May 29, 2013

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

This memoir combines both running and writing; two subjects that I'm definitely interested in.  And Murakami is apparently a well known author, although this is the first I've read of his works.  And I can see why, it was interesting and well written.

Murakami was running a jazz bar and in college when he first got the notion to run.  And it stuck.  And then he decided to sell the jazz bar and take up writing.  And that stuck too.  From then on it was a passion that would spread over decades for him, although lagging at times when he developed other interests.  And running is weaved with writing for him so that both have a place in his life.  Although triathlons are taking hold now as well.

This is a translated work, but I think it was done very well.  Murakami has a nice approachable voice to his writing and while he doesn't really describe anyone but himself in this book (it is a memoir after all), the few that he does are approached kindly and with positive attributes highlighted.  For himself, he does show all his strengths and weaknesses.  He isn't shy about sharing his success in writing, but nor is he shy about showing his less than stellar run times and goals that he didn't make.  It shows him as a very balanced person.

The running is what really interested me in this book.  In fact, Murakami does such a good job of describing running and its effects on the mind and body that it made me feel rather guilty that I haven't been running lately, but blamed it on moving and work and other things in my life.  In fact, if I hadn't already packed my running clothes, I probably would be out there right now the book inspired me so much.  And I liked the way he tied it in with writing.  This book was actually written in short little pieces and then combined together, but the transition was easy and you'd never know it started out that way if he hadn't of told you.  And it was a quick read so it never had a chance to get boring either.  I did think that maybe this book would offer some tips on how to cure my short attention span while running, but Murakami just says that most runners don't always want to run and you can feel that way sometimes.  It apparently is more natural for him and while he does admit that he thinks about all sorts of things when he runs, he is never very precise because he says his thoughts are never very precise.  Not feeling that way when I run, it is hard to relate in a way.

But regardless, that fault lies with me, not him.  And this was a very good book to read, although maybe a bit limited in audience.  I don't really see non-runners getting into this book, but that's ok.  For those of us who want to run, it's there for inspiration.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
Copyright 2008
174 pages

May 25, 2013

Chicken A La King & The Buffalo Wing by Steven Gilbar

This has to be one of the driest books on food I've read. And usually I like anything about food and "devour" any type of book about it. But this one, well, it was a struggle to get through with hardly any little nuggets of goodness in it.

This book is a list of food names and the people and places that inspire them. It's broken down into dinner, breakfast, and lunch and several sub-categories within those categories (i.e. grains, drinks, etc.). Some are brief blurbs of only a few sentences while others encompass a paragraph of information. And at the end, there are several recipes cards for some of the dishes mentioned in the book.

A lot of the stories are really dry and uninteresting. There were just only so many times I could hear that this piece of food was believed to be from such and such place, and that was it. The few that were good were those that expanded a little on the story and gave more background and story type of telling than just a brief sentence with the location. The stories that said it was believed this person did it for their beloved (insert type of person here) were much more engrossing. But sadly, they were far and few between.

The recipe cards were different. They came attached in the book and you could break them out to put them in a recipe card holder. I've not seen a book come with that type of recipe collection like that and I appreciated how it was put together. Although there were only a few I would actually consider making. The organization was also ok, although I thought it weird they started with dinner, then went to breakfast, and then to lunch. It just seemed out of order.

I can't say I'd recommend this book. It just wasn't something I got real excited about and I'm not even going to rip any of the recipe cards out before giving it away. Maybe someone who prefers dictionary types of books would enjoy it more, but it just wasn't for me and it probably wasn't for a reader who would want entertainment value from it.

Chicken A La King & The Buffalo Wing
Copyright 2008
168 pages

May 23, 2013

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin

It's hard not to like a story about high fantasy.  And indeed, I can't say I disliked this book, but nor did I think it an exceptional work either.  There were just too many flaws to make it outstanding, but the world building at least, was interesting.

Sparrowhawk aka Ged aka some other things was born with great power in him.  At an early age it was discovered he could do magic and was at first apprenticed to the town witchwoman, then to a traveling mage, and then finally sent on to the great Mage school.  But it was while at school that he released a dark power on the land, one that would destroy him if he wasn't careful, and this dark shadow follows him throughout his journies until he realizes he must do something about it.

I actually didn't really think much of Ged.  He was too power hungry in the beginning and brash.  Although I suppose youth can be this way at times.  I also didn't understand his learning processes as he seemed to learn things quickly or without description in the books.  It therefore came as a surprise when he knew how to do something he previously did not without any background information provided.  Vetch, his friend, is a little more interesting and compassionate.  I actually would have rathered the story be about him because he was a likable character.  Ogion too was interesting, and I was sad to see that he wasn't in the book for very long.  I do have to say that I was disappointed with how the women were described in this book.  They seemed more pawns than anyone with their own power, although I hear this is rectified in later books of the series.

I actually liked the plot and the adventures that Ged had.  But I didn't enjoy the pace of the book.  It was too choppy and you were just getting settled into one point of his life when it quickly bounced ahead to another.  There was so much detail that could have been added and made Ged's world more complete.  I felt as if a lot had been left out and I wanted more description.  But there was a lot of action; Ged was continually on the move so there wasn't any lulls in the story.  I would have to say that this is probably a young adult novel more than an adult one, it kind of read at that quicker speed to me.

I should say that I actually "read" this book as an audiobook and while I've seen numerous complaints about the narrator, I actually liked him.  I thought he gave the characters good voices and that his way of speaking made you really dig into the book and made it more exciting.  It was like listening to a master storyteller tell a tale around a campground fire; or at least it was to me. 

I'd have to say that this book ranged somewhere between three and a half and four stars for me.  I liked it, but there were a lot of aspects to the book I wasn't thrilled with and the characters just didn't charm me.  For fantasy lovers though, this is probably a must read book.

A Wizard of Earthsea
Copyright 1968

May 17, 2013

An Acceptable Time by Madeline L'Engle

An Acceptable Time is the fifth book in the time series by L'Engle.  But it's also a part of the 2nd generation (O'Keefe) series and there's even a little bit of the Chronos series that plays into it.  And as such, without reading the rest of those books, you'll be kind of lost in this book I think.  So it's a hard one for me to suggest someone read unless they're a big fan of L'Engle.

Polly O'Keefe is visiting her grandparents when a time gate opens on the property.  She, the retired bishop and a friend named Zachary Gray are swept three thousand years in the past, and some people from the past are also able to visit them in the future.  But there's trouble three thousand years ago in the form of a drought.  And that drought is making the people think they need a sacrifice, and Polly seems like the perfect candidate to them.

Polly was hard to connect to in this book.  It could partially be because I haven't read the O'Keefe series in awhile and didn't get to be refreshed on her history.  But I also think that she was maybe a little too perfect and didn't do anything wrong.  She didn't seem very real.  In contrast, Zachary was as big of a jerk as ever.  It seems that he doesn't have any redeemable qualities and even his pick up lines are the same they used on Vickie Austin in the Chronos series.  He hasn't changed at all despite aging.  Which was slightly disappointing and it made it predictable what he would do.  The Bishop was interesting, he wasn't your traditional religious figure.  L'Engle uses him to speak her religious beliefs, which are unconventional and interesting.

The plot was ok.  I liked the idea of time circles, but I wasn't as fond of the execution.  Aside from Polly just doing weird things for someone supposedly so intelligent, the other characters weren't very developed with the exception of the Bishop.  And the book just didn't flow with the usual grace that L'Engle had.  The science and magic was still there, but it was disjointed.  I still think that her writing is beautiful, but maybe by the time this book came around she was wearing out a bit.  She's also a religious writer, for those not familiar with her works, and depending on your branch of religion or feelings towards religion, she could be a bit preachy for some.  I personally find her beliefs on religion to be interesting and definitely non-mainstream.

Not one of her better ones but a bad book by L'Engle is still pretty good compared to a lot of books out there.  As said before, if you are a big fan, read this book.

An Acceptable Time
Copyright 1989
343 pages

May 16, 2013

Radio Shangri-La by Lisa Napoli

Hmmm, I would have to say that rather than this being a travel memoir, it was just a regular old memoir. Sure the author went to Bhutan a few times, but for all the description she might as well been at a theme park in the states. I just couldn't bring myself to like this memoir and was glad that it was short.

Napoli was in her early forties when a chance encounter presented her with an opportunity to go volunteer in Bhutan. She was to help with a radio station there, to improve and professionalize their programs. Although it was only a short stay, she grew to love the country and returned several times. And with her travels she learned to accept her life and happiness for what it was.

Napoli is ok. She does a lot of describing of herself in this book and while you can empathize with her on some points (she has had tragedy in her life) she does tend to go on and on about personal things and lack of a love life. Normally those things don't bother me so much in a memoir, but since this is supposed to be about what she learned in Bhutan according to the title, I wasn't happy with her lack of explanation on Bhutan or its people. The people she actually described as very childlike, nearly all of them in fact, except for one money-hungry monk. It seemed unfair to the people as I'm sure there were a lot of very intelligent people there that she probably talked to, but didn't recognize because of the language difference or whatever other obstacles there may have been.

There were a few nice descriptions of Bhutan but they were far and few between. The majority of the book seemed to focus on her descriptions of radio jobs and some looks into her past. There was a little bit about the radio she went to volunteer at, but that was maybe in the first quarter of the book and the rest jumped around between her time at home and a few more trips she made to Bhutan. But again, the lack of anything non-encyclopedic about Bhutan just wasn't there. The book read quickly, but it just didn't hold any interest for me. Too disjointed and not enough about the title subject caused it to be quite disappointing for me.

I wouldn't recommend this book if you're looking for something interesting about Bhutan. Maybe someone who just likes regular memoirs would enjoy it, but not someone who's got a little bit of wanderlust and had hoped to live vicariously.

Radio Shangri-La
Copyright 2010
277 pages

May 14, 2013

Moloka'i by Alan Brennert

I'm not ashamed to admit I sobbed several times through the reading of this book.  It was a tragic, yet beautiful telling of life in a place where people were sent to die.  And it is probably one of the best books I've read in the last couple of years.

Rachel is a young girl when the first rosy signs of leprosy begin to appear on her skin.  Torn from her loving family, she is first hospitalized and then sent to Moloka'i, an island in Hawaii where a leper colony was formed.  There, she begins a new life, one born under the tutelage of the nuns who operate a school/dormitory for young girls with the disease, and also of a woman who becomes like a mother to her and teaches her the other ways of Hawaii.  It is in this small world that she will spend her life, trying to live as others do, and also hoping for a cure.

Rachel is a fantastic character.  She is exceptionally real and you can envision her exact story happening in real life.  And chances are it did.  Brennert said he studied journals and other sources of media to develop Rachel's character, so in all likelihood her story is real.  And she experiences so much in her life, despite being confined to the island, and you can see her character grow as the years pass and she deals with her disease.  And the other people of the colony were also very real.  Her uncle Pono, her aunt, and the numerous friends she had all shared that same resilience and want to live, despite being disfigured and shunned by the rest of society.  And Sister Catherine, a nun that was Rachel was close to, was really a guiding figure for the book despite having her own problems.  I think Brennert did a good job too of showing the shame that was felt and the stigma of leprosy among the population.  It is horrific how they were treated because medical science hadn't yet developed a cure and people were afraid of the unknown.

Even though there is no great action in this book (unless you count the bombing of Pearl Harbor, which the characters observed from a distance), it was just as exciting as any book I've read.  I think it was the depth and eloquence of the writing that did it.  You felt as if you were living life on this Leper colony right along with Rachel.  You felt for her and wanted to see a good outcome and happiness.  And the people around her were all a part of the telling, right down to the accents that Brennert gave them in dialogue.   I had actually never heard of Kalaupapa or Moloka'i before this book.  And didn't know the history of the leper colony there either and found it heartbreaking.   To know that these events happened in real life even though this book is fiction just further instills those feelings. 

This book is a hard one to review for me, because it was so excellent and because I can't share my excitement of it without telling you the whole plot.  Suffice to say it is one I definitely recommend.  It is an engaging book that will draw you in and make you not want to put it down, and leave you wanting more when it is finished.

Copyright 2003
389 pages

May 13, 2013

Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare

So I devoured the first two books in this Infernal Devices trilogy. There's something so compelling about them that it's absolutely impossible for me to put them down without reading them straight through. And this last book held that same allure for me, although it had a few hiccoughs.

If you haven't read the first two books in the series this probably isn't going to be a good book (or review) for you to start. They are meant to be read in order. And a lot happens in those first two books. The establishment of Mortimer and his clockwork robots as bad guys, the love connection between Tessa, Will and Jem, and the appearance of Will's sister at the Institute where the Shadowhunters live. This book takes up after that with Jem and Tessa planning for their wedding, despite him being sick and not having much time left. When Tessa is kidnapped by Mortimer, it escalates things, particularly as the Consul is not willing to help in her rescue and it is up to the few members of the London Institute to save the world and Tessa.

Tessa is usually an endearing character. And I'm not saying she isn't in this book, but I do believe she had a couple of out of character moments that were used to drive the plot where Clare wanted it to go. Particularly, she receives some awful news and then does something that almost smacks of betrayal to someone she loves (and that is as non-specific as I can get so I don't give away spoilers). Will has emotions that are always all over the place and I've never been a big fan of his. I know broody and moody is a huge draw for some women, but having lived with that I can definitely say that I am no longer attracted to the type. I really didn't see what Tessa saw in him. Jem, in contrast, is fabulous. Probably my favorite character of the book. He is always so kind and sacrificing and would do anything for anybody. There are of course a lot of side characters and they all have their place in the story (although a couple of the romantic pairings were extraneous and detracted from the plot).

It actually took me a little bit to get hooked into this book. I think partially it was because it had been awhile since I read the first two (and didn't re-read before diving into this one). But once I was hooked there was no getting out. I had to know what happened and there was enough adventure and unanswered questions that it was exciting the whole way through. I really think that Clare does a good job on her battle scenes and while they are descriptive, they aren't overly long and that moves the plot at a good pace. A comment on the epilogue, I actually enjoyed it and thought it contained some beautiful writing. I may have even shed a tear or two. Over a young adult novel. What is the world coming to? But in all seriousness, I think it showed some real human emotion and that we don't always control our hearts or what we do with them, and that love, in real life, can be fickle. Most of the writing in the rest of the book is good too, although sometimes the way they talk can feel a bit contrived, but it is supposed to be Victorian England so that accounts for a bit of it. I do have to mention that there is a sex scene in this book. It isn't descriptive, but it basically says "hey, these characters are going to go have sex." I was considering giving the series to a pre-teen for her birthday and haven't yet decided if the scene is tame enough to continue to do so (I particularly don't think it will hurt anything, but then again, I'm not a parent). Regardless, I figured potential readers of this young adult series should be warned about it.

I was sad to see the series end but wasn't disappointed. I may have to check out her other series (the one that started it all) and see what I think of Clare's world in the modern times.

PS: This book (and all the others in this series) has beautiful cover art. Truly one of the reasons I don't want to give up physical books.

Clockwork Princess
Copyright 2013
568 pages

May 12, 2013

Standup Guys by John DeBellis

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

So most of the comics mentioned in this book performed before I was even born. So I have to admit that I just didn't get a lot of the humor or even know who the majority of them were. Or I just don't have a sense of humor (which is quite possible). Regardless, there were some stories here that were very much behind the scenes and not mainstream at all, which I appreciated.

DeBellis was a stand up comedian in the time when there weren't a whole ton of them competing at shows every night of the week just desperate to win a contest and move on up further in the scene. Yes, they were still competing, but the overall tone was very different and friendlier. He uses this book to show his progression through standup comedy and also that of the many people he associated with (Larry David, Rodney Dangerfield, etc.). There is a little about his time writing for tv shows as well.

I hesitate to call what DeBellis does in this book name dropping. Because he was right there doing the same thing as all the other people he mentions. But I did tire of all the name "listing" he did. It seemed for every event there were six or seven people that he'd says so and so one, so and so two, so and so three (do you get the picture yet?) and I all went to this party. I started thinking, "jeez, just get on to the story I don't really care who was there." And I felt that way many times. It just detracted from the book and made the reading more tedious than it had to be. While I appreciated some of the stories about the well known comics, to me, they would have been just as funny had I not known who the people he was talking about were.

I've already mentioned that I didn't know most of the people DeBellis was talking about in this book. And so I'd have to say that his target audience would probably be a little older than me; people who had heard of some of these comics or even seen them live. But the writing itself was actually pretty good. It flowed logically and followed a time line and it read easily and quickly because of this. There were even some jokes thrown in, although I expect they probably would have been funnier in non-print form. And I especially liked all the pictures he included. Seeing pictures of a very young Richard Belzer made my day (as I absolutely adore him on Law & Order SVU). In fact, Richard Belzer being mentioned was the whole reason I decided to read this book.

I can definitely see a different audience having more appreciation for this book than I did. For me the jokes fell a little flat and not knowing all the key figures (or having to endure their names being repeated an inordinate amount in the book) just made it a solid 3.5. It had some decent writing in it, but ultimately just wasn't for me.

Standup Guys
Copyright 2012
245 pages

No Time To Lose by Peter Piot

Ebola, AIDS, these are viruses that the mere mention can cause people to become worried and alarmed. While there have been many campaigns to bring awareness to the causes that seek to treat and prevent them, there is still a certain stigma that hangs on to them. Peter Piot, in his work as UNAIDS head, seeks to reducer that stigma and help prevent the spread of AIDS with his work, and wrote this book to accompany those ideas.

Piot started off in medical school with the notion that he wanted to specialize in infectious diseases. And he was told no to bother since they were disappearing from the world. Luckily, he didn't listen, and was on hand to research the first few deadly outbreaks of Ebola and then be a part of the research team for AIDS. His longest work would be with AIDS and he would be a part of several organizations, including USAIDS, throughout his career. The book showed a little of his initial time spent in Zaire working with the Ebola virus and then the larger part of it would be about AIDS and the numerous meetings and people he met to discuss the worldwide effects of the virus.

There are a lot of people in this book. So many that keeping track of them would be absolutely mind boggling and if you didn't know them in real life or hadn't followed them through research papers and other documents, you'd be completely lost. How do I know this? I was completely lost as I didn't know who any of these people were and they were briefly mentioned only to be whisked away again. Piot himself is a clear narrator but while he describes a little bit of his homelife, we only really know his work life, and even that more on the bureaucratic side of things rather than the medical work with actual patients.

This book alternated between being fascinating and boring. The first part, where Piot is working with the Ebola virus, is the interesting part. He details the symptoms, how it was spreading through the population and what they were trying to do to treat it and stop its progression. There are some parts when he is working with AIDS that shares this depth of detail and look into the virus itself. But sadly, the larger portion of this book is devoted to his meetings with people and traveling around trying to defend his organization's actions and other such administrative detail. Unless you like this sort of paperwork type of writing, it is not interesting in the least. While the work they were all doing is very important, it just didn't translate well to the page and I don't think it helped the cause any. Learning about the disease and the people effected by it (personal stories of the people) would have been much more effective.

This is a memoir though and I can't judge it too harshly on that aspect. This is Piot's life and maybe he wrote it to show everything that he did, rather than make it a tool of awareness for infectious disease. Still, when you go into it thinking it will be about something else, it does disappoint in parts.

No Time to Lose
Copyright 2012
379 pages

May 10, 2013

White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf by Aaron Bobrow-Strain

This was an informative book in many ways. For instance, I never had heard of "white trash parties" before this book. White Bread is something I used to feed to the geese when I was little, not something I ever ate myself. And in fact, it was always considered to be a "poorer" type of food; we ate wheat bread at home (and the brand was probably no nutritionally better than the white bread out there). So to have this book bring the social history of the bread into light was a different way of looking at things.

Bobrow-Strain takes the white loaf and leads you through time showing its sociological impacts in America. He also explores its use on the world market and how different innovations were used when making the bread and turning it into a machine driven process. There is some description of additives used to make the bread fluffy and light, the enrichments added to the bread, and the general feeling of its health benefits as well.

The general topic of this book was how white bread shaped the United States and also shaped the world. I have to say, I realize this was a social history, but I think the author was stretching a little bit when he tied in breads importance to some foreign policies and other matters. I don't doubt it was a contributing factor, but I don't think it held the kind of importance he claimed it to have. He also didn't really explore the people using the bread except to say that it's shifted several times from being a poor persons food to a rich persons food. I wish he had maybe included some interviews with real people and their thoughts on the food now to provide the contrast with the advertisements he quotes for the past decades.

The book has a lot of interesting facts. Like the Bimbo Bread company that is Mexican based yet owns a great deal of the large bakery factories in the United States. I hadn't heard of them either, but I also don't buy a lot of bread as I prefer to make my own. But the way the information was presented was not very cohesive. The author jumps all around in this book and doesn't ever complete a chapter with a single thought. It just sort of meanders here and there without purpose sometimes. And I actually found the book a bit boring in places. Especially the latter half of the book. The first part of the book was filled with enough interesting facts about Graham (yes the one who invented the Graham cracker) and other parts of history and of the making of brad itself that it was more of a pleasure to read. But when he started getting into wheat production after the wars and the foreign policy, it just kind of lost my interest. Don't get me wrong, talk about ingredients was there, but it was so interspersed with other things that you could almost blink and miss it while reading.

I'm not really sure how to classify this book. Maybe social history is a good name for it, but someone who enjoys more foodie types of books might get discouraged with the lack of actual talking about ingredients and strains and overwhelmed with all the political statistics. But a person who enjoys more general history might get more out of this book. Myself, well I fall into the first type of people, this is a solid three stars from me.

White Bread: A Social History
Copyright 2012
257 pages

May 08, 2013

Milk Money by Kirk Kardashian

Ok, first off I want to say that there are a lot of risque products with the same title as this book being sold out there. This is not one of those. This review is for the book about a liquid that comes from cows and its impact in the US market.

Milk Money is a brief look at dairy farming in the USA. Ranging from the death of small dairy businesses, to stress on dairy farmers, conditions of dairy workers and farmhands, and the price of milk, almost every conceivable topic about milk is covered. There are internal looks at how some of the smaller and larger farms work. Why the industry is dying and farmers are going of business and to new businesses that are focused on quality are cropping up and thriving. There's even a look at the organic milk industry and how it really runs.

I wasn't really surprised by a lot of what I read in this book. Greed is a very big factor in America's food system and a lot of quality is cut to drive prices lower and lower. The way people treat animals says a lot about them and those cows are generally not treated the way you would expect from the sunny ads advertising milk on tv. As the writer, Kardashian presents a sometimes biased account of the farms and the big milk producers. His bias isn't without merit though, he provides facts to back up how he feels about these enterprises. But some of his comparisons are a little sensational and detract from the overall theme of the book.

This book is a quick read and for the most part easy to understand. There are sections (especially when we get to anti-trust laws and business laws) that are harder to understand and the sheer volume of acronyms makes things confusing. I actually felt myself trying to skim the pages at these parts and had to actively go back and reread sections just to make sure I was understanding what was being presented. I'm not sure what could be done to make that part of the book flow better, but how it is now just wasn't working for me. In contrast, the more personal stories, like that of Sam Simon, the farmer focused on organics, was very interesting and captured your attention. Those personal stories are clearly where Kardashian's writing strength lies rather than in brute facts. Still, he did a good amount of research on the subject.

I'd probably give this book 3.5 stars. It is chock full of information but can be tedious to read at times and will cause a good portion of the general population to not delve into the book. It's rather the fanatics and people who are obsessed with knowing where there food comes from (of which I'm entirely guilty of) who will slog through this book to the very end.

Milk Money
Copyright 2012
253 pages

May 07, 2013

Second Suns by David Oliver Relin

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

So, despite it being mentioned in this book that the work of the people in it has been featured on television programs and numerous articles, I'd never heard of any of them before this book. And that's really a shame, because what they are doing is so fantastic that it should be a constant topic of conversation everywhere. Hopefully, this book being published can change that.

The author, Relin, is a journalist who has worked on other books (most notably, Three Cups of Tea). In this one, he chronicles the work of Geoffrey Tabin and Sanduk Ruit, two doctors who have teamed together over the past couple of decades to restore sight to the numerous poor blind in the Himalayas, and then on to other countries. Their organization, Himalayan Cataract Project, was founded in 1995 and since then has reached out to Africa, India, Nepal, Bhutan, China, and so many other countries where these men have performed a simple but effective surgery to replace cataracts with a cheaply made clear lens and give back sight to so many people who wouldn't have had the chance otherwise. The book also goes over their early careers and lives and what drew them to this line of work.

The sad passing of Relin in November 2012 is made even more tragic by the amount of work he has placed into this book. Relin takes the backseat but I think even he failed to realize what a difference he made just in writing this book. Sure he wasn't the one performing the surgeries, but by showing the work of these two doctors he's probably gained them tons of support they need that they wouldn't have gotten otherwise. He's brought their cause to light and to a wide audience of people. And that is something admirable and wonderful. Tabin and Ruit, the two doctors featured in this book are also pretty spectacular people as well. While I didn't enjoy reading about Tabin as much as I did Ruit (Ruit's background and personality was more engaging to me) I recognize that they are both experts in their field and obviously filled with generous hearts and ambitions. The way they are presented in this book is very real (Ruit's temper and Tabin's bouncing around) and they aren't perfect by any means. But they're such good people you can forgive them their imperfections. And the people they surround themselves with are all pretty extraordinary as well.

The book is very well done. While I thought the pace could have been better at the beginning of the book, it really engages you in the middle and end and you keep reading to see how many more lives are changed by these doctors. The beginning was mostly about Tabin and his path to becoming a doctor, and seeing as how I'm not a climber, it didn't really resonate with me and hold my interest. In contrast, Ruit's meager roots and how he achieved his success was very inspiring and held my attention. And the work they did together was also just as interesting. For some readers, the descriptions of the eye surgery and occasional mentions of blood might be off-putting, but I think they just show what kind of conditions the doctors are working with and how well they do their jobs despite adversity.

This is definitely a book to read if you enjoy inspiring stories and people who are making a difference in the world. Truly, I hope to hear more and more about the work Tabin and Ruit are doing.

Second Suns
Copyright 2013
407 pages

May 05, 2013

Rabid: A Cultural History of the World's Most Diabolical Virus by Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy

So I'm sure I'm not the only kid who squirted a ton of whipped cream in her mouth and then ran around pretending to be rabid. With a disease that the majority of the population thinks is eradicated, it's easy to make light of what was once thought of as a death sentence. This book explores Rabies and its manifestations throughout history and its current movement in the modern world.

People still die of rabies. And a lot of people don't realize that fact. They think it's gone because of all the vaccinations and other such preventative measures. Even way back in history though, rabies has been a problem. This book covers the whole timeline. It also covers treatments, the development of the vaccine and other methods used for healing. And it gets into the nitty gritty of the disease itself and its symptoms.

A bit focus of this book was on Louis Pasteur. Everybody has heard of Pasteurization but few know that Pasteur also developed the rabies vaccine. I certainly didn't know that until I read this book. While he was the primary person focused on this book, it did go into detail about a lot of beliefs from people on where rabies came from (some very racist in nature), how people chose to heal the disease before the vaccine (very strange stuff), and new advances for helping people in which the disease has already progressed.

This book was engaging and well written. It's one of those books on histories that you actually want to read and find the scientific stuff fascinating instead of tedious. Sure there were a few tedious parts, especially when we got to the werewolf/vampire connection (or maybe that was just my personal preference stepping in), but I did appreciate the light approach the authors took to such a terrible disease. It was approachable and in being approachable it will educate a larger audience. While I do wish there was a little more science involved, the way everything was explained will be largely understandable to most people as it doesn't get too technical. And that's probably why I found it easy to become immersed in the book and even learn a few things.

A very well written book on a fascinating subject. A little gross and disturbing at times, but still very informative.

Copyright 2012
236 pages

May 04, 2013

Twinkie, Deconstructed by Steve Ettlinger

I just could not get into this book.  And it's even in the genre I like, food history and information.  And the twinkie?  It's an icon!

Ettlinger is surprised when his daughter asks where an unpronounceable ingredient on a package of food comes from.  He can't answer it, and that bothers him.  So he decides to research it and other food additives.  And he settles on the twinkie because it is an icon and has so many unusual ingredients on it.  Researching these ingredients, he visits mines, plants, and many other places to find out where the twinkie had its ingredients sourced and how it was developed.

A lot of what he finds isn't actually that helpful as all too frequently it says he wasn't allowed in the plant or noone knew much about a certain ingredient or where it comes from.  It certainly presents the industry as quite secretive.  And he himself is rather waffly on the subject.  I expected this to be against all the additives in the food, but Ettlinger's tone is actually admiring at points, which I thought strange considering some of the stuff he tells us in this book.  But he was very sympathetic to the big food manufacturers and their weird food products.

I liked the premise of the book.  Who wouldn't want to learn more about twinkies?  But the carry through left a little to be desired.  There was a lot of information, and I learned quite a bit I didn't know, but it was hard to get through.  He welds his chapters together ok but the way the information was presented was so dry that I had a hard time being absorbed or focusing on the book.  And as said before, the tone was different than I expected.  You'll learn a lot about what kind of rocks go into your food (it's more than you think!) but in-depth research simply wasn't possible because of the industry secrets so there's nothing too big in it.

I like these types of books but not this one.  I think there are better written books about the food industry out there (Pandora's Lunchbox).

Twinkie, Deconstructed
Copyright 2007
282 pages

May 02, 2013

The Lilac Bus by Maeve Binchy

I think I may have missed something. I've heard a lot about Binchy and that her books are fabulous, etc. But this was my first time reading something of hers, and I have to say, I'm not really impressed.

The Lilac Bus is a series of short stories that are all somewhat related in a way, but individual stories all the same. They involve a bus load of people that are driven from Dublin to their hometown on the weekend. In the hometown they all have their little secrets and things they're trying to cope with. The latter part of the book though deals with some other people who are living in Dublin and have issues all their own. I wish I could write a better description, but really, that's what the book is about.

Since we only get to see these people for limited amounts of time (even if they do appear in each other's stories) there is no real connection here. The first story was about a miserly girl who is finally told off for being miserly. There is a woman dealing with her drunken mother, another dealing with her drunken husband. A man who doesn't connect with his parents and can't tell them about his secret. And so forth. Everyone in this book has some kind of problem.

Yet all these problems are unresolved. For the people on the Lilac bus we only hear about their lives for the space of a weekend. The latter part of the book the stories encompass more time, but still have no resolution. It's very annoying and unsatisfying and to make it even worse, it's exceptionally depressing. There are only a few stories that ended with an upbeat note, and even then it wasn't so much upbeat as it was just average living. None of the stories are ever followed up on either so we don't know what happens. If I wanted to read unfinished stories, I would have just went to the file of documents I have on my own computer. I like to have a finish to my stories. But still, I'm giving this book at least two stars because Binchy's writing style is nice and clear and had she finished her stories, I expect they would have been good. It was the only redeeming feature of this book.

Not for me, and even though I have a couple of other books by Binchy sitting on my shelf, I may hold off on reading them as a result of having read this book.

The Lilac Bus
Copyright 1982
390 pages