July 31, 2013

Ghostlight by Marion Zimmer Bradley or Rosemary Edghill

Ok, well aside from the fact that Bradley did not truly write this series (apparently an author named Rosemary Edghill did), I can find plenty of other faults with it. What should be an interesting look into magick and rituals, instead becomes a drama with weak characters. And considering this is the first book in a series of 4, there's a whole lot of mess to wade through.

Truth is a researcher. She puts everything forward in cold logic, well aside from the fact that she works with the paranormal. But she has a bit of a dark past. Her father, who disappeared when she was a toddler on the same night her mother died, was associated with the occult and had been leading a ritual that went terribly wrong. But, with certain things being brought to light, Truth decides to research and write his biography and to do so, she goes back to the house where everything went down.

Truth is a weak character. She claims to be logical and disbelieving of so many things. But then she immediately starts to "see" things and wonder what's going on. All while still claiming she doesn't believe any of it. It's quite maddening actually. And she does that same waffling on her feelings about the other characters in the book too. And Julian, how she couldn't see his true character is beyond me. It's quite obvious even without the heavy handed hints the author gives as to his background. All the other characters are filler and really aren't that interesting. Which is a shame, because I bet their stories would have been just as interesting as Truth's.

For most of the book the plot is slow-paced. But then, immediately at the end it speeds up and is way too fast. Add in the fact that the author thinks you understand what's going on without having been given any description or explanation, and it can leave you thoroughly confused. I'm still trying to figure out what's going on with the Michael character. While I thought the instances of magick were interesting, the character's conversations about it are repetitive and dull. If not for that little bit of action, the rest of the book would be Truth wandering around thinking about different things and being indecisive.

It just wasn't a well written book which is unfortunate because I have the next two books in the series waiting on my bookshelf to be read. And now I don't really want to. But alas, I intend to finish what I start. I can only hope they'll be better than this one.

Copyright 1995
304 pages

July 30, 2013

An American Bride in Kabul by Phyllis Chesler

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

Chesler had a very harrowing, unique experience. This memoir/history/social topics book really explores what she went through in Kabul and her reactions to some of the customs practiced in the Eastern world.

In the sixties, Chesler was young, in college, and in love with a man from Afghanistan. After marrying, he decides they will go back to Kabul, where his family is. She of course thinks this is an adventure and dreams about all the exploring and traveling they will do. She is quite surprised then when she is placed under "house arrest" and expected to follow the customs of the Afghani women. With her health failing and freedom taken, her only hope is to get home, but it is exceptionally difficult in a culture where only men can give permission. That was the first half of the book anyway. The second half described what she did when she was back in America and her thoughts on feminism and women in the Eastern world.

I don't understand a lot of Chesler's motives. Not with herself, she is completely frank about why she thinks she did things and why she does certain actions. But I don't understand her connection to her ex-husband. The way he treated her (regardless of it being a cultural thing) makes me wonder why she continued to have contact with him. Perhaps a form of Stockholm syndrome? I just can't imagine tying yourself to those memories. But I guess everyone is different. She tries to show him as a courageous person. But her words in this book make him out to be quite small minded and incapable of empathy. Almost a socio-path of sorts, or at the very least someone with narcissistic tendencies.

She says that she almost died in the two months that she was in Afghanistan and I can believe it. Illness can take a person quickly and it was horrifying to know that her husband's family appeared to be so callous and unconcerned as to her condition. I would have liked more description of Afghanistan itself though. While she does have some memoirs in this book, her descriptions of her actual experiences take up less room of the book than her musings on feminism, politics, women's subjects, and other topics do. It almost felt like I was more reading a history/women's studies book rather than a memoir. I wanted more of her personal experiences. It was informative, just not what I expected.

I'd probably give this book three and a half stars. I appreciated the inside look at life for a woman in Afghanistan during the 60's, but would have liked for that inside look to be a little more in depth and not so hurried. Chesler has led an interesting life, and you can definitely tell where her work in feminism was inspired from.

An American Bride in Kabul
Copyright 2013
219 pages

July 29, 2013

Untimed by Andy Gavin

Untimed was an interesting book.  It had a lot of unique elements to its concept of time travel.  But unfortunately it also had a couple flaws I couldn't get past.

Charlie has gone about life quite unnoticed.  Even his mother can't remember his name, although she still loves him.  His dad is gone on business quite often, so he spends most of his days in solitude.  So when a strange man opens some weird kind of portal, he can't help but let curiosity overcome him and jump through as well.  Which takes him back in time where he discovers he is a time traveler.  But Charlie isn't prepared for the responsibility and accidentally alters time, which has drastic consequences for the world.

Charlie is your average kid personality wise.  He doesn't think with his brain too often and lets his hormones guide him.  So he's pretty realistic in that sense.  Although I do think he's a little too accepting of the situation he's thrust into.  Yvaine is another weird one.  She grew up in a different time but isn't quite as proper as you'd imagine her to be.  She's definitely more of a gutter rat.  And Charlie's dad; well let's just say I don't care for him at all.  He has little redeeming qualities.  The bad guys were clockwork men and so they didn't have any personality at all.  Nor were they really that menacing in my opinion.

I like Gavin's concept of time and travelers through time.  He gives a unique spin on it with the difference between the sexes.  He also writes a good pace through the book and you're never bored with it.  That being said, this book isn't sure what age group it wants to cater to.  The chapter size, text size and pictures all point to this being a young adult to middle school chapter book.  But the content is actually much more mature with sexual themes, cussing, and other heavy topics.  I'd worry that someone would flip through the book, look at the pictures, and give it to their sixth grader without really knowing the content of the book.  Some kind of hint in the description wouldn't go amiss.  I also found it hard to figure out how the logic of one of the time changes worked.  This may be a spoiler but Charlie visits a future in which his mother is barren and has no children.  Shouldn't the immediate consequence of this be that he doesn't exist?  At the very least time could have altered it so that she had a one night stand and gave a baby up for adoption just to give plausibility to Charlie existing in that time loop.  Maybe I'm just not understanding it right, but it bothered me.

An interesting book and beginning to a series.  I can't say I'd seek the next books out with voracious appetite, but I'd read them if I stumbled upon them.

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

Copyright 2012
326 pages

July 28, 2013

The Mushroom Hunters by Langdon Cook

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

In the spring, I take to the woods, in search of that elusive morel. I dream about it all year; rolled in flour and then pan fried in butter, it has got to be one of the best foods out there. And then I read this book, got insanely jealous of how easy it appears to be to find mushrooms out in the Northwest and lamented over the fact that several days of searching only yields a handful of mushrooms for me usually. Gee thanks Mr. Cook.

In actuality though, this book is not about the mushrooms themselves so much as it is about the pickers of mushrooms. And even then it isn't so much about the recreational pickers like myself (if I can even claim to be that) but more the commercial pickers, and the buyers that make up the business. Going undercover of sorts, Cook interacts with all types of pickers and a buyer who runs a business around foraged food, supplying several high end restaurants with the ingredients. He joins them on picks and travels through the different seasons looking for different types. He also learns a bit about the business and the commercial prices for mushrooms.

Since this book is mostly about the pickers and the one buyer he hangs out with, they are the main focus and the human interaction that he has. While they were all interesting I'm still not sure how I feel about the illegal picking they sometimes do and the areas of law that they make grey in regards to picking. While none of them seem particularly dangerous (although a few walk the line) it seems a much rougher endeavor than I would have thought. In describing himself Cook shows his love of food and that he isn't afraid of hard work. But he doesn't really focus on himself as much as the other people in the book.

What I really had trouble with was the pace. I could easily set this book down and leave it for awhile as nothing really grabbed my attention. There were interesting facts scattered here and there but it wasn't continual. And some of the descriptions were hard to understand. I'm still not sure I understand the grading system of the mushrooms or why they are called buttons. A little more description in that regard would have been welcome. I also thought the book jumped around a lot and I'd just be getting into a story when he would be off doing something else with someone else. The best part of the book was the descriptions of the mushrooms, what they looked like, and what dishes they were good in. I really wish he had included some recipes!

I can't say this would be a book I'd go back to time and time again. It was worth it for one read if you're interested in the type of people who hunt mushrooms and the commercial business of selling the fungi.

The Mushroom Hunters
Copyright 2013
290 pages

July 25, 2013

A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson

I feel like I've been punched in the stomach. The wind is completely out of me, I'm gasping for breath, and I feel surprised and hurt. Part of this is due to the fact that a series I've been following since I was in middle school is now over, part of it is because it didn't resolve anything for me. But anyways, I need to through my usual spiel of this being part of a series. This is the fourteenth and final book in the Wheel of Time series. Start at the beginning if you wish to tackle this mammoth collection of words, do not start at this book.

The Last Battle is here. Everyone who can fight is and they are holding back the forces of the Dark Lord. Rand, meanwhile, has gone to face the Dark One, confident in his ability to destroy him forever. Elayne, Egwene, Mat, Perrin and others all have their own duties and battles to fight. Something must remain if Rand wins his battle, and they have to keep people alive.

I don't know what happened to my beloved characters in this book. Sanderson was doing so well with them (excepting Mat) that it seemed odd he would switch them up at a time like this. They were all shells of their former selves. Perrin was probably the best overall. He at least had interesting things to do and they were believable based on the previous actions of his in the series. Mat, well he's still a gambler, still the comedian, but it's forced and like the previous two books, just not in line with his character as Jordan created him. Egwene was ok, I was disappointed with where the book took her plot-line but at least she's as strong as she's ever been. Aviendha and Min had minimal roles, so I'm still not sure if I'm pleased with their performance or not.

This book was mostly battles. Sure, they were well done descriptions of battles, but it wasn't what I expected a nine-hundred page book to be dominated by. Some unfinished business was resolved, but a lot of it was still open. And the ending? Well, let's just say that it felt incomplete and wrong to me. But I won't give away any more than that. Compared to the other two books that Sanderson co-authored this one lagged a bit in pace because of all those battles. I think a lot of it was extraneous and could have been cut out to provide more time for the important resolution of the series type of writing. We were so eagerly waiting for the end of this series, that it is easy to see why a lot of people would be disappointed by a lot of things. But I do think that a lot of that disappointment could have been avoided by better paying attention to Jordan's tone of the original books. That was something that just wasn't in this one.

I'm probably going to go bury myself in another book just to escape the release of emotions this one gave me. I'm sorry it's over and I almost wish I wouldn't have read the last book so I could still have my own ending in my head. But at least I have some sort of ending.

A Memory of Light
Copyright 2012
909 pages

July 24, 2013

Towers of Midnight by Brandon Sanderson & Robert Jordan

Towers of Midnight is the thirteenth book in the Wheel of Time series, and the 2nd written by Brandon Sanderson after Robert Jordan's death. If you haven't read the series up until this point, I highly suggest you start at the beginning as you will be hopelessly lost otherwise. For those who have stuck with the series, you've already noticed with the last book, that Sanderson has taken over the Wheel of Time, but he hasn't changed the core of it.

Rand has learned a valuable lesson, and one that will serve him well as he attempts to bring armies together to defeat the evil that is rising in the North. He has a good backing; Perrin, having resolved some of his past issues is starting to learn more about the wolf that is a part of him and Mat, who is a joker by nature but very serious when it comes to the people he cares about, and Elayne, who is ruling from the throne of Andor. Egwene, the new Amrilyn of the Aes Sedai is not necessarily an ally, but someone who understands Rand and the importance of the tasks he will have to face.

I think that Sanderson has done a great job of taking over the characters. Except for one. I'm not sure I like the way he writes Mat. While he's still funny as ever, he seems more of a caricature of himself. A little more light-hearted than the character Jordan made him out to be. I just haven't really resigned myself to this new, not as dark, Mat. Rand and Perrin though, they are much improved and even though I know it was part of the storyline for Rand to be better, I just thought the way Sanderson handled it was well done. The same with the women in the book too. They are more believable and not as prone to fits of temper that seem out of character.

I don't think that this book was quite as good as the twelfth. It still moves the story along quite nicely and has plenty of action, but the characters were maybe a little less of themselves. I also wasn't that fond of the storyline for the Arad Doman General fighting in the Borderlands. I understand all that was going on, and as a background it is important to the story, but I don't think the amount of time that was spent describing it was needed. That time could have been put to better use describing the main characters and their actions. But luckily that seemed to be the only unneeded detail. The rest of it was tying up previous plotlines or setting up for the final book.

I'm eager to see what happens but a little apprehensive on the last book. There are still so many questions to be answered. And it's still a little sad that Jordan is gone and wasn't here to witness the end of his series.

Towers of Midnight
Copyright 2010
861 pages

July 22, 2013

The Gathering Storm by Robert Jordan

I almost feel like it's blasphemy saying this, but I would probably rate this the best book out of the Wheel of Time series so far.  And Jordan didn't write it.  Well, not entirely anyway.  This being the twelfth book in the Wheel of Time series, a lot has happened, and if this is your first visit, you need to go to the beginning.  But anyways, back to my horrible words of this being the best book.  Jordan was a master at creating worlds, but Sanderson appears to be the master at breathing life into them.

Faile is saved but Perrin now has to determine what his next course of action will be.  The end battle is coming near and he is growing into someone he doesn't want to be.  Meanwhile, Mat has many obligations but first he has to get his army to Andor, which is proving difficult with so many Seanchan around.  Rand is harder than ever and securing kingdoms is becoming easier for him, but at a great price.  And he is still troubled by every turn by the Forsaken.  Egwene is still a captive of the White Tower, but she is using it to her advantage, desperate to bring all the Aes Sedai together before it is too late.

Egwene is turning out to be a fantastic character.  She does a lot of things they you just think in your head "you go girl" and she has a resolve that won't be broken.  Nynaeve was quite a bit better in this book too.  Actually, all of the characters were.  You could tell they weren't written by the same author, but it was like Sanderson took the essence of what Jordan was going for and really developed the characters to their full potential.  Yes, they still have flaws, but they grow within the book and they are like real people, instead of cardboard cutouts with repetitive mannerisms. 

The same goes with the storyline.  It is developed.  There is still a lot of detail, but Sanderson handles all the multiple plots and characters with ease but still gets a lot accomplished.  And the pacing is much better as a result.  I think that there still are a lot of mysteries there that could be resolved and haven't been yet, but that's very small compared to what Sanderson was able to accomplish in this one.  He, like Jordan, brings in a lot of characters that we don't necessarily care about, but he also doesn't give enormous lengths of pages to them either.  This story is really focused on the main characters for once, and that helps.  The tone is much closer to what it was in the first book, rather than what the series had turned into.  And while you can tell it is a different voice, it is not disturbing or unwelcome.

I'm very excited to read the next two books in the series (haven't up to this point and decided to reread everything before tackling them).  I know the adventure is almost at a close, but I have to know what happens!

The Gathering Storm
Copyright 2009
783 pages

July 21, 2013

Knife of Dreams by Robert Jordan

This is the last book to be written completely by Jordan in this series.  As you well know by now (at least you should if you've kept up with the series, and if you haven't, go start at book one) Jordan passed away before he complete his series.  Luckily, he left notes and another author took up the reins to continue where he left off, but that is next book.  This one, it is still all Jordan.

Faile is still a prisoner of the Shaido Aiel and Perrin will stop at nothing to save her.  This means he has aligned himself with the Seanchan in order to rescue her, which is much like dealing with the Dark Lord himself in many people's eyes.  Rand is taking care of things in Tear and Cairhien and is still troubled by sickness.  But he too has to deal with the Seanchan as he seeks out an uneasy truce until the last battle.  Egwene is coming into her own as Amrilyn, but something unexpected happens that will force her to reevaluate her battle plans.  And Elayne, well she is still trying to gain the throne of Andor.

I really am not that fond of Elayne.  I can't quite pinpoint why, but I just find her uninteresting.  And all this talk about her pregnancy in the book doesn't help matters.  Sure it's an important thing, but not one that needs such devoted detail.  Nynaeve isn't much a part of this book or Aviendha, and I missed both characters quite a bit.  At least Egwene is always an interesting and redeeming character.  She's strong, stubborn, and quite wonderful at times.  Rand is as weird as ever.  I know he's supposed to be and I know I say this in nearly every review of the book, but I miss the Rand from the first book.  Perrin is also nothing like himself and while I used to like him, I don't in this book.  Luckily for the boys, Mat is as charming as ever and really comes into his own in this book.

The prologue of this book is a hundred pages long.  Just the prologue.  So that should tell you something.  There is a lot of detail here as in all of Jordan's books.  But thankfully, he actually had a little bit of action in this one as well.  Not as much as there used to be in the book, but enough to finally start moving the plot along.  And he even resolved some of the stories that he already had going, which is very rare for him.  That's not to say there aren't still plenty of mysteries though, because there are.  This is one complicated mess of characters and intrigues and it takes some sorting out to keep up. 

It will be interesting to see what the next books hold.  Jordan was a great writer and it's my hope that Sanderson, his replacement, can keep true to his story and world.

Knife of Dreams
Copyright 2005
783 pages

July 20, 2013

Crossroads of Twilight by Robert Jordan

Again, a book that does nothing and goes nowhere.  Good thing Jordan makes interesting characters or even the faithful fans would duck out of the series after this book.  This is the 10th book in The Wheel of Time series and they should be read in order.  If you haven't read the previous nine in the series you need to turn around and start from the beginning. 

This book actually starts before the events at the end of the last book took place.  So it's going back in time a little bit.  It mainly deals with what everyone else was doing while Rand and Nynaeve were cleansing Saidin.  Mat is struggling to get out of Ebou Dar.  A task made more complicated by his kidnapping of the Seanchan heir to the throne.  Egwene is still leading her army to the White Tower to take back the Aes Sedai seat of power.  And Elayne is still trying to gain her own seat of power on the throne of Andor.

Nynaeve isn't really in this book, which was disappointing to me.  And Rand really wasn't in it that much either.  Perrin was, but he was deadset on one task and didn't have a lot of growth or development to his character.  Mat was really the one redeeming character of the book.  He's always interesting and has a lot of adventure even when he isn't doing something.  He's also probably the most relatable character, at least to me.  And he travels with interesting companions.

For being one of the shortest books in the series (but still well over six hundred pages) you would think maybe the pace would be faster in this book.  But it's not.  There's still a lot of detail, and the characters don't do anything of any importance in this book.  But there's a lot of backstory and world building done and that counts for something.  Even Jordan's bad writing is still better compared to some fantasy authors out there.  So while I'm whining now I still ultimately enjoy the series.  I just wish his editor had held the reins a bit better on him.  And the time line, because it did go back in time a bit was confusing.  It's the only book at this point to really do that.

Well, we're moving into the end of the series, or at least the home stretch.  It should be interesting (hopefully) from here on out.

Crossroads of Twilight
Copyright 2003
700 pages

July 17, 2013

Winter's Heart by Robert Jordan

Winter's Heart is one of the odder books in the Wheel of Time series.  The 9th book, it is definitely not a beginning point, in fact, this is a series that HAS to be read in order.  Otherwise you will have no clue what's going on (and even those who have read it in order are confused sometimes). 

Rand is in hiding.  Well not hiding exactly, he is more hunting obtrusively and has a secret that he's not willing to share with anyone but Nynaeve if he can help it.  She meanwhile is at the palace with Elayne as Elayne tries to win support from the rest of her country so she can take the throne.  Perrin is dealing with the Prophet of the Dragon and having numerous troubles besides, and Mat is stuck in Ebou Dar, where the Seanchan has just taken over and he is a lapdog for the Queen there.  So all in all, everybody is in a heap of trouble and over their heads.

Nynaeve improved a little bit with this book.  If you haven't read my reviews on the series before, she is my favorite and for awhile Jordan absolutely butchered her character.  But she's starting to improve and it hasn't lessened my liking of her any.  Elayne on the other hand I still don't care for.  Yeah she's the daughter-heir to the throne and she acts like, and I really just can't handle her ego at times.  Egwene is still strong and determined.  Rand is a little lighter this time around.  Not the Rand from the first book by any means, but not quite as distant as he was in the last few books.  Mat is still as charming and funny as ever and I enjoy his side story quite a bit.

That being said, I still like Perrin's character but not his story in this book.  I thought it was unnecessary and frustrating as it didn't really add anything to the book.  Mat at least is entertaining and he has a good backstory, but Perrin didn't have much of anything in this book.  The pacing is also a bit slower in this one as well.  Jordan is known for his detail, but there's too much of it here and while there's action, there is not enough action.  It just doesn't move along like the first half of the series did and keep you interested.  In this book, I could set it down and come back to it instead of reading it in one sitting (which is still a long time due to the length of these books).  There's too much focus on side characters and not enough on the ones that were with us from the beginning.

If you're this far in the series, this book will not make you give up by any means, but it will slow down your fervor for reading the next one.  Even so, Jordan's bad writing is still entertaining than a lot of other fantasy authors out there, so it's still worth reading.

Winter's Heart
Copyright 2000
668 pages

July 16, 2013

Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve

Ok, so there's a lot of Young Adult Dystopian themed books out there.  But I heard this one was pretty good, so I decided to give it a try.  I was not so impressed and there's a few things I wish I would have known before reading the book that I know now.

Fever Crumb is the first book in a trilogy.  But it's not actually the first book set in this future world.  Apparently, there's a whole other series that people recommend you read first in order to understand Fever Crumb's world.  But nowhere on the cover or description does it say that, so if you're like me, and start here, you probably won't care much for the series either. 

Fever Crumb is a young girl who's been raised by Engineers.  This means that she was taught absolute logic and no emotions and to help them with their scientific endeavors.  So when she is chosen to go outside their house to help another Engineer do archaeological studies, she is apprehensive, even though that isn't logical.  But everything outside is irrational, and because of her unique looks, the local population believes she is a dreaded Scriven (evolved human that was decimated by regular humans), and they would like nothing better than to eliminate her.  Add to that memories surfacing that make no sense, Fever is not sure how to adjust in her new world.

Fever is hard to like.  Because of all the cold logic she applies she doesn't exactly give you the warm fuzzies or even make you want to care about her.  That's ok, she's supposed to be that way, but it makes for an odd protagonist.  The man who raised her is also quite cold but I did like the Engineer that took her in to help with research.  He may have had selfish motives but he was kind to her.  And the Scriven, well we never really know their motives so I don't think they were developed all that well.  Sure we understand what they did, just not the why of it.

This book is hurried, with random description and facts thrown in.  It was hard to keep track of things.  Different technology was thrown in and the author acted like you already understood it and proceed to plow ahead with his story.  This might be ok if you had read his other series (and why at the beginning of this review I mentioned that little tidbit) but for anyone just entering in, it does not endear us to Fever's world.  Additionally, things happen to fast to be believable and I think the entire book happens over the course of only a few days.  As Fever would put it, it just isn't logical.  And the whole history of Fever's parents, well that was kind of unbelievable too.  The only thing I did like about the writing was the references to popular culture now.  Sure it was a little cutsie, but it was amusing.

I can't say I have any desire to continue reading this series or the original one that inspired it.  Which is unusual for me, usually I like to finish what I start.  But I just couldn't get into this book at all and was relieved when it was over.

Fever Crumb
Copyright 2009
325 pages

July 15, 2013

The Path of Daggers by Robert Jordan

And so we begin the descent into the books that don't do much or go anywhere.  For those of you who have read some of the Wheel of Time series before, you know what I'm talking about.  For those of you who haven't, what are you looking at this review for?  This is the eighth book in the series and they are definitely meant to be read in order.  You're doing yourself a huge disservice if you try to start here.

Having found the powerful artifact that will change the weather, Nynaeve and Elayne have gathered a large amount of women who can channel the one power and plan to use it.  But with the notorious Seanchan close on their tails, using that much power will be a beacon for where they are.  But the world can't survive the drought much longer.  Meanwhile, Rand is settling into his role as King of Illian and also has to take care of the Seanchan invaders.  Having fought them before, he knows what lies ahead, but he's not sure he really trusts anyone on his side to not betray him.  And Egwene too prepares for her own battle.  Having played the puppet on the Amrilyn Seat (Aes Sedai leader position) long enough, she means to show her group that she is a leader, regardless if they like it or not.

Nynaeve's character pleased me in this book.  She's always been my favorite and she seems to be coming into her own again.  That's not to say she doesn't do silly things still; all of Jordan's characters seem to.  Actually all of Jordan's female characters seem to want power or control in some way, it would be refreshing to see one who's just content with her place in life.  Mat didn't appear in this book at all and that upset me a bit, he's also one of my favorites and adds a bit of levity to the series.  Rand is stranger than ever and it appears that Jordan is trying to distance him from anything remotely normal anymore.  Perrin barely appeared but he's so overrun by the women that accompany him that its hard to read about him sometimes.

Not a lot happens in this book.  Sure there are battles and the attempt at the weather change, but compared to the action the books normally have, it just kind of falls flat.  If it were a heart rate monitor it would be rather steady without any dips or lulls or anything exciting.  It's still written well, with plenty of detail, almost too much for some people I would hazard a guess, but it just isn't a book that draws you in like a lot of the other books do.  The detail ranges from battles to dresses (oh a lot of dresses) and I'm still trying to figure out what a slash of color in the dress means.  I can't picture it in my head.  Not that it's a real problem, but every time I hear it, it drives me nuts.

I won't stop reading the books, even though I know the next few are going to be excruciating.  There's still a lot of plot and detail to wade through, but I've got to know how the series ends.

The Path of Daggers
Copyright 1998
604 pages

July 14, 2013

A Crown of Swords by Robert Jordan

Ah Jordan, your wordiness,  your massive detail, your thick books that could easily injure someone if thrown at them.  If you've come this far you realize that Crown of Swords is the seventh book in the Wheel of Time series.  Or at least I hope you realize that.  If you've somehow stumbled along this far without starting at the first book you need to turn around or become hopelessly lost.

Bad things happened to Rand in the sixth book, and he's trying to recover from them and sort out some new world order in this book.  Which means the Aes Sedai have no idea what is in store for them.  Nynaeve and Elayne are still in Ebou Dar, hoping to find an artifact that will restore the weather.  But they've been running into dead ends all over the place, and having power struggles with the other Aes Sedai in residence.  And Egwene, she's just trying to get herself out of the mire that she's been placed into as head of the Aes Sedai.

All of the characters are a little better this time around, at least compared to how they were in the first book.  I don't think we'll ever get our sweet innocent Emond's Fielder's from the first book back, but at least we have glimmers of them every once in awhile.  Rand is still distant, and I actually found his story in this one not as compelling as the others, but luckily he's surrounded by good characters.  Like Min, who is spunky and assured of herself.  Nynaeve is still my favorite, if only because I remember how she originally was.  I think she'll get better as the series go on, at least she seems to be improving.  But it does anger me that Jordan sunk her character a little too low.  Elayne I've never been overly fond of.  I recognize she's important, but she's not relatable at all.  Egwene is a good character though, and holds up well under pressure.

Jordan's book seem to be a lot of detail at the beginning, and then a climactic scene at the end whether it be a battle, or mystery, or cliffhanger.  There's always enough to keep you going to the next book though.  This book is no different, you had to wade through a massive amount of detail about dresses, culture, war, etc. with the plot line woven in with it.  Some might not care for that amount of detail, but I like the way Jordan does it so it hasn't been a problem for me.  It's also notable that there are so many things going on it's easy to miss something.  Every time I reread this series I find a new clue I hadn't noticed the previous time, and it makes the series really come together.

The series is still running pretty smoothly.  I know it starts to lag coming up, but I can't help but still like it quite a bit at this point.

A Crown of Swords
Copyright 1996
684 pages

July 13, 2013

Blue Plate Special by Kate Christensen

**This book was received as a GoodReads Giveaway**

I went from really loving this book, to barely liking it, back to loving it again, with no particular order to my moods or thoughts on it. And I think it kind of reflected the writing within. A lot of emotions all swirled together and laced with a bit of melancholy. But then, memoirs are rarely beacons of happiness so I shouldn't be surprised.

Kate Christensen group up in a family full of hippies. Pot smoking, naked parties, granola, you name it, it was there. But she remembers most of it with happiness, not counting her volatile abusive father. Her true happy memories are those of her mother, who did her best to be kind to her children. Because of the unconventional lifestyle though, her adulthood is rife with difficulties and a sense of wandering. Absorbed in food, alcohol, sex and other fleeting pleasures, she can't seem to grasp what she wants, but has a moderately good time figuring it out.

I like Kate, she's not shy about listing out her faults and her good points and readily admits her mistakes. She's brash and loud and unapologetic about it. And she admits that she wished for a lot of things to be different, which I think we all do. For the beginning of the book she makes her mother seem perfect and while I'm sure she's a good lady, I somehow doubt she was as perfect as Kate made her out to be. But towards the end of the book she finds more fault with her mom and it seems more realistic. Nobody is perfect. And her dad, well, it sounds as it if it was a good thing he wasn't around very much. Her sisters we hear more about in the beginning than throughout the rest of the book and it sounds as if they had pretty interesting lives as well. It would have been nice to hear more about them.

Kate led an interesting life, that's for sure. She did more in her first twenty-seven years of life than I did and I have to admit I'm a bit jealous. Sure, she had a lot of bad thrown in there too, but she lived. But it took her awhile to settle down too and I'm not so sure that's a good thing. Her writing has a nice flowery, but not too detailed feel to it. And her descriptions of food were absolutely wonderful. They were my favorite part of the book. Every time I felt myself feeling a little fed up at her alcohol binges, her descriptions of meals always drew me right back in again.

An interesting memoir, and not as food centered as I thought it would be, but still an engrossing read. If you're a memoir reader, this is a good one to pick up.

Blue Plate Special
Copyright 2013
353 pages

July 12, 2013

New Spring by Robert Jordan

New Spring is a prequel to the Wheel of Time series.  Surprisingly, it is not near as massive as most of the books are.  However, you do want to read at least three of the regular books in the series first.  That should be sufficient enough to give you background on this one and the characters within it.

It is nearly twenty years before Rand Al'Thor leaves Emond's Field, and Siuan and Moiraine are just Accepted, doing their best to complete their studies and become Aes Sedai.  However, they are in attendance when another Aes Sedai has a foretelling in which the Dragon Reborn has been born.  This unleashes a series of events that will have the White Tower, home of the Aes Sedai, frantic in its attempt to control events before they go too far.

I liked that we got to see Siuan and Moiraine before they became Aes Sedai.  It really opened up their characters and made the reader understand why they did what they did.  And you were also introduced to a lot of other Aes Sedai that you only saw briefly mentioned in some of the books.  Lan I wasn't as thrilled with.  His personality seemed too different than what it was in the main series.  I just didn't see it matching up with what we already knew about him.

I enjoyed that we got to learn more about the Tower and training that is done for Aes Sedai.  We also learn a lot more about the Ajas, which was interesting.  But I wish he hadn't of put as much as he did in because again, it doesn't line up with the series.  Especially the testing of Aes Sedai to obtain the shawl.  I know that the main series doesn't allow for certain things to happen, but we don't even get a whiff of Egwene, Elayne or Nynaeve training for it and in this book, Siuan and Moiraine are obsessed with it.  It just seemed odd.  I also thought that after the Tower, the book went a little too swiftly.  None of the regular detail was there and it made things a bit haphazard.

Interesting for the background but not among the best of Jordan's work.  Especially when it comes to the Wheel of Time series.  I think he just wanted to get background out there but didn't concentrate on the story so much.

New Spring
Copyright 2004
334 pages

July 11, 2013

Lord of Chaos by Robert Jordan

Being the sixth book in a massive series, it actually comes as a surprise that so much happens.  But, as with all the other books in this series, you need to read them in order.  There's just too much you'd miss if you tried to read them out of order.  And I should warn you, reading this review, that there could be some spoilers, it's impossible to write about it without giving a few, although I try to keep it to things that happen in the beginning of the book.

Rand is in Andor, the White Tower is split, and Met is leading an army.  Things couldn't be any more different than when the adventure first started for the young people from Emond's Field.  But a couple more new twists have been added in.  The Aes Sedai are determined to bring Rand over to their ways and gain control of them, and that is the last thing that he intends to happen.  So he's formed his own school for teaching the power, but he's opened it to all men who can channel, and that raises possibilities and fears for everyone.

Rand is further and further away from what he used to be.  And his sanity, well it's definitely starting to become debatable.  He's an interesting character, but at times I think Jordan is a little heavy handed with him.  Surely not every speck of his original personality is gone.  But it seems that way sometimes.  Mat is still very likable.  He gets himself in a lot of trouble but you can't help but cheer for him and like his gambles.  And Perrin was actually in this book, but not very much, and he's henpecked most of the time that he is.  I admire his calm demeanor but was a little frustrated with him in this book.  At least all the girls were better.  While they still act a little petty they seem to be coming to their senses.  And Jordan didn't write Nynaeve (my favorite character) as badly as he did in the previous couple of books.

With the addition of the men who can channel Jordan opened up a whole new can of worms.  I can't say I like the addition, but it was a logical step to go and his use of them is interesting.  Aside from that though this book contains a massive amount of detail.  It's one of the bigger ones in the series again and a bit too wordy I think.  Some details are important, but there are a lot contained that are just unneeded.  But, as always, there was still enough good story here to captivate me for the most part, even if I did have to shake my head at some of it.

I'm still eager to read the next in the series again (and maybe make it to the end of the series this go around since all the books are out now).  It's one of my favorites and it definitely is a good way to kill a lot of time.

Lord of Chaos
Copyright 1994
1011 pages

July 09, 2013

The Fires of Heaven by Robert Jordan

It's hard to believe that even with the fifth book, you're still not even half-ways through the massive telling that is The Wheel of Time series. And it's important that they all be read in order, you'd be hopelessly lost otherwise. So if you haven't started at the beginning, you need to go back.

Rand has been declared He Who Comes With The Dawn, The Dragon Reborn and several other titles after he fulfills some prophecies. He's expected to fight the last battle against the Dark Lord, and while he's reluctant, he knows it is destiny. Unfortunately, not all of the Aiel believe in him and they have flooded over the mountains to invade the "wetlanders" as they call them, and he must do something to stop them. But powerful minions of the Dark Lord are about as well, and he must constantly watch his back lest he be destroyed.

Rand is probably the primary character in this book, as he is in most of the books. He definitely is losing more and more of himself though. And he's barely anything like he was in the first book. A lot of that was done intentionally I know, but it would still be nice if he held onto a few glimmers of his original personality. Mat had a smaller role in this book, and while it was nice to see him, I wish it had been more than in just battles. I don't have the attention span for battle scenes and so didn't enjoy his role as much. And Perrin, well he wasn't in this book at all, which was disappointing. All the girls were as annoying as ever. They started out such good characters but Jordan has them squabbling all the time and it's distracting and somewhat insulting. Nynaeve is my favorite character, but what Jordan has done to her makes me seethe at times.

There are so many stories in this book that are weaved together that it can be hard to keep track of them sometimes. And a few are some that I didn't particularly care about. The side story for Min, while probably somewhat important, just wasn't that interesting and I would have rather it be recounted in a few paragraphs than as a primary story. Nynaeve and Elayne were a little more interesting, but as said before, their character traits made it less enjoyable than it could have been. Anything with Rand in it was strong though, and kept the story moving. Jordan has a penchant for detail and he uses it a lot in his books. So much so that this is one of the larger books in the series, and that's saying something. It isn't as much filler as you would expect for it being a middle book of the series though, a lot happens and I appreciated that. Jordan can get bogged down at times but it didn't seem to happen here.

A lot of flaws but still a very enjoyable read. If it wasn't so late I'd be diving into the next book already because I want to continue on with the story. Definitely a series for those who like detail and adventure.

The Fires of Heaven
Copyright 1993
964 pages

July 07, 2013

Wild Swans by Jung Chang

China is a fascinating country.  It is known for many things; fireworks, a rich history, exotic food, and communism.  Because of this it holds a certain, yet dangerous allure for a lot of people.  Wild Swans is an inside look at the culture and practices of China and life for its people.  The people that tourists don't often see or hear from.  And it exposes a lot of truths you couldn't even imagine.

Jung Chang's parents were officials for the Communist Party and Mao but their history started much before then.  Her grandmother, when young, was given as a concubine to a warlord and her mother was born as a result of that union.  Because the "marriage' was tumultuous and jealousy ran amok with the wife and other concubines, it was a difficult time for her grandmother and when he died, she sought a peaceful life with an elderly doctor as her next husband.  He raised Chang's mother as his own practically and while young she became a part of the underground communist movement in the area, eventually becoming a member of the party.  Here she met Chang's father, another party official and married him, eventually having Chang and her siblings.  Deeply immersed in the Party, they were on constant alert for themselves and the people out to bring them down as a result of rivalries.  And with Mao's bizarre politics and the Culture Revolution, instability reigned in China during Chang's childhood.

Chang and her family suffered a lot of hardships and were targeted by many even within their own Party.  Her parents were beaten, denounced, detained and the atmosphere was almost always hostile.  Chang herself admits to being a devout follower of Mao in her youth, because they were raised to think he was supreme and there was a lot of indoctrination.  It was only later, after a lot of atrocities had been committed by him, that she changed her view.  I couldn't believe a lot of the people and their actions in this book though.  It was simply astounding that someone could be so horrible to another human being.  But there was at least a little good, but not as much as you'd like to hope. 

It was an interesting memoir.  I couldn't imagine Chang's experiences and what her family suffered.  It even somewhat read as fiction because things were so horrific.  But it's not, this is a true story, and that makes it that much worse.  Chang tells it well though.  She has a clear cut way with words and descriptions.  It may have been a tad tedious and long in parts, especially with all the names and places to keep track of, but at the same time it was also informative.  I appreciated the history and facts that she put in with the memoir and she must have researched quite a bit.  I would have liked to hear more about her grandmother, this book mainly focused on Chang and her mother's experiences, but the grandmother only got a small section. 

Chang's book is one of three incredible women and I"m glad she wrote down her experiences.  It really makes you realize just how different things can be in other parts of the world and really just how human nature can differ greatly.

Wild Swans
Copyright 1991
517 pages

July 06, 2013

Energy Food by Beverly Le Blanc

**I have made 9 of 38 recipes in this book.**

We all need a little more energy right?  Or at least I do.  So I saw the cover of this book, the picture looked decent, and thought, "why not give it a try."  And it wasn't a bad book, although I can't say it gave me any more energy.

Energy Food contains recipes specifically designed to give you an added boost throughout your day by way of nutrition. It is separated into four parts, with an introduction at the beginning and an index at the end.

The introduction is pretty standard, it introduces the goal of the book, says a little about looking at carbs a different way, has simple but satisfying tips for improving your diet (i.e. brown rice instead of white) and also talks about breakfast since it is supposed to be the most important meal of the day.

The first chapter is Breakfast Boosters, and it is about breakfast.  Sure, there is the standard granola and such, but this chapter had a lot of different breakfast ideas in it that weren't your usual healthfood recipes.  The Apple & Spice Oatmeal had few ingredients and cooked quickly, but it definitely needed the optional honey to be palatable.  Even with the apples the oats overpowered all taste.  I also thought it was weird that the ingredients list included "ground mixed spice" but yet never said what this mixed spice was.  I defaulted to some nutmeg and cinnamon, but who knows if that is what they meant.  The Scrambled Eggs with Leeks were nice and had a light flavor.  They were quick to make but still very filling.  A smoothie recipe, Blueberry Bliss wasn't too bad, but the predominant taste was of yogurt. 

The next section is Lively Lunches (yes these are cheesy chapter names, but oh well).  A lot of the recipes in this section were for soup, but non really jumped out at me as something I wanted to eat.  I did however try the Baked Sweet Potatoes with Red Bell Pepper Hummus.  I had to cook them longer than the recommended time, but the overall flavor was good and I liked the addition of the peppers to the homemade hummus.  It gave me a chance to break the food processor out and use it for a change.  It was a very filling dish.  The Tomato Frittata was an easy to make dish and set up quite nicely with the egg ratio.  I think my favorite recipe out of this section was the Buckwheat-Tomato Bake.  It was different, and the addition of the feta cheese made it very tasty.  The Chicken Avocado Salad was par for the course but the dressing that went with it was surprisingly tasteless and I was a bit disappointed.  I think adding more herbs to the mix would improve it quite a bit. 

Dynamic Dinners is the next section.  There were a lot of good looking recipes in this chapter but none yet that I've tried.  They all didn't appeal to the people I was cooking for and I didn't relish the thought of eating leftovers five days in a row so I didn't make them.  I think the main turnoff was that the majority were vegetarian and they wanted a little meat (I tried to explain alternative protein sources, really!).  I do think at some point I'm at least going to make the mushroom risotto.  It looks quite tasty as does the roasted vegetable pizza.

The last section is Super Snacks.  These are the little pick me ups throughout your day to keep you moving.  There's a standard trail mix in here, some scones, and other things you can just grab and go with.  I made the Chewy Oatmeal Cookies, and sent some with my dad to work, and they were well received.  They of course had raisins in them (I substituted half for craisins for a little more sweetness) but they had a good texture even if they didn't look like the picture.  The Mediterranean Melts were something that you had to cook, but they ended up being fancy Bruschetta without the bold flavor. 

My overall thoughts of this book was that while the recipes were nutritious, they weren't that flavorful.  Maybe I have a bold palate and like too much spice and herbs, but somehow I don't think so.  Just the addition of some more spices or other flavors would have really amped up the dishes.  Just because it's healthy, doesn't mean it has to be bland.  Luckily though the recipes are easy to make and I can see a beginner getting along fine with most of the recipes in the book.  There are a few that are a little more complicated to cook, and there's no basics described (how to scramble an egg) but anyone who can cook a little should be able to make most of these dishes. 

The types of dishes in this book are mostly vegetarian.  There are a few animal protein sources, but they are limited to chicken and fish (no shellfish).  Nuts are also used as a protein.  Because of these limitations, it might not be a book for someone who enjoys red meat or a lot of variety. 

For energy, I didn't notice any extra in my case, but my dad, who has MS, seemed to react very well.  It could have just been the extra socialness of having someone around to talk to, but after a few days of eating this food he seemed to have more energy and a happier personality. It's also good food for going light on the calories and I dropped a few pounds after eating this type of food for over a week.  But, I also started running again so it is probably a mix of the two. Even so, it is a better alternative to fast food burgers and fries if you're trying to lose weight. 

A positive thing about this book is the amount of pictures.  There is a full page picture for each recipe and they are all beautifully done.  I liked looking at the food more than I did eating the food actually.  And it was nice to see what everything should look like when finished.  The book format itself was easy to read with the right side being the picture and the left side having the recipes in large print (very easy to read).  The ingredients list came first, followed by the name of the dish and description, and then the actual steps to the recipe.  I do wish since this was a healthy cookbook that they included the calorie count, fat content, etc.

An ok book, I can't say I'd refer back to if much.  I have a couple of Vegetarian cookbooks that have tastier food and are just as healthy (Vegan Planet) or healthy with more protein sources (Food to Live By) that I'd rather refer to.

Energy Food
Copyright 2007
96 pages

July 05, 2013

The Shadow Rising by Robert Jordan

The Shadow Rising is the fourth book in Jordan's Wheel of Time series.  Do not pass this point if you haven't read the previous books, this is a series that is meant to be read in order.  Otherwise you'll be hopelessly lost.

So we all know by now that the Dragon Reborn has returned and holds the Tower of Tear.  And in doing so he has fulfilled one of the prophecies.  But there are others that he must accomplish, and one will send him off to the waste where the Aiel people have lived for hundreds of years in a harsh and unforgiving land.  But the Aiel aren't like the other people he's come across, and what he has to do may take more power than he thought he had.  Meanwhile, Nynaeve and Elayne have to hunt down the dark Aes Sedai that mean to capture a tool that can be used against Rand, even if it means putting themselves in great danger as well.

Rand again is pretty unapproachable in this book.  I'm not sure if it's because he's the Dragon Reborn and supposed to be, or because Jordan just didn't put as much time into him in this book.  Nyneave and Elayne actually got quite a bit of time in this book though and I'm glad of that.  Even if Nynaeve does sniff and pull on her braid too much and act scatterbrained once in awhile, she's still one of my favorite character and I like when Jordan actually uses her strengths and gets her in the mix of things.  Egwene takes a back role in this book though and is lost among the shuffle of the Aiel for a good part of the book, as is Moiraine.  Mat has a small part in the book and as usual, he is entertaining to read about.  But Perrin, Perrin was strong in this book and a good portion of it was devoted to him, and he's one of the most logical (and therefore a pleasure to read about) characters in the book.

I kind of thought of this book as filler again.  It's not that nothing happens in it.  Quite a lot does actually.  But most of the book is detail and Rand being in the Aiel Waste with a lot of talking and planning going on.  So even though there are battles (especially on Perrin's part) it just seemed as if we were getting more of the story and world building instead of the action.  And if you're not fond of detail you might have trouble really sinking into this book.  I even got a little tired of the different veils in Tarabon being described.  After awhile you just don't care how sheer they are.  But still, it was as captivating as usual and made me want to start the next book right away.

An excellent series if you can stand the length.  Lots of detail and different "cultures" built by Jordan in his world.  It's one of those series I can read time and time again.

The Shadow Rising
Copyright 1993
1006 pages

July 02, 2013

The Almond Tree by Michelle Cohen Corasanti

**This book was received as a part of the GoodReads Giveaways program**

This book covers some fascinating and horrifying subject matter.  And it expresses many themes that are well thought out and poignant.  But the writing is only so-so and I didn't appreciate the book near as much as I wanted to.

Ichmad Hamid is a young boy when his father is thrown into prison and he must quit school to work to support his mother and siblings.  He is gifted in math and sciences though, and a local teacher volunteers to tutor him so that he can maybe one day achieve great things.  But with his heritage being against him and war between Israel and Palestine making tensions high, it seems an impossible dream.  Even within his family there is much dispute over how Ichmad should run his life.

Ichmad doesn't really have a lot of personality.  Sure he struggles a lot and has a number of atrocities heaped upon his family and him, but it was hard to care about him in a sense because he didn't really have depth.  There were flashes of personality once in awhile, but not enough to make him feel real, even if what was happening to him was realistic.  His brother Abbas, was actually a little more fleshed out in character I think, and his father was quite wonderful.  But they were not the main characters in this story so we didn't get to see that much development in them.  His sisters and mother were barely mentioned at all except for his mother being a source of consternation against his life choices.

The plot and the themes of this book were very sad and very real.  And there was a lot of violence and description in this book, starting from nearly the first page.  And this actually was at odds with the writing level of the book.  The writing level seemed that it was aimed at middle schoolers rather than adults, but the subject matter was too heavy for that age level I think.  It might just be a lack of polish, but it almost seemed as if the writing was purposely made simplistic.  Add in the numerous math problems found throughout the book and it seemed as if it were designed to teach children, because adding the math otherwise was simply extra detail that didn't add anything to the story or even move it along.  When there wasn't a bunch of math and science explanations, the pace was all over the place.  It would just from day to day or year to year without much of a break in between or no set timeline.  Despite that though, the story worked in that way and it was nice to see how Ichmad grew and how his thoughts changed.

If you're willing to slog through the math and somewhat simplified writing this is a decent book on the Palestine/Israel conflict even if it is fiction.  Though it weighs heavily towards the Palestine side of things, it does offer some unbiased views of the conflict and the fact that working together towards peace would be the best route for everyone to take, regardless of their background.

The Almond Tree
Copyright 2012
348 pages

The Dragon Reborn by Robert Jordan

The Dragon Reborn is the third book in the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan.  This is a series that is meant to be read in order, so if you haven't read the previous two books, stop reading this review and go start at the beginning.

After a great fight that took place in the sky, Rand Al'Thor has been declared the Dragon Reborn by some, although he has not yet fulfilled the prophecies.  Sheltered in a camp high in the mountains he dreams of a sword of light and tries to hold back the desire to channel the one power which will drive him to madness.  But after an attack on the camp, he disappears, and the others realize he is drawn to the sword of light and must follow after him.  Mat, escaping from Tar Valon to deliver a message, discovers that some women from his home village are in trouble and has to decide what odds he wants to take in rescuing them, and Perrin is traveling with an Aes Sedai, and attracting more attention than he would like.  Meanwhile, Nynaeve, Egwene and Elayne have all been raised to the ranks of Accepted with the Aes Sedai, but have been set on a task to seek out darkfriends, which could cost them their lives.

Nynaeve and Egwene got on my nerves in this book.  They used to be stronger characters but they were whining idiots this time around.  Ok, maybe that's a little strong, but compared to the intelligent women they started out as, it just seemed to be a bit of a character change for them.  Rand we didn't see much of, even though the book is named after him, this story was more told from everyone else's perspective.  And he did seem quite a bit mad already.   Perrin is still my favorite.  He is strong, does what's right, and seems to be very patient.  Mat, he's fun to read about and probably has one of the most interesting plotlines.  But really, there are so many characters in this book that it is hard to keep track of them all.

This was more of a filler book than anything.  Not a lot actually  happens until the very end, it's more just developing story.  And that happens a lot in Jordan's books.  Not that it's a bad thing, but those expecting non-stop action might be a little disappointed.  But the characters are intriguing, the plotline sound, and Jordan has a great magic system in his universe so it's a pleasure to read about his world and the different cultures.  He might have been a tad too wordy in this one, but it drove the plot along and made you interested in the next book so no harm done. 

A great series if you're willing to invest a lot of time in it.  The books are all massive and there are plenty of them.  But they're entertaining and well worth the read in my opinion.

The Dragon Reborn
Copyright 1991
700 pages