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this week's books reviewed in one post

I really did mean to be good and do a separate review post for all the books I read, but I fell behind (of course I did), and figure that if I don't do a multi-book review post now, I'll never get anything down for some of these books.

Title: Arabian Nights and Days
Author: Naguib Mahfouz
Pages: 228
First Sentence: Following the dawn prayer, with clouds of darkness defying the vigorous thrust of light, the vizier Dandan was called to a meeting with the sultan Shahriyar.

I have been meaning to read something by Naguib Mahfouz for awhile now, and this book has been catching my eye on the library shelf for some time. It is based on the 1001 Arabian Nights, picking up where the story leaves off. The Sultan has decided that Shahrzad's (this is the book's spelling) stories have spoken to him, and vowed to give up killing women and to become a good ruler. However, as Sharhzad points out to her father, the Sultan's corrupt practices and evil deeds remain in the tenor that they have set for the entire kingdom. A number of genies, some good and some bad, begin to interfere in various townspeople's lives, at times emphasizing the corrupt nature of the people they meddle with. I enjoyed the writing for the most part (there were a few choices that had me scratching my head and wondering if the translator was having an off day, or if Mahfouz had really interjected an Arabic equivalent to "What's up with your father" into the usual old-fashioned language), and there were a number of thought-provoking sections. However, I couldn't help but wonder if I was missing out a lot by not having read the 1001 Arabian Nights first. I have a general idea of what the story is about, and recognized Aladdin and Sinbad as characters from the 1001 Arabian Nights, but as I am largely unfamiliar with the stories I had no idea if there were any other cross-over characters, and even with Aladdin, the Arabian Nights and Days story was so different from the one I knew (which is the Disney version, see my shame) that I had no idea which differences were just Disney vs original text, and which were conscious decisions by Mahfouz. However, I might be over-thinking; it was still an interesting and thought-provoking book, and I will look out for more by Mahfouz in the future.

Title: Charity Girl
Author: Georgette Heyer
Pages: 288
First Sentence: As far is it was possible for an elderly gentlemen suffering from dyspepsia and a particularly violent attack of gout to take pleasure in anything but the alleviation of his various pains the Earl of Wroxton was enjoying himself.

Georgette Heyer is always a lot of fun, and this book is no exception. Charity has been thrown upon the mercy of her relations after the death of her father, and is treated very poorly, constantly reminded that she is a charity case. She is so unhappy that she resolves to run away in the hopes that her grandfather might take her in. Her very poor plan is luckily interrupted by Lord Desford, who was struck by her plight at a party where one of her husband-hunting cousins was trying to catch his interest. Desford, realizing he can't simply leave her, decides to take her situation in hand, but it all proves to be much more than he'd bargained for. I really love the humor that Heyer manages to infuse in her regency romances, and there's plenty of it here; the climax nearly had me laughing out loud. Charity Girl has the additional distinction of actually surprising me with a plot turn, which rarely happens in Heyer novels. This actually is the first book I read on my iPod, which means I've been reading it in snatches over a couple of months, and I think it was a book eminently suited for that form of reading - it is light and entertaining, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Title: And Another Thing...
Author: Eoin Colfer
Pages: 273
First Sentence: If you own a copy of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, then one of the last things you would be likely to type into its v-board would be the very same title of that particular Sub-Etha volume.

I'm not sure quite what to make of And Another Thing..., the new installment into the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, which was written by Eoin Colfer after the death of Douglas Adams. I suppose I will start by saying that Colfer did a very good job of mimicing Adams's style. I was afraid it would feel like reading Artemis Fowl with guest appearances by the Hitchhiker's Guide characters. However, I don't know what it says about the book that my favorite part was the beginning, where Colfer (very humorously) summarized the rest of the 'trilogy'. The plot was no great shakes, but it never is in Hitchhiker's Guide (I love the books, but one of the things I like about them is that you can pick one up in the middle and still enjoy it). I did laugh, which is the most important thing, although a few of the gags (Zaphod's left brain, for one) got old, in my opinion. However, one crucial difference is that I actually listened to most of the Hitchhiker's Guide books on tape rather than reading, so that's an additional difference to take into account. I will say that as I read I was able to imagine with very little trouble the voice from my old Hitchhiker's Guide audiobooks reading And Another Thing.., which I suppose means that Colfer did his job well.

Title: Girl Overboard
Author: Justina Chen Headley
Pages: 336
First Sentence: The worst part of having it all is having to deal with it all – the good, the bad, and the just plain weird.

This is another book by Justina Chen Headley, the author of North of Beautiful. I can see many of the same themes - an emotionally abusive father, a daughter coming to understand the women of her family better, almost-pun motifs (maps in North of Beautiful, snowboarding, business, and manga in Girl Overboard) running throughout the book. However, I don't think Girl Oveboard is as good as North of Beautiful.

Syrah Cheng is the daughter of billionaire Ethan Cheng and his second (much younger) wife Betty. Her YA angst revolves around knowing whether people genuinely like her or just want to use her to get to her father, the animosity of her older half-siblings who blame her and her mother for breaking up their parents' marriage, failing to live up to the immense pressure of being a Cheng, and the fact that an injury and her parents fear of her hurting herself again has kept her from pursuing her passion, snowboarding. I liked Syrah's evolving relationship with the women in her family and her new friendship with a girl she had initially thought was just another socialite-wannabe. I also thought that the build-up of suspense regarding what exactly happened to cause her horrible injury. I also thought that the discussion of the difficulty of mixed-race children in getting bone marrow transplants was really interesting and informative.

However, I really disliked the dialogue given to the character of Bao-mu, a nanny who continuously spoke in 'bad English' (not quite broken or pidgin, but with an irritating tendency to leave out verbs). I couldn't help thinking - if Syrah's tri-lingual, and understands Bao-mu's native tongue, then why is the author subjecting us to all this 'you go now! tell mommy!' stuff? Just tell us that they are speaking in Mandarin or Cantonese, and use normal, grammatically correct language. Also, it strained my credulity more than a little that everyone would imply that Syrah, who the author informs is *110 pounds*, is fat. I mean, I can buy that a few members of her families would be jerks to undermine her confidence, but not one person reacts with my incredulity to the constant barrage of 'I need to diet', 'don't eat so much', 'wear a bodice to get into that dress', 'unusual body shape' stuff that all indicate that Syrah is overweight. I felt like Headley should have either not given us a definite number for how much Syrah weighs so that we could just imagine that Syrah was overweight, or she should have had someone react the way the reader would and say '110 pound is in no conceivable way fat!'. I mean, she's short, but come on! I also wasn't a fan of the romance angle - I didn't think it actually resolved itself one way or the other, and the conflict seemed contrived to me.

Ultimately, there were some interesting parts in the book, and I still intend to read Headley's other YA book, but I don't know that I would necessarily recommend this one to others. I'd say, read North of Beautiful, and if you like that then maybe check Girl Overboard out from the library.