May 29, 2012

Crashing Eden by Michael Sussman

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

This book was not at all what I expected it to be.  I expected Dystopian, the title and cover seemed to point to that, but while I might consider it slightly dystopian, I actually considered it more theology and fantasy and a little bit of other stuff thrown in.

Joss has been a troublemaker most his life.  After the death of his brother, things just went a little crazier for him and after spending some time in Juvie, he gets to return home to his parents and his sister.  But then after a bike accident, he begins to hear strange things, and it completely changes his outlook on life.  Instead of the anger he was feeling, it melts into peace and understanding, and with the help of some chance encounters, he also discovers that the sound is a part of something more.  It unlocks Eden, sends those who hear it crashing into the forbidden and as it catches on, the one who threw humans out of Eden begins to notice, and is not happy at all.

I like Joss.  Despite what a terrible person he seems to have been you can't help but like him.  He is just that relate-able as a character.  I even liked his little sister, she was charming in a way although at times much wiser beyond her six years.  That being said his mother was just way out there.  I'm sure there's really people out there like that, but I just couldn't like her at all.  And I found Alessa, a girl he hurt, a bit unbelievable too.  It seems to me that forgiveness is a hard thing to reach, and she reached it so easily.  So maybe she's just a better person than me, who knows.

The plot was very interesting.  I liked the theology thrown in, although if you are a very strict Christian, this may not be the book for you.  It has a little wider mind of how the Universe works.  And I like that version of the Universe, it is a unique take on it.  I also enjoyed how the characters discovered some of the ideas in this book on how the world works.  I also enjoyed the way the book was written and how even though it seemed geared towards young adults, adults could enjoy the themes and writing style as well.  My biggest complaint would probably be that the ending seemed too easy.  The book meandered through the first half and then rushed through the second and it was almost as if the author was in a hurry to finish up the book and didn't expand and create a more involved ending.  It was still a good ending, don't get me wrong, but maybe not as fantastic as it could have been.

Definitely interesting and I would probably look for more from this author.  Unique concepts made this book a worthwhile read.

Crashing Eden
Copyright 2012
214 pages

May 24, 2012

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

I'm always interested in books about China. While this book is more about women and their lives than China itself, it still is very interesting and definitely an emotional read.

Four daughters and four mothers, all very much different and challenged to understand each other. This book weaves through their different lives and expresses the difficulties they face, not only in understanding each other, but understanding themselves as well as they struggle to be their own people, despite the expectations of others. In a sense it also includes the grandmothers, because as the mothers tell their stories, of growing up in China and leaving, their mothers play a big role in shaping their lives and decisions. It also shows their decisions with where to take their lives and the reactions when something happens that wasn't planned for. A noticeable story is where the Joy Luck Club name came from and how the actual club was originated, told by the mother of Jing-Mei Woo.

I have to say I enjoyed the mothers' stories more than the daughters'. They just seemed to have more depth to them. Their struggles seemed more poignant while the daughters' lives dealt more with divorce and jobs. Not that those aren't hardships, but they're familiar hardships that aren't quite as interesting. I think my lease favorite character was Waverly, I thought she was a bit conceited and I just couldn't identify with her character at all. In contrast, Suyuan Woo and her struggles with the war in China were much more interesting and made me appreciate her character more. The others had their ups and downs as well, but those were the two standouts.

I liked the concept of pitting mother against daughter and showing why they acted teh way they did. I can't speak on how relevant it is to the culture, but it did seem authentic and I really thought at times that I was reading about real people, even if I wasn't. I can definitely see these people being based off of real life stories. The writing was nice and full of description, but I did find it confusing keeping track of who's who at times. There's a small listing in the front of the book but I grew irritated of flipping back and forth to figure out who I was reading about. Perhaps it was just a bad week for me memory wise, but I think I would have rather had the stories fit together more cohesively so it was easier to follow.

A very interesting book and I would definitely say it's earned its reputation as a book club read. It's one that I could definitely say I would read again.

The Joy Luck Club
Copyright 1989
288 pages

May 19, 2012

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Believe it or not I have never seen the movie that goes along with this book. After reading the book, I may decide to check it out. It has some powerful themes and compelling characters.

Celie started out with a rough life. After being raped at the tender age of fourteen and beyond and forced to live without the children produced as a result of that rape, she is married off to yet another man who abuses her and cares nothing for her. But it is through him that she finds other love in her life because the people he knows become connected to her and she finds joy in being with some of them. The decades pass and she thinks often of her sister, who she hasn't seen in a very long time and before long she discovers letters from her, expressing what life has held through the years.

Celie is a very easy character to feel sorry for. At times I wanted to scream at her for being so passive, but often times if life has beat you down enough it's easy not to fight back. So I guess I can give her a break. And she does grow through the novel, in a believable way. What is unbelievable about the characters (and quite possibly a spoiler) is that they seem to return to relationships that are no good for them time and time again and magically those relationships improve. I guess I just haven't seen that enough in real life to believe it actually can happen. But even the characters I didn't like were well written and their own individuals.

This book is very harsh and very graphic and full of bad language. Especially in the beginning. Because let's face it, it's about life and life is full of those things as well. But if that's not your cup of tea in reading, then I definitely wouldn't recommend reading this one. I did find the letter format of the book interesting. Throughout it we have letters written by Celie and those of her sister Nettie and while they both tell different stories different ways, they are interesting. At the very least it helped the book seem more "real" than it might have been. My biggest complaint about the book was that the ending was kind of hokey and didn't really fit with the rest of the book.

An interesting read and although depressing, I did think it was worthy of it's status as a "classic".

The Color Purple
Copyright 1982
295 pages

May 17, 2012

This Time Together by Carol Burnett

I really didn't expect to like this book.  I sort of know who Carol Burnett is, I've seen a few movies and shows where she has a small role, but I never watched any of her series or older work.  But surprisingly, I really enjoyed this memoir.

Carol delves into the whole of her life in this book.  From the time she was a little girl living with her grandmother, to the present, it's all here.  She tells stories of the people she meets, the places she goes, acting she does, and her triumphs and failures.  Nothing seems to be left out.  She shares moments in time with her co-workers and there's even some pictures to boot!

I like the way Carol talks about her friends.  With the people she talks about it could appear as name dropping.  But somehow it's not.  It's like she tells you their names because she is proud to know them, not just because they are a celebrity.  That seems to come second to her.  And she always has nothing but good to say about people, which is refreshing.  And she doesn't boast about herself but she doesn't put herself down either, although she does share her goofs but is able to laugh at them.  Which since she's a comedian, that's good.

And this book is very funny.  I enjoyed the short stories of her life because they all could bring a smile or laugh.  There wasn't too many downers in the book.  And the stories were all pretty harmless too and I can't see anything really offending anybody in them.  Appropriate for all audiences is the best way to put it.  The short story format was a good choice too.  It made it so she didn't drone on and only shared information that was needed, so the pace of the book moved along perfectly.

Definitely worth a read and it will bring a smile to your face.  Carol seems to be a very talented lady.

This Time Together
Copyright 2010
266 pages

May 14, 2012

The Call of the Wild by Jack London

Now this is what I consider a classic.  Can there be a more exciting tale than that of Buck?  Well, I don't think so anyway.

Buck is a family pet in California when he is kidnapped and sold into the gold rush up North because he is a strong large dog.  He quickly learns that this is a harsh new world, and that it must be treated differently from the tame life he is used to.  He becomes part of a sled dog team and struggles to learn the ins and outs of sledding life, including dealing with the other pack dogs.  Each new master brings additional lessons and Buck can feel himself growing wilder and wilder, getting closer to his roots as an animal that was not bred in captivity.

Buck is a very inspiring dog, and very real-seeming as well.  Since his plight is that of what hundreds of dogs had in real life during the gold rush, it's easy to see how his story has an element of truth in it.  I also like how we almost get to see his emotions directly through the telling of this story because you can see the way his thoughts and actions changed and how he adapted.  And you really can empathize with him, even though he's a dog.  The different people in the book were interesting too, although it's Buck's beloved owner John Thornton that truly steals my heart with his treatment of Buck.  The chapters with him in it are some of my favorites.  That's not saying the other characters didn't have their place, but he was one that stood out.

Since this is based on a real time in history, I think it does a remarkable job of showing the lesser known aspects of that history.  We all know about the Gold Rush, for instance, but few of us knew that regular dogs were being shipped up there to be sled dogs.  It never even occurred to me that there were dogs other than huskies doing the work.  I also thought that the book was perfectly paced.  Since it's technically a kid's book it's shorter than most books, but it's done in such a great way that you become so involved in the book and lose track of time.  However, one thing to note considering that this is a kid's book is that there is a great deal of violence and graphic description of fights, killings, etc.  For those sensitive hearts that love animals and can't handle one in pain, this isn't a book that should probably be read.

I absolutely love the book and think it should be one of those books that everyone reads at least once in their lifetime.  A true classic and one I'm proud to have on the bookshelf at home.

The Call of the Wild
Copyright 1963 (the edition I read anyway)
172 pages

May 13, 2012

Protecting the President by Dennis McCarthy

So I never knew that the Secret Service was actually organized to protect against counterfeiting, and that it wasn't until much later that they started to protect the President and other notable people in politics. This book taught me that, and a little more.

Dennis McCarthy was a member of the Secret Service for over twenty years. He joined at the age of thirty and mainly worked with presidents Nixon and Reagan and did a few other assignments as well, including a bit in the counterfeiting realm of things. He actually was there the day Reagan was shot, and this is a big part of the book. He explains what happens that day, and how the Secret Service worked to protect Reagan in the aftermath. He also spends a little time explaining how Nixon was protected and some of the excursions they made with him. In between these stories are short stories of protecting other political figures, some history of the secret service, and some time spent protecting the family of the Presidents.

McCarthy definitely has an interesting tale to be told. I like the way he explained how he did certain things and it wasn't prideful, but he didn't make himself appear in the shadows as well. He took his due where it was earned. The thing I don't like about him though, was how he mentioned his numerous infidelities and tried to blame it on the job and the travel and the stress of protecting the President. I'm sorry, but that's just you being a lousy person, not a side effect of having a stressful job. If you can't tell already, I'm not too fond of cheaters. Moving on to the other people mentioned in the book, it was neat to see an inside look at the Presidents and how they acted around the White House "staff". It was pretty interesting to see who was easy to work with and who wasn't.

I thought the history of the Secret Service included in the book was very informative and definitely a good addition. It was nice to get some background on the job itself in addition to hearing about McCarthy's time spent protecting the Presidents. And it was placed into the book so nicely that it was a seamless transition from history, to actual experiences of McCarthy. This book does deal with a little violence because of the shooting and assassination attempts, etc., but it isn't overly descriptive and definitely isn't glorified. And the book was intriguing enough to keep me interested the whole way through. I wanted to hear the next story and have to say that I largely enjoyed most of them. There were a few, like when he talks about the overseas that weren't as interesting because there wasn't as much detail and I couldn't get immersed into them as well.

Definitely an interesting book if you're at all interested in the Secret Service. You learn a lot and get some behind the scenes looks at what it's like to protect the President.

Protecting the President
Copyright 1985
213 pages

May 12, 2012

Unbinding the Heart by Agapi Stassinopoulos

**This book is part of the Amazon Vine Program**

It looks like I'm probably going against the grain with my thoughts on this book, but unfortunately, I just couldn't bring myself to like it. I thought it was going to be a self help book, about finding joy in your life using Greek wisdom. Instead it was more like a memoir, and was very self focused on Agapi herself.

As a young girl, Agapi was raised by a mother who had a special joy in life, and a very special ability to give to others and have a positive outlook on things. Even after a divorce when Agapi was twelve, her mother still possesses that inner radiance that draws people to her, and it helps her daughters become a success as well. Agapi uses her mother's philosophy to impact her own life and have positive outcomes in what she does. And she details her life from a child to the present day.

This book was very much about Agapi. And while I'm sure she's a wonderful sweet person in real life, the book came across a little self centered. When she talks about other people you can see she genuinely cares about them, but the focus just isn't there. When she talks about her mother, the book is fantastic. In fact, the first few chapters, in which she is talking about her parents, are my favorite. Because her mother especially seemed like an incredible person. But even there she starts to derail a bit. When she talks about her mother going into the hospital, it is in the same breath as saying she is off to some book thing at some place or other being famous. And this happens a lot. I'm glad she has success as that her mother taught her not to practice false modesty, but humbleness is also attractive. Celebrate your successes but don't be consumed by them.

The book itself offered a few gems of wisdom into approaching life. Accepting things is one, wishing good things to happen is another. And I think that these are some useful and helpful tips for life. But as said before this is more of a memoir, not a self help book, and I went into it wanting the self help book, so I may be a little biased as a whole. I also thought that she tended to ramble a bit, and throw unnecessary detail. In describing her mother's stroke, for instance, she felt important to share that it happened in the bathroom "really a large dressing room between the bath and bedroom". Was that and mentioning that they had maids really necessary? I guess I just didn't see the relevance or what it added to the story and wish instead the focus had been on the mother and that experience.

I guess I sound overly harsh on this book but I was a bit disappointed to discover it wasn't what I thought it was going to be. I think Agapi has some good ideas, but this book really should be classified as a memoir, not the self help it's representing itself as. It just wasn't to my taste. Two and a half stars from me.

Unbinding the Heart
Copyright 2012
194 pages

May 09, 2012

Woodswoman by Anne LaBastille

Anne LaBastille was a pretty amazing woman.  In a time where most women wouldn't think of being on their own, she went out and built her own cabin in the Adirondacks and lived there alone.  And this book is the telling of her first couple years out there, and a little bit of her history before that.

With a divorce from her husband in her future, Anne needed to set out and find her own path.  After loving hiking, camping, and the outdoors, she decides to buy some land in the Adirondack wilderness and build a small cabin out there.  Without electricity and running water, or even an indoor toilet, it's very rustic, but it's where she finds home.   Spending her time writing, or with her dog, she finds peace out in the woods, and when she craves company she can always go into town.  She even goes over a couple harrowing experiences she has out by herself.  But the best thing about being there, is that she gains even more appreciate for the wilderness and the animals that live there.

Anne is the main character in this book.  Well, aside from her dog.  So we really only see her through her eyes, and she doesn't spend much time on herself.  Hardly any actually, she describes the wilderness around her.  She does touch on the few romantic interests she had in her life, but they are all positive, despite the relationships ending.  Even the man she divorces is shown in a mostly positive light in the book.  And her neighbors, aside from a few, are described positively as well.  She does tend to show a distaste for litterers and peace disturbers, but really, who could blame her?

Sometimes this book could drag on a little with the descriptions of the wilderness.  Although there were pictures to show a little bit of what it was like, it was hard to see what she was trying to describe sometimes.  But in all, I found it a very interesting book.  I liked the way she lived her life and how she seemed to be so at peace with her decisions.  Hers seemed an ideal life in some ways, although I'm not sure I'd ever be ok without an indoor toilet.  But to each their own.

An interesting book.  I will definitely look into reading the sequel.  I'm sure it will be just as interesting as this one.

Copyright 1976
278 pages

May 08, 2012

The 5 Greatest Spankings of All Time by Rob Wood

**This book was received as a free advanced Reviewer's Copy**

What an amusing short story. I call it a short story because this is not a novel length book, but rather just snippets in time of a family that seemed to be pretty wild. And humourous, despite the trouble that Rob Wood and his three brothers got into, this book was definitely laugh out loud funny.

Rob Wood and his brothers had a penchant for getting in trouble. And with that trouble usually came the "lickins" from their father. Today we know "lickins" as spankings, in which the book is aptly named. With a little preface chapter showing the types of different spankings that could be achieved and the different rules that when broken, would warrant a spanking, we are introduced to these brothers and shown how easily they were able to make mischief. From there we are taken to the five greatest spankings of all time, and what was done to deserve them. And oh my did they ever get themselves into trouble. From decimating a pig roast, to spooking a horse, to burning down the garage, these boys definitely earned their "lickins".

I like the way that Wood describes himself and his brothers. He doesn't even try to pretend that they were well behaved. In fact, he even sympathizes with his parents and the exhaustion they must have felt trying to raise the three. The three are pretty wild and what my mother would call "all boy." And his parents are pretty entertaining too. The father gets more time in the book since he is the giver of the spankings, but the mother is mentioned a little bit. I actually would have liked to see more of her and some more in depth description of her reactions to the mischief. A little time is even devoted to the grandparents, who despite being against spankings, had to deal with the behavior as well.

The book, as said before, is short, but I actually think it was the perfect length. Sure Wood could have made it the ten greatest spankings of all time, but I think that would have gotten redundant after awhile and he did best by choosing just five. And the five he chose, I have to say I laughed out loud on about all four of them. The only one I really didn't involved the horse and I just didn't see as much humor in that one. Although it did show the different styles between the grandparents "lickins" and the parents "lickins." There's a little bit of bad language in this book, but it's mostly censored out and I can't say that it would be the type to offend anyone. In fact, the only ones who may have trouble with this book are those people who hate spanking. Which to be honest, I'm against abuse, but never spankings as they are intended to be, a punishment that is strictly controlled. But others don't share the same opinions and they may not find the humor in this book.

Definitely a good little read. I'd recommend it for anyone nostalgic for the fifties, or those who miss hanging out with their siblings, or those who just enjoy a good laugh. Because of all things this book will do, it will definitely make you laugh.

The 5 Greatest Spankings of All Time
Copyright 2012
102 pages

May 06, 2012

Desperate Voyage by John Caldwell

I went into this book not realizing that it was actually a true story. And it was an interesting story, although I couldn't help but shake my head at a few of Caldwell's decisions.

Caldwell, after having to leave his new wife behind in Australia, decides that he can't stay away any longer, and buys a small sailboat in which to sail from Panama back to Australia. And he goes alone, with only two kittens as company. He suffers through more hardships than can be imagined. Some of its due to the weather, but sometimes its due to his own foolishness as well. But he meets some interesting people along the way, and also nearly starves. A very exciting adventure in all. And his descriptions of sailing on a boat for so long are very detailed and probably paint a very accurate picture of what he experienced.

Since its mainly Caldwell and the kittens on the boat, he spends a lot of time with his thoughts. And he doesn't tend to describe himself very often, unless its to comment on the state of his non-shaving. But he does think often of his wife and that's very admirable. She must have been some woman, and you could definitely tell he loved her enough to put himself through such an ordeal. I also liked his take on the islanders, he always described them favorably. And his description of the cats, wonderful. They were very entertaining.

I had a hard time with the parts of this book that described some technical aspects of sailing the boat. It just took away from the actual story for me and there's only so many times you can hear about pumping out the bilges really. And some of the things he does to himself just has me cringing. I guess I just wouldn't take such risks with my life on an already risky adventure. But then again I was only getting part of it as I'm sure he didn't give the whole story in the book. But I did admire his courage, and the fact that he survived such a journey.

An interesting book. Maybe not to my tastes but anyone who's into nautical journeys should find it interesting. And since its a true story, it makes the tale quite amazing.

Desperate Voyage
Copyright 1949
243 pages

Where Lilacs Still Bloom by Jane Kirkpatrick

**This book was part of the Amazon Vine program**

I am so glad that this book is based off of a real live person. She just seems too wonderful to be left as fiction. Hulda Klager and her lilacs are a definite inspiration, and I'm glad I got a chance to learn about her in this book.

Hulda is a farmer's wife in early nineteen-hundreds Washington State. But she has a passion most farm wives of the time don't; she likes cultivating plants for a specific purpose. And she teachers herself how to make new varieties, all without benefit of a higher education. What starts with an easier peeling apple variety, develops into a love of lilacs and a goal for a creamy white lilac with twelve petals. An impossible seeming task at the time, but a goal to work for all her life. And slowly her garden becomes something else, something that people from all over want to see and bring home with them. And Hulda is more than willing to give them the chance to start their own garden of lilacs.

Their is probably not a more wonderful person than Hulda with her lilacs. The fact that she wants to share them and wants to bring joy to people with flowers, is just beautiful. She's a very creative person too, with the ideas for her lilac hybrids and she helps a lot of people even if she doesn't see it in herself. Her husband seemed like a wonderful man as well and very supportive of Hulda and her dream. He seemed content to sit back and watch her shine and was truly an important part in her work in his own way. Likewise for her children, who maybe didn't understand their mother's passion, but still believed in her dream too.

Although this book had it's sad moments, Hulda had a lot of tragedy in her life, it is also an inspiring read. Hulda accomplished a lot despite setbacks and sorrow and it was neat to see her go from the very beginning of her experiments in this book to the end of her life and seeing what she had accomplished. It actually made me want to go out to Washington state and bring back a lilac for myself, even though I have nowhere to plant it currently. But maybe one day. A love of gardening isn't really even a requirement for this book either. If you like a good, inspirational story about a strong real life woman, this is a great read for that too. Hulda shows us that we can achieve our dreams, even as unlikely as they seem. And I do have to say that even though this is a fictionalized telling of Hulda's stories (not all of the people in it actually existed), they felt real.

A fantastic book, I will definitely check out more of Kirkpatrick's works if they are written in the same tone as this one.

Where Lilacs Still Bloom
Copyright 2012
329 pages

May 01, 2012

Up: A Mother and Daughter's Peakbagging Adventure by Patricia Ellis Herr

**This review is part of the Amazon Vine program **

I can't believe how much I enjoyed this book. I expected to like it, it had an interesting topic after all, but bringing kids into it, well, I wasn't sure how well that was going to work.

Since her young daughter has such energy and exuberance, Trish Herr decides that perhaps climbing a mountain might be a good way to let off that energy. When she learns about the Peakbagging challenge in New Hampshire, a challenge to climb 48 mountains over 4k feet high, she thinks that just maybe her young five year old daughter can do it. And she excels at it, they quickly "bag" all peaks in a matter of two short years, and their adventures are both a learning experience and a wonderful bonding experience for mother and daughter.

The two meet a lot of interesting people on the trail. And a lot become close friends and hiking partners. And Trish's daughter Alex is an extraordinary person. Who would have thought a five year old could accomplish so much; I feel ashamed almost of my own experiences as a result. And it's made me resolve to do more with my life. Even the little daughter, Sage is pretty impressive with her exploits at three years old. And I especially liked the man in the kilt, Madriver, he seemed like quite the character.

The concept Trish had for her daughter is fantastic. Not a lot of mothers would think to do something like that. And I really admire the way she approaches parenting. She has some interesting ideas and while I normally don't like the way that people go on and on about their kids, she does it in such a delightful way that it's interesting. The whole book is very interesting actually. I haven't really heard of Peakbagging before but it seems like a worthy endeavor. And this book, while just sharing snippets of the actual climb, is paced so well that it was an easy quick read and very enjoyable.

I definitely liked this book and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys hiking. It's a very nice read that is full of a little adventure, and a lot of heart.

Up: A Mother and Daughter's Peakbagging Adventure
Copyright 2012
233 pages