December 28, 2014

Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkhola Estes

Admittedly I thought this was going to be a book about women who were raised in the wild (or raised by wolves, that sort of folklore) as that is what the title and subtitle seemed to indicate. I was wrong. This is more of a psychoanalysis book and self-help than a book on myths.

Estes has taken a collection of myths and stories from folklore and dissected them one by one into telling the story of the female subconscious. The motives and actions, the restrictions society has placed on the "wild woman" and the way that women can rediscover their wildness. She gives little lessons and advice for those who have been brought down by society and describes the process of suppressing a woman's instincts. The myths themselves are told regularly and then she adds her interpretation to the mix, showing how it relates to female psychology.

This book is all about women. Men are mentioned but only in relation to women. And more often than not they are the oppressors. Although there are a few mentions of men who encourage the wildness in women. The books total theme was one of oppression though, and I was a bit surprised that even when she was encouraging wildness and restoring women back to themselves, she kept referring to arts, and childbirth, and barely a mention of science. It almost seemed like her vision of taking the female self back was still pretty traditional. She wanted a stronger woman, but one that could paint or write and take back her creativity. This might not be very empowering for those women who rather than have strong skills in the arts, are good in the sciences or math. It just didn't seem to be all encompassing.

I liked the myths in the book but did not enjoy how she dissected one story over and over and over. Once would have been sufficient as I found myself growing bored with the tedium of her repetitiveness. I think at some points it was just an effort to make the book longer. And all of the writing was at that level of descriptiveness. So many words to say the same thing over and over. It made the book a bit of a slog. But, returning back to the myths I think she chose some interesting ones, and there were some that I had never heard before, such as the tale of Baba Yaga and the armless girl. She had a nice variety.

I think this book would have been immensely better if it had been edited down. It had interesting concepts but they were lost in the sheer amount of words and the explanations were repetitive. I just can't recommend it based on that.

Women Who Run With the Wolves
Copyright 1992
520 pages

Brush Cat by Jack McEnany

Ever wonder what it would be like to be a logger in the North?  So do I, however, I don't think I know anymore about what it's like to be an actual logger, just what the journalist's experience was.

McEnany moved North and immediately became fascinated with the logging industry.  He tried to make friends with the locals and got himself invited out as free labor a few times.  He covers some of the figures, some of the equipment, and mostly the people in this book.

Some of them are characters.  He profiles a few of the loggers, the actor Rusty Dewees, and birlers.  Although the loggers and their activities take up the majority of the book.  He also talks a lot about his experiences personally.  I think the loggers were the most interesting, especially the one that did yoga!

I would have liked more actual logging figures.  There wer quite a few already but but I found them very interesting.  More so than his personal foibles with chainsaws.  The stories made this more memoir than non-fiction general.  I'm also not sure where the term brush cat came from.  I think the author made it up as all I could find was an equipment part named that.  I think a more known name for loggers would have been appropriate.

A decent book but not as in depth on the logging industry as I expected. Less memoir and more facts would have made it great.

Brush Cat
Copyright 2009
226 pages

December 16, 2014

No River Too Wide by Emilie Richards

I should start off by saying that No River Too Wide is part of a series.  But that doesn't really matter.  I haven't read any of the other books and I didn't really feel like I was missing too much information to really get the full story out of this one.  It was quite wonderful on its own.  There were a few flaws, but nothing that made the book a drag to read through.

Jan Stoddard has finally had enough.  Having been abused by her husband for the length of their entire marriage, now that she has a chance to escape she's going to.  She's not sure if he's just messing with her by not coming home, but it's the opportunity she needs to flee the state.  But in the midst of her flight she accidentally burns the house down and knows that she must get word to her daughter that she's fine and got out alive.  But her daughter isn't willing to lose her mother a second time and convinces her to settle down in Asheville nearby so they can finally be together without fear of her father.  But there's a chance he's out there looking, and there's only a few they can really trust.

First off, Jan is an excellent character.  She really embodies what an abused woman faces and the thought processes that they have.  But she was still strong and resilient, which proves that anyone can recover from abuse if they get the right kind of help.  Her daughter I didn't like quite as well but that's probably because she waffled from one extreme emotion to another.  Which is perfectly natural, it just didn't endear her to me.  They were the main characters but they were supported by a cast of other characters that were well rounded and added to the story instead of just merely being there as fillers.  Taylor especially helped the story flow and it was kind of her story as well since she interacted with everyone and had her own chapters.  My only complaint about the characters would be the need for the author to have everyone "paired up" by the end of the story.  Sometimes that just feels unnecessary and not life-like.

This story is about abuse.  And recovery from abuse.  And reactions to abuse.  And it is all pretty accurate.  Granted everyone experiences something a little different, but a lot of the premises are the same.  The honeymoon stage, the whittling away of self, the people believe it should be easy to leave an abuser.  Dead on.  So the author did their research or has experienced it themselves, they just didn't make up situations.  And I think it's great that it came in this type of a book format as it may reach some people who don't know as much about domestic violence.  I do think that the ending happened a little too easy and wasn't as realistic as the rest of the book.  But this is a feel good book, so I can't say it was out of character for the book. 

This was a hard one to put down.  I definitely lost some sleep while reading it.  And now, having read it, I'm interested in going back and reading others by the author.

No River Too Wide
Copyright 2014
485 pages

**This book was received through the Amazon Vine Program**

December 08, 2014

Curry: The Story of the Nation's Favorite Dish by Shrabani Basu

When you read this cover, Curry: The Story of the Nation's Favorite Dish, you expect it to be more about the actual dish curry and its origins.  Not quite, this is actually a book about how the dish impacted Britain, and to a larger extent Europe's food, grocery and restaurant businesses. 

Basu goes and explores how curry came to be a popular dish in Britain and the different people who brought it to its success.  She tells the history of the people who came up with the packaged dinners, the cold case dinners, the different restaurants, and the different regions of food that are cooked.  The book is more about the people than the food and it shows how they got to Britain and built their respective empires.

Since this book is about the people it tells from when they came to Britain (or their parents who started the business), where they came from, and how they built their business from humble beginnings into something larger.  It never really explores the people that eat the curries though, just the people that sell it.   And I'm still not sure I understand why it is such a popular cuisine in Britain even after reading this book.  I think a little more of the story on the other side of the plate would have been very helpful.

I also found this book a bit pretentious.  It only showed the empire builders, not the average family owned restaurant (unless it was Michelin starred in most cases).  It also had a disdain for formulaic curries and really "curried" favor with those that did something innovative.  I wanted to learn about the cuisine as a whole and it was hard to do that from this book because it just focused on the upper class eateries and the new dishes that were appearing with premium ingredients.  I wanted to know just what a formulaic curry was as it's not a description in my vocabulary and to see instances of it.

If you're looking for a restaurant guide to the finest Indian restaurant's in Britain this will be good but I think that there's a limited scope on the audience for this book.  Not enough about the food in my opinion.  When I read a book about food I want to almost taste it from the descriptions.  I couldn't do that here.

Curry:  The Story of the Nation's Favorite Dish
Copyright 2003
257 pages

November 27, 2014

Tangled Vines by Kay Bratt

The Scavenger's Daughters, the first book in the series of the same name, was engaging and interesting.  Tangled Vines is the next in the series and continues the tale of Benfu and his family. 

Linnea has just opened her clothing shop and her vintage t-shirts are a smash hit.  She's made a few new friends and her boyfriend is as attentive as ever.  So when she finds out about her adoptive parents missing daughter, she wants to make sure everyone is happy and goes out in search of her.  The missing daughter, Li Jin, has troubles of her own though, in the form of an abusive, manipulative boyfriend who is causing great harm to her and her son.

I never really felt as if I was in China with this book.  The characters seemed no different than anyone I would encounter at home.  I would expect that there would be some cultural differences, but there didn't seem to be.  Maybe this is true to life, but I can't imagine there would be some difference.  Everything always went easy for the characters too, they never really had any strife and I felt that this made it harder for their characters to develop.  Linnea, the main character in this book, seemed kind of selfish this time around.  Li Jin, she had a sad story, and I could empathize with her to a point, but I never felt connected to her character.

Everything was too easy in this book.  I can't stress that enough.  And it was predictable.  I do like that the tone of the book was older though.  It was much more graphic than the first book and there were details on sex, rape, domestic violence, and a few other adult themes.  Definitely more grown up than the first book.  And I think they were important topics, although I was disappointed to see that some of the plot lines weren't resolved.  By the way the book ended I don't expect to see them resolved in the next book either.   Some history was thrown in.  The Author has definite views on Mao and the cultural revolution, but some details were added in and there were points about female sterilization and other atrocities committed that I had never even heard of before. 

Not as good as the first but definitely not bad enough to make me stop reading the series.  I do want to see what happens to the rest of the daughters and where their stories will take them.

*This review is part of the Amazon Vine program*

Tangled Vines
Copyright 2014
308 pages

November 21, 2014

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

I found Angels & Demons, the first book in this series, to be much more engrossing than this book.  Which is surprising considering this was the one that had all the hype surrounding it.

About a year after he helped save the Vatican, Robert Langdon is embroiled in a mystery and a murder once again.  This time it is in Italy, where the curator of the Louvre has been murdered and strange symbology points to his killer.  The deceased's granddaughter is along for the ride too because clues that he left her say she should stick to Langon to solve his murder.  A strange monk is intent on finding them though and there are other mysterious players that would like to do anything to prevent Langdon from solving the clues left for him.

Sophie wasn't nearly as strong of a character as her predecessor.  She needed Langdon for almost everything; except for a few things she conveniently knew.  She didn't offer much in the way of dialogue either.  Langdon was little better.  He seemed less personable this time around and like events were outpacing him.  But at least he wasn't as "invincible" as he was in the first book.  I couldn't really care for any of the other characters too.  I predicted the bad guy pretty far in and wasn't surprised to see other characters do some of the actions that they did.  All were pretty predictable.

The plot I was pleased to see was done in a twenty-four hour format again.  I think this helps the book pacing, although this one was still a little long.  And I'm not going to comment on how accurate this book is except to say that it is a work of fiction and I read it as such.  If some of the stuff in it is true, that's great, but it has no bearing on my enjoyment of the book as a work of fiction.  I did find the symbology interesting, and liked the references to Da Vinci.  I thought the beginning offered an interesting premise and was a better lead-in than that of the first book, but the ending felt contrived and too easy.  Everything falling into place when life doesn't really work like that.

Not great, not terrible, not as special as I had been lead to believe.  It was entertaining, but I think it seems like this was a book that was written for tv.

The Da Vinci Code
Copyright 2003
454 pages

November 17, 2014

Tell Me of Brave Women by Laura Riley

Stories about domestic abuse and overcoming obstacles always speak out to me.  You want to know that with all the unfairness in the world that there is a reason for it, that it can be overcome.  Tell Me of Brave Women is all about domestic abuse, and the women who set out to fight it.

Tell Me of Brave Women follows three different women and to an extent, one man.  Samara is a storyteller, who has traveled around the world with her husband, and in her travels, helped to found Secret Sisters.  Secret Sisters is an organization that helps battered women around the globe.  Thelma is a bartender in Appalachia who witnesses a brutal domestic attack and despite not liking "weak women" finds herself drawn to the victim and willing to help.  Evangeline was taken hostage by a crime lord and forced to become his slave in all ways. While she has freedom sometimes she chafes under his rule and the violence with which he lashes out at her. Hassad is an inspector in a country where women are considered less.  He has to follow his superiors orders, even if they are not always honorable.

I can't say that I really liked any of the characters except for Thelma.  They didn't ring as authentic for me.  Samara, while an interesting storyteller, was hard to follow because of the way her timeline and story jumped around.  I could empathize with her to a point, but understanding her motives was difficult at times.  Evangeline was a little better.  She was forced into a situation but still tried to make the best of it and do what she could to help others.  She was the bravest out of all the women by far.  Thelma was a good woman but probably had the simplest storyline of the bunch.  She witnessed something happen, didn't like it, and sought to change it.  Her storyline was much more convincing than all the others and fit with what her actual abilities would have been.  I was glad to see, that although there were some seriously evil men in this book, there were also quite a few that were good and exhibited positive attributes.  Too often books with a women empowerment theme will have every male character as horrible, and that was not the case here.

This book jumped around a lot because of all the different point of views. To add into that, one of the characters, Samara, had a storyline that jumped all over in her history and the present, which added another layer of confusion.  The writing was jumpy as well and not quite as polished as I would have expected.   The voice seemed young and while that was appropriate for Evangeline, it didn't fit the rest of the characters.  There were also some action scenes that I had trouble swallowing as well.  I think condensing and restructuring the book would have really benefited it.  That being said I think the theme of domestic abuse is a pertinent one.  It shows a group of characters willing to do something about what they see as an injustice in the world and to help women who need it wherever they may be.  The "Brave Women" of the story didn't have to do anything outstanding, just being a voice for the unheard is brave.  So on those merits, this book is important.

I like the concept of this book but just couldn't quite get into the execution.  But those who have read about domestic abuse, or gravitate to books that tell a story through different characters will probably be able to sink in quite easily with this book.

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

Tell Me of Brave Women
Copyright 2013
498 pages

November 12, 2014

Margarita Wednesdays by Deborah Rodriguez

Maybe if I had read the author's first book I would have been more charmed by this one.  Certainly the author was genuine and had done some off the beaten path type of things with her life.  But I just couldn't find a connection or really appreciate the story she had to tell.

Having lived in Afghanistan and then leave abruptly when her son is threatened with kidnapping, Rodriguez finds herself back in the states struggling to make sense of what happened.  She stays for awhile with a friend turned a little more until he decides he's had enough of the relationship.  And then it's off to Mazatlan Mexico where she buys a little house and settles down to try to pull the pieces of her life together.  Here she makes new friends but still feels as if something is missing, and with personal problems, family problems, and other problems, peace sometimes seems unobtainable.

Rodriguez can be pretty blunt about herself at times.  Especially when it comes to her choices in men.  She is very frank about all her mistakes there.  And her two sons, while seemingly important to her, actually feature very little in her life.  Yes, one comes and lives with her, but that's when she starts describing him in detail and showing a sense of caring.  She has a lot of drama.  And it gets tiring.  You want to just shake her and say why do you keep doing this to your life?  The other characters she describes nicely though and she usually has something nice to say about almost all of them.

This book is drama.  It's disguised by the fact that it's about moving to Mexico and becoming part of the community there.  But really it's about Rodriguez's personal struggles and how she tries to overcome them.  Mexican culture is a second, although through her interactions with her son's married family help bring the culture to the reader.  She also mentions her first book a lot and that gets a little tiring.   After about the fifth mention, it's like, "ok, you have a book about the beauty school you started in Afghanistan.  That's fantastic, and wonderful for those women, but you've told me this before."  It's obvious she's very proud of it, but redundant after awhile.

This is an ok memoir.  A little too much drama for me and not enough description of everything else.  I'm sure those who read the first book though will find it much more absorbing.

**This book was won in a Goodreads Giveaway**

Margarita Wednesdays
Copyright 2014
276 pages

November 06, 2014

Mistresses of Mayhem: The Book of Women Criminals by Francine Hornberger

I'm fairly convinced that this book wasn't edited. Or at least if it was, it was a rush job. While it was interesting subject matter, the way it was written and the numerous mistakes and spelling errors made it hard reading.

Mistresses of Mayhem is a resource book that describes some of the most famous women criminals in history and the present. In fact, some of the women featured in this book are still alive while others have been dead for hundreds of years. There are murderers, prostitutes, and even pirates. Background on each of the women is given, and the events of their crimes are provided.

There are some bad ladies in here. And a good one that had charges against her dropped. And some who there are doubts about their guilt and undecided charges against them. Because their backgrounds are provided, there is some speculation into why they did the crimes that they did. Although their history doesn't always account for the terrible things that they did. I hadn't heard of the majority of the women in here, and some of their stories definitely came as a shock. It's enough to make you want to wish it was fiction.

This would have been a great reference book, except it didn't really read as a standard non-fiction reference book. There was tons of personal opinion in it I'm always a little skeptical if in a book that's supposed to be non-fiction, the term "white trash" is used several times along with other non-professional names and descriptors. It also had numerous spelling errors, places where you can tell a "find and replace" feature was used incorrectly, and probably the worst of all, some facts actually weren't recorded correctly (IE: two sisters names are reversed leaving the wrong one dead in the book). An editing read-through would have caught a lot of these errors, so I'm not sure what happened. The formatting is a page or two for each woman and it is sorted in alphabetical order.

It certainly doesn't seem as if this book was actually ready to be published. A little cleanup and it would be a good tome on women readers. In its current condition, I just can't recommend it.

Mistresses of Mayhem
Copyright 2002
248 pages

November 02, 2014

Angels & Demons by Dan Brown

Never watched the movies, this is my first experience reading any of Brown's books.  I don't understand all the hype or the controversy.  It was mildly entertaining, and the "clue" format was interesting, but it was nothing outstanding or deplorable in my eyes.

Robert Langdon is minding his own business when he is contacted by an official at CERN to come look at some evidence and a dead man.  Nevermind that Langdon is a professor, not law enforcement, his expertise is needed.  It looks to be the work of the Illuminati, a cult made of scientists who has a very big vendetta against the Catholic church.  Can Langdon solve the Illuminati riddle in time?  The very future of the Vatican depends on it.

The characters were mostly unbelievable in this.  They had too many powers, too easily overcame obstacles, and apparently had super-human strength and healing properties.  There is no way, after some of the things that Langdon went through, that he'd want to be walking let alone want to have sex (and that's all I'll say on that).  Vittoria was a shallow character that seemed to be there in an attempt to have a "strong" female character.  But she neither added much, nor was very strong on her own.  She relied on Langdon's character quite a bit.  And the character and personality changes in some of the others were hard to follow and made it seem as if they weren't even the same character at all.

If you ignored the poorly written characters, the plot was actually fast paced and kept your attention.  There was always some kind of action or gruesome scene to read and the clues and mysteries kept the reader engaged.  I also liked that the entire book took place in the space of a day, but didn't seem too rushed.  It was an impressive way of writing the story.  I can't comment on historical accuracies, etc.  I know nothing about the Illuminati or Catholic church history, etc.  I'm going to assume some is accurate and some is not, as seems to be the case with most fiction works.

Certainly entertaining but by no means a work of art.  I'll read the next in the series just because it is a good way to spend a rainy weekend.

Angels & Demons
Copyright 2000
569 pages

October 26, 2014

A Field Guide to Happiness by Linda Leaming

*This book was received through the Amazon Vine Program*

Bhutan, a country that many have heard about but few have really given in-depth study to.  Which is amazing considering their practices as a country.  Measuring how well they're doing by happiness rather than money.  But it's a country worth getting to know and so this memoir/lessons book is one that opens the door a little wider on Bhutan.

A Field Guide to Happiness is part memoir, part lessons in how to live life happier.  That's not to say that you have to move to Bhutan to achieve the things outlined in this book, it just shows how the author learned these lessons in life while living in the country and following their way of life.  Each chapter has a small lesson and ties into an experience or story from the author's personal life.

I never really felt as if I actually knew the author or her husband.  Which is strange because she did describe both of them, but it wasn't in-depth and I just didn't feel any kind of connection.  And the people of Bhutan were just described in general ways, there was never much of a chance to get to know any of them in-depth as individuals, just as a collective.  She wasn't mean or unkind in her descriptions, just brief, and you can tell she really does love her adopted country.

The whole book can be described as brief.  I get that it was supposed to be in snippets as a lesson format to impart some of the wisdom she learned in Bhutan, but it just felt like large journal entries that were mixed with a self-help book.  The writing was clear, good even, but again, that sense of connection just wasn't there for me.  I don't know if it was the format or the briefness of the chapters, but I just couldn't bury myself into it.  On the positive side though, I like that for her lessons she tried to include snippets of her life in Bhutan.  Especially the descriptions of how the people of Bhutan share and the way they treat property there.  Everyone is striving to be a better person (in general) and that's a commendable way to live.

I enjoyed the book mostly but wish it would have been something I could have immersed myself in.  I think anyone who enjoys self-help, discovery memoirs will probably enjoy it though.  I would definitely consider reading the author's other book on Bhutan.

A Field Guide to Happiness
Copyright 2014
232 pages

October 21, 2014

Russian Tattoo by Elena Gorokhova

*This book was received through the Amazon Vine Program*

I read "A Mountain of Crumbs" and really enjoyed it.  So I was interested in seeing where the rest of Gorokhova's life went after she came to the United States on the arm of her new (stranger) husband.  Having studied English for most of the time she was in Russia, it is still quite the transition to a new culture.

In her previous memoir, Elena meets a young American man who says he will marry her and have an "open" relationship in order to bring her to the United States.  She isn't sure what she's signing up for, but quickly realizes that he is not the man she had thought he might be and that she is lonely and unsure of how to act in this new country.  Eventually they fall apart and she is able to meet another man who will become her husband and the father of her child.  As she transitions into a way of life here, her mother still worries about her though and eventually she has worries of her own as a mother that she must overcome in order to be more at peace with her life.

Elena was very much a worrier in this book.  She worried about everything.  And I can't say that I blame her.  She had a lot going on and felt very out of place and didn't have the support she apparently needed when she first moved.  Her first husband seemed distant and cold, but we are just getting her side of the story.  I do wonder if she ever reimbursed him the money he spent in bringing her to the United States, but I suppose at this point it doesn't matter.  Her mother was not as strongly written in this book either.  She was a sideline, a strife that was dealt with sometimes, and an endearing mother in others that the author recalled fondly. The same goes for her sister who is briefly mentioned.  Her husband gets a lot of detail though (the 2nd one) and I felt that he really was a good person.

I wasn't as engrossed in this one as I was the first.  It was somehow both lengthy and too short all at once.  The parts I wanted more detail on (transition to life in America, customs, etc.) there just didn't seem to be enough of, and those I didn't really care about (family members Dr. appointments) there was quite a bit of.  I thought her interactions with her family were interesting, but didn't need to know every kind of Dr. her mother had appointments at.  I was also surprised at how little time was spent on her daughter as I expected that to be a larger part of the book.  Really, the best detail though was her description of encountering a hamburger for the first time.  It made an impact and showed just how different life in the Soviet Union is from here.

I can't say that it was an exceptionally strong 2nd memoir, but it certainly was expressive writing.   It does what a memoir should; bring you the life of the writer.

Russian Tattoo
Copyright 2014
315 pages

October 19, 2014

Ravens of Avalon by Diana Paxson

Despite being a part of the "Mists of Avalon" series, this book was not actually written by Marion Zimmer Bradley.  However, it was written by a woman who did co-author several books with her, and the similarity of their voices make it seem as if they are one and the same.

Ravens of Avalon tells the story of Boudica.  Boudica was actually a real life queen who waged war against the Romans.  This fictional telling of her story has her start life as a young royal who is sent to train with the druids and priestesses of Briton.  Instead of choosing a destiny as a Priestess, she decides to return home and serve her family and people best by marrying.  During this time the Romans have forced a truce with the different tribes of Briton and become increasingly antagonistic, which spurns a war that Boudica must lead.

Boudica is an interesting woman in history.  Because you don't hear of very many warrior queens (although there are a notable few).  I liked how I got quite a bit of her backstory in this book and what her life could have possibly been like before she was Queen.  But I don't think I got to see enough of her warrior side, and I was slightly disappointed in that.  Lhiannon was also somewhat of a disappointment.  I didn't really like her character in The Forest House (same series) but thought maybe her younger self would be more interesting.  I still saw her lead around by the will of others and of a certain Priest and although she thought she was free, she never really truly seemed to be free.

This book had a slow pace.  But not quite as slow as some of the other books in the series.  Both Bradley and Paxson enjoy detail and spend a lot of time building up history and people in the books.  This one in particular covered a lot of people in their younger days and the quarrels, loves, and aspirations that they held.  I did think that the war scenes were well done, although a tad brutal.  Since this was the story of Boudica you'd expect their to be some battles, but more time was given to history and character building than to gory descriptions and bloody scenes.  There was also some magic as well, which, depending on your stance of myth and legend, is what really made this a work of fiction.

I don't think it was the best of the series, but it's not a bad prequel.  Just one you'd probably not want to read until after having read all of the others.

Ravens of Avalon
Copyright 2007
394 pages

October 11, 2014

Nine Hills to Nambonkaha by Sarah Erdman

Sometimes I'm sorely disappointed when I read a Peace Corps memoir because it is all about the person and includes little to no information about the place and people they volunteered with.  This one is vastly different from that.  Erdman tells little of herself but instead opens up the village of Nambonkaha to you and introduces you to some of its people.

Erdman is selected to be a health worker in the village of Nambonkaha as her Peace Corps assignment.  For two years, she will work to bring better practices to the village and improve health there.  She chooses to do this through the women of the village by introducing baby weighings and vaccination programs.  She also focuses on AIDS education.  But she just introduces and actually uses the villagers to enact the change on the village and uses a variety of local people to accomplish these tasks.

I actually still don't feel as if I know much about Erdman.  Well, aside from the fact that she did a good job as a volunteer.  I know more about her village.  Because those are the people she described in the book.  You feel as if you especially know the ones she was close with.  The boys she taught to read, the women she interacted with on a daily basis, the nurse she worked with at the clinic.  All of these people she described the good and bad on (although mostly good) and took great care to outline their personalities.  It's what made this book worth reading.  Because she took the time to know who she was working with rather than focusing on herself.  And she is very non-judgemental, despite the practices that she abhors and witnesses.

That being said, this book is a long read because it is very detailed.  While I enjoyed getting to know all the aspects of village life and the challenges there were to overcome in the education of healthcare, I felt as if things were very repetitive and drawn out.  It was helpful that there was a glossary at the end for some of the translations and words specific to the village.  There were several times I had to look up just what an object was so I could understand it in context.  I also would have loved to see some pictures of the village and its people, so I could put faces to names.

If you enjoy Peace Corps memoirs or travel writing I think this will be a very good book to read.  It details the experience, not the person writing it, and is one of the more honest accounts I've seen.

Nine Hills to Nambonkaha
Copyright 2003
322 pages

September 28, 2014

The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg

Imagine living in a society where girls are not valued.  In fact, they are property and subject to the whims of the males in their lives.  Where they go from father to husband and never have a say in what happens.  This isn't a fairytale.   It's a reality in Afghanistan, even after the removal of the Taliban.

When Nordberg goes to Afghanistan she expects to find out about the lives of women.  What she doesn't expect to find is an underground movement of women who are posing as men.  And it's something everybody knows but doesn't speak on.  More commonly found in pre-pubescent girls, it has become custom to turn a girl into a boy either for running errands, helping in a shop, or to give luck that a boy will be born next.  The girls are normally returned to being their birth gender before puberty starts and they are married.  But there are a few exceptions.

It's hard to imagine changing yourself into a different person to be integrated in society and have freedom of movement but that is exactly what happens in Afghan culture.  Whether it is for necessity to survive and get an income or because there is shame from having all girls, the reasons are varied but all widely accepted.  Nordberg does a great job of showing the different personalities of the girls that have been boys for awhile and their history.  It was interesting to read about how they handled the transition back (if they transitioned) and how it set them up for the rest of their lives.  The different reactions of people to her was telling as well, because as a foreigner she had a lot of freedom compared to most, but was still treated differently based on her gender.

The reporting in this book was handled very well.  Nordberg researched, talked to many people, and got the different sides of everything.  Pretty standard, but sadly not something that happens with a lot of journalists anymore.  I think the attention she paid to the leads and as in-depth as she went in her reporting was remarkable.  Especially considering she was in a closed-society that doesn't encourage outsiders to make contact with women.  Sure, it probably helped she was a woman herself, but it's still a difficult culture to navigate and get answers.  Which makes this view pretty important.  Her take of the situation, that not just women should be being helped, but the men who encourage education in women should be helped as well, is an important thought and one frequently overlooked.  And the stories are engaging and well written, done in a professional way but still having a lot of detail.  I could have kept reading if there was more.

I think this is a great book that shows a hidden side of Afghan culture that could be key to improving lives for women over there.  I definitely recommend this book for anyone interested in women's studies or Afghan culture.

**This book was received in a Goodreads Giveaway**

The Underground Girls of Kabul
Copyright 2014
333 pages

September 19, 2014

Big Sky Secrets by Linda Lael Miller

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

Linda Lael Miller is one of my favorite romance novelists.  I like her stories, subjects, and the detail she puts into everything.  This book was technically part of a series, but it isn't really necessary to read them in order, it can be read as a standalone book.  It wasn't one of my favorite of hers, but it still kept me reading.

Ria has started a new life.  After the death of her husband she left the west coast for a small flower farm in Montana and now is content growing her flowers and attending the farmers markets.  Her only agitation is her neighbor Landry, who has a buffalo that likes to get loose quite often.  But he's so darn good looking that she can't help but feel more than agitation for him.

The characters were a little weak in this one.  I especially didn't like the plot twist for Ria's dead husband.  It felt like they had to make him a less likable guy in order for her new romance to be ok.  I just didn't see the need for it.  And Ria herself had a couple bouts with her character going crazy.  Add in her niece Quinn that acted more like 12 than 17, and it was somewhat confusing.  That being said, I did like Landry's butler.  While a weird addition to the book, he was a welcome one.  Landry was the typical rich cowboy, he provided a hunky love interest who was good in the sack.  Which for a romance novel is pretty standard.

The plot was ok.  There wasn't that much strife.  And I did think the ending was a little rushed.  I'm also never sure why the end all be all of these romance novels are marriage and a kid.  I'd love to see marriage and perfectly happy without kids, but I don't think romance novels are allowed to be published without that ending.  I did like that the two had sort of a love-hate relationship going and that it took place in Montana.  Miller is also very descriptive so while this book didn't take place over a long period of time, it felt like what was happening was in a regular timeline while reading because you could picture what was happening.  There were descriptive sex scenes in this book, three, right at the end.  So there's a lot of buildup as you can imagine.

Miller's still my favorite but this one fell just a bit flat.  But it was entertaining, and you can't go too wrong with that if you're not expecting fine literature.

Big Sky Secrets
Copyright 2014
376 pages

September 15, 2014

Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse

Sometimes you read about a character you absolutely can't stand or relate to.  But more on that later.  This book was suggested to me, and as I always like a good conversation about books, I told him I would read it.  Hermann Hesse is a pretty well known author, although I've heard said that this book is one of his more misunderstood ones.

Harry Haller is a recluse, a wolf, as he likes to call himself.  He spends his time contemplating poetry, music, books, in the privacy of his own rooms and has never learned to dance nor unleash the more animalistic side of him, despite knowing that it lies dormant within him.  When he meets a woman named Hermine, his world starts to change though.  She introduces him to dancing, pleasures and cheap thrills, and eventually to the magic theatre, where he is taken on a ride so out of the normal that he cannot tell what is real and what is not.

It was interesting, when talking with the friend who suggested this book, to discover just how different he and I viewed Harry Haller.  I viewed him as narcissistic and with a superiority complex.  He viewed him as misunderstood and socially awkward.  I guess it really is true that our own life experiences shape how we view things.  My reasoning for finding Haller narcissistic were a result of his constant moaning about how the upper classes of society didn't understand or appreciate his views on art, literature, etc.  And that dancing, etc. that he secretly was interested in was considering lower class by him and more animalistic, a different side to him.  It was as if he felt himself so superior to either group of people, that he couldn't fit in despite trying.  I just found it a real turn-off.   I also didn't like the way he discarded a certain character once finished with his development of his own character.  It's like learning much from a good book and then setting fire to it when you're done reading.  Destruction with no real purpose.

That being said, if Hesse's intent was to make me dislike Haller then he did a very good job.  The book is descriptive and evokes emotion, if not necessarily the positive kind.  But the first third of a book was a whiney drag to get through.  I got tired of Haller describing himself and his suffering of being alone and it wasn't until Hermine entered the picture that things actually got interesting.  I still didn't like the social interactions he had, but at least there were new characters that offered different perspectives.  The Magic Theatre was also intriguing and the images evoked from the writing were disturbing yet colorful and varied.  It was like having a very vivid nightmare.  I realize that I may not fully understand the emotions or worldview that Hesse was expressing through Haller, but I just couldn't connect with any part of him which made this a difficult read.  It was like looking at a piece of abstract art; it may appeal to some and I can appreciate that the artist had a lot of thoughts and emotions going into the work, but I certainly don't want to hang it in my house.

I think you can be of two minds of this book, you either like it or you don't.  For me, I can't say that I enjoyed it, other than enjoying the debate about the writing and character motivations that came out of it.

Copyright 1927
256 pages

September 01, 2014

Travels with Casey by Benoit Denizet-Lewis

Travels with Casey; one immediately compares the title to the Travels with Charlie written by Steinbeck.  And that's kind of the point.  The author thought about that classic book and then decided to do his own spin on it.  Take his dog on a trip around the country in an RV, but instead of learning about the people, he wanted to learn about the dogs of the country.

Denizet-Lewis never really felt connected to his dog.  Sure he took care of Casey well, made sure he had everything he needed, but he always felt as if maybe Casey didn't want to be his dog.  There just wasn't a connection with him despite several years together.  So on a writing assignment he decides to pack it up and see if being stuck in an RV together will do anything for that connection.  Along the way he'll stop at various points in the US known for Dog Shows, unique dog parks, dog people, and other such things relating to dogs.

Despite this being a book about dogs, Denizet-Lewis encounters several different people as well.  From the guy who will stop at nothing to find a lost dog, to the guy who lives with wolf-dogs, people can be just as different as dog breeds.  Some of them he describes as a bit crazy, but he takes care to show the goodness that they all have and the common bond of dog ownership.  These are all people, that for various reasons, are obsessed with their dogs or helping dogs.  And it's nice to read about that sometimes when there's so much on the news that points to the other directions.  For himself, Denizet-Lewis tells you all about his flaws, but he comes across as a genuinely likable guy. 

I liked the pace of this book.  While there were sections I would have liked to read more on (Best Friends Animal Sanctuary) I think overall the different snippets were enough to keep the book moving along and interesting.  I enjoyed all the different things related to dogs that he found on his travels and didn't know about some of the others (dog shaped hotel, etc.).  The only part I didn't really like was that so much of his personal life and drama invaded the book.  I think it's probably more of a memoir/dog travel book and while there was nothing particularly out there, I guess I just expected it to be more about the dogs and less about his personal anguish.  It was a mix between.  Again, that doesn't mean this book was poorly written, it just wasn't what I expected based on the title.

For those that like memoirs and books about dogs this is probably going to be a good read.  It has enough whimsy mixed with enough serious topics to keep it interesting.

**This book was won in a Goodreads Giveaway**

Travels with Casey
Copyright 2014
309 pages

August 12, 2014

Wanderlust by Elisabeth Eaves

I'd love to travel, I'm somewhat scared of commitment.  These are the things that make me readily identify with the author of this book.  Even though in reality I'm nothing like her.  While she's out traveling the world, I've never been out of the country (unless you count the Canadian side of Niagara Falls).  While she bounces from relationship to relationship and seemingly doesn't care about sticking with one person at a time, I'm a serial monogamist.  So why on earth am I so drawn to her life?

Eaves decides during college that she needs to travel.  Her boyfriend at the time goes all over the world and it inspires her to do more with her life.  She bounces along from Egypt, to Yemen, eventually finishing up college and going on to other relationships, to New Zealand, Australia, and other places.  She has a few more boyfriends, goes back to school again, and travels to a few more countries.  She never stops moving.  And this book tells of all that moving, although it mostly focuses on her relationships.

The relationships in this book are somewhat shallow.  Eaves herself admits love to several different men, sometimes at the same time, and it makes it hard to know whether what she was feeling was deep or authentic.  Not that I'm to judge, I'm sure you can love multiple people on that level, but with the ease that she separates herself from some of these relationships, it calls it into question.  For herself, we recognize that she doesn't want to be held down.  That she likes the freedom of travel and that she seems to enjoy having superficial relationships that she can easily be freed from.  She's very solitary in a way.

I enjoyed most of this book's descriptions of travel.  Towards the end it was more about her relationships, and I would have liked to have more detail on the countries she was staying in.  It seems that she sacrificed the part about travel for the part about social and her somewhat controlling boyfriend in the latter part of the book.  Granted, she was in France, which she didn't think was terribly exciting, but I'm sure there were some positive things about it and some beautiful sights.  Overall though, I thought the book moved fast and that it kept me fully engrossed in what was happening.

I enjoyed this book, although I recognize not everyone may agree with the way that Eaves travels or her relationships.  I found it an interesting, non-conformist way of living life.

Copyright 2011
301 pages

August 04, 2014

Stringer by Anjan Sundaram

*This review is part of the Amazon Vine Program*

I'm probably in the minority here, but I just couldn't get into this journalist's account of the time he spent in the Congo.  As a rule travel books are one of my favored genres, and being as this was not Sundaram's native country I count it as travel in a journalistic capacity.

Sundaram quits pursuing a higher degree in mathematics to become a journalist in the Congo.  Why the Congo?  A chance meeting with someone in the US enables him to find a place to stay.  Plus it's a war torn area is full of news and somewhere a freelancer can find work.  So he spends a great deal of time traveling around the Congo and meeting some of the people in it, from the family that he stays with to military leaders and more. 

Sundaram doesn't describe himself overly much.  We know that he liked math at one point, that he's of Indian descent, and that he didn't mind the hardship of traveling to the Congo.  We also know how he feels about people, especially the family that he stays with.  But he spends most of his time writing about the people and places that he goes.  The family he is honest about describing.  Their quirks, flaws, how they can be kind and what happens when they are angry with him.  He doesn't hold back at all.  And that's the same for all he meets.  There are a few unflattering descriptions of people in here.  I also thought that while he did describe his interactions, I didn't get a full sense of the personalities of the people he was describing.  Especially considering he lived with some of them for awhile.

The writing in this was a bit more flowery than I expected from a journalist writing from a country that has violence in the headlines every day.  Very poetic.  And I'm sure some people would appreciate it but it made it harder for me to read from a non-fiction perspective.  But that was only in parts, in some areas of the book it was very cut and dry and to the point.  And I appreciated those sections.  It was just hard to mesh the two together for me.  I also thought most of the book was spent on him getting to and fro rather than really talking to the people and getting a sense of their daily lives.  I know the troubles he went through based on the fact that he was living with them, so there's some through association, but I never really felt as if I knew the complete story behind the family he was staying with or any of the other people he encountered.  And the pace felt a bit slow, as if there was stuff going on but the author was removed from it for the majority of the book (although he had a few exciting moments).

I just couldn't get enamored with this book.  It has some good parts to it but largely I didn't come away feeling as if I knew anything more about the Congo than I did before.

Copyright 2014
265 pages

July 29, 2014

A Fortune Teller Told Me by Tiziano Terzani

What would you do if you were a journalist and told that you shouldn't travel by plane for an entire year?  Would you heed the warning, or would you continue to do as you please for your jobs sake.  Terzani decided to heed the warning and since he still needed to make a living, traveled around Asia and Europe any way but by plane.

After a fortune teller tells him that he shouldn't travel by plane, Terzani decides to make an exploration not only of Asia, but also of the different seers and fortune tellers that are found in each of the countries he visits.  He wants to see how accurate they are and whether or not they'll echo the warning against flight like the original.  Along his journeys he also comments on how the different countries have changed, what the leadership is like, how the people live, and the difficulties of travel in each country.

Terzani is a somewhat mixed narrator.  For some people he shows the utmost respect and describes kindly, others he shows nothing but disdain.  And honestly, those two categories kind of merged all the people together for me as all the ones he liked had the same attributes and all the ones he didn't had the same attributes so they didn't seem like as many people as what he actually met.  And then there was his wife.  Despite his constant mention of her I still didn't feel as if I knew that much about her.  Himself he doesn't really describe other than to relate what the fortune tellers say about him.

I found this book excruciatingly repetitive.  While at first it was interesting after awhile I got tired of him describing going to a fortune teller and having his fortune read.  The countries, people and places might as well have all be the same for me and it slowed down the pace dramatically.  That's not to say he isn't a good writer.  He has a clear way of writing and there is a substantial amount of detail.  It was just slow moving and didn't capture my interest despite the fact that it should have been an interesting topic.  The pace was also weird in that the first half the book only captured two months of the year while the second half captured the rest of the year.  I think had it been drawn out more evenly it might have been a little more interesting.

I can't say that I'd recommend this book to anyone unless they really liked mysticism with a little hint of travel.  There was just too much of the same story in the book.

A Fortune Teller Told Me
Copyright 1997
367 pages

July 15, 2014

Look Again by Lisa Scottoline

The first couple of nights I spent reading this book I was at the edge of my seat, eager to find out what happened next.  Then, about half way through, that completely changed and the book quickly spiraled downward for me.  As a first experience of Scottoline's books, I'm not sure what to think.

Ellen is perusing through her mail when she stops at a missing child card and notices how similar the boy in the picture looks to her own adopted son.  With it in her mind all day, she starts investigating the story of the missing boy and re-digs through the adoption process she went through and starts uncovering missing information and story holes.  With her boss and deadlines looming over her, leads that go nowhere, and a coworker who wants her job, Ellen has enough things to distract her let alone be consumed with the thought that her son really isn't her son.

Ellen was ok.  I think a lot of the things she did in this book weren't really plausible.  And I found her workplace a little weird as well with the interactions that happened there.   Not the backstabbing by coworkers, I've heard that that happens quite often, but the questioning of personal time and sick time.  Her son was much more believable than her, but that's because he was a young kid and either happily doing some activity, whining, or throwing a temper tantrum.  Which is pretty true to form for that age.  The rest of the characters I didn't really find that believable.  Too much drama and complicated plotting.

Complicated plotting actually summarizes the story quite well.  The initial premise draws you in, but then as things start to come together everything becomes befuddled.  Without giving too much away I have to say that the ending was rendered a little too happy and easy and fairy tale when reality would have probably been much different.  Everything just fell together too easy.  And the romance that was added in seemed awkward and out of place.  I did like the level of detail that was given to everything.  Little clues were everywhere and since the main character was a journalist, there were even "articles" to be read in the book as well and she did investigative reporting.

Overall, not a fantastic book, but it wasn't terrible.  I can't say I'll be running out for more of Scottoline's books anytime soon as a result of reading this one, but I wouldn't swear her off completely.

Look Again
Copyright 2009
377 pages

July 09, 2014

Lady of Avalon

Lady of Avalon is one of the books in the Mists of Avalon series.  That being said, it doesn't seem to matter what order you read these books in.  They jump around in time and were written in random order so they all can stand on their own.  It does help to have read Mists of Avalon for some of the background stories, but it is not necessary.

Lady of Avalon tells the stories of three of the High Priestesses of Avalon.  There is Caillean, who left the Forest House to start a new life for the order in Avalon and her struggles with keeping it safe from the outside world.  Dierna, who loses her sister but gains another and wishes for Avalon and Britain to be protected from Roman rule.  And Viviane, who will orchestrate the birth of Arthur and see him made High King over the land.  All three women have their struggles and opposition despite their strong will to do what they believe best for Britain.

All of these women are strong women, stubborn, prideful, and thinking they know what's best ultimately leads to their downfall.  It happens in every single book.  You would think there would be one who is meek and mild, but there's not.  So I guess only a certain type of person is called into the role of a Lady of Avalon.  The other characters live to support them as well.  It doesn't matter who the other priestesses are, sometimes the druids are rarely mentioned by name, and you can tell the ultimate focus is on these women.  Which is fine, it is their story.  But it'd be nice to see them through the eyes of others more often than you do.

It does seem a theme that nothing ever goes as plan.  This carries across all the books.  And it makes you wonder why their Goddess keeps pressing them to do these things if it isn't working.  Or that a more active role could be taken to preserve the knowledge and keep the faith alive rather than setting a path and letting each person screw it up in their own way.  Just once I would have liked to have seen them succeed and I never really feel as if they do.  I'd also like more back story on the past lives they live as it is mentioned here and there in the books but never really fully expanded on.  But for all my complaining it is still a compelling story and does provide a lot of history for those who have read the other books.  You want to see Avalon, to step through the mists and learn the Mysteries.  So great detail in making you believe the book.

Not a bad one but it certainly isn't as developed as the original book in the series.  I do plan on continuing to read the other books though to have all my questions (hopefully) answered.

Lady of Avalon
Copyright 1997
456 pages

June 29, 2014

The Green Mile by Stephen King

So at one point, I was reading this book, got up to do something, came back and sat back down and looked at the tv, and wondered what happened to the movie.  That's right, it was so descriptive that for a moment I really believed I was watching the movie instead of reading the book.  The Green Mile is just one of those books that is that good (and the movie was quite good as well).

Paul Edgecomb is a head guard on the Green Mile.  That's what they affectionately call death row at the prison he works at.  Things are as normal as they can be in that kind of a job until a man named John Coffey comes on the row for murdering two little girls.  There's something special about John, but Paul doesn't realize how special until he witnesses a miracle involving another inmate's pet mouse.  And because of that, Paul makes a few decisions he might never have done before.

I like Paul the guard.  He seems to have his head on his shoulders right and he isn't afraid of the unknown.  He is also fair and hard working.  A general all-around likable guy.  And then there's Percy.  The one you're supposed to hate.  And he makes it so easy.  All of the other characters provided good background.  Even John was likable in his way, although he always stayed mysterious.

This book was written as a serial, meaning broken up into short stories.  I am awful glad that I just got a book that condensed all these serials, as I don't think I would have been very happy waiting for installments.  But maybe that's just a lack of patience.  It is an interesting way to do a book, and with the new technology of ereaders I can see it being more prevalent now than even when it was in print.  But regardless, reading this in one sitting suited me just fine.  It was gripping, well detailed, and had a lot of character depth, which is something that I sometimes find lacking in King's books.  It had the super natural, but it was all a believable sort of supernatural, which I appreciated since this book was set in a very real time period with real life plotlines and normal people.

A very good book, I enjoyed finally reading it after seeing the movie so many times.  It sure isn't going to disappoint someone looking for a gripping story.

The Green Mile
Copyright 1997
465 pages

June 22, 2014

The Shark God by Charles Montgomery

Montgomery went in search of magic.  Well actually he just wanted to trace his ancestor's footsteps, but then his mission quickly became the unknown and magic once he was in Melanesia.  This book, rather than be on comparative religion and travel like I thought it would be, actually read more as a memoir (although to be sure there is religion and travel included).

As a young boy, Montgomery discovered journals from his missionary ancestor and the stories contained within fascinated him enough that he wanted to retrace those steps in history.  Armed with his savings account and a little bit of knowledge on writing in the travel industry, he flies out to the islands in the Pacific to meet with the locals and see if there is any traditional religion left or if everyone had converted to Christianity.  What he found was a surprising mix between the two and a people divided by their beliefs.

While Montgomery fully fleshes himself and his beliefs in the book, I couldn't help but feeling that the local people were left more two-dimensional.  They all had a personality quirk that set them off but their true description was in their religion and that seemed to be what defined them.  Their actual personal lives, hopes, and dreams we never heard much about and so it made it hard to care about their other beliefs.  Mongomery at least was interesting in his own thought exploration and it was interesting to see the goals of his travels change as he progressed through the islands.

The premise was a good one.  He wanted to see what those before him had seen and how the missionaries' work had changed the islands.  But then he started wanting to see the magic side and the customs that the native people gave up in favor of Christianity.  He puts in a lot of detail, but I do think that it starts to get repetitive and drawn out after awhile. Every person's story seemed the same and I felt like I was reading about the same person over and over again.  There were a few standouts; mainly about the missionary Patterson and some of the older stories and I did enjoy those parts of the book.  As for the other stories though I would rather have read more about the landscape and less about the people's betel nut habit.

An ok book.  It has a lot of interesting points from an anthropological standpoint but it presents it in a way that can be quite dry at times.

The Shark God
Copyright 2004
370 pages

June 11, 2014

The Daily Coyote by Shreve Stockton

Coyotes are generally considered a nuisance.  Not a pet.  So when Stockton adopts an orphaned coyote, she doesn't quite know what she's getting herself into.  But she's willing to try.

Stockton fell in love with Wyoming while driving across the country on her vespa.  After seeing it, she knew that was where she had to end up and so found a small rental and a way to make a living and moved.  She quickly met the acquaintance of a local land manager/rancher and ends up renting property off of him in addition to dating him.  And then he decides to give her a coyote puppy.  Something made him save it out of all the other ones he was putting down for his job and Stockton decides to raise it.  The book covers the first year of the the pup Charlie's life and the different challenges Stockton faces in raising him.

Stockton is pretty open about her life and the people around her.  Even her boyfriend she gets pretty candid about.  Telling when she's upset with him or the personal aspects of his life.  But she does the same for herself as well.  Charlie gets the most description of course, and since he's the star of the show that just makes sense.  I enjoyed reading about his personality and his antics, and even his bad quirks.  Stockton took a long look at herself to see why she might be having troubles with him and wasn't afraid to admit her mistakes and failing and try to do something about them; which is admirable.

This book moves kind of slow for only covering a year.  A lot of time is spent on Charlie as a puppy and during the times where he and Stockton were having personality conflicts.  I find it interesting, but honestly would have preferred to hear a little more than that year as the last third of the book just seemed to be about her struggles with him and it barely got to being better before the book was ended.  I suppose this is due to the timeline she had to write it in, but I wish they would have let her have a little more time to expand on the story.  Otherwise the description is good, the pictures are lovely and adorable and I really did enjoy reading Charlie's (and Stockton's) story.  The only warning I would give is that there is quite a bit of description about coyote killings.  It's reality unfortunately, but if you can't handle that kind of stuff, don't read the book.

If you like animal stories this is a good one.  Stockton does a great job with Charlie and it's a pleasure to see the pictures and read the book.

The Daily Coyote
Copyright 2008
287 pages

June 09, 2014

Priestess of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

The Mists of Avalon took the story of Arthur and changed it so that the perspective was from a woman.  And then a series was spawned from it.  Priestess of Avalon is one of those books in the series, although I couldn't tell you what order they should be in as it doesn't seem to matter what order you read them in.

Helena, also known as Eilan, was born of the Lady of Avalon and also caused her death.  She is sent to her father as a child and only returns to Avalon ten years later, to start her training as a priestess.  There she clashes with the new Lady of Avalon, who is her aunt, and it comes to a head when she substitutes herself as his priestess at a ritual.  She is cast out of Avalon and travels with this Roman man as his companion, becoming his wife in all but name and eventually bearing his son Constantine, who will be a great man in his own right some day.  But she still feels the call of Avalon from time to time, and misses her sisterhood of priestesses.

Helena is mostly Helena in this book and not really her British side.  She spends the majority of her life with the Romans and as a wife and a mother rather than a priestess.  She does call upon her powers from time to time but this is more the story of a noble lady rather than an Avalon priestess.  I do appreciate that she liked her dogs though and had many throughout the story.  I really couldn't care either way about any of the other characters.  They weren't described as much as Helena and seemed only there to prop her up on her journey rather than be their own persons.  Except for her son Constantine, he was so fervent in his desires that it was hard to like him.  Although he did get a lot done.

Despite this being a large book it was exceptionally fast paced.  The course of eighty years is told in it and it flies by with big jumps in time with each chapter.  It was a little confusing because of that, but luckily at the start of each chapter the year was given so that helped a little.  This being a story about a cast out priestess was different from the rest of the series too as most usually take place close to Avalon and Helena traveled all over the Roman empire.  I can't say that it held quite the same charm and power that Mists of Avalon did, but it was still a pretty good story in its own right.

If you like the works of Bradley, you'll like this one in the series.  It follows a strong woman and her adventures in a world that doesn't always appreciate strong women.

Priestess of Avalon
Copyright 2002
394 pages

June 06, 2014

Bad Elephant Far Stream by Samuel Hawley

When you think of realistic fiction you probably don't think of the protagonist as being an elephant. But it was an elephant in this book. Based off of the real life circus elephant Topsy, Far Stream has a long sad story that shows much about how the circus industry was a hundred years ago.

Topsy was born Far Stream and at a very early age was captured and shipped across the seas to America where she was separated from what remaining family she had left and sold into the circus industry. Throughout her life she is passed around to different shows, either by selling or because the circus itself was sold and she encounters other elephants. Nothing remains constant in her life except the cruelty used to keep elephants in line when they don't behave and like most other elephants, Topsy grew tired of the constant abuse and started to turn "bad" and to what humans considered dangerous.

Topsy is a likable protagonist. You actually feel bad for her plight and the things she was forced to do. I'm sure more than a few people will be put off from the circus when they read this book even though it is hoped that more humane practices of animal care are followed today. Her connections to the other elephants were interesting, especially her sister Red Stream. And it shows that animals are capable of affection too, not just humans, and that they experience a range of emotions as well. The humans in this story I didn't really care for. Sure there were a few good ones, but that was just relative in terms of the bad ones. I found it hard to believe that there wasn't one person who didn't subscribe to treating the animals well no matter how they were behaving.

I've read other books about circus elephants and other books with the elephant as a protagonist, but never a book that combined the two. I think it was an interesting way to present the story. The pace flowed nicely and I found myself having a hard time putting down the book as I wanted to find out what would happen next. Topsy's story was just that engrossing. Since it is based on the real life Topsy there are a lot of true facts in this book as well, although the author admits that he borrowed from other elephant's stories to give Topsy a complete history. Which is why this is a fiction book, and not a history book. But it's still very informative on the subject.

This is a good book for animal lovers (although parts will make you sad) and very nicely written. I would definitely recommend this to people interesting in either the circus or elephants.

**This book was received as a Free Advanced Review Copy**

Bad Elephant Far Stream
Copyright 2013
263 pages

June 04, 2014

The Neverending Story by Michael Ende

If this movie wasn't a part of your childhood, I feel really really bad for you.  Because the Neverending Story was fantastic (I heard they made sequels, I wouldn't know about those).  But this review isn't actually for the movie, this is for the book!  I'm ashamed to say I never knew a book even existed until recently.  But since it did, I knew I had to read it.

What will surprise most is that this book goes far beyond what the movie did, this is Bastian's total adventure to Fantastica and not just Atreyu's story.  Bastian is a picked on little boy, who, drawn to a book in a cranky man's bookstore, steals a book and holes up in his school's attic to read it.  There he is swept into the world of Fantastica where the Childlike Empress is dying and only a young hero named Atreyu can save her.  He is set on a quest to find the cure for her, and Bastian is a key to that cure and will have many adventures himself as a result of the mysterious book.

Bastian is a typical nerdy little boy.  Other kids pick on him and he retreats into a world of fantasy.  It's something that many can identify with.  Atreyu on the other hand, is the opposite of shy Bastian.  He is an adventurer, brave and strong, and the type of person little Bastian's want to be.  He also has a lot of wisdom for a person as young as he is, which is slightly unbelievable at times.  But I do have to say I enjoyed Atreyu's character far more than some of Bastian's antics.  There are so many side characters that you can get lost with all of them, but at least they're wildly imaginative.

I enjoyed the first half of this book and didn't really care for the second half.  This may have been because the first half encompassed the movie I so fondly remember and the second was Bastian's adventure and a bit more bizarre.  It just seemed that things happened a little too easy for Bastian and I grew bored even as I was introduced to more of Fantasia.  Atreyu's journey was more selfless and interesting.  There was an actual purpose and an outside force to be fighting against whereas Bastian's journey was more introspective and meandering.  The description for all was quite good though and the author sure had an imagination.  Some of the creatures he dreamed up were nothing that I'd ever heard of before.

A good book that's not only for children it will bring adults back to their childhood memories and introduce a new generation to the wonders of Fantastica and the possibility of a never-ending story.

The Neverending Story
Copyright 1979
396 pages