Tuesday, March 31, 2015


By Jennifer Foehner Wells

Dr. Jane Holloway is a talented linguist who has a innate knack for learning new languages. She is not an astronaut. But she has agreed to join a mission to outer space. She has been told by NASA that all the space missions in the past have been a cover for an endeavor to reach an alien space ship that is parked in the asteroid belt. NASA wants her on the team because they hope she will be able to learn and understand the aliens' language.
When they reach the alien space craft, they find they are expected. The door opens, the lights come on and they are welcomed. Actually, only Jane is welcomed because she is the only one who can hear and understand the alien voice in her head. Ei'Brai welcomes her to the Speroancora, the huge alien space ship. Ei'Brai is the sole survivor of what used to be a large crew. They came to our corner of space looking for our help. But their enemy planted a disease on board their ship and all but Ei'Brai died. Ei'Brai can't pilot the ship by himself, he is the navigator. He wants Jane to take control of the ship, since she is the  only human with whom he can communicate.
But problems abound, including the ship being overrun by vicious vermin and Jane's crew mates showing signs of suffering from the same disease that killed all except Ei'Brai on board the Speroancora. Plus they are not at all sure that Jane hasn't lost her mind and is making it all up that she is in communication with an alien entity. It is vital that her crew mates listen to what she is telling them, otherwise they are all going to die.

I enjoyed this story a lot. The obstacles set before Jane and the others are quite formidable, including the others lack of faith in what Jane is trying to communicate to them. The Ei'Brai character was interesting as was his role in the ship's mission to Earth. I am looking forward to the next installment in this new series.
For another review, see http://thenewpodlerreviews.blogspot.com/2014/09/fluency-by-jennifer-foehner-wells.html.

Thursday, March 26, 2015


By Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born in Somalia to a devout Muslim family. Her father, a member of a group of rebels trying to bring down the tyrant who ruled Somalia, was imprisoned for most of Ayaan's childhood. Her mother, sister, brother and grandmother were supported by their clan. Clans and tribes are a vital part of people's lives in that part of the world.
Ayaan idolized her father, especially since relations with her mother, grandmother and brother were often rocky. Beatings and other harsh discipline were not uncommon. In fact, when Ayaan was a teen, one of her teachers beat her so bad he gave her a concussion.
But, supported by their clan, Ayaan's mother was able to send her three children to school. They lived in town and moved about quite a bit, going from Somalia to Saudi Arabia, Kenya and Ethiopia. Ayaan's mother really wanted to live in Saudi Arabia because she was a devout Muslim and wanted to be close to the roots of her religion. But Ayaan found the restrictions placed on people and especially on women by the fundamentalist Islamic rulers to be irksome. Since the father was in prison and no other male relative was available, Ayaan's mother had to use her small son as her escort every time she had to run an errand as women are required to be accompanied by a male relative whenever they leave the home.
Back in Africa and Ayaan becoming a teen, she began to become more deeply involved in Islam. She attended Moslem Brotherhood mosques and classes and began wearing traditional robes and performing the required rituals and submitting her will to Allah. But at some point she realized that she was not feeling that spiritual connection to Allah that others claimed to feel.
Her father is eventually freed but her parents marriage is irreparably broken due to the father's long absence and the mother's many grievances against him. He finds himself a new wife and goes off to be with them.
One day he returns with tremendous news: he has found a husband for Ayaan. The man lives in Canada and has come to Africa to find himself a pure bride, as, according to him, the Somalia girls in Canada are too liberated and thus not pure enough. He and Ayaan meet briefly and she decides he is not her type. She tries to get her father and her family to understand but her words fall on unhearing ears. She lets herself be pressured into going through with the marriage.
Since he is living in Canada, the plan is for her to travel alone to Germany and then to Canada, as that is the easiest way to do it. But once Ayaan reaches Germany she realizes all she has to do is disappear and she will have her freedom. So she goes to Holland and applies for refugee status there. In Holland, once she is accepted as a refugee, she is provided a stipend and a place to live, at no cost to her.
Seeing the contrast between her old world and her new world enables her to think more clearly about everything she has been taught and she gradually begins to give up on Islam and on religion in general. She comes to accept that she no longer believes in Allah or in any god and that when you die you are dead and that's all. But as her faith fades, her outrage grows over the way Moslem women are treated by their religion and by their menfolk. She comes to the conclusion that Islam is just the codification of ancient Arab tribal practices and that it doesn't belong in modern life until it undergoes an enlightenment similar to that which Europe underwent during its passage from ignorance to knowledge.  And when she goes public with her conclusions, all hell breaks loose. She becomes a target of Moslem hate and is rejected by all her family. Life even in peaceful, advanced Holland becomes unbearable and she is forced to leave her beloved adopted country and go into hiding.

I truly enjoyed reading the story of this brave woman's life, her evolution from devout Moslem to unbelieving infidel. It was engrossing, interesting and a captivating portrait of a life so different from what I, as an Westerner, have ever known. She is a very brave woman. Well done, Ayaan Hirsi Ali!
For another review, see http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/14/books/14grim.html?pagewanted=all.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Lest Darkness Fall

By L. Sprague de Camp

Martin Padway, archaeologist, suddenly finds himself translated from modern day Rome to the Rome of the 500s AD.
An intelligent and well-informed man, Martin, now Martinus, manages to parlay his modern knowledge into a living. His first enterprise was distilling wine into brandy, which is a big hit. He makes a printing press and starts a newspaper. He also sets about creating a kind of telegraph system. His ultimate goal is to prevent the Dark Ages from engulfing Europe. So he becomes involved in politics and eventually ends up leading troops into battle.

The first part of this story was quite interesting and fun, with Martin adapting to local conditions and developing his "inventions"  and becoming involved with the people. But then he gets wrapped up in politics and warfare, which was really not interesting to me, especially the descriptions of the battles. I just skipped those parts. So, mostly, I found the book boring.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Tales of a Female Nomad

By Rita Golden Gelman

When Rita Gelman's kids were off to college, she began to feel restless. However, her very successful husband was firmly rooted and showed no inclination to make changes to their lifestyle. So she took off on her own to Mexico for a brief hiatus from her marriage.
Gelman wanted to challenge herself and she wanted to connect with the locals of a remote location, which she did, living with a family in a Zapotec village.
But after her getaway to Mexico, when she proposed returning home, her husband wasn't ready. Instead he wanted to prolong their separation. It was pretty clear to Rita, then, that the marriage was over.
After the divorce, Gelman decided she wanted to continue with her travels, living as cheaply as possible from her book sales (she wrote children's books) and experiencing the local cultures of the various places where she went. She avoided the touristy destinations and instead moved into small villages, learning the local customs and languages, sometimes exchanging her room and board for English lessons.
She had a real knack for adapting to the local culture and making herself at home no matter where she landed. At times, she struggled, mainly physically, since she is a little on the overweight side. But wherever Gelman went, she made friends and developed deep connections in the community. She must be one of the most adaptable people ever.

The travels included in this book are Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Israel, the Galapagos Islands, Indonesia, Canada, New Zealand, and Thailand. If you are looking for descriptions of the local scenery and tourist attractions, this book will disappoint. But if you want to read about local cultures and peoples and customs, this book will delight. It is all about the people, with some local scenery thrown in. But mainly it's about the people.