Book review: Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood

By , November 29, 2009

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood (vol. 1)
By Marjane Satrapi

As our nation emerges from years of isolation from Iran and attempts to engage a nation whose actions are frightening, this autobiographical graphic novel serves as an excellent primer on the history of Iran’s theocracy. For readers not tuned into graphic novels, don’t be deceived by the comic book format. Satrapi, born in 1969, is a child of the revolution but also the child of progressive, well educated parents who are at first elated by the overthrow of the Shah. They are quickly disillusioned when the Islamic regime evolves into the same sort of totalitarianism and fear suffered under the Shah. Marjane’s story continues in Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return.

- Phyllis

Book review: The Anglo Files: A Field Guide To The British

By , November 28, 2009

The Anglo Files: A Field Guide To The British
By Sarah Lyall

Written by a New York Times reporter living in London and married to an Englishman, this is a delightful choice. With wit and humor Lyall explains the intricacies of British culture. She describes the elaborate game of cricket, so popular in Britain and its former colonies but a complete mystery to most Americans. Another chapter is devoted to the heckling that goes on in the House of Commons during prime minister’s questions as well as the blatant sexism in parliament that is shocking to Americans. Lyall also examines the differences between the generation of Brits who came of age during WW II, the queen’s generation, and the post war generation of Princess Diana. For anyone interested in our cousins across the pond this is a jolly good read.

- Phyllis

Book review: Escape

By , November 27, 2009

Escape
By Carolyn Jessop

What a harrowing story. What a brave woman. Born into the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints, Carolyn became the fourth wife of Meril Jessop when she was 18. This was not one big happy family. Jessop was abusive and controlling. The wives were jealous and cruel to one another and each others children. Carolyn gave birth to 8 children with no prenatal care and received no financial, physical or emotional support through four life threatening pregnancies and the serious illness of her 7th baby. This book offers insight into this mysterious religious sect and is the story of a brave woman’s survival and fight for her children.

- Phyllis

Book review: Skeletons At The Feast

By , November 26, 2009

Skeletons At The Feast
By Chris Bohjalian

Set in the final chaotic days of WW II, the Emmerich family flees their prosperous farm, hoping to avoid the approaching Soviets. With them is Callum, a Scottish POW who worked on their farm and never went back to prison after the growing season and secretly in love with the Emmerich daughter. They journey through bitter cold and witness death and brutality along the way. They are joined by a young Jewish man who has managed to escape capture for 2 years by disguising himself as a German soldier. Paralleling their journey is that of a group of concentration camp prisoners marched west to an aircraft plant where they are fed only enough to stay alive. At the beginning of the book Frau Emmerich and her family are proud Nazis, enamored of Hitler and comfortable on their elegant estate. As they suffer and see with their own eyes the evil inflicted by the Nazis they realize what fools they have been. While the plot of this book centers around the horror of war, its strength lies in its hope for the future and a message that life goes on and that life is good.

- Phyllis

Book review: Sweetness At The Bottom Of The Pie

By , November 25, 2009

The Sweetness At The Bottom Of The Pie
By Alan Bradley

Canadian author Bradley brings us the first installment of this mystery series featuring precocious 11-year-old Flavia de Luce, the youngest of the motherless de Luce girls. They live at Buckshaw, the family’s crumbling manor house, along with their widowed father, his shell shocked valet Dogger, and Mrs. Mullet, their cook. Flavia silently observes those around her and stealthily plays tricks on her sisters. When a stranger is found dead in their garden, Flavia sets to work identifying him. She utilizes the Victorian era chemistry lab on the top floor of Buckshaw, the domain of a long dead relative. On her trusty bicycle, Gladys, Flavia wanders far and wide to solve the mystery which also involves a valuable Penny Black stamp belonging to her father. She exasperates local Police Inspector Hewitt but he is patient and wise in dealing with her and they make a great detective team. Set in the bleak period just after WW II, the story also offers a history lesson on the dramatic social changes that resulted from the war. A second story in the series, The Weed That Strings The Hangman’s Bag, is due in March 2010.

- Phyllis

Book review: The Heretics Daughter

By , November 24, 2009

The Heretics Daughter
By Kathleen Kent

Set during the Salem witch trials of the late 17th century, Sarah Carrier is the eldest daughter of Martha Carrier, a victim of those trials. Smart, independent and strong willed like her mother, 10-year-old Sarah is forced to betray her family to save her own life when neighborhood resentment, jealousy and misunderstandings lead to careless accusations of witchcraft. Leading to misery and death, this ugly episode in American history is illuminated by this story of family love and hate, loyalty and truth. The author is a 10th generation descendant of Martha Carrier. The audio edition is read by actress Mare Winningham.

- Phyllis

Book review: Holy Cow

By , November 20, 2009

Holy Cow: An Indian Adventure
By Sarah MacDonald

Lovers of armchair travel will enjoy this memoir by Australian journalist Sarah MacDonald. For the sake of love, she finds herself living in a country she loathes. Alone much of the time while her journalist boyfriend is away on assignment, MacDonald nevertheless embraces her new life in India, visiting various shrines and holy places important to India’s vast number of religious faiths. At one point she suffers a bout with pneumonia so bad her hair falls out. This illness is further exacerbated by Delhi’s densely polluted air and a conglomeration of questionable cures offered by medical doctors, yogis and fortune tellers.

MacDonald tells of friendships with young Indian women straddling the traditional mores of their parents and the modern outlook they acquired along with western education. In the end, she embraces India as a fascinating country crowded with the colors, smells, sights and sounds of humanity.  Fans of the bestseller Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, will enjoy this one. This title is also available in an audio edition.

- Phyllis

Music review: Dwight Sings Buck – Dwight Yoakam

By , November 20, 2009

dwightDwight Sings Buck
by Dwight Yoakam

4stars

This is quite a straight-forward, enjoyable and lively set of tunes by one acknowledged master of the Bakersfield sound doing traditional country songs mainly penned by his idol, Buck Owens. Three others not written by Buck but part of his repertoire are (thankfully) included: “Act Naturally,” “Love’s Gonna Live Here” and “Close up the Honky Tonks.”

Yoakam’s voice is stellar here, with just the right joyfully sly yet reverential tone seeping through the lines. The band is confident, impressive and never too slick, just like you’d expect.

Usually Dwight just slipped in a tune or two from Buck on his many great releases; this one is All Buck! If you like that snappy, twangy sound done right you’ll love this release.

Don’t be surprised if you find yourself tapping a foot while listening to someone clearly at the top of “his game” here.

- Phil

Book review: What now?

By , November 20, 2009

What now?
by Ann Patchett

4stars

This slight little book by one of Nashville’s favorite authors caught my eye and I read it in a day or two. It’s based on a recent commencement address given by Ann at her alma mater, Sara Lawrence College, in New York.

Ann uses her typically economic and well crafted style to illuminate how this came about and includes a very touching post script. She emphasizes the importance of listening and seeking counsel and while time leaps by quickly and technology engulfs us, some things, like the Greek chorus in her head asking (us) “What now?” don’t change.

A very personal and at times witty book – I particularly liked the few pages where she likened being a fiction writer to being a duck hunter (you have to read it) and a welcome read in these “uncertain times.”

- Phil

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