Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Blow Me Down

Blow Me Down
By Katie MacAlister

First off, this book requires some SERIOUS suspension of disbelief. The story is as follows: Kate gets “trapped” inside a virtual reality computer game about pirates by a jilted computer programmer. She experiences this alternate game world exactly like reality. Now, we’ve come a long way from the days of ATARI, but if you’ve ever played a MMPORPG you know it’s not like reality. (I know I’ve just revealed my true level of geekiness by using that acronym…)

Back to the book – aside from being totally ridiculous, I kind of enjoyed this book. It’s basically a period romance set in “pirate times” (I made that up because I have no idea when it was actually supposed to take place), except it’s actually set in the present but the main character gets trapped in an alternate reality based in the past. The book was fresh and funny, and at its heart is a twist on the classic boy-meets-girl story. Well, girl gets trapped inside pirate video game and meets boy pirate only to discover that he’s really the creator of the pirate video game and is also trapped and they band together to fight evil pirate who’s actually a computer programmer in real life and they fall in love… It's a fun, light read - and the cover is very bright and summery if you care about that sort of stuff.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Wildcat Wine

Wildcat Wine
By Claire Matturro

Trashy mystery books with sassy female heroines are for me like a piece of carrot cake with cream cheese icing that I had once as a child. I remember it as being the single most delicious thing I have ever eaten and I am constantly trying (and failing) to replicate the experience. No cake is ever quite moist and carroty enough. No icing quite creamy enough. I still love carrot cake, but each first bite is always a little bit disappointing, no matter how good the cake is, because it can never live up to my memory of the perfect piece of carrot cake. I think my obsession with the genre can also be traced back to my first Nancy Drew book and that moment when I realized that I loved Nancy Drew and that there were like fifty more Nancy Drew books that I hadn’t even read yet. I could spot those yellow covers in any library, bookstore or yard sale from twenty feet away… I still have my prized Nancy Drew collection stored at my parents' house.

I digress. Wildcat Wine: it’s got a lot of right ingredients – not carrots in this case, but a neurotically endearing young heroine – yet it doesn’t really live up to its potential. I liked Lilly, who is an obsessive-compulsive litigation lawyer - although she's no Nancy Drew. Matturro did a good job of building the plot so that I hadn’t figured it all out by page 10, but when it all finally came together it made sense. Matturro tried to build a bit of a romantic element into the plot, but it really fell flat and detracted from the book for me. All in all it was a good mindless read.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Empire Falls

Empire Falls
By Richard Russo

I really loved this book. Empire Falls is about a town of the same name and Russo has created an unforgettable cast of characters who inhabit the town. His characters are vibrant and engaging, and the book is much more character driven than plot driven. My only criticism is that I found the plot itself to be disappointingly predictable. There were a few moments that I suspect were intended to be “twists” but their foundations had been laid so obviously that there was no real surprise. I've never read anything else by Russo but I’ve added his other books to my “to read” list because I enjoyed Empire Falls so much.

I’d be interested to hear whether anyone who has read this book has also seen the mini-series based on it. I had it in my hands at the video store last night, but I put it back because I didn’t want to taint my experience of the book in case it was poorly done.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Human Cargo

Human Cargo: A Journey Among Refugees
By Caroline Moorhead

This book is an intimate look at what it means to be a refugee. Caroline Moorhead shares the stories of dozens of refugees around the world. Their stories are horrific and moving. They have faced persecution, torture, and loss that are unfathomable to those of us lucky enough to be born into privilege.

What I found most compelling about this book is Moorhead’s discussion of immigration policies in western countries, which isn’t something that I’ve ever really given much thought to. The book raises some very tough issues around the morality of exclusionary immigration policies. She explores the ways in which our ideas of national identity are predicated on exclusion – on keeping “others” out. Moorhead certainly doesn’t offer any easy answers, because of course there aren’t any. The issues are complex and difficult – what obligations do we have to intervene in civil wars and domestic conflicts? What obligations do we have to people who are displaced by civil wars and domestic conflicts? How can we repair the legacy of destruction that is being perpetuated in refugee and displaced persons camps?

I really enjoyed this book and it raises some issues that I think we all need to give some thought to. On a personal note, this book planted the seed of an idea that I think may develop into a topic for my master’s thesis.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Honeymoon in Purdah

Honeymoon in Purdah: An Iranian Journey
By Alison Wearing

Honeymoon in Purdah is the sort of book that fills you with wanderlust. I have never had any particular desire to visit Iran, but this book paints such a vivid picture of the country and its people that I might almost change my mind. Alison Wearing is a Canadian living in Montreal. She and her roommate decide to travel to Iran posing as a young couple on their honeymoon. The book is a travel journal of her experiences and encounters as a western woman traveling in Iran. She wears a chador as required by the Muslim faith as she travels across the country, and her reflections on the symbolism of that experience for her as a woman are very interesting.

The Iranian people that she meets on her journey show her unbelievable kindness and generosity and welcome her into their homes. The book offers a compelling look at life in contemporary Iran and the ways in which its people live within the complicated intersection of religion, culture and politics.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Red Azalea

Red Azalea
By Anchee Min

This is an extraordinary book. I'd never heard of it and to be honest I picked it out at the library because it's a small paperback and was the only book on the shelf I was standing next to that would fit in my bag.

It is the story of the author’s childhood in China under the Maoist regime. I had to keep reminding myself that it’s an autobiography because it reads like a novel. Min’s story is about growing up, but this universal and familiar human experience is set in a time and place that for most readers is simply unimaginable. This is a book that I won’t soon forget and I highly recommend it.

Friday, June 23, 2006


By Jeffrey Eugenides

I never really had any interest in reading this book, despite the fact that I didn’t know anything about it. I found the cover a bit blah, so it had never appealed to me visually. Also, for some reason the title made me think that the book would be about a British general. I could not have been more wrong.

In fact, this is a book about a young hermaphrodite whose childhood is spent as a young girl and who lives as a man after she becomes a teenager. The story reaches back to the main character’s grandparents, who, unbeknownst to her/him, are in fact brother and sister.

This book is strangely captivating and filled with unexpectedly poignant moments.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

A Region in Turmoil

A Region in Turmoil: South Asian Conflicts Since 1947
By Rob Johnson

This book looks at the trends of military, political, ethnic and religious conflict in South Asia, with an emphasis on India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Myanmar (Burma) and Nepal. It is part of the “Contemporary Worlds” series that focuses on contemporary geo-political forces. The book was published in August of 2005, so it is fairly up-to-date in terms of world events. I found it to be an engaging read and I learned a great deal about a region that I didn’t have much prior knowledge of. Johnson provides a great overview and uses enough detail to make his topic interesting, but without overwhelming the reader with trivia. I definitely recommend this to anyone who has an interest in the recent history of this part of the world.

Also, and this is a complete aside, I really loved the font that this book was published in. I’ve always found it strange that some books actually tell you what font or type-face they used – I just never thought anyone actually cared. Until I saw this font, and let me tell you – I am in love. It’s a British book, so it’s obviously some kind of delightful British font. I bet it has a sexy British-sounding name, too. I guess I’ll never know…

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


By Marilynne Robinson

This novel is written in the form of a letter from a dying man to his young son. In the “letter” – which is a father’s legacy to his son – the Reverend John Ames reflects on his own life, his family history and his faith. This book is beautifully written and very moving. Although the main character’s faith is a very central element in the novel, I didn’t find it at all alienating despite the fact that I am not even slightly religious.

I highly recommend this book – and in fact I already passed my copy along to my parents to read because I think they’ll both really enjoy it. Plus, I’m still trying to make up for having loaned my father “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell”….

Thanks to Mapletree7 http://mapletree7.blogspot.com/gspot.com/ for her Alt.list recommendations, which prompted me to read this book.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Virtual War

Virtual War: Kosovo and Beyond
By Michael Ignatieff

In this book Michael Ignatieff looks at the implications of modern warfare. With reference to Kosovo, which he identifies as the first “virtual war”, he writes about the consequences of waging a war in which we are more voyeurs than combatants. He also looks at the ways in which we justify warfare and the hypocrisy, albeit necessary, of killing in the name of protecting human rights.

One of the parts of Virtual War that I found particularly interesting was Ignatieff’s writing about Louise Arbour in her capacity as the chief prosecutor of the War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague. I found his discussions with her around the indictment of Milosevic to be fascinating, particularly because I had the pleasure of hearing her speak about the same subject when she visited the University of Victoria Faculty of Law while I was student there.

I found this book to be philosophically interesting and thought provoking.