Mission Log, Star Date 11-1-95

Book: Mission Log, Star Date 11-1-1995 – Memoirs of an LDS Missionary Straight from Guatemala, by Derek Jackson

Genre: Memoir

Where I got it: Free Kindle Download

Briefly, it’s: the account of two years the author spent as a Mormon missionary in Guatemala, 1995-1997

What I liked: Learning about a young American’s take on Guatemala, and on what it means to be a Mormon missionary.

What I didn’t like so much: There wasn’t enough in it about what it means to be a Mormon (missionary or otherwise) – a familiarity with the LDS doctrines and practice is taken for granted.  There is also not much spirituality of depth in evidence.  Overall, it’s a little on the naive and earnest side.

Anything else: Is that “Star Date” in the title meant to be “Start Date”?  Because the journal does start on that date – and there’s no other reference to a “star date”.


Deal Me In: Short Story Reading Challenge 2014

Deal Me In

This challenge, hosted by Jay (Bibliophilopolis), looks really interesting.  It involves reading 52 short stories, one per week, over the course of the year, choosing each week’s story by drawing a card at random from a deck of playing cards, and reading the story that has been assigned in advance to that card!  Full details at the sign-up post, here.

I’ve already got one book of short stories on my TBR list for 2014: The Granta Book of the African Short Story.  And I’d like to read it – and any other short stories – in a thoughtful way, not just rushing from one story to the next.  Focusing on just one a week sounds like a good way of doing that.  So I’ve chosen more stories to make 52 altogether, and I’m in!

29 of these stories (marked * below) are from The Granta Book of the African Short Story, ten (marked %) are from Flavorwire’s “10 Wonderful Short Stories to Read For Free Online”, two (marked %2) are from the same website’s “10 (More) Wonderful Short Stories to Read for Free Online“, and eleven (marked <>) have been chosen at random from online listings of classic short stories.

Here is my list:


2H: A Good Man is Hard to Find, Flannery O’Connor %
3H: The School, Donald Barthelme %
4H: In the Penal Colony, Franz Kafka %
5H: Signs and Symbols, Vladimir Nabokov %
6H: Gooseberries, Anton Chekhov %
7H: Sea Oak, George Saunders %
8H: The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas, Ursula K. LeGuin %
9H: The Veldt, Ray Bradbury %
10H: The Bear Came Over the Mountain, Alice Munro %
JH: The Nose, Nikolai Gogol %
QH: Desirée’s Baby, Kate Chopin <>
KH: The Mouse, Saki <>
AH: The Sniper, Liam O’Flaherty <>


2S: Eva is Inside Her Cat, Gabriel Garcia Marquez <>
3S: The Stranger, Katherine Mansfield <>
4S: A Haunted House, Virginia Woolf <>
5S: Araby, James Joyce <>
6S: The Library of Babel, Jorge Luis Borges %2
7S: The Half-Skinned Steer, E. Annie Proulx %2
8S: The Coming Out of Maggie, O Henry <>
9S: The Snows of Kilimanjaro, Ernest Hemmingway <>
10S: A Child’s Christmas in Wales, Dylan Thomas <>
JS: Death Makes a Comeback, James O’Keefe <>
QS: The Arrangers of Marriage, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie *
KS:Faeries of the Nile, Mansoura Ez-Eldin *
AS: Stickfighting Days, Olufemi Terry *


2D: Dancing to the Jazz Goblin and His Rhythm, Brian Chikwava *
3D: Promenade, Henrietta Rose-Innes *
4D: An Ex-mas Feast, Uwem Akpan *
5D: Ships in High Transit, Binyavanga Wainina *
6D: The Moustached Man, Patrice Nganang *
7D: A Good Soldier, Maaza Mengiste *
8D: Préférence Nationale, Fatou Diome *
9D: Homecoming, Laila Lalami *
10D: Street of the House of Wonders, Rachida el-Charni *
JD: Bumsters, E. C. Osondu *
QD: Passion, Doreen Baingana *
KD: The Fugitive, Alain Mabanckou *
AD: Haywards Heath, Aminatta Forna *


2C: Missing Out, Leila Aboulela *
3C: Why Don’t You Carve Other Animals, Yvonne Vera *
4C: The Centre of the World, George Makana Clark *
5C: Propaganda by Monuments, Ivan Vladislavic *
6C: Mme Zita Mendes, a Last Image, Alaa al Aswany *
7C: An Unexpected Death, Ungulani Ba Ka Khosa *
8C: The Homecoming, Mily Jafta *
9C: Oxford, Black Oxford, Dambuzdo Marechera *
10C: You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town, Zoe Wicomb *
JC: Cages, Abdulrazak Gurna *
QC: The Last Bordello, Manuel Rui *
KC: The Eyes of the Statue, Camera Laye *
AC: Slipper Satin, Alex La Guma *

New Zealand’s Greatest Doctor

Book: New Zealand’s Greatest Doctor: Ulric Williams of Wanganui – a Surgeon who became a Naturopath, by Brenda Sampson

Genre: Not exactly a biography, but an account of the work of Dr Williams

Where I got it: Free Kindle download

Briefly, it’s: about the work of Dr Ulric Williams (1890-1971) who was a promoter of natural healing.  “Williams practised conventional medicine for some years, but in 1933–34 he became interested in naturopathy and in the writing and ideas of L. E. Bassett, a local timber merchant and adherent of the ‘science of sevens’. He experienced what he later described as ‘a vision of Christ’, and was convinced he had been treating symptoms rather than causes. Becoming an ascetic and a teetotaller, he promoted his ideas with evangelical fervour, and often in a confrontational manner” (from the Te Ara – Encyclopaedia of New Zealand website).

What I liked: This is an interesting story; amazing to learn about how Williams was silenced by officialdom to the point where radio stations were forbidden to interview him, for example.  He was preaching and practicing many things which we take for granted today.  Some of the healing stories are extraordinary, to say the least.

What I didn’t like so much: The unquestioning, devoted acceptance by the author of everything that Williams said.  It would be more compelling to look objectively at some of the arguments against his case.

The Gambia Diaries

Book: The Gambia Diaries  by Enuma Chigbo

Genre: Travel

Where I got it: Free Kindle download

Briefly, it’s: the travel journal of a Nigerian woman who spent a week on holiday in the Gambia in 2011.

What I liked: I loved being able to read a travel book which told of two Nigerian women visiting another African country.  This is not your typical Western traveller coming to have preconceived post-colonial ideas of Africa shattered; it is a fresh vision.  It is interesting to read Chigbo’s take on e.g. the sex tourism in the Gambia, or the practice of juju / voodoo (though we don’t learn much about the actual practice), or her visit to James island, holding place for so many Africans sold into slavery in centuries past.

What I didn’t like so much:
The writing is not developed enough.  There is nothing in the diary part that really prepared me or seemed to lead up to her vocation musings in the final chapter.  At only 105 pages, the material could have been more thoroughly explored.
–   There are quite a few notes, esp. translations of local phrases, but they appear at the end of the book and I could not find a way of linking to them directly from the page I was reading in the Kindle version, which was frustrating.

Anything else: This book represents some of what is best and some of what is worst in independent publishing.  It is great that a new, fresh writer can be given a platform.  It is a pity that the work was not much more heavily edited.

The Garden Party and Other Stories

Book: The Garden Party and Other Stories, by Katherine Mansfield

Genre: Short stories

Where I got it: The Open Door (secondhand bookshop)

Briefly, it’s  a collection of short stories which do not revolve around plot.  Each one is more like a portrait, which draws the reader in by understatement and intimation.  Mansfield “concentrate(s) on one moment, a crisis or a turning point, rather than on a sequence of events” (Goodreads author page).  This is the opposite of “in your face” writing – it is delicate, profound, and most definitely calls for a second reading.  The eight short pages of “The Lady’s Maid”, the last story in this collection, have painted a picture in my mind to which I will return many times.

Anything else: I hadn’t read anything by Katherine Mansfield since school, when one of her stories was on the English curriculum.  (I think it was “The Fly”, which is not in this book).  I didn’t know that she was born and grew up in New Zealand, I thought she was English.

Proposed books for the Full House Reading Challenge

I had such fun picking my (possible) books for the Back to the Classics 2014 Challenge that I decided to draw up a provisional list for the Full House Reading Challenge too.  Here it is:

1.  From the local library – Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh

2.  Best read so far in 2014 –

3.  From your wish list – The Granta Book of the African Short Story

4.  Set in a different country from you – Red Zone Baghdad, Marcus Fielding

5.  Published in 2014 –

6.  Theme/issue you think is important – The Catholic Priesthood and Women, Sara Butler

7. Setting you’d like to visit – The Reluctant Traveller: France and the French, Patrick Byron

8.  Suspense or crime – Soul Murder, Andrew Nugent

9.  Contemporary – Beautifully Chaotic, Nicole Tetterton

10.  More than 400 pages – The Gamal, Kieran Collins

11. Re-read – A book from the Chalet School series!

12.  Review persuaded you to read it –

13.  Published before 2013 – The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared, Jonas Jonasson

14.  Book with an animal in it – The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Graeme

15.  Won or borrowed –

16.  Historical fiction – (undecided; there are several on my shelf / in my Kindle)

17.  Less than 200 pages – A Different Lifetime, Martin Radford

18.  Non-fiction – The Bill Bryson book that a friend has mailed me… I won’t know which one it is until the mail comes through!

19.  Author new to you – Chasing China: A Daughter’s Quest for Truth, Kay Bratt

20.  Book from a series – Something from The #1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, Alexander McCall Smith

21.  Free or bought  very cheaply – There are lots in my Kindle!  Perhaps The Peace Maker, Michele Chynoweth

22. Published in 2013 – The Ballad of Mo and G, Billy Keane

23.  Paranormal / SF /dystopian – The Children of Men, P. D. James

24.  You love the cover –

25.  Free choice –

I’m looking forward to Jan 1st and starting some of these!

The Sourdough Wars

Book: The Sourdough Wars (A Rebecca Schwartz Mystery), by Julie Smith

Genre: Cozy mystery

Where I got it: Free Kindle download

Briefly, it’s a murder/detective story, the detective being a twenty-something San Francisco Jewish lawyer.  The plot begins with a batch of freeze-dried sourdough starter which is about to be auctioned… The book is short; it’s a quick, light read that kept my interest and gave me several enjoyable hours of reading.

Anything else: Only when I couldn’t figure why the characters didn’t use cellphones did I realise that the book is from the 1980s.