The Power And The Glory by Graham Greene

The Power And The Glory

Set in the 1930’s in a remote section of Mexico, Graham Greene’s classic The Power and the Glory tells a tale of two priests:  Padre Jose and “The Whiskey Priest” during a time when the local government has outlawed religion and the penalty for practicing is death.  Padre Jose was a good priest – humble and honest, but human in that he succumbed to his own fears.  He gave up his priesthood, agreed to a forced marriage and refused all requests from the locals for the sacraments.  “The Whiskey Priest,” conversely, was a bad priest.  He broke his vow of celibacy – even siring a daughter with a local woman.  And he loved his whiskey, hence the name.  But this priest mired in his own worthlessness, still felt the obligation to serve the people, in spite of the danger.

On the one hand, The Power and the Glory is a beautiful story of humility and redemption, of finding something good and worthy in people even though they are not perfect.  On the other hand, I struggled with the writing.  The characters were not fleshed out, and seemed very two-dimensional.  At times I was bored and had difficulty keeping track of the different characters in the book.  That is often my dilemma with classic literature.  There’s a writing style some early authors use that, despite the great idea presented in the novel, prevents me from becoming totally engaged.

Still, I’m glad I read this one.  It definitely gave me some food for thought.

3 1/2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 1940
222 pages

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Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton

Pirate Latitudes

Captain Charles Hunter isn’t your ordinary sea captain.  The year is 1665 and Captain Hunter is a privateer in search of riches in the cut-throat world of Jamaica’s Port Royale.  With a nod from the island’s governor, Captain Hunter gathers a select crew to raid the Spanish treasure galleon, El Trinidad, moored in nearby Matanceros harbor.  It’s a dangerous undertaking and Hunter’s crew will be greatly outnumbered.  Will he be able to pull it off?

Pirate Latitudes was a complete manuscript found after Michael Crichton’s death.  It was a fun read, but not nearly as clever as some other Crichton novels I’d read.  But it satisfied a reading challenge by being set in the Caribbean, so it was good choice.

3 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2009
312 pages

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The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbs Out The Window And Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window & Disappeared

Allan Karlsson, resident of a Swedish nursing home, escapes out a window on the day they’re hosting an important celebration for Karlsson’s 100th birthday.  A crazy chase involving the centenarian, a suitcase filled with money, some people he meets along the way, and an elephant ensues.  And if this wasn’t enough, the author fills us in on Karlsson’s history, which includes working at the site of the Manhattan project, several US Presidents, Albert Einstein’s niece, and the CIA.

Thank goodness this was fast-paced novel, because it definitely wasn’t my cup of tea. Slapstick humor a la Kurt Vonnegut, coupled with Forrest Gump brushes with history, made for a silly book.  If you like that kind of novel – go for it.  It’s just not for me.

2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2012
396 pages

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We, The Drowned by Carsten Jensen

We, The Drowned

From it’s opening setting of  Marstal, Denmark in 1848, We, The Drowned is a riveting saga of a real seafaring community.  Larger than life characters, like sailor Lauris Madsen, who creates a name for himself with his bravery, only to disappear from his wife and family.  Madsen’s son, Albert, who sets sets sail in search of the father he barely knew and becomes part of a series of adventures that later become the stuff of Marstal legends.  From these early days, we read about the changes in Marstal as traditional sailing ships are replaced by steamers, and as two world wars take their toll on the Marstal men and the families they leave behind.

This is a chunkster of a book, but frankly, I didn’t want it to end.  I was so charmed by the characters, the story and Jensen’s sense of time and place.  We, The Drowned is an excellent work of historical fiction.  I highly recommend it!

5 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2011
688 pages

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The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman

The Ice Queen

In the opening pages of this novel, an eight year old her is mad at her mother.  Single mom is going out to celebrate her birthday with friends and on her way out the door, little girl makes a petulant wish – that she’d never see her mother again.  And that is exactly what happens.  Mom slips on some ice, hits her head and the injury leads to her death.

Fast forward.  Little girl grows up to be a librarian who is convinced she was responsible for her mother’s death.  She becomes cold-hearted, like the ice queen in the gothic fairy tales she loved as a child.  One day, however, she gets struck by lightning, and a series of events unfolds that gradually melts her heart of ice and changes her life forever.

I’m not a big fan of magical realism, but Alice Hoffman’s writing seems so down to earth, it’s hard not to be pulled in by it.  I found The Ice Queen to be an engaging and enjoyable novel.

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

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The Interior Circuit by Francisco Goldman

The Interior Circuit

Subtitled “A Mexico City Chronicle,” The Interior Circuit is a memoir connecting journalist Francisco Goldman’s life in Mexico City, his attempts to regain his life after the death of his wife, and stories about the political and criminal landscape of the metropolis.

Goldman’s personal stories weren’t really very interesting.  Even his attempts to learn to drive a stick-shift in Mexico City traffic should have been amusing, but they failed to gain even a giggle out of me.  Despite mentioning the death of his wife and his attempts of move on, he didn’t dwell on this either – although to be fair, he had already written a book on the subject.  It did find his interpretations of the Mexico City politics and their connection with the Drug Cartels fascinating.  I didn’t know that much about the subject before, and it really piqued my interest, although I can’t say I was persuaded by some of the author’s political arguments.

There was some good stuff here, but everything seemed too hodge-podge, too loose.  A good editor might have been able to help.

3 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2014
336 pages

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Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered by Dianne Hales

Mona Lisa

As someone who has long been interested in genealogy, I know first-hand how little information is available when researching someone who was relatively unknown. When I picked started reading this book, I couldn’t imagine the author could come up with enough information about the famous sitter in DaVinci’s portrait to make the book interesting.  But I was wrong.

It is believed that Mona Lisa is actually Lisa Gherardini (1479-1542), who lived in Florence during the height of the Italian Renaissance.  Author Dianne Hales deftly interweaves stories of historical Florentine history with what we do know about Lisa G., her contemporaries, and Leonardo DaVinci.  There was plenty here to interest the reader, and I give the author kudos for all her excellent research.  My only complaint is the Hales used conjecture quite often, by posing questions meant to make us guess at to what Mona Lisa was thinking or what her personality was like.  More often than not, it leads to wishful, rather than historic thinking.  Still, I enjoyed the book and learned a little more about history, which is always a plus.

3 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2014
336 pages

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