November 29, 2011
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
November 24, 2011
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
November 20, 2011
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
November 19, 2011
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
November 17, 2011
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.
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.
November 15, 2011
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
November 13, 2011
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
November 12, 2011
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
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
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.
November 08, 2011
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
November 06, 2011
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.
November 04, 2011
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
November 03, 2011
The whole premise of these books is that they are funny travel narratives written by women. This means that these stories take place all over the world and even in the United States for different destinations. They can range from stories about air travel, to mixing with the locals, to other embarrassing happenstances. A great example would be the story in here about the woman who loves to get Chinese Hair Washes. After reading about how amazing these are, and cheap, for what equals out to the best massage of your life, I now have a goal to go to China sometime and try this out. There's also the women whose family wandered onto the wrong part of the beach while traveling and yet another who had some interesting experiences with a Japanese subway line.
But these are supposed to be humorous anecdotes and sadly, the vast majority were not only not funny, but not even entertaining. And since it is also supposed to be a travel themed book, many of these events could have happened anywhere and the place wasn't even relevant, a problem the first book had as well. The stories mainly focus around the authors themselves so there is no good chance to really hear about any of the locals or sometimes even the place they are visiting. It kind of makes traveling a moot point when you're more worried about your underwear than the scenery.
The writing is ok for some, terrible for others, with a few gleaming standouts. The humor didn't come across well and a lot of it was pretty wordy for the short story format, especially when it was an uninteresting topic to begin with. There are a lot of curse words and descriptions of undergarments and body parts, so if this is not your thing, steer clear. I think the only thing that really skeeved me out though was the story of the lady with a bug in her ear. I think I might have nightmares now. Luckily though, for as much as I didn't enjoy reading this book, it was the short story format that kept me from throwing it across the room. You never had to stick with one story for very long.
Not the best and there are certainly funnier books out there. There are also better travel books out there so both categories could be improved on. Hopefully the 3rd book in the series is a little better.
Whose Panties are These?
November 02, 2011
A nonfiction, it covers the two years that author Ann and her husband Steve go cruising in the Caribbean. They travel many places, weather many storms, and meet a lot of other cruisers and islanders. Some of the places they visit are the Dominican Republic, several towns along the Atlantic coast of the USA, and their favorite, Granada. All in all, they travel from Canada to the Caribbean and back again for quite a long journey. While Ann is not as thrilled about being on a boat at first, she soon takes to it, and she and Steve become pretty accomplished sailors and used to life on a cramped boat. Ann also does a lot of cooking with local ingredients.
I love the way Ann describes the people in this. She is always so positive about her experiences and you can tell she truly is a people person and enjoys interacting with everyone. I especially like the deep friendship she has with a woman on Granada and how they exchange food and advice and even go back to visit her after the trip is over. They also meet several other unique cruisers with personalities that range all around. Most notable is the guy who is the expert on Rum. I also like how she explained about being closer to her husband with living on the boat because it is pretty tight quarters to be in with someone. Even so, with as cramped as it was for them, I can't imagine how it was for my mom when she was little and she, my grandparents, and her two brothers lived on a sailboat for a couple of years. I'm not sure I could handle it myself.
Ann kind of bounces around in time with her travels and devotes more book time to some places than others. As said before, they really enjoyed Granada and this is where a good portion of the book takes place. Not that that's a bad thing, there was certainly enough to write about there. I have to say the only downfall to the writing was the amount of technical boat stuff that she wrote in. For those who like sailing or understand it this might have been ok, but I found it kind of boring. Luckily there wasn't too much of it in there. She more than makes up for it with her descriptions of food and cooking though. It made me want to quit my job and go to the Caribbean. Fresh conch, lobster, mangoes, etc. my mouth was definitely watering. And she included recipes too! The ultimate way to make me love a book (and want to buy it).
Great travel narrative, foodie book, and more. I highly recommend it.
An Embarrassment of Mangoes