The Volunteer by Carter Coleman

Published: 1998

Genre: fiction

Length: 296 pages

Setting: the Umsambaras mountains region of Tanzania, present day

Interest: It fulfilled two of my book challenges

Summary: Jordan Rutledge is a Peace Corps volunteer in Tanzania teaching people how to farm fish. He’s also a deeply troubled, lonely young man who’s used the Peace Corps to run away from his failed relationship with Anna. During the story, he spends his time either obsessing about Anna or raising a crowned eaglet, Pasipo. Then he meets Zanifa, a 16-year old school girl who brings him his weekly chickens for Pasipo. Zanifa turns into his new obsession, especially when he learns she’s engages to Kimweri, the sultan of the Umsambaras. Even worse, Kimweri want Zanifa to undergo jambo (female circumcision). Jordan then conceives of a plan to put Zanifa in a boarding shcool in neighboring Kenya, all the while introducing Zanifa to the pleasures of oral sex.

Final thoughts: I did not like Jordan, especially in his relationship with women. (I need to read a book where the guy is not all about sex – this is the second book in a row where the guy is creepy.) He was completely flabbergasted that Anna wouldn’t forgive him for his multiple bouts of infidelity and take him back. Then, he decides to seduce Zanifa, “for her own good” of course. Too much “Come one, it’ll be OK” and “trust me”s for my taste. I wasn’t sure if I wanted Jordan to get Zanifa away. I did for her sake, but not his. The ending gave me a nice middle ground that I hadn’t thought of. The setting was quite impressive, and I loved his work with Pasipo, even if it was just another example of him being special and not needing to follow the rules.

Title comes from: Jordan, the main character, was a Peace Corps volunteer

Reading challenges fulfilled: 61/100 in my 100 Book Challenge, a V in my title Alphabet Challenge and Africa in my Global Reading Challenge

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Anne of Windy Poplars by L. M. Montgomery

Published: 1936

Genre: fiction

Length: 258 pages

Setting: Prince Edward Island, early 1900s

Interest: It’s the fourth book in the Anne of Green Gables series, following Anne of the Island, and I’m reading Miss Adventure the series at bedtime (interspersed with other books).

Summary: Anne has graduated from Redmond and has been appointed principal of Summerside High School for three years. Gilbert is off in medical school, so Anne writes him many letters about her adventures in Summerside. She first has to win over the Pringles, the ruling family of the town who had someone else in mind for her job. Then, she smooths down the prickles on Katherine, a fellow teacher. Anne takes an interest in little Elizabeth, a girl who lives next door. Plus we read about all the ins and outs of life in a small town.

Final thoughts: Another solid Anne book. Anne is getting older and no longer at Avonlea, so the cast of characters is different from the first few books. I must admit, I miss Diana and Gilbert in this book. Anne’s still Anne, though, finding friends and adventures in unlikely places. The book works fairly well as a read-aloud. Montgomery’s prose is always delightful, but the chapters tend to be too long to read in one night. Finding a place to stop could be tricky some nights.

Title comes from: Windy Poplars was the name of the house Anne lived in while she worked at Summerside

Reading challenges fulfilled: 60/100 in my 100 Book Challenge

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Med Ship Man by Murray Leinster

Published: 1963 originally, 2003 as part of Med Ship

Genre: science fiction

Length: 40 pages

Setting: far future, the planet Maya

Interest: It was a random book picked off my Kindle while we were on vacation

Summary: Calhoun is a member of the Med Ship service who travels to each planet in a sector, keeping track of medical problems and watching for the outbreak of plague. When he lands on Maya, he finds the cities completely deserted with no sign of the people. The only clue is a regular cycle of a huge electricity draw. Calhoun eventually finds the population herded beyond an electrical barrier. Calhoun is able to take down the barrier and return the population to their homes.

Final thoughts: The story is actually one of eight stories about Calhoun in the compilation. It was a fun, quick read. Nothing special, but nothing terrible either. Calhoun had some history he alluded to at times, and a pet that was introduced but didn’t play a large role in this story. I’d expect it to show up in the other stories as well, though.

Title comes from: The main character’s job.

Reading challenges fulfilled: 59/100 in my 100 Book Challenge

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Rabbit Is Rich by John Updike

Published: 1981

Genre: fiction

Length: 467 pages

Setting: Brewer, Pennsylvania in 1979

Font: Janson

Interest: It’s a Pulitzer Prize winner

Summary: As the Arab oil crisis continues, Rabbit’s Toyota dealership is doing pretty well. Harry’s life seems to be on the upswing. He and his wife have joined the newer country club and they like to party with a new set of friends. Then, Nelson comes home from Kent, bringing his friend Melanie. Turns out, Nelson had gotten Pru pregnant back at Kent and he’s come home to take a job selling cars for his father before marrying her. Harry is not pleased to have Nelson back home and working a the lot. He’s also fixated on the possibility that Ruth, his lover for a summer years ago, had a daughter from that relationship. The book ends with Harry and Janey heading to a Caribbean vacation with their new, swinging friends, Nelson running off back to Kent, the baby’s birth, and Harry and Janet moving into their own home.

Final thoughts: I really don’t like Harry Angstrom (no big surprise – I didn’t like him in the last book, either). His relationship with women pretty much revolves around sex. He’s snobbish, bigoted, and wants Nelson nowhere near. I wouldn’t have bothered with the book if it wasn’t a Pulitzer Prize winner. The sad this is the last book in the series also won a Pulitzer Prize so I have another one to read. Harry doesn’t do much of anything. He just goes along with the flow and hopes things get better. You do get a great snapshot of middle class life during the late 70s, but that doesn’t provide enough for me to enjoy the book.

Title comes from: Harry and Janet are firmly settled in middle age and comfortably well off. Now that they are in the upper middle class, the Angstroms are trying to keep up with the Jones’.

Awards won: National Book Critics Circle Award in 1981, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award in 1982

Reading challenges fulfilled: 58/100 in my 100 Book Challenge, a U in my author Alphabet Soup Challenge, and 6/12 in the Check Off Your Reading List Challenge

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The Journey by Kathryn Lasky

Published: 2003

Genre: middle grade talking animal fantasy

Length: 242 pages

Setting: immediately following the events of The Capture, mostly around the island with the Great Ga’Hoole Tree

Interest: We needed some audiobooks for our trip to Boston. Since we had enjoyed the first book in the series, we were happy to see the second was also available from the library in audio format.

Summary: Soren, Gylfie, Twilight, Digger, and Mrs. Plithiver (the blind snake) are on their way to the Great Ga’Hoole Tree to join the Guardians of Ga’Hoole in order to fight against St. Aggies’ owls. The Band isn’t exactly sure where the Great Ga’Hoole Tree is, and have several adventures in the process of finding the Tree, including being blown off course into an Arctic environment. Once they found the Tree, they are taken into the community there, which involves being chosen for chaws (specialized tasks). They each find a chaw they enjoy, but Soren is still haunted by his concern for his sister, Eglantine. They find Eglantine along with many other Tito owlets, who are all brought back to the Great Ga’Hoole Tree for rehabilitation.

Final thoughts: This one was a bit slow. The majority of the story is taken up by the journey to the Great Ga’Hoole Tree, followed by learning the tasks of their chaw. It is only at the very end, when Eglantine is found, that we see any indication of a conflict on the horizon. The kids enjoyed the story, but I found it a bit boring overall.

I found the audio version of the book to be enjoyable, but it’s always interesting to see some of the words written out instead of just spoken. For example, I thought the chaws were called chores, and I thought one of the owls’ names was Aunt Alissa but turns out it was Otulissa. It doesn’t change the understanding of the story, just provides a different experience.

Title comes from: The majority of the story was about the Band’s journey to find the Guardians of Ga’Hoole.

Reading challenges fulfilled: None since this was an audiobook.

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The Glass Sentence by S. E. Grove

Published: 2014

Genre: YA alternate history

Length: 489 pages

Setting: 1891, starting in Boston and traveling throughout North America

Interest: While I can’t remember how I found this book in the first place, I know I put it on my reading list because it was a YA book about maps. Sounds interesting to me!

Summary: While the setting is Boston, the world has been separated into multiple Ages during the Great Disruption. Sophia’s family has always been Explorers, but her parents disappeared when she was young. She lives with her Uncle Shadrack, who’s on the wrong side of a political fight to close the borders of their country. Shadrack is kidnapped and he sends Sophia on a journey to find an old friend, Veressa, with a special glass map. Sophia’s joined by Theo, originally from the Badlands, on the journey to Nochtland. It turns out the Sandmen who captured Shadrack were searching for the water map of the world. They want to rewrite history to eliminate the Great Disruption. To add to the tension, a new Age is moving north, covering the world in glaciers.

Final thoughts: Finally, an adventure story with the girl as the main character instead of the tag-along sidekick. Sophia was a reluctant heroine, but she did take the tough actions to save the world from destruction. The maps were an important element of the story. I found the different types of maps intriguing, with the different compositions (metal, water, air, glass) recording different elements of the scene.

I was a little surprised the big bad was actually rational at the end and decided to save the world instead of sticking singlemindedly with her evil plan. It was certainly a big turn that you don’t often see in a story. While the main driver for this book’s plot was wrapped up by the end, we do get a nice teaser to read the next book when Sophia gets an old letter from her parents.

Title comes from: The glass map Uncle Shadrack gave Sophia had one sentence on it in multiple languages.

Reading challenges fulfilled: 57/100 in my 100 Book Challenge

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Boston Public Library

I’m sure you noticed a bit of blog silence. I was just on vacation for a bit. StatsGuy had his big stats conference in Boston, and the rest of the family tagged along for some fun. Lots of history and cool buildings in Boston, including the library. We typically head to the main library of a big city if we’re going to be in town for a week or so, as a chance to decompress for a bit. Boston’s library didn’t disappoint.

The outside of the main library in Boston

The outside of the main library in Boston

The library is a very impressive structure, inside and out. It has a courtyard, and big marble stairs when you walk in the door. There’s even some stone lions guarding the murals on the walls.

photo(24)I can’t speak too much for the collections at the library, since we only went to the children’s library and that part of the library was under construction. But the building is worth spending some time in, even if you don’t want to read any of the books.




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