March 31, 2014

Hope In Hell by Dan Bortolotti

Anything about Humanitarian Aid interests me.  It's a job not many would want to have.  But there are people that do it and do it well.  The MSF (Doctors Without Borders) group is one such group in the industry that stands out as a little bit different.  Because they're everywhere and they don't tend to take sides.

Hope In Hell contains interviews and information about the MSF and its programs all over the world.  The chapters contain either stories about places or about the different things that the MSF does, some of their politics, some of their history, and the last chapter contains the Nobel Acceptance speech they gave when they won one year.  It describes some of the harsh realities they face and the different strategies they have for dealing with emergencies.

Although there were interviews in this book, I don't feel like it really centered on anyone in depth.  The book felt more like an overview and I actually think the politics and history of the organization was described more than the individual experiences that people had.  As such, it was hard to develop a connection to the book or anyone in it and it seemed more a series of sad tales about the injuries and illness that encompassed everything.  Granted, there are so many horrible things happening in the area that MSF worked, but I would have liked to see more than just descriptions of suffering and actually get the MSF volunteer's thoughts about them.

This book was very much "political" in the sense that it was describing MSF's ideals and the way it was founded and the different factions that warred about internally in the structure of the organization.  I actually tired about hearing about the history (as it was repeated quite often) and again, would rather have seen more time spent on the volunteer's experiences in the MSF.  The good parts of the books were those describing the work conditions and the hazards.  I found it interesting how they decide where to go and when to pull out of an area based on the happenings around them.  More often than not, everyone is there for the long haul.

Not a bad book, but not the best one I've read on the subject.  From the title, I was just expecting something a little more personal.

Hope In Hell
Copyright 2004
283 pages

March 26, 2014

The Billion Dollar Paperclip by Gregory Short

Think smarter about your data.  For a lot of people, this isn't going to make sense.  I mean, after all, isn't data what's out there making us smart?  Well, yes and no, it all depends on how you use it.  There are so many facets to the data industry that it can be used in so many ways, and not all of them are "smart." 

This book looks at data from all sides.  From the companies buying it, to the companies producing it, and just how it is generated.  It explains Contextual Analytics, "Big Data", data sources, how to use the data, and what different databases have to offer us.  For the companies producing data it explains the need to have great data handling and sources to offer a premium data product to the consumer.  For those buying the data it explains the best kind of data to buy and how to use it effectively within your company to produce more sales.  This isn't a book about research or educational data though, this is more for making a profit and businesses.  It also provides the questions you should ask when thinking about the different metrics you're looking for in data.

I work with data for a living.  And I thought this book had a lot to offer.  It's not deep and thorough (after all, it's under 200 pages) but it covered all the important topics.  It also used a lot of the buzz words out there right now like "Big Data" and such, which should please any data nerd.  Truly I was more focused on the section that told how to generate data that people want to buy, but it was interesting to see from the consumer point of view, just what you should look for in data.  And the contextual analytics just made sense as opposed to having loads of data that you can't really relate to a subject.

The way the Billion Dollar Paperclip title was tied into the book really showed the use of data.  You wouldn't expect the paperclip industry to be so large or involve so much money.  After all, it's something you lose under your desk at least once a week.  But if something so small can have a large market share, imagine the other things.  Using this theory and a lot of pop culture references, I believe the author was able to make data relatable to those who don't even work in the industry.  Granted, that means that the book was fast paced, but it has a larger audience for those who are looking to use data to see what their product will do in the market.

A good book on data.  Definitely a read for anyone who produces it or uses it, which, at this point, seems to be most of the population.

**This book was received as a Free Advanced Reviewer's Copy**

The Billion Dollar Paperclip
Copyright 2013
154 pages

March 24, 2014

Gender and Global Justice by Alison M. Jaggar

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

I'm not going to lie.  This book was a higher level than I should have been reading on the subject.  I dabble with books here and there on women's studies.  And this one, describing the global impact, sounded interesting to me.  However, upon reading it, it is clearly a book that should be used in a higher level college class, and not something for a novice starting out in the studies.

Gender and Global Justice contains short essays on a few topics relating to gender inequality and global justice.  Global justice is an actual concept defined as "Global justice is an issue in political philosophy arising from the concern that the world at large is unjust."  Specifically this book looks at global injustice and how disparity between the genders continues to fuel injustice in the realms of care-giving, taxation, and work issues.  The chapters are broken into Transnational Cycles of Gendered Vulnerability, Transnational Women's Collectivities and Global Justice, The Moral Harm of Migrant Carework, Transnational Rights and Wrongs: Moral Geographies of Gender and Migration, Global Gender Injustice and Mental Disorders, Discourses of Sexual Violence in a Global Context, Reforming Our Taxation Arrangements to Promote Global Gender Justice, and Gender Injustice and the Resource Curse.

As said before, the overall tone of this book was textbook.  It was circular and the use of jargon so widespread that several times I'd think I was reading the same concept over and over in the paragraphs of the chapter as it didn't seem to go in a logical procession, but merely mixed up the words to spit the same idea out to me again.  Buzzwords abounded and combined with the jargon, anyone who isn't an expert in the field might have trouble following.  That being said, I'm sure if your studies to center around this topic this is probably a great book to read for short essays on these views.

I did enjoy some chapters more than others.  Particularly, Discourses of Sexual Violence in a Global Context, was full of good information and thoughts on the concept of consent and the definition of sexual violence and rape.  It was written quite a bit more clearly than some of the other topics which made it more approachable to the average reader.  It was surprising to see how the concept of consent can actually harm women in addition to helping them in cases of sexual violence.  Global Gender Injustice and Mental Disorders, while short, also was a more absorbing read, and again, not so full of jargon that the average person can understand.  The disparity between the sexes on depression and anxiety was surprising, as was the occurrence of post-partum depression in economically poor countries.

There's definitely good information in this book, but it is going to be unapproachable for most readers.  I can't say I would recommend it for anyone unless they have done extensive study on global justice, economics, or women's studies.

Gender and Global Justice
Copyright 2014
223 pages

Review by M. Reynard 2014

March 20, 2014

Missing Microbes by Martin J. Blaser

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

I am not a doctor, nurse, scientist, really any type of person in the medical field.  I'm just a person who thinks that reading about medical issues is interesting.  So it's important for you to know that I'm going into this review without a lot of background and understanding of microbes and biology.  There, the disclaimer is over with.

Missing Microbes is about the microbes in your body and the use of antibiotics.  It explores the concept that perhaps we are doing ourselves a disservice by using so many antibiotics and that some of the microbes previously thought harmful, are in fact an integral part of our body's system and essential to our well being.  Especially explored is H. Pylori that resides in your digestive system and is thought to be a contributor to stomach cancer and ulcers.  Previously eradicated when it was found, new research is showing that it helps protect against other ailments and the destruction of it with antibiotics may not be the best course of action.  There is also a section on birth and the impact that caesarian sections has on the passing of natural microbes from mother to infant.  And several other facts about the bacteria in our bodies.

You can definitely tell the author wanted you to know what he's contributed to the field.  And there's nothing wrong with that although it is a little distracting.  Most of the focus is on the research and several studies are described.  I appreciated the fact that it was written in language that I could understand.  While there were some medical concepts that were a little harder for me, by and large, I understood the descriptions and theories that were presented in this book.  I imagine someone in the medical field would understand it a lot better than I though as they are already comfortable with the terminology and different theories being presented.  I also appreciated that the chapters flowed together smoothly and that while new concepts were introduced in each one, there was a transition that helped guide from talking about one topic to the next.

I learned a lot from this book.  For instance, I never realized that antibiotics are given to farm animals to make them gain weight.  I always figured it was because disease was rampant when you pack animals in together so tight.  The experiments performed on mice showing how antibiotics caused gain of both fat and muscle in early "childhood" was an interesting concept when thinking about the obesity epidemic that the United States and many other countries are facing right now.  However, as said before, I am not a scientist and cannot comment as to the validity of any of these experiments, although it seems (judging from the quite large notes section in the back) that the author did the research and in fact had performed many of the experiments himself.  I believe it's best to look at your information from all sides though and not to take anything from any one paper or book as the absolute truth. 

This book does present some compelling arguments about the use of antibiotics.  Even if you're not worried about super-bugs from overuse, there are several other factors that have only started to be researched.  Anyone interested in bacteria, microbes, and the use of modern medicine would probably find this book a good read.

Missing Microbes
Copyright 2014
259 pages

March 17, 2014

Six Months In Sudan by James Maskalyk

Have you ever heard of Abyei?  Probably not.  I sure didn't before I read this book.  It's in Sudan, and it's where the author spent six months as part of the Doctors Without Borders program (MSF). 

After completing residency, Maskalyk signs up for a stint in the MSF.  He is taken to Sudan, to the village of Abyei which houses many soldiers and civilians and plenty of people needing medical attention.  The hospital is small, but large enough to take traumas and between the diseases that run rampant in the area and the skirmishes with grenades, there is always someone to be healed.

Maskalyk is pretty rough on himself.  And others at times, although it seems he has nothing but respect for his colleagues.  In fact, he speaks better of them than he does himself.  He seems to acknowledge that he has a detachment from his work and the pain and suffering around him.  That he can't help but think of logical things even if a person has died.  And it does seem cold.  But it can also be a coping mechanism for everything that he has to see.  I did find his honesty refreshing though and I wouldn't paint him a hero because of his thoughts, but do think that he did some good work while in Sudan.

This is a hard book to read because of the descriptions of suffering and illness and poverty.  Because it's real life it shakes you to find out how people are living when sometimes the worse thing in your day is spilling your drink on yourself.  It does offer perspective.  And I like how he focused on being a new aid worker as most of the books I've read are from people who have been in a long time.  The writing itself was good, although I found the epilogue disorienting.  I understand he was showing his confusion at being home through that writing style, but I just found it hard to read.  Otherwise the format was good and the rest of the book flowed easy enough.

Do I want to go to Sudan?  Probably not.  But I'm still thinking that this line of work is appealing and I'll continue to read about it.  I'm glad I found this book to offer another perspective.

Six Months in Sudan
Copyright 2009
320 pages

March 14, 2014

Bloodroot by Amy Greene

So many people recommended this book, but I must confess, I just couldn't get into it.  The characters weren't compelling for me and the story was just too jumpy. 

Myra was born special.  She has her father's eyes, her mother's spirit and a love of the mountains that cannot be tamed.  Her grandmother is content to let her run free and make her own decisions, even though the consequences could hurt everyone.  And Myra's children have their own problems, brought on by her different way of seeing the world and living in it.

I didn't like Myra.  I didn't understand her character and wondered why everyone let her do the things she was doing or didn't try to help her when things were going wrong.  It just seemed inconceivable to me that people would know what her situation was and not do something about it.  And she's never a sympathetic character.  Even though the book revolves around her it never really explores her in depth.  We're told a few things, but her children, her grandmother, everyone but her is described better.  And her children, they are probably more interesting than Myra but even though part of the book is about them, it's over too quick and back to focusing on Myra's issues.

In a word, this book is depressing.  I can't really say that anything joyous happened in it.  And it was supposed to be about the rough and tragic lives of people.  And it is.  And that's it.  There's a bit of "mountain" culture and language thrown in it, but I feel like this book could have been set anywhere and had the same instances happen.  The themes of abuse, poverty, etc. can be found anywhere, not just in the mountains.  But the book bounced around a lot too.  It would go back and forth in time and history and to different characters point of view.  And it only somewhat tied up loose ends in the story.  It just felt unfinished and disorganized to me.

I can't say I recommend it.  I know a lot of people seem to like it but for me it wasn't one of the ones that is going to stick with me.

Copyright 2010
291 pages

March 13, 2014

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

This is the first book in the series that I would actually say you should read others before reading it.  It very closely ties in to the book People of the Silence so I would say you should read them in order.  That being said, if you skip this one in the series, I don't really feel like you would miss much.

The First People, under the new command of Webworm, still are not doing as well as they should.  They are oppressing the people and when drought and pests destroy the crops, a desperate act by farmers to steal food is brought low by retaliation and cannibalism.  A new Dreamer has arrived though and he has seen the end of the First People, but the question remains as to whether people will follow their heart or follow the dream.

I can't say I really liked any of the characters.  They weren't developed and there were so many bouncing around that it was hard to keep track of them all.  And you didn't get a conclusion on many of them that wraps their stories up, so even if you did care for them, you may not know what happened to them.  Nightshade was as spooky as she's been in previous books, but since she's older it's somehow not as menacing.  And again there is madness that plagues the antagonists in this book.  That seems to be one of the only ways people are truly bad in these books.

This book was long and drawn out.  It bounced around from place to place and I felt that some of the plot was just put in there at random without a lot of thought given to it.  I actually had a hard time reading this one, it took me about three times longer than normal to read a book of this size.  And it's because I had to keep stopping because I wasn't interested in what was going on.  A plus would be there was a lot of history and lore in this book.  Clothing, rituals, etc. was detailed and it helped explained what happened in that period of history.  But unfortunately the actual plot just didn't have enough going for it.

Probably one of my least favorites in the series.  I only have a few books left in the series though, so here's hoping they are better!

People of the Moon
Copyright 2005
603 pages

March 06, 2014

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

I'm starting to feel like I'm reading the same book.  Young, seemingly incapable boy who must Dream a new spiritual path for his people.  Old (but not too old) powerful woman dreamer who dances on the sides of both good and evil.  Strong leaders who fall in love and help lead their clans away from the bad guys.  The good news is this means you don't have to read any of the other books, you'll be just fine reading this on your own.

The Raven People  and the North Wind People have always had an uneasy alliance.  With tempers like their fiery hair, the North Wind People are accustomed to being leaders.  And the Raven people are beginning to resent it.  When several events fall into place to cause a cataclysmic war, it seems that few people are willing to look past revenge and actually work towards a better future for their peoples.  Add in a witch that is stirring up trouble and there is no telling what side will win.

First off, the witch.  What the heck is with his storyline?  And maybe I just missed it but I never really figured out who he was, which bothers me.  He wasn't important enough to be such a mystery.  But anyways, on to the other characters.  As I mentioned before they were a rehash of other characters from other books.  It's formulaic actually.  Evening Star was the young female leader who must sacrifice her own happiness in order to achieve peace for the people.  Dzoo was the strong female Dreamer.  And then there were all the men who were either good, or they weren't.  None of them were standout characters.

The plot was perhaps a little different.  You had the story altered by a possible explanation of the Kennewick Man which explains all the red hair in this book.  But really, hair color didn't give anyone special powers, so it was just an explanation, not a plot driver.  There was plenty of violence, sex, rape, and all the other normal unsavory things that this series has as well.  It's definitely not a book for the squeamish.  They have a certain obsession with ripping guts out anyway.  I can't say that anything was overly exciting in this book.  It was mostly scheming and a few light battles, but the majority was dialogue. 

I could take or leave this book.  I don't really feel like it was an integral part to the series at all.

People of the Raven
Copyright 2004
562 pages

March 04, 2014

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

Maybe it's just because I like owls, but I actually really enjoyed this book in The First North American series.  While it did reference previous books, it gave enough background that it isn't necessary to read it in order, this book can be a stand alone.

Mud Puppy, later known as Salamander, has always been a strange child.  He prefers to be at one with nature rather than achieve any sort of prestige.  So when he is thrust into a leadership role after his brother and uncle die he knows he must tread carefully.  He has enemies on all sides, and even his wives don't want to see him succeed.  He is also caught between two power beings who want to use them for their own ends.  Salamander's life is no longer his own.

Salamander has the quickest growth of any character that I've seen.  He's smart, thoughtful, and tries to do what is best for the community rather than himself.  Which makes him special, as most people think of their own personal gain.  Unfortunately it also makes him a bit unbelievable.  People are naturally selfish and to be so pure in his intentions, while possible, just doesn't seem that likely.  His three wives are all a strange bunch too.  They don't particularly like him but then again they all have their own agendas.  I actually found them to be very believable as they all had something they wanted out of life and would do anything to achieve.  Then there are the "bad" guys, they too are just people who want a little bit of power and to be in a leadership position.

While this book covered over a year it didn't really seem like it had that big of a span.   It was telling the story of Salamander's life and it meandered through it.  But not at so slow of pace that it wasn't interesting.  You genuinely wanted to know what was going to happen and how he was going to get himself out of the fix he was in.  Although, truthfully, I was a bit disappointed by the ending.  There was a lot more about the people's actual culture in this book too, from how they wore their clothing to what they were eating.  There usually is a little detail in the other books, but not to the extent that this one had.  I appreciated learning a little more about how Salamander's people lived.

As I've said before, I think these books get better as they go along.  I'm almost disappointed that I'm nearing the end of the series.

People of the Owl
Copyright 2003
598 pages

March 02, 2014

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

I feel that this tenth book of The First North Americans series is actually one of the better ones.   And, like most of the books in the series, you don't even have to read it in order, it can be a stand-alone.

Rumbler was born a power child. Which makes him very special. So special, in fact, that his entire village is slaughtered so he can be obtained. But when he arrives at his captors, they accuse him of terrible things and sentence him to death. Only two people want to see him live, one a young girl named Wren who has already seen too much death. She frees him, and together they escape, but they have numerous warriors after them, and no where safe to run.

Wren is the best character in this book. She is brave, knows the difference between right and wrong, and she is selfless. Pretty good for someone who hasn't even made it into her teens yet. Rumbler, despite being a main character, is not nearly as well developed. He serves more as a prop for people to fight over and Wren to take care of. However, his grandparents are interesting at least. I enjoyed their squabbles and the way they put aside their animosity to try to rescue him. And the there are the bad guys. I often wonder in these books why so many of them have to be absolutely psycho and erratic in their actions. Surely there are some smart, sane bad guys out there they could use. But it doesn't really appear that happens too much in this series. Jumping Badger is no different, he is completely out of his mind and it's a wonder he is able to lead at all.

There is a lot of death in this book. It seems to be a theme actually. But the main theme of this book is about the chase. You have Wren and Rumbler fleeing, and everyone pursuing them whether it's for good or bad intentions. But the chase never got boring. The pace moved quick enough that you were just anxiously waiting to see what would happen to them and where the final showdown would be. And let's face it, you wanted to know what the madman Jumping Badger would do. As a side story, there is a little bit of rekindling love between divorced people, but it was definitely a secondary plot to the book. Although I think I actually liked that part of the book more than the main, it's was refreshing to see people overcoming their problems.

This series is massive, and the writing styles definitely seem to differ between books. But I do think they are improving as the series goes on.

People of the Masks
Copyright 1998
548 pages

March 01, 2014

Edible by Daniella Martin

Entomophagy, have you heard of it?  It's eating bugs and as much as you can be grossed out by the subject, it's also something that warrants a closer look.  Because this is a protein source that makes much more sense than some of our current sources.

Martin studied anthropology and took a special interest in bugs; the eating of them that is.  In writing this book she explores how the eating of bugs evolved through time (our ancestors diets would probably have surprised us), how people around the world are still eating bugs, and the different cuisines that incorporate them.  She travels around the world, attending special restaurants or conventions that also specialize in eating bugs.  At the end, there are sections on how to raise bugs at home, a list of edible insects, and recipes.

I found the book fascinating.  The way Martin shows how bugs are used in cooking definitely makes it sound like a normal part of life and that we're the abnormal ones for not eating them.  She presents good arguments for why eating insects would help on a global scale for feeding the world.  And she makes everything sound appetizing.  I'm not joking when I say I'd gladly try eating some of the dishes she describes because they do sound quite good.  And her writing style in general is pretty funny.  She throws in plenty of jokes, writes in a conversational style, and you don't feel like you're reading a scientific type of book because it is so approachable.

Some people will be grossed out though.  We're raised not to think of bugs as food and the whole concept can make your skin crawl if you let it.  But if you loosen up and let go of your preconceived notions, it is quite interesting.  This book also has the potential to offend the vegetarians and vegans.  Martin doesn't think it's a bad diet, but she also does say was she thinks about it in terms of a diet that would suit the world and how it impacts people's activities. 

A very interesting book and one that made me think about eating bugs.  Not often that a piece of reading material can do that for you.  Very enjoyable!

Copyright 2014
252 pages

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