20 June 2016

Around The World In 80 Books | Update #8

I've just finished up another month of the Around the World in 80 Books 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 five more countries –
Czech Republic, Djibouti, Estonia, France and Jamaica.

That makes a total of 40 books since I started the challenge. I'm at the halfway mark - only 40 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, Update #6 and Update #7.


KEEPING BEDLAM AT BAY IN THE PRAGUE CAFE by M. Henderson Ellis | Czech Republic (2013)

Keeping Bedlam at Bay in the Prague Cafe is a bizarre book, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. The main character, John Shirting, moved from Chicago, where he worked as a barista at the Capo Coffee Family, to Prague, where he dreams of expanding Capo's footprint into the post-communist Czech Republic. There's a couple of problems with his plan - he was fired by his beloved Capo Coffee and he's a bit of a nutcase who regularly self-medicates. The book has some truly hilarious moments and is chock full of strange and amusing characters. One of the moments I laughed out loud was this description of writing advice. It's good to know someone is looking out for the much maligned adverbs.
"Most writing manuals discourage the use of adverbs, so perhaps I'll edit out that 'precariously'" said Abe, scratching the word from his notebook. "No, retain them and catalogue them. I'll build a castle of adverbs and watch them try to knock it down with their bombastic manuals. Girish Patel bows to no style maven. I love my adverbs like children and will put out the call to collect orphaned, unwanted adverbs from across the world. There is no such thing as an unwanted adverb in God's eyes, do you comprehend? I won't stand for this abuse."

You can find out more about Keeping Bedlam at Bay in the Prague Cafe on Goodreads and find a copy on Amazon.

DJIBOUTI by Elmore Leonard | Djibouti (2010)

Let's just cut to the chase - I didn't like Djibouti. I was pretty excited to read it as I had never read anything by Elmore Leonard before. Leonard wrote the books that the movies Get Shorty and Jackie Brown and the TV series Justified were based on. I loved those, so this had to be good, didn't it? Nope, not for me. Djibouti is about a documentary filmmaker who heads to Djibouti to film Somali pirates hijacking ships. It's an interesting idea for a book, but the characters didn't grab me and I found how the book was structured to be a bit confusing. I didn't really learn much about Djibouti itself, but apparently the nightlife is great.
They followed the Rue de Paris to the Place Menelik to sit at a street cafe. "Have a cup of coffee and watch Djibouti nightlife," Xavier said. "Cup of coffee and sip some cognac. Watch the tourists cuttin up. Off a cruise ship come down from the Suez. They sayin, 'Ain't Africa fun?' They could be in Marseilles doin the same thing."

You can find out more about Djibouti on Goodreads and find a copy on Amazon.

PURGE by Sofi Oksanen | Estonia (2010)

This was a great book. An extremely disturbing book at times, but a great book. Purge tells the story of Aliide, an old woman living in rural Estonia, and Zara, a woman who fell victim to a Russian sex trafficking ring, is on the run from her captors and ends up at Aliide's house. The book flashes back and forth between the 1990s when Estonia gained its independence from Russia and the 1940s and 1950s when Estonia was under the control of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Both of their stories and secrets are slowly revealed through fragments, but eventually intertwine as the truth of what happened to Aliide and her family is pieced together.

The author brings Estonian culture to life throughout the book, with rich descriptions of things like food, cooking, courtship, weddings, farming practices, clothing and even superstitions.

It was a shimmering morning, the moving truck rocked back and forth, and Aliide had done everything possible to make sure that nothing would go wrong, careful in her every movement to be sure that she didn't mess anything up. She woke up and put her right foot on the floor first, stepped over the threshold with her right foot, opened doors with her right hand, hurrying to open them before Martin's left hand spoiled their luck. And as soon as they got to the house, she rushed to be the first to take hold of the gate with her right hand, and the door, and to step into the house with her right foot. Everything went well.

You can find out more about Purge on Goodreads and find a copy on Amazon.

DEPTHS OF GLORY by Irving Stone | France (1985)

Depths of Glory is a fictional biography of the Impressionist painter Camille Pissaro. Born to a family of French merchants on St. Thomas in the Caribbean, Pissaro developed an appreciation for art during his time at boarding school in Paris. Upon his return to St. Thomas, Pissaro worked in the family business, but chucked it all in when he came of age and decided to become a full-time painter. He went back to France after spending time in Venezuela. Depths of Glory describes Pissaro's artistic career, including the artists he interacted with, such as Gustave Corbet and Georges Seurat, and his personal and family life.

If you're interested in art, this is a fascinating book to read as it gives you some insight into what goes on in an artist's head and how his circumstances shape his work. I also found the descriptions of Paris during the 1800s intriguing, especially when it showed a less glamorous side of the city.
Learning that the poorest of Paris lived in the Faubourg St. Marcel, he wore his oldest boots, avoiding the cesspools of the ragged alleys, inconspicuously putting on paper the falling hovels. The few inhabitants at the dead ends were pale and haggard of face, dressed in tatters: people between hunger and death. He worked all day. When night fell the remainder of the unfortunates came out of their caves, hunched over the pale lanterns to forage among the discards and alluvial garbage of better neighborhoods...He wondered how such a majestic city as Paris could allow such dehumanizing misery to exist.

You can find out more about Depths of Glory on Goodreads. I believe Depths of Glory is out of print, so look in secondhand bookstores if you want a copy or pop by and say hi and I'll loan you ours.

DON'T GET MAD, GET EVEN by J.L. Campbell | Jamaica (2011)

I discovered J.L. Campbell through the Insecure Writer's Support Group. She, along with the other administrators, do a great job with the group, offering support and encouragement to writers at all levels, including newbies like me. When I saw that she lives in and writes about Jamaica, I thought reading one of her books would be ideal for this challenge.

Don't Get Mad, Get Even is a collection of short stories about what happens when someone is wronged, often in horrifying ways, and how they get even. The stories offer interesting insights into Jamaican culture and there's even a glossary at the end with Jamaican terms. My favorite story was "Entrapment," which describes the practice of obeah, a form of sorcery which was brought to the Caribbean by slaves from West Africa. In the story, Kyle dates and then marries a woman his mother doesn't approve due to her background. Turns out, he should have listened to his mother as the marriage quickly turned sour and then things went from bad to worse.

But what concerned her more than anything was Miriam's roots. According to Mummy, nothing good came from Clarendon. Her prejudices ran deep because she had several bad experiences with people who originated from that parish, including my father. She wouldn't discuss her aversion to Miriam, but stuck to her conviction that Clarendonians were a bunch of obeah workers. Nothing I said convinced her otherwise.

You can find out more about Don't Get Mad, Get Even on Goodreads and get a copy on Amazon. At the time of writing, it's free on Amazon, which is a great way to check out Campbell's work and learn a little bit about Jamaica.


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: Algeria, Australia, Azerbaijan, the Bahamas, Bolivia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Brazil, Canada, China, Cuba, Czech Republic, Djibouti, England, Estonia, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Grenada, Haiti, Iceland, India, Iran, Ireland, Jamaica, Japan, Kenya, Mali, Mexico, Nigeria, North Korea, Norway, Russia, Samoa, Scotland, Slovenia, Sweden, United States, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.

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  1. Great job on your synopsis of each book. You're honest too, and I like that the best.

    Have a fabulous day Ellen. ☺

  2. Hey, I know that last author!
    Build a castle of adverbs. Funny.

  3. I do like reading books set in 'foreign parts' :) Is there a timescale on the 80 books? I don't have as much time for reading as I'd like.

    1. It's isn't an "official challenge" and you can tweak the rules to suit you. I'm sure some people set themselves time limits, but I haven't. For me, it's just a fun way to seek out and read books I normally wouldn't.

  4. I often don't read much more each month than my book group choice I'm afraid. All the good titles I can think of though are from countries you've already done! The last one we all loved was Rose Tremain "The road home". It's about a man who travels to London from an unnamed Eastern European country to look for work. I felt she described his initial feelings of helplessness really well. I don't know how people manage.

    1. That sounds like a great book. I'm in awe of people who immigrate to other countries who don't know the language well, have many resources, face hardships etc. all in search of a better life.

  5. I am envious of the fact that you can read five books a month, Ellen. I truly should make more time for reading, since I enjoy it. Great overview again of the ones you read this month. Reading about this challenge makes me wonder whether I shouldn't try to incorporate more of my Belgian roots in the non-fiction book I am trying to write...

    1. You should definitely talk about your Belgian roots!! I think that would be so interesting to your readers (like me) when the book comes out.

  6. Thanks so much for reading one of my books. I'm always happy to share the Jamaican Culture.

    I am definitely going to check out KEEPING BEDLAM AT BAY IN THE PRAGUE CAFE. I like books that can make me laugh.

    Continue to enjoy your armchair voyages!

    1. Thanks for popping by JL! Hope you enjoy Keeping Bedlam at Bay :-)


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