Last year, 2018, I set my Goodreads reading challenge to 100 books. I only managed to achieve that by cramming in a couple of children’s books in December – well I wasn’t really cheating, was I? This year and last I read more than the totals as I could not include beta reading or other books that were not yet published.
In 2019 to take a little pressure off I lowered it to 80 books and that is a much easier target to reach, I’m already there.
I have traveled back in time, returned to Africa several times, lurked behind pillars in the Vatican, and again and racked my brains wondering ‘who done it’?
Here are the next three books I loved.
CONCLAVE by Robert Harris
I’m very curious about the Vatican with all its secrets, mysteries and the men who live there – those who are genuine in their beliefs and those who worship power more than God. I loved this book and read it in one day. The pope is dead, and behind the locked doors of the Sistine Chapel, one hundred and eighteen cardinals from all over the globe will cast their votes in the world’s most secretive election. They are holy men. But they have ambition. And they have rivals. Over the next seventy-two hours, one of them will become the most powerful spiritual figure on earth. I also learned much about the rituals involved when voting for a new pope and it was not as I had imagined. Why did I think they were all locked in one chapel for days on end? Why did I believe they might not be able to talk to outsiders in those days? This book explains a lot and the ending? While I was still debating – it had me fooled – as to who were the good guys – the ending was explosive and made me laugh out loud. https://www.amazon.com/dp/1784751839
THE DUNG BEETLES OF LIBERIA by Daniel V Meier JR
I loved this book for its sheer honesty especially in an age where so many people are just willing and waiting to criticize and contradict and pc speech is strangling our literature. This book set in Liberia in the 1970s cannot be questioned, it tells of a time period well before we could all immediately find out the ‘facts’ as they now appear on the world wide web.
The Dung Beetles of Liberia is the story of a young college undergraduate at Cornell who drops out of school to take a job flying planes in Liberia. He leaves behind his astonished family and his almost-fiancé in a bid to escape the demons that plague him over the death of his brother. He’s learned that Liberia is one of the richest countries in Africa and has high expectations of what he will find there. America had repatriated many slaves in the 1800s and established a democracy and infrastructure. What young Kenneth found was the true state of Africa with its own interpretation of life, morals, and ethics. It shocks him to the core. Life is cheap, the hierarchy is absolute, the poor are driven to the point of extinction and he finds himself rubbing shoulders with other hard-drinking, wild and unprincipled expatriates.
The book is based on a true account of life there at the time – which I suspect has changed very little. This is possibly the most honest tale of Africa I have ever read. It is not as politically correct as other books set in similar places, but the author brilliantly highlights the cheapness of life, the lack of compassion, the willingness of the poor and downtrodden to accept their lot in life. Many readers may simply not believe the tales told with such pathos and humour but I can assure them that life is as wild and undisciplined as they are recounted. Kenneth Verrier is a typical young American from a good family who is shocked to the core with what he encounters. Flying small planes delivering equipment to the mines – and a little diamond smuggling on the side – paying no attention to overloading, air traffic rules, non-existent runways and centre of gravity safety regulations. Little by little Kenneth learns to adapt but never loses his humanity. He is a likable hero, and tells his story simply, honestly and clearly. This book is one of the best I have read in a long, long time and find it difficult to believe the author did not spend most of his life in Africa as he has grasped the problems, the customs, and the mindset so truthfully. Highly recommend reading – in fact this should be on the prescribed reading list of every high school as a window on a continent with a different way of life and a different mindset. Welcome to the world of Africa. https://www.amazon.com/dp/1945448377
THE OPIUM LORD’S DAUGHTER by Robert Wang
Moving continent to Asia, the author, now living in the United States, writes of a historical period in the land of his ancestors. In an east meets west scenario we meet the family of Lord Lee Shao Lin, his daughter Su-Mei and his number one son Lee da Ping during the time of the opium Wars between Britain and China. Many people may not know of the travesty of this unevenly fought war when the British navy attacked China to ensure uninterrupted trade in tea, porcelain, silks, and spices. Since China had no need to import anything from the west, the currency used to buy Chinese goods was Chinese silver which the British obtained by illegally importing opium into China. Everyone was involved, the Chinese merchants, the corrupt customs officials, the addicts who would do what it took to obtain more of the drug. But then the Emperor issued a decree to halt the trade and the troubles begin. At this time, Sue-Mei meets Travers Higgins from Yorkshire and falls in love – a cross-cultural affair unheard of and disapproved of in 1840. The stage is set for an explosive story in more ways than one.
The Opium Lord’s Daughter is one of the best books I have read this year. I read it in a day and a half and loved every bit of it. The characters leaped off the pages, I connected with Sue-Mei the heroine and the words flowed effortlessly. For the hours I was engrossed in this book I was living in the 1800s in China, surrounded by the sights and smells, the customs and the laughter and sorrow of the young couple and her family. The historical information was woven seamlessly into the story and I suspect the author researched the facts thoroughly, backed up by the pictures in the back of the book featuring many of the real characters mentioned at the time. A fairly balanced argument from both sides highlights the greed and avarice and arrogance of man which has not changed one iota in the last two thousand years. I highly recommend this book, and I shall file it away to read again in the future. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07T2N4GK9/
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