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House Of Stone

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Blindspot by Jane Kamensky and Jill Lepore

A team effort, Blindspot is a tale of 18th century Boston written by history professors Jane Kamensky and Jill Lepore.  It’s quality historical fiction, well-researched, with an entertaining story about a portrait painter, Stewart Jameson, and a young woman who disguises herself as a boy, serving as his apprentice.  Fannie Easton’s story unfolds the world of young women in Boston society, the constraints, social mores and consequences of acts of rebellion.  Easton’s story is superbly paralleled with the background story of Boston just prior to the American Revolution.

What a wonderful novel!  The historical setting is perfect for the mystery and seduction that lay therein, and I commend the authors for their entertaining and enlightening work.

4 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2008
529 pages

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A House of Stone by Anthony Shadid

I actually ordered this book by mistake – I had intended to purchase another book by the same name, but different author.  This version of A House of Stone is a memoir about the author’s experiences in rebuilding his ancestral home in Southern Lebanon.  I enjoy books like these, so I wasn’t disappointed about the mix-up and decided to give it a try.

I enjoyed Shadid’s telling of the struggles of a building project in a third world country, and his amusing and interesting stories about his friends and workers on the house.  I found particularly compelling learning more about the culture and politics of the region, and it’s impact on the stability of the area.

Shadid also interspersed this memoir with stories about his ancestors, which I found to be very alien and dry.  Shadid was a beautiful writer, but somehow, he failed to connect with me.

About halfway through the book I was curious to find out more about the author – since he was a war correspondent and the civil war in Syria was sure to have had an effect on his life.  I was saddened to find out he died in Damascus, shortly after writing this memoir.  His wife wrote the epilogue, and it was very touching.  I can’t help but feel saddened that he never truly got to enjoy the home he spent so much time and money in restoring.  I also wonder if the house is even still standing after all the recent fighting in the area.  But we have Shadid’s story, and the story of his family who will always be a part of this land, even centuries later.  And that is something.

3 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2012
315 pages

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A Year in Japan by Kate T. Williamson

Kate Williamson was a Harvard Grad who received a fellowship to travel abroad for a year, the condition being that the country and culture, must be different from one’s own.  She chose Japan.  An illustrator, Williamson chronicled her year abroad by putting together this charming little book, which features vignettes of experiences, places and items she thought worth noting.  There’s not much writing, and the book is filled with Williamson’s own artful images, so it reads more like a picture book with descriptions of the scenes.  From socks to sumo wrestlers, Williamson presents colorful snapshots of a nation from the perspective of an American abroad.

 

3 1/2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2006
192 pages

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The Distant Land Of My Father by Bo Caldwell

The Distant Land Of My Father

My Goodreads friend Chrissie recommended this book to me, and from the opening pages I was hooked.

My father was a millionaire in Shanghai in the 1930s.  Polo ponies, a Sikh chauffeur, a villa on eight acres in Hungjao, in the western part of the city.  Nights out with my mother at the Cercle Sportif Francais, the Venus Cafe, the Cathay Hotel, the Del Monte – these were the details of his life.  He was also an insurance salesman and a smuggler, an importer-exporter and a prisoner, a borrower and a spender, leading, much of the time, a charmed life, always seeming to play the odds and for a long time coming out on top.

Anna tells a story of her father that is a fascinating look at Shanghai just prior and during World War II, in addition to a heartbreaking memoir of a child’s need to understand and forgive a man who would love a city more than his daughter.

This is Bo Caldwell’s debut novel and it is truly fantastic.  The sights and smells of Shanghai come alive as history unfolds and lives are broken.

I am grateful to Chrissie for recommending this marvelous novel and look forward to reading more by this author.

4 1/2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2001
378 pages

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A Fortunate Life by Albert Facey

A Fortunate Life

Albert Facey was a storyteller.  Australian born in the late 1800’s, his mother abandoned him at just two years of age.  From then on, he led a remarkable life from being farmed out at a young age (to cruel and kind families alike), working in agriculture and lifestock, serving during World War I at Gallipoli, surviving the Depression and the loss of a son during World War II.  Facey often told these stories to his children, who begged him to write them down for future generations.  As it happened, the publisher convinced Facey to release his story to a wider audience than just his family, and I’m so glad he did.

Although an Australian story, it reminds me of stories I’ve heard from older American men who had similar experiences.  Poverty creates situations where parents can no longer care for their children, and in the old days, these kids were vulnerable and forced to grow up quickly.  As a mother, I was horrified at the circumstances this young boy found himself in and how terribly people can treat a child.  But he also had good moments – he persevered and seemed to understand how important education was in order to for him get ahead.  Not only did he adopt vocational learning, but he sought out people who could help with simple reading and writing skills as well.

I loved Facey’s story because it was a piece of history and because it showed how a person can appreciate one’s life – even one that is filled with trials and tribulations.

4 stars (out of 5)
Published in 1981
331 pages

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A Random Walk Down Wall Street by Burton G. Malkiel

A Random Walk Down Wall Street

A classic work explaining everything you ever wanted to know about investing, A Random Walk Down Wall Street has been touted in so many investing books I’ve read, I thought I definitely should take the time to read it.

There is a lot of great information here, explaining why different strategies of investing don’t work, and why buying and holding a diversified portfolio is ultimately the only strategy one should use.

Unfortunately, there was absolutely nothing new in this book that I haven’t already learned.  Malkiel’s book is often used as a textbook in Finance classes and I already have a degree in Finance.  I will also note, that his writing is a bit dry –  even if you don’t know this information, his method of delivery might put you to sleep.

So, be warned, you might be bored.  But there is important and excellent information inside this book.

4 1/2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2012 (originally published in 1973)
490 pages

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The Power Of One by Bryce Courtenay

The Power Of One

Peekay is a young English boy brutalized at a South African boarding school when World War II breaks out.  The prejudices, indignities and suffering Peekay endures become a light that fuels an inner drive to become something stronger and smarter and more important.  With help from some fantastic characters along the way, Peekay is able to harness “the power of one” and succeed beyond all the odds.

The book is a marvel on so many levels.  First, Courtenay does a wonderful job of incorporating history, childhood angst and amazing characters into a well-thought out and terrific story line that leaves the reader cheering for young Peekay.  Second, the author’s theme of discrimination is well-played out from the Boers vs. the English, the Germans vs. the Jews, the South Africans vs. the Germans and of course, the white Africans vs. the Black Africans.  The perspective is poignant and insightful.

This was a five star book that shed light on inter-human tensions and those beautiful souls who can rise above it to help and love their fellow man.

5 stars (out of 5)
Published in 1989
513 pages

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