Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Charlemagne Pursuit - Book Review

The Charlemagne Pursuit
By Steve Berry
Ballentine Books 2008
Steve Berry Website

Sometime in the last 20 years, with all the reading I do, I came across the Piri Reis map. This is an enigmatic map dating from 1513 CE and showing coastlines that do not currently exist. BUT those coastlines do exist....under several miles of the Antarctica.

This has led to speculation that a superior race of people who knew about maths and cartography, once existed on this planet, thousands of years ago. But if that is so, then what happened to them?

In The Charlemagne Pursuit, Cotton Malone is on the quest to find out what happend to his father. Forrest Malone was a US navy captain running submarines. He supposedly died in the North Atlantic when Cotton was 10 years old. Now some new information has arisen that says that the submarine did not go down in the North Atlantic but in the South Atlantic instead. The very far south.

The information also says that the submarine was on a secret mission and that all the crew signed an agreement that if the sub went missing, the navy would NOT go loooking for them in any SAR attempt. WHO in their right mind, would sign such an agreement?

One of the other men aboard this submarine was a German, Dieter Oberhauser who had some proof that there was an ancient civilisation on what is is now the Antarctic continent. This civilisation were wiped out when the magnetic poles reversed which caused many floods and upheavals. The planet of Earth moved to a new angle and the continent that we call Antarctica became frozen. It had previously been located in the temperate zone.

This ancient civilisation left behind a manuscript. Called heavenly writing. People from this ancient civilisation were supposedly helping the humans to become educated and more enlightened (and therefore less war like) as recent as 1100 years ago.

Charlemagne was an enlightened ruler for his era. He gathered many scholars at his castle in Aachen, Germany and tried to teach the people. He did not go to war unles it was absolutely necessary. His biographer Einhard write a biography of Charlemagne staying that the holy ones helped Charlemagne to be more enlightened.

Einhard also hid a book of what he called "heavenly writings" and this book would lead the way to the home of the holy ones. Cotton meets up with Dieter Oberhauser's daughters and together they are pushed into finding the "dictionary" for the heavenly writings - the translations.

Thus Cotton and the sisters follow the trail to the Antarctica and there they find the home of the ancient ones as well as the bodies of their respective fathers.

The book of heavenly writings is from the Voynich manuscript - a book that has been determined to be a medieval "hoax" now. It is now in a rare books library at Yale University. The experts call it a "hoax" only because noone has been able to translate it.

This book actually reminds me of Decipher - another novel I briefly mentioned but never got around to reviewing.

DECIPHER also had mysterious writing that was traced back to the Antarctica and the home of an ancient race of people. We call this civilisation Atlantis. The book also posited a reason for their decline and disappearance.

This was another excellent book from Steve Berry. Now I have read them all - until the next book comes out later this year.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Tears of the Desert - Book Review

Tears of the Desert
By Halima Bashir
Harper Colllins 2008

This is the story of a Sudanese girl from Darfur. She tells the story of how she grew up in a village, was educated at school, was sent to Khartoum to attend university and then later medical school. And it is her story of how she was raped and her family killed.

When the Darfur war broke out it was arabs against blacks and Halima is black. The problem is that Halima does not even mention the year she graduated from school or University, or the year she was raped or the year the fighting started. With no details like this, I am unable to confirm anything.

Yes she was raped. Noone can describe a rape in details like she does without having gone through it. I seriously doubt however that she, a village girl, was ever from a rich enough family, to be sent away to medical school.

It is a good story, but there are a lot details missing that do not make it seem real. Also she even admits that the name Halima Bashir is a nom-de-plume, so if she can lie about her name (supposedly to protect her family) then she can lie about everything else.

Halima eventually escaped to England. She is a real person but I think she is living a lie and is all wrapped in to prevent others from poking holes in her story.

Bashir is an Arab name. If you think you have heard it before, then you are right. Siddig el-Fadil, was an actor on the TV series Star Trek Deep Space Nine. His character's name on the show was Dr Julian Bashir. His father was Sudanese Arab, and his mother English. Siddig later changed his name to Alexander Siddig. He was raised in England.

I read this book for the Well Seasoned Readers Challenge.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Stolen Innocence - Book Review

Stolen Innocence
By Elissa Walls
Harper Collins 2008

Elissa Walls is a young American girl born in Utah, USA. Her parents were members of the FLDS - the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day saints. AKA the Mormons. These fundamentalists beleived in Polygamy. Polygamy had been outlawed from Utah in order for Utah to achieve statehood. The Fundamentalists disagreed.

Elissa was born to Douglas and Sharon Wall. Douglas had 2 wives at the time Elissa was born. Elissa's mother had 14 children. Elissa was number 11 of the 14. Douglas had 24 children by three wives altogether.

Almost all of Elissa's full siblings are now out of the FLDS church. The two youngest of Sharons daughters as well as Sharon herself are still in the church as far as is known. Elissa has not seen her mother or her sisters for several years.

Because of the polygamy beliefs that one man might have several wives, there was a shortage of women to men, so a large number of the teenage boys and young men were driven out, told that they were apostates and prevented from ever returning to their familes again. There was no concern for these boys. No concern for how they might survive outside of the church. This was done in order for there to be more women for the men. Women were seen as property. Women in the church do not have any rights. All decisions are made by the men, and the prophet - the leader of the church.

In the 1990's when Elissa was growing up, the Prophet's name was Rulon Jeffs. As Elissa grew up, one of her older sisters, Kassandra, was married to Rulon Jeffs and became just one of a long line of wives. Rulon's son Warren appointed himself as his fathers successor. Warren began controlling the wives more and more, telling them what to do, what to wear, what to say and how to behave. In 2000 Rulon had a stroke. He died in 2002. Warren immediately made plans to marry his fathers wives himself. Thats when Kassandra Wall, Elissa's older sister, left the community because she did not want to be married to Warren.

Elissa grew up wondering why her beliefs did not feel right. As she grew up her older siblings slowly began to leave. Her brothers were forced to leave and were called apostates. Her sisters were married off to older man.

In the year 2000 when Elissa was almost 15, and living in St George (southwest Utah) she was forceably taken by Warren Jeffs to Nevada and married there to her first cousin, Allen Steed. Allen's father was Sharon Wall's brother. Allen was 5 years older than Elissa. Utah law does not permit first cousins to get married. Utah law also says that 14 is still underage for marriage. This is why they were married in Nevada.

Elissa knew nothing about sex, nothing about babies. All she knew was the moms have babies and they popped out somehow. She had no teaching on sex, on giving birth or on how to have a relationship with a boy who was not her brother. In Fact FLDS children are raised to think of the opposite sex (outside of the immediate family) as snakes. Girls were taught to keep the bars up. (keep pure and modest and proper and virgin and keep their hands off the boys and vice versa). But the day they were mrried, the girl was expected to lower her bars and allow their spouse to touch them in their private parts. They must accept this touching with love and happiness and with NO fighting.

This was obviously unrealistic but nevertheless when Elissa was married at age 14, she was forced to endure Allen's lovemaking. She fought him every second of the way. She had never liked him before they were married. Elissa endured 4 miscarriages over the next three years, with NO medical help. The first time it happened, she thought she was dying. She thought she was being punished. She never told Allen about these pregnancies as she would have either been beaten or been forced to leave the community and survive on her own.

At the time of the 4th miscarriage, Elissa had been married for 3 years. By this time she had taken to staying out all night and sleeping in her truck just to get away from Allen. When she went into labour and was suffering her 4th miscarriage, Elisaa drove into the desert. There she was discovered by a young man.

This young man was also raised in the FLDS but in a different community. He had just been driven out and was now looking for a new home and a job.

He helped Elissa to recover and eventually of course they fell in love. Elissa discovered why she was having miscarriages, she had Rh- blood which did not mesh with the Rh+ blood of the babies.

After Elisa's first child with this young man, was successfully born, Elissa filed a lawsuit against Warren Jeffs and the FLDS. Allen and many of Elissa's childhood friends testified on Warren's behalf. Elissa's older sisters testified on her behalf. Elissa won her case and Warren Jeffs was jailed for being an accomplice to rape against a minor.

This was an excellent book. Thoroughly enjoyable. Some details may be very personal and private, but once you get past those, you will enjoy this book.

Here is another review.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Lost Gospel - Book Review

The Last Gospel (UK)
The Lost Tomb (USA)
By David Gibbins
Headline Publishing 2008

In May 2008 I posted about David Gibbins two earlier books. At the end of the post I mentioned that the new book was to be about the search for the Tomb of Alexander the Great. I have rechecked the book and have confirmed that while it does mention Alexander the Great, it is not in connection with a tomb.

So when I spotted The Last Gospel on the new books shelf at the library, I grabbed it. Once again Jack Howard and his sidekick Costas Kazantzakis are on the trail for some hidden and lost detail of history.

This time we find Jack and Costas in a boat off the southern coast of Sicily where the find the boat that St Paul was on when he was shipwrecked. Melita in the original was translated as Malta, but Jack's theory was that the prevailing winds would not have carried the boat from Cyprus all the way to Malta. They would have to come up against Sicily instead.

While diving on the sea bed, the two fo them come across a first century ship that has proof that St Paul was on board when it sunk.

After this discovery they get called to Herculaneum in Italy. Herculaneum is an ancient city in Naples Bay on the lower slopes of Mt Vesuvuius. The city was buried in Ad 79 when Mt Vesuvius erupted. The other city that was buried was the much more well known Pompeii. BUT Herculaneum has the real treasures. The Villa of the Papyri has hundrs of scrolls that were partially burnt and then preserved for 2000 years. Archaelologists hope to be able to save these papyrus scrolls or at least read them before they disentegrate into dust.

Jack and Howard are able to explore a small unknown tunnel in the ruins. At the en dof this tunnel they discover a room that managed to escape the fiery pyroclastic lava that rolled down from the volcano.

Next stop is Rome and the tunnels that honey comb the ground underneath palatine hil. Jack and Costas go spelunking.

Next stop London - St Lawrence Jewry specifically. Here they find the Deverette (Everett) family. In the 1600's a Frenchman named Deverette was exploring the undergroubd tunnels under the Jewry and found something. He kept it safe in his family. The descendents were still looking after this item in the early 1900s when one of the Everett descendents took this item with him to California.

In California Jack and Costas find the Everett home and follow the clues. Those clues lead Jack and Costas to Jerusalem and the church of the Holy Sepulchre.

While this books was exciting with our heros dashing all over the place, the ending was a bit of a let down. There was several mentions of tombs, but I couldnt tell who's tomb was discovered at the end. St Paul's tomb or the tomb of Jesus.

As for the last gospel - You'll have to read this book to know if Jack and Costas found that.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Hope and Despair - Book Review

Hope and Despair
by Monia Mazigh
Translated from French by Patricia Claxton and Fred Reed
McClelland and Stewart 2008
Maher Arar Website
Kerry Pither

In November last year, I previewed a book written by Monia Mazigh, about her husband Maher Arar who was sent to (renditioned) Syria by the USA to be tortured, just because the USA thought he was a terrorist.

I have finally read this book - borrowed from the library - so I can now offer my opinion on this book. Once again, I read this straight through and could not put it down. It is not a large book - barely 260 pages. I read it in just 5 hours (6pm to 11pm) last night.

Maher Arar was born in Syria in 1970, the youngest of 6 children. In 1987 at the age of 17, he and his family immigrate to Canada, specifically so he would not have to do his compulsory militsayr sevice. Maher become a Canadian citizen in 1991 at the age of 21.

Maher attended McGill university in Montreal, where he was completing a degree in computer engineering. There he met Monia Mazigh. Monia is an arab fom Tunisia in North Africa. She had been raised speaking French and Arabic. Monia had immigrated to Quebec in 1990 at age 20 so she could continue her studies. Her brother was already in Canada, and he had sponsored her. Monia was also a student at McGill University where she was working on a PhD in finance and economics.

Maher and Monia were married in 1994. Their first child, a daughter Baraa, was born in 1997. Their second child, a son Houd, was born in early 2002. In the summer of 2002 the family took a 3 months vacation in Tunisia so Monia could see her family and her family could see theuir new grandchildren. Monia had not seen her family for 10 years.

Towards the end of the vacation, Maher was heading home to Canada early so that he would get back to work at his new start up company. A possible new contract had arrived and Maher needed to get home to make the sale. He promised to call his wife as soon as he got home to Montreal. Maher never arrived home.

When the family had gone on vacation, their baby son was just 4 months old, he did not have a full Canadian passport, only a Canadian travel permit valid for the three months the vacation was supposed to be. Maher had taken the permit back to canada with him in the hopes that he would get it renewed and then he would send the new one to Monia. The permit expired several days after Maher disappeared.

Monia was stuck in Tunisia alone with her two children. Two days after Maher disappeared, Monia called the Candian embassy in Tunis and she called Maher's lawyer in Ottawa. The embassy could not do anything apart from contacting the Consular services department in Ottawa and try and get some answers. Another 3 days passed before Monia got the call from Maher's mother that he had called, asked for a lawyer and said that he might be going to Syria. He had then hung up.

Monia called the laweyer back to tell them this information. The lawyer said that she needed to get an American lawyer. The consul from the Canadian consulate in New York City, went to the prison and visited Maher. Monia was told that Maher looked well,was asking after his wife and kids and that he was being charged with being an al-Qaeda terrorist. Monia was shocked. He was not an terrorist, and he had never participated in any terorist activities.

A month after Maher went missing, Monia was told that he was deported by the American govermnt to Syria. A coutry he had not lived in for over 15 years.

When Monia and her two children finally returned home to Canada, Maher was assumed to be a terrorist, jut because the Americans ha said he was.

This book details the struggles Monia had in Canada. In order to survive, to feed abd clothe and raise her two young children. Monia was forced to go on Welfare. Fortunately she did not have to work, because she still had a young baby. The money was not much, but it kept the family together and alive.

Monia also worked tirelessly telling the Canadian and American governments that her husband was NOT a terrorist and that USA had renditioned him purely because he was of the wrong race and because he was born in the wrong country. It took 13 months before Maher was finally released. It took another 2 years before the Canadfian giovernmenbt apologised to him for their part in his rendition.

The USA refuses to apologise. The USA still claims that Maher is a terrorist. And the USA still has Maher listed on their No-Fly lists. They refuse to remove his name.

I read this book for the Second Canadian Book Challenge.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Farewell to Fine Books and Collections Magazine

There were rumours some time ago that Fine Books Magazine was scaling down its operations and moving to an On-Line version. I received an email today from the magazine that explained the following.

As you may have read on the Fine Books web site, we have made changes to Fine Books & Collections that affect your subscription.

Beginning this month, the magazine's bi-monthly print schedule will change to an annual Fine Books & Collections Compendium -- a deluxe edition of the magazine that will include our best columnists, feature articles, a directory of the industry, and more.

Because you are a current active subscriber, you will receive the Compendium as part of your subscription to Fine Books & Collections. The Compendium is valued at $14.95 annually, but even if you have less than that remaining on your subscription, you will receive the premier issue at no additional cost.

We have valued your readership, and we hope to have you as a reader for years to come.

In addition to this change, Fine Books & Collections will launch a monthly e-letter that will feature the very best writing on book collecting. All of your favorites will be included -- Nicholas Basbanes, Derek Hayes on maps, Ian McKay on auctions, and many others. The e-letter is free, so there is no additional charge.

As always, your subscription to Fine Books & Collections, including the Compendium, comes with a complete guarantee of your satisfaction. If we ever fail to engage your interests, you may always cancel for a full refund of your unused subscription fee.

If you have questions about your subscription, contact subscriber services at subscriber. Thank you again for your readership.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Camel Club - Book Review

The Camel Club
David Baldacci
Columbus Rose

A few weeks ago I read a book called The Collectors by David Baldacci. Now I have finished reading the first book in the series. The Camel Club.

The Camel Club is a group of fictional characters created by American novelist David Baldacci. They are the protagonists of four novels The Camel Club, The Collectors, Stone Cold and Divine Justice. The members are Oliver Stone, Reuben Rhodes, Caleb Shaw and Milton Farb. The four are political watch-dogs, who are always looking for conspiracies within the government.

This books explains the backgrounds of all 4 club members. One night the club goes to Roosevelt island in washington DC for one of their meetings. The island is offlimits to the public at night times. While they are there, they witness a murder in progress. Unfortunately they brushed up against too many trees (rustling) in the rush to get away.

The race is on for the murderers to find whoever spotted them, and the club to find out who the dead fellow was and why he was killed. Mixed into this adventure is the President of the USA, the wars in the Middle East and a plot to kill the President.

When the President is kidnapped, the ransom call has rather odd demands. then a few days later another message says the president will be released unharmed within one week. The vice president (in office during this crisis) comes close to blowing up the planet in his recklessness to find the president. The Camel Club helps to rescue the president who promptly fires the VP for his recklessness and then he starts fulfilling the demands of the kidnappers.

Once again I so enjoyed the camel club adventure that I stayed up until 3AM to finish the book. This is not for any challenge. I just like reading a non-challenge book occasionally.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Waiting for Hannah - Book Review

Waiting for Hannah
By Dave Clarke
Hologram Publishing 2008
Another Blog Review

This novel is about a painting. The past when the painting was created, and the present when the painting was found. The artist who painted it, was Marc Chagall.

The sitter who sat for it was a young Jewish woman who was destined to do what her father said and marry whom her father chose. She was not allowed to live her own life or make her own decisions. BUT that was the culture in Europe in the early 1900s before the first world war.

Hannah Kessler is the daughter of Jacob Kessler, a rich jewish man who owns and runs an Insurance company. Hannah has been raised to take her fathers place and learn the business of Insurance. She is on ger way to Prague to attend Insurance school. BUT she has dreams of growing and selling flowers. while the specific careers were not named, her dreams did describe a florist and a landscape artist. Hannah's father just kept tekling her that she ciould not make a living selling flowers. NOONE will buy them, he said. Hannah and her father board to train to Prague.

She meets Marc Chagall on thr train to Prague. Marc is a young jewish painter from back east. He is on his way to Paris to study painting.

In prague the two teenegrs meet whenever they can. They are good kids and do not get up to nay hanky panky. The closest they come is when Hannah asks Marc to paint her in the nude and covered with flowers.

Wrapped around this story is a modern day story of Kate McBride who found the painting in the attic of her mothers home, and it is the story of how she tries to find the family of the young girl in the painting.

The painting concerned is most likely not a real painting. (see cover picture)
After all this is a novel. And I cannot find it on any art sides online despite several hours of looking.

I did not see any comparison to the story of the movie Titanic while I was reading it - see blog review link above.

I enjoyed this novel purely for the art and for the fictionalised story of Marc Chagall's early life. I also read this book for the Art History challenge.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

No Yearly Review for me

I see a number of book blogs are counting their books and listing those that were favourites.
I cant do that - ALL the books I read and review are good.
If they were not, I would not be able to finish them, let alone review them.
I really cannot choose a favourite.
OK maybe I can pick one - Q's Legacy which I read back in May.


This is now my second new year posting to this blog