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