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I read widely and in most genres but romance and westerns. Here you'll find my reviews since 2007, with a few reviews of previously read books as well.


In 2012, I completed an "authors of the world" challenge, reading a book for every country (and a few other entities) by someone who'd lived there for at least two years. I expect to tag these books by challenge and country in the near future. I'm still refining my list by adding books that better meet my challenge criteria.

Unfamiliar Fishes - Sarah Vowell

Much better than The Wordy Shipmates. An often enjoyable, sometimes slightly tedious history of the US takeover of Hawaii. Especially poignant for the quotations from letters and documents written by Hawaiian royalty as they watched the inevitable unfold. Read with any of the James Cook books I've reviewed recently, and next time you're in Hawaii, visit the Bishop Museum in Honolulu.

The First Christian: Saint Paul's Impact on Christianity - Karen Armstrong

Karen Armstrong's relatively early work on Paul. Armstrong usefully explains the different purposes of biography or hagiography (as she did in her life of Buddha) and articulates reasons why Paul was disinterested in the historical Jesus. She describes the role of his visions and mission to the gentiles, not neglecting his possible epilepsy but seeing it as a potential mechanism for sacred hallucination.

Useful for filling in around and at times for contrasting with Reza Aslan's Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.

Hunt For The Southern Continent - James Cook, Philip Edwards

Excerpted from Cook's longer work, this is one in a Penguin classical travelogue series. Cook's spelling is preserved. It's interesting to watch Cook diligently crisscross the South Pacific and Antarctic waters looking for a continent that must be there, but which eludes his efforts to find it. Read with Thompson's  Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All: A New Zealand Story for two views of Cook's purpose and effects.

The One Minute Manager - Kenneth H. Blanchard, Spencer Johnson

Wildly popular (though already dated) in its day, a management allegory that really needs only 5 pages at most to make its point. I have my undergraduates writing updates and making it relevant, and must say, while giving credit to Blanchard and Johnson for the idea, that my students' adaptations are more interesting than the original.

Their Heads are Green and Their Hands are Blue: Scenes from the Non-Christian World - Paul Bowles, Edmund White

Bowles manages to seem both prissy and racist in this half-century-old volume of travel pensees. Replete with noble and ignoble savages, the collection works best when Bowles discusses music or music and culture; it fares considerably worse when he pontificates on culture alone in what I assume was meant to be a jocular manner.

Angelfall  - Susan Ee

Young adult postapocalyptic fantasyish/science fictish, urban fantasy? Angels have invaded and they're not very nice. The love interest is pleasingly constrained, cosidering the genre, and there are some nice plot elements, like the protagonist's schizophrenic mother.

This has some potential; the question is whether the series will rise to it, or fall to its genre.

The Enchantress Of Florence - Salman Rushdie

I am of mixed opinions about this ambitious novel. On the one hand, there is Rushdie's always-clever, always-engaging language, a plot intertwined with world-shaping epics, interesting characters, and a puzzle. On the other hand, there's a sagging quality to the narrative at times, a distance from the characters (who grow wearying rather than more complex), and a conclusion that doesn't seem entirely worth the effort.

I might feel differently if I'd read it as a book rather than listened to it. I ranged from 2 stars to 5 stars in different sections, so we'll call it 3.

Notes From The Jungle - International Education in Our Time - John Price



Although Price has some interesting anecdotes and ideas, he also has a lot of negative characterizations of his colleagues and educational systems. I can't speak to the issues of British international schools, but little that he describes resonates with my experience teaching in an American international school.

Oregon Asylum (Images of America) - Diane L Goeres-Gardner

I enjoy this series very much. Presenting a chronology through historical photos is extremely engaging. This volume falls somewhat short on organizational coherence, with two major problems: Material presented out of sequence, and a number of captions that are unrelated to the image they accompany. This is confusing and simply raises more questions. The author has another book about Oregon State Hospital, which may be better organized as it is free of the pictorial-based format constraints of the Images of America series.

Odd and the Frost Giants - Neil Gaiman, Brett Helquist

A sweet little story that has its scary aspects (for the reader age group) but no real creepiness, Odd and the Frost Giants is not only a fun tale that includes Norse mythology, but also manages to include some important points about human differences without being preachy or pedantic. A fine middle reader from Neil Gaiman, one I wouldn't hesitate to give as a gift to a bright 8-12 year-old.

Teaching Mustafa and Other Young Terrorists: (A True Story) - Belle Sukraw

A disorganized, culturally-suspect memoir of teaching in Qatar. The inflammatory title is used as a teaser that never actually delivers an anecdote. The book contains a number of grammatical errors, which is especially problematic for an English teacher. Disappointing and, I imagine, offensive to her former students and  their families.

Allegiant  - Veronica Roth

Better than the first two in the series, this concluding volume explodes the narrative's assumptive frame and answers some of my earlier concerns about reductive culture-building, revealing this to be a structural element of the story rather than a failure of the writing. Good job, Roth!

I haven't read any other reviews yet, but I assume that all teen readers everywhere feel ripped off and angry that Tris and Four's love cannot conquer all. Them's the breaks in a non-wish-gratifying dystopian tale. Again, good job! Roth escapes the genre in the end. That, too, is frame-breaking.

Bou Meng: A Survivor From Khmer Rouge Prison S-21, Justice for the Future Not Just for the Victims - Huy Vannak

One of, I think, three more-or-less first-person narratives from the group of 7 survivors rescued from Toul Sleng (S-21), a Khmer Rouge prison in Phnom Penh, when the Vietnamese retook the city. (More than 7 survived Toul Sleng, but the others seem to have been early releases.) Bou Meng's account, which forms the core of this volume, appears to be an edited oral account. With the additional explanatory matter included, it is coherent and easy to understand, if not to fathom. Bou Meng describes his life, incarceration, torture, and preservation by the Khmer Rouge. Like most people held and interrogated in this prison, he has little idea why he was suspect.

Bou Meng sells copies of this book in the courtyard of the prison. For more information, see http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/17/world/asia/17cambo.html?_r=0

Survivor: The triumph of an ordinary man in the Khmer Rouge genocide - Chum Mey, Sim Sorya, Kimsroy Sokvisal

As is true for Bou Meng's book as well, this is one of three more-or-less first-person narratives from the group of 7 survivors rescued from Toul Sleng (S-21), a Khmer Rouge prison in Phnom Penh, when the Vietnamese retook the city. Chum Mey's account is somewhat less-well edited than Bou Meng's, but his book includes his confession (sic), as recorded by his interrogators.

Like Bou Meng, he describes his life, incarceration, torture, and preservation by the Khmer Rouge. Like most people held and interrogated in this prison, he has little idea why he was suspect.

Chum Mey sells copies of this book in the courtyard of the prison. He is politically active in Cambodia. For more information, see http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/17/world/asia/17cambo.html?_r=0

World After  - Susan Ee

This second installment advances the story through both action and information.

The reader learns more about angels and their politics, as well as the utility of strong relationships. Penryn matures over the compressed time scale covered here, evincing greater empathy and continuing to articulate her relational needs to herself. This, against a foreground of fast-paced events and sword-mediated flashbacks, demonstrates that it is possible for lovestruck teens in urban fantasy dystopias to enact their angst without artificially intruding on and disrupting the urgent momentum of the story's events.

A History of Democratic Kampuchea 1975 - 1979 - Khamboly Dy

Written at a high school/intro college level, this volume describes the rise and fall of the Khmer Rouge using photographs and explanatory text. Generally clear, though additional sources of information might be useful for novices to this history, and valuable for the detail and immediacy provided by the photos.