Tag Archives: reading

Book Review: Leo Africanus by Amin Maalouf

First publisLeo the Africanhed 25 years ago, Leo Africanus (also called Leo the African) is a timeless, captivating classic. It is based on the true life of Hasan Al-Wazzan, the 16th century traveler and writer, who explored and travelled the Mediterranean throughout his life time. He witnessed the fall of Granada, the blossoming of Fez, the Ottoman conquest of Egypt and Renaissance in Rome. It is divided into four parts: The book of Granada, the book of Fez, The book of Cairo and finally, the book of Rome. Yet this is not a dry historical novel, it is a masterful piece of history inspired by the real-life Al-Wazzan. The history is accurate and the character real, but read like fiction…it is a mix of adventure, travel, exotic tales, war, love and self-discovery. Amine Maalouf truly captures the zeitgeist of what it was like to live and exist in the Arab world over 500 years ago… 

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Book Review: The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell

This story goes back and forth between 1930s & present day Edinburgh. In the 1930s, Esme Lennox is sent away to a mental institution on account of her hysteria. Forward to present day Edinburgh where her great-niece is called upon to collect her previously unknown, great-aunt from the same instutition, which is now shutting down. This leaves her niece trying to piece together the puzzle of how she came to live in a mental institution for 60 years. It has the typical O’Farrell style of weaving together two stories from different generations. O’Farrell gives away pieces of information throughout, interweaving past and present until everything comes together in the end, with a signature twist. Set in Scotland, the backdrop adds to the mysteries that continue to unfold throughout the book. It is one of those books that only loosly ties the knot at the end, leaving it up to the reader to fill in some of the blanks. It is quite a short and easy read; it does not even have any chapters. Something that would be good for a week-end beach trip, or a long flight. Although it does not compete with The Hand that First Held Mine, it is an easy-read, quirky novel that leaves you wondering.

Vanishing Act

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The Invaluable Advice of the Berenstain Bears

Growing up, I absolutely loved reading. And I’m sure like anyone, there’s always that series of books that was your favourite. For me it was The Bernstein Bears. Every time I’d buy a new one and add it to my collection I’d get so excited, reading it over and over until I’d near memorised it.  The first of the series was published in 1962 and they are still going on today, even though Jan and Stan Berenstain passed away not too long ago. Just to show that the books are indeed timeless! Not only was it so much fun to hear about the lives of sister bear, brother bear, papa and mama bear, but each book started off with some valuable advice. Below are some quotes that even at 25, hold just as true.

1) On fruit, and strangers:  “You can’t always tell from the outside which are the ‘bad apples’”.

2) On not forgetting your manners and warning us future adults of potential road rage “Please and Thank you, help quite a lot…manners and courtesy are just as important away from home—especially on the road”.

3) On the importance of saving money “When little bears spend every nickel and penny, the trouble with money is – they never have any”.  Same holds true of big bears.

4) On the importance of a proper diet “healthy food is good”. Pretty straight forward there.

5) And the age old honesty is the best policy…”No matter how you hope, no matter how you try, you can’t make truth out of a lie…”

Thank you Berenstain Bears!!!

bbears2 bbears3 bbears5 berenstain-bears1

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Book Review: Room by Emma Donoghue

Room_cover

This is a haunting, yet satisfying novel and definitely left an impression on me. This book was definitely difficult for me to get into. At first I found it frustrating- narrated from a five-year-old boy’s perspective, he tells the story of him and Ma’s life – in Room. He has never been outside Room. Room is the only universe he knows, except for TV where everything is not real, just pretend. In room he spends his time with Bed, Table, Plant…Until his mother reveals to him that TV isn’t just TV- its pictures of real people…real places…

Jack (the boy) and his Ma are held captive in a garden shed by `Old Nick’ and cannot leave room. In fact his mother was kidnapped, raped and forced to give birth in her prison. That is where Jack was born.

Although the subject and reality of this book (inspired by the Josef Fritzel/Jaycee Duguard cases) is grim and horrendous, the fact that it is told by a five-year-old makes it a light read. He is not bitter or angry…he just tells it the way it is, leaving you to decide how you feel about the situation.

At first I felt claustrophobic- two people stuck in a room, keeping themselves busy, creating a routine (as one naturally needs for survival), distracting themselves as much as one can. Though I empathized with the characters I got frustrated, since I too, as a reader, was stuck in Room with them. But that’s the point. Nonetheless, this book is not just story of a kidnapping. The farther you read, the more layers the author embeds into the story.

Donoghue creates levels one step at a time- just like a five year old would when learning and categorizing new information amongst known information, slowly building understanding. She tackles themes such as hope, guilt, education, motherhood, family and survival. And having the narrator be so young was a masterful choice when writing about this subject, as it veils the matter with innocence. An intriguing psychological tale…hang in there…

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