Book Twentynine: The Janissary Tree

The Janissary Tree, Jason Goodwin

I've been waiting to read this book for, like, ever. I heard about it many years ago, bought it a couple of years ago on a trip to Powell's, and it's been sitting in my stack waiting to be read at just the right time. I figured a fast-paced historical mystery would be a good read for the weeks before my due date to take my mind off things. But honestly, it was way too hard to concentrate on this novel. I'm not sure if it's the fault of the book or just me, but either way I just couldn't wrap my brain around the words on the page. I had to reread sections over and over again because I wasn't sure what was going on. I think I can partly blame the book. It's a description-dense read, as it seriously tries to evoke a sense of place in early 19th century Istanbul. And, as a thriller/mystery, there is a lot of action described in painstaking detail. Like, "he moved his left hand two inches this way, and felt so-and-so's right ear moving 35 degrees this way, and then his knee abutted something to the north northwest as he turned his head 48 degrees south." (No, that's not a direct quote, and yes, I am exaggerating a bit. Apologies, but this is exactly what it felt like at times. Pages and pages of this level of detail.)

I did find the hero, eunuch and investigator Yashim, intriguing, especially in that I had no idea what level of eunuch he was. Like, no testicles and no penis? Or just no testicles? Was I supposed to know? Because I assumed it was a full package deal until a scene that led to me to believe, but not explicitly, that he engaged in sex with a woman. So I'm still scratching my head. And also, while I'm on the topic of vagaries, there was just so much language in here that it seemed I was expected to know. And I mean, language and words specific to early 19th century Istanbul. I don't mind looking things up, but this book could have used a nice glossary or at least, some explanation for all the very foreign terms.

But again, this lack of patience could have stemmed from my very pregnant brain. Did I mention that tomorrow is my due date? Yup, I'm ready to be done.

Book Twentyeight: The Lonely Polygamist

The Lonely Polygamist, Brady Udall

Oh, this was so very good. So yeah, I'm perhaps a wee bit obsessed with Mormons, especially of the fundamentalist/polygamist variety, but beyond that, this is just really good writing and a really good story. See, Golden Richards has four wives and 28 children and, as the title suggests, things are not going well. Golden is slightly pathetic, has no control over his family, no insight into his wives' happiness, no ability to manage his construction business, and worst of all, the inability to make any good decisions... so you can guess that his life starts to spiral out of control. We get to see things not only from Golden's perspective, but also from his wives and one of his most troubled kids. In fact, the story told from 11-year-old Rusty's perspective was my favorite. The constant shifting of both character and style is intriguing, with lots of flashbacks and changing stories. It's funny and silly and horrifying and awful and depressing and uplifting, all at the same time.

I wish it had ended with more of a bang... well, it does end with a literal bang (peppered throughout with lots of little bangs, too), but I wanted a little more from it. It felt a little too much like, "Oh well, guess I hit 600 pages. Time to wrap this sucker up!"

Book Twentyseven: Anne of the Island

Anne of the Island, L.M. Montgomery

I don't know what it is, but when summer rolls around the first thing I want to do is read the next Anne of Green Gables book. (Technically it's not summer here in Seattle quite yet, but we're so on the verge and the feeling is there.) In fact, I find myself looking forward to the season (a season which is typically my least favorite of the four) just because it's captured so well by Anne's spirit. Reading this one made me feel particularly sentimental because I couldn't help but imagine my own little girl reading these books. Honestly, just thinking of that prospect choked me up a little.

Oh man, I have got to birth this baby soon. These hormones are killing me.

Book Twentysix: The Big Burn

The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America, Timothy Egan

A year or two ago I tried to read Timothy Egan's The Worst Hard Time (for book club #1) and just couldn't bear it. I made it just under a hundred pages in and had to throw in the towel. I can't really remember why I disliked it so much, but I knew it had to do with the writing. So I was worried when this one was picked as an upcoming book club selection (for book club #2). But I was pleasantly surprised! It was not a slog at all, the writing was terrific and I feel like I actually learned something. A triple threat!

It tells the story (of which I was not previously aware) of a massive forest fire that swept through Idaha, Montana, and some of Oregon and Washington in 1910 that wiped out huge amounts of forests and killed a bunch of people. But what makes the story riveting is that the fire came in the wake of Teddy Roosevelt's presidency where he set aside all of these giant forest reserves and essentially created our modern day national parks system. Who would have thunk that this was a hugely controversial move and that many a douchey conservative congressman despised TR for this? Not little ol' naive me!

Anyhow, this book gives you lots of compelling stories, from the gory details of the fire told by the survivors and park rangers who were on the frontlines fighting the flames and trying to save their towns, to the backstory of Roosevelt's friendship and political alliance with Gifford Pinchot, who was at the first chief of the US Forest Service, to the inner workings of the political machine and big business that were up in arms over TR's conservation efforts, to the tragic flailings of Taft who succeeded Roosevelt and whose negligence helped make the Big Burn so very massive.

Highly recommended, six thumbs up.