I've just finished up another couple of months of the Around the World in 80 Books challenge. It's been a while since my last update as I was wrapped up in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge during much of April. I also found myself reading a lot of cozy mysteries, which unfortunately were all set in the States, so I couldn't use them to tick off any countries for this particular challenge.
The idea of the challenge 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 six more countries – Germany, Greece, Grenada, Iran, Nigeria and Sweden.That makes a total of 35 books since I started the challenge. 45 more to go!
You can read more about the challenge here, as well as check out Update #1, Update #2, Update #3, Update #4, Update #5 and Update #6.
THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak | Germany
The Book Thief is one of those bestsellers everyone raves about, has won all sorts of awards and I'm sure Oprah has a copy on her nightstand. For some reason, I often hesitate to read popular books for fear that I'll be disappointed. I worry that it might be a bit like the popular girl at school. Sure, she's pretty on the outside and everyone wants to be her friend, but shallow is her middle name.
But, I happened to have a copy of The Book Thief and it ticks off Germany from the list, so I went ahead and read it. Turns out it's not only popular, but good. Kind of like a cheerleader with a heart, brains and a quirky sense of humor. Just goes to show you that you shouldn't stereotype folks, including the popular girls.
Set during World War II in Munich, The Book Thief tells the story of a girl, Liesel Meminger, who steals books, her foster father who plays the accordion, a Jewish man who comes into their lives, Nazis, and my favorite character, Death.
Death tells the story of Liesel and her friends and family, offering interesting tidbits along the way, like his favorite color of sky - chocolate. See, Death likes chocolate - he can't be such a bad guy after all.
The question is, what color will everything be at that moment when I come for you? What will the sky be saying? Personally, I like a chocolate-colored sky. Dark, dark chocolate. People say it suits me. I do, however, try to enjoy every color I see - the whole spectrum. A billion or so flavors, none of them quite the same, and a sky to slowly suck on. It takes the edge off the stress. It helps me relax.
You can find out more about The Book Thief on Goodreads.
THE OLIVE GROVE by Katherine Kizilos | Greece
I found The Olive Grove on the book exchange at my marina. I don't normally read travel memoirs, but this was one of two I read over the past couple of months. The author is a Greek-Australian whose father fled Greece during the civil war and emigrated to Australia. She returned to Greece several times, living in her father's village and traveling around the country. The Olive Grove tells the story of her travels when she went back in 1995.
There are several themes interwoven throughout the book such as the relationship with her father and his views towards his adopted country of Australia and his birthplace, the disappearance of rural villages and its impact on Greek life, the plight of Albanian immigrants and what it means to be Greek.
To be honest, this was one of those books that I struggled to get through initially. But, because of my self-imposed rule to finish all books I start during this challenge, I soldiered on and, in the end, was glad I made it past the first third of the book. I enjoyed the author's insights into Greek culture, as well as her other observations on life - such as this one on talking while you walk.
There is much to be said for talking as you walk. What you say is not the sole focus, so the pressure to perform - to impress - is off. If the conversation lags or is strained, the silence falls naturally enough; the compensations of landscape and exercise fill the vacuum. Listening can also be easier on the hoof. Expressions of pain or amusement remain private: no-one is looking at you. And if a story sends you spinning into a reverie so that, on emerging from the eddy of your thoughts, you find you have nothing to say, well, then it doesn't matter. The walking takes over.
You can find out more about The Olive Grove on Goodreads.
AN EMBARRASSMENT OF MANGOES by Ann Vanderhoof | Grenada
An Embarrassment of Mangoes was the second travel memoir that I read over the past couple of months and I loved it from start to finish. The author recounts her and her husband's escape from the rat race and sailing throughout the Caribbean. Even if you aren't planning on buying a boat and cruising the Caribbean islands, this is still a great read about a couple's courage to live their dream and enjoy life to its fullest.
There are a number of Caribbean islands that she describes in the book, but I decided to tick Grenada off with this book as a fair bit of the memoir covers that island. Plus, our boat (S/V Tickety Boo) has been to Grenada with her previous owners and spent hurricane season there, so I have a particular interest in the area.
I love the tone of the memoir - you feel like the author is telling you stories about their adventures over a cup of coffee or a tropical rum punch. And, I love the fact that she and her husband made the effort to get to know the local people, unlike some cruisers that they met along the way.
“To our surprise, though, we’ve discovered that not all cruisers are as determined as we are to get involved in island culture. Some aren’t only ignoring local events and music, they’re still eating much as they did back home. ‘They’ve got bigger freezers and more money than we have,’ Steve says, ‘but I’ll bet they’re not having as much fun.’”
You can find out more about An Embarrassment of Mangoes on Goodreads.
BRIDES OF BLOOD by Joseph Koenig | Iran
Crime, suspense and post-revolutionary Iranian society is a recipe for a fascinating novel. In The Brides of Blood, Darius Bakhtiar, the Chief of Homicide for the National Police, investigates the death of a young woman found on a bench in Tehran and, in the process, becomes embroiled in political and religious intrigue. The course of his investigation takes him to guerilla training camps, Evin prison, where torture is routine, inside the Komiteh, the paramilitary group who enforces their particular brand of the Islamic code, and into the midst of drug smuggling rings.
While I enjoyed The Brides of Blood as a hard-boiled crime novel, what I particularly liked was the insights into daily life in post-revolutionary Iran.
“Ghaffari’s small single-story house was set behind an ivy-covered wall in a neighborhood near the Azadi monument in the western part of the city that had not changed in twenty years. Its four rooms were furnished in the old style with cushions and pillows on the floor, which were layered with Hamadan carpets that had been in Ghaffari’s mother’s family for generations. A low table in the living room supported a twenty-seven-inch color television and a vase containing a single dog rose. The door was opened by a little girl in a floral-patterned indoor chador who ran into her father’s arms and was covered with kisses. Over Ghaffari’s shoulder she eyed Darius as though he were a child molester. Shahla was nine years old, the legal mature age for a female, and thus was obligated to wear the veil.”
You can find out more about The Brides of Blood on Goodreads.
I DO NOT COME TO YOU BY CHANCE by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani | Nigeria
This was another book that I might have put down after the first couple of chapters if it wasn't for my rule of finishing every book I start during this challenge. I'm glad I stuck with it. It turned out to be hilarious and fascinating. I Do Not Come to You by Chance tells the story of Kingsley Ibe who, as the eldest son, takes on responsibility for his family when his father passes away. Unable to find work in the field that he trained for at university, Kingsley become involved in his uncle's business in order to provide for his mother and siblings.
While his uncle, Cash Daddy, has a profitable business, there's one problem - it's based on scamming mugus (patsies) through Nigerian 419 advance fee scams. You've probably heard about these types of scams or maybe even been contacted by one of these dodgy characters yourself promising a very large sum of money if you help them with a transaction to release money that they can't access. It was fun to read the emails that Kingsley and his colleagues sent to their targets, as well as see how he struggles to reconcile himself to his lucrative "profession."
Dear Friend, I do not come to you by chance. Upon my quest for a trusted and reliable foreign businessman or company, I was given your contact by the Nigerian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. I hope that you can be trusted to handle a transaction of this magnitude...Sometime ago, I deposited the sum of $58,000,000.00 cash (fifty eight million USD) of my late husband's money in a security firm whose name I cannot disclose until I'm sure that I can trust you. I will be very grateful if you could receive these funds for safe keeping. For your kind assistance, you are entitled to 20% of the total sum.
You can find out more about I Do Not Come to You by Chance on Goodreads.
DEATH ANGELS by Ake Edwardson | Sweden
I went from reading a book about sweltering Nigeria to reading one about freezing cold Sweden. Death Angels is the first in the series of Inspector Winter crime novels. In this book, Inspector Winter investigates a series of related murders in London and Gothenburg which leads him into the dark world of the porn industry and snuff films. It was an engrossing read, although the subject matter was rather unpleasant at times, and I'd happily read another one of the author's books.
To be honest, I don't know much about Sweden, although I've been there, so I was interested in the descriptions of various characters, including that of the division chief, Sture Birgersson who comes from Lapland.
Birgersson was a Laplander who had wound up in Gothenburg by chance, not design. Unlike everyone else from northern Sweden, he didn't go back and hunt in the fall...Birgersson had the peculiar accent of someone who'd grown up in a mining district near the polar circle and spent his adult life in the hustle-bustle of a European metropolis.
You can find out more about Death Angels 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. If you're interested in participating in the challenge yourself or just looking for some book ideas, check out this list of A to Z suggestions from Book Riot.
COUNTRIES READ TO DATE: Algeria, Australia, Azerbaijan, the Bahamas, Bolivia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Brazil, Canada, China, Cuba, England, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Grenada, Haiti, Iceland, India, Iran, Ireland, Japan, Kenya, Mali, Mexico, Nigeria, North Korea, Norway, Russia, Samoa, Scotland, Slovenia, Sweden, United States, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.
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