Tuesday, December 27, 2011

#blog12daysxmas Reading round up

It's been months since I've done one of these.  I've struggled to do much reading outside of work literature since about September.

Year of wonders : a novel of the plague / Geraldine Brooks 
This is the story of a young woman's struggle to save her family and her soul during the most extraordinary year of 1666, when plague suddenly visited a small Derbyshire village and the villagers, inspired by a charismatic preacher, elected to quarantine themselves to limit the contagion. ~from blurb
Loved this book!  It stays in your head.  Great story based on a real event.

Three cups of tea : one man's mission to promote peace--one school at a time / Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin.
Story of Greg Mortenson philanthropic work in Pakistan and other Islamic countries in this area whereby he seeks to promote education and independence for local villagers, especially for young girls.
I felt quite moved by this book.  It's one I think everyone should read before making grand sweeping statements about the war in those troubled areas.

Plague child / Peter Ransley. 
"The first instalment of a page-turning trilogy set against the backdrop of the English Civil War. September 1625: Plague cart driver, Matthew Neave, is sent to pick up the corpse of a baby. Yet, on the way to the plague pit, he hears a cry -- the baby is alive. A plague child himself, and now immune from the disease, Matthew decides to raise it as his own. Fifteen years on, Matthew's son Tom is apprenticed to a printer in the City. Somebody is interested in him and is keen to turn him into a gentleman. He is even given an education. But Tom is unaware that he has a benefactor and soon he discovers that someone else is determined to kill him. The civil war divides families, yet Tom is divided in himself. Devil or saint? Royalist or radicalist? He is at the bottom of the social ladder, yet soon finds himself within reach of a great estate -- one which he must give up to be with the girl he loves. Set against the fervent political climate of the period, 'Plague Child' is a remarkable story of discovery, identity and an England of the past"--Publisher description.
Quite good, somewhat frustrating character who gets above himself at times.  Not sure I'll seek out the rest of the trilogy.

The soldier's wife / Margaret Leroy. 
"A novel full of grand passion and intensity, The Soldier's Wife asks "What would you do for your family?" "What should you do for a stranger?" and "What would you do for love?" As World War II draws closer and closer to Guernsey, Vivienne de la Mare knows that there will be sacrifices to be made. Not just for herself, but for her two young daughters and for her mother-in-law, for whom she cares while her husband is away fighting. What she does not expect is that she will fall in love with one of the enigmatic German soldiers who take up residence in the house next door to her home. As their relationship intensifies, so do the pressures on Vivienne. Food and resources grow scant, and the restrictions placed upon the residents of the island grow with each passing week. Though Vivienne knows the perils of her love affair with Gunther, she believes that she can keep their relationship — and her family — safe. But when she becomes aware of the full brutality of the Occupation, she must decide if she is willing to risk her personal happiness for the life of a stranger." --Publisher comments.
I loved this book too.  I found the conflict between Vivienne, her conscience, her family and her lover very realistic.

Caleb's crossing : a novel / Geraldine Brooks. 
"Caleb Cheeshateaumauk was the first native American to graduate from Harvard College back in 1665. ‘Caleb’s Crossing’ gives voice to his little known story. Caleb, a Wampanoag from the island of Martha's Vineyard, seven miles off the coast of Massachusetts, comes of age just as the first generation of Indians come into contact with English settlers, who have fled there, desperate to escape the brutal and doctrinaire Puritanism of the Massachusetts Bay colony. The story is told through the eyes of Bethia, daughter of the English minister who educates Caleb in the Latin and Greek he needs in order to enter the college. As Caleb makes the crossing into white culture, Bethia, 14 years old at the novel's opening, finds herself pulled in the opposite direction. Trapped by the narrow strictures of her faith and her gender, she seeks connections with Caleb's world that will challenge her beliefs and set her at odds with her community."-- Publisher description.
I am in two minds about this book.  I did like it, but felt it wasn't quite as good as some of her earlier novels.  

Where Earth meets sky / Annie Murray. 
Where Earth Meets Sky takes us from Edwardian England and the British Raj, through the darkness of the Great War to the glamour of Brooklands Race Track in the 1920s. Spanning two continents, it is a story of enduring friendships and two hearts which cannot be kept apart. ~from blurb
Didn't finish it. Think I ran out of time and was really busy with work that I couldn't be bothered sticking with it.

The great filth : disease, death & the Victorian city / Stephen Halliday. 
"Victorian Britain was the world's industrial powerhouse. Its factories, mills and foundries supplied a global demand for manufactured goods. As Britain changed from an agricultural to an industrial economy, people swarmed into the towns and cities where the work was; by the end of Queen Victoria's reign, almost 80 per cent of the population was urban. Overcrowding and filthy living conditions, though, were a recipe for disaster, and diseases such as cholera, typhoid, scarlet fever, smallpox and puerperal (childbed) fever were a part of everyday life for (usually poor) town- and city-dwellers. However, thanks to a dedicated band of doctors, nurses, midwives, scientists, engineers and social reformers, by the time the Victorian era became the Edwardian, they were almost eradicated, and no longer a constant source of fear. Stephen Halliday tells the fascinating story of how these individuals fought opposition from politicians, taxpayers and often their own colleagues to overcome these diseases and make the country a safer place for everyone to live" -- Publisher description.
In the mid-year I got a bit obsessed with the era around WWI and Victorian era too - partially as a result of the Downton Abbey series which I discovered.  Also I like reading about the discoveries of cures for disease.  I know, call me odd, but this book was a good introduction to the general situation of the time and easy to read.

Below stairs / Margaret Powell. 
"Arriving at the great houses of 1920s London, fifteen-year-old Margaret's life in service was about to begin... As a kitchen maid – the lowest of the low – she entered an entirely new world; one of stoves to be blacked, vegetables to be scrubbed, mistresses to be appeased, and even bootlaces to be ironed. Work started at 5.30am and went on until after dark. It was a far cry from her childhood on the beaches of Hove, where money and food were scarce, but warmth and laughter never were. Yet from the gentleman with a penchant for stroking the housemaids' curlers, to raucous tea-dances with errand boys, to the heartbreaking story of Agnes the pregnant under-parlourmaid, fired for being seduced by her mistress' nephew, Margaret's tales of her time in service are told with wit, warmth, and a sharp eye for the prejudices of her situation. Brilliantly evoking the long-vanished world of masters and servants, Below Stairs is the remarkable true story of an indomitable woman, who, though her position was lowly, never stopped aiming high."--Publisher description
Another example of my obsession and link to Downton.  Also very interesting.

Keeping their place : domestic service in the country house, 1700-1920 / Pamela Sambrook.
In 1851 there were over a million servants in Britain. This book reveals first-hand tales of put-upon servants, who often had to rise hours before dawn to lay fires, heat water and prepare meals for their employers, and then work into the small hours. For aristocrats, the world of the servant was often a distant realm. The Duke of Bedford, who had 300 servants, thought toothpaste arrived on the toothbrush until his valet was away one day. Yet there are also heartwarming stories of personal devotion, and reward, and of how the servants enjoyed themselves in their time off. At Christmas the Earl of Shrewsbury drew up a long list of presents for his staff, from an umbrella and crocodile bag for the lady's maid to a blanket for a more menial servant. A butler at Stamford in the 1820s recorded dances which a fellow worker's 'fancy woman' attended, and how the morris dancers attempted to steal one of the Hall's horses. ~from blurb
This one was referred to by Joanne Froggatt, the actor who plays Anna Smith as background reading for her so I also got it out to read.  It's a good introduction to the kinds of attitudes and events that were prevalent during this time.

The great silence : 1918-1920 : living in the shadow of the Great War / Juliet Nicolson. 
Peace at last, after Lloyd George declared it had been 'the war to end all wars', would surely bring relief and a renewed sense of optimism? But this assumption turned out to be deeply misplaced as people began to realize that the men they loved were never coming home. The Great Silence is the story of the pause between 1918 and 1920. A two-minute silence to celebrate those who died was underpinned by a more enduring silence born out of national grief. Those who had danced through settled Edwardian times, now faced a changed world. Some struggled to come to terms with the last four years, while others were anxious to move towards a new future. Change came to women, who were given the vote only five years after Emily Davidson had thrown herself on the ground at Ascot race course, to the poor, determined to tolerate their condition no longer, and to those permanently scarred, mentally and physically, by the conflict. The British Monarchy feared for its survival as monarchies around Europe collapsed and Eric Horne, one time butler to the gentry, found himself working in a way he considered unseemly for a servant of his caliber. Whether it was embraced or rejected, change had arrived as the impact of a tragic war was gradually absorbed. With her trademark focus on daily life, Juliet Nicolson evokes what England was like during this fascinating hinge in history -- book jacket.
And another one!  This one was rather poignantly interesting.  It also led me to investigate the origins of plastic surgery. :-P  A bit random perhaps.

The people's Bible : the remarkable history of the King James version / Derek Wilson. 
The story of one of the most ambitious, provocative, influential projects of its day: a new translation of the Bible, a Bible for the people.
Excellent, easy to read historical treatise about the KJV.

The dressmaker of Khair Khana : five sisters, one remarkable family, and the woman who risked everything to keep them safe / Gayle Tzemach Lemmon. 
"The life Kamila Sidiqi had known changed overnight when the Taliban seized control of the city of Kabul. After receiving a teaching degree during the civil war—a rare achievement for any Afghan woman—Kamila was subsequently banned from school and confined to her home. When her father and brother were forced to flee the city, Kamila became the sole breadwinner for her five siblings. Armed only with grit and determination, she picked up a needle and thread and created a thriving business of her own. The Dressmaker of Khair Khana tells the incredible true story of this unlikely entrepreneur who mobilized her community under the Taliban. Former ABC News reporter Gayle Tzemach Lemmon spent years on the ground reporting Kamila's story, and the result is an unusually intimate and unsanitized look at the daily lives of women in Afghanistan. These women are not victims; they are the glue that holds families together; they are the backbone and the heart of their nation. Afghanistan's future remains uncertain as debates over withdrawal timelines dominate the news. The Dressmaker of Khair Khana moves beyond the headlines to transport you to an Afghanistan you have never seen before. This is a story of war, but it is also a story of sisterhood and resilience in the face of despair. Kamila Sidiqi's journey will inspire you, but it will also change the way you think about one of the most important political and humanitarian issues of our time"--Publisher's description.
Heart-warming true story.

Falling glass / Adrian McKinty.
"Killian makes a living enforcing other people's laws, collecting debts, dealing out threats and finding people who do not wish to be found. Retired hitman Michael Forsythe sets Killian up with the best paid job of his life: Richard Coulter, a prominent, politically connected, Irish businessman, owner of a budget airline, needs someone to find his ex-wife and children. He offers Killian half a million to track her down and bring his children back"--P. [4] of cover.
Listened to the audio book of this one, and had to get out the book to finish it off since the Overdrive one expired before I finished.  Good crime story.

Songs of love & death : all-original tales of star-crossed love / edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. 
In this cross-genre short story collection, authors of fantasy, science fiction and romance explore the borderlands of their genres with tales of ill-fated love. From zombie-infested woods in a post-apocalyptic America to faery-haunted rural fields in eighteenth century England, from the kingdoms of high fantasy to the alien world of a galaxy-spanning empire, these are stories of lovers who must struggle against the forces of magic and fate. ~from blurb
 I don't normally seek out short stories, but I wanted to read A leaf on the wind of All Hallows / Diana Gabaldon that was in this anthology.  In fact I liked most of the others and it's renewed my interest in some fantasy.

Irma Voth / Miriam Toews. 
The stifling, reclusive life of nineteen-year-old Irma Voth, recently married and more recently deserted, is turned on its head when a film crew moves in to make a movie about the strict religous community in which she and her family live.~ from blurb
Kind of strange, strangled book.  Not sure I liked it especially.

Epigenetics : the ultimate mystery of inheritance / Richard C. Francis. 
Epigenetic means "on the gene," and the term refers to the recent discovery that stress in the environment can impact an individual's physiology so deeply that those biological scars are actually inherited by the next several generations. For instance, a recent study has shown that men who started smoking before puberty caused their sons to have significantly higher rates of obesity. And obesity is just the tip of the iceberg—many researchers believe that epigenetics holds the key to understanding cancer, Alzheimer's, schizophrenia, autism, and diabetes. Epigenetics is the first book for general readers on this fascinating and important topic. The book is driven by stories such as the Dutch famine of World War II, Jose Canseco and steroids, the breeding of mules and hinnies, Tazmanian devils and contagious cancer, and more. Time to worry again—our lifestyle choices do impact our genetic code and that of our children (and even grandchildren!). ~from blurb
Reasonably easy to read book about this topic, which explains why high school genetics can't account for everything.

The curious incident of the dog in the night-time / Mark Haddon. 
A murder mystery like no other, this novel features Christopher Boone, a 15 year-old who suffers from Asperger's syndrome. When he finds a neighbour's dog murdered, he sets out on a terrifying journey destined to turn his whole world upside down. ~from blurb
Great book!  Don't know why I've taken so long to get around to reading it.

The circus of ghosts / Barbara Ewing. 
New York, late 1840s, and in the wild, noisy, brash and beautiful circus of Silas P. Swift a shadowy, mesmeric woman entrances crowds because she can unlock the secrets of troubled minds. Above them all her daughter sweeps and soars: acrobat and tightrope-walker. But in London memories fester in the mind of an old and vicious duke of the realm who plots with an unscrupulous lawyer against the mother and the daughter: to kill one and abduct the other across the Atlantic. ~from blurb
Took me a while to finish this book - it was good, quite involved really.


  1. I don't want to be bearer of bad news but there is a lot of question about the truth behind "three cups of tea." Something you might look into...it disappointed me because I really enjoyed the book as well.

  2. I just read the curious incident of the dog in the night-time too. Like you, why'd it take me so long? was excellent!