Saturday, August 21, 2010

When Things Get Dark : A Mongolian Winter's Tale
by Matthew Davis

I should have know better as soon as I saw Peter Hessler's one-line review on the outside of the book: "Matthew Davis's portrait of Mongolia is riveting, insightful, and deeply honest." I can't say that I agree with any of this.
Davis goes to Mongolia, as a Peace Corp volunteer, to teach English. He lives his life pretty much the way the people do. The students are not all that interested in learning much of anything and he is not allowed to fail any of them.
The Mongolians are fed up with their lives, so drinking and being drunk are the norm.
The most interesting parts of the book is when Davis writes about the history of the country and the culture.
One thing that I found really irritating was the absence of a pronunciation guide for all of the Mongolian words scattered throughout the text. At the end, there is a glossary, but that's all. I bring this up because of Chinggis Khan. How is this pronounced? Most of us know this revered man in Mongolia (everything is named for him) with his name spelled as Ghengis Khan. Being a language nut, this bothers me. How difficult would it have been, before the story began, to give a brief description of the linguistic nuances?
The book is badly in need of a good editor and was probably never proofread. There are many pages with entire words missing.
I am sure that most of us really have no need or desire to read about Mongolia. This morbid tale took care of that.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

For All The Tea In China : How England Stole The World's Favorite Drink And Changed History
by Sarah Rose

I was really hoping that this book would be as terrific as the title sounds. The synopsis on the dust jacket certainly was intriguing.
Robert Fortune, a Scottish botanist, is sent to China, by the East India Company, to steal seeds and young plants (he is dressed as a mandarin with a long pigtail and appropriate clothing). The tea will be shipped to India and grown in the rich soil of the Himalayas.
It's too bad that the writing wasn't better. The first fifty pages were pretty boring (it took that long just to get to the crux of the story). I should have just stopped right then and there, but I was hoping that the tale would pick up some steam. It didn't.
The reviews on Amazon are insane: riveting, a thriller, can't put it down, suspenseful, fascinating, etc.
Don't waste your time with this one.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Hunting Evil
by Guy Walters

A massive book on tracking down Nazis who committed horrific crimes during the Holocaust could have been really fascinating if only it was better written.
There's tons of names and they are introduced with so much detail that you can't even remember what the heck you read.
The most revelatory chapter was the bashing of Simon Wiesenthal. He was given all kinds of awards, during his lifetime, for his endless searching of Nazis. Apparently, though, he wasn't entirely truthful about himself and his work. Most of what he wrote in his three autobiographies was false and contradictory.
There was plenty of material about Wiesenthal, but I didn't stick with the book to find out what other fabrications he concocted.
There's plenty of great works about the Holocaust and the perpetrators. Hunting Evil is not one of them.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Mrs. Adams In Winter : A Journey In The Last Days Of Napoleon
by Michael O'Brien

I didn't get very far with this book. The preface was interesting, but the first chapter ground me to a halt, more specifically with the first sentence.
"She was in a hurry, because anxious." I find this truly appalling. If the book starts out with missing words, how many more will not be there?
Furthermore, what I did read was just not interesting enough to keep my attention. It was, actually, downright boring.

Never Tell Our Business To Strangers : A Memoir
by Jennifer Mascia

The first part of the title is very appropriate, but the subtitle should be: Don't Write About It, Either.
This book was HORRENDOUS. Very poorly written, redundant, repetititive, boring, etc.
The author is a child of two criminals and they spend most of their lives on the lam.
Why would I ever consider reading a book with this subject matter? Well, it's not what I thought it was going to be. The synopsis on the dust jacket sounded really good.
There's too much minutiae and not enough substance.
The book just stinks.