September 21, 2015

Brother Wind by Sue Harrison

Brother Wind is the third book in the Ivory Carver Trilogy by Sue Harrison.  As the third book, you certainly don't want to skip the first two before reading.  Especially since the 2nd book has the events immediately leading up the third book's story.

Brother Wind returns us to Kiin and her problems.  She has her twin boys who are both wanted and feared by many people.  And she herself is wanted for her ability to carve and produce sons.  But not all who want her are doing it for her best interests.  Again power plays a large role and Kiin doesn't know what the future will hold for her.  Meanwhile, Kukutux has to decide how she will face the future with her family gone.  Left on the outskirts of her tribe, survival is tough and she has to make many sacrifices.  But opportunities are presented to her that many not be the best, but would ensure her survival.

I'm still trying to figure out if I like Kukutux.  I certainly don't think her story added much aside from showing different ways of life that happened.  She actually seemed to serve as a distraction from the main storyline and could have been edited out easily.  Kiin wasn't as engaging this time around either, although she's still a strong character and a central part of the story.  And as with the other two books, I still think the bad guys are really really bad without any redeeming qualities.

I'm not saying this book was bad.  When compared to a lot out there it's pretty good.  I just think that after the stronger start of the first two, this one just didn't finish the series as strongly.  It still showed a lot of history and was informative, you can tell the author did her research.  And it's still brutal with violence, rape, and other hard topics.  The pace was fast, I felt like we were bouncing around quite a bit with what was happening, but it was still easy to keep track of what was going on.

Not as good as the first two, but still not bad.  If you like historical fiction (and want to know how Kiin's story ends), this will be a good book for you.

Brother Wind
Copyright 1994
463 pages

September 20, 2015

My Sister the Moon by Sue Harrison

My Sister the Moon is the second book in the Ivory Carver Trilogy by Sue Harrison.  It picks up several years after the first book and follows the same tribe that was formed with Chagak, although the book doesn't focus on her this time.

This time it focuses on Kiin, who is only named part of the way into the book because she is so despised by her father.  Instead of being left for dead as an infant, the leader of the tribe decided to betroth his son to her and thus force her father to let her live.  Because she was not a son, he did everything in his power to make it rough for her.  Add in a brother who is jealous and Kiin had a rough childhood.  And it didn't stop there, shortly after marrying the leader's son, her brother kidnaps her and sells her, just when she's learned she's pregnant.

Kiin is another strong woman, just like in the previous book.  She has a lot of hardships thrown at her and the world is especially cruel to her, but she perseveres anyway.  And she also has a lot of talent, which helps her try to rise in the world.  Although she is still at the mercy of the men around her for the most part.  Which is discouraging, but relevant to the time period.  Again, the bad guys in this are bad with no redeeming qualities and while you can understand their motives, they still don't seem quite real because they are so bad.

There were so many twists and turns in this book.  Just when you think good is going to prevail something else happens to screw it up.  The theme for this book was very heavily weighted towards power.  Everyone wants power and control and don't really care if it hurts others in the process.  Because of this the book is pretty dark with topics covering rape, incest and lots of violence.  I would strongly suggest not reading it if any of these topics are too hard for you.  But it is very real because of that.  The world is not always a very nice place and this book illustrates that perfectly. 

And because this book ended on a cliff-hanger, I of course have to finish the trilogy and find out what happens.  But I'm looking forward to it!

My Sister the Moon
Copyright 1992
449 pages

Mother Earth, Father Sky by Sue Harrison

From the Gears, to Auel, there is a lot of historical fiction out there.  But it's an enjoyable genre.  So much so that I was compelled to start reading this trilogy, the Iron Carver Trilogy by Sue Harrison.  This is the first book in the series, Mother Earth, Father Sky, and it is followed by My Sister the Moon and Brother Wind.

Chagak is living a pretty normal life for her people.  As an adult, she will soon be married and is eagerly awaiting the prospect of a family of her own.  But one day, returning to her village, she finds it being destroyed by warriors from another tribe.  The lone survivor aside from her baby brother, she sets off for a different island with him in tow and manages to find an island inhabited only by a lone Shaman who allows her to stay.  But she's not the only one who finds the island and she has to learn to deal with the prospect of becoming a wife to the man who killed her family.

Chagak is a very strong character.  So strong sometimes that she doesn't' seem real.  But it was a different life and just because I can't fathom a reality like that, doesn't mean it couldn't happen.  And she has so many trouble that you really empathize with her and want the best for her.  I also liked the Shaman, he was very fatherly and helpful and just made you feel good about humanity.  That being said, he had his own troubles and could only do so much for Chagak.  Of course the bad guys were bad with few redeeming qualities and I thought that was a little bit of flat writing.  I like my antagonists with a little depth to them, but it's not an easy thing to do.

The plot was fairly simple.  Girl's village gets destroyed, girl goes out on her own, girl has to overcome overwhelming obstacles in a land where women aren't considered equals.  The history of humanity in the region.  But it's written cleverly enough that you get enveloped into the story and want to know what happens to Chagak.  If she can overcome all the odds and survive.  And if that survival will be happy.  There are a lot of tough scenes in it too, from rape to murder to other things.  Like most prehistoric fiction, it isn't for the squeamish.

An interesting start to the series.  It made me want to read the next one, that's for sure!

Mother Earth, Father Sky
Copyright 1990
313 pages

August 30, 2015

The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

The Ultimate Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy has all five stories in one (plus an extra short).  Starting with the classic "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", then moving on to "The Restaurant At The End of the Universe", then to "Life, the Universe and Everything", "So Long and Thanks for all the Fish", the short "Young Zaphod Plays It Safe", and finally "Mostly Harmless."  I enjoyed all of these books to varying degrees, but there is definitely enough humour in here to entertain anyone.

My favorite is the original, ,"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy".  Fast moving, it follows Arthur Dent, a human who is trying to get his house to not be knocked down, only to discover that the Earth is going to be destroyed so the house really doesn't matter.  With his friend, they escape narrowly in time and start traveling the Galaxy, leaping from one wild adventure to another.  From Zaphod, the President who is more renegade than public leader, Ford Prefect, a writer for the Hitchhiker's Guide, and Trillian, another human caught up in the space adventure, there are plenty of beings to keep the book moving.

For the rest of the books within this gigantic compilation, Arthur goes on many more adventures, as does his companions.  I can't say I cared for the adventures quite as much, although they certainly had gems of humor in them and weren't terrible to read by any stretch of the imagination. You just tend to lose connection with some of the characters at times (except for Marvin, he is always consistent).  I will say that I enjoyed So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish quite a bit as well.  I liked Arthur's girlfriend and their discoveries while on Earth and with each other.  I was sad that that particular part of the story was so short.

Overall the books followed a great theme.  Traversing space with a book and a trusty towel and trying to survive.  There were antagonists, sure, but they weren't the main focus of the book(s).  The book was more about the journey.  The style of writing is pretty clear, although very detailed.  It definitely has some satire and there are other types of humor hidden all over.  I can't say that I understood every joke, but that may be because a lot were in reference to politics in other countries.  I did understand enough to be amused though.

A very interesting series of books.  You don't have to be a science fiction lover to appreciate these works by Douglas Adams.

The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Copyright 1992
815 pages

July 09, 2015

Stones into Schools by Greg Mortenson

I enjoyed the first book, Three Cups of Tea, much more than I enjoyed this one.  This one just seemed a little too self-congratulatory for my taste.  Sure, promote yourself, but don't do it in a way that comes across as bragging, which is kind of what this one did.  That being said, it did offer some interesting insights into the way foreign government is run and the hazards and tribulations that charities can run into.

After Three Cups of Tea, Stones Into Schools takes up the story of where Mortenson left off building schools with his newly formed charity Central Asia Institute.  He expands into Afghanistan and still maintains services in Pakistan, building schools in the most remote areas of the countries.  The book covers how he worked with locals, officials, and got all of these projects off the ground.  It also talked about the small staff he hired and their job duties.

Greg is very much in favor of himself.  And he has done some wonderful things, he has a reason to be.  But the way he narrated it in this book was off-putting and show-boaty, ,and it didn't really leave you liking him for those reasons.  It could just be my personal take on it, but I felt like he was almost exaggerating when he described the different experiences he had and how he handled them.  He was fair to everyone else though and you could tell he appreciated the people he was helping.  And he also liked his staff and thought they had wonderful skills.  So he redeems himself in that way.

You learn a lot about local politics in the regions in this book.  The paperwork, the troubles, the bribing that needs to happen to get things done.  It's a little mind boggling actually.  And then there's how cheap it is to build a school.  Often it isn't as much as a wing would be on a school here in the United States.  They just want so much to learn, they'll study anywhere, including an old public toilet (according to the book).   There is a nice section of pictures in the middle of the book, in case you want to see some of the people/places that Mortenson talks about.

Overall it was ok, but I could have preferred less grand-standing.  Three Cups of Tea is definitely the book to read if you're going to read any of his books.

Stones into Schools
Copyright 2009
420 pages

July 02, 2015

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

You don't have to like Card to recognize that this is a superb piece of writing.  Reading this book has always been powerful to me.  You get hooked in from the first page and it's hard to put it down after that.  And it's great that it could be read as a standalone, but is part of a series in case you want to continue Ender's story.

Ender is a brilliant child.  So much so in fact that he was specifically bred to take part in a program designed for gifted kids.  You see, families aren't allowed to have more than two children on future Earth, but Ender's family was given special permission to have him.  When at first they remove his monitor though, he think he's flunked out.  But time shows that he is about to be groomed to become a commander of the fleet.  The buggers are a constant threat in humanity's eyes and the school Ender is sent to, floating in space, is specifically designed to train to neutralize that threat.

Ender is a fantastic character.  He is relatable even though he is a substantial amount smarter than your average person.  And he has so much going against him and so much expected of him.  You're right there with him with his pressures, frustrations, and triumphs.  All of the other characters pale beside him, yet they are still complete because they serve a purpose in a way.  Especially his brother and sister, who enter into politics and discussion and play their own games.  He also has several interesting classmates that play the games with him and they too are incredibly smart.  Although some of them can be quite vicious.

From my description you'd probably think this is an action book.  But that's just because I can't fully explain the themes and details in such a short time, you'd really need to read the book to get the full experience.  It does have action.  But it also has political commentary, social morality and lessons about making hard choices in life and the consequences of them.  There are gritty details and violence.  It's not a pleasant book at all.  But it's one that will make you think.  And it's so well written that the pace, characters and setting draw you in and don't let you go. 

One of my favorite books that I've read and one that I could read over and over.  If you've never read the book, or if you've only seen the movie, make sure that you read it, it's well worth it.

Enders Game
Copyright 1985
368 pages

June 22, 2015

Confessions of a Key West Cabby by Michael Suib

Confessions of a Key West Cabby; there has got to be some great stories in this one!  Well, sort of.  In fact, there really wasn't anything that exciting or notable in these quick vignettes from Michael Suib.  Sure, they were charming, but not all were relevant and the ones that really engaged me were far and few between.

Michael Suib, disenchanted with his life as a businessman, packs up and moves south with his wife to Key West.  Among many odd jobs, he takes a job driving a cab in Key West.  It's through this job that he encounters all sorts of characters, both locals and tourists.  He gathers his stories into a few different sections such as "Love" (guess what these stories are about?), "Southernmost Homeless" (about the key's inhabitants who don't have a roof over their head), and others.

Suib definitely encounters some characters.  Or at least, he describes them as such.  I found the tourists to be some of the brashest.  The homeless residents seemed to be like homeless people everywhere, and didn't have any defining characteristics that made them stand out or of note above the sad state that they are in.  The tourists on the other hand could be quite horrible.  And they definitely follow the rule that people act worse away from home.  Luckily Suib had a no-nonsense approach to offensive customers and promptly would eject them from his cab.

The little stories were entertaining, and easy to read in small bits.  But most of them weren't that interesting and I found myself questioning why they were in there.  Some I didn't even really understand.  Such as the lady who was looking for a decent meal for her nephew/grandson/whatever he was.  Maybe I missed something but I didn't understand that story at all.  Others were good, such as the offensive or racist people that he removed from his cab.  It gave you a sense of justice.

Just ok, nothing special.  I really don't feel like I know Key West any better.  These stories could have happened at any tourist destination and weren't unique to the locale.

Confessions of a Key West Cabby
Copyright 2003
197 pages

June 21, 2015

Maiden Voyages by Mary Morris

There have always been women travelers, but they haven't been as prominent in the media's eyes and their works have perhaps garnered less attention than they should have.  This book compiles the letters, short excerpts of novels of several women travelers over the past couple centuries. 

Starting in the late 1600's, collections of writings from women traveler's have been compiled in this book and they span until the late 1900's.  Some tell of adventures they took with their husbands.  Others are solitary travelers and were only able to travel after they were relieved from taking care of their family.  Some traveled just for fun while others went with a specific purpose in mind, like hunting butterflies.

Each of the writer's had their own style.  Some gave great detail, while others were more focused on the reasoning behind the travels and the emotions evoked while traveling.  Because of this, there were some stories that I enjoyed and some that I found myself just briefly flipping through as I didn't care for the description or subject matter.  I did enjoy the story of the two girls traveling down the river.  It was unique and an adventure that not many can say they have done.  Because there are so many stories, it is easy to just pick up this book randomly and only read one or two at a time, there's no need to read the book in one sitting.

This was an interesting collection of writings.  If you like travel or women's studies,  it would probably be right up your alley.

Maiden Voyages
Copyright 1993
438 pages

June 14, 2015

Roast Mortem by Cleo Coyle

So I made the mistake of not realizing this was the 9th book in a series.  I don't blame myself too much.  There was nothing on the cover to indicate it and I just picked it up in the free box at a local bookstore (which should have told me something).  I like cozy mysteries, but this one just didn't have authentic characters or believable dialogue.

Clare Cosi is the manager of a coffee shop and it's more than work, at this point it is her life.  She has a grown daughter, a detective boyfriend, and a coffee buyer ex-husband who she is still on friendly terms with.  When she and her ex-mother in law go to visit a friend to pick up some machinery, they don't expect to get caught in a blast and subsequent fire when his coffee shop goes up in flames.  And Clare doesn't think that it's an accident, she thinks its arson.  Especially when other fires start breaking out and she finds herself in the middle of the mystery.

None of the characters in this had authentic voices.  Maybe it's because I haven't read the others, but calling your ex-mother in law "Madame" (and every other character calling her that too, was just plain weird to me).  Then you have the chief firefighter using a bazillion pck up lines as well and it just seems unbelievable.  And that's how a lot of the conversations went in the first half of the book.  Thankfully it seemed to tone out a bit as the book went on and the dialogue sounded how people actually talk in real life.  Although he didn't stop hitting on her despite being told to leave her alone, not really a great guy.  Add in a somewhat controlling boyfriend (although the author is careful to point out that Clare is not apologizing while she's explaining herself) and I can't say I liked any of the main males in this book.  Clare herself is hard to keep up with as she's very sporadic in her actions.

There were a lot of different mysteries going on in this book.  Like the story of the feud between her boyfriend and the fire chief (convoluted beyond what was necessary and no good reason for not sharing the whole truth).  The arsons, the deaths, and a few other things as well.  And it wasn't a simple story either.  In fact, too much going on and too many players in the game.  Maybe that reflects real life, but it seemed too coincidental to me.  And some of the clues that were really pertinent weren't given until the last few pages so you couldn't really try to solve the mystery ahead of time, which may disappoint some people.  I did enjoy all the descriptions of food in the book though, and appreciated that there were recipes at the end of the book.  To me, that's the best part of the book.  Can never go wrong with tasty food.

Not for me.  I can't say I'll be looking up any others in the series anytime soon.

Roast Mortem
Copyright 2010
350 pages

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson

I'd have to say, that out of the three books in this series, I found this one the strongest.  It had plenty of plot twists, the best pacing out of all of them, and complex characters.  And being that it's a trilogy you definitely have to at least read the second book before this one (the first has its own storyline and isn't quite as important).  And that being said, I will be including details from the 2nd book in this review, so if you haven't read it, you're about to find out key plot elements if you continue reading.

Lisbeth is in the hospital after being shot in the head and buried alive by her father and brother.  Because she is wanted by the police, she has to remain there even as her health slowly improves because one she leaves, she'll be transferred to prison.  While she heals, Mikael, her journalist friend, is searching desperately for all the key evidence that will prove her innocence, and gearing up for a big expose of his own in which several key government officials will have much to worry about.  The problem is that there's someone trying to shut him down before he can destroy an organization that has long been hidden in the shadows.

Lisbeth was more likable this time around.  She's still strange, but she shows a little more humanity in this book and it makes you start to sympathize with her even more.  She also does what she wants though, and is very independent.  Mikael I liked at about the same level, which is to say not much at all.  I find him too "perfect" and his ease of getting women into bed unbelievable.  It kind of detracts from the story honestly (not the sex scenes, just the fact that he's in them).  Yes he is a good guy, just not one that I like very much.  Erica featured a little more in this story, and I was glad to have more information on her, because I find her character interesting, albeit a  little strange.

The pacing was much better in this book.  Sure there's still more detail than you really need, but its more condensed and the story moves along at a moderate pace.  It wasn't as hard to drag yourself through the first half of the book (like you had to with the others).  I also liked that it tied up the loose ends, yet was still exciting and had you at the edge of your seat for most of it.  I found myself getting frustrated with the bad guys, which is a good emotion to have when you're reading a book, it means it's written well. 

This was definitely a strong conclusion and my favorite book out of the three.  If you haven't tried this series and like suspenseful books with maybe just a tad too much detail, this is definitely one to check out.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest
Copyright 2007
658 pages

June 11, 2015

The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson

I've become a fan of this series since reading them all.  Which is why it pains me to give this book only three stars.  But if I'm being honest,  I was utterly bored for the first half of this book.  Which is exactly the same way I felt about the first book as well.  And as good as the 2nd half is, well, if only half a book is riveting...

This book is the second in a trilogy, however, I do think it could be read independently of the first book.   They are completely different storylines and you wouldn't lose much detail.  However, the third book you have to read after this one, and it could not be read before.  Lisbeth is in trouble.  Despite her being socially off, she did not commit some murders that the police are pinning on her.  Even though all the evidence points to her.  She has to evade the police while trying to figure out what happened and only has a few friends she can count on.  Namely a journalist who she had helped in the past but decided to cut ties with, and her old employer.  The truth is out there, but Lisbeth has a lot of odds stacked against her and a ton of people looking for her.

Lisbeth is an odd character.  She certainly isn't likable, but because of all the injustices against her you can't help but root for her.  She's also incredibly smart, so much so that things that are difficult for most come easy to her.  And it's why she can survive when it seems like everyone is out to get her.  Mikael, the reporter, I find too much of a ladies man.  His relationships never seem authentic.  And while he's a kind person, he just doesn't hold a lot of appeal to me.  It was the side characters that really made the story this time.  Great officers, both good and bad, with detailed personalities.  It was like you were interacting with real people.  And the characters are where the strength of this book is.  Without them, it would simply be an action story.

The level of detail in this book is astounding.  And I think that is what made the first half of the book so slow and hard to get through.  I really didn't care about every single piece of furniture that Lisbeth bought for her apartment, down to the exact name from Ikea.  Or what precise shade of clothing everyone was wearing.  I just wanted it to get to the dialogue and the story.  Sometimes too much of a good thing makes it bad.  But that being said, the second half of the book was exceptionally engaging.  I couldn't put it down and stayed up way too late on a work night to find out what happened.  Only to have a surprise at the end that made me want to immiedately start the next book in the series.  Larsson definitely redeemed himself and kept me wanting more.

Slow to start but a powerful finish, if you liked the first book or any books about intrigues, this is probably going to be a hit.

The Girl Who Played With Fire
Copyright 2006
724 pages

May 27, 2015

Death by Cashmere by Sally Goldenbaum

Disclaimer/Spoiler Alert:  Ok, so I'm not really giving away the story, but my thoughts on some of the characters could give some clues away.  You have been warned.

Ok, so in a way this book was almost wildly predictable, but then the author throws a curve that really didn't have any clues leading up to it, probably just to make sure noone could solve the mystery.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.  Death by Cashmere is the first book in the Seaside Knitters series, which means that even after this book, there will be more mysteries to solve.

Izzy, after quitting her job as a lawyer, settles down on the coast to open a knitting shop in her hometown.  Of course this shop is visited by a myriad of characters who are also friends and when the young woman who lives above the shop is murdered, they speculate on the cause and questions while purling and dropping stitches.  But a lot of people are suspect and there's something not quite right about a few of the citizens in the town.  While it's the police's job, the knitters can't help but get in the middle of things.

This book is not about Izzy.  I would have suspected it to be, but the main character view is from her aunt Nell.  Nell is the one who can't let things be and is investigating heavily.  And because she has the time and connections it seems like this is the most appropriate for her.  There are a lot of "dark" characters in this book and I can't help but think that one was purposely setup to look terrible when they really shouldn't have been.  It was just a ruse to throw off the reader (unfairly) and I think it came across as kind of a cheap shot.  My favorite character was probably Birdie because she just seems like that busybody everyone knows and loves anyway.  She put a little life in the group.

The greatest descriptions in this book were of the food, not the knitting surprisingly.  While the yarns were described in glorious detail, the food made me drool and sad that there was only a knitting pattern at the back of the book and not a gathering of recipes mentioned.  I really want that recipe for pineapple fritters.  Knitting jargon was used but it took a backseat to the mystery.  And since this is classified as a cozy mystery, that didn't really bother me.  What did bother me, and as I've said before, was that in general you had a lot of clues in this book, and then the author throws a wildcard that wasn't really in character or believable.  In retrospect I can see where there might have been a few clues, but it still wasn't fitting to the story and how the characters were presented.  And I'll keep repeating that fact until the rest of you believe it.  I just was left dissatisfied with the way it was handled.

I certainly am interested in reading the next book in the series, but it won't be one I rush out to get.  There are a lot of cozy mysterious out there of varying qualities and they are nice quick reads that don't demand immediate attention.  This one fits into the middle of the spectrum.

Death by Cashmere
Copyright 2008
297 pages

May 25, 2015

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

I'd never read anything by Kurt Vonnegut before and had this recommended to me.  That was over five years ago and I finally picked up a copy at the local book store to give it a try.  The messages were interesting, but because of the book's style, I can't say that I liked it or found it to be an engaging read.

Billy Pilgrim can travel in time.  He's also been to war, survived the bombing of Dresden, been abducted by aliens, and survived a plane crash; not necessarily in that order.  But then again, order really isn't important is it?  When he was abducted he was put into a zoo and mated with another female earthling.  Because of his time traveling, he is not always in that place though.  He bounces around from being an optometrist to being a lousy soldier who shouldn't have probably been drafted.  And as such eventually ends up as a Prisoner of War where he has to live through numerous atrocities, the least of which being made to wear a woman's coat.

Billy is a strange character.  My take on the book is that he suffers from mental illness (not necessarily a result of the war but certainly amplified by it) and that the course of the book is his head coping with his surroundings.  Because of that I'm never really sure what's "true" in Billy's life.  Certainly the alien abduction is suspect, but it seems like the plane crash could be real.  Because Billy is a somewhat unreliable (but reliable to his own thoughts) narrator, I'm not sure we're supposed to know.  I can't really say I felt one way or another about any of the other characters.  They weren't focused on as heavily as Billy and I didn't read about them enough to care.

So now that I have read some of the other reviews here, I've learned that this book is anti-war.  Or has a strong theme of it.  I didn't know that going into the book but there are certain parts that would make you suspect it.  The callous "so it goes" expression being one of them.  Used at the sign of every death it shows meaning but also a cold voice to the truth of how deaths are calculated in war.  And then there's the bombing of Dresden, which is fractured in this book and you could miss it if you're just skimming through, but still very much an important time in Billy's life.  To me this book was more a look at mental illness and potential PTSD.  Billy's mind is erratic and chaotic and he doesn't always deal with situations in the ways that he should.  If the style jumping around wasn't so aggravating to me (I prefer a linear timeline) I might have appreciated how the book read like a confused mind would, not necessarily staying in any time sequence and only bouncing back and forth like a stream of consciousness thought would.  But that style unfortunately doesn't resonate with me and instead made me want to rush through the book as quickly as I could and get it over with.  Which means that I probably missed some meaning along the way.

Would I read it a second time?  It would take a lot for me to.  I'd probably gain some more insight in doing so but weighing the time against reading something new it would be a very hard choice.  I can see why this book is popular, I just unfortunately couldn't connect to it like the majority of the population seems to be able to.  This is a high-star book for a lot of people, but for me personally, it falls among the average as there are several other books with deep meaning out there that I found more readable and engaging.

Copyright 1969
215 pages

May 24, 2015

London by Edward Rutherfurd

Rutherfurd has a distinctive style to his writing.  He'll take a setting, then proceed to take you through time and follow a few families through the generations of a place.  This particular time, he chose London.

We start at the beginning of time.  And then quickly proceed to where people inhabit London, most noticeably the Ducket family, with their webbed fingers and patch of white hair.  As the generations move, the plight and fortunes of the Ducket family change and intermingle with others (Like the Barnikel family and the Penny family) and they lose and win fortune several times over.  The landscape of London changes as it goes from rural to more urban and the great London Bridge is built. 

There are a lot of characters and it's hard to keep up as you go along.  But it's almost like a series of short stories so if you don't remember the family lineage, it's really ok, you can still get caught up in another set of characters story.  My favorite is probably the story of Jenny and Percy, the maid and the man who loved her and their difficult relationship.  They were later in the history and more familiar in how they lived, so maybe that's why it was easier to relate to them.  Not that the other characters are uninteresting, there's so many different professions and issues that each story is unique.

I really do like the format of how the history is told.  Following the families through generations it makes it easier to understand the history of the area and it definitely isn't as dull as a history textbook would be.  This is a great way to learn history!  Although I can't speak as to how factual everything is.  Obviously the characters aren't real, but the way the landscape and city changed is probably pretty spot on.  There are a few stories that are a little rougher (brothels, kidnapping, etc.)  but the majority are pretty tame and non-violent.

Another good one by Rutherfurd.  I look forward to reading more of his books.

Copyright 1997
1124 pages

April 24, 2015

Happy by Lonely Planet

Lonely Planet has a series of mini-books out with a different emotional state as the theme for each.  This book covers "Happy" and the different secrets that people use all over the world to get happy.

This is a tiny little book.  On the left side pages are the pictures and also a box that has the Secret, Tradition, and location of where it is used.  The right side page is a full description saying how something is done in whatever country the tradition takes place.  The book separates the activities into categories such as body or spirit.  The pictures themselves are both photographs and illustrations.

I enjoyed this little book more than I did the other in the series, Calm.  This one had more real photographs, which I felt was appropriate for a travel publisher's book.  While the illustrations are nice photographs describe the tradition better.  Since this is a small book, the print is very tiny and hard to read, so if you have poor vision, I wouldn't advise getting this book.  That being said, it's a nice stocking stuffer or something to carry around in your car for a quick pick me up.  It has many nice traditions, including a few I hadn't heard before like Zapotec fiestas.

Cute little book and fun for a quick read.

Copyright 2015
125 pages

April 23, 2015

Rebel Queen by Michelle Moran

Moran can certainly write an engaging story.  A story involving Queen Lakshmi, who I'd never even heard of before, opened me up to a side of history that I'm very much interested in.  And looking forward to finding more books about.

Sati is the elder daughter of a deaf father and a mother who died in childbirth.  With just her little sister for company and an abusive grandmother to hound her, she is saved from a brothel to be trained by her father and a neighbor for a spot in the Queen's guard.  Positions come open rarely and she trains for year before being accepted in and finding a whole new arena in which she must do battle.  And with the British slowly taking over the different kingdoms of India, politics are just as dangerous as they ever have been.

Sati is not a very strong character.  Well, in some ways.  She certainly trains well and does what she is told, but I never really feel like she ever stands up for herself in this novel.  Yes, traditions and the culture don't let her do a lot of things.  But with her intelligence and skills she should have been a little more capable of doing things for herself.  Regardless, she still is an interesting character to read about and you can sympathize with her.  Queen Lakshmi herself we only see a little of, and I was intrigued, but I was also surprised by how "bound" her character was by her station in life.  Again, that might just be the constraints of culture though.

The book's premise was a good one.  Few people (and I'm including myself) have ever heard of an all female guard in India, let alone one in previous history.  I thought that this story was a good way of explaining how it worked and all some of the other practices in India.  I don't know how historically accurate it is, since I've never studied it before, but I'm guessing it's pretty close and it seemed to be well thought out.  There is some violence in the novel, but not overly much.  And there is mention of brothel and rape.  There's actually some sad, anger-inducing scenes involving that actually.  But for as angry as it made me, I realized that it was probably an accurate reflection of history.

A very interesting book and engaging read.  For a little big on Laskmi's guard, this is one to dig into.

**This book was received as an advanced reviewer's copy**

Rebel Queen
Copyright 2015
352 pages

April 18, 2015

A Sorrow In Our Heart by Allan Eckert

Wow, this is quite the tome!  It's always a constant surprise to me when I meet someone who hasn't heard of Tecumseh.  Being raised in Ohio, it was a name we learned early on in history (there was even a wonderful outdoor theatre program about him in Chillicothe).  Because his is a tale that comes from the other side of history, it's one that should be told, and this book goes above and beyond to bring the research for it.

Tecumseh was born under auspicious signs.  It was clear that from birth he would be a great leader.  Showing an aptitude for strategy and diplomacy from an early age, he rose through the ranks of the Shawnee quickly and was instrumental in joining the different tribes together to oppose the encroachment of the European/American settlers in Native American land.

This is historical fiction.  So while it is about real people, I can't say that everything in here happened as the author described it.  He of course took liberties with the characters personalities and conversation.  Was Tecumseh really so noble in all of his thoughts and actions?  We assume so because his history is documented and we have some of his letters.  But everyone has their flaws.  That being said the way he was presented here was very much positive and probably very close to the truth.  The information presented about his family was new to me.  I never realized what important roles they possessed in their community as well and how much support that he had in his endeavors.

This is a long book.  The book itself over a thousand pages, and the actual story over eight hundred.  It is so long because of all the footnotes and bibliography included at the end.  So you can tell that the author did some research before writing this biography.  Because the book is so big it moves at a very slow pace.  After awhile I found myself skimming as I didn't care about all the little military nuances and battle plans that were being described.   A history or military buff would probably be very interested in those sections though.  I preferred the conversations and descriptions of the land, of which there were plenty of chapters about too. 

Lots of information about a remarkable man.  If you've ever been curious about the history of Tecumseh, I'd say this is a good place to start.

A Sorrow in Our Heart
Copyright 1992
1068 pages

April 10, 2015

River Horse by William Least Heat-Moon

Have you ever thought about traveling across America by boat?  No really, not around, across; through the rivers and portages taking each snakey way around the land in a trusty motorized boat or canoe.  Well Least Heat-Moon did, and with a friend (well a few friends at times) he did just that.  Having read his Blue Highways and enjoyed it, I figured this would be a good one too.

Later in life after having traveled the blue highways of America, and with an impending divorce, Least Heat-Moon decides that he wants to take another trip across America.  Only this time he wants to do it on a different kind of blue highway.  The watery kind.  So he buys a little boat, finds some friends who can help him on his way, and maps out a course where he can travel the most by river and by not having to use too many portages.  He meets people along the way, stops every night to rest in a different city, and learns what the majority of America's waterways look like.

Least Heat-Moon is a decent narrator.  He tells you a lot about himself and the people he travels with.  You get to hear a few stories about the people he meets along the way, but really not too many.  More often than not he's telling stories about the people he's traveling with's pasts and such.  He also treats the boat as if it were a person, and there's a ton of description and history behind the boat and why it's named what it is and why he chose such a boat.

While this was an interesting book I still don't feel as if I know America's waterways.  I know the laws, the ways that it has changed due to the damming and infrastructure and population of America, but I don't really recall too much in the way of scenery described.  Oh sure there was some, but not the in-depth descriptions I was looking for.  And that goes for almost everything aside from the boat itself.  I wanted to know more about the people and the nature scenes and I felt that it was a bit lacking in this book.  There was a lot of social commentary, a little politics, and a lot of personal history about the author and his friends.  Which made it seem more like a memoir than a travel narrative.

An ok book, but not quite what I had expected it to be.  If you're fond of Least Heat-Moon's writing, you'll like it.

River Horse
Copyright 1999
502 pages

Calm by Lonely Planet

Who doesn't a little more serenity in their life?  We all are constantly rushed, going about our days, rarely taking the time to just stop and appreciate everything.  This little book aims at sharing the secrets to being "calm" from around the world.

Calm is a mini-book that splits up ideas for achieving serenity into different sections like "sharing" or "nature" and offer a brief description of what different people in the world do.  Each page has a picture on the left side and the description on the right side.  The pictures are both drawings and photographs.  On the photograph is a little caption saying what the secret is, what the tradition or activity is, and where it originated.

This is a very tiny book with small print.  If you have bad eyesight you're not going to be able to read it.  That being said, it's perfect to carry in your purse or keep in your desk when you need a little pick me up.  And it does seem geared towards women (which is why I mentioned the purse), although not very obtrusively.  I just happened to notice, especially in the one that mentioned dancing, that the women's role was more described than the man's and seemed like the particular tradition was being recommended more to women.  But again, not really a huge deal, I think anyone would probably like this book.

The pictures are where I was slightly disappointed.  While I found the cartoons and illustrations nice, this is a lonely planet book, which being a travel publisher, I expected there to be more photographs.  I would have much rather seen a real picture of the tradition as opposed to the illustration. I think it would have been easier to connect to the traditions and understand them better that way as well.

It's a cute little book and would make a great stocking stuffer or small gift.  And again, who doesn't need more serenity in their life?

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

Copyright 2015
125 pages

April 01, 2015

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

I started out reading this book thinking I wasn't going to like it.  Crime books and thrillers are not my normal sort of genre, and then add in the fact that it started out very slowly, and well, I was almost a goner.  But gradually the book became more interesting and the more I read it, the more I wanted to read it. 

Mikael Blomkvist is a report who has just gotten himself into some trouble.  Having lost a court case where he was charged with libel, he has to exit from his magazine to save it from going down the tubes, serve a few months in jail, and figure out how to get back at the guy who sent his career plummeting.  So when he is offered a job working for an eccentric older business man to find out what happened to a member of his family, it seems like a no brainer.  That is until dark things start happening as he is investigating.  That and the appearance of a strange girl who can do things with a computer and get information that a reporter could only hope to get ahold of.

Mikael was a decent character.  A little too perfect.  Very forgiving, all the ladies loved him, so on and so forth.  He didn't have any bad habits or personality quirks that I could see, and that made him a bit unbelievable.  Even in a fiction novel I like my characters to have some flaws.  That being said, his alternate, Lisbeth, had plenty of flaws even though she is "freakishly" intelligent and good at investigating.  She too was a little too powerful at times and it really seemed quite unfair to the antagonists to have to go up against these two.  But they were entertaining and you can't help but root for Lisbeth when she's righting wrongs.  Mikael was more passive and because of that I didn't find myself rooting for him as much.

The plot was only somewhat predictable.  There were a few things in the mystery I was able to guess and some things that I wasn't.  I do think that the ending was probably a bit too easy and everything was wrapped up just a little too nice.  But they did leave a little room at the end for the entrance of the next book, so not everything was wrapped up.  And just because some of it was predictable doesn't mean it wasn't a good read.  I liked the description of the people (although the scenery could have used some work) and the setting was interesting being in Sweden.  This was a very graphic book when it came to other descriptions though and it could be quite violent.  Abuse and rape and torture all had a part in this book, and even the consensual sex seemed somewhat impersonal as well.  It wasn't a large part of the book, but it was definitely noticeable and mildly disturbing.

I'm intrigued enough to read the next book.  I want to know what happens with the characters and what "bad guy" they are going to defeat next with their partnership.  From slow to hard to put down, this was a roller coaster of a book.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Copyright 2008
644 pages

March 20, 2015

The Girls of Mischief Bay by Susan Mallery

I've read a bit by Susan Mallery and thought her works were entertaining, so when this first book in a new series came out I thought I'd give it a try.  A group of strong women trying to make their way in life.    Never a bad plot premise.

This book surrounds three women.  Nicole is running her exercise studio and dealing with a husband who up and quit his job and isn't helping around the house.  Shannon has always put her career first but now has found a man that may change her view on things.  And Pam isn't coping well with aging.  But these three friends will help each other through tough times and try to find the appropriate path in life to take.

I can't say I really cared about Nicole or Shannon's stories.  Well, maybe Nicole a little bit.  But Pam was the one that I thought had the best storyline.  It's not that it was any more relatable than the others, but it seemed the most developed and you could really sympathize with her emotions.  She made you feel the strongest.  As for the guys in the novel.  They weren't as fully developed.  They had some personality but the real story was with the girls.  So that was a tad disappointing.

I do think that all the plots were realistic and things that various women at various stages in their lives could relate to.  What it boils down to is that they have man troubles, and relationship issues.  Which is a common thing, but was presented in a way that it was interesting.  The writing was approachable and it moved with a solid pace.  This is a sort of romance so there are mentions of sex and the like in there.  So if that's not your thing, just be aware that it is there.  It's a longer book, but it also has a reader's guide and some recipes in it, which extends the page count.

An enjoyable romance.  It had some emotional aspects to it but by far was more of a leisure read.

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

The Girls of Mischief Bay
Copyright 2014
401 pages

February 25, 2015

The Murderer's Daughters by Randy Susan Meyers

Wow, this is one that really sticks with you.  I just found it on my bookshelf one day (I'm really not sure where it came from) and finally picked it up and read through it.  And kept reading almost straight through because I was that entranced by it.  It's not that it's a pleasant story; far from it in fact.  But it is an important story, and based on glimpses of real life.

Lulu and Merry don't have the most conventional childhood, but they have parents.  That is until their father in a drunken rage kills their mother and severely injures Merry in the process.  Now parentless, they are sent to an orphanage where survival is a daily thing with the other girls.  They have family, but none that can actually take care of them want them and so until they are fostered by a well to do family, the orphanage is their existence.  Merry still visits her father and has become his link to the world and it weighs heavy on her shoulders.  Lulu prefers to think that he doesn't exist and throws herself into her studies.  As the years go by the events haunt them deeply and have an impact on every decision they make.

Lulu and Merry are both terrific characters.  Although I preferred Lulu and her storyline, both were well developed and you could feel empathy towards them.  And they were very realistic in what domestic violence does to families and how it impacts the children.  The rest of the characters were pretty much side characters.  I can't say they were as fully developed.  But they were all important and as much as you didn't like the father, he was still an integral piece of the story.  And I could feel myself growing angry at the orphanage and the people in it, which means you know the characterization was done well if you feel actual emotion.

It's a sad novel.  Very sad because it is a completely plausible situation to happen in real life.  And things like this happen all the time.  There is violence done everywhere.  But reading how these girls coped (or didn't cope) was somewhat inspiring as they were still trying to make their life and go on.  Meyers has a way for really evoking emotion from the reader and the level of detail was just right (although perhaps not quite palatable for those who can't handle violence and descriptions of violence).  I think the social message is important too.  Domestic violence can be unexpected sometimes and support for the victims is not always there.  So anything that increases awareness helps.

A very thought provoking book and one I would highly recommend.  Lulu and Merry's stories will make you want to cry and change the world.

The Murderer's Daughters
Copyright 2009
310 pages

February 13, 2015

The Poser by Jacob Rubin

I really didn't think I was going to make it through this one.  It just started out so slow and lost my attention.  But seeing as how I loathe to never finish a book I kept going, and ended up enjoying "The Poser" if only just a little.

Giovanni has never known his father but has been especially close with his mother.  So much so, that even into his adult life she runs the show and he returns to her home every night after being a ticket collector.  But Giovanni does have one talent.  Or maybe not a talent but an innate trait that he was born with.  He can imitate anyone.  And he can do it fairly quickly upon meeting them.  He just has to find what he calls, "their thread" and that allows him to unravel a whole person, see them for who they are, and do an impression.  So when he's discovered, it's this trait that bursts him into stardom and places not even his mama imagined he would go.

I did not like Giovanni's mother.  I thought that in the beginning she was necessary, but that her latter actions in the story were just to help move it along and cause a bit of strife.  Her personality and wants for Giovanni seem to shift and I can't say that I ever really got a definite hold on her motivations.  But she is the one person Giovanni doesn't need to imitate.  I also thought that Lucy was a great character and was swept aside too quickly for playing such a pivotal person in Giovanni's life.  But maybe that's show biz eh?  Giovanni himself is all characters and none.  He wasn't really supposed to have his own personality (although he kind of does) and instead mirrors everything around him (which is insinuated in the book with the usage of mirrors).

I'm not sure what I was expecting when I read the description of the book.  I thought it would be about an imitator who is so caught up in other people that he forgets his own personality, but this book has Giovanni have no personality of his own from the beginning, not something that he would lose.  I did think that the initial break into show business and all of the details of the stage and people and really the first half of the book were slow paced and I didn't enjoy it.  But I am glad that I persevered because I did enjoy the second half of the book.  I liked Giovanni's descent into something he didn't fully understand and his exploration of a different set of people.  It seemed more authentic and less gaudy, which may have been the author's intent for all I know.  I do have to warn for the casual reader that the book can get a bit raunchy at times.  And by raunchy I mean there was a sleazier part of Giovanni's life and Rubin describes them fully.  So if you're looking for something light and comedic I would say that this book instead falls into the category of dark and not so much comedic as an exploration of humanness. 

Hard to start, slow to continue, but by the end it will be hard to put down.  I'd recommend this book and would probably check out other novels that Rubin will write.

The Poser
Copyright 2015
242 pages

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

January 26, 2015

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

I found this dreadfully dull.  It explored the history of Vlad Tepes, otherwise known as Dracula, but being that it was fiction I didn't expect it to read like a history textbook.  Which sadly it did.

The narrator is still under the care of her father when she discovers a mysterious book in his library. Drawn to it, she asks him about it and starts to learn of a terrible history.  One that is dangerous as well as intriguing and one that her father is anxious to be away from.  As a college student, he had come across the book in his stack at the library and upon researching it was thrust into a world where Vlad Tepes still existed and didn't want him delving into his secrets (or so it appeared).  Those researching had found their own books and met with mysterious fates and after the disappearance of a professor at his college, he makes the acquaintance of the man's daughter and they embark on a mission to find him.  But it won't be an easy one, as Vlad Tepes has a confusing history and there are plenty of people who don't want to see him succeed.

I can't say I really connected to any of the characters.  The narrator, despite being present a good portion of the time was not fleshed out and I didn't feel as if I knew what she wanted and what she was experiencing.  She more just told her father's story and at least there was a little more character development there, and on the part of her mother, but it still wasn't encompassing.  I found a lot of the side characters a lot more likable.  I also thought her somewhat guardian Barley, was unneeded and a distraction.  I thought he was there to provide a love interest, but it didn't seem like there was any follow through in that regard or deep meaning.

The plot itself could have been an interesting one  If it didn't stretch on so long that is.  I really did feel as if I was reading a history book, and I find the majority of those onerous at the best of times.  It's just hard to care when I'd rather know what happened and how the common people felt about something rather than being given endless dates, war strategies and the opinions and recollections of a few.  I also thought the ending was quite anticlimactic and it seemed rushed when the rest of the novel went at a drag.  Better pacing would have greatly improved this novel and helped make it more appealing.  As it stands, it was a book I had to read in many sittings simply because I couldn't get absorbed into it.  And considering it is a hefty book, that makes for a lot of sittings.

Not for me.  Maybe if you like dates, names, and other trappings of a history textbook you'll enjoy this piece of fiction.  But for me, unless I'm reading non-fiction, a fiction book should be more approachable.

The Historian
Copyright 2005
642 pages

January 25, 2015

Fictitious Dishes by Dinah Fried

I wavered between being intrigued with this book and not liking it at all.  Having received it as a birthday present, the giver had thought they were giving me a cookbook based on literary dishes.  Well, this is not a cookbook but rather a photography book.  A coffee table book filled with pictures inspired by different dishes from popular novels.

Different novels such as Heidi, American Psycho, Madame Bovary and others are represented in this book.  For each novel, there is an excerpt from the book that mentions the meal in question, small footnotes that explain different things from history or the book and different facts on food at times, and then a full page picture of the meal in question that is the author's rendering of what it might have looked like. 

That being said, while I thought there were some very pretty pictures in this, I wasn't always thrilled with the way it was put together.  For instance, in Catcher in the Rye, it mentions a swiss cheese sandwich.  What's in the picture?  A sandwich with american cheese on it, or at least it looked like shiny yellow american cheese..  I can understand some ingredients being hard to get, but that one seems to be a kind of big oversight.  And then Valley of the Dolls, that was just pills.  Maybe the author was trying to be clever, but I don't consider that a meal at all and would have rather had actual food stuffs.  Especially since the book excerpt didn't really describe it as being a meal either.  Whereas I can understand the picture of dirt for One Hundred Years of Solitude as that was actually described as a meal.

I did like the actual writing in the book.  The facts were interesting, most of the excerpts relevant and it just made it more complete, especially since this wasn't a cookbook.  The variety of books chosen were nice too.  There was both classic and modern represented, along with children's novels and adult fiction.

An ok book.  I think it felt rushed and that the details could have been a little better.  But the photography was pretty.

Fictitious Dishes
Copyright 2014
126 pages

January 07, 2015

Wide-Open World by John Marshall

Voluntourism is becoming a popular way for people to spend their vacations.  At times it can help lower the financial burden of taking an exotic location, or if it doesn't fill that purpose, it's a good way to feel like you're helping and making a difference with your time.  Any of these reasons are good reasons for participating though, as is all the lessons you'll learn yourself while helping out in a foreign (or even domestic) locale.  Wide-Open World is actually John Marshall's story about how he and his family took six months to volun-tour around the world.

Marshall had a solid job, two kids in high school, and a wife that was a little bit of a dreamer.  Sensing his family growing apart, they came up with a plan to travel around the world for six months.  But had to do it on a budget.  Enter the world of voluntourism.  They planned out different locations they would go to volunteer, pay for airflights and boarding there, and that would help them get around the world.  On average they spent about a month at each places with varying degrees of time spent being a tourist in between them.  They volunteered at an animal rescue, WOOFED around at farms in New Zealand, taught English in Thailand and spent some time at an orphanage in India, among other things.  At each they did a different type of volunteering and all had their own tasks.

Marshall seems to be pretty honest about his family.  Despite his daughter saying she'd destroy his book if he wrote something unflattering about her, I have to say, he did paint her as being kind of spoiled.  But also learning, she was pretty much a typical American teenager, which can be an unflattering description anymore.  His son was a little more quiet, he didn't seem to have as much of a connection with him as he did his daughter, so while he's present in the book, he's not as much of a standout description.  And his wife.  It's clear that he loved her but that she was a free spirit and maybe they weren't so great of a match when it came down to it.  All the people they met (except the ones that rented their house while they were gone) seemed to be excellent as well and I really enjoyed reading the descriptions of the children in the orphanage, the different families they stayed with in New Zealand, and the spiritual leaders in India.  I was also pretty amused by the actions of the monkeys at the first stop in their trip.

The book introduces a pretty neat concept.  How many people would just quit and risk everything to do this with their family?  It took some planning (although not as much as you think), some bravery, and a willingness to try the unknown.  It does help that the kids were mostly grown and they were not in a lot of debt.  But the book makes this traveling seem approachable for most anyone.  The variety of places was nice as well as it showed all different types of volunteering.  The only thing I didn't really like about this book was probably the drama between the author and his wife.  It wasn't blatant, but it was continuous through the book.  But since this was a memoir I can't fault it too hard for that as he was telling about his life and how he and his family fared on the trip.  Another interesting feature about this book was that it featured three epilogues.  Ok, so two were actually just chapters, but they told of what happened after the trip, and then what happened after that, and then finally something actually called the epilogue followed.  It was more that before publication things that were relevant kept happening so the author included them.

A very interesting book, especially if you like volunteering or have wanted to find a way to travel around the world.  It introduces a lot of concepts that most won't even know existed let alone thought possible that they could do.

Wide-Open World
Copyright 2015
325 pages

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