Saturday, January 26, 2008

Nothing but the Truth (and a Few White Lies)
by Justina Chen Headley

Justina Chen Headley wasn't on my original list of possible authors for this challenge, but I stumbled upon her not too long ago and read her debut novel Nothing but the Truth (and a Few White Lies) this week. You can read my review here. I am definitely going to be reading more of Headley's work!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Ode To A Man, Credit to His Legacy

(image courtesy of

I finally finished Joseph Smith, Rough Stone Rolling: A Cultural Biography of Mormonism's Founder by Richard Lyman Bushman, which I read for both the Unread Authors Challenge and the Triple 8 Challenge (and because I was really interested in the subject, of course). It took me about a month to get through it, not because it was boring, but because it is (very densely) packed with information. It required more of me than most things I read, so I wanted to give it the attention it deserved.
Basically, the book is a biography of Joseph Smith, the founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (a.k.a. the Mormons), but it's not a traditional recap. Bushman labeled it a "cultural biography," which seems to mean it's an examination of a people/culture instead of just one member. While the book begins with Joseph's birth and ends with his death, it's really not as much about him as it is about the church he created. In a nutshell, Joseph was a boy who felt troubled about religion. He really didn't believe in any of the churches prominent in his day. Confused, he turned to the Holy Bible for answers, where he found a scripture in James which exhorted him to ask God for answers. When he prayed, Joseph said he saw a vision of God the Father and Jesus Christ in which he was told to join no church. He was told he would be given more instruction concerning God's wishes for him, and he was. Through visions and revelations, he was commanded to start a church, which he did. Because he claimed he had spoken with God, Joseph was ridiculed. Yet, people were attracted to Mormon theology and soon Joseph had a large following. He was a man of the people, loved and revered by the Saints (as the Mormons called themselves) as a prophet of God. Outsiders, however, considered him a charlatan, and continually sought the destruction of him and his people. Still, he soldiered on, receiving revelations, publishing scripture (predominantly The Book of Mormon), building cities and temples, leading his people, even running for President of The United States. A controversial figure always, he was martyred in 1844, after which the presidency of the church went to Brigham Young. Today, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is a thriving church known worldwide.
In retracing Joseph's steps, Bushman uses a plethora of sources from interviews to journals to newspaper accounts to original church documents. The amount of information he presents is staggering (the book is 561 pages long, with 177 pages of appendices and indexes). He analyzes Joseph's actions, revelations and policies in great depth. I've been a member of the Church for 32 years, and I've never read a history as complete as this one. Plenty of the information was new to me.
Richard Lyman Bushman is an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. He acknowledges that, as such, "pure objectivity is impossible" (xviii). However, I think he did an admirable job of presenting every side of Joseph Smith. He didn't shy away from situations which showed the prophet in an unflattering light, or ignore criticisms from Joseph's contemporaries. He presented the facts and, in effect, said, "Choose for yourself."
I expected Rough Stone Rolling to be a straight biography of Joseph Smith, and it wasn't. I would have liked more information about his personal life, family history and private thoughts. Obviously, there are other biographies out there (including one by Joseph's mother) that contain this information, but I wanted a little more from Bushman himself.
All in all, it was a thoroughly insteresting study that I, personally, found fascinating. Will it appeal to a non-LDS reader? I don't know. Some people's highest praise of a biography/memoir is that it "reads like a novel." This one doesn't. It's not a book that will keep you on the edge of your seat, but it is a fascinating, thoroughly researched biography of a man who lived and died in the service of his God. The man who was so reviled in his time left an incredible legacy - one to which Richard Lyman Bushman does great honor in Rough Stone Rolling.
Grade: A
(This post is also on Bloggin' 'Bout Books)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Reading Ivan Doig's The Whistling Season is like watching a low-budget film. Without special effects or a dramatic score, the film relies solely on the strength of the story. The screenwriter's
words alone must capture and captivate the audience. Doig's novel is like one of those films. His words engage, entertain and satisfy; no cheap stunts are needed to carry the story along.

The novel opens with 61-year-old Paul Milliron pondering an unpleasant task: as superintendent of schools, he must inform residents of rural Montana that their country schools are closing. A product of just the sort of school he's been ordered to dismantle, Paul is dismayed by the job he must do. To ward off his despair, he lets his mind wander back to his own school days in Marias Coulee, Montana.

His memory takes him back to one banner year: 1909. That was the year his widower father answered an ad for a housekeeper which boldly proclaimed, "Doesn't cook but doesn't bite." Neither Paul nor his two younger brothers know what to expect, but they are shocked when stylish Rose Llewellyn steps off the train accompanied by her equally elegant brother, Morrie. Before the Millirons know it, the pair have firmly ensconsed themselves in prairie life. Rose puts the bachelor farmhouse in order, while Morrie brings his fancy Chicago education to the local one-room schoolhouse. Under Morrie's tutelage, Paul's passion for learning ignites, but not all of his experiences will be in the classroom. As the school year unfolds, Paul experiences death and terror and heartache and wonder. Most of all, he discovers that things are rarely what they seem, not even a kindly housekeeper and her dandy of a brother.

Although it does have a little mystery, The Whistling Season is no edge-of-your-seat thriller. It's a meandering, lyrical tale that won't be rushed. The pleasure is really in the journey, as Doig's every word is poetic and masterful. His characters are real and endearing, as charming as they are sympathetic. Their stories are told with a warmth and humor that enchants and affirms. Simply put, the novel is a masterpiece of old-fashioned storytelling.

There were a few things that bugged me about the book. Although I loved Doig's gentle style, I found it lacked focus at certain points. When Rose and Oliver met, I had the story pegged as a romance, but it really wasn't. The spotlight oscillates from the pair to Morrie to the plight of rural schools and back again. I would have liked smoother transitions between the various plots and themes. Sometimes the juxtapositions just felt too abrupt and jarring.
Overall, The Whistling Season is a triumph of storytelling, a beautiful tale as charming as, say, a one-room schoolhouse in rural Montana.

Grade: B+
(This review is also posted here)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Kite Runner

"I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975..."

I knew after I read this opening line, I would expect something great from this story. And I wasn't disappointed.

In this debut written by Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner is a story about two motherless boys who shared the love of kite running. Growing up in Kabul, they treated each other like brothers. Amir is the son of a wealthy businessman while Hassan is the son of the household servant. Amir often takes life for granted while Hassan is a simple and humble boy who always look up to Amir. But Amir isn't really happy, and he wants to win his father's approval badly by proving himself that he has the makings of a man. He figured that by winning the kite-fighting tournament he would be able to gain his father's approval, although deep in his heart he had wondered why his father treated Hassan better than himself.

Amir finally won the tournament, and Hassan ran after the opponent's runaway kite because both of them knew he was good at it (tracking down the kite that is). Unfortunately, the neighbourhood bullies Assef and gang managed to catch up on him, due to an incident that happened some time ago when Hassan had stood up to them. Amir was too terrified to do anything then, and it seemed that history is repeating itself when he witnessed his childhood buddy being bullied and raped by Assef. Thereafter, Hassan and his father decided to leave town and Amir continued to haunt by his cowardice and guilt through his adulthood, where by then he and his father had fled to America and started a new life.

Then Amir received word from Rahim, his father's old business partner from Pakistan that he wanted to meet him, and that there was a way for Amir to make things right. Soon, Amir would learn the truth about what had happened to Hassan throughout the years, and what he would do to redeem himself...

The Kite Runner is beautifully written, filled with memorable characters and an unforgettable story that will have you mesmerized. It is also thought provoking and emotional that will cause a lump in your throat even after you have closed the book. I am looking forward to the movie version which will open end of this month and can't wait to read the next release A Thousand Splendid Suns.

(You can also read this review here).

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Truth Machine by James L. Halperin

I chose to read “The Truth Machine”, James Halperin's debut science fiction novel, as my 5th selection for Sycoraxpine’s “Unread Author’s Challenge”. I had high hopes for this speculative novel, and had very much been looking forward to the chilling “history of the future” that has been billed as our generations “1984”.

(you can read my review here)

Friday, January 18, 2008

Laura's List

I recently vowed not to sign up for another challenge unless it supported my efforts to work off my TBR pile. This one fits the bill, since I have several TBRs written by new-to-me authors. And, none of these books overlaps another challenge. Here's my list:

  1. The Yacoubian Building, by Alaa Al-Aswany (completed 9/19/2007 - review)
  2. Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader, by Ann Fadiman (completed 9/19/2007 - review)
  3. When the Emperor was Divine, by Julie Otsuka (completed 10/12/2007 - review)
  4. Wide Sargasso Sea, by Jean Rhys (completed 11/16/2007 - review)
  5. The Art of Mending, by Elizabeth Berg (completed 12/14/2007 - review)
  6. Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe (completed 1/17/2008 - review)
  7. The Secret River, by Kate Grenville

As "extra credit," I will also list any other new authors I read during the challenge period.

Laura's Review - Things Fall Apart

Things Fall Apart
Chinua Achebe
209 pages

Okonkwo is a Nigerian tribesman, well-known and respected in his community, Umuofia. He has risen above his father Unoka's reputation as a lazy do-nothing. He has three wives and several children. And yet Okonkwo is insecure and easily angered. His anger gets the better of him, and he is exiled from the community for seven years. When he returns, white missionaries have settled in the area, threatening the peace and livelihood of the native people.

The first part of this book is a slow reveal of Nigerian village life. Daily chores, rites of passage. and descriptions of spiritual life are strung together in an almost disjointed fashion. By developing such a vivid picture in the reader's mind, Achebe is then able to quickly show the contrast and impact of the missionaries. This classic work has been on my TBR pile ever since I read Half of a Yellow Sun last year. I had very high expectations, especially since this is one of the "1001 books to read before you die", but it failed to live up to my expectations. In the end, I found it to be "just OK." ( )

My original review can be found here.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Gautami's reads

I finished 7 books by Jodi Picoult. To think I had not heard of her before July 2007! These are all read after 24th September, 2007 in the same order they are listed here. Do click the titles for the reviews!

The Sister’s Keeper

The Tenth Circle

Second Glance

Nineteen Minutes

Perfect Match

Salem Falls

Picture Perfect

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Specials by Scott Westerfeld

This is now the third book I've read by previously "unread author" Scott Westerfeld. I've posted a brief review here. I'm eager to read more of his work!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Thursday, January 3, 2008

The Survivors Club by Lisa Gardner

THE SURVIVOR'S CLUB was my introduction to Lisa Gardner, which I read as my 4th selection for sycoraxpine‘s Unread Authors challenge, and what I’m calling my 79th and final read of 2007; technically, I finished it on Jan. 1, but I “read” it in December...

(You can read my review here.)