The weather has turned cool and rainy here in Portland. My house guests are gone, my schedule isn’t quite as hectic, but mostly I’m longing for a day to do nothing to read. While we all know that’s not going to happen anytime soon, I have been using my time in the car to get some reading done. This month, among others, I read:

EDITED TO ADD: I forgot to mention another great book I read this month so I’m adding it in here at the top. In the Land of Invisible Women: A Female Doctor’s Journey in the Saudi Kingdom was absolutely fascinating. Go get it and read it. I’ve read lots of books written by Westerners going to live in Muslim countries, and of course I have been a Westerner living in a Muslim country. I have read books by Muslims about living in Muslim country (example: Dreams Of Trespass: Tales Of A Harem Girlhood, which I recently reread and highly recommend) But In the Land of Invisible Women is written by a Western, secular Muslim (from London, with a Pakistani background) who lived and worked in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for 2 years. She had a unique view of the place and people. She’s a doctor, working in a place where women are viewed as second-class citizens. Her experiences sometimes shocked me–the reaction of the Saudis to the events of 9/11/2001 had my mouth literally hanging open, unfortunately while I was on public transport. I didn’t get too many weird looks though. I highly recommend this one too.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand: Many of you told me I’d love this book and you are right. This is the best book I’ve read in a very long time (and you know I read a lot of books). I felt it was pitch-perfect. Too often, books try to write about non-mainstream characters in small villages, who are perhaps somewhat quirky, and they quickly deteriorate into sentimental, overdone, even mawkish characters. (I’m looking at you, Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, and also to a lesser degree The Help). Major Pettigrew was not only delightful, but everyone in that book had dignity. I don’t know if I’m describing this well, but it’s something that often ruins a book for me—this caricaturing of people that is so common, so hard to avoid. I loved this book. Read it if you haven’t yet.

A Rather Remarkable Homecoming: This book was not pitch-perfect. Its characters were a bit too “colourful” and things were a bit too neat. However, it was innocuous and enjoyable enough. The sort of book my mother would have loved. If you like Mitford and books like that, you’ll prob like this series. It’s not bad, a good book if you are laid up with a bad cold, for example, and can’t concentrate on much.

Telling Lies: I enjoyed this book, but there are a few too many loose ends that aren’t tied up. HOW did the man manage to escape the Twin Towers and reinvent himself, leaving his family to think he was dead. He couldn’t have planned this. Read my review to know what I’m talking about.

The Kitchen Counter Cooking School: I’m in the middle of this one. Author and cook Kathleen Flinn was intrigued, one day in a supermarket, as she watched a woman fill her cart entirely with processed food—frozen meals, dinners in a box, etc. She started talking to her and realized the woman was completely intimidated by her kitchen, and didn’t trust herself to know how to roast a whole chicken or prepare a sauce for pasta. Kathryn had the idea of cooking classes to teach the basics. She found 9 volunteers who let her into their homes to see how they shopped, and then attended classes with her to learn such basics as how to chop vegetables or choose spices. It’s actually a really fun book. I am alternating between feeling smug (I make most things from scratch) and feeling like I would probably benefit from some of her classes myself.

Finding Aster: Our Ethiopian Adoption Story
I was a little disappointed with this book. Although it purports to be a memoir about Ethiopian adoption, and it is, it is also very much a personal memoir, about the author’s sex life and abortion and hysterectomy and all. Also, I cringed a bit at how ignorant she was of life overseas. Fair play that’s one of her points, and I agree that their adoption agency should have done a much better job of informing them of the realities on the ground. I also wonder if I’m guilty of assuming other people know more than I did before I lived overseas, in other words of holding others to a different standard than I would have held myself to at the time. It’s possible. However, when she told off the Ethiopian employee and let him know how disappointed they were with certain aspects of their hostel and their stay in Addis, I just groaned inwardly and rolled my eyes. It was so very stereotypical American! I’ve been there, I admit. I once told off a young man at a photocopy place, in poor French, for overcharging me. (My goal was to help him learn customer service, but I am pretty sure I failed) I don’t know. It wasn’t a bad book. I do think if you’re interested in international adoption I’d recommend it. Their agency seems to have made the process more painful by not explaining things very well, things it would be helpful to know going in. However, anything involving more than one government is always going to take longer than you think. Doesn’t everyone know this?

To Read:

All Men of Genius. Ilsa and I are both excited about this one, a YA (I think; I need to read it first to make sure) romp through Victorian-era London combining elements of 12th Night (Ilsa loves boy/girl twins where the girl has spunk…it fits her mental image of herself) and The Importance of Being Earnest, while being steampunk and having something called “strange squid creatures.” Should be fun!

The Woman Who Heard Color: lately it seems I’ve had a spate of Nazi-era art crime books, but this one looks to be really intriguing.

I’d Listen to My Parents If They’d Just Shut Up: My kids are anxious for me to read this one. I love the title. I haven’t read his previous book, but I love the title too: Get Out of My Life, but First Could You Drive Me & Cheryl to the Mall?