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Friday, May 25, 2012

Dubai Dreams: Inside the Kingdom of Bling, by Raymond Barrett

Mr. Barrett spent about a year in Dubai, researching to write this book. He seems no stranger to the Middle East, displaying more than a passing familiarity with other nations in that region. He observed and wrote with a sympathetic, but not with a blind, eye. I appreciated the breadth of his book; he examines many aspects of life in Dubai, as well as some of its history, and some of its expected future. I would recommend this book to readers interested in gaining a deeper insight into Dubai and the Middle East more generally.

The Lost Empire of Atlantis, by Gavin Menzies

A fun, exciting, adventurous tale of a man asking questions, seeking answers, coming to conclusions about Atlantis. Could it possibly have existed? What if it were a whole empire and not a city only? What if it stretched from the Mediterranean all the way to the Great Lakes of America? What if the Minoans actually posessed an advanced civilization, equal to the later Greeks and Romans, complete with indoor plumbing, with trade routes that covered half the globe? Mr. Menzies takes us on his own journeys to find the answers, even to suggest the questions in the first place. Believe the evidence he marshals for his case, or not, his book was a pleasant diversion. I feared at one point that he was going to launch into a plea for 'living green,' but he did not. I would recommend this book to readers interested in ancient history, archaeology, seafaring, or Atlantis. You can visit Mr. Menzies's website at: Mr. Menzies has also written other books challenging currently-held opinions about history. I would certainly be willing to read his other books.

The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri

I expected more of this novel; certainly the topic is of interest to me: the immigrant experience. But the actual telling of this story was a bit lacklustre. The main character's parents move from Calcutta to New England at the start of their marriage in the 1960s. The story begins just before the birth of the main character, named Gogol in honor of the Russian author. The story follows Gogol's life into his 30s. It examines how his parents, his sister, and he integrate, or don't, with American customs and culture. I thought the idea held great promise, but the book as it is reminds me of nothing so much as of notes for a novel, instead of a novel proper. And I could have done without the casual attitude toward sex displayed by many of the American characters (and Gogol himself, for that matter). I can't recommend it.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

This was a sweet tale set in London and on Guernsey Island. The main female character is an author who decides to write a book about the Guernsey Literary and Potatoe Peel Pie Society, after one of its members starts a correspondence with her. The book takes an epistolary form, exploring timeless themes such as love, family, and home, all with a poignant but not heartbreaking look at life during the war and the German occupation of the island. The characters were interesting, and fun to read about, especially one Isola Pribby (she was a hoot, and very vivid). I really only have one complaint about the book, that being an apparently too-modern outlook on certain topics. Otherwise, and really on the whole, I would recommend this book to readers of sweet historical fiction.

God's Battalions, by Rodney Stark

I liked this history of and apology for the Crusades. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading history, especially to those who think the Crusades were colonial in motivation, or are confused by what the rational for the Crusades could possibly be. Mr. Stark summarizes the arguments in favor of the Crusades, and then tells the history of the Crusades. I thought some of his summaries were a little too short; I would have preferred to read a more developed treatment of the arguments. I really enjoyed the telling of the history, though, and learned that I have a lot still to learn in this life. That's hardly surprising, however, as that fact stares me in the face no matter the direction I turn.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen

Forget it. Don't bother, because it's not worth reading. Too much sex. I only made it about a third of the way through, hoping that each scene of sex would be the last and we could simply move on with the story, but no. I'm not even offering to send this one to an interested reader. I'm sorry I picked it up.