Sunday, August 16, 2009

What I Read this Summer, part 2

Book #33 of 2009 was Missing Persons, by Stephen White. I like these books about psychologist Alan Gregory.

Book #34, Innocent Traitor, by Alison Weir, was about Lady Jane Grey, who was Queen of England for nine days in 1554. Weir is an historian, and her portrayal of Grey is vivid and believable. Plus, I'm a sucker for books about the Tudor period.

Throne of Jade, book #35, and Black Powder War, book #37, were books two and three of the Temeraire series, by Naomi Novik (the first one in the series was the third book I read this year). I found my interest flagging a little during the third book. It's a fascinating premise - a retelling of the Napoleonic Wars, but with dragons.

Book #36 was The Senator's Wife, by Sue Miller. This author is great at writing about situations that are full of ambiguity, situations that make the reader feel uncomfortable. I guess her books are the opposite of escapist fiction. (The Good Mother is the prime example of this.) This one is about a couple who move in next door to the wife of a senator. We learn much more about both marriages as we see life from the perspectives of Meri, the young bride who has recently moved in, and Delia, the "Senator's Wife" of the title. All the characters are vividly drawn, and all are deeply flawed. Even though I knew something dreadful was ahead, I couldn't stop reading.

And as long as we're doing harrowing, book #38 was The Happy Room, by Catherine Palmer. This is the story of three siblings who face crisis as they attempt to come to terms with their upbringing as missionary kids. While my brain told me the ending was way over the top, my emotions cooperated fully with the author as I sobbed my way to the last page. It was brave of her to write this book, clearly based at least partly on her own experience.

This next book, #39, was probably the most intriguing one I've read so far this year. I hadn't quite finished reading it when we left my parents' state, so I took it with me, devoured the last couple of hundred pages in the car, and mailed it back. It was The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf, by Mohja Kahf, the story of another missionary kid, but this one is a Muslim. Khadra's Syrian parents move to Indiana to open the Dawah Center, whose goal is to provide support for Muslims living in the United States. I can't tell you how much I learned from this book: specifics about training Muslims receive in the faith, fascinating glimpses at the wide variety of American Muslims, details about the pros and cons of wearing hijab, and why someone would choose to do so. Yet in spite of the huge amount of new, mind-opening information, I can also relate to Khadra like a sister: the way she journeys through various aspects of her faith until she decides what she believes on her own, the way she navigates the expectations on her, the way she struggles with her identity as an adolescent growing up between two cultures. Her mother saves aluminum foil, just like Mrs. Mossman in The Happy Room; I think the Mossman siblings and Khadra would have a lot to talk about. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand more about Islam in America by getting to know Khadra.

Book #40
was The Passion of Mary-Margaret, by Lisa Samson. Mary-Margaret is a religious sister with an unusual path. This is an unusual novel and I couldn't quite decide what I thought of it. It certainly kept me reading.

Book #41 was another Philippa Gregory book, The Other Queen. I have read many of hers in the past couple of years (here are the references to her so far in my blog). This one is about Mary, Queen of Scots. Once again, Gregory takes a familiar story (at least to me - see above) and puts a new twist on it. We see Mary Queen of Scots in her years of captivity and watch her enjoy the intrigue and plotting. We also see Elizabeth I as an insecure, frightened monarch. And we are introduced to Bess, a surprisingly modern woman who clings to Protestantism for her own reasons which are not all spiritual.

And to finish up my summer reading, since school starts on Tuesday and I doubt I will finish anything else before then, book #42, The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros. This book keeps coming up lately: quotes from it, recommendations of it on my Amazon account, references to it in professional reading. Frankly, it was a bit of a disappointment. The book is beautifully written, of course, and there are memorable images in it - the homesickness of immigrants is always something I find compelling in books. However, I know it would not hold my students' attention, since it is far too lyrical for most of them and not at all plot-driven. I'm glad I read this one but I don't think I'll be reading it again.


Janet said...

Innocent Traitor and The Senator's Wife sound wonderful...

Courtney @ splashing grace said...

I'm loving your book reviews... I now have a list for the library.

Tricia said...

I finally read The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf. Although I didn't grow up with missionary parents or in a TCK situation, I found myself relating to some of what she went through. I'm glad I learned about this book from you, I probably never would have seen it or read it otherwise!

Ruth said...

Tricia, I'm glad you liked it!