December 30, 2011

When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron

With everything that's happened in my life this year, my mom found this book and thought it would be a good read for me. And indeed, the title was very very fitting, however, actually applying what is in this book could prove to be very difficult.

Pema Chodron is an American Buddhist and as such, this book is mainly about Buddhism and its practices. And maybe its just because I know barely anything about Buddhism, but I found this to be a very high level book. She talks about using dharmas, loneliness, meditation and other ways of looking at the world. The prevailing theme is that things that make us uncomfortable should be examined instead of ignored. We shouldn't be scared of loneliness, despair, and loss but rather should examine them and accept them. She offers tips for how to do this and shares stories about the ways other people have found to live this way. And she odes warn that it is a struggle.

As said before I found this book to be very high level. In fact, I really didn't understand most of what she was talking about. Which I wasn't prepared for from the cover and the back cover description. It seemed like something that would be more for everyone. But I would highly recommend someone knowing a little something about Buddhism and its terms before reading this book. Otherwise, they may be just as lost as I was. That's not to say I didn't understand everything though. There were a few passages that spoke to me and that I could relate to. In particular, she talks about how we as humans build sandcastles and guard them jealously, even though in the end we know they'll be swept away by the sea and we're ok with that. She says that kind of nonattachment is healthy and something we should strive for. And that makes sense.

I also was quite fond of a quote found in there. "Honesty without kindness, humor, and goodheartedness can be just mean." This really spoke to me because in my last relationship, all the nasty things that were said to me by him were excused by him as just being "brutally honest." But is it good to be honest when the only outcome is to hurt someone? I don't think so, and I like Chodron's theory that honesty involves incorporating kindness as well. It is not noble to always tell the truth with no thought of the consequences. I'm in no way advocating lying, but there is a way to tell the truth with compassion. And one person's truth is not always anothers.

Definitely not the book I thought it was going to be, and I think if I had been educated further on Buddhism I would have enjoyed it a lot more. As such, there was just too much that was really only geared towards practitioners of Buddhism and hard to understand for the rest of us. But there are some valuable lessons to take away from this book even without that knowledge.

When Things Fall Apart
Copyright 1997
146 pages

December 26, 2011

The Child Thief by Brom

What a strangely disturbing, dark and intriguing tale. I actually enjoyed it for the most part despite the violence and dreariness.

The Child Thief is a different look at the tale of Peter Pan. In this tale, Peter steals children, but only the runaways and down and out ones. He leads them through the mist to Avalon where things aren't as wonderful as they used to be. A group called the flesh-eaters roam the island, men who have been twisted by the magic there and they are destroying the magical place. So Peter recruits these children to help him fight them despite it being a losing battle. And his greatest enemy that he knows is the Captain.

I hesitate to call anyone a good or bad guy in this book. Its kind of just shades of grey and at times I find Peter more menacing than the Captain. And I think that's how Brom meant it to be. Everyone is misguided and vicious and the very base of themselves. Certainly goodness has been lost in this twisted world and savagery what replaces it. Peter I didn't really find very likable at all, but that's just as well considering Nick, one of the children doesn't find him impressive either and I really like Nick's character. I found him the most real out of all of them. There are several of the "lost" children as well and even they are not quite human if not humane.

As I said before this book is very very dark. So dark in fact that it starts with the rape of a young girl by her father. And it just goes down into gore, murder, and other violence from there. If this isn't to your taste don't even try to read this book as its in every page. It also paints a pretty bleak picture of Christianity, so again be warned if this isn't to your taste. Despite all the violence and rage this book holds I did enjoy the vast majority of it. My main complaint would be the ending. It just seemed to lose focus and the tone wasn't as interesting as the first part was. It seemed more like action and less plot was the important role.

I did like it. And I think it was inventive. Add in the great pictures from Brom and it really completes the picture. A very dark wonderful book.

The Child Thief
Copyright 2009
481 pages

Town in a Blueberry Jam by B.B. Haywood

As you've probably guessed, this is a cozy mystery. Something filled with charm and a little violence and an unlikely heroine to save the day. Hey, what can I say, I'm a sucker for these types of books, especially when they involve food.

Candy lives with her dad in Maine running a small blueberry farm. And that's a good thing right now as its the town's annual blueberry festival. But then, before the festival can go off, a local is killed. Admist this mystery the crowning of the blueberry Queen still proceeds but when an unlikely person wins the crown and appears dead a few days later, the town launches into even more of an uproar. And a friend of Candy's is considered the main suspect. She doesn't want to do police work, but can't help but find herself sleuthing around trying to solve the murder case.

Candy is an ok character. She changes her mind very quickly so I don't understand her thought processes sometimes. And I also think its funny that she's not a fan of cooking yet takes a job baking pies, but thats just a small thing in this book. The town does have a lot of characters in it, from the lady who is murdered to Candy's best friend they all have a few quirks. But I think the most misused character in this book is Candy's dad. He seems like he would be fantastic to read about but isn't really used all that much in the story. I would have liked to read more about him.

For a mystery I do have to say that I never guessed who it was. And probably never would have as there weren't that many clues. It didn't quite ruin the story for me, but I always like to have at least a fighting chance at guessing who the killer is. But the setting was done well and the mystery interesting so it was still a decent book. And I really did appreciate the blueberry recipes that were thrown in at the end. I can definitely tell I'll be trying to blueberry whipped cream sometime.

A good cozy mystery. Not stupendous, but a nice read for a cold winter's day.

Town in a Blueberry Jam
Copyright 2010
312 pages

December 25, 2011

Typee by Herman Melville

Herman Melville tells a somewhat autobiographical tale in this story about time spent among cannibals in the South Seas. Somewhat autobiographical because there is a lot of fictional elements to this story.

After ditching a ship run by a mad captain, our main character finds himself on an island with only one other person as they go through the jungle trying to survive on what little food they grabbed. When at last they find a tribe of the island, they are both wary and overjoyed. Because he has an injury, he is unable to leave with the friend and instead is left to the friendly hands of the natives, who really don't want him to leave anyway. So much so that they hold him as a very comfortable hostage. While recuperating from his injury he observes their life and how carefree it is and admires them as a people.

While some elements of this book are autobiographical, I do have to say that Melville really isn't as interesting as the natives think he is. He is injured for the vast majority of the time so I'm surprised he held such a fascination to them. The natives were mostly fairly described and in fact compared favorably to his English brethren, which is a surprise considering the time it was written. I think the most derogatory thing that he wrote was that they seemed to like to be lazy, but would work when needed to. Compared to how he made fun of the English, its actually pretty interesting what he thinks of them.

While Melville has a lyrical way of writing, I found this book to be very tedious. Yes there were beautiful descriptions of the island and its people that made it seem a very desirable place, but these were repeated over and over and over. I stopped caring about breadfruit around the fifth time it was described and some of the other repetitions grew old after the second go around. I just wish he had branched out a bit in his descriptions. I did find some of his adventures interesting but he describes these incidents far and few between.

Definitely not one of the better books I've read in awhile. I know it's a classic, but so much more could have been done with it.

Copyright 1846
260 pages

December 21, 2011

Lost and Fondue by Avery Aames

This 2nd book in the Cheese shop mysteries did not hold as much charm for me as the first. The good news is that you don't have to read the first one in order to enjoy this book though. But if you've read the two, the first one is better.

We return to Charlotte who runs a small town artisan cheese shop. Once again she has found herself in the middle of a murder and desperately wants to prove that a friend's cousin is not the murderer. But the boy murdered has a lot of people who don't really like him and for good reason. But there are plenty of clues left by the murderer too that don't seem to point to any one person. And to distract her from everything there is her budding romance with the mysterious Jordan. Charlotte knows that she has to help find the killer because the police are stretched thin, but she's no detective, just a lover of gouda and good mystery.

I'm still not the biggest fan of Charlotte. I don't understand her motives or even her regular thoughts for that matter. For instance, I can't figure out why she is so attracted to Jordan. A man that wouldn't tell me the truth or who I didn't even know that well because of secrets wouldn't be someone I'd want to spend the rest of my life with. But apparently that is extra appealing to her. The best characters are still the grandparents in this book, but sadly they aren't mentioned as much in this one. And when they are mentioned its for a side plot of a play that just doesn't really fit with the rest of the book. Not to mention, in this book there is the addition of side character Sylvie who I can't stand. Granted I'm not supposed to like her character, but it was tough just to read about her.

The mystery was ok. I didn't guess who it was until Charlotte did which is a good thing to me. But all the extra stuff thrown in really detracted from the mystery. I didn't care about the play and even though it helped with the mystery, I didn't think it was all too important. What I did like in the writing was all the mention of cheese. I'm a cheese lover and this book is full of delicious cheese descriptions. There are also some recipes included at the end as well that I may have to give a try. But descriptions of cheese are the most graphic you'll get in this book; even though there is a murder, that's not described to the extent the cheese was.

I'll definitely read the next book in the series. I like them. This one just wasn't as "cozy" as the first book.

Lost and Fondue
Copyright 2011
297 pages

December 18, 2011

The Long Quiche Goodbye by Avery Aames

I like cozy mysteries. Maybe because they are in fact cozy. There's just something comforting about them even if they do involve murders.

For a little town in Ohio, Providence does pretty well. There are plenty of cute little boutiques and artisan shops in the downtown, among them what is affectionately called The Cheese Shop run by Charlotte and a cousin. After taking it over from her grandparents and remodeling, Charlotte gets more than what she bargains for when a man is killed in front of her store, and her grandmother is the main suspect. And it also affects her grandmother's chance at becoming mayor again. The man's wife is running against her and a prime suspect herself, not to mention a very unpleasant person. Charlotte has to figure out what happened before her grandmother is put away.

Charlotte is an ok character. Very prone to being excitable though. She also is easily swayed which makes her not that strong of a character. Her grandmother and grandfather, however, were fabulous. There were a lot of side characters, but none I really felt a connection to. There wasn't a whole lot of description on them aside from what we were "told" rather than "shown." I guess I would have just liked to see their characters developed. Or maybe less characters with more time spent on them, I kept confusing some of them once in awhile.

The mystery was actually pretty good on this one. I wasn't able to guess who it was even though there were plenty of clues. And it was paced nicely. I think what was best was all the descriptions of cheese. I love cheese. And they thoughtfully included some recipes at the end as well. With all the talk of food though it did make me pretty hungry and of course craving cheese. Being that its a murder mystery it wasn't overly graphic though. More description was given to the cheese than the murder.

I liked it and look forward to reading more in the Cheese Shop Mystery series. If nothing else it will be good just for the recipes.

The Long Quiche Goodbye
Copyright 2010
314 pages

December 17, 2011

Knit the Season by Kate Jacobs

Ah, a Christmas book. Sadly it wasn't that good. I've read some of Kate Jacob's other stuff and liked it, but just wasn't as impressed with this one. If you haven't read any of the other books in the series, I don't really recommend reading this one as you'll be completely lost.

Its a few years down the road and Dakota is busy in pastry school and running her late mother's knitting shop. She lives with her dad and is growing closer to him, but can't always decide what she wants from family. She has two friends in her knitting club that are getting married too; Anita who has been planning and replanning weddings due to her sons interference, and Catherine who has finally found love late in life. But the biggest problem to face is Dakota's decision on her life. She needs to decide whether to pursue an internship good for her career or go visit her great-grandmother in Scotland.

I just didn't feel as close to the characters in this book as I had before. They weren't as likable; Dakota especially. She just seemed kind of wishy washy yet people still bent over backwards for her. The other characters kind of took a back burner to her too even though their stories were much more interesting. And Dakota's father, James, I never have been a fan of. He's very flaky.

If the description made the book sound boring, that was about right. I had a hard time trying to read this book just because it was quite dull. And for being a Knit the Season title, it didn't really have much holiday type stuff incorporated into it. The characters dramas were pushed forward ahead of it so you didn't get that warm fuzzy feeling you normally do from reading holiday books. Jacobs was thoughtful enough to include some knitting patterns and recipes in the back of the book though, so that was something.

Not my favorite from Jacobs and I wouldn't really recommend it. I can only hope when more of her books come out that they'll go back to being as good as the original.

Knit the Season
Copyright 2009
260 pages

December 12, 2011

The Man From Stone Creek by Linda Lael Miller

I like Linda Lael Miller's historical romances. Hey, they have cowboys in them and I'm a sucker for a cowboy. This book was ok, nothing spectacular but entertaining nonetheless.

Sam O'Ballivan is in town on a school teachers assignment. Or at least that's what he wants everyone to believe. Sam's actually a lawman and he's there to stop a gang of bandits who have been causing mayhem and hijacking people. What he doesn't expect though is to get attached to the townspeople like he does. Especially Maddie who is infuriated with him from the start. The pretty mercantile keeper is very defensive of her younger brother and sees Sam as a rough teacher out to get him. But slowly she starts to see there's a little more to Sam then his gruff nature.

I liked Sam as a character, even if his feelings were a little flighty. He was there to do a job but still managed to provide a kind heart for everyone. Maddie wasn't too bad too. She was a go-getter and did well for her little brother and herself and that's admirable. I do have to say I feel sorry for poor Abigail. She didn't get a very fair deal in all this and seemed quite expendable. All the kid characters were great in this and had a lot of personality. They actually kind of made the book for me.

The plot line could jump all over the place at times. Sometimes we'd be in one storyline, jump to another part and it would take a second for my brain to catch up. I think too much happened with tiny plot off takes here and there when she could have just focused on a few areas. And honestly, it could get kind of graphic with the violence in this one which I wasn't used to from her. The sex scenes were a little more raunchy too. Those aren't necessarily bad things but she seemed to go more for the shock value than the good plotline in this book.

I certainly won't shy away from Miller in the future. I do like her stories, it just seems some are better than others.

The Man From Stone Creek
Copyright 2006
317 pages

December 11, 2011

The Last Chance Cafe by Linda Lael Miller

I'm a big fan of Linda Lael Miller. She writes great cowboy romances with likable characters and a good storyline.

This particular book sees Hallie fleeing with her two twin daughters after she realizes her ex-husband is a bad man and out to see her dead. She ends up in Primrose Creek and at the Last Chance Cafe where the friendly people there find her a place to stay and even a job while she gets on her feet and decides what to do. She is attracted to handsome rancher Chance but is constantly fearful for her and her daughters lives. She's not sure who she can trust and knows that she may have to flee again.

Hallie does the best she can in this book. She is flighty, but its too be expected since she's on the run. I do have to say that I didn't like her daughters at all. I thought they were kind of little brats instead of being cute. Not appealing at all. Chase was a good character though. He was strong and stoic but had trouble expressing himself and seemed real enough. The bad guys, weren't really that menacing even though they had the potential to be. I wasn't quite sure what to make of that considering they were the danger throughout the book.

Since this was a "on the run" type novel I was surprised to see it mainly took place in Primrose Creek. Since it wasn't that far from where she was fleeing it just seemed weird she would stop there and consider herself safe. Not very realistic I guess. But the writing was exciting and I liked the romance between Hallie and Chance. And since there was romance I should warn that there are sex scenes. But its a nice read, very good for a cold day spent inside.

I'll continue to read Miller's work as I'm always pleased with the way they turn out. She offers a good romance with some compelling characters.

The Last Chance Cafe
Copyright 2002
292 pages

A Town Called Valentine by Emma Cane

**This book was received as a Free Advanced Readers Copy through the Amazon Vine program.

Its not often I call a romance novel fantastic. They're light candy reading for me. But I was able to identify with the main character in this one so much, that it made it absolutely stupendous for me.

After the breakup of her marriage that leaves her poor, confused, and alone, Emily isn't sure whats going to happen with her life. She returns to her mother's hometown where she's inherited a building to try to sell it so she can afford to go back to college and support herself. What she doesn't expect is to meet Nate, a handsome rancher, the first night and get into a little romance. But Nate isn't look for long term, and neither is she, but there's a definite attraction there. And when she finds she'll have to stay longer because the building has been torn apart by the past tenants, Nate can't resist helping her. And when she learns that her real father may be in the town as well, he becomes a shoulder to lean on.

I really identified with Emily. I too had a relationship that just went down the drain and left me financially unstable and wondering what on earth happened. And I have no doubt that the person would have left me for the same reason Emily's husband left her if I hadn't of ended the relationship first. But she still fights to be strong and make a life for herself and I admire that greatly. Plus she liked to cook and bake, a woman after my own heart. Nate is slightly a little less appealing, but maybe that's because I haven't met my own handsome rancher yet. He is pretty steady though and recognizes that he has faults and I admire that. Emily also made some great friends in town and I can only hope that the next books in the series are about them.

This book is about overcoming struggles and still believing in love. And I really need that right now so that's probably why I loved the book. The writing isn't half bad though and for a romance its very interesting. Though like most romances there are some pretty risque stuff in here. The books got great characters, a good plot, and a lot of other things going for it. Its a romance for those of us who have been broken-hearted.

I can't wait to read the rest of the books in the series and hope I'll enjoy them as much as I've enjoyed this one. Definitely a good read.

A Town Called Valentine
Copyright 2012
372 pages

December 10, 2011

Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft

Out of all the books I've been reading on the subject, Lundy Bancroft's Why Does He Do That has probably been the best of them. Its not perfect, but it helps explain and accurately portrays so much of the physical/emotional/verbal abusers actions. Even if your abuser is not a physical abuser, this book still helps greatly. It should be noted that this book can be helpful for all situations where abuse is involved, even if it isn't an intimate relationship.

As a precursor, this is about abusive men mainly. That's not to say women aren't abusive too, this just doesn't happen to be a book written on that topic. It could also to a smaller extent be applied to lesbian relationships as well.

Bancroft splits it into several parts. The first part covers the nature of abusive thinking and the most helpful part of this section is identifying the types of abusive men. Bancroft takes care to explain that a man may not be one certain type, but rather can be a mix of several. I especially like how he explained the actions of each type. The next section is the Abusive Man in Relationships and it helps explain how the abuse begins, how it effects everyday life, and what happens when you break up. The third part is the Abusive Man in the World and it shows how they interact with the legal system, gain allies to their side, and how they are as parents. The last part of the book is Changing the Abusive Man and don't be fooled by the title. While there are a few rare cases that the abusive man changes, it is not highly likely and this chapter will only be helpful to a few. Bancroft finishes off the book with a listing of resources for people in abusive relationships.

This book was much better than the others because it doesn't focus on blaming the victim. It acknowledges that these abusive actions are never acceptable and tries to explain how it happens and gives validation to those experiencing it. And there are parts that some people can skip over. If you don't have children, the abusers as parents won't be relevant to you. If your abuser fails to see that anything is wrong or blames everything on you, you probably won't find the part on changing the abusive man helpful. And it is ok to skip those sections. This book should be used to focus on the relevant areas to your situation and to help with those.

A compassionate book with a lot of information, this one should be a go to book before all the others on this topic.

Why Does He Do That
Copyright 2002
400 pages

The Secret of Overcoming Verbal Abuse by Albert Ellis

I recently exited a relationship that had turned emotionally/verbally abusive over a period of time. I still struggle with the fact that I actually allowed myself to be in such a relationship and as such have sought out books such as this to validate the fact that what I experienced did really happen. Despite the slight humiliation I have at posting such a review, I feel that if my leaving a review on this book helps anyone with a similar problem find resources to help them, then it is worth it to post this and the other reviews for similar books I've read.

This book is not a good resource for those in or leaving or who have already left a verbally/emotionally abusive relationship. There are several parts to this book and each covers a significant area. Of those, only the 1st and 4th parts have any redeeming qualities. The rest do too much blaming of the victim and seeking something that should not be sought.

Part 1 of this book overviews why the abuser is the way he/she is. It explains their motivations, need for approval, and joy in becoming stronger at another person's expense. It also shows the signs of an abuser and the difference between subtle and outright abusers. This part is actually very helpful because often victims of subtle abuse don't feel like they are really being abused as it isn't as outward or noticeable as being screamed at or hit. It helps validate what you're feeling and stops the doubt you may have in your mind that you're blowing it out of proportion.

Part 2 explores the “secret” of the book which to me was a load of rubbish. It is what they call REBT and the basic jist is that people only feel what they allow themselves to feel. That the abused is often an abuser of themselves because they are allowing their partner's abuse to control their feelings. It even goes so far as to claim that someone can use this technique and be happy in an abusive relationship. My largest problem with this method is that it labels different sets of thinking as “rational” and “irrational”. Since I was often told I was irrational it just opened up the wounds all over for me again.

Part 3 tells you how to use the secret. Once again I found this chapter largely useless because it went through examples of “irrational” and “rational” thought processes for different abusive situations. Again it seemed to hold the victim wholly responsible for how they were feeling. That their abuser couldn't hurt them if they didn't let them. I find this notion false because the reason abusers can hurt their victims is because they care and in caring open themselves up as vulnerable as relationships are two people being complete with each other. If you stop caring and stop being vulnerable, then there really isn't a point to continuing a relationship.

Part 4 details getting past your fear and anxiety. I actually found this part to be half helpful. Sure it had some of the same nonsense of the first few parts, but then it also had rationalizations for feeling terrible about leaving the relationship. It offered significant points on getting over the fact that the partner has found someone new and everything appears to be sunshine and roses. It tells you how you don't need someone to feel complete. And I do think those are worthy messages.

Part 5 talks about taking back your life and beginning to be happy again. But I didn't find anything very useful in those parts as it doesn't really outline a plan that someone who is currently suffering can really use. It just develops a plan for later, after you're feeling better about your situation.

I realize I sound very harsh in this review and I believe it needs to be harsh as the people who are probably looking to buy this book need the best and most thoughtful help they can get. This book is too much hard love for those who are already experiencing blame and harshness in their lives. Instead of empathizing it blames which is something no victim of abuse needs. While it does have some good points, it doesn't make this book worth reading unless you are not a victim of abuse and are reading solely for research purposes. Otherwise, it does have the potential to set someone back in their healing. If you are looking for a book to help heal, try Why Does He Do That by Lundy Bancroft and remember that you need to take care of you before anyone else.

The Secret of Overcoming Verbal Abuse
Copyright 2000
219 pages

The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans

This was one of the better books I've read on the subject. It offers clear insight into the problems of mentally/verbally abusive relationships without adopting the “blame the victim” mentality so many of the other books had. For someone struggling with their decisions already, those types of books only make things worse. Although, this book, like the others, has suggestions for how to make things work with your abuser which doesn't help either if they don't want to pursue it. It just makes you feel like you didn't do enough if other people had agreed to recognize what was going on but your partner wouldn't. This book could also be potentially useful for those in abusive situations that aren't intimate relationships as well.

The first part of the book helps you to evaluate your own experience and whether or not your relationship contained verbal abuse. It also focused on what the author calls the two types of power and why one of them isn't healthy. It explores these powers and how people use them within the relationship. Most importantly, this chapter focuses on the consequences of the abuse. Part two goes more into depth on the different types of verbal abuse and trying to change it. There are also sections discussing therapists and children in the relationship.

I found this book helpful when it talked about recognizing the signs of abuse. Often victims of abuse don't trust their own judgment after being talked down to so long that they can't personally see whats happening to them. This book helps provide a checklist for validating the experiences. Also, if you are still in the relationship, it does give a couple tips for trying to make the abuser see the light so to speak and get help. The problem with this is that for people who have already left the relationship or who's partners won't recognize that they need help, this part is rather useless and instead makes the abused feel worse as they think there was more they could have done, when really they couldn't.

There are good and bad books out there and I would rate this as one of the better ones. It still won't meet everyones needs but hopefully can help some people.

The Verbally Abusive Relationship
Copyright 1992
217 pages

The Emotionally Abusive Relationship by Beverly Engel

I had hoped that by reading this book to gain a little more clarity on everything that has happened. While it helped reinforce what an abusive relationship looked like, it wasn't as proficient at helping figure out what they next steps were except for a few cases with specific qualifications. This book would probably be most useful for intimate relationships rather than any other kind of abusive dynamic.

The Emotionally Abusive Relationship takes a look at both the abuser and the victim. It offers techniques and help for both on improving the relationship. Each chapter is set into two parts, one for the victim figuring out if they are being abused, and the other for the abuser figuring out if they are abusing someone. The first part deals with actually putting a label on the abuse. The next tries to show why someone might abuse/allow themselves to be abused. Next is how to prevent the abuse from happening on both sides. The last part is where to go from here after reading this book.

I found the book very helpful in the first part when it outlines whether or not you are in an abusive relationship or not or if you are abusing something. The checklists are easy to follow and spell out why something is or isn't abuse. It was the next part that I had some trouble with. The author insists that abusers/victims all have some original abuser in the past and you have to come to terms with that abuse before healing this abuse. The problem with that is, what about those people who didn't have abusive childhoods but still find themselves victims of abuse? There are no other alternatives in this book so those in this situation find themselves floundering trying to figure out why they “let” themselves be abused. And that is another problem, no one purposely seeks out an abusive relationship but this author seems to think they do. Often abusers are on their best behavior for the first few weeks, months, years and then escalate when major life changes like buying a house or marriage come into the picture.

Stopping the Abuse is also a very dangerous part as it suggests confronting your abuser head on with this knowledge. This can be both physically and mentally endangering as often times abusers don't care or want to admit their behavior and will take out their anger at the accusal on the victim. This chapter may be more helpful for abusers looking to improve themselves rather than victims looking to stop the abuse. This part does have a nice section on personality disorders though and identifying if the abuser or victim may have Narcissistic Personality Disorder or Borderline Personality Disorder.

Not the best book since it seems to blame the victim for entering the relationship and then advises several unsafe things for them to do. May be good as an identifier for an abusive relationship but not as a cure all. It also has some handy resources for books, websites, etc. in the back although some of the websites are no longer in service.

The Emotionally Abusive Relationship
Copyright 2002
255 pages

The Verbally Abusive Man by Patricia Evans

The Verbally Abusive Man is kind of a follow up to the author, Patricia Evans, previous book The Verbally Abusive Relationship. In fact, I would recommend reading that one first as she touches on some points from it in this book. This book, instead of focusing on the relationship, instead focuses on the abuser and whether or not he can change, and to a smaller extent, whether or not a woman should stay or go. This is probably something only useful for those in an intimate relationship.

The main first part of this book deals with the portrayal of the verbally abusive man and his dream woman. In this case, the dream woman is someone he's concocted as an extension of himself and “placed” in his partner's self as a way of seeing her as perfect. Once he does this, it is harder for him to see the real person past his dream women, and when something is out of line with what he thinks it should be, he gets angry because she is not mirroring his dream woman. This area also goes into the different types of verbal abuse, whether or not counseling is helpful, and if a change is even possible for the abuser. Next the author moves on to the partner's wanting a change and what would motivate an abuser to change. Finally, the main focus of the book “The Agreement” is brought forth and the author shares how to prepare it and present it, and finally how to write the agreement. After this is done it explains what men seeking change can do (this book focuses on the male being the abuser), whether or not the abuser is following the change, and what to do if he won't agree to cooperate with the Agreement. It follows with choosing to stay or go in the relationship.

I find this book helpful for identifying if someone is willing to change. However, this book is more geared towards people who want to make it work and if you are already out of the relationship it is a lot harder to see how it would apply or help you aside from what the author calls “letting him know why you left.” I believe that if you have already left, the abuser probably doesn't care why as they are too angry at you for leaving. I also fear for the way she says to present as even if there was never any physical harm, verbal anger is hard enough and it may unleash quite a bit when the abuser is presented with the Agreement rather than making him see what he has done by any means. If he is a discounter he will probably write the whole thing off out of hand. Just by reading the whether or not he will change log I felt that if I presented the Agreement, especially since I had already left, that it would make things worse. And while she does cover this a little bit, the majority of the information is directed towards making things work and what to do if it does work. There isn't as much information or validation for those who can't even attempt to present the agreement or for those who it didn't work for. I recognize that the main premise of this book is the Agreement, but usually those people looking at these types of books are usually doing everything in their power, or are trying to heal themselves and will consume every resource cover to cover. It could make them feel like they aren't doing enough or didn't try hard enough while they were in the relationship.

It has some good and bad points like most books do. Unfortunately every relationship has different aspects and while there are commonalities, there isn't a guideline for any specific person when you're writing for many people. I do think this is a good resource to see if someone can change, but if you recognize that they can't or if it hurts too much to keep reading about those people it did work for don't feel like you need to keep reading.

It should be noted that there are some helpful appendices at the end that help identify abusive phrases and words, resources, and other information.

The Verbally Abusive Man
Copyright 2006
256 pages

A McKettrick Christmas by Linda Lael Miller

So you don't have to read the other books in the series to enjoy this one. Its a nice Christmas tale, even if it does have some weird elements to it. And it is pretty exciting for a Christmas romance.

Lizzie McKettrick is on her way home to her family. And she's bringing a special someone with her who she met in San Francisco. But on the way, their train is derailed by an avalanche. Her beau quickly proves he isn't the man she thought he was and her eye lights on the quiet doctor who's been traveling with them. He pulls it together and the small group of passengers struggles to survive until rescue. But they don't have much food with them and the snow is piled high making a rescue seem unlikely. And even if Lizzie does get home again, she's not sure what to do with her conflicting emotions.

Lizzie is an ok character. She seems pretty determined and can hold her own in an argument. I might even go as far as to say she's a strong female lead. Morgan on the other hand is a little too stoic, a little too quiet. He rushes in, takes over everything, yet still seems to be humble but he just doesn't read as believable. Whitley, the spineless one seems more of a real character to me. Not a particularly nice character, but believable nonetheless. And then there was the bird. I know it was supposed to be comic levity, but it was very odd to have a talkative bird character in the book.

The romance was very quick paced, as usual for Miller. The whole train thing was pretty exciting though and I like how she through some danger into the story. And I like that the characters still tried to keep the Christmas spirit as well. The only thing that really confused me on this book was the supernatural/spiritual element she threw in. I'm not sure why she decided to do this as it didn't really fit with the book. It wasn't written badly, it was just unusual. As this is a romance it alludes to some risque things, but there's nothing actually spelled out in this book.

An ok romance, a bit odd. At least it had the Christmas theme, which is appropriate for this season.

A McKettrick Christmas
Copyright 2008
280 pages

December 08, 2011

By Hook or By Crook by Betty Hechtman

Another cozy mystery, and as such, very cozy! But not wildly entertaining at the same time. I found this to be a good, but average book.

Molly and her crotchet group seem to find themselves in the middle of investigations all the time. Or at least Molly does. So when a mysterious filet crochet piece shows up at a fundraiser they're doing, with an even more mysterious letter, its hard to tell whats going on. But then the one person they think it leads to winds up dead and its up to Molly to figure out the clues and the killer, before they are able to harm her. Add in a mixed up dating life and a troublesome mother visiting, and Molly's got a lot going on.

Molly was an ok character. She seems to harbor a lot of animosity for some other characters though, but then again I haven't read the previous books so maybe there's a reason. Her crotchet friends are nice, but with the exception of Dinah not really a huge part of the book. Which is surprising since it kind of revolves around the crochet group. I also didn't think the bad guy was very scary either. So very tame characters all around.

I like how they used the filet crotchet piece to be the clue to the mystery, but aside from that it wasn't very original. It actually was kind of predictable with the exception of who the bad guy was. Which I suppose is good and left a bit of the element of surprise. The writing was easy to read, and comforting as often these types of mysteries are.

An easy read that's good for when you need a quick book on hand.

By Hook or By Crook
Copyright 2009
261 pages

December 06, 2011

A Piggly Wiggly Christmas by Robert Dalby

This could have been such a charming cute little book, but there were some large flaws that just kept it from being excellent. And while they don't take up too much of the story, they still managed to take a good chunk of that charm away. This is technically the 4th book in the series and while I've never read any of the others, I don't feel that I've missed much.

As part of the Nitwitts, Gaylie Girl is determined to think of a good charity event to put on this Christmas. Finally she lands on Christmas caroling in their town square on the balconies so as to be "angels heard on high". Setting about with her friends to recruit church choirs for the show they run into all sorts of personalities. But then disaster strikes and the Nitwitts aren't sure what to do. It looks like their Christmas caroling project might be put on hold permanently.

Gaylie Girl was a little too perfect in my mind. No flaws that I could see anyway, aside from her actually being called "Gaylie Girl" through the entire novel. Her husband, despite being mayor, was kind of just a side character which was surprising to me. The other Nitwitts seemed to have extremes of personality and it was hard to really identify with any of them. I think the character I really did like in this book was probably the rich lady who was determined to be a star. At least she was amusing.

My real problem with the book would probably be some of the racist comments that were made in regards to the different choirs. While there were just a few in the front of the book, it sat in the back of my mind the whole book and was very distasteful. I know this book is set in the South, but its the modern south and while racism does go on today still, I don't think this book needed that realism being that it was supposed to be a cute Christmas story. Just be warned. As said, this could have been a very charming book. It had all the right elements and storyline, it just didn't have strong characters and the few comments that made it distasteful. But those were enough to bring down the writing for me.

I probably won't return to this author as a result of this book. I just couldn't appreciate what he was trying to do.

A Piggly Wiggly Christmas
Copyright 2010
268 pages

December 04, 2011

Life As I Have Known It Has Been Finger Lickin Good by Colonel Sanders

Ok, so I will admit that I was hoping there would be the secret herbs and spices blend hidden somewhere in this book. Or even some kind of recipe. But alas, there wasn't. But it was still interesting and considering Mr. Sanders himself wrote it at 83 years of age and having only a 6th grade education, it was a pretty good book.

Sanders describes his entire life from when he was a boy and left home at the age of twelve, all the way up through the time that he is writing the book. He seems to drift through jobs, never staying any place long, and did a lot of work on the railroads and also selling insurance. It actually wasn't until he was in his sixties that he really buckled down and got the chicken thing going. Which is where the book turned the most interesting as he describes how he franchised and ran the business and developed his methods for cooking chicken. I never knew they used pressure cookers to cook the chicken until now and it really explains how they can cook it so fast.

Sanders is a pretty persnickety guy and he makes sure you know it in this book. Of course he's also somewhat of a braggart and makes sure you know just who he influenced or how much he gave to charity. But I guess at 83 if you want to brag its as good a time as any. And he did do a lot of good with his life. His biggest flaw, although not really seen in the book, is his cussing it would seem. He reiterates several times that he has a pretty foul mouth. And he also likes to preach quite a bit as he has a distinct relationship with God in his mind.

The book could have greatly used an editor to be more reader friendly (or a better one if it already had one). Sanders wrote just how he spoke more than likely and it is seen in the way his stories meander back and forth and how he gets off track. And if you read it out loud it would sound very much like regularly speech when you're telling a story to a friend. There were some details that were probably superfluous, but others that really gave an example of just how amazing his life was. I only wish he would have wrote more about his immediate family, they seemed to take a back burner to the stories strictly about him.

Still an interesting read of a unique fellow who had a way with chicken. I'll have to smile a little next time I step into a KFC and see his picture.

Life As I Have Known It Has Been Finger Lickin Good
Copyright 1974
144 pages

Finger Lickin Dead by Riley Adams

Ok, so foodie mysteries are pretty awesome. And despite the fact that I was barely into the book and already knew who was going to die and who killed them, I actually still enjoyed this book. Having read the first one, it was kind of nice to return to these characters too. But don't worry, you don't have to read the first book in order to enjoy the second.

Lulu is up to her investigating ways again. The owner of Pat's BBQ Lulu always seems to find herself in some sort of mystery. This time, one of her friend's boyfriend has just turned up murdered. It doesn't help that he was just exposed as an especially ruthless food critic, and a cheater on many women, so there's a lot of people wanting him dead who have a lot of motive. And considering some of the people are very close to Lulu, she knows she needs to get to the bottom of this and quick. But with everyone keeping secrets and changing stories, it certainly is hard to solve a crime and run the best bbq restaurant in town at the same time.

Lulu is great. She's a warm character who looks out for her friends and runs a successful business. She's an inspiration to any foodie. Although her getting herself into mysteries can be a little far-fetched at times. There area lot of other unique characters too, but I noticed that they weren't quite used to their full potential like they were in the first book. This one mainly stuck with Lulu and her friend Evelyn and while we still got to see some of the other characters, I would have liked them to appear more. The bad guys in this book weren't quite as menacing either.

Since this could be considered a cozy mystery it definitely shares more elements of food and friendship than a crime novel. And I like that. Its still gives the reader something to look forward to but is more gentle. And it reads quick and light and is great brain candy when you just want to relax. But its the foodie in me that really appreciates this sort of book. Just reading about bbq is enough to make my mouth water, and the fact that they included some recipes in the back, even better. In fact, that's what made the whole book for me was the chance to get my hands on some new recipes.

So an average mystery novel that can be solved pretty easy, but an outstanding book when it comes to the foodie realm. I can't wait to read the next one.

Finger Lickin Dead
Copyright 2011
250 pages

Men in Kilts by Katie MacAlister

Ok so this is a pretty average romance novel. It does have a lot of humor, which I love, but sometimes the characters could just drive me bonkers.

Attending a mystery writer's convention in England, Kathie is wildly distracted by a Scotsman who is there on vacation. Going against everything she usually does, she ends up sleeping with him quite quickly and moving the relationship at a fast speed from there. Delighted with the invitation to go stay with him on his farm in Scotland though, she quickly realizes that there are a lot of potential hazards to overcome. Which includes Archie, Iian's son who isn't fond of his father's new relationship and the interfering Bridget who intends to dig her claws into Iian and doesn't like Kathie's interference. Not sure where she stands with the stoic highlander, Kathie knows she loves him desperately, and just wants his love in return.

So the characters are both funny at the very least. But oh my, Kathie can be a simpering idiot at times and very bad at reading social cues. I would get so exasperated with her when she'd act the complete fool around Iian and wonder what on earth he saw in her. And then there was Iian, he had a bit of a control tendency and really, didn't express himself very well or in kind ways in my opinion. The characters both grow to be a bit better during the book, but sheesh. And Archie, not quite sure what was up with him except to play an obstacle in the book. Bridget I also found quite annoying but since she was the bad guy in the book I guess that's ok. I did like some of the other side characters and thought they were warm and friendly, and I almost enjoyed reading about them rather than Kathie at times.

The plot moves pretty quick thanks to Kathie's lust and love for the Highlander and the romance is kind of whirlwind. Not a bad thing, but I would hope any self respecting woman wouldn't go to Scotland with a man she's only known a few days. Too much danger involved. And the plot did meander a bit, going here and there without rhyme or reason or spending an awful lot of time on one specific thing. I guess I would have liked to see more of a timeline rather than the focus on a few events. The writing was good. And very funny. I enjoyed the banter of the characters and just the other humourous happenstances the characters found themselves in. This is a romance novel, so it should be forewarned that there are quite a few sex scenes in it. But even those had funny touches to them. One of my bigger complaints about the book was that there were quite a few unfinished plot lines that I would have liked more detail about. It just didn't feel complete to me. But hey, at least it involved kilts.

So I enjoyed the writing for the most part but didn't think the book was fabulous. As said before there are some very unfinished plot lines and I truly hope she has a sequel for the book.

Men in Kilts
Copyright 2003
349 pages

December 03, 2011

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

There is a little bit of truth in this novel. The author Gregory David Roberts, took elements from his own life and placed them into his main character Lin. So one has to wonder, how much is true and how much is fiction.

Shantaram features Lin, an escaped convict from Australia who goes to Bombay to gain his freedom. Once there, he starts out just exploring the area and meeting new friends and gradually moves to the slums where he becomes a doctor of sorts and cares for the poor people there. But being an escaped convict the draw of crime is strong to him and he starts working in other pursuits that get him into more trouble than he could ever imagine. Combine that with his love for Karla, a myserious woman living in Bombay as well and he isn't quite sure what he wants with his life. Deep down he wants to do something good, but he finds it hard to set himself on the right path.

Lin is Roberts. Both escaped convicts who have traveled far they have an altruistic streak that sometimes makes them do bad things for good reasons. As a recovered junkie, Lin to is susceptible to weakness. And he faces many struggles within the novel. I do have to say that I couldn't see what he saw in Karla. I didn't find her particularly fascinating as a character. And the group of friends he hung out with, they were awfully philosophical for criminals. I'm not saying that all criminals aren't intelligent, but it seemed odd to me the particular dynamics of this group. I also should say that I didn't really feel a particular connection to any character in this novel, but it was still interesting to read about them.

Its a long meandering plot. Honestly, the book can get too long in some ways but it was still pretty good. It felt like it could all happen in real life, which given the author's past, could be very true. It does make me wonder about Bombay though, from this book you would assume that the whole place is just crime ridden and black market and somehow I doubt that its all that way. The story was heartfelt for sure and the realism made it a good read. I felt like I was there and that's a testament to Robert's writing.

An interesting book that reads real. I would recommend it for anyone who is interested in different cultures or the struggle of everyday life.

Copyright 2003
933 pages

November 29, 2011

Rain of Gold by Victor Villasenor

I can always tell whether I like a book or not by how fast I read it. If I love it, I just can't put it down. This book was just average for me and one that I could quite easily put down.

Rain of Gold is the somewhat fictional, somewhat non fictional telling of the author, Victor Villasenor's, parents lives as they were growing up, and of their meeting each other. Its kind of a history of sorts although to be sure even a telling couldn't have rendered this much detail so that is where the fiction steps in. His mother, Lupe, a beautiful girl who grew up in a mining canyon and then later moved to the United States with her family, has known hard work and kindness for most of her life. His father, Juan, on the other hand, has the love of his mother but has also had a hard life and turns out to be a bootlegger who spends his time in the illegal trade to make a living for himself and his family. But when Juan sees Lupe he knows there is a future there and will do all he can to make her his wife even if his dangerous business pursuits get in the way.

Lupe was probably my favorite "character". Between she and Juan's mother they both had so much life in them and wisdom. Maybe it was the author's adoration shining through but you could really see what fantastic people they were. His father Juan I cared a little less for and I got the impression that he could be a hard man to live with, just as his father had been. The other people were interesting but more just off to the side when compared to Juan and Lupe and only served to help their story along.

Villasenor has done a work of love with this book. He has captured his parents histories and put them down on paper for everyone to enjoy and they did have interesting lives. I truly did care about what happened to them. That being said there was a lot of detail and scenes and people that didn't add anything to the book for me. It could have easily been a hundred pages shorter and still got the story across beautifully. I found myself setting the book down a few times just because the amount of detail got too overwhelming and even boring at points. While wordy his writing is clear though and he has a way with his characters, but he doesn't hesitate to use foul language or descriptions either. But these are also tempered with pretty descriptions and almost poetry like wisdom from the people in this book.

Not bad but not one of my favorites either. If it had just been a little less detailed I think this would have been a great book for me.

Rain of Gold
Copyright 1991
543 pages

November 24, 2011

Fall On Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald

What a depressing book. It was well written sure, but just utterly down hearted and sad. I'm not really sure what I think of it to tell the truth.

After his parents die, James Piper moves to be a piano tuner and earn the big bucks. While working for one family, he falls in love with their thirteen year old daughter Materia and elopes with her. When she becomes pregnant though he quickly loses his fascination with her and starts to see all her flaws. But then she births Kathleen who becomes the apple of his eye and a fantastic singer to boot. He dotes on this little girl and even her sisters who come along later can't begin to compare with her. But when she brings shame to the family nothing else will ever be the same and the family's lives spiral into something almost unrecognizable as functional.

None of these characters were very heartwarming. Sure Frances had a dark streak of humor but even that humor was a little sad. Mercedes was just plain strange and to me it seemed like the whole family suffered from a genetic mental illness. The father was abusive and made me cringe just thinking about him and what he was capable of doing. Poor Materia, the mother, was just a figure to be pitied and I actually did feel a lot for her and her plot in life. Kathleen I never liked and thought she was quite spoiled.

The whole plot is extremely sad and there really aren't any glimmers of joy in the entire novel. Things just kept getting more depraved and depressing and it made me sad just to read it. The language is beautiful and clear and MacDonald is a tremendous writer. It makes me wonder what she could do if she decided to write something a little happier. I'd probably love it. But the downward spiral of this book just made it hard for me to completely enjoy the writing. It also liked to jump back and forth a little bit in time and also through a diary so it could be somewhat hard to figure out the who, what, when, where at times. A reader should be warned that there are some extremely heavy themes not limited to just abuse in this novel. It can be disturbing.

Lovely written but just too sad. I'd recommend it but not for an easygoing light read.

Fall on Your Knees
Copyright 1996
508 pages

November 20, 2011

Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya

I thought this was kind of a strange book. I can't say I didn't like it, but nor can I say I liked it. It was just one of those reads where I thought about it for a moment, and was then ready to move on to the next book.

While just a young boy, Antonio's family takes in Ultima, a respected healer in the community who also helped deliver Antonio. She knows he's special, but his parents have differing plans for him. His mother would like him to be a priest, and his father wants him to roam with him. Antonio isn't sure what he wants, he knows he admires Ultima and he has a deep belief in God, but there are just so many questions that he would like to have answers to. And there are so many bad things happening in his community that the questions just keep coming.

These people just didn't seem like regular people to me. Maybe it was just a difference in culture, but somehow I don't think so. The little boys were just heathens and acted like wild animals. Now I know little kids have lots of energy but it was extreme. And the main character, Antonio, I just didn't feel a connection with at all, he was a little strange. I think about the only character I did end up liking was Ultima and that's just because she was a strong woman character.

The plot was a little out there for me with everyone accusing people of different things and taking on some vigilante justice. Since they had cars and highways I figured it wasn't too far back in the past so it just didn't seem like things that could actually happen. And the plot just kind of meandered around without a set purpose. It just followed Antonio while he asked questions. There was some violence and death in the book but there wasn't anything that could be considered directly offensive. And it was a quick read if nothing else. Oh, I should make note that it helps to know spanish for this book, there's a lot in here that isn't translated.

Just not to my taste at all and maybe there was something I missed. I just couldn't get into this book.

Bless Me, Ultima
Copyright 1972
277 pages

November 19, 2011

Life Without Water by Nancy Peacock

What a sad strange book. I started out not really liking it but then it started to grow on me. It had a good character and an interesting storyline.

Cedar was born in an old farmhouse to her mother and a man named Sol who had chosen her mother to have his baby. Her mother, still bereaved from the loss of her brother in the Vietnam war went along with the idea. But as the years passed and Cedar grew, she discovered that it was too hard to live with this pot smoking man who did nothing and left with Cedar, eventually ending up in New Mexico where she meets Daniel. Daniel is in a relationship but quickly grows to the idea of returning to the farmhouse with Cedar and her mother and living there with another couple and their children as part of a commune. But another visitor who calls herself Topaz presents trouble too and while Cedar recalls her life at the farmhouse fondly, there are some things that trouble her as well when she looks back.

Cedar is a great character. She looks at her life through a child's eyes but is very attuned to the emotions surrounding her and the little nuances that make relationships so complicated. I also like her mother, who was a troubled young woman but seemed to do the best she could by her daughters. The other characters while important, weren't really focused on as much and I didn't have the same connection to them that I did to Cedar and her mother. I wasn't very fond of Sol or Daniel, but maybe that's to be expected from their roles in the book.

I wouldn't say that this book had a plot per say. I wouldn't even call it a coming of age book. It was simply Cedar telling about her childhood and her experiences. And since she lived in the time of the Vietnam war she had some interesting and sad experiences. I did feel some sadness at the plight of her mother who seemed to be striving for something that she just couldn't attain. Sometimes I feel that way in my own life. But at least she kept trying which is always important. The pace was pretty smooth for the most part although it did have some slow parts. It was a fast and easy read but still had a good story.

I liked this book and will probably look for more by the author. She seems to have a nice tone about her and a nice way with developing characters.

Life Without Water
Copyright 1996
182 pages

November 17, 2011

Sati by Christopher Pike

This was a very interesting book. I actually didn't know anything about the book going into it so I was very surprised by the topic matter. This is a book about religion, sorta.

Michael is doing a run home in his truck when he spots a hitchhiker along the road. A very pretty girl with blonde hair becomes his passenger back to Los Angeles, and surprisingly enough, a guest in his apartment. But then she declares that she is god and sets about to prove it, not by performing any miracles or healing people, but by just talking to them and trying to guide them to seeing her "true" self. And things go from there with more and more people coming to see her just to see the special aura she gives off and decide for themselves if she is real.

Sati herself isn't really spectacular. But her words are. She's kind of just like she describes herself, a vessel. And I think Pike wrote her very well in this capacity. Michael I liked. He was charming in a way and while he had his flaws he did what he thought was right and actually was very pleasant. There were other characters of first, but I didn't really feel any attachment to them. They were just a wide variety of people who wanted to hear Sati's words.

I'm not a religious person at all, but if there was a god, I'd like to believe that that God would be like Sati. I liked the way Pike wrote about the beliefs and what I'm imagining his vision is of God. Its a very encouraging view. Not always pleasant, but encouraging. And there is something very peaceful about reading this book. At the very least it made me want to take up meditation. I was actually surprised to find out this was considered a young adult book. Not that young adults can't handle deep themes but this one had some very philosophical deep themes. Those who take a more rigid view of religion may not care for this book though. Honestly my only complaint would be that the pace drug at times.

This book intrigued me and I enjoyed reading it. I've not read any of Pike's other works but I think that if its symbolic of his writing style I'll probably give some of his other books a try too.

Copyright 1990
247 pages

Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers

This book was a decent war story, but I'm not so much convinced that it was a decent Vietnam war story. I also, to be honest, wasn't that fond of the writing but recognize I may not be the audience intended for this book. I would say its much more suited to teenage boys.

Fallen Angels takes place in the Vietnam war and follows an enlisted black soldier named Perry. He, along with some friends and comrades in arms he meets along the way is dropped in Vietnam where, despite being told that the war may be ending soon, they have to fight in skirmishes and just try to stay alive. Each handles it their own way but Perry finds himself growing close to PeeWee, another black soldier and they share their fears of the war together. With enemies all around and terrible food, Perry finds himself wondering how he got here since he was supposed to have a medical file keeping him away from the fighting and he just wishes he could get back to the "World."

Perry was an ok character. Since the author chose to focus on the war from the black soldiers it offered a different perspective than one might normally see. Perhaps the soldiers were treated a little bit different, but for the most part I think it was the same view of war as any other person would have. He was scared and didn't really want to be there, seems universal to me. I liked PeeWee, he offered some comedic relief to the book which was taking place in a not so comedic atmosphere. The other characters I could take or leave, none of them really added anything for me.

The jargon in this book was kind of hard to follow. I don't know much about war or weapons but this book seemed to think that I would and only gave the barest descriptions of what some things were. And it may just be me, but the way these men talked and some of the things they did just didn't seem to fit the Vietnam era. It seemed more modern than that. I will concede that it was probably authentic to war itself though. The language was somewhat slang and offered a more unique readability than if it had been written without it. There is a lot of mention of death, violence, pain, and fear and these can be some pretty heavy themes. But considering this book is about war I think it is to be expected. I do think that the book was paced too fast. While we get some of the emotions coming through it just seems like it bounced around a bit and you never had a chance to grow close to the characters.

Not really a book for me but as said before I can see it appealing to teenage boys. There's enough action in there along with that tiny squeak of emotion that they may find it interesting. I'm not sure I'd check anything else out by Walter Dean Myers, but I won't write him off completely.

Fallen Angels
Copyright 1988
309 pages

November 15, 2011

Christmas in Sugarcreek by Shelley Shepard Gray

Finally, an Amish Christmas book that actually involves more than a few pages of Christmas in the entire novel. While it wasn't a great book, it was an easy nice read and did have that Christmas feel to it.

This book somewhat centers around three different couples. The main couple, Ben and Judith, are thrown together when he comes to work at her store. Initially wary of him because of his past teasing in school, Judith isn't sure what to think but working with him starts to change her feelings. And Ben, well he's always thought Judith was perfect. To a smaller extent, there were two other couples featured as well. Rebecca is being pursued by Judith's brother Caleb, but she has a secret she isn't so sure she wants him to know. And finally, Lilly and her new husband are adjusting to life as Mennonites, a compromise between her Englisher and his Amish heritage. But she always feels like she isn't good enough for him, and knows that his family doesn't like her as well. But she wants so desperately to have a happy Christmas.

The characters were average in this book. I liked Judith but wasn't as thrilled with Ben. Sure he seemed compelling with his dark past, but he actually wasn't all that interesting. I just couldn't see the spark between them at all even though I was rooting for them to get together. The other characters in the other stories were also a little underdeveloped, and to be honest, I had trouble keeping them straight sometimes.

There was a lot going on in this book with the three different romances. In fact, it got confusing and I would have much preferred that the book focused only on Ben and Judith. There was enough material to work with that Gray could have written three books if need be. And there's was the most compelling romance. To throw them all together just wasn't a wise choice in this case. But they were nice heartwarming stories, and the writing was easy to read. Since it was Amish fiction it had just a touch of religion in it and you can be sure there wasn't anything offensive. A pretty tame read in other words. Which is nice sometimes. I do also like how Christmas was incorporated into this book. Too often its titled as being involved but then never really gets put into the story.

A nice read. Very pleasant and easy going. Its a good book for if you just want to relax or have some brain candy to take your mind off things.

Christmas in Sugarcreek
Copyright 211
245 pages

November 13, 2011

The Risks of Sunbathing Topless edited by Kate Chynoweth

In a series full of not so great books (Whose Panties are These, Not so Funny When It Happened) this one actually wasn't half bad. It had some decent stories in it and for once they actually seemed to involve travel and were interesting. After being disappointed by so many others, it was kind of nice to finally get this one.

The Risks of Sunbathing Topless is a collection of short stories (although these were longer short stories than usual, if that makes sense) that involve travel and humor, and in this case, were written by women. They range from the Greek Islands, to Mexico, to even the United States and incorporate all sorts of different travel methods from plane, train to automobile. Some of the stories involved a mom and her teenage daughters living it up on parties during their cruise, another smuggling champagne into a dry country. One of my favorites was actually a dictionary of sorts of things people need to know when traveling. Unfortunately this was tempered by the less interesting story of someone having a one night stand in Mexico. I just really couldn't get into that one.

I'd never heard of any of the authors before so no one really stood out. The writing styles were all surprisingly the same too so it makes me wonder if the editor just didn't have a certain taste in writing and stuck to that. Most were well written though and while they may not all have been humorous, they at least kept my attention. With the exception of a few that is. Just because something bad or lewd happens, doesn't necessarily make the story funny. Something that this book just didn't seem to figure out with before mentioned one night stand story and a few others. But honestly, even the lewd wasn't that terrible and it was a pretty tame book considering it dealt with underwear and sex and other unfortunate happenstances.

The best of the series, although that doesn't say much. This one I actually would probably recommend for some light travel reading.

The Risks of Sunbathing Topless
Copyright 2005
280 pages

November 12, 2011

Not So Funny When It Happened edited by Tim Cahill

Yikes, just when I had read one in this series that rated average, it slipped back down to below average again. And to add insult to injury, this book shared some stories with some of their other books that I've read (Whose Panties are These, Sand in my Bra, and more). I mean, if you don't have time enough to at least have unique stories in each of your books, perhaps you shouldn't be publishing them. But alas, they're probably just trying to make money and needed the filler.

This book is a part of a series on humourous travel short stories. And the stories are all short, but I wouldn't call them all humourous. In fact, this book didn't have very many that I considered giggle worthy. One story was lamenting a large rump while on the beach, another is about having breakfast with a baboon. Still other stories involve airport travel and travel by train with a frog. They were all set in different places, some in the United States, others in various parts of the world. But honestly, for a good portion it didn't even matter where they were as it had no bearing on the story.

I just can't figure out why the editor of this book thought some of these stories were funny. Sure a good portion are from well known humor or travel writers. But to be honest I hadn't heard of most of them and there was probably a reason for that. They didn't even make me crack a smile at times. Sure there were a few gems but there weren't very many. Some of the stories could be considered uncouth but there wasn't really anything too objectionable.

Not a good book in a not so good series. I can't wait until I'm finally through the last of this series and can move on to better things.

Not So Funny When It Happened
Copyright 2000
200 pages

There's No Toilet Paper edited by Doug Lansky

Ok, so I have to admit this one was better than some of the others put out in the series (Sand in My Bra, Whose Panties are These, etc.) but it still wasn't the greatest collection of travel stories out there. It was kind of hit and miss with the stories. They were either really good, or not so good at all.

Don't be misled by the name, this book is just a collection of short stories on the humors of travel. Its not about someone lacking toilet paper. These stories were written by various authors, some well known travel authors like Bill Bryson, others from people I have never heard of. They could range in location and a couple took place in the United States but the majority were over in Europe and Asia. Some were about the perils of travel in a foreign country, others about avoiding land mines in the desert. A particular favorite of mine took place on a luxury cruise ship where the author had difficulty with target shooting. But I had a lot of least favorites as well, like the story about what a new ride the author thinks should be at Disney, a bus ride in a developing country. It just kind of fell flat.

As said before this book had its ups and downs. There were more downs than ups, or at least flat lines though. But the few funny ones really did make the difference and I even giggled out loud for a couple of them. You could tell the regular humor writers apart from the others. Bill Bryson for example had some of the better narratives and having read some of his books I think he kept to the same tone as what he uses in them. The ones I didn't care for as much just seemed to illicit that feeling when someone tells a terrible joke and nervous laughter echos through the room. It just isn't comfortable. The stories are pretty mild and I think they'd be appropriate for just about anyone. There is a tad bit of adult humor but nothing too overwhelming.

Not bad but not awesome either. This was an overall average travel book. The stories were short so time passed quickly and I can see someone taking this along to the beach for some light reading.

There's No Toilet Paper
Copyright 2005
184 pages

Gully Town by G.P. Schultz

**This book was received as a free Advanced Reader's Copy.

This was one of the better books I've read in awhile. In fact, I absolutely loved it and felt really drawn to the characters. I was even brought to tears at one point.

Gully Town starts during the Civil War and ends in the early nineteen hundreds and covers Kansas City. Most specifically, the lives of a few inhabitants are followed. Friends that came together through different circumstances, they make an impact on the city and from them their children continue on the legacy. Red goes from being a young boy good with horses to a notorious outlaw. Jack starts from humble roots (as does his friend Kevin) and becomes a big name in the city. As Kansas City grows they go on with their lives to the best of their abilities.

This book had great characters. They were all written in such a way that you cared about them. That you wanted to know what happened to them. I have to say my favorites were Red and little Joey. Red was such a complex character and even though he had his ups and downs he was a genuinely good guy. Joey, although he played a smaller role in the book, was very vibrant and just made you feel good. All the other characters were wonderful too of course, I can't even recall any that I didn't particularly care for. The relationship stories are very compelling as well and I found most of them quite sweet.

This book was based partly in reality and though I don't know much about that part of the world in that particular time, it seemed authentic and well researched to me. And I enjoyed following these characters through that time in history. It was interesting to see how quickly things started progressing and the change in life and technology in only a few years. The writing style was fluid and had a nice pace. There weren't any lags and it always kept things interesting. One should note that there is mention of violence, sex, murder, etc. so those who aren't into that kind of thing should be warned. I should also mention that the book included some old photos of Kansas City, which was a nice touch.

This book was very nicely done. Its definitely deserving of a permanent position on my bookshelf. One of my favorites this year.

Gully Town
Copyright 1990
332 pages

November 08, 2011

Getting Stoned With Savages by J. Maarten Troost

I've read a couple of Troost's other books. They weren't too bad. He's a good travel writer; injects a lot of humor into his works. This book takes place kind of after the Sex Lives of Cannibals but you don't necessarily have to read them in order. They can quite easily be read as stand-alones although he does make quite a few references to his time in Kiribati (1st book) in this book.

Troost and his wife, after spending some time working in Washington DC, decide they need to go back to the Pacific. His wife finds a job in Vanuatu and they trek down there to stay. Troost, mostly unemployed (but working as a writer) spends the days exploring the area and finding out about the delights of Kava, a mild intoxicant drink that is quite popular in Vanuatu. Actually he spends a lot of time expressing his thoughts about kava. When they find out that they're expecting, they move to Fiji for better medical care and the last third of the book details this experience and their time in Fiji after the birth of their child.

Troost has a way of presenting islanders as very friendly and approachable. I'm not saying they aren't in real life, but he takes time to get to know them and to describe them in their way of thinking with their customs, not with preconceived notions that most tourists and foreigners would have judging by their own customs. He meets quite a few "characters" and its neat to see how well he gets along with everybody. Even the not so nice people he isn't overly harsh in his descriptions of them.

The bulk of this book is spent in Vanuatu. Which is good, I found his descriptions there much more interesting than the time spent in Fiji. Granted Fiji was having some political unrest, but the book manages to drag those parts out and make them somewhat boring. Vanuatu by contrast had more detail on the people and customs and his dalliance with kava, which was hilarious to read. Not to mention he does some research on cannibalism in the area. As said before, in addition to being a travel writer, Troost does a good job in the humor department as well. He isn't mean spirited but more pokes fun at himself. The little chapter descriptions before each chapter were hilarious in and of themselves.

I liked this one by Troost and will keep my eye out for any other of his books that I haven't read. I do enjoy his style of writing.

Getting Stoned with Savages
Copyright 2006
235 pages

November 06, 2011

Ramblefoot by Ken Kaufman

**This book was received as a free advanced reader's copy.

This was a very wolfy book. Well it would have to be, with a wolf as the protagonist. I wasn't sure what to expect at first but was pleasantly surprised. It was a unique tale involving animals, which usually is a good combination.

Orphaned at a young age, Raspail clings desperately to survival, and is luckily picked up by some kindly wolves from another pack. They hope that he will become a strong hunter for the pack and they see something in him t hat tells him they won't be far off in their assessment. Raspail is a survivor, and a natural born leader. But misfortunes happen in his pack, and after the Facet (leader) is murdered, and Raspail suffering from an injury to his voice, he is unable to convince them of his innocence in the matter and has to flee. He wanders and regains strength with the help of a peculiar raven who becomes his friend and protector of sorts. Together they are joined by an older wolf, a story teller and what is known as a ramblefoot, a wolf who travels. He tells of a great land where game is free for the taking, but even with a full stomach, Raspail thinks of the pretty wolf he left behind and can't remain content.

Since these were wolves they can't exactly be related to normal characters for the majority of the time. Although I noticed that some of them had very human characteristics. As to their mannerisms, I only know a tiny bit about wolves, but they seemed to act in normal wolfish ways to me, yet the story progressed nicely with their thoughts and conversations. Raspail is a strong character and he really does emanate the strong leader vibe. I didn't find the bad guys extremely menacing, but considering that they're animals I suppose that's ok since I don't really see animals as being naturally evil. I did like Hagi the ramblefoot wolf. He was interesting and kind of like a guide for Raspail. The raven was a nice touch too.

This is kind of a wolf adventure in my mind. There isn't a real set plot unless you consider Raspail following his heart, but its more just the tale of his life and what he goes through. I did think the ending was a little bit abrupt. The pace of the rest of the novel was well done, enough to keep it interesting but not rushed, but I just felt that the ending did start the rushing and would have loved for it to be more drawn out. The writing had a nice tone to it and I liked the way the wolves communicated and played and just generally went about life. It should be noted though, that the wolf females were commonly referred to as a name that in all other contexts is a bad word, and one that I cannot put in this review. But since that's a proper name its alright to me.

A nice read. Good for those who like animals and especially would like to get in their heads sometimes. Since wolves are pretty popular, I can see a range of people enjoying this book.

Copyright 2011
293 pages

November 04, 2011

The Thong Also Rises by Jennifer L. Leo

Ok, so I've read two others in this series (Sand in My Bra and Whose Panties are These) and didn't really enjoy them. But as they were lent to me I felt compelled to keep reading. I really wish I hadn't. This book was just as dismal as the first two. And another note, these are geared towards women, and as such, I just can't understand the cover. It doesn't bother me per say, but it seems like the kind of missed their audience there.

These books are supposed to be short stories from women travelers that range on the funny side. The traveling takes place all over the world, including the USA and to be honest, there were a couple stories that were so mind numbing I didn't even quite catch where they took place in this one. Some of the stories ranged from sharing a bus with a grandma who kept dirty diapers in a suit case, to other stories about buying underwear. Another story mused on the differences between men's and women's vacations. All travel was varied from airplanes, buses, and car travel.

All of these writers are supposed to be humorous, but I really didn't find them so. In fact, I don't think I even cracked a smile with this book. A couple of the stories were interesting at the very most, but that was about it. Some of them were completely boring too, like the woman who gets jealous over her husband's GPS in a story that could have been told in one paragraph instead of a few pages. And once again, with this book, most of the stories could have happened anywhere. I guess I don't see the point of travel if all you focus on is your underwear. I guess I'd just rather enjoy the travel part of travel in a travel book.

Hopefully I'll manage to stay clear of any other books in this series. I gotta say, there's just better things to read out there.

The Thong Also Rises
Copyright 2005
217 pages