Review: The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts by Joshua Hammer

Published April 19th 2016 by Simon & Schuster

Hardcover, 288 pages

Source: e-ARC from Edelweiss

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To save precious centuries-old Arabic texts from Al Qaeda, a band of librarians in Timbuktu pulls off a brazen heist worthy of Ocean’s Eleven.

In the 1980s, a young adventurer and collector for a government library, Abdel Kader Haidara, journeyed across the Sahara Desert and along the Niger River, tracking down and salvaging tens of thousands of ancient Islamic and secular manuscripts that had fallen into obscurity. The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu tells the incredible story of how Haidara, a mild-mannered archivist and historian from the legendary city of Timbuktu, later became one of the world’s greatest and most brazen smugglers.

In 2012, thousands of Al Qaeda militants from northwest Africa seized control of most of Mali, including Timbuktu. They imposed Sharia law, chopped off the hands of accused thieves, stoned to death unmarried couples, and threatened to destroy the great manuscripts. As the militants tightened their control over Timbuktu, Haidara organized a dangerous operation to sneak all 350,000 volumes out of the city to the safety of southern Mali.

Over the past twenty years, journalist Joshua Hammer visited Timbuktu numerous times and is uniquely qualified to tell the story of Haidara’s heroic and ultimately successful effort to outwit Al Qaeda and preserve Mali’s—and the world’s—literary patrimony. Hammer explores the city’s manuscript heritage and offers never-before-reported details about the militants’ march into northwest Africa. But above all, The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu is an inspiring account of the victory of art and literature over extremism.

Clearly with a title like Bad-Ass Librarians I had to request this book right away right?  Bad-Ass is definitely an apt descriptor for Abdel Kader Haidara and his band of merry men in Mali.  I had no idea of the scholarly history of Timbuktu over the ages and it was fascinating.  Hammer describes how manuscripts were once dispersed among families and Haidara crossed Mali back and forth as a young man buying them back to be placed into a library.  That Haidara was able to rescue the manuscripts he found just once was phenomenal.  Parchments thousands of years old originally buried in the sand for protection then saved to be restored and cataloged with international funds…    

And then came the terrorists.  Haidara realized that the manuscripts he had saved once were under a new threat of imminent destruction and they had to be removed from the ostensibly safe libraries they had been placed in.  So he had to arrange for the movement of priceless artifacts under the noses of uneducated and armed militants! Hammer made me feel like I was right there a few times watching boxes of priceless papers going under the nose of the militants by donkey, then car and then boat.  Miraculous really.  

There was more detail than I expected about the terrorists but it was all important and flowed with the story of the manuscripts.  The context was necessary to understand the threat Mali was under and the real victory Haidara and those working with him had in saving thousands of manuscripts.  This ended up being a really interesting read not just for the librarians but the events in Mali and the importance with global terrorism. 

Thank you Simon & Schuster and Edelweiss for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

Library Checkout: April

Thanks Shannon for this check-in!

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I have issues.  When walking past the library last Friday with my daughter I stopped to check the awesome Chicago Public Library app to see if I had anything in.  She asked me if she could get a book too -I started to say “You don’t need a library book, you have enough at home…”  Can you believe those words came out of my mouth?  Followed by: “Sweet! I have holds in, let’s go inside.”  And yes, she got 2 books too.

Read

  • The Radiant Road by Katherine Catmull
  • We are All Completely Beside Ourselves (Thanks Chrissy!) by Karen Joy Fowler
  • Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson
  • The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton (5 year-old found this hilarious! See Miss Print’s review )
  • Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast by Josh Funk – GET THIS IF YOU HAVE KIDS. We love it. I need to buy it.
  • Hedgehugs by Steve Wilson – also adorable!

Checked Out To Read

  • Breaking Bad Season Five  – OMG Walter White I hate you! Almost done with this
  • Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems (HA HA HA HA) Never going to happen Dr. Ferber. She’s trying to torture me.
  • The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck by Sarah Knight.  (Soon I won’t give a f*ck about anything because I will be so tired)
  • The Expatriates by Janice Lee
  • The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips
  • Charlotte Bronte: A Fiery Heart by Claire Harman
  • Nil by Lynne Matson. I’ve renewed this 10 times – when do I admit I might never read it?
  • Samantha Learns a Lesson and Samantha’s Surprise – American Girl Doll books to read with Babycakes

On Hold

  • I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
  • Tuesday Nights in 1980 by Molly Prentiss
  • The Wife, The Maid and The Mistress by Ariel Lawhon
  • Breaking Bad: The Final Season
  • The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi
  • The Last Days of Magic by Mark Tompkins
  • The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee
  • A Gathering of Shadows by Victoria Schwab
  • You by Caroline Kepnes
  • The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin
  • Troublemaker by Leah Remini (I’m judging myself for this a bit)
  • The Beast by JR Ward (don’t judge me more)
  • Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

Returned Unread:

  • The Widow by Fiona Barton
  • After the Crash by Michael Bussi
  • My Name is  Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

How was your library reading this month?

Review: Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death

Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death, James Runcie (The Grantchester Mysteries #1)

Paperback, 400 pages

Published January 13th 2015 by Bloomsbury USA

Source: Copy from Publisher

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Sidney Chambers, the Vicar of Grantchester, is a thirty-two year old bachelor. Sidney is an unconventional clergyman and can go where the police cannot.

Together with his roguish friend Inspector Geordie Keating, Sidney inquires into the suspect suicide of a Cambridge solicitor, a scandalous jewellery theft at a New Year’s Eve dinner party, the unexplained death of a well-known jazz promoter and a shocking art forgery, the disclosure of which puts a close friend in danger. Sidney discovers that being a detective, like being a clergyman, means that you are never off duty . . .

How did I not know about Grantchester?  A swooningly handsome English vicar with his loyal black lab puppy getting involved in murder mysteries in the 1950’s – yes please.  Meet tv Sidney:

 

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With that image in mind I am happy to sacrifice my imagination to the BBC’s fine work.  I decided to dive into the books before checking out the tv series  and found myself reading a book that almost feels like it was written to become a tv series. The Shadow of Death was not one mystery but a series of somewhat interconnected stories.  As Sidney gets pulled in by the police we meet his friend Inspector Keating, his grumpy housekeeper, his love interests and his family.  I love the setting of England recovering from the war and the internal conflict of Sidney the war hero with the upright vicar.  You feel Sidney’s initial reluctance to become involved in police business then turning to excitement as he gets more involved in each case.  I can’t put my finger on why – but something reminded me of my beloved Flavia de Luce – maybe the slight grumpiness that gets into Sidney at times?

And obviously here’s where I was sunk – when Sidney is gifted a puppy he is told:

“There is nothing like a Lab for company, and the black are better for conversation I find.”

Loki - Always listening for conversation

Loki – Always listening for conversation

I am looking forward to seeing if the stories grow any deeper in the second book in the series, after all now the stage has been set and Sidney’s supporting characters largely revealed.  I’m very curious about where dualing love interests will head

Now the biggest question is – do I binge Season One of Grantchester before or after reading more Sidney?  Are you reading or watching this series?  Let me know!

Thank you Bloomsbury USA for this copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

Review: Down With The Shine

Down With The Shine, Kate Karyus Quinn

Hardcover, 355 pages

Publication: April 26th 2016 by HarperTeen

Source: e-ARC from Edelweiss

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There’s a reason they say “be careful what you wish for.” Just ask the girl who wished to be thinner and ended up smaller than Thumbelina, or the boy who asked for “balls of steel” and got them-literally. And never wish for your party to go on forever. Not unless you want your guests to be struck down by debilitating pain if they try to leave.

These are things Lennie only learns when it’s too late-after she brings some of her uncles’ moonshine to a party and toasts to dozens of wishes, including a big wish of her own: to bring back her best friend, Dylan, who was abducted and murdered six months ago.

Lennie didn’t mean to cause so much chaos. She always thought her uncles’ moonshine toast was just a tradition. And when they talked about carrying on their “important family legacy,” she thought they meant good old-fashioned bootlegging.

As it turns out, they meant granting wishes. And Lennie has just granted more in one night than her uncles would grant in a year.

Now she has to find a way to undo the damage. But once granted, a wish can’t be unmade…

Magic moonshine?  Who could pass that drink up?  Ok, I might now after reading this strange little book.  But given the chance at a magical drink as a teen?  What a premise this book gives!  I read Down With the Shine in a day – I had to fly through it to see how this mixture of YA, grit lit, and magical realism could turn out.  I have to say that I was surprised and entertained all throughout.  Lennie knows that her uncles brew moonshine.  She knows there is a family ritual that offers a wish to go with drinking the first sip, but she doesn’t know that her uncles are really granting wishes.  So when she takes jars of shine and crashes the party of year and makes a wish for everyone who asks – let’s just say she wakes up to all kinds of messes the next day.  

I liked Lennie.  She started out pretty sad and morose, but she grew quite a spine in the end.  She has a pretty rough awakening to the wish granting business and I liked how she owned up to her mistakes.  I really was amused by her uncles and I wish there had been more time with them.  I would have liked to have learned the secrets to a successful moonshine/wish granting lifestyle!  

The description of the book should make it clear that Down With The Shine isn’t a book to take too seriously – with literal balls of steel and all – but it seemed to take things a little too lightly at times.  This started like it was going to be a very dark  – Lennie is a social pariah after the murder of her best friend.  But then after the party the feeling changed pretty rapidly which took me a minute to get used to.  I think the elements of darkness in Lennie’s life just didn’t balance with the silliness for me.  It was hard to go from feeling sorry for Lennie due to her murderous father, spaced out mother, and overall loneliness  to laughing at those balls of steel or teenage boys with working wings.  I like dark humor – I just needed the darkness and humor to meld more overall.   Had there been more depth all around I think this could have gone from a fun and fast book to a really great book. 

However, I thought the ending was clever and tied things up just right.  Not at all what I expected!  Definitely one to try when you want to laugh and are ok with some gross along with it.  

Thank you HarperTeen and Edelweiss for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review!

Review: My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry

My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry, Fredrik Backman

Published June 16th 2015 by Atria Books

Hardcover, 372 pages

Source: Library

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From the author of the internationally bestselling ‘A Man Called Ove’, a novel about a young girl whose grandmother dies and leaves behind a series of letters, sending her on a journey that brings to life the world of her grandmother’s fairy tales.

Elsa is seven years old and different. Her grandmother is seventy-seven years old and crazy, standing-on-the-balcony-firing-paintball-guns-at-men-who-want-to-talk-about-Jesus-crazy. She is also Elsa’s best, and only, friend. At night Elsa takes refuge in her grandmother’s stories, in the Land of Almost-Awake and the Kingdom of Miamas where everybody is different and nobody needs to be normal.

When Elsa’s grandmother dies and leaves behind a series of letters apologizing to people she has wronged, Elsa’s greatest adventure begins. Her grandmother’s letters lead her to an apartment building full of drunks, monsters, attack dogs, and totally ordinary old crones, but also to the truth about fairytales and kingdoms and a grandmother like no other.

If you haven’t read A Man Called Ove I have to respectfully ask what the hell you’re waiting for?!  Frederik Backman broke my feelings into tiny pieces and he tried to do it again with last year’s My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You I’m Sorry.  I was afraid that Backman wouldn’t work magic twice and so I waited too long to pick this up. I was wrong.   

Elsa’s grandmother is batty – totally batty.  We meet Elsa and her Granny after they’ve broken into the zoo and granny has been arrested.  Not what you expect for a woman with her 7 (almost 8) year-old grandmother.  Elsa basically broke my heart.  She’s smart and precocious and she’s bullied and so lonely.  Granny tells her stories to help her to be brave and to fall asleep at night.  They journey every night to a fairy tale world with warriors and Beasts, dreams and magic.  Every child needs someone like Granny in their lives because she was brilliant and amazing.   

Having a grandmother is like having an army.  This is a grandchild’s ultimate privilege: knowing that someone is on your side, always, whatever the details.

But then Granny dies.  Elsa is left friendless and without her champion.  Her mother is 8 months pregnant with her new half-sibling, affectionately called Halfie, and Elsa is excited but unsure of her place in her family.  Elsa and her Granny were neighbors in an apartment building of odd characters.  There’s Alf, who drives a cab; the boy with the syndrome; and Britt-Marie, who is a nag bag to name a few.  Granny leaves Elsa with a letter for one of these neighbors with an apology and ends up leading Elsa on a quest to find magic and friendship.  Once again Backman made me laugh out loud and cry while reading.  I loved how strong and brave Granny was and what she taught Elsa along the way. 

If I can’t convince you will all of the above let me leave you with this quote:

And there’s a Russian playwright who once said that if there’s a pistol hanging on the wall in the first act, it has to be fired before the last act is over.  

Any book that references Chekov’s gun on the wall has to be a winner!  Read it!  I didn’t make the mistake of waiting to read Backman’s next book.  I’ve already devoured his May 2016 release and will review it soon!  But I will say for now that you don’t want to miss it.  Backman is magic – if magic brings both tears and laughter while reading.

Review: Five Days at Memorial

Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital, Sheri Fink

Hardcover, 558 pages

Published September 10th 2013 by Crown

Source: Blogging for Books

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In the tradition of the best investigative journalism, physician and reporter Sheri Fink reconstructs 5 days at Memorial Medical Center and draws the reader into the lives of those who struggled mightily to survive and to maintain life amid chaos.

After Katrina struck and the floodwaters rose, the power failed, and the heat climbed, exhausted caregivers chose to designate certain patients last for rescue. Months later, several health professionals faced criminal allegations that they deliberately injected numerous patients with drugs to hasten their deaths.

Five Days at Memorial, the culmination of six years of reporting, unspools the mystery of what happened in those days, bringing the reader into a hospital fighting for its life and into a conversation about the most terrifying form of health care rationing.

In a voice at once involving and fair, masterful and intimate, Fink exposes the hidden dilemmas of end-of-life care and reveals just how ill-prepared we are in America for the impact of large-scale disasters—and how we can do better. A remarkable book, engrossing from start to finish, Five Days at Memorial radically transforms your understanding of human nature in crisis.

I worked myself up to being extremely nervous before beginning Five Days at Memorial – this was a mistake on my part.  I was afraid this book was going to be an extremely emotional account of the days spent at Memorial Hospital following Hurricane Katrina.   What I found was a well balanced recounting of the history of the hospital, the time leading up to the storm, and riveting accounts of the medical staff and families inside Memorial Hospital.  This is not to say the book was without emotion, but Fink moved so quickly from person to person that I never felt too caught up in any one individual’s story or feelings.

I really don’t want to imagine myself in that powerless, stifling, and terrifying building but Fink nearly had me there in the minds of the nurses and physicians.  I cannot imagine the decisions they were forced to make about triage, evacuating patients, and about letting go of patients that were too sick to face the conditions outside Memorial – all while worrying about their own loved ones and homes.  I can’t stop talking about this book with my friends and family.  Fink brings you to see why the doctors and nurses felt they needed to make the decisions they did, but leaves the reader to wrestle with the implications of those decisions.   

Fink tells the stories without judgement and follows with important discussion about what we’ve learned since Katrina.  It was shocking to read that the same kinds of decisions about patient triage were made in New York facing Hurricane Sandy and I don’t know that we’re any more prepared for medical disasters today.  Pretty terrifying really.  What’s also so important is more discussion about end of life care and about what kind of life prolonging treatment we want for ourselves and our families.  We could be doing so much better.  I think my next non-fiction now has to be The Good Death: An Exploration of Dying in America.   It will be interesting to see how these two link up in my thoughts.  

4 stars!

Thank you Blogging for Books for this copy in exchange for an honest review.

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Books to Make You Laugh

Today’s Top Ten Eleven from the Broke and the Bookish is books that will make you laugh – my favorites of these had me laughing in public while reading and even in tears.  Parts of these will at the very least absolutely make you smile – they might also knock you down with tears later as a fair warning.

  1. Bitter is the New Black by Jen Lancaster (And Bright Lights Big Ass!)
  2. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde (basically ALL his books)
  3. Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding
  4. Discount Armageddon (Incryptid #1 and the whole series) by Seanan McGuire
  5. Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs
  6. Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson
  7. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  8. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
  9. This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper
  10. Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
  11. Marley & Me: Life and Love With the World’s Worst Dog by John Grogan (will also make you cry like a baby)

What funny books am I missing?