Monday, August 8, 2011

Review of Caleb's Crossing

I received Caleb's Crossing as part of my gift package for being a bridesmaid in my friend's wedding this past July. It was perfect timing because I was about to head to Cape Cod a few weeks later, and was looking for a good summer read. What is more, Caleb's Crossing is set on Martha's Vineyard in the late 1600's, a 40 minute drive + ferry from where I would be staying.

Caleb's Crossing tells the story of Bethia Mayfield, one of the first European inhabitants of Martha's Vineyard. Bethia is the daughter of the island's minister, who is working to convert the island's native people to Christianity. Although Bethia's character is a product of fiction, the Wopanaak boy she befriends, Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk, is not. Caleb was one of the first Native Americans to matriculate from Harvard University in 1665. Caleb and Bethia meet by accident when they are teenagers. She is rebelling from the constraints of being a girl in Pilgrim New England, and he is walking on his lands as they are quickly being encroached upon by settlers. They form a close friendship and teach each other their respective languages and beliefs. As a result of several tragedies both find themselves in Cambridge, Caleb to study at Harvard and Bethia to work off an indentured servitude. In the end, they both make it back to Martha's Vineyard, but only one survives to live out their life.

I was captivated by the story and struck by Brooks' ability to write in the 'old' English style in a way that wasn't overly affected. The story was compelling enough, but not riveting. I enjoyed the book as a mediocre work of fiction that was perfect for reading in the evenings once Tessa was asleep and I had a moment to relax and appreciate the warm summer Cape Cod breeze. But Caleb's Crossing was nothing particularly special.

MY RATING: 5/10.

Review of In Arabian Nights

This book was a gift, and I am so lucky to have received it; It is the kind of book that I never would have chosen to read, and it affected me profoundly. Tahir Shah is the son of Idries Shah, a highly esteemed writer, philosopher, and scholar of eastern writings and traditions. As a child, Tahir spent months in Morocco traveling with his family, and when he had a family of his own he decided to move them to a crumbling estate on the outskirts of a slum in Casablanca. The trials and tribulations of buying and restoring that house are described in The Caliph's House, a book published prior to In Arabian Nights and one which I plan to read soon.

In Arabian Nights is the story of Shah's quest to find the story in his heart. Supposedly, everyone has a story in their heart, and it can take a minute or a lifetime to find it, but once you do, it stays with you forever. In his quest to find his story, Shah travels throughout Morocco and meets all sorts of characters with wonderful stories of their own. This is not a book of short stories, but instead a description of a journey that is woven with wonderful tales and folk stories. Shah is a gifted writer, and transports us not only to his life and experience living and traveling throughout Morocco, but one step further into all of the stories that he tells throughout the book. And there are some GREAT stories.

I plan to read this book again and mark all of the pages where he tells wonderful tales so that I can learn them and tell them to Tessa when she's a bit older. One of my fondest memories as a child is sitting with my own grandfather on a window seat overlooking Madison Avenue. As we looked out of the window of my grandparents' apartment he would tell me story after story, some completely made up, others about his childhood, and still others that had been told to him. I was always entranced, and realize that nothing can replace moments like those. In Arabian Nights is about the value of those moments.


Review of The Hunger Games Trilogy

I'm cheating a little with this book review because I'm combining three separate books into one review. But it is a trilogy, so I'm going to try and get away with it.

My friend Tara recommended The Hunger Games to me when I said I was looking for a fun, easy read. The first book was perfect for a mindless summer read (helps that it falls in the YA (Young Adult) category)). It was also addictive in the same odd way that Twilight was. And just like the Twilight series, the next books in the series got progressively worse, but I still read them in the span of about 10 days.

The Hunger Games is about a girl named Katniss who lives in one of 13 districts throughout Panem (previously North America) sometime in the future after a huge battle when the districts tried to gain independence from the Capitol. They lost. And now every year one boy and one girl from each district are forced to compete to the death in a televised competition known as the Hunger Games.

Interestingly, the plot is structured in a somewhat similar manner to Twilight where a love triangle is quickly established between Katniss, her 'best friend' Gale, and Peeta, her co-competitor from her district in the Hunger Games.

I don't want to ruin the plot in case anyone decides to give these a read, so I'll just stick to a quick review from here:

The first book was great. Strong plot, interesting characters, and great action once the Hunger Games begin. Catching Fire was so-so. It was a bit repetitive because we're taken through a second Hunger Games, and the love triangle gets a bit too much play. By the time I read Mockingjay it was really because I just wanted to see how everything ends, and I had very little patience for Katniss and her bitchy attitude and consistent petulance. Everything was wrapped up pretty quickly and conveniently too. But if I were a teenager, I don't think I'd mind too much.

MY REVIEW (of the series): 5/10
If it were just the Hunger Games alone: 7/10