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

June 02, 2014

The Billionaire's Vinegar by Benjamin Wallace

It is amazing, if you have money, just what you can purchase.  In this case, a really old bottle of wine that was supposedly owned by Thomas Jefferson.  I can't say it is something I'd ever want to possess, but to each their own.

The Billionaire's Vinegar chronicles the auctions, private sales, findings, tastings, and pretty much everything having to do with wine from the eighties onward.  Specifically, it delves into the mystery of the Thomas Jefferson bottles.  Rare wine supposedly owned by Thomas Jefferson and auctioned off at great sums.  Later, there would be controversy surrounding the authenticity of the bottles though and both the players (ultra-rich people who have bought these bottles), scientists (analyzing the age of the bottles), tasters, and others would get involved.

There were a lot of people in this book, and with the exception of a few that came up every chapter, it was hard to keep track of them.  All the tasters, journalists, auctioneers, vintners, etc; there are a lot of people involved in the wine industry, and this book just tracked a small circle of them.  I didn't really care for any of them though.  Probably because I couldn't identify with any of them.  Well, that and with the exception of the really sweet wines, it all tastes like vinegar to me (and it's why I like the title).  I did find the history on Thomas Jefferson very informative though.  I learned things about him that I never knew, especially in regards to his spending habits.

This book started off very interesting with the information about wine and the history lesson.  But then it tapered off in the middle and became quite dry.  I disliked the politics and the intrigue and the drama that the bottles caused, especially since nothing was ever resolved so the book didn't feel finished.  I'm sure wine aficionados would have more of an appreciation for some of the people described in the book and would understand a lot more about the different vintages and bottlers.  Or at least they'd understand more of the terminology that was used.

Not a great book but it did have some good facts and was engaging in the first half.  History or wine lovers will probably enjoy it the most.

The Billionaire's Vinegar
Copyright 2008
319 pages