12 June 2012

Three reviews of three very different books

I love reading books from authors that are new to me.  While reading books from authors that are familiar carry  with them a certain expectation, reading a book from a "new to me" author is like opening a Christmas present. I have an idea of what might be there, but in the end I am usually totally surprised.  As you might guess, there are both positives and negatives to this practice, or should I say surprises and disappointments.  Some of the books are so good that the author instantly becomes a favorite.   I have to admit, since I have started reading books by new authors, my TBR list has gotten even more out of control than it was before.  Although there is probably no way that I will ever read all of the books that I have on my list before I die, lol, I am sure going to try.  Other book, though, do not always live up to my hopes.  In some cases, where a review is required, it even becomes a chore.  Thankfully, though, this last category is small and unusual.  Below are reviews for three books that I have recently read from some of the new authors.

A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar is the debut book for author Suzanne Joinson and as such it is a pretty good effort. The book is told from two perspectives, one in the early 1900s and the other in current time. At first, this made the book seem very disjointed to me, especially since there seemed to be two stories going on in the present day, but as the story unfolded, it became clear that the three stories were related and would ultimately join into one story. From the start, I enjoyed the current day story of Frieda, a Londoner who travels extensively in the Middle East. Unfortunately, I found the story from the earlier time period a bit disjointed and hard to follow. The earlier story centers around three women missionaries who are living in Kashgar. As it begins, they find themselves in an unusual and dangerous situation, which is only made worse by their attempts at conversion. The plot set up has all the requirements of a great story about a little known time and place. Unfortunately, while the story is good, it does not deliver the hoped for greatness. To begin with, the characters of the missionaries, although quirky, seem somewhat lackluster. In addition, what I felt would be the most interesting part of the story was totally glossed over. It says something that the most enjoyable part of the book was the completely ordinary story of Frieda in current day London. I would have loved to have seen the author right a more compelling story that focused on the quirks and relationships of the missionary women and/or the situation that bound them to Kashgar. All in all a good book, but it could have been great.

Barefoot in November is not the type of book I usually read. Although I have been know to read almost any genre, memoirs and self-help books are probably the ones that I read the least of. The premise for this book sounded interesting, though, and it was loaned to me by a friend. Since it was only 190 pages I figured I would give it a try. What I found here was a well written account of the author's journey through his illness and recovery from an aortic aneurysm. I foundBenjamin J. Carey's ability to tell his story and keep me interested wonderful. I especially loved the way that he was able to describe his feelings of denial, depression, anger, etc, without being angry or depressing. In addition, the fact that a healthy, active adult could have such a life threatening illness and not know it also made quite an impact on me. After all, as Ben himself says, this was not a case of an over-weight, sedentary person dealing with the results of his bad lifestyle choices. Another part of the book that drew my attention was how great his family support system was. In fact, after reading the book, I think his wife must be a saint! I'm not sure if I could have come through all of this quite as well as both she and Ben did. In the end, this is a book about facing life and not letting it get the best of you. It is about knowing your responsibility to your family and acting accordingly, and ultimately, about fighting and winning. A great read!

The Master of Verona is the type of book that is right up my alley. I love historical fiction, especially stories about royalty and political intrigue in Medieval times. So it is no wonder that I found this book thoroughly enjoyable. David Blixt's story tells the tale of Pietro, the son of Dante Alighieri of Inferno fame, Canagrande Della Scala, the ruler of Verona, and even the beginnings of the Montague/Capulet feud. This book is filled with fascinating characters. Along with the many interesting main characters, Pietro, Cangrande, Mastino, and yes, Romeo, I especially enjoyed those of Antonia Alighieri and Katarina Della Scala. Blixt transforms these women into complex, unconventional characters which makes them stand out in the story. 

The major plot line of this book is fascinating by itself, but it was the many subplots and details included in the book that also caught my attention and helped me to devour this book. The inclusion of the Montague/Capulet families and the beginning of the feud made so famous by Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet, as well as others from Shakespeare's Italian stories is both a bonus and a delight. As are the other subplots included in the book. And I have to say, Blixt's description of life in Italy during the 1300s are beautifully done.