Wendy (here_be_dragons) wrote,

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Books # 49 through 52

Wow! In writing this post, I've just now realised that I've met my challenge, and it's only June. GO ME! ::grin::

I think it's safe to say that I have a shot at 100 for this year, so I'm going to re-challenge myself to double the 50 Book Challenge!

#49 - Master and Margarita by Michail Bulgakov; translated by Diana Burgin and Katherine Tiernan O'Connor

Wow. This was a really remarkable book, recommended by alpheratz (and I'm so glad she did). On the surface, it's a story about Satan and some of the shenanigans he and his cohorts get up to during a few days in Russia. I enjoyed the book while I was reading it, but what I loved was reading the endnotes (this was one book I'd have preferred to have footnoted, actually). As I read through the notations, I realised that I'd missed a lot of irony, humour and meaning because I don't speak Russian, and am not familiar with Russian history - for example, I missed a lot of word play on character names. It was *so* interesting to learn all the layers that Bulgakov had incorporated into the book, and also some biographical things about him. There's some autobiographical stuff in the story, as well as a *lot* of carefully presented "commentary" about the Russian government of the day (this was written in the late 1930s through early 1950s, IIRC). Things that he couldn't have safely written openly (and, I believe, the reason this wasn't published until a couple of decades after his death). His bravery was remarkable, and it makes the whole thing so much more poignant.

As for the story itself, one of my favourite things is the portrayal of Satan. This is exactly how I think of the Devil (and I won't say, "if I believed in the Devil." That would be incredibly cheeky right on the heels of reading this book). ::grin:: Not evil; not even in oppostion to good. More ironic and mischevious, really, but with a very clear sense of fair play. I absolutely loved what I'll call the "moral" position of this book. I also enjoyed the non-traditional take on Pontius Pilate, and Christ's death. The book was funny and touching and meaningful and deeply satisfying in a way that few books are. Thanks, Masha. This was a really great read, and I would surely have never picked it up if you hadn't recc'd it - I've always been a bit intimidated by Russian literature. This has given me the desire to be a bit more adventurous and read more. :-) (Library book, but want for PC)

#50 - Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch - by Hollis Gillespie

A memoir written focusing mostly on this woman's search for her own home, and how her past shaped her search. I believe the author is an NPR correspondent. It was funny in places (although not as funny as I'd hoped it would be), but also very touching in spots (I shed tears). It was an easy read, mostly because of the short-chapter format. Gillespie has an irreverant and vulgar sense of humour which I appreciated greatly. Not stellar, but I enjoyed it. Although, if I'd realised this was book number 50, I'd have probably held off and finished something with a somewhat more dignified title first. ;-) (Library book)

#51 - The Courts of Love - by Jean Plaidy

I enjoyed this fictionalized account of the life of Eleanor of Aquitaine. The saga of the Plantagenet family reads like a soap opera, except that it's true. ::grin:: It was a bit difficult for me to adjust to the first-person narrative, from Eleanor's PoV. I found myself questioning her own stated motives, and also the characterizations of some of the other people, but in a historically-based work like this, the author does have to make her own decisions about those things. It seemed to me as though she did her research, although I'm not an expert on this time period by any means. She did cover some things that I was surprised to see, particularly Richard's homosexuality. (I'm not sure why I was surprised; I knew about his relationship with King Phillip, but for some reason, I thought it was sort of a historical secret, although that seems like a bit of a contradiction in terms, doesn't it? Maybe I'm confused on that point ::grin::). I liked what seemed to me to be a pretty thorough treatment, and she definitely didn't overly "romanticize" Eleanor (in terms of making her saintly or overly sweet or even "likeable"). She came across as very human, as somewhat flawed but well aware of this, and just doing the best she knew to do. I'd like to read some of the author's other Queens of England books. (Purchased new; have BookCrossed)

#52 - Look For Me - Edeet Ravel

I received this as an ARC from Harper Collins "First Look" program. This was an interesting book to read, but I found the ending a bit anti-climactic. The story takes place in Israel, from the PoV of an Israeli woman whose husband left 11 years earlier without offering any explanation, and she is determined to find him. She is also an activist, in sympathy with Palestinians, and the handling of combat and war and daily life under these conditions was fascinating. The dialogue was often harsh and abrupt, and I suspect the author did this purposefully, to emphasize the sort of emotional state that people in these conditions might experience. However, I did have a bit of trouble at times following the dialogue - I sometimes had to actually count lines (he said, she said, he said) to figure out who was saying what. I didn't get as much a sense of each character having a unique "voice" as I would have liked. I was pulled along by the mystery regarding the husband, and I found myself wanting to know why he left. However, I found the conclusion, like I said, to be somewhat unsatisfying. It's hard to say why without spoiling the plot, so I'll just say that I wanted things to end a certain way, and they didn't. Although the way they did end was probably more realistic than any of the scenarios for which I might have hoped, and not really disappointing. Probably just not what I'd have done in her place; I didn't really relate all that much to her personally. She's rather different temperamentally than I am. (Which, of course, is certainly not a criticism of the book; just a commentary about why I felt the way I did about it). All things considered, a good read. I would be interested in other books by this author. (Received as ARC; have BookCrossed)
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