Book Review: The Moor’s Account by Laila Lalami

 The Moor's Account by Laila Lalami

The Moor’s Account: What it is about

Vintage (publisher) says: “In these pages, Laila Lalami brings us the imagined memoirs of the first black explorer of America: Mustafa al-Zamori, called Estebanico. The slave of a Spanish conquistador, Estebanico sails for the Americas with his master, Dorantes, as part of a danger-laden expedition to Florida. Within a year, Estebanico is one of only four crew members to survive.
As he journeys across America with his Spanish companions, the Old World roles of slave and master fall away, and Estebanico remakes himself as an equal, a healer, and a remarkable storyteller. His tale illuminates the ways in which our narratives can transmigrate into history—and how storytelling can offer a chance at redemption and survival.”

The Moor’s Account: What I thought

I loved this story of captivity and adventure. Mustafa al-Zamori is a regular guy in his North-African town, but because of adversary circumstances, he sells himself as a slave, so his family has enough money to get through the next few months.  Of course, this seemed like a very bad career choice to me, and that is what it turns out to be. As a slave, he cannot control his circumstances and who he is sold to. He ends up with a man who is not that bad to him, but takes him to America, on an exploration trip, reducing his chances to ever see his home town and family again.

In Florida, they lose their sense of direction and are at the mercy of the various Indian tribes. The boundaries between slave and master disappear completely. Mustafa thinks he’s free, but is he really? Although they all become virtual slaves to the Indians at some point, and Mustafa’s master considers them equals, as soon as they get back into civilization, things chance again.

This is a beautiful adventure story that deals with issues such as freedom and property. Can people really be the property of other people? Can a country (Florida) be yours (the Spanish) just because you declare it’s yours?

Rating: 5 (out of 5)

Number of pages: 324

First published: 2014

I got this book: from my Penguin Random House representative for an honest review

Genre: historical fiction


Book Review: The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret AtwoodThe Heart Goes Last: What it is about

Doubleday (publisher) says: “Stan and Charmaine are a married couple trying to stay afloat in the midst of an economic and social collapse. Job loss has forced them to live in their car, leaving them vulnerable to roving gangs. They desperately need to turn their situation around—and fast. The Positron Project in the town of Consilience seems to be the answer to their prayers. No one is unemployed and everyone gets a comfortable, clean house to live in . . . for six months out of the year. On alternating months, residents of Consilience must leave their homes and function as inmates in the Positron prison system. Once their month of service in the prison is completed, they can return to their “civilian” homes.
At first, this doesn’t seem like too much of a sacrifice to make in order to have a roof over one’s head and food to eat. But when Charmaine becomes romantically involved with the man who lives in their house during the months when she and Stan are in the prison, a series of troubling events unfolds, putting Stan’s life in danger. With each passing day, Positron looks less like a prayer answered and more like a chilling prophecy fulfilled.”

The Heart Goes Last: What I thought

Let’s start on the outside: a beautiful cover! Do you agree? This kind of cover, simple but colorful, is so inviting!

I am not a huge Margaret Atwood fan, but I was keen to read this new novel, as it sounded very interesting. I’ve read a few of Atwood’s books, and loved them, but I also read one or two that I found impossible to get through. The science fiction ones, I love: The Handmaid’s TaleOryx and CrakeThe Year of the Flood.

The Heart Goes Last reminded me to some extent of The Year of the Flood, because of the crazy things that are happening. I read the book in a weekend because it’s was near-unputdownable, but some of the crazy things were a little too crazy for my liking. Marilyn Monroe and Elvis sex dolls? And changing one’s brain for…well, I won’t spoil it for you. But this went a little too far for me. Luckily, this only appeared in the latter half of the book, and I devoured the beginning like chocolate cake.

But okay, what is the book really about? That’s a different story altogether! It’s about freedom and perceived freedom. When we first meet Stan and Charmaine, they are living in their car. They can go wherever they want, as long as they have money for petrol, but leaving their car is not advisable most of the time, because of all the violent people outside. Stan and Charmaine are extremely poor and when they get the opportunity to start a new life, they don’t hesitate and take it. However, this means being permanently locked up in a gated community, where they have to spend half of the time in prison and the other live a ‘normal’ life. Now they have all they need, in return for their freedom. Are they better off?

When they make mistakes and get in trouble, it’s time to find a way out. They discover that the system they live in is not what it seemed, and strange things are going on. In the end, Charmaine discovers that her mind sometimes limits her freedom when her circumstances don’t. That was quite an interesting discovery!

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

Number of pages: 308

First published: 2015

I got this book: from my Penguin Random House representative for an honest review

Genre: post-apocalyptic, science fiction


Book Review: Extreme Food by Bear Grylls

Extreme Food by Bear GryllsExtreme Food: What it is about

William Morrow (publisher) says: “In the tradition of the million-copy-bestseller SAS Survival Guide, former SAS paratrooper Bear Grylls—the world’s most famous survival expert—teaches the necessary skills for eating in the wild.

“There’s no getting away from it; I’ve eaten some pretty extreme things in my time—live tarantulas, raw goat testicles, elephant dung, you name it. In a situation when your life depends on it, you need to put your prejudices aside to keep your stomach filled and your strength up.

Whether it’s mastering the art of foraging and cooking up a tasty feast around the campfire or learning about the more extreme end of wild food (ever tried a scorpion kebab?), there’s a lot to learn when it comes to dinner time in the wild. Extreme Food will teach you all the necessary skills and techniques to get your teeth into meals you might never have thought of as food in the first place—and, crucially, how to recognize plants and animals that might end up doing you more harm than good.

In today’s world, we rarely need to venture beyond the local supermarket and we turn our noses up at the thought of snacking on bugs and grubs. But out in the wild, Mother Nature has provided us with a plentiful supply of nutritious—if not always delicious—food for the taking. And when needs must, we just have to know where to look.

Some of it might take you out of your comfort zone. Some of it might turn your stomach. But it’s saved my life more than once. And one day, it might save yours . . .”—BEAR GRYLLS”

Extreme Food: What I thought

I didn’t read this book, but my son (16) did. He’s isn’t at all the outdoorsy type and doesn’t voluntarily take a walk in the woods. Neither is he much of a reader. But he loved this book!

Over the course of a week or so, he read this book, regularly telling me about his newest findings. “Look at this fish trap! This is how it works!”, “Do you know that this plant is edible?”, “Look how you can make a fire with just X and Y!” And so it went on. He found all the different ways to catch and cook animals very intriguing. It didn’t make him go outdoors and try some of these examples for himself. But the book gave him a whole new way to look at nature. And that is great.

The book starts with the basics: nutrition, how to make fires, how to purify water. Then wild plants and mushrooms are discussed, which you can eat and what you can do with them. Fishing is discussed to some detail: how to make your hooks and rod, the best ways to try and catch fish, and a section about how to cook them. After a short section about edibles from the sea, the book moves on to bigger game: how to stalk and catch larger animals, how to make snares, how to cook and preserve your kill.The books ends with a section on insects and amphibians.

Both for people who never go out in the wild and those who do, this book will give you lots of new ideas about what can be done with nature’s supplies. Even if you never intend to use the knowledge in practice, it’s fun to learn something new, and you’ll never look at nature in the same way again.

Rating: 5 (out of 5)

Number of pages: 272

First published: 2014

I got this book: from the publisher for an honest review

Genre: non-fiction, survival


Book Review: The Visitors by Sally Beaman

The Visitors by Sally BeaumanThe Visitors: What it is about

Harper (publisher) says: “Based on a true story of discovery, The Visitors is New York Times bestselling author Sally Beauman’s brilliant recreation of the hunt for Tutankhamun’s tomb in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings—a dazzling blend of fact and fiction that brings to life a lost world of exploration, adventure, and danger, and the audacious men willing to sacrifice everything to find a lost treasure.

In 1922, when eleven year-old Lucy is sent to Egypt to recuperate from typhoid, she meets Frances, the daughter of an American archaeologist. The friendship draws the impressionable young girl into the thrilling world of Lord Carnarvon and Howard Carter, who are searching for the tomb of boy pharaoh Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings.

A haunting tale of love and loss, The Visitors retells the legendary story of Carter and Carnarvon’s hunt and their historical discovery, witnessed through the eyes of a vulnerable child whose fate becomes entangled in their dramatic quest. As events unfold, Lucy will discover the lengths some people will go to fulfill their deepest desires—and the lies that become the foundation of their lives.

Intensely atmospheric, The Visitors recalls the decadence of Egypt’s aristocratic colonial society, and illuminates the obsessive, daring men willing to risk everything—even their sanity—to claim a piece of the ancient past. As fascinating today as it was nearly a century ago, the search for King Tut’s tomb is made vivid and immediate in Sally Beauman’s skilled hands. A dazzling feat of imagination, The Visitors is a majestic work of historical fiction.”

The Visitors: What I thought

The story is told by an old lady, who, as a young girl, traveled to Egypt a few times with her guardian. She befriends the daughter of an archaeologist and meets several other people involved with the archaeological digs, as well as people from the upper class British society, who are spending their holidays in Egypt.

The rest of Lucy’s life is in one way or another connected to her experiences in Egypt. At the end of her life, she tells her story and leaves a few surprising scenes until the end. She goes into a lot of detail, which gives the story a brilliant 1920s atmosphere. However, it also means that it is sometimes a little slow.

The story sometimes felt a little contrived: in order to know all that happened during the excavations, she had to befriend (or listen into the stories of) quite a few people and be at the right place at the right time. On the other hand, it is clear that the author has done a lot of research into the Egyptian excavations as well as the politics of the time – Egypt wanted to reduce the influence of the British in their country, and more specifically, didn’t want ancient artifacts to be taken out of the country. The British archaeologists were keen to show off their findings in the British Museum or keep some items for their own collection.

This is a very atmospheric story. While a little long, it’s worth a read if you’re interested in the 1920s, a time often overlooked in novels because of the World Wars and the Great Depression surrounding it.

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

Number of pages: 530

First published: 2014

I got this book: from the publisher for an honest review

Genre: historical fiction

Also read by this author: Rebecca’s Tale



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