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Mini Pin-It Reviews #4 – Four Books That Fall Into My “Random” Category

Published November 5, 2016 by bibliobeth

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Welcome to another mini pin-it reviews post on my blog, where I try and catch up on my immense backlog of reviews by posting a quick review on a post it note. Today’s post is going to focus on a few books that I’ve placed in a random category, as I couldn’t really pigeon-hole them all into one genre. Hope you enjoy!

1.) – In The Kingdom Of Men by Kim Barnes

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What’s it all about?:

1967. Gin Mitchell knows a better life awaits her when she marries hometown hero Mason McPhee. Raised in a two-room shack by her Oklahoma grandfather, a strict Methodist minister, Gin never believed that someone like Mason, a handsome college boy, the pride of Shawnee, would look her way. And nothing can prepare her for the world she and Mason step into when he takes a job with the Arabian American Oil company in Saudi Arabia. In the gated compound of Abqaiq, Gin and Mason are given a home with marble floors, a houseboy to cook their meals, and a gardener to tend the sandy patch out back. Even among the veiled women and strict laws of shariah, Gin’s life has become the stuff of fairy tales. She buys her first swimsuit, she pierces her ears, and Mason gives her a glittering diamond ring. But when a young Bedouin woman is found dead, washed up on the shores of the Persian Gulf, Gin’s world closes in around her, and the one person she trusts is nowhere to be found.
Set against the gorgeously etched landscape of a country on the cusp of enormous change, In the Kingdom of Men abounds with sandstorms and locust swarms, shrimp peddlers, pearl divers, and Bedouin caravans—a luminous portrait of life in the desert. Award-winning author Kim Barnes weaves a mesmerizing, richly imagined tale of Americans out of their depth in Saudi Arabia, a marriage in peril, and one woman’s quest for the truth, no matter what it might cost her.

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Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

2.) – Among Others by Jo Walton

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What’s it all about?:

Startling, unusual, and yet irresistably readable, Among Others is at once the compelling story of a young woman struggling to escape a troubled childhood, a brilliant diary of first encounters with the great novels of modern fantasy and SF, and a spellbinding tale of escape from ancient enchantment.

Raised by a half-mad mother who dabbled in magic, Morwenna Phelps found refuge in two worlds. As a child growing up in Wales, she played among the spirits who made their homes in industrial ruins. But her mind found freedom and promise in the science fiction novels that were her closest companions. Then her mother tried to bend the spirits to dark ends, and Mori was forced to confront her in a magical battle that left her crippled–and her twin sister dead.

Fleeing to her father whom she barely knew, Mori was sent to boarding school in England–a place all but devoid of true magic. There, outcast and alone, she tempted fate by doing magic herself, in an attempt to find a circle of like-minded friends. But her magic also drew the attention of her mother, bringing about a reckoning that could no longer be put off…

Combining elements of autobiography with flights of imagination in the manner of novels like Jonathan Lethem’s The Fortress of Solitude, this is potentially a breakout book for an author whose genius has already been hailed by peers like Kelly Link, Sarah Weinman, and Ursula K. Le Guin.

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Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

3.) – Chinese Whispers by Ben Chu

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What’s it all about?:

We think we know China. The world’s most venerable and self-confident civilisation, home to the largest unified race of people on the planet, China manufactures the objects that fill our lives. We see a country peopled by docile and determined factory workers, domineering ‘Tiger Mothers’ obsessed with education and achievement, and a society that has put the accumulation of wealth above political freedom. Above all, we see a superpower on the rise, destined to overtake the West and to dominate the 21st century. But how accurate is this picture? What if, as Ben Chu argues, we are all engaged in a grand game of Chinese Whispers, in which the facts have become more and more distorted in the telling? We have been getting China and the Chinese wrong for centuries. From the Enlightenment philosophes, enraptured by what they imagined to be a kingdom of reason, to the Victorians who derided the ‘flowery empire’, outsiders have long projected their own dreams and nightmares onto this vast country. With China’s economic resurgence today, many have fallen once more under the spell of this glittering new global hegemon, while others foretell terrible danger in China’s return to the centre of the world stage. CHINESE WHISPERS tugs aside this age-old curtain of distortion in a powerful counterblast to modern assumptions about China. By examining the central myths, or ‘whispers’, that have come to dominate our view of China, Ben Chu forces us to question everything we thought we knew about world’s most populous nation. The result is a surprising, penetrating insight into modern China.

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Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

4.) – Tampa by Alissa Nutting

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What’s it all about?:

Celeste Price is an eighth-grade English teacher in suburban Tampa. She’s undeniably attractive. She drives a red Corvette with tinted windows. Her husband, Ford, is rich, square-jawed, and devoted to her.

But Celeste’s devotion lies elsewhere. She has a singular sexual obsession—fourteen-year-old boys. Celeste pursues her craving with sociopathic meticulousness and forethought; her sole purpose in becoming a teacher is to fulfill her passion and provide her access to her compulsion. As the novel opens, fall semester at Jefferson Jr. High is beginning.

In mere weeks, Celeste has chosen and lured the lusciously naive Jack Patrick into her web. Jack is enthralled and in awe of his teacher, and, most important, willing to accept Celeste’s terms for a secret relationship—car rides after school; rendezvous at Jack’s house while his single father works late; body-slamming encounters in Celeste’s empty classroom between periods.

Ever mindful of the danger—the perpetual risk of exposure, Jack’s father’s own attraction to her, and the ticking clock as Jack leaves innocent boyhood behind—the hyperbolically insatiable Celeste bypasses each hurdle with swift thinking and shameless determination, even when the solutions involve greater misdeeds than the affair itself. In slaking her sexual thirst, Celeste Price is remorseless and deviously free of hesitation, a monstress driven by pure motivation. She deceives everyone, and cares nothing for anyone or anything but her own pleasure.

With crackling, rampantly unadulterated prose, Tampa is a grand, uncompromising, seriocomic examination of want and a scorching literary debut.

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Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

COMING UP SOON ON MY MINI PIN-IT REVIEWS – Four YA novels.

Circling The Sun – Paula McLain

Published October 20, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

Brought to Kenya from England as a child and then abandoned by her mother, Beryl is raised by both her father and the native Kipsigis tribe who share his estate. Her unconventional upbringing transforms Beryl into a bold young woman with a fierce love of all things wild and an inherent understanding of nature’s delicate balance. But even the wild child must grow up, and when everything Beryl knows and trusts dissolves, she is catapulted into a string of disastrous relationships.

Beryl forges her own path as a horse trainer, and her uncommon style attracts the eye of the Happy Valley set, a decadent, bohemian community of European expats who also live and love by their own set of rules. But it’s the ruggedly charismatic Denys Finch Hatton who ultimately helps Beryl navigate the uncharted territory of her own heart. The intensity of their love reveals Beryl’s truest self and her fate: to fly.

What did I think?:

You may be familiar with the name Paula McLain from her wonderful novel The Paris Wife about the first wife of Ernest Hemingway i.e. Hadley Richardson. I was delighted to hear that she was bringing out a new work of fiction about another strong female individual based once more on a real person that I shamefully knew very little about. Again, as when I finished The Paris Wife, the author writes such a compelling story that it instantly makes me want to go and research everything I can about the real woman behind this narrative.

The person McLain chooses to explore is Beryl (Clutterbuck) Markham, who spends much of her childhood on her father’s farm in Kenya, learning the art of training racehorses from her father and running wild with her childhood friend, a native Kenyan from the nearby Kipsigis tribe. Life is quite carefree for Beryl and she enjoys the simple pleasures in life until her mother decides to return to England, effectively abandoning her. However, Beryl was never the conventional “lady,” and grows up fiercely independent and proud, fulfilling her dreams of becoming the first successful female horse trainer in Africa, having a few “interesting” relationships with men before she meets the love of her life, suffering various heart-breaks and eventually breaking a record attempt for flying solo across the Atlantic in 1936, something which she is most famous for today.

There was so much to like about this book and to be honest, I wasn’t sure at first. I’m not a particularly “horsey” kind of girl and obviously, a big part of this book is Beryl’s relationships with horses so I wasn’t sure how much that would interest me. I do love being proved wrong though – the story of her trials and tribulations with people who doubted her and her fierce attitude towards achieving her status as a world-class horse trainer totally won me over. Beryl is, in essence, a flawed character and a lot of times, I didn’t particularly agree with some of the decisions she made, especially concerning her love life (which at points, had me actually quite exasperated!). However, she was real, she made mistakes, she loved, learned and lost like everyone else has to and this made the story so much more believable and poignant in my eyes. Beryl Markham was obviously a remarkable woman and I’ll definitely be reading her memoir, West With The Night to view her life once again from her own point of view.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

 

Stranger Than We Can Imagine: Making Sense Of The Twentieth Century – J.M.R. Higgs

Published September 4, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

The twentieth century should make sense. It’s the period of history that we know the most about, an epic geo-political narrative that runs through World War One, the great depression, World War Two, the American century and the fall of the Berlin Wall. But somehow that story doesn’t quite lead into the world we find ourselves in now, this bewildering twenty-first century, adrift in a network of constant surveillance, unsustainable competition, tsunamis of trivia and extraordinary opportunity.

Time, then, for a new perspective. With John Higgs as our guide, we step off the main path and wander through some of the more curious backwaters of the twentieth century, exploring familiar and unfamiliar territory alike, finding fresh insight on our journey to the present day. We travel in the company of some of the most radical artists, scientists, geniuses and crazies of their age. They show us that great innovations such as relativity, cubism, quantum mechanics, postmodernism and chaos maths are not the incomprehensible, abstract horrors that we assume them to be, but signposts that bring us to the world we live in now.

John Higgs brings us an alternative history of the strangest of centuries. He shows us how the elegant, clockwork universe of the Victorians became increasingly woozy and uncertain; and how we discovered that our world is not just stranger than we imagine but, in the words of Sir Arthur Eddington, ‘stranger than we can imagine’.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to New Books Magazine and http://www.nudge.com for providing me with a copy of this book in return for an honest review. When I first read the synopsis for John Higgs’ fascinating narrative about the twentieth and early twenty-first century I was instantly intrigued and had to know more. What I found within the brilliantly concise chapters was both interesting and highly educational with a dash of humour on the side and I really feel I’ve learned a lot about subjects I had previous little or no knowledge about.

The author takes a variety of different topics – with chapter headings such as Modernism, War, Individualism, and Uncertainty to name just a few and takes the reader on an epic journey to discover why exactly the twentieth century was so pivotal. Although I still have to admit to being none the wiser about Einstein’s theory of relativity, I count that as my own personal demon as Higgs explains theories, ideas and notions in a very down to earth and comprehensible fashion that will instantly make you want to go out and do further research of your own into certain topics.

Personally speaking, I’ve always been fascinated by psychology and the author’s chapter on the “id,” Freud’s model of our basic human instincts was a joy to read. However, there are so many other examples of interesting subjects that I’m certain every reader will find something meaningful and informative to connect with. For example, did you know that the author H.G. Wells predicted machines that could fly, wars fought in the air, fascist dictatorships and even the European Union? Or that the term “genocide” was only coined in 1944 to describe “a deliberate attempt to exterminate an entire race?” The word hadn’t even existed before then!

As a piece of non-fiction, this book ticks all the right boxes for me. It’s insightful, holds your interest with short, snappy chapters that get over what the author wants to say in perfect fashion and is a unique way of looking at certain concepts that are not really covered in other works. I didn’t connect with every single chapter but then again, I didn’t really expect to, everyone is different in their own personal interests. However, I did find it a solid, brilliant piece of writing that taught me much more than I could have expected.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars