need to explain myself re: this book. It is unashamedly derivative of City of Bones/Twilight, true. But of all of the books of that genre that I've read, this is my favorite one. I cannot believe I'm admitting this, but I LIKED IT.

I think the reason I rolled my eyes at The Hourglass Door/Wings/Shiver etc. but went along with this one is because Hush doesn't take itself seriously. It knows exactly what it is. It is very self-aware and makes sure to hit all its marks. It reminded me so much of those Hardy Boys books where the mystery is kind of cheesy and obvious and the bad guys are always bursting into monologue before killing anyone and the hero/ine makes foolish, unrealistic decisions in order to advance the plot, but it's done in kind of a "wink, wink" way so all is forgiven.

Matched, by Ally Condie. (Full disclosure: the author is a friend of a few people I knew in Ithaca, which I didn't find out until after I heard about this book.) The weird thing is, out of all the u/dystopian books I've read, THIS is the one where I wanted the heroine to just fall in line and be good. Is that wrong? Matched was beautifully written, so earnest, and so genuine. I enjoyed it and I will definitely be reading book 2.

Stiff, by Mary Roach. I just didn't have the stomach for this book. I told Jeremy I was having trouble reading it, and he asked if it was too gruesome. I told him, "Oh no, there's nothing inappropriate...inappropriate for a book about cadavers, anyway." In other words, it's not this book, it's me. The first three chapters and a couple of the last chapters were really hard for me to read. The middle was super interesting. (Fact: the day after I finished reading this, I got an email from my dad saying, "Hey, I'm reading this book called Stiff and I think you'd really like it..." A great coincidence, especially considering this is not a new book.)

Inheriting Syria, by Flynt Leverett. RIVETING. I loved this book. It was so informative and well constructed. The prose is very spare and although it is not a short book, it consists of only five chapters. It reads more like an extended, in-depth Foreign Policy article than a book, but it was so intelligent and clear that I still found it very readable.

That said, I don't think the audience for this book is a very wide one. If you are not already interested in Syria under the Assads, this book will not whet your appetite. It assumes a certain baseline knowledge of the country's (and region's) history and current condition. If you don't have that, I can't imagine this would be a very interesting read for you.

But wow, for me, having lived in Syria during the exact critical time period focused on by the author, it was an amazing read. And I may have more to say about it soon.


Susanne said...

Thanks for sharing these. I decided to read your full review of the Syria book and I'm glad you feel vindicated in your love of Bashar. I apologize for contradicting you on the earlier post. I shouldn't let my Syrian friends influence me so much, but since they live there and I don't, I figured they could better represent things. And sadly Presidents - rightly or wrongly - often are the figure heads who represent the corruption in the government since people don't always know who it is really pulling the strings. I wasn't impressed by Assad's speech yesterday as he seemed like a little boy at a birthday party smiling happily as people "spontaneously" applauded him and read poems and told how wonderful he was. My Syrian friends didn't appreciate his jovial attitude and blaming conspirators for the problems of Syria. But I've not read the book so I guess my opinion doesn't count until I do.

I do hope he is the reformer you say he is and that more Syrians don't lose their lives while trying to get some freedoms. I'd like to think he really is a good guy down deep and maybe it's his father's party that is so vile. Thanks for the book recommendation.

I also enjoyed reading about the other ones. It's weird how you and your father were reading the same book at nearly the same time...especially since it's about such a bizarre topic! :)

Sorry the one guy misrepresented your faith so badly. I'd like to read an objective book about Mormonism. Not one written by haters, but not one written by people who don't present the realities of the bad parts of Mormon history either. Because weren't your leaders quite racist? I've always thought this was why Mormons are overwhelmingly white and blond. (Were not people cursed with blackness or is this a misrepresentation of your faith? See I need a balanced book! Any recommendations?) But then there are the few like the Filipinos you mentioned in your review. And I know Mormons evangelize the world so they aren't racist today. Maybe it was something they evolved out of such as other denominations have had to do. It's shameful how Baptists split due to race relations.

Thanks for the reviews!

Bridget said...

I'll elaborate more if I write again on this topic, but let me be clear that I do not love Bashar. I have nothing personal invested in him. I was seriously, seriously disappointed in his speech. But I would like to be able to have great hopes for him.

I'm not saying your (or anyone else's) opinion shouldn't count, just that you shouldn't try to talk me out of having hopes for Bashar until you've read the book. Because there is great reason for hope. Or there was, before his speech yesterday afternoon.

Susanne said...

Really I am glad to read that. I was looking at the book at Amazon just now and reading some of the pages about reforms. Do you think he started off good and then later 'things' (maybe not him,but people surrounding him) got more oppressive again? Like the people had a taste of freedom with the internet and cell phones and then wanted more that never came? The book is about 6 years old so I wonder what could be written now about the time since it was published.

Interestingly enough Samer was telling me recently that growing up he was pro-regime because they were taught this at school and he thought Syria was the best country and he was very proud of it. (His parents didn't tell them differently due to fear.)

It wasn't until they got satellite TV and started watching shows and seeing how things where in other countries that their opinions vastly changed.

So maybe the outside influences truly are to blame!

Amanda said...

@Susanne: I'm currently taking a class called "Issues in Mormonism" and this week, we've been discussing racism in the Church. The answer to you question of "weren't your leaders quite racist" is yes, they were. I think a lot of members are afraid to own what previous prophets have said (i.e. that Brigham Young said that black people were Satan's representatives on Earth) because that would challenge their view that prophets are God's mouthpiece; that they literally speak for God. How can you speak for God and say such ugly things?

Prophets are just men, and they are fallible and subject to the opinions of their environment and upbringing. And by the church's own statement, not everything the prophet says is doctrine (see here). Actually, by that statement, barely anything a prophet says is doctrine: often what they say "represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church."

This is a hard pill for a lot of Mormons to swallow, and I think a lot of us get around it by not thinking about it.

If you have 2 spare hours that you were wondering what on Earth you were going to do with, you could listen to this very good podcast with Darius Gray (who is Black) and Margaret Young who just made a very honest documentary about Blacks in the Church.


you could read this article called "Dispelling the Curse of Cain" published in Sunstone Magazine which is an academic journal about Mormonism not affiliated with the Church.

Emily said...

You have perfect timing Bridget! I think it was just yesterday that I was thinking "man, I wish Bridget would write some book reviews. I've got nothing left to read..." This is perfect! Thanks a ton!

Suzanne Bubnash said...

I checked out Stiff because it was written by Mary Roach. It was not chosen for the subject. Parts of it were distasteful but if there had to be a book written about cadavers and for the "lay" person (non-medical), Roach is the best one to write it. She puts a light spin on it to make it palatable.

Bridget said...

Amanda, thank you for that comment. It is more awesome than anything I could have written.

Emily, glad I could oblige!

Mom, didn't it make you squeamish, though??

For the record, Susanne and I have exchanged emails and remain (internet) friends. :)

Susanne said...

Amanda, thanks very much for the information and the links. You are very kind to answer my question!

Bridget, thanks for your graciousness. Your comment made me smile. :)

Everyone keeping tabs, I am sorry I've been so aggressive lately. :-/

Kat Clark said...

I've attempted to read Stiff over and over and over and always get hung up on my gag reflex. Of course Michael loved it but who wouldn't have guessed that?


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