Books I am reading

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Local Customs by Audrey Thomas

Local Customs is a story set in the 1830's and is based on true events. 

Letitia Landon is a lady of limited means who has turned her love of writing into a way of supporting her family, gaining a certain amount of notoriety in her time. She has enjoyed an active social life, but as she reaches age 36, becomes concerned that she will end up an old woman living alone with her cat.
In walks George Maclean, home on leave from his position as the governor of Cape Coast Castle on the Gold Coast of West Africa (now Ghana). In very short order, they marry, and leave for the Gold Coast. Letty dies within 8 weeks of arriving in Africa. She does not have any obvious illness, insect or snake bite, but everyone has a theory about what happened.
This book is written from the viewpoint of Letty, after she has died, and several of the people around her, including George, her female companion, a local missionary, and another governor in the area. Some people did not like the style of moving from one person to another, but I liked "seeing" the situation from different points of view.
I found the book well-written and fascinating in the descriptions of the times, ideas, beliefs and behaviors. It also reinforced  my wonder at how colonial countries could really believe they were "improving" the lives of the people they conquered.
I give it a 4 Star rating. If you like historic settings, and novels based on real events and people, you will enjoy this book. I personally did not like that a definitive answer was not given as to how Letty died, but that's my personal hang-up for leaving things hanging. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Trans-Siberian Express or Who is Watching Whom?

I received an advanced review copy of Trans-Siberian Express by Warren Adler through Netgalley. I have not received any other compensation.

This book was originally released in 1977, and re-released this past Dec as a Kindle book. It is a story of the cat and mouse game between the three world powers: USA, the Soviet Union and China. And most of the story takes place on the train, a seemingly confining space. But as the train rumbles across Russia and Siberia, the tension builds.

Dr. Alex Cousins is asked by the President to go to Russia to treat Soviet Politburo Chief, Viktor Moiseyevich Dimitrov, who has leukemia. Dr Cousins is uniquely qualified as a renowned doctor specializing in blood illnesses, and descendant of a Russian immigrant from Siberia, and was raised fluent in Russian. He is asked to treat Dimitrov to prolong his life as long as possible, and find out what plans Dimitrov has made as his final official act.

I do not want to expose the various lines of intrigue,  but the book is well written, the characters interesting, complex and evolve as the story progresses. A great deal of history is woven into the story, reminding me of my childhood and young adult years as the balance of power was carefully maintained. 

I had the privilege of visiting St Petersburg and Moscow in the summer of 1994, during Glasnost. We took a night train from St Petersburg to Moscow. The ever present samovar was present in the corridor, but no one was making tea or heating the water. There was no matron to clean the compartments, but there were plenty of soldiers walking up and down the train. My ride on the Russian train added a great deal to my experience of this book. 

I highly recommend this book. There is intrigue, hide&seek, love/lust, dreams and desolation. It is an excellent vehicle for young people to feel the tension of Soviet Russia in all it's complexities, and for us older folks to remember.