February 27, 2013

So You Want to Be a Wizard by Diane Duane

The 2nd book of this series randomly appeared on my shelf (and with the nature of how books work in this series should I take that as coincidence or not?).  Of course I couldn't start at the 2nd book, so instead I started here.  And I have to say, I really wasn't that taken with this book.

Nita is an outcast girl that is frequently bullied.  One day, while hiding from said bullies in the library, she discovers a new book on the shelf "So You Want To Be A Wizard."  But it's not an ordinary book, and after taking the oath contained within, she becomes a wizard.  Along this journey she meets Kip, another wizard who has a book as well and they manage to get themselves in all sorts of trouble as they attempt to get back Nita's special pen and also a very important book to the wizarding community.

Nita and Kip don't really intrigue me at all.  I just didn't find them that interesting.  Although I did find it rather upsetting that the violence to Nita by the bullies is largely ignored by her parents.  But anyways, things come too easily to them.  There's no struggle with the powers, they are just able to do it.  Their dialogue to each other wasn't that interesting either.  The only character I really did like was Fred.  Who wasn't a person at all but a white-hole (think black hole) that they conjured and who talks like a normal person while emitting objects.  He was funny and brave and a pleasure to read about.

The plot was ok.  I found it weird that wizards are supposed to conserve energy to help save the world and keep it from falling to entropy so quickly, yet so much energy was used in the journey for Nita's pen that it didn't seem like they were conserving at all.  But maybe Duane and I just have different theories about energy and its use.  I also thought the plot was overly rushed.  I was glad it moved fast but they were constantly doing things that it was hard to keep up sometimes.  And the language used; the magic in this book is closely related to science, but words are used that I didn't recognize, and there wasn't really an explanation or definition given of them.  It was confusing, and considering this book is marketed for young adults, I can see them being even more confused than I was.  It just wasn't friendly reading, even if it did have a lot of action and adventure.

I'll read the second book, just because I have it.  But I can only hope this series becomes a little more interesting.

So You Want To Be A Wizard?
Copyright 1986
323 pages

February 25, 2013

Walkers of the Wind by William Sarabande

Yikes, this book was pretty much glorified violence.  But we'll get back to that.  "Walkers of the Wind" is the fourth book in the First Americans saga by William Sarabande.  This is a series meant to be read in order, so you need to go start at "Beyond the Sea of Ice".

Torka and his band have lived in the Eastern lands for awhile, and they have lived well.  With him as headsman, life has settled into a routine and they have been able to watch their children grow.  But that all changes one day when a prairie fire sweeps the land.  Some of his band are injured and they must move, ever onward, and ever eastward.  Things are further complicated when both of his twin sons want the same girl and jealousy rises between them.  And considering the girl has brought nothing but trouble, Torka isn't sure how to handle the rising animosity between the members of his band.

Torka was actually better in this book.  He made firm, level-headed decisions.  Lonit, sadly, was again mostly in the background.  She went from being such a strong character to being only a mother, and while that's an important job, she only gets that role to show off her unique qualities.  She's more than that.  Naya, the troublesome girl who both twins like doesn't have any redeeming qualities.  We're supposed to dislike her for most of the novel, and that is very easy to do.  She's the equivalent of a spoiled brat kid who can never get enough new toys in today's world.  Larani, her playmate, on the other hand is another strong character who faces a lot of hardships and overcomes them.  I could probably detail out the rest of Torka's band for you, but if you read the series, you'll get a chance to know them.

While I was glad to see the continuation of the series and what happened to Torka's band, there was a lot of upheaval in this book.  And it ended in a way I didn't really expect and made me wonder what the next book would cover.  The writing was descriptive, as usual.  But the problem is this time it was too descriptive when it came to the violence and hard things.  Sarabande always has hard topics in this series.  But there was a lot of rape in this one.  Including an overly descriptive rape scene of a child that I had to skim over because it was too hard to read.  And there's not much that is too hard for me to read, so I'm telling you, this was bad.  As said before, it just seemed like glorified violence, like Sarabande was trying very hard just to shock people.  It kind of ruined the book for me.

I'll still continue reading the series, mainly because I have more books sitting on my shelf, but I hope that a few changes are made.  I enjoy reading about the life and journies of the people in this book, but I don't enjoy violence that is meant to shock rather than improve the quality of the book.

Walkers of the Wind
Copyright 1990
420 pages

February 23, 2013

The Waiting by Suzanne Woods Fisher

This is the 2nd book in the Lancaster County Secrets series. You don't have to read the first one in the series, this book could be considered a stand-alone. And as far as amish fiction goes, it was decent.

Jorie King is quite content on her grandparent's Percheron farm. Her one love, Ben, went off to war to be a conscientious objector and she hasn't felt compelled to date anyone else. Her friend Maryanne lives near by with Ben's brother Caleb and she enjoys the children that inhabit the house there, so is especially pleased when she is selected to be the schoolteacher. Not everyone is happy with this decision though and Jorie must deal with the sharp insults and sting of disapproval from some of the Amish.

Jorie is a strong character. She is still very Amish, but with an independent streak. And I liked that she valued education highly. She's the type of woman that knows what she wants and is patient enough to get it. Caleb, the neighbor and minister, is a little more confused. He has a good heart but is unable to focus with everything going on in his life. I do think that he recovers from some strong emotions a little too quickly, but it's hard to say if it's authentic as different people feel things differently. There were a lot of other characters, but I do have to say that I thought the character of Sylvia was treated unfairly. She was clearly the "bad guy" in this book and it just seemed as if all the negative aspects were pinned on her.

The plot was ok. Since it takes place in the Vietnam war I expected there to be a whole lot more mention of it and how it changed the Amish's lives. Especially considering some of them were drafted for it. But aside from the mentions of Ben, and the other brother working in a hospital, there was surprising little of it. A cougar actually got more book time. And there was a tiny plotline of a black man becoming the veterinarian during such turbulent times, but it was so downplayed I'm not even sure it really effected the book too much. I just don't think with it being the time period that it was that a lot of the book stuck true to what actually happened. It just didn't seem authentic.

Overall though it was a quick read and I did like the small love story that played out. I won't go rushing back to get more books by Fisher, but if some happen to slide their way into my to-read pile, I wouldn't turn them down.

The Waiting
Copyright 2010
Large Print 438 Pages

Forbidden Land by William Sarabande

Forbidden Land is the third book in the First Americans series. That means, if you haven't read the other two, you should turn back now. These are books that have to be read in order.

Having gone into the Corridor of Storms, Torka is now the headman of a small band. Because his ways are so different though, when his woman, Lonit, births twins and refuses to set them aside, the band turns against them. One child is taken out and left in the wilderness, where it is scooped up by the Wanawut (I still haven't figured out if this is a Bigfoot or Neanderthal), who the band considers a wind spirit. The other one they manage to hold on to, but are drove from the band with only a few other followers. Headed further East, they must trust in Life Giver, Torka's totem and a real life mammoth, to show them the way to better land.

Ok, first off, it took over a hundred pages before we figured out what happened to Zinkh, from the first book (actually I'm still not sure what happened to him, but that's when he's finally mentioned again). There were just new random names and no familiar ones, except for Torka's immediate band, and it was kind of disorienting. Torka is still proud, strong, and not always the best decision maker. Although he does do better in this book. Lonit kind of takes a back seat for most of this book. It seems she is resigned to raising children and not to independent thought, which is slightly disappointing. Cheanah, was a deplorable stupid man, and like most of Sarabande's bad guys, easy to dislike. And then there was Karana, he just had numerous problems this go around, and for being the wiseman, he wasn't very wise.

The plot was actually ok in this one. It covered several years and didn't rehash the events or borrow the same plotline from the first two books. There was still violence, rape, and a multitude of other sad things, but it wasn't as gleeful as in the first two books either. This time it was more focused on hunting and staying alive, although Cheanah had a particularly odious little son, and he created a lot of problems and violence. The usual description of everything else was there though and it made for nice steady reading. It's the kind of book you can dig into and then want more.

Which is why I'll be headed to the next book soon. I'm eager to find out what happens to Torka and his band.

Forbidden Land
Copyright 1989
431 pages

February 21, 2013

Buffalo for the Broken Heart by Dan O'Brien

So I actually expected this book to be more of a memoir of sorts.  And in a way it was, but largely, it was what the cover said, "restoring life to a black hills ranch."  More specifically, restoring buffalo to the land.

Dan O'Brien has owned a ranch in the Black Hills for some time.  And he started out with cattle.  But like most ranchers in the area, making ends meet with this type of ranching is near impossible.  So much so that he has to take jobs elsewhere just to make the mortgage payment.  But in addition to being a rancher, O'Brien is also a teacher, ecologist, and so many more roles and he's interested in bringing the wildlife back to the Black Hills after years of overgrazing.  One step further has him start raising Buffalo instead of cattle and while he's a novice to begin with, he learns as he goes.  This book greatly details how running a sustainable Buffalo farm works for O'Brien and his hardships and triumphs within the first few years.

O'Brien talks about the Buffalo in this book mainly, but there are small snippets of his life.  From his sadness over his divorce, his joy in children discovering the buffalo, and just getting along with his neighbors, we can see that overall he's a good person, who's committed to the land.  He doesn't hesitate to point out flaws, like the sloppiness of the guy who helps him work the ranch, but he is kind about it and still makes sure to point out all the good things too.  And he cares about all the animals.  From the falcons he keeps as a hobby, to the bird dogs, to the buffalo themselves, he doesn't mistreat them.  He lets nature take it's course and doesn't add any cruelty to it.  He lets them be animals.

I'm not going to lie, I did find this book dull at times. Most specifically when he is at auction buying more buffalo.  I much prefer his descriptions of them out on the land and the care of them.  Even the roundups are kind of exciting, but still not nearly as good as him just describing the land.  And it is nice he's still making it work, even selling the meat on the internet through his wildideabuffalo site.  He's a believer in not finishing his buffalo in feed lots, and that's admirable.  O'Brien does a good job describing the life of a rancher.  It's not glorious or romantic and you can tell you really have to love what you're doing to stay in the business. 

An inspiring read.  I definitely learned a lot more about buffalo than I ever knew before. 

Buffalo for the Broken Heart
Copyright 2001
254 pages

The Corridor of Storms by William Sarabande

Corridor of Storms is the 2nd book in the First Americans series.  If you haven't read the first book, I highly suggest you go start there, otherwise you'll be a bit lost in this book.

Torka and his band (3 women, a boy, and some children) have been living in a sheltered valley for about three years.  However, when one of the women is having a troubled pregnancy, he knows they must leave their valley and search out the gathering of other tribes.  The boy, Karana, is not at all happy about this excursion. He remembers the violence of other people and when they reach the gathering, there are some there who like Torka and some that would do anything to see him dead.

Torka, for all that he is brave and bold, does not have a lick of good sense.  Constantly he is warned not to do something, only to do it anyway thinking it is in his women's best interest.  And since Lonit is normally such a strong character, it is surprising to see her so wimpy and simpering in this book.  Karana is about the only one with sense, and even he is a little too brash at times.  Then there's the bad guys, especially Navahk.  He is pure evil.  There really is no redeeming goodness in him.  Which kind of makes it too easy to dislike him and wish the worst on him.  The best bad guys have an ounce of humanity that can confuse the reader's feelings.

And then there's the fact that this plot is almost identical to that of the first book.  Torka living peacefully and happily in the small band but then wanting to find other people.  Torka finding other people and life goes all wrong before he finally strikes out on his own again.  You'd think he'd have learned after several repeated mistakes.  This book, like the first, is very violent too.  And there is a lot of sexual violence in this one.  So much that it even disturbed me a bit and I'm normally pretty unflappable when it comes to reading stuff like that.  The amount of hate and anger and description can be hard to take at times.  Consider yourself warned even if you do normally have a strong constitution for stuff like that.  Aside from the violence, Sarabande is a descriptive writer for everything else.  That is the redeeming quality of this book.  He's able to bring the prehistoric world to life.

Not as good as the first book but I'll still continue reading the series.  My hope is that it will bounce back and redeem the characters.  Two and a half stars for this one though.

Corridor of Storms
Copyright 1988
420 pages

February 20, 2013

Beyond the Sea of Ice by William Sarabande

Beyond the Sea of Ice is the first book in a prehistoric series by William Sarabande.  As the first book, it is of course where you should start reading, as it introduces all of the characters.

Lonit, Torka, and Torka's old father (Umak, who is 45 and considered old by the prehistoric standards) are the only survivors of a tribe who encountered an enraged mammoth.  Together, they have to survive and seek out a new place to live if they wish to get back on their feet again.  But they have a hard road ahead with dangerous people and animals everywhere.  Not to mention Torka is grieving his wife and children and looks at Lonit with revulsion now.  But Lonit is used to that, because of her strange eyes she's always been considered ugly, she just hopes to be useful so she can continue to travel with the two, as it is her only hope for survival.

I like Lonit.  She's a bit moony over Torka and he can be a jerk sometimes, but her heart's in the right place and she's a hard worker.  It's hard to realize that in this book she is only in her early teens as she seems so much older.  Especially in the second half.  And she goes through quite a bit that no young child should have to go through.  Torka is a strong, steady, mostly decent man who has a few flaws.  But he's loyal to a fault and that speaks in his favor.  And Umak, well he's got a bit of an ego and can be superficial, but deep down he too has a good heart.  Karana, a little boy they meet in their travels, is probably the most interesting character though because of his backstory and abilities with nature.

This book kind of puts a spin on the prehistoric genre because it deals with a lot of death of tribes instead of having them advancing and discovering things.  Sure there are a few inventions thrown into the mix to make life better, but largely, this book is just about survival.  And because of the topic of survival, there is a lot of death and violence in this book.  And also rape, sex, and other things that tend to bother people when they're reading.  So if you can't handle that stuff, stay clear of this book.  Really, my only complaint about the book would be the romance between Lonit and Torka.  They start out at very opposing odds and then out of nowhere it changes.  I kept going back to see if I accidentally missed a few pages (I didn't) but I just couldn't see the chemistry there.

A good series and I'm eager to get a start on the next book.  This is definitely one that fans of the Gears or Jean Auel would probably enjoy.

Beyond the Sea of Ice
Copyright 1987
370 pages

February 19, 2013

A 2nd Helping of Chicken Soup for the Soul by Jack Canfield & Mark Victor Hansen

So if you couldn't tell by the title, this is the 2nd book in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series.  Not that you have to read them in order.  Since they're a collection of short stories, you can read whatever book in whatever order you prefer.  I do think starting at the beginning is always better though, because in the case of this series, it's when the work is more original and not repeated a thousand times over.

Chicken Soup for the Soul in its second helping is much like the first book in that it collects inspiring stories, fables, poems, etc. and groups it into different categories.  Those categories are "On Love", "On Parenting", "On Death and Dying", "A Matter of Attitude", "On Learning and Teaching", "Live Your Dream", "Overcoming Obstacles", and "Eclectic Wisdom".  Probably the story/poem that resonates with me the most is from the "Overcoming Obstacles" chapter and is titled "After A While".  It is just really moving and especially pertinent to my life in the last few years and I do get a lot of inspiration from it.  That being said, there are plenty of stories in here that I don't get so much from, especially the ones that are a little preachy on the religion aspect.

But that's to be expected.  This book is put out by a Christian printer and has Christian authors.  It's meant to be a religious.  I don't actually think overall that this book is too preachy, but there are a few stories in here that if you aren't religious, you'll probably just skim over.  And while there are mostly new and original stories in here, there was one that was almost the same as in the first book.  And so begins the saga of reusing stories in their books.  I do have to applaud them for having an extensive thank you and reference area.  It's nice to know that they give credit where it is due when they can.

One of the better books in the series but it still doesn't have the feel that first book did.  But if you like short, inspiring stories, this is a good book to read.

A 2nd Helping of Chicken Soup for the Soul
Copyright 1995
329 pages

February 18, 2013

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

I'm going to take the unpopular route on this one.  It started off with a bang and I was deeply absorbed, and then about a third of the way in the book just sort of fizzled out for me.

Jacob has been haunted by nightmares and other strange instances since the death of his grandfather, who was quite strange himself.  One could even say, peculiar.  On the advice of his shrink, he and his father go off to an island in Europe where his grandfather stayed in an orphanage growing up until the war came to that area.  There he hopes to find the mysterious Miss Peregrine, the headmistress of the orphanage who might still be alive all this time later.  But what he finds is much more, a time loop, where peculiar children still dwell.

Jacob is about the only character I can really relate to in this entire book.  He's your average teenager, dealing with grief and a little more.  And it's easy why he would want to make a journey to see what happened in his grandfather's past.  Although I do think he accepts what he discovers a little too easily.  Miss Peregrine actually struck me as the bad guy in this one, even though she isn't supposed to be.  Just her way of running the school doesn't sit with me well.  There's a lack of freedom.  And the kids, well they are all peculiar but none of them have standout personalities.  They're kind of flat with minimal description aside from their strangeness.

The plot did not go how I wanted to.  Sure it sets itself up for a decent series that intrigued me enough to read it.  But with the creepy photos in the book (the best part of the book, absolutely marvelous) and the headmistress keeping kids safe in a time loop for all time,  I expected it to be a scary narration that it actually wasn't.  Something eerie and haunting that gives you dreams at night like the picture on the cover does.  Instead it was more of a fantasy with some adventure thrown in at the end.  But the cover promised creepy, and I sorely was disappointed at the lack of it.  The pace moved rather fast too and while I'm impressed the author was able to make a story out of random found pictures, I'm just not sure I like how he carried it out in the second half of the book.

I'll still be reading the rest of the books.  It was enough to intrigue me but I think so many other things could have been done with this book and the wonderful pictures it contains.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
Copyright 2011
351 pages

February 17, 2013

Message in a Bottle by Nicholas Sparks

I can only imagine how many middle aged women went out, wrote a message, put it in a bottle and then threw it into the ocean after reading this.  Or spent all their time at the beach trying to find a message all their own.  Sparks just seems to have that kind of power.

Theresa is on vacation when she finds a bottle that contains a letter to a lost love inside, on the beach.  Urged by her editor, she publishes it in her weekly column and through readers, discovers two more letters from the same man.  They touch her, and she wants to know more about him, so she sleuths her way to finding him and develops a connection she didn't think possible.

Theresa is kind of a stalker.  I realize it's hidden under the guise of doing a reporting job, but we all know she went for herself, not the column.  And despite having no harmful intentions, that's still kind of creepy.  And Garrett, I honestly didn't see the appeal.  He's stuck on his dead wife and devoted in that aspect, but on his own he seems kind of moody and unforgiving.  Sure, he grows in the novel, but the time Theresa is near him he really doesn't seem that happy with her and I just can't figure out the attraction unless she's pining for the love she felt in his letters to his dead wife.  And although there is supposed to be a connection between them, I never really felt it in this book.

I did like the idea of the plot.  There is something romantic about finding love through a bottle tossed into the sea.  And the sea itself is always the subject of a lot of romances.  There's a little bit of sex scenes thrown into this book but nothing overly descriptive and I'd call it a tame romance.  The only part of the writing I wasn't that fond of were Garrett's letters themselves.  They were too cheesy for my taste and again, I didn't see the attraction there.  But then again I'm not a girl that really appreciates poetry either, so maybe it's just lost on me.

It's an ok quick romance and while the story is original, I just didn't care for the characters.  Luckily Sparks has plenty of other good books out there to try though.

Message In a Bottle
Copyright 1998
322 pages

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

There has been a lot of hype about this book.  And a lot of that is well deserved.  It is well written, explores some deep themes in a troubled setting, and has imperfect but redeemable characters.

Amir has always wanted his father's approval, but it isn't easy for him to get.  Rather, it seems that the servant boy he has grown up with, Hassan, gets the approval more.  So even though they are somewhat friends, Amir has a jealousy of Hassan that he can't quite get rid of.  So when something terrible happens, Amir just stands to the side, and carries that guilt for the rest of his life.  And even as time passes, Amir stays with this cowardice until he is given a chance and a decision to change a few things.

Amir is an imperfect character.  A self-described coward he is not near as loyal as Hassan.  And he can be a bit of a bully too, as cowards often are.  But he wants to be a better person, and he does grow throughout the book.  Hassan, on the other hand, is his polar opposite.  He's actually almost too perfect and devoted and I find his character a little unbelievable at times.  But we're also seeing things from Amir's point of view, so that could skew Hassan's character a little bit too.  Baba, the father of Amire, is tough but unyielding.  And while I agree that he could have been a little more patient with Amir, I think overall he was a good guy.  There are several other characters in this book as well, but they are side characters that support Amir's story and help him through his travails.

The plot was a good one.  A deep dark secret that haunts Amir and follows him through life.  But I had a big problem with the ending.  I don't want to say too much but Amir meets someone from his past and gets to change things a little, but the way he meets this person is just completely unbelievable to me.  Of all the chances it would be the same person, it just doesn't work.  And in fact, from that part of the book on it just didn't ring as authentic and even felt a little rushed.  But still, the story was good and presented a good look at the culture of Afghanistan before the Taliban took over.  And the information about Kites, I'd never really thought about kite fighting until this book, but it seems an interesting hobby.

There are some very hard topics in this book though.  Violence, rape, combined with some evil people, it is described in a good amount of detail.  And there are some things about culture as well that can be hard to accept (like the joke about beating women).  This book has a little bit of hope in it, but largely it is a melancholy look at the mistakes we make in life and a culture that has had more than its fair share of tragedy.

I would definitely read more by this author.  He has a nice writing style that explains everything fully while not getting bogged down in too much detail.  And his characters are people you can care about. 

The Kite Runner
Copyright 2003
371 pages

February 16, 2013

Chicken Soup for the Soul by Mark Victor Hansen and Jack Canfield

So this is the original book. The one that started everything and spawned a series so large that most home libraries couldn't contain them all. Fortunately, since this is the first book it's not subject to a lot of the problems the others had. Although it does have it's cheesy moments, or maybe that's just me being older and more cynical than when I first encountered it.

The Chicken Soup for the soul books are compilations of stories, parables, verse, and other short writings that have a common theme of making you feel better about the world around you. Not all end happy but are meant to inspire. And this particular book has broken those different stories down into chapters titled, "On Love", "Learning to Love Yourself", "On Parenting", "On Learning", "Live Your Dream", "Overcoming Obstacles", and "Eclectic Wisdom". Sometimes the stories make sense in the chapters, like in the case of the parenting chapter containing a story "Why I chose my father to be my dad" which detailed the life of a dedicated parent. Others were not so obvious, like "Golden Buddha" in Learning to Love Yourself. Sure it was about finding that special something within, or they tried to tie it to that theme anyway, but it just didn't click with me in that chapter representation.

I'm not going to deny that some of the stories didn't bring tears to my eyes. They're meant to do that, just like those Budweiser commercials with the horses. They want to tug at your heartstrings. It's good advertising. And there were a lot of good stories in this book. At least half of them were positive, could make you cry, or had a good message. But then there were a lot of cheesy ones too. Or a lot that were quite obviously made up as opposed to being real life stories. A particular example of this would be the ones that mentioned a kind act preventing a suicide. I'm not saying that doesn't happen, but the stories here involving that theme just didn't ring as true.

This book also has undertones of religion, particularly Christianity. Sure there was a story about a Buddha, but it didn't go into that religion, merely used it as a fable of sorts. While there's nothing overt about the religion in these books, it is a common theme that they all share and some are more blatant than others. It's pretty sure that you'll never see a "Chicken Soup for the Atheist's Soul" coming from these publishers. But that's ok. It's their business and they can publish what they want. It's the reader's choice if they want to pick it up or not. But this first book is one where the religion isn't blatant and any reader can sit down and enjoy a few good short stories.

Probably one of the best of the whole series, before it got too big for itself. Sometimes the original is the one you need to stick with.

Chicken Soup for the Soul
Copyright 1993
308 pages

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

This book is one I've kind of sat and thought about for awhile.  Which usually means good things about a book.  And normally it does, but I bounced back and forth between liking this book and not caring for it at all.  But I think it had more to do with the writing than the subject matter for the most part.

When a brash commanding Reverend decides that he needs to be a Missionary, he forces his four children and wife to move out to the Congo with him where he starts preaching at the local people and expecting them to conform to his will.  There they must struggle to live in a way they are unaccustomed. to until something tragic happens.  And this tragedy will effect each of them in a different way and have them choose different courses for their lives.

Obviously, the father Nathan, is not a sympathetic character in this book.  The other characters can't stand him and he is portrayed as a tyrant.  But Kingsolver is also careful to throw in the bit about him being injured in the army in there.  It's well known that soldiers don't always come back the same person they left as in a war and it's quite a possibility that Nathan was changed in a way.  So it leaves it to the reader to see whether or not he actually is a sympathetic character when weighing everything that has happened to him.  The mother, Orleanna, I can't say I thought about much one way or the other.  She was squashed down by Nathan and I dare say it left her with her own world in her head.  Sure she took care of her kids, but there had to be some sort of escape for her and she does fade in and out in the book.  The daughters were all distinct although you had to like some more than others.  Rachel was too prissy and probably not a favorite of anyone.  Adah was strange and hard to connect to, although she got better as the book progressed.  Leah was probably the easiest character to become connected to, as she wanted to stand up for what she believed as right.  And Ruth May is a young child filled with curiosity.

There is a definitely stance on what Kingsolver believes in this book.  Her view on politics and Africa is expressly stated through the actions of her characters.  And she sheds a very sympathetic eye on the plight of Africa itself and a not so sympathetic tone with the foreign countries who mingle their affairs with it.  And it would appear that she had to have had a bad experience with a reverend or missionary with the true terror she makes Nathan.  Although there is a good missionary that appears in the book now and then.  The writing itself is what I had trouble with.  Kingsolver has a very poetic, descriptive way of writing and that's not the problem.  The problem is that there is just way too much of it in this book.  It could have easily been half this size and still told a good story.  But after awhile I had to put the book down just to take a break because it seemed repetitive.  And I enjoyed the latter half with the girls grown up than the previous half that detailed their first year in the Congo.  It was just too slow paced for me.

An interesting book and definitely one that you could tell the author did her research on.  I don't know much about the politics of the Congo/Zaire itself, but I'd hazard to guess that Kingsolver probably did adequate research there as well.  I think I still prefer her non-fiction though and would give this book a solid 3.5 stars.

The Poisonwood Bible
Copyright 1998
543 pages

February 14, 2013

Racing from Death by Sasscer Hill

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

Racing From Death is the second in a series by Sasscer Hill. But I'm happy to say that even though I read this one first, instead of starting with the first book, I still enjoyed it quite a bit. It was quick paced but interesting and since I like horses, it kind of fit that area of my enjoyment too.

Nikki Latrelle has been assigned by her boss to manage the training and racing of some of the stable's mounts in Virginia. A jockey herself she knows what this entails but is still nervous. Especially when strange things start happening at the track and she can't control her riding assistant Lorna's actions even though Lorna is making increasingly bad choices. Because of Nikki's natural curiosity she stumbles on some things she shouldn't and falling off during a race is no longer the only danger she has to face in Virginia.

I liked Nikki. She was flawed, but strong as well. While I didn't agree with some of her actions in this book, they did seem realistic. She also seems to care deeply about the horses she's working with and that's always a positive quality. Lorna I didn't really like as much. For as much as Nikki sticks her neck out for her, she doesn't seem to appreciate it or even make an effort at becoming a better person. The bad guys, well it was easy to tell who they were, but they were menacing enough to make the plot interesting. And just to throw a little mystery in there, she has a groom who appears to be a little bit psychic.

The books was fairly rushed and I would have liked it to slow down a little and develop the plot more. But even so it kept my attention and I was able to read it practically in one sitting. The mystery was decent, if easy to solve and there were a few elements that came as a surprise. The writing itself was detailed and the dialogue easy to follow. There were some almost sex scenes in the book that were just as detailed as everything else, so if you're expecting a G-rated mystery, this isn't it. I don't think it detracted from the story at all, but it did make you question the characters motives, which is a good thing.

A good mystery, I would definitely read more by this author. And I'll probably have to go find the first book now to see how Nikki's story starts.

Racing From Death
Copyright 2012
193 pages

February 12, 2013

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

So the whole time I'm reading this book I felt that it read like a fable.  And it wasn't until I came online that I saw that it technically is a fable judging from the title posted here on the internet.  My book didn't have the subtitle of "A Fable About Following Your Dream" on the cover.  So that explains a lot.  And like most fables, there is a lesson to be learned in this book.

Santiago is a shepherd who has always had a want for traveling the world.  After some strange dreams, he consults a gypsy to help him interpret them and she sets him off on an adventure to find treasure near the great pyramids.  Along his journey though, he'll meet several interesting people and have several mishaps.  But he'll learn the true meaning of finding himself and what his dreams in life are.

Santiago is an ok character.  He's a pretty smart guy even if he does spend most his time running after sheep.  But I do think that the lessons this fable imparts come a little too easy for him.  He doesn't seem to struggle much in the mental sense, just the physical when he's robbed or beaten or the other things that befall him.  And the people he meets always impart lessons to him or teach him new things in life.   And to an extent I think that's true when you compare it to real life, but the lessons aren't usually as obvious as they are presented in this book.

The journey itself was interesting.  I found it well paced although not exciting.  But I thought the lessons and symbolism to be a little heavy handed.  If you don't understand anything philosophical don't worry about reading this book, it will be handed to you.  And I think that ruins the message a little bit because there's nothing for the reader to figure out themselves.  I'm not saying the tone needs to be mysterious, but it doesn't need to be dumbed down to quite the level that it is.  There are also a lot of different terms that the author uses to present his beliefs in this book and those seemed a little cheesy as well.  I think it would have been more professional to not title ever thought or symbol in the book.

I would call this good light reading when you need something positive.  Since this book is about pursuing your dreams it can be inspiring.  It just it spelled out so easily for the reader that it loses some of its charm and interest in the telling.

The Alchemist
Copyright 1993
167 pages + reader's guide, etc.

Review by M. Reynard 2013

February 10, 2013

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

I've put off reading this book for awhile.  No reason really, I had heard good things about it, that it was full of symbolism, etc.  So now, I've finally gotten around to reading it and while I do admit it was chock full of symbolism, I didn't find it particularly engrossing and even a bit dull.

After a wreck, a group of boys twelve years and younger are stranded on an island.  From the first they are eager to make their own society without the yoke of adults while still secretly yearning to be rescued.  A boy named Ralph is made head of this society, with Jack, a leader of a choir group turned hunters as his somewhat second in command.  He also has a somewhat adviser dubbed Piggy who owns a pair of glasses that is the main source for creating fire.  As the boys live on the island their society starts to deteriorate and fears make the boys do things that no one would have ever thought them capable.

Ralph is a weird leader for the group.  He seems, in the beginning, to be more along the same lines of personality as Jack.  A bully in a way, but really just a normal boy otherwise.  Piggy is the typical picked on kid, who has aspects of him that are important to share but are ignored by society based on superficial reasoning.  And Jack, well he's the type that's filling up our prisons or operating under camouflage as a socio-path in the normal world.  It's just in this world he is allowed to have the savagery come out.  Ralph's experience with leading causes him to miss the socio-pathic role, but he could have come very close if he had made a few decisions in a different way.  And then there's Simon, who's supposed to be the enigma of the group, but who's really just a sick little boy that is looked at differently because of his issues.

Golding uses this book to show a number of things.  The bleakness in society, the potential for violence in anyone, and that without consequences to rules, society could fall apart quite easily.  But there were a couple things I didn't understand.  For one, I never really realized why it was all boys that were stranded on the island, especially since they weren't all traveling as part of the group like the choir was.  Why did they go to savagery so quickly?  Especially when you consider the amount of younger kids.  And what about their feelings of home and wanting to get back there?  Surely after a week or so the fun of playing on their own island would have abated and a depression would have set in.  And that just seems unaccounted for.  While I thought Golding made some good points about society and how it works, I just think it could have been fleshed out more.

And the writing itself.  For all the violence and gore, I found it dull.  Just the style was hard to follow because of the way it jumped about.  And while part of that can be attributed to following the actions of young boys, it was just jarring to read and made it easy to lose focus.  And I know this book could actually be geared to middle school and high school aged children but I wonder if the majority have the ability to really get at all the symbolism in this book or if they'll be so distracted by the gore that it'll be missed.  Certainly there are some very intelligent kids out there that will get it, but not everyone is like that.  Heck, I'm an adult and I probably didn't catch half of what Golding put in there.

There are some lessons in here, but it just wasn't the right platform for me.  I didn't like Golding's writing style and it caused me to hurry through a book that should have time spent on it to get at the detail.

Lord of the Flies
Copyright 1954
182 pages

February 09, 2013

The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen

I've quickly grown to adore just about all of Sarah Addison Allen's books. And this one, while it took me a little while to sink in, is no different. It has that same charm and warmth of characters that I've grown to expect from her works.

Once a trickster, Willa has come back to the town of Walls of Water and settled as the owner of a sporting clothes store. There she tries to live a calm life, completely unlike what she used to be. But the visit of Colin, brother of the socialite Paxton, breaks up the monotony of her life and causes her to have some of those old sparks of mischief again. Meanwhile, Paxton is planning an anniversary party for the local ladies' social club and is putting the finishing touches on an old home that is being restored when a body is found buried beneath the peach tree in the yard. This opens a whole series of questions that will bring Paxton and Willa together.

I liked both Willa and Paxton. They were wildly different from each other but both were good people in their own right. They tried to be accommodating to everyone and neglected themselves in the process, as good people often do. But they both had a spark to them. And their love interests, Colin and Sebastian were quite charming as well. Everything you'd want in a real guy, it's just a matter of finding the right one. There were a few side characters, but they played small roles in the story, and honestly, they probably weren't needed.

The plot was predictable, but still charming. I always enjoy the little bits of magic that Allen inserts in her works. Although they weren't quite as prevalent in this one. She just has a way of making the ordinary special and makes you want to believe that that kind of magic is quite possible. And she had a few good quotable lines in this book too. "Happiness means taking risks" and other such inspiring things. Her writing is just so comfortable that you can sink in with a book and not emerge until you're done with it.

A very good book and I eagerly await the next one she will write. She's definitely becoming one of my favorite writers.

The Peach Keeper
Copyright 2011
273 pages

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

This is a very bleak steampunk themed look at a dystopian world.  I like dystopian books normally, but I had a lot of trouble connecting with this one.  It had some good premises, but unrelatable characters.

In the future the world's wealth is measured in calories.  Human bings have messed too far and now food is scarce, there are terminator genes in the food, and several mutated diseases and bacteria abound.  There are also new creatures that have been bio-engineered, even people.  Among them there is Anderson, a calorie man who is the Thai realm looking for a seed bank and the treasures it could hold within, to return to the big corporation he works for.  And then there is Emiko, a windup human who was left for trash when the Japanese business man who owned her decided he didn't want her anymore.  She makes her living hiding from the authorities who hate her kind and whoring herself out at a sleazy bar.  Together these two will cause upheaval in the city and start a new future that could be more frightening than the one they are already living in.

Emiko, despite her degrading experiences and unique situations I couldn't really get a feel for.  I felt pity at times, but that's about it.  And I'm not sure if this is the reaction I was supposed to have.  After all, she is a wind-up and considered not a real person by society.  So maybe that was the author's intent.  Anderson was also not that great of a character.  I couldn't really feel out his motives.  Same with pretty much everyone else in this book.  None of them had clear cut thought processes or even inspired sympathy.  And finding a glimmer of hope in them was near impossible.

I liked the different ideas presented in this book.  Certainly messing with the food system is a scary thing and even eerily similar to some of the experiments companies are doing already.  To add in changing the genetic makeup of humans too just seems logical.  But as for the actual telling of this story I was confused on so many things.  There are just so many unanswered questions on how the world got to the place it did in this book.  And then the plot itself is just so rushed around jumping between different characters that it was hard to follow.  I was never quite sure who was on who's side, doing what, and why.  And I should warn that there are a lot of graphic areas of this book involving sex, violence, murder, rape and sickness.  And it is explicit and described in-depth.

Not really too my taste but it had a lot of unique concepts.  I'm sure someone who enjoys science and dystopians would enjoy it very much.  But I need to relate to the characters if I'm going to enjoy a book.

The Windup Girl
Copyright 2009
359 pages

February 07, 2013

The Gringo by J. Grigsby Crawford

Since I plan on joining the Peace Corps one day, I figured I needed to read a book that talked about negative aspects of the program just as much as I needed to read the positive ones. And this book fit that bill. Grigsby had several less than optimal experiences as a volunteer, and outlines them in this memoir.

Fresh out of college, Grigsby joins the Peace Corps and is placed in Ecuador. There he spends a few months in a coastal town that quickly proves dangerous and ineffective at the program they're trying to implement. After a kidnapping rumor, he is moved further inland to another town, where the program is dead on its feet and he does much of nothing all day. During this time he develops an illness that will persist through his entire service. And finally in the last part of his service, he works on a project that is actually effective.

Grigsby is not kind in his descriptions of the Ecuadorian people. There are only a few he seemed to like and I'm not sure if he just didn't encounter that many good people or if his personality was just not compatible with the culture of the Ecuadorians. I certainly don't want to believe that a whole people and culture are as terrible as he describes them. But at least he tries to tell things as they are without sugarcoating it. And the few people he does like are warmly described. And he doesn't really get anywhere with his projects in the Peace Corps which seems to be largely because of an ineffective coordinator and management system in Ecuador. This could have a great bearing on his views of the Ecuadorian people. If you see bad all day, it becomes the whole experience for you.

Despite everything he goes through, Grigsby does insert some humor into the book. Anyone who can complain with such cheer about pain in his testicles for extending periods of time has some moxie. And he writes in an engaging way, you have to keep reading to see if things turn out any better. I should warn that there are descriptions of genitals, cussing, and other things in this book that some readers may not enjoy. If you are a person who enjoys less graphic encounters with books, this is not one you should read. The overall message of his experience isn't positive, which is disheartening. And while I disagree with his view that perhaps the Peace Corps should retire, I respect him for telling his story and arguing some good points. It would seem that some areas of the system do need an overhaul, especially in Ecuador. But from everything else I've read on the subject there are positives to the Peace Corps program and I take the optimist view that if it makes the difference in one person's life, it was worth it.

I do have to note that there is one section in this book that I didn't really like. Grigsby tries out one of the local hallucinogens and has a very bad trip. Now I'm not against the mention of drugs, but rather the way it was presented in this book. While everything else is largely clinical in the book, this particular chapter delves into the incoherent ramblings of a drug induced mind. And reads as such. It just didn't fit with the rest of the book and was tedious to read.

Not the most comfortable of reads, but a good one if you're interested in the Peace Corps and want to know the not-so-good side of things. Because if you're doing something that big with your life, you need to look at it from all perspectives.

The Gringo
Copyright 2013
225 pages

February 05, 2013

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

This was an odd book.  Not bad really, but definitely strange.  It used magical realism, kind of in the same tone as Sarah Addison Allen's books, but with more of a sad underbelly.

Rose is a normal girl, that is until her ninth birthday, where upon taking a bite of the chocolate lemon cake her mom has baked for her, she can feel all of her mom's emotions.  As she struggles through eating anything her mom makes, she discovers that this power is not only limited to her mom's cooking, but every food she eats.  Over the years she becomes precise enough to know where the ingredients came from and even how the person picking the vegetables or fruit was feeling.  And her brother, well he has a secret all his own that Rose has to cope with.

Poor Rose was the only normal one in the family, if you can call her "normal" with her abilities.  I certainly wouldn't want to be stuck with such a dreadful curse as she had, nothing was a secret and some of it was very tough for her to cope with.  Her mother was loving but selfish and seemed to be very flighty.  Her brother was distant and strange, and her father just seemed to tune out of everything.  Rose didn't really have anyone she could turn to except her brother's friend George, who was much older and not around much.  It just seemed like a very lonely life for her, even further compounded by having to taste emotions every time she ate.  But even despite that I just didn't feel that connected to her as a character, or any of the characters for that matter.

The plot was strange.  I enjoyed the concept of Rose's ability and her brother's secret even though I didn't understand the point of it like I did Rose's.  The book read at a good pace and although several years passed in it, I didn't feel rushed.  What I didn't enjoy so much was the lack of punctuation when it came to the characters speaking.  There are no quotation marks anywhere and it makes it difficult to determine when someone is speaking versus when they are just thinking.  I know it's probably supposed to be edgy or something, but I just found it annoying.  Otherwise the writing was descriptive and it did evoke emotion, but it was a chore to actually sift through to get that.

I can't say that Bender is as good as Allen when it comes to magical realism, but she does have some unique ideas.  And if you like funky, this book definitely fits under that category.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
Copyright 2010
292 pages

February 04, 2013

Shadowland by Alyson Noel

Ick, another lackluster installment of the Immortals series by Alyson Noel.  This is the third book in the series and they should be read in order.  However, that being said, the only one I remotely liked was the first one.  Both the second book and this one left a lot to be desired.

At the end of the last book we found Ever and her boyfriend Damen unable to be together because of a curse (genetic mishap, etc.) that was placed on them by a rogue immortal.  Now, Ever is determined to find the antidote that will fix it, but is heavily distracted by her new job, boss (who's someone from her very distant past), and the fact that her aunt is dating her history teacher.  Not to mention that the twin girls from the Summerland are also stuck in her dimension and she and Damen must care for them.  When the rogue immortal decides to play even more tricks, she finds herself having to make some very tough decisions.

Ever never does the right thing.  Ever.  And it gets kind of exasperating sometimes.  For someone who's supposed to be smart and read motives she's either very dense or in such a hurry to do things she doesn't think them through correctly.  Meanwhile Damen is his usual perfect self, striving to be even more perfect, and I have to agree with Ever that he is quite boring in this book.  Granted, he's no longer lying to her for her own good, but he's making other decisions for her that he really shouldn't be.  No wonder the girl can't make a decision correctly when he usually does it for her.  The new character Jude, I couldn't figure out if I liked him or not.  He has some good qualities, but there still isn't enough known about him.  And Roman, well he's just as evil as ever, albeit in a charming way.

There wasn't much of a plot in this book.  Little story lines yes, but not one big plot.  In fact, it was so jumbled and rushed around that I had a hard time reading it and keeping my interest.  Most of it was just talking but not the type that's a progression to anywhere.  And really, the main goal was Ever finding a cure for Damen so she could finally sleep with him.  Which for a young adult novel might be an accurate representation of what teenagers think about, but perhaps not the best goal for a book.  The only saving grace of this book was the little hints of alchemy and other fantasy elements.

I can't say that I'll be seeking out the next book anytime soon.  I hate leaving things unfinished, no matter how much I don't enjoy them, but maybe I'll delay reading the next in the series.

Copyright 2009
339 pages

February 03, 2013

Blue Moon by Alyson Noel

Blue Moon is the sequel to Evermore and part of the Immortals series by Alyson Noel.  Now it is important to read these books in order, otherwise you will be completely lost in this second book.  Although really, while the first one was mildly entertaining, I'd have to say this one was a bore for me, so it's a read at your own risk type of book.

Ever is happily enjoying life with Damen, learning to be an immortal.  But then Damen starts behaving mysteriously, and she thinks it is linked to the new kid at their school, Roman.  But she's not sure how to prove it, and as Damen slips further and further away from her, she knows she has to visit the Summerlands in order to save Damen.  But even there, she's unsure of whether or not she'll find the answers she needs.

Ever goes from somewhat likable character to bumbling idiot in this book.  Her reactions to things and the ways she makes decisions just don't make sense.  She goes against all possible logic.  Damen isn't really in this book that much so at least I didn't have to watch him try to save Ever from herself.  Because that irritates me nearly as much as Ever acting on her own.  Thankfully her aunt Sabine is still level-headed and caring, and at this point my favorite character in the book.  Even her friends go more into obscurity in this book than they did in the first book.  They could have not been mentioned and it probably wouldn't have even mattered in the plot line.  And Roman, the antagonist of this book, could have really used some more mystery.  When you know he's the bad guy from the first paragraph he's in it makes the book less interesting.

In the Immortals universe I do like how Noel includes alchemy and astrology and other mythic elements.  It's clear she's given a little thought to her fantasy world and tried to develop it.  But when you get to the actual plot of the book it just doesn't work in this one.  Everything is so rushed and hurried that it's hard to make sense of what Ever is actually doing and some of the things she does do seems to be un-needed and plot filler.  We go from her deciding whether or not she'd like to sleep with Damen to needing to save him in only a few pages time and it's not a smooth transition.  This book might have had a shot if the plot was more developed and the bad guys not so predictable.

I've got the third book so I will be continuing on in this series.  And even though I did find the first book entertaining this one has certainly put me off of the series.  I can only hope that is redeemed in the next book, Shadowland.

Blue Moon
Copyright 2009
284 pages

February 02, 2013

Evermore by Alyson Noel

I'm a little sick of the young adult novels coming out where the plot includes a boyfriend who's allowed to lie (amongst other creepy actions) to his girlfriend to protect her or hide a secret of his own.  Like a certain vampire who rates high on the abusive boyfriend scale the main man in this one disturbs me and sets off some alarm bells as well.  Which is why it is with great shame that I actually have to admit I was pretty engrossed in this book and found it entertaining.  And it's the first in the series, so I'm guaranteed more books to read in sequence.

Ever hasn't been the same since a car accident that killed all of her family except for her.  It merely changed her into someone who can see auras and hear people's thoughts, and oh yeah, communicate with her dead sister who likes to come around every day.  It's made her go into her own little shell which is made up of a hooded sweatshirt and ipod to drown out the thoughts of those around her.  But when Damen comes around things change.  The voices aren't so loud and he's attracted to her, although he has an odd way of showing it and is incredibly mysterious.

So let's talk about the characters since they were probably the weakest part of this whole book.  I've already mentioned Damen and his habit of lying to Ever for her own good.  Nevermind the fact that it's entirely creepy and controlling.  Apparently he is handsome, rich, and has tons of talents in other areas so it more than makes up for it.  But I can tell you right now I don't care if he looked like Brad Pitt, I would be entirely uninterested myself.  Ever is a little better, she has a tragic story and her way of coping seems real.  However, her life of luxury is a little unbelievable.  Why is it the girls always have to be beautiful and rich in these things?  I did like her little sister although she wasn't used very effectively.  Mostly she bounced around commenting on Ever's clothes.  And I didn't really feel anything for either of her friends as they were just there to comment on her love life.  Her aunt Sabine, who is just the token adult in the book, actually had a lot more promise of being an interesting character than either of her friends.  And as a side note I couldn't help but noticing that almost every character in this book had a very uncommon name, which struck me as slightly unrealistic.

Somehow the plot drew me in despite my not liking the love connection.  I liked the concept of the secrets around Damen and hope to learn more about them in future books.  And as I said before, I liked the way Ever copes with her new-found abilities as it seems realistic.  The writing is pretty tame too since it is for a young adult audience.  Just some kissing and that's about it.  I can't even recall any cussing in this book, although there is some violence and battle towards the end.  I do have to point out that in this book the meaning of flowers are discussed, and as much as I searched the Internet, I couldn't find the same meaning for a white rose as what the author says it is in this book.  In fact, it seems to be the opposite.  But I did like the concept of the dark red tulips and it was accurate according to an Internet search.  Although there isn't really any setup for the next book as far as bad guys, plot struggle, etc. (the antagonist is taken care of pretty quickly and easily in this book) I'm still interested in reading it because maybe we'll unravel a little more of Damen's mystery.

Not a fantastic series but still pretty entertaining.  I'm hoping as I read the next few books the characters will improve.

Copyright 2009
301 pages

February 01, 2013

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

I've read a couple of other books by Mary Roach with mixed results.  In actuality, this was really the one I wanted to read, but I wasn't able to get my hands on it until recently.  And actually it was good timing, just a few weeks back I went and saw the Body Worlds exhibit (which is mentioned in this book) and my reaction to it was only a little more uncomfortable than my reaction to this. 

For those of you who don't know what Body Worlds is, it's an exhibit of human cadavers that have undergone Plastination and then displayed around the world.  The first reaction is a good five minutes of your heart going hollow and trying to adjust to what you're seeing.  Once that distance is reached then it becomes very interesting to see the exhibit and the bodies up close.  This book is a lot like that because it deals with the uses of cadavers throughout history and even now.  It covers such things as organ donation, whole body donation, crast test dummy research, cadaver cannibalism, and a few other things.  Roach personally attends a lot of the different research facilities and body donation centers to get a personal look at what happens to the cadavers.  Although she does not try out the cannibalism obviously.

Roach talks to a lot of people in this book for the interviews and research on cadavers.  And everyone was highly respectful of the bodies and their contributions.  It was rather nice to see.  Sure some were a bit strange, but when you're working with the dead it probably draws a unique sort of people to the field.  I'm not sure I could ever work with dead bodies, I much prefer the living myself, but I admire the people who can.  And even the dead bodies themselves Roach is mostly respectful.  I won't deny that she cracks a few jokes and makes a couple of odd observations, but with such an uncomfortable topic, it isn't surprising and it isn't done with any malice.

This isn't a book of pure research.  Roach inserts humor and her own scientific observations.  But I guarantee it's a lot more knowledge about the subject than the average person would know.  I certainly learned a lot.  And it also reinforced my want to donate my body to a body farm when I die.  But it's not for everyone.  If you have strict beliefs about bodies and where they are supposed to go after death due to moral or religious reasons, you might not appreciate this book too much.  And there were a couple boring parts.  For instance, the shroud of turin chapter didn't interest me at all, and the older uses of bodies I didn't find as interesting as the modern stuff.  There's only so much I can read about body snatchers taking bodies to anatomy schools before I want to move on to something else.  Largely though this is an interesting book with a lot of information that was surprising.

This is one of the better books by Roach that I've read.  If she comes out with another interesting science book, I'll probably read it.

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
Copyright 2003
303 pages

Dear Zari by Zarghuna Kargar

Sometimes, when moaning about unfairness, reading a book like this one really teaches you what fair is. Half the things in this book my brain couldn't even fathom let alone try to relate to what the women if Afghanistan go through. And as hard as it was to read, I think it truly was an important read.

The author, Zarghuna Kargar, is from Afghanistan. They fled when she was young and ended up in Europe where she started working for the BBC and their radio programs. Most specifically, she helped start a program called the Afghan Women's hour which showcased stories from women around Afghanistan. It featured their jobs, troubles, and important topics of the day. From these stories she chose a few to write this book showing different troubles the women of Afghanistan has. And in between, she intersperses her own story, that of a woman who's in a "western" civilization but was still forced to go through an arranged marriage and her struggles with it.

The stories of the women in here are heartbreaking. The amount of suffering they have to go through is overwhelming and they must be a very strong culture in order for the women to survive it. Here, if someone gets a bad grade on a test they can go into complete breakdown. In Afghanistan a woman can be married off, raped, beaten every day, and still not be able to complain about it. And the different stories in this book were all very moving. Zari (Zarghuna) herself is also very brave. She was not afraid to do what it took to get these stories and deal with her own trouble of an arranged marriage at the same time. She is unflinching in telling these stories too. Most people might try to soften it for a reader, but Zari, like a true reporter, tells it as it happened, which I think is respectful to the people who's stories are contained here.

The style is mainly one of short stories, but they are all connected. The tales range from being sold to repay a debt, to being widowed, and falling in love (which is forbidden for most women in Afghanistan). And they are hard topics. It could be too much for people, I know I had tears running down my face as I was reading this book. My only real complaint of the book has nothing to do with the tragic stories within though. It was more the way it was put together. The short stories were a little too short and bounced about a bit. It was hard to maintain focus, especially since the book made you want to read it in short bits already because of the sadness.

A sad, tragic book. But well worth reading. If nothing else these women's voices need to be heard, and this book makes sure that happens.

Dear Zari
Copyright 2012
250 pages