Finally an update to the book section of our blog! I’ve mentally been keeping track of what books I’ve finished (and whether they are worth sharing with y’all), but I finally put pen to paper and am happy to report that I’m about halfway to my goal of 25 books read on this yearlong adventure!
As more aptly explained by BT in this post, between educating and taking care of the kids, keeping up on boat/housework, language study, and adding in the more manual nature of our everyday chores, i.e., grocery shopping by foot, bus or taxi and trekking laundry all over various locales, and trying to squeeze in any personal time for writing and/or running (but never both in the same day!), I haven’t had as much time as I thought I would to read. I have piles, no GADS of books on the boat that I promised myself I’d get through this year. When in reality, at this point, I’m merely hoping to hit my normal goal of 25 books.
Anywho… for now, here’s what I’ve managed to get through lately and what I’m reading right now:
Jack 1939 (Francine Matthews)
I read this book in conjunction with The Mask Carver’s Son and I think it was a good choice for me–since I didn’t feel totally immersed in this novel within the first hundred pages or so. That said, on balance, I did enjoy this book! In short, this is a historical fiction accounting of how JFK was tapped by Roosevelt (seeking a third term) to gather intelligence (under the cover of conducting research for his senior thesis at Harvard) on Nazi Germany’s plans in Europe prior to the outbreak of WW II. Represented as a thriller in the online descriptions, I’d say it aligns more with a historical fiction, leaning a little more on the fiction side (enough sex and sizzle to keep fiction readers entertained, but framed in true events). That said, it is completely different from the period pieces of historical fiction I have become accustomed to reading Phillippa Gregory and Alyson Richman–they are simply two very different styles.
Matthews does an excellent job framing the events of the time in a way that readers can connect to their own recollections of how it was portrayed in the press (and later in history books). Why leaders said what they said, why countries did what they did–this book helps connect the dots in such a way that you start to wonder, “so, wait, is that the historical part or the fiction part?”–and that, to me, is a good sign.
I finished this book while we were stuck in Mag Bay (for 6 days with no wifi/cell reception) and found that I ended up enjoying the book far more than I thought I would when I first cracked it open. If you’re in the mood for a lightly theatrical version of how JFK first dipped his toes in politics and how his family’s reputation proceeded him, what happened behind the scenes in Western Europe, and how involved/knowledgeable the US was about those happenings prior to the declaration of war in 1942, then I’d recommend Jack 1939. I had no idea many of these events transpired (clearly it was long before I was born and I don’t claim to be a huge history buff) But as always, I love to feel like I’ve learned at least a little bit while I’ve entertained and immersed myself in a new book.
The Mask Carver’s Son (Alyson Richman)
Oh boy, what can I say? I simply ADORE Alyson Richman’s novels and am so grateful to my good friend, SFK, for introducing me to her. In this novel, her style reminds me of Isabel Allende’s, another favorite author, and the story was very relatable to me, being of Japanese descent. Here, Richman weaves the tale of Kiyoki-the only son of a highly acclaimed and traditional line of mask carvers in early Japan, known as the Noh era. The circumstances that entail Kiyoki’s life–the only child of a hard and disciplined father who lived a life of strict adherence to tradition, descending from a long line of people who felt the same way, a child who lost his mother in early life and finally an individual who learns as he grows that he is not necessarily cut from the same cloth–are merely the outer layer of the intricate and beautiful tale that Richman tells us. But what I connected with more was the main character’s struggle. His struggle between pleasing his family and doing what he was told was “right” and choosing the path that was right for him. I’m sure this is not unique to any strong-willed individual (or kid with an Asian/tiger mom!), but for some reason, the framework from which Kiyoki must work is one that felt very tangible and relatable to me. Richman does an amazing job of making you feel what the character must be struggling with and you find yourself both advocating for his own journey and understanding how difficult it must be for others to live with those decisions. The additional layer of Japanese culture on top of all of that was like icing on the cake for me–I really felt how Japanese norms must have been so difficult for Kiyoki to maneuver through and how much courage it must have taken for him to take those leaps of faith.
Even revisiting this novel for this blog entry makes me want to grab my Kindle and download another one of Richman’s novel. Except I can’t. BECAUSE I ALREADY DID. I tried to resist, but I’ve already downloaded The Velvet Hours and am reading that right now. I can’t help it! I am completely addicted to Alyson Richman and I think that if you read The Mask Carver’s Son and/or The Last Van Gogh (see prior entry), you might feel the same way. Happy reading!
Prisoners of Geography (Tim Marshall)
I was gifted this book from a good friend who recently visited us in Mazatlan. One night we were chatting about random world events and commenting how disconnected we feel as we’re both living nomadic non-US based lives right now…and she mentioned that she had just finished this really great book . . . and promptly passed it along to me. Yay! I love that and I knew I was going to love this book.
This book is different than others I’ve read this year. It focuses on 10 maps of the world’s regions and explains in detailed summaries (read: enough detail to make you understand it, but not so many that you get bored and bogged down) why geography so innately shapes how the world works and how it came to be that way, how cultures have clashed, how tribes have warred and why leaders have struggled to maintain their grip on their nations. Indeed Marshall shows us how geopolitics explains much of the history of the world and can, in fact, help us predict what hot-button issues (i.e., control over the Arctic) will come to the forefront in the months/years to come. (This version is updated on events through October 2016, so very on point)
Make no mistake, this is not light reading, but it is well worth it and I highly recommend this book if you are (1) highly interested in world events; (2) are interested in learning how the seemingly-static nature of geography is so insanely connected to the dynamic nature of politics and relationships between nation states; and (3) you like finding out what makes each country’s leaders tick, i.e., what keeps them up at night. Sure, Marshall does a great job making this a highly approachable and readable account of world geopolitics, but it’s not necessarily meant for easy digestion. I found that I’d often have to keep one finger on the map page so I could flip back to it when Marshall was referring to detailed areas on the map I wasn’t familiar with or I needed a visual of why his explanation was panning out a certain way. Note: It really helps to buy the paper version of this book rather than the Kindle version.
If you’re in the mood to really get your learning on, or if you’re like me and you don’t mind reading something light and fluffy on the side, then grab a copy of this. At a minimum, if you’re worried about how the next 4 years of presidential politics in the U.S. will impact not only Americans but the world at large, this book should provide some peace of mind because as we have seen throughout history, even if one leader is a totally f-d up buffoon, the rest of the world can still figure it out till the next leader comes online (or take care of things the old fashioned way).
The Essential Oil Truth: Facts Without the Hype (Jen O’Sullivan)
One night in Mazatlan, when I was fighting a nasty cold, I decided to look up what I could concoct with the essential oils that I have on board. In short, that led me to this e-book. I chose this book because it was short (114 pages) and to the point. I wanted to know what oils worked for which ailment and how. That’s pretty much what she does in this book.
In the interest of full disclosure, there is a fair bit of neurosis entailed here (the author goes on about minutia that most of us don’t care about–the soil and how organic the seeds *really* are–and if you don’t care about that then “you really shouldn’t bother using essential oils AT ALL.”)–so yeah, she’s a little judgey-McJudgerson… and off-putting to say the least. But at the end of the day, I wanted to know which oils I need, for which particular ailment and how to apply them–and she answers those questions.
When I get back to a land-based life, I’ll likely be picking up a hard copy of a more complete (and less biased) reference book that I can physically flip through. But for now in my life afloat this book suits my needs when I’m out of wifi range and unable to Google it.
Sea of Cortez: A Leisurely Journal of Travel and Research (John Steinbeck) In progress
Since we will soon be heading north into the Sea of Cortez, and I recently learned that John Steinbeck not only travelled extensively there but also based his novel, The Pearl, on his time in the SOC, I decided to do a little pre-SOC reading. Stay tuned!
The Velvet Hours (Alyson Richman)
I’m about 100 or so pages into this book and, as you might already expect, am in love with it! I’m having a hard time keeping up on any my other reading and brain activities (Spanish language studies, New York Times and NYT daily crosswords), let alone any online activities (when I have wifi). Damn you Ms. Richman! (so kidding, I love her!)
Kept me up at night!
Palm Trees in the Snow (Luz Gabas)
What an amazing read!
The Girl Before (JP Delaney)
Could not put it down!