January 28, 2014

People of the Sea by Kathleen O'Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear

These books keep going and going.  Part of a series, they don't really have to be read in order.  In fact, this one takes place in a period of history that was before when the fourth book took place.  You may miss a few details, but really, as obscure as some of this is, it isn't going to have an impact on your reading enjoyment.

People of the Sea is about racing for your life.  Kestrel, having been accused by her husband of incest, is heavily pregnant and seeking to escape his wrath.  He's always beat her and left her alone, but now he wants to kill her, and possibly the child contained within her.  So she sets off to find a tribe by the sea where she can hopefully be taken in and accepted.  Meanwhile Sunchaser is having trouble dreaming and the mammoths are dying out.  He wants to save them, but can't seem to make his way clearly in the world of dreams.

Once again you have some very crazy characters in this book.  I'm beginning to think that madness is a trend.  Certainly Kestrel's husband has a deep emotion problem since he is abusive, thinks he can talk to the dead, and has a one track mind on venting his anger.  Kestrel is brave but too modest.  Part of that is probably a result of abuse but it seems that if she had all those skills she would have been valued highly by the rest of her people and perhaps not treated the way she was by them.  Sunchaser, well I didn't really understand his part in anything.  He wasn't like the Dreamers in other books and I couldn't really understand what the spirits were trying to accomplish with him.

Actually the spirits were a little bit weird this round (weirder than normal).  The whole side plotline with the character Boy didn't make sense to me.  Maybe I just wasn't thinking that deep while reading it, but I didn't understand the underlying message that they were trying to get across with that character.  Or at least it didn't hold the same type of meaning to me.  Maybe for someone else it would be a little better.  I did enjoy Kestrel's journey as it meant most of the landscape was described and different peoples were encountered.  Too often these books focus on individuals rather than culture and environment.

Not a bad book but I don't think it's one of their best ones.  Since there's still at least ten more books in the series I'm sure that I'll encounter another great one at some point though.

People of the Sea
Copyright 1993
557 pages

January 27, 2014

People of the River by Kathleen O'Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear

The Gear's are a husband-wife team who write books about the prehistoric first peoples of North America.  There are several books in the series, but it isn't mandatory that you read them in order.  Sure, there are a few details that may leave you confused if you haven't read the others, but the majority of the story is original and separate from the rest.  People of the River is considered the fourth book in this series.

Nightshade is considered a powerful Dreamer.  She has been ever since she was stolen from her peoples and made a part of the River People's community.  But she and the main leader have never gotten along; there's something not quite right about him and he seeks to harness her power and dominate her.  Add in a drought that is killing off the people, and someone has angered the spirits, and only Nightshade, and unknown woman are going to be able to put it right again.

The theme of this book was crazy.  There were quite a few people who just weren't right in this book and while some of them were good and harmless, there was a bad kind of crazy in this book, and it was sinister.  I was eagerly waiting to see what would happen when the Leader would have one of his childish fits and demand everything go his way because you knew it would never mean anything good.  And then there was Wanderer, who was crazy too but in such an endearing way that he was charming.

I'd never really realized how complex the River people were.  They almost seemed Aztec in traditions and living style.  I was pleased to see that a bit of their culture was mentioned in this book and that it wasn't all mysticism, although there was a lot of that as well. It seems that Dreamers and special spiritual quests are always going to be a part of these books.

This was an interesting book, although a little fast paced.  I do think the bad guy is what made this one engaging.

People of the River
Copyright 1992
400 pages

January 22, 2014

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Arthurian Legends.  They're a whole genre unto themselves.  But Bradley does a few things different with her rendition of the famous Arthur and his court.  She tells it from the eyes of the women involved. 

We start with Igraine, married by her sister the Lady of the Lake to a man for political reasons. She has a daughter she names Morgaine, but later the Lady decides a different fate for her and she bears a son named Arthur to the new King of the land.  Morgaine's and Arthur's fates intertwine in ways not expected and will be friends, family, enemies and more.  With Morgaine as a Priestess of Avalon and Arthur drawn to the Christian faith, their relationship is as contentious as any out there, especially since both believe they are doing right by their people.

Morgaine is complicated.  And I like that Bradley didn't paint her as the evil witch so many of the Arthur legends portray her as.  She has depth, flaws, and caring in this book.  And she's probably the main character, which is a relief as I didn't really enjoy the first part of the book that involved her mother.  Igraine wasn't nearly as interesting and tiresome in her complaining.  Arthur was somewhat weak in character in this book.  I don't mean that he wasn't a strong King and did well for his people to the best of his ability, but more that he was easily led by the people around him.  Mordred was involved in this book, but I didn't really find him that menacing or compelling.  He was kind of just there.

I had forgotten just how dialogue driven this book is.  Sure the characters more around do stuff, but they talk and think about things more.  And some of the conversations can get repetitive whether it be about lineage or the difference between Christianity and the Priestesses of the Goddess.  There will be some who are offended by the references to Christianity in this book as well.  They don't have a good relationship with the people of Avalon and the distaste is clearly shown in the book.  You have been warned.  But I do think that Bradley does a great job of capturing some complex characters in this book.  It may be wordy, but for good reason, this is a tale drawn out over half a century with several key players and intrigues that every detail has to count on. 

If you like complicated books, this is one to read.  The movie isn't half bad either.  And, if you do like it, it became a series and there are more books to read that coincide with this one.

The Mists of Avalon
Copyright 1982
876 pages

January 16, 2014

Roots by Alex Haley

It always amazes me when I come across someone who hasn't read this book.  For most it's assigned in school, but just word of mouth is enough to have made this a popular one.  And for good reason.  This is an extremely powerful book.

Born in Africa, Kunta Kinte was the oldest son of his father Omoro and mother Binta.  Though quickly followed by several other sons, he is the man of the family and the first to go through all the different rights and teachings of his tribe.  Until he is caught by slavers and sold in America where he becomes a slave.  And from him comes several generations, some also slaves, who continue his legacy and story of Africa and hope for a better future.

The primary characters in this book are Kunta Kinte and his grandson Chicken George.  The first half of the book is about Kunta and a big portion of it is his childhood.  He is a thoughtful person and spends a lot of time daydreaming and thinking about his village and the life there.  He also has very strong convictions.  Chicken George is more fun loving and laid back.  He enjoys his comforts and I found him somewhat irritating at times because of the way he treated his family.  The women don't get as much time in this book, and I was a little disappointed in that.  I would have liked them to have just as big of roles as the men in the book.  Kunta's daughter Kizzy gets a bit, but the focus is really more on her son.

Some of the events in this book are very tragic and brutal.  Even more so because it's about situations that happened in real life.  In fact, this is actually part non-fiction.  It's the story of the author's family and the research he did was thorough.  Sure he didn't know all the conversations and everything that happened, so some is fiction, but its based off of true events.  And the horrors of slavery are clearly expressed in this book.  Some may express disappointment that you don't get to find out what happens to some of the characters, but I think this is very realistic of what happened in life as their own family members didn't know what happened in most cases. It's a hard book to put down despite it being about sad topics though.  You genuinely want to find out what happens to this family.

One of the better books out there and truly one that everyone should read.  At least in my opinion.

Copyright 1976
729 pages

January 12, 2014

People of the Earth by Katleen O'Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear

The First North Americans series is a prehistoric fiction series written by the husband/wife team of Michael & Kathleen Gear.  People of the Earth is the third book in that series, and actually the best one I've read out of the first three.

White Ash was kidnapped as a child from the Earth people by a man of the Sun people.  Which was actually ok with her.  Her adoptive parents were much nicer than her original family.  But hostile tribes are attacking the Sun people now and they are being forced to fight or move South.  White Ash also has to deal with the strange dreams she's been having and the unwanted attentions of a man who claims he's been to the camp of the dead.  And her only help is in an unlikely, mild mannered man with only one good arm.

Both White Ash and Bad Belly are great characters.  They aren't perfect, or even overly strong.  They are regular people who have been called out to do something special.  Bad Belly especially is inspiring.  I like how humble he is and that he has tranquility despite being made fun of.  White Ash isn't quite as humble, in fact she's a little neurotic, but she still is much more human than some of the other "almost perfect" characters in the previous books have been.

This whole book is about struggle.  Whether it's with inner demons, other tribes, disabilities, and everything else, someone is having a struggle.  And the goal is to overcome that.  There was a lot of mystical lore and activity going on in this book as well.  And I'm still not sure how I feel about that.  I know I'd probably prefer a book that's just about the lives of these people during the time period without the magic, but at least it is used to tell a good story.  Like the other books, this one does have violence, rape, and other harsh topics. 

Definitely the better book out of the first three.  They still aren't edge of your seat fantastic, but they're interesting reading.  On to book four!

People of the Earth
Copyright 1992
587 page

January 09, 2014

People of the Fire by Kathleen O'Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear

People of the Fire is the second book in the First North Americans series by the Gears.  I don't really think you have to read the books in order.  Honestly I read the first book first and was still a little confused at times.

Drought is upon the land and has brought strife between the different peoples who dwell in the mountains and the plains.  The plains people have a dominating leader who is striving to make women inferior.  Little Dancer, a boy who has been with them for awhile, is suddenly thrust out of the clan when his mother stands up to the leader.  Meanwhile, in the mountains, the people mourn the loss of their spirit bundle and one man wants to get it back and also get even for his humiliation. 

There are a lot of dominating men in this series.  It seems like the men are all either bad evil people, subservient, or young boys with Dreams.  There's no average guy to be found.  The women are always pretty wise and strong.  It just doesn't seem like things are very even among the sexes.  Probably the best character was Elk Charm because she was somewhat normal.  She wasn't running after power or dreams or being a warrior.  She just wanted to live a normal life. 

So, is it just me, or did anyone else realize that there's a leather bag talking throughout this whole book?  I know this is fiction, but considering the series is written by two archaeologists it surprises me that there is so much mysticism and magic in it.  Not that that's a bad thing, it's just surprising.  And well let's face it, I don't find a talking bundle too interesting.  But there was a lot of conflict so those who like action books will probably be ok with this one.  But it should be warned there is also violence and rape to go along with that conflict.

Once again, just an ok book.  It was good enough to keep reading the series but nothing to rave about.

People of the Fire
Copyright 1991
467 pages

January 06, 2014

People of the Wolf by W. Michael Gear & Kathleen O'Neal Gear

People of the Wolf is the first book in The First North Americans series.  The series numbers into the teens now, so if you're looking to start a long term reading project, this is probably a good one to go for.  Although I do have to say, this first book was pretty chaotic.

Two brothers, born of rape, have very different destinies.  Runs with Light is given a dream, one that could potentially save his people, although it involves a perilous journey under Ice into a new world.  Raven Hunter is the warrior, who is determined to save the people and gain power by fighting their enemies.  And lastly, a woman named Fox Dancer is thrown as low as she can go and has to determine what her own destiny will be, and if it will include one of the brothers.

Fox Dancer is probably the best character in this book.  She's the only one that grows and in that growth doesn't become completely zany.  Both Raven Hunter and Runs With Light have some serious mental issues going on.  And granted one is supposed to represent light and one is supposed to represent dark (any guesses as to who's who?) the whole good vs. evil thing is pretty heavily done.  Runs With Light I never liked.  He is a weak character and despite his dreams, I really don't feel like he contributes that much to the story outside of having others do his instructions.  Raven Hunter is at least interesting, aside from being a raving lunatic.  I can't say I like him but I found him a better character than Runs In Light.

The plot was a bit mystical.  You have all these dreamers running around try to save their people.  And their dreams are pretty strange and esoteric.  And everyone wants power so there's a constant struggle going on in addition to starvation and violence.  There is a journey in a sense in the book, but I think it takes a backseat to the who concept of Dreamers and some of the culture of these early peoples that the authors were trying to present.  I think had the journey been a little more of the focus it would have made this into a great book.

Not a strong start but it's still an interesting beginning to the series.  I'll definitely keep reading the rest of the books.

People of the Wolf
Copyright 1990
435 pages

Yoga for Runners by Christine Felstead

I'm an average runner and an even worse yoga practicer.  I know yoga is supposed to be something where you don't measure how well you're doing, but when after three months you still can't do the simplest of poses for an extended period of time, well, I would think that qualifies as being terrible at it.  Still, I keep trying and thought that this book might help me with soreness after running.

All different levels of yoga practicers can use this book.  It offers a variety of yoga sequences that the advanced user can skip right to, or a beginner can sit down and use the book and learn about each of the poses and the area of the body that they target.  To start with, the authors of the book have sections on a fit body, how running and yoga relate, breathing, and the different types of running injuries.  Then the chapters separate out into different body parts and include diagrams of bones and muscles, different yoga poses that target these areas, and what running injuries you can prevent or alleviate by doing these poses.  In the latter part of the book the sequences dwell and it also gives a section on "Yoga Off the Mat" which includes things you can do to help with sitting at an office job all day.

The overall format of the book is easy to follow.  The chapters are clearly spelled out and the diagrams of the poses have instructions so while you aren't 100% sure you're doing the pose right, you have a general idea of how it is supposed to be performed and where your limbs should be during the pose.  I did enjoy that they put diagrams in of the spine and other body parts to illustrate where the poses were working.  It helped picture how the move should be done.  In fact, the only thing I found rather odd about the whole book was the testimonials on yoga included throughout from various people.  Since I already had the book it seemed weird that they were trying to sell it to me through these testimonials.

I tried Yoga Sequence 2: No Excuses Post-Run after a 6.5 mile trail run that wore me out.  My hope was that it would help prevent some of the aches of the run afterward as I probably shouldn't have been running that long that day.  It took about 6 minutes and the poses were all relatively easy.  Afterwards, I noticed I didn't have any problems with my IT band like I normally do which is a positive thing.  I do still have a few aches a few days later, but I'm attributing these to the normal muscle soreness and not injury.  So while I can't say that this result is all because of the yoga I did afterward, I'm sure it's a contributing factor. I will be trying more sequences as a result of having done this one. 

This is a good book for a runner.  I can't see a non-runner using it very much but maybe a die-hard yoga person who likes to read everything on the subject would enjoy it as well.  With helpful diagrams and useful information, it definitely has a place on a runner's shelf.

Yoga for Runners
Copyright 2014
251 pages

January 03, 2014

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

I actually don't enjoy many of the classics.  I know, it's a horrible thing to say and I must be a horrible person for thinking that way, but it is what it is.  That rule doesn't apply to this book though.  The Count of Monte Cristo is an excellent book with easy to understand characters and motives.

Edmond Dantes has a lot going for him.  He's just been told he's going to be captain of a ship, the woman he loves is going to marry him, and he's able to care for his father in his old age.  But that all changes when some rivals of his, jealous of his fortune, denounce him falsely and he is sent off to a remote prison where all he can do is despair.  But through another prisoner he finds a chance at escape, and with a treasure buried near, Dantes must remake himself into a man capable of great vengeance.

Dantes is lovable and wonderful.  Everything you could hope for in a young man.  The Count of Monte Cristo is not so wonderful.  He is polished, articulate, and cunning, but there is no joy to him.  Everything he does is carefully manipulated and prodded to where it will do him the most good and his enemies ill.  In contrast, most of the people he comes in contact with have fairly simple emotions.  They either want power, or they are young and in love, guided by their hearts.  Maybe I'm simplifying it too much but there was a noticeable difference in the wants of the characters according to their ages.

This is a story all about revenge.  And like most tales of revenge it should be gleaned that sometimes it harms the person with the thirst for revenge almost as much as it does the people who deserve it.  Sure Dantes is masterful in his manipulation of events, but it comes at a cost.  I did enjoy reading about how he was guiding people and scenes to do the best harm to his enemies.  It was like watching a puzzle slowly come together.  And despite being sometimes vicious it wasn't overly gory or descriptive when it came to violence.   The only time I ever tired of the book was when it came to reading the various letters sent by the characters.  It wasn't that they weren't well done but I preferred the conversational tone of the rest of the book to the written tone they were presented with.

A great book about revenge and human motivations.  I know its fiction but I can't help but think it's such a believable story that it could have happened in real life.  One of the classics I can highly recommend reading.

The Count of Monte Cristo
Copyright 2004
510 pages

January 01, 2014

A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena De Blasi

This is a love story more than a travel story.  And not all of those thousand days are spent in Venice.  I actually read the sequel to this book "A Thousand Days in Tuscany" before I read this book.  I really don't think it matters what order you read them in though.

De Blasi was in Venice for a job.  With a few friends she was scoping out some wine bars, working on an article.  When she goes to leave though she's told by the owner that she has a phone call.  It turns out to be a man who has admired her from afar.  Many phone calls later she agrees to meet him, and this stranger becomes a new journey in life for her.

Peter, I mean Fernando, looks like Peter Sellers.  No really, De Blasi reminds us of this nearly ever chapter.  He seems sullen and moody to me and I'm not sure what the attraction is, but she seems to like him well enough.  De Blasi herself really likes the physical things in life.  Food, fabric, and other such novelties.  Which I can't blame her for.  I'm obsessed with the same things myself.  And I think she's brave for leaving most everything behind to live somewhere else, although I do think it was a little foolhardy.  I would have liked to hear more about the other people they interacted with, but it didn't get beyond little snippets on anyone else.

So there actually wasn't much of Venice described.  There was some, and a lot of description about food, but overall this was a love story and the story of how she met her husband.  Not what I was expecting but at least the small amount of travel and food kept me through it. I did like the descriptions of the food, De Blasi definitely deserves her spot as a food writer as she is able to write about food in an evocative way.  You can almost taste it.   It's a small book, and the back of it actually has a bunch of recipes and a section on what to do in Venice.  There's also a reading group section. 

Not a book for those looking to learn about Venice I think, but if you want a little love story with some food, this is probably going to be up your alley.

A Thousand Days In Venice
Copyright 2002
272 pages