08 February 2016

Around The World In 80 Books | Update #5

I've just finished up another month of the Around the World in 80 Books challenge. The idea is to read books set in 80 different countries, effectively exploring the world from the comfort of your armchair. Since my last update, I've read books set in five more countries - Brazil, Ireland, Japan, Russia and Samoa. That makes a total of 25 books since I started the challenge. 55 more to go!

You can read more about the challenge here, as well as check out Update #1, Update #2, Update #3 and Update #4.


THE TESTAMENT by John Grisham | Brazil

It's been a while since I've read a John Grisham book. While I wouldn't normally put his books on my must read list, when I saw this on the book exchange shelf and read on the back that it was about Brazil, I decided to give it a shot. However, this one seemed to be a bit different than other John Grishman books I've read - less of a legal thriller and more of a spiritual message within a legal context.

The Testament starts with a legal battle over the last will and testament of a billionaire who left his fortune to a missionary serving in Brazil, rather than to his family. The book describes a lawyer's search in the Patanal region of Brazil to find her before time runs out on the legal proceedings. In the process, there is a lot of adventure and misadventure, evil bugs, illness and religion.

Throughout the book, Grisham paints a picture of the challenges faced in the rain forest on the border between Bolivia and Brazil. One of those challenges is the rate at which native Indian languages are dying off - an issue that I've always been interested in since my days studying anthropology.
"When the Portuguese explorer Pedro Alvares Cabral first stepped on Brazilian soil, on the coast of Bahia, in April of 1500, the country had five million Indians, scattered among nine hundred tribes. They spoke 1,175 languages, and except for the usual tribal skirmish they were a peaceful people. After five centuries of getting themselves ‘civilized’ by Europeans the Indian population had been decimated. Only 270,000 survived, in 206 tribes using 170 languages."

You can find out more about The Testament on Good Reads.

GALWAY BAY by Mary Pat Kelly | Ireland

I'm kind of embarrassed to admit that I don't know much about Irish history. After all I'm part Irish-American and I hold an Irish passport, so it's about time I learned something about the country. Given that I find actual history books to be pretty dry, I prefer to do my learning through historical fiction. That's where Galway Bay comes in.

Beginning in 1839, it tells the story of an Irish family who survive "The Great Starvation" brought on by the potato blight and end up emigrating to America. The family settles in Chicago, struggles to survive and then gets caught up in the Civil War. The book ends with a family gathering at the Chicago World Fair in 1893.

I found it to be an enjoyable saga, easy to read and hard to put down. And I might have even learned a thing or two.
"Call them what you will, but they know the facts. England owns Ireland. Mitchel has the figures. In the forty years since the Union, we’ve paid eight million pounds a year in taxes. What’s that, over three hundred million pounds? Add to that the ten percent tithe every one of us pays to the Church of Ireland to support churchmen for the likes of the Scoundrel Pyke. A fortune. All we ask is some of those taxes back. Parliament refuses. The British distract O’Connell with promises of relief and public works with our grain, our cattle, our sheep, our pigs, and our butter! We can’t afford to buy what we grow. Now we’ve lost the potato. What do they care? They’ve wanted us dead for centuries – Ireland without the Irish. The blight is the weapon they’ve been waiting for. Britain will look the other way as we starve to death."

You can find out more about Galway Bay on Goodreads.


This was another one of those books that I picked up from the marina book exchange. It's a good thing it didn't cost me anything, because I wasn't too enthralled with it. It's billed as an "electrifying epic" which is based on the true story of a Chinese princess turned spy. Given it's about a Chinese princess, you're probably wondering where Japan comes into it. The main character, Eastern Jewel, was sent to Japan as a young girl to live with another family. While in Japan, she embraces its culture and starts to identify more as Japanese than Chinese.

Some parts of the book are interesting when they describe what life was like in Japan, China and Mongolia during the early 1900s, but the rest of the book left me bored to tears. If you are thinking of reading this, be warned that you might find it to be quite racy. There's no shortage of sex scenes in the book, which frankly I don't think added anything to the plot. Although, now that I think about it, that may have been the plot.

Don't worry, I'm not going to give you a quote from one of the racier sections of the book. Instead, I found this passage interesting. It describes the reaction of Eastern Jewel to the suicide of her Japanese foster aunt. She is discomfited by the suicide and surprised that her Japanese family see no dishonor in the act.

"When I went to Natsuko to formally offer my condolences I said something of my views to her, suggesting she pray that Shimako not be punished for her contempt of the gift of life. ‘You like to think of yourself as Japanese, Yoshiko,’ she said. ‘But your Chinese blood will always give you away. I know that you do not grieve for Shimako, who outshone you in life. How did you come to be so heartless a person? You do not take after your mother, who they say was a gentle woman.’"

You can find out more about The Private Papers of Eastern Jewel on Goodreads.

Scarlet Lies by Lani Wendt Young | Samoa

I bought this book on a whim on Amazon. I did a search for books set in Samoa, then sorted the results by price from low to high and this one popped up towards the top. Although it wasn't free (my favorite price point), it was only 99 cents, so I decided to give it a shot. The reviews I read promised me a side-splitting romance and it didn't disappoint. It was one of those books where I laughed out loud more than once.

The main character, Scarlet, was exiled overseas as a teenager in disgrace to live with her aunties. She reluctantly returns to Samoa to attend her sister's wedding and face her family. On her flight, she meets Jackson, a man who she thinks is almost as dreamy as Jason Momoa, and sparks fly - this is where the romance comes in. While in Samoa, Scarlet deals with cultural pressures from her family at the wedding from hell, as well as her attraction to Jackson. This book also has a racy scene or two typical of what you might find in some romance novels. {By the way, I don't know what I'm giving all these "racy scene" warnings. Maybe it's because my mom reads this blog.}

Scarlet Lies is a fast read which had me in stitches. If you don't know who Jason Momoa is, you should probably Google him.
"Last year I wrote Jason Momoa a few letters (maybe ten or twenty. I forget.) and sent him a few boxes of my homemade cookies. Just to express my appreciation for his movies, y'know? Then his mean agent threatened to take out a restraining order on me so I had to stop. Which was a massive over-reaction on his part, because how dangerous can chocolate chip macadamia nut cookies be? Yeah, so I was sending them every week, but I thought he could share them with all of his family and friends. Clearly they misunderstood my intentions."

You can find out more about Scarlet Lies on Goodreads.

DARKNESS AT NOON by Arthur Koestler | Russia

As I was reading this book out on the patio at the marina, a few people stopped to chat with me about it. Inevitably they would say, "Oh, that's a classic." I guess the fact that it had the Penguin Classics imprint on it should have been a clue, but to be honest, I had never heard of it. I just picked it up off of the book exchange shelf because it ticked the Russia box. I had absolutely no expectations and knew nothing about it when I read it - sometimes, that's the best way to read a book.

Darkness at Noon describes the imprisonment of a Bolshevik revolutionary, Rubashov, who was tried for treason by the Soviet government. Rubashov has flashbacks to the early days and the actions he took to establish the Soviet state, which he viewed as for the greater good of mankind. It's a fascinating portrayal of the revolution and its aftermath, which has me reflecting on the philosophic underpinnings of the former Soviet Union.

I especially liked the descriptive language Kostler used, like this passage which compares the collapse of the revolutionary movement to human death.
"The movement had been defeated, its members were outlawed and hunted and beaten to death. The Party was no longer a political organization; it was nothing but a thousand-armed and thousand-headed mass of bleeding flesh. As a man’s hair and nails continue to grow after his death, so movement still occurred in individual cells, muscles and limbs of the dead Party. All over the country existed small groups of people who had survived the catastrophe and continued to exist underground…The Party remained dead, it could neither move nor breathe, but its hair and nails continued to grow; the leaders abroad sent galvanizing currents through its rigid body, which cause spasmodic jerks in the limbs."

You can find out more about Darkness at Noon on Goodreads


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.

COUNTRIES READ TO DATE: Australia, Azerbaijan, the Bahamas, Brazil, Canada, China, Cuba, England, Ghana, Haiti, Iceland, India, Ireland, Japan, Kenya, Mali, Mexico, North Korea, Norway, Russia, Samoa, Scotland, United States, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.

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  1. There is nothing better than getting lost in a good book. I love doing so and often.

    Have a fabulous day Ellen. ☺

    1. A sign of a good book is when you get so lost in it you forget to eat :-)

  2. This is such a fantastic idea. It is a great way to travel the world through the eyes of others.

    1. I'm enjoying. It's a good way to read books that I normally wouldn't pick up or know about.

  3. I just read a real gem from Libya: In the Country of Men, by Hisham Matar.

  4. Im glad you enjoyed Scarlet Lies! (and yes, a google for Jason Momoa visuals is essential for reading AND understanding her obsession lol)

    Have you read Americanah by Chimamanda Adichie? Nigerian author. Such a good read. If youre looking for something from that part of the world.

    1. Wow - this is the first time an author of a book I've read has popped up here on the blog. What a nice surprise! I'm really looking forward to reading the next book in the Scarlet series. Thanks for the recommend on Americanah. I've never heard of it and will definitely check it out. Cheers - Ellen


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