One of my favorite things to do each night is read before I turn into bed. Lately, I've been re-reading Isaac Asimov's Foundation series, but I'm also making time for my Around the World in 80 Books Challenge. The idea is to read a book set in 80 different countries. Over the past month, I've ticked off five more countries - Azerbaijan, the Bahamas, Mexico, Scotland and Zimbabwe. So far, that makes ten countries down since I started the challenge, only 70 more to go!
You can read more about the challenge here and check out last month's update here.
ALI AND NINO by Kurban Said | Azerbaijan
I asked Bo from Sailing B&A for a recommendation for Azerbaijan and he suggested Ali and Nino. Bo and his wife Allison travel all over the world for their work and, as Bo had recently been in Azerbaijan, I figured he would be the guy to ask. Turns out I was right - Bo recommended a good one. Ali and Nino is a fascinating read.
Set at the eve of World War I in Baku, it tells of the romance between Ali, a Muslim from an aristocratic family with roots in Asia, and the Georgian princess Nino, a Christian girl who is drawn to Europe. After high school, they become engaged and Ali promises Nino that she will never have to wear the veil or become part of a harem. Despite their religious and cultural differences, family and friends support their marriage (albeit reluctantly for some), although Ali does get some dodgy relationship advice from some folks, such as when Seyd Mustafa told him that:
"A man must marry, preferably the woman he likes. She need not like him in return. A wise man does not court a woman. The woman is just an acre, on which the man sows. Must the field love the farmer? Enough that the farmer loves the field. Marry, but never forget: the woman is just an acre."
Like all good love stories, there's plenty of drama and events which threaten Ali and Nino's happiness, but ultimately they triumph and live happily ever after. Or do they? You'll have to read the book and find out.
You can find out more about Ali and Nino on Goodreads.
THUNDERBALL by Ian Fleming | The Bahamas
One of my "rules" for the challenge was to read books I wouldn't normally pick up. I think this one qualifies! While I'm a big fan of James Bond movies, I probably wouldn't have read one of Ian Fleming's books if Scott hadn't mentioned them. I picked Thunderball because it is set in the Bahamas. We were just there in April/May and are planning on heading back out there on our boat this coming season. One of the places I want to see is the famous grotto at Staniel Cay where the bad guys hid the bombs they stole. Do you remember the scene from the movie?
When you're getting ready to go cruising, there are a lot of important things you need to do like provision, make sure you have nautical charts and be aware of what super villains you might encounter, like SPECTRE. They don't fight fair.
"Largo was ready. His knee came up hard against Bond's head and at the same time his right hand came swiftly down and clamped the small octopus across Bond's mask. Then from above, both his hands came down and got Bond by the neck, lifted him up like a child, and held him at arm's length, pressing. Bond could see nothing. Vaguely he felt the slimy tentacles groping over his fact, getting a grip on the mouthpiece between his teeth, pulling. But the blood was roaring in his head and he knew he was gone. Slowly he sank to his knees."
I enjoyed Thunderball. A bit different from my normal read, but very entertaining and quite funny at times. I'll probably read another one of his. By the way, who's your favorite on-screen James Bond?
You can find out more about Thunderball on Goodreads.
JUST THE PITS by Jinx Schwartz | Mexico
Jinx Schwartz is a fellow cruiser. I found out about her books on the Women Who Sail Facebook group and when I found out I could get a copy of one of her books for free on Amazon, I jumped at the chance. A murder mystery set on a boat for free? It was pretty much a no-brainer.
Just the Pits is the fifth book in the Hetta Coffey mystery series set in Mexico. Hetta is a red-headed engineering consultant who is a "sassy Texan with a snazzy yacht who isn't afraid to use it." Constantly finding herself in trouble with dead bodies scattered left and right, Hetta sticks her nose in where it doesn't belong and sorts out the bad guys. In Just the Pits, Hetta lands a gig working at a mining company and discovers people and money are disappearing. You've gotta like her investigative style - it always seems to involve booze and food. And why let truth get in the way, especially when you're a consultant.
"I resorted to a ploy that has worked well for me in the past; when you don't have snot, make a graph. The thing I love about graphs is that, depending on the scale, you can make them project whatever slant you desire. Of course, you never want to leave a copy with anyone, lest they figure out that a squished graph can look ominous, with huge jagged peaks and valleys, while a lengthened one with gently undulating ups and downs doesn't look all that bad."
I've got a couple other Hetta Coffey books on my Kindle, which I figure will be perfect reads sitting in our cockpit and sipping on a tropical drink once we're back out on the water. You can find out more about Just The Pits on Goodreads.
OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon | Scotland
I've heard lots of people rave about the Outlander series of books and, as I happened to have a copy on my Kindle, I thought I would give it a try. At the end of World War II, Claire is enjoying a second honeymoon with her husband in Scotland when she finds herself transported back in time through a stonehenge (not The Stonehenge, which is overrated in my opinion, especially compared to the one in Avebury) to the year 1743. There she meets the very dishy Jamie Fraser who she is forced to wed. This of course makes her a bigamist, but is it really bigamy when you technically haven't been born yet?
Having lived in Scotland for many years, I enjoyed the descriptions of the Scottish highlands, the food and, of course, the Loch Ness monster (also known as a waterhorse). It's kind of like Scotland's aquatic version of Bigfoot. Elusive and seldom seen.
"The sleek skin was a smooth, deep blue, with a vivid slash of green shining with brilliant iridescence beneath the jaw. And the strange, pupilless eyes were a deep and glowing amber. So very beautiful...Valved nostrils opened suddenly with a startlingly hiss of breath; a moment of suspended motion, and the creature sank again, a churning roil of waters the only testimony to its passage."
There was an inordinate amount of discussion of thrashing children (as well as adults) and whether that was good for them, which I found a bit bizarre, but, if you can see past that, it's a good old fashioned historical romance novel. And did I mention that Jamie Frazier is dreamy? If I find more of the Outlander series on a free table or book exchange somewhere, I'd definitely pick them up. You can find out more about Outlander on Goodreads.
THE GRASS IS SINGING by Doris Lessing | Zimbabwe
After all the trashy romance novels and fluffy mysteries I read during the past month, I needed to redeem myself by reading something a bit more literature-like. The Grass is Singing definitely qualifies. In her first novel, Nobel Prize winner Doris Lessing describes racial tensions and politics during the 1940s in what was then known as Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Opening up with the death of Mary Turner, the book flashes back to trace the unhappiness of Mary and her husband, Dick, poor white farmers struggling to make ends meet. Lessing paints a picture of the racist views of the white community, the experiences of their black workers and the tragic consequences when the "color bar" is crossed.
"The next boy was quite different. He had had years of experience working for white women who treated him as if he were a machine; and he had learned to present a blank, neutral surface, and to answer in a soft neutral voice. He replied gently, to everything she said, 'Yes, missus; yes, missus,' not looking at her. It made her angry that he would never meet her eyes. She did not know it was part of the native code of politeness not to look a superior in the face; she thought it was merely further evidence of their shifty and dishonest nature."
Like the late Scottish writer Iain Banks, Doris Lessing wrote across genres. She wrote a number of books which explored social issues (such as The Good Terrorist and The Golden Notebook), as well as the science fiction series Canopus in Argos. I had only read her Canopus series before and now I'm keen to read more of her non-science fiction work. You can find out more about The Grass is Singing on Goodreads.
Looking for something to read?
If you're looking for a new book to read, here are some suggestions that folks have shared on Facebook, the blog or email. I've added in links to Goodreads where possible so you can find out more about the suggestions. Also, Maria at Sailing Mareda is going to be spending the year reading around the Mediterranean and has some great book ideas - check it out here.
- Lynn from Tales from the Mutiny - Ahab's Wife by Sener Jeter Naslund (USA), Smilla's Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg (Denmark/Greenland), Dogs of Riga by Henning Mankell (Sweden/Latvia), Let's Not Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexander Fuller (Zimbabwe)
- Richard - Beserk by David Mercy (Antarctica), Sailing Alone around the World by Joshua Slocum
- Don - Bury Me Standing by Isabel Fonseca (Eastern Europe), and The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco (Paris), The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition by Caroline Alexander (Antarctic), Beijing Coma by Ma Jian (China). The Holy Grail: Imagination and Belief by Richard Barber (England)
- My mom - Notes from a Dead House by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Siberia), Harraga by Boualem Sansal (Algeria), Dishing the Dirt by MC Beaton (England)
- My sister - Germania by Simon Winder (Germany)
If you're participating in the challenge too, I'd love to hear what you've been reading. Even if you're not doing the challenge, let us know what books you've been enjoying lately.
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