Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Testimony by Anita Shreve


Testimony will be released on October 21, 2008. Pre-order here.

Testimony by Anita Shreve was an easy, short read. Despite the fact that it was just over 300 pages, most chapters are only 2-3 pages thus leaving plenty of white space. If you have a short attention span, or only a minute here and there to read, this book will be an easy read for you.

Anita Shreve did an excellent job of transporting the reader inside a prestigious boarding school in Vermont where parents pay thousands upon thousands of dollars per year in order to keep their children safe from the general population of the public schools. However, things are not as clean cut and straight laced as one might think.

The book opens to a scene of the headmaster receiving a video involving three of his students having sex with an obviously drunk fourteen year old girl. That sets the stage for a series of regrets for parents, students, and administrators alike. In the end, only one character remains likeable, the little mentioned police officer. The headmaster makes a series of blunders that hurt the students and the school. The girl doesn’t quite tell the truth in order to avoid punishment by her parents that just end up shipping her off to a school in Texas. The boys regret their behavior, and a tragic discovery is made. The book is a series of journal entries, mental thoughts, and interview responses given by the various parties and woven into the landscape of a novel.

I left this book with an empty sick feeling while at the same time rejoicing in the fact that I decided not to send my son to an elite private boarding school in the Northeast.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Aviary Gate by Katie Hickman


In The Aviary Gate by Katie Hickman, graduate student Elizabeth Staveley is researching captivity stories from the late 16th century when she comes across a four hundred year old manuscript tucked inside of a book in the Oriental Library Reading Room at Oxford University. Knowing the treasured, never before told story she is about to uncover, she transcribes the manuscript before turning it over to the library staff.

While tied up in a frustrating relationship with a suspected womanizer, Elizabeth takes off from Oxford and flies to Istanbul to further research the story of Celia Lamprey, the daughter of an English sea captain who dies at sea leaving her to eventually be sold into the harem of the Sultan of Constantinople. While a controversial member of the Sultans harem, she discovers that her fiancee, Paul Pindar, whom she was supposed to marry prior to being sold into captivity, is in fact in Constantinople as the secretary to the English ambassador to deliver a gift to the Sultan thus opening English trading opportunities.

The story is woven between the present day and the year 1599 in Constantinople (now present day Istanbul). The story of the secret life inside the harem has been well-researched and very intriguing, although the present day story of Elizabeth lacked a little intrigue. Other notable, fascinating characters in this book are the Valide Sultan (Sultan’s mother), the black eunuch guards, and Jamal al-Andalus, an outstanding astronomer. Overall, this was a very rich, exotic, and interesting read, especially since I enjoy historical fiction.