Who’s on First

cover_map_thiefThe Map Thief by Heather Terrell is a book I have been meaning to read for sometime. It was published in 2008. It is a fictional novel loosely based on actual historical people and events which have been altered to fit the story line.

The subject matter of the story interested me because it revolves around three people, a Chinese eunuch in 1400, a Portuguese map maker in the late 1400’s, and lastly, a young woman in modern times who searches for lost artifacts. The book is based on the supposition that the Chinese navigated the globe long before the Portuguese. The Chinese map which has recently been unearthed and stolen in China provides the proof of this fact. As in any mystery novel, there are good and bad guys and a race to discover the truth. There is an underlying theme of unrequited love; though I didn’t think it lent much to the story as a whole.

I enjoyed the historical aspect of the novel. It took a while for me to get into the it, but all in all, it taught me something about early navigators and the history of China, Portugal and the Catholic Church. The book is not very long and I think it would be a good summer read for those of you who are looking for a mystery to whisk you away to foreign shores while on holiday.

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Fact or Fiction

The Sea of Wise Insects by Terry Westby-Nunn is a novel unlike any I recall having read. cGratefully, it came to my attention by way of one of my favorite fellow bloggers, Alison, who resides in South Africa (despatchesfromtimbuktu.wordpress.com). It was also my good fortune that a local university had a copy of the book.

This is a novel within a novel; a story about a 30-year-old woman named Alice living in South Africa who has recently been charged with culpable homicide for driving a motor vehicle which was in an accident causing the death of one of its occupants. Alice is a vividly written, accident prone woman who has multiple scars, a missing finger, and a loveless existence. To top off her story, there is another story being told in this novel. Interspersed is the recently published novel of Alice’s former lover of two years who left her without a word a few months prior to the fateful automobile accident.

The secondary novel is a fictionalized version of the relationship Alice had with her former fiancée. It seems the former boyfriend was using Alice as food for a character in his fictional novel. As Alice reads the book, we as readers are given the dual perspectives of the people in a failed relationship.

This book contains a great deal of thought provoking wisdom. Thank you Alison in South Africa for sharing this novel with me. I am happy to be able to spread the word from a world away in the U.S. I thought it was wonderful! Hamba Kahle…Go Well


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Art Heroes

warThe Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter is an exceptional history of the valiant men and women whose mission during World War II was to locate and save the countless art treasures looted by the Nazi regime. Perhaps you have seen the movie by the same name, but I highly recommend reading the book as there is so much more to learn and Hollywood has not changed it to suit their purposes.

This story about a brave corps of men and one woman from several countries and walks of life, is truly astounding.  Their selfless contributions to the preservation of civilizations is beyond measure.  I learned a great deal more about the systematic Nazi looting during the war and coupled with the knowledge I already possess of the loss of so many innocent lives, much of the story was heartbreaking for me to read.  It was however, uplifting knowing that because of these brave, committed individuals, much of the beauty and culture which might have been lost has been saved for future generations.

I think this is an amazing book and am grateful to the men and woman who lived the story it tells.

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Short Story

The Last Word by Graham Greene provided me with good company in between naps during my recent greeenebought with the flu. Last week I watched a movie on TCM which originated in one of Greene’s short stories and decided it would be nice to read more of them. I am glad I did!

What an amazing writer!  I believe I have read books by Greene at some point in time, but this is the first time I remember reading his short stories.  This novel is a quick read, but the stories contained in it are priceless, the writing superb.   The title story is profoundly moving and I also loved one about a detective about to retire, a man who steals the Eiffel Tower, and another about a man who holds a job where he is forced to eat more than he wishes while keeping restaurant surveillance over suspected spies.

I enjoy reading the works of great writers every now and then because they remind me that writing is not as easy as it may seem and provide me with food for inspiration.

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The Glue

oneOne Plus One is a recently published novel by Jojo Moyes. The book is billed as a love story, but I would additionally classify it as a story about single parenting. The heroine of this story is named Jess. I, as a single parent, can identify wholeheartedly with the reality of her life as portrayed in the story.  Jess is raising two children alone after her depressed husband took off leaving her holding the bag.  Her struggles are real for many single parents. They struck such a deep chord in me that I would have believed Moyes herself was a single parent.  Her depiction of Jess is right on the money and, because of this, I found myself deeply immersed in this story.

There are a number of people struggling in this novel; the children, the ex-husband, and the wealthy computer geek with his own difficulties who crosses paths with them. I thought all of the characters were believable.

I truly enjoyed this story and thank Jojo Moyes for another touching work of fiction which hit home with me. I admire her writing versatility!

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All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is one of the best books I have read lightthis year. I was so impressed with this novel that I am planning to look into Doerr’s previous award-winning stories.

This powerful story is about a young blind girl who lives in Paris with her father, a locksmith employed in the historical museum, and an intelligent young orphan boy and his sister who live in Germany during World War II.  As you may guess, their vastly dissimilar lives eventually become connected, but prior to that, a gripping story of the effect of the war on their daily lives unfolds.

The story not only encompasses the brain washing of youths during the Nazi regime, it also includes their systematic pillaging of the world’s great treasures.  One of the characters in the book has in his possession a precious stone rumored to give immortality to whoever owns it. A dying Nazi treasure hunter in the story is desperate to locate the jewel. Another character in the novel is a World War I veteran with agoraphobia.

This is a story of redemption and the numerous ways in which people live in darkness. The characters are well-defined and believable. One of the most important criteria I base my reviews on is whether or not a book made me feel something.  This book did and that is good writing. The book jacket states the author worked on this novel for ten years. It was time well spent.

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Continental Correspondence

84 charing cross road helene hanff uk book jacket84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff inspired a wonderful movie I watched on TCM not long ago staring Anthony Hopkins and Anne Bancroft. The story so moved me that I decided to find a copy of the book to read.

This is a humorous and often touching collection of letters between Helene Hanff, a New York writer, and Frank Doel, a book seller in Great Britain, over the course of twenty years. The book was published in 1970, but the sentiment is just as fresh as ever. There are many references to books long forgotten which Helene was requesting from the bookstore overseas. Reading the letters between these friends reminded me of a ten plus year email friendship I have with Sharlene, a former online classmate in Sweden. What a gift that relationship has been in my life.

I trust many of my followers have similar relationships and am grateful to be able to share this review with you! It is a lovely little book. Enjoy!

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