A “literary tragicomic” that is translated from Norwegian. It’s a short but challenging read which is at t...moreOriginal review posted on Layers of Thought.
A “literary tragicomic” that is translated from Norwegian. It’s a short but challenging read which is at times brilliant, heart-wrenching, sadly funny, and with some interesting bits which require mathematical knowledge to fully understand their references.
About: It is told in the first person by an aging woman Mathea Martinsen. She is a cerebral individual, currently obsessed with death, and perhaps possessing a social anxiety disorder. She stays in her apartment with little desire to connect with anyone other than her husband. With no children, her life consists of the television and going to the store, while simultaneously trying to avoid and connect with her neighbors.
When she finally realizes something is missing from her life – that she wants to be and feel important - she attempts to set things right in a dilapidated series of too-late actions. It seems the harder she tries to be someone, and to connect with others, the worse things become. While she remains oddly positive, as the title suggests she only feels smaller. As her muddled attempts become more desperate, her descent leads to a culmination which is not entirely expected and completely heartbreaking.
Thoughts: One of the reasons I love translated literature is that it helps me to think differently. This book definitely did, and then some. It pushed me to re-read passages, research references, and to do quite few “Googles”. I would even say that with so many looking up of references while reading this ARC, it felt like it was not completely finished.
However, many of the analogies were brilliant and curious. The author has a variety of these interesting tidbits scattered through the story line coming directly from Mathea’s thoughts and actions. An example is that Mathea puts many thing into numerical concepts and theories, speaking to her connection with the world and her relationship to her husband – his nickname and even the title is a reference to a numerical theory.
So, I was a bit conflicted about this book. But remembering it is an ARC I will be searching for a finished copy to compare the two. Perhaps footnotes for the Norwegian cultural references and math connections would help? I don’t always want to stop reading to find an answer to a question.
Recommended for readers that enjoy translated fiction, mathematical logic, and for those looking for a much deeper read. I give this short and intellectually intense book 3 stars as it is in its ARC format; more if my concerns have been addressed in the finished copy. (less)
A mini family epic set against the backdrop of the California Bay Area, jazz and soul...moreThis review by John is originally published at Layers of Thought.
A mini family epic set against the backdrop of the California Bay Area, jazz and soul music, and changes in local society. The story even manages to embrace kung fu, Blaxploitation movies and the Black Panther movement!
About: Brokeland Records is a store on Telegraph Avenue on the border of Berkeley and Oakland, specializing in used vinyl and focused on jazz and soul music. Run by two long-time buddies, Nat (who is white) and Archy (who is black), the store is so much more than a record shop – it’s a multi-cultural center of gravity for many locals who gather there, chew the fat, and generally hang out. While it always totters on the edge financially, it is very much a labor of love for the music-loving Nat and Archy.
They are also bound together outside of Brokeland, as their wives are both midwives and are partners in Berkeley Birth Partners, which over the years has helped many hundreds of local women to give birth in their own homes – much to the chagrin of some local doctors who want to see all births take place within hospitals.
Now their bumpy, somewhat chaotic but somewhat steady lives are rocked on several fronts. An ex-NFL star, who is the fifth richest black man in the US, is planning on opening a megastore on Telegraph Avenue which would almost certainly mean doom for Brokeland Records; Berkeley Birth Partners is faced with legal action and professional ruin; Nat’s fragile teenage son falls in love with an itinerant black boy who turns out to be Archy’s long-lost (and never acknowledged) son; and an eccentric man, who is the closest thing to a real father that Archy ever had, unexpectedly dies. Can’t get any worse? Then Archy’s real father turns up – he’s a total deadbeat who used to be a kung fu expert and starred in third-rate Blaxploitation movies, and he’s after something.
John’s thoughts: This is a heck of a book – an interesting story, a complex many-threaded plot, many dashes of wry humor, and some well-constructed and complicated characters. The main characters are by no means perfect – they have all too many human flaws, but you can’t help liking them (mostly) and you do want things to end up well for them.
Chabon is clearly someone who knows the Berkeley/Oakland area well and has a deep affinity for it. He includes lots of local detail and color, and clearly has fears and hopes about how the area is developing. Likewise he must be a huge fan of the music that Brokeland Records sells, and the book has a multitude of musical references. Actually, I did find that sometimes the deep attachment to the location and the music got in the way a bit – as some of the references and colloquialisms were a bit lost on me.
I like the way that Chabon brings in lots of different plot elements, including local politics, cultural tensions, family/generational tensions and (even!) the Black Panther movement. These are all intertwined with the main storylines, and it gives the book an almost epic feel.
A word on the writing style – at times I found the wording and syntax tough, and had to re-read many of the sentences. This got easier as I progressed through the book, but it did slow me down and didn’t help with the pacing. Nonetheless, I’d rate this four stars and recommend it to anyone who likes to read meaty novels about complex family and social tensions, especially those with a musical and multi-cultural backdrop. (less)
A classic science fiction and horror mix that includes monsters created by the amoral Dr. Moreau.
About: Set in the late 1800’s, an educated and professional man named Edward Prendick inadvertently becomes stranded on a South Pacific island. This tropical island houses the laboratories of Dr. Moreau - a mad scientist of sorts who is doing some unusual and cruel experiments on animals on the remote island. Although Moreau attempts to hide his studies from the stranded newcomer, Prendick eventually finds out what is becoming of the animals when he hears screaming from the laboratories. Prendick is naturally terrified that he too may become one of the doctor’s subjects.
Thoughts: Originally published in 1896, the novel is an adventure, with some thrilling twists in a spectacular setting. It’s definitely horrific and scientific, although the science is unrealistic based upon today’s standards. It has also been adapted into a variety of movies over the past 100 years. Some look interesting, so I plan to watch a select few since a movie version could be fun and I think would translate well.
There is some interesting commentary hidden in the story, bringing up questions around human and animal social structure, issues of vivisection, definitions of pain, and some unusual monsters; which in some ways reminded me of Frankenstein. So it could be an excellent book for discussion - take a look at its Wikipedia page where there is loads of fodder for thought: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Isla...
Highly recommended for anyone interested in stories with darker themes. Only 200 pages or so, or just several hours of listening time, I finished it quickly. It was a great read since I love science fiction, horror, and classics and this is all three. I give it a 4 star rating.(less)
A five-star classic graphic novel – flawed super-heroes, complex characters, spikey social comm...moreOriginal review by John is posted at Layers of Thought.
A five-star classic graphic novel – flawed super-heroes, complex characters, spikey social commentary and an excellent plot make for a great read that questions our moralities.
About: Set in the cold war era after the end of the Vietnam War, the golden age of masked crime-fighting heroes has passed in the US, and the remnants of the “Watchmen” are either working for the government or retired. That is, all except Rorschach, a totally uncompromising crime-fighter who continues to operate outside of the law (the superheroes’ activities having now been deemed illegal). Since their heyday, several have met tragic ends and now the cynical public sentiment is very much against them – even though they helped the US win the Vietnam War and their most powerful member, Dr. Manhattan, has helped the US gain the upper hand strategically in the global stand-off with the Soviet Union.
When a final showdown with the Soviet Union seems to be imminent, one of the Watchmen, the Comedian, is brutally killed. Dr. Manhattan is then vilified in public and promptly disappears. Rorschach investigates and becomes convinced that someone is trying to murder or sideline all remaining superheroes. Is someone out for revenge? Is someone trying to tilt the balance of power back in favor of the Russians? The Night Owl comes out of retirement to help and the Silk Spectre (disenchanted partner of the missing Dr. Manhattan) also dons her crime-fighting costume, despite detesting Rorschach. They try to persuade the super-intelligent Ozymandias to help as well, but he casts doubts on their conspiracy theories and seems to be too wrapped up in running his business empire.
As nuclear Armageddon fast approaches, some of the Watchmen struggle to untangle what is going on and try to persuade the troubled and emotionally detached Dr. Manhattan to return to Earth to help. This in turn leads to some unpleasant discoveries for the Silk Spectre. Meanwhile a youth is reading a gruesome comic book about pirates, Tales of the Black Freighter, which seems to have some uncanny parallels with what is happening in the real world.
The ending is full of surprises and really challenges the reader to think about what is right, what is wrong, and what might just be acceptable in a world that is anything but black and white.
John’s thoughts: Well, I never thought that my first five-star rating would be for a graphic novel, but here I am and this is most definitely worthy of five stars. If you have notions about the graphic novel art form being adolescent and unintelligent, banish them and read this book.
The characters are remarkably complex and interesting, especially Rorschach and Dr. Manhattan. The plot twists and turns all over the place and I had no idea how it would all end up. The ending is remarkably thought-provoking. And it’s nice that Moore doesn’t try to lay out what he thinks – in essence the various characters have extreme and differing views on what is morally right and what isn’t, and the reader is left to decide what she/he thinks.
There is so much more to enjoy about the book. It’s a wonderfully dark story; it lays bare the shallowness and venality of the world we live in; nothing is black or white; thanks in large part to the activities of the Watchmen, Richard Nixon is enjoying his fifth term as US president (truly scary); the graphics are excellent; and despite much of the bleakness, it’s actually a fun read.
I’d unequivocally rate the book five stars. If you like dark superhero stories or any books that are deeply thought-provoking, this one is for you. If you’ve never ventured into the world of graphic novels, this is a great place to start.
P.S. When the movie version of Watchmen came out in 2009, many Watchmen purists panned it. I don’t agree. A movie could never pick up all of the subtleties and intricacies of a novel like this, but the Watchmen movie was hugely entertaining, fun and, as with the book, very thought-provoking. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. Whether you have read the book or not, I’d recommend giving the movie a go. (less)
An excellent read – a mashup of alternative realities, particle physics, experimental jazz music,...moreOriginal review by John posted at Layers of Thought.
An excellent read – a mashup of alternative realities, particle physics, experimental jazz music, the Second World War and science fiction. How could you not like that combination?
About: It’s 1941 and Sam Dance is a an intelligent but uncoordinated jazz lover who has poor eyesight. He struggles to be accepted by the US army, but finally manages to wangle his way in, and then finds himself plucked from regular training and sent on a series of esoteric technical courses. After a passionate evening with one of the temporary lecturers, a brilliant and mysterious Eastern European physicist, the woman leaves him with a strange device, associated technical plans and scientific papers. While the device is an early prototype, she believes that once improved and if used properly, it can change the course of history for the good; it can affect the physics of consciousness and human behavior, and maybe even diminish man’s warlike tendencies. Dance is puzzled but intrigued and tries to understand some of the complex papers.
The very next day, the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor and Dance’s beloved elder brother is killed in the attack. He is heartbroken and the US is drawn into the Second World War.
So begins a strange tale. Dance becomes deeply involved in a program to design and deploy a top-secret radar and gun director that could help to win the war. He becomes close friends with Wink, another soldier who like him is a fanatic lover of modern jazz. They are deployed first to England and then to France and Germany, becoming ever more embroiled in the war effort and experiencing first-hand the horrors of the Nazi regime. All the while Dance remains fascinated by the device, and with Wink’s help they secretly try to create improved versions of it. Their deep understanding of jazz seems to help them make mental connections in the complex science behind the devices. Mysteriously the devices almost seem to have a mind of their own, and periodically mutate – but it’s not clear that the devices are actually doing anything. Meanwhile it is clear that the allied secret services suspect that the devices exists and want to find them.
Times move on, the Second World War ends but evolves into the Cold War, and Dance remains involved with the US armed forces, in Europe, the US and the Pacific. But strange things are happening. Times seem to be shifting, people are appearing and disappearing, and Dance becomes aware of alternative realities that seem to intertwine. He becomes drawn towards a critical historic event that appears to be the locus for those alternative realities. Can he and the mutated device affect those possible realities and prevent a grim new world from evolving?
John’s thoughts: This is a meaty, twisty, complex and thought-provoking story. At times I felt like I was just about hanging on, and found I often had to re-read sections - which isn’t intended as a criticism; this is one of those chewy stories that exercises the old grey matter in a positive way.
I like all of the detail about the Second World War, much of it (and some of the plot elements) being pulled directly from Goonan’s own father’s wartime experiences. He was actually involved in the secret radar project and was based for a time in most of the places featured in the story. I found those details really interesting, apart from which they also help to give the fantastic storyline a very grounded foundation (which I think is a definite plus in a plot that is so complicated.) I guess any story that is based around alternative realities and time travel is bound to be complicated, and this one is certainly no exception.
I really like the way that an actual historic event (the assassination of JFK) was used as the pivot for a variety of alternative futures. You can certainly see how our world might have turned out very differently if that event had never happened.
There are some really strong characters in the story – principally Sam Dance himself and the secret agent who becomes his wife. They are both conscientious and deep thinking, and strive to figure out what is right. The enigmatic Eastern European physicist too is an interesting character. She is actually a Magyar Gypsy who was heavily involved in the free-thinking European scientific community of the 1920s and 1930s, providing a nice contrast with the era of the Nazi regime that followed.
Was there anything that didn’t grab me? Well, the jazz connections with particle physics and biochemistry were interesting but at times felt just a smidgeon contrived. Clearly jazz is a big deal for Goonan, but for readers who aren’t that way inclined, the big focus on jazz in the story might get in the way a little bit.
Overall I’d rate this book 4 stars. For anyone who likes stories about alternative realities and histories this will be a great read. Also interested in the Second World War? And Jazz? Then you just have got to give this one a go. (less)
I certainly hate to give poor ratings... actually 1.5 stars.
I tried more than several times to like this book but it just did not happen. I also rarel...more I certainly hate to give poor ratings... actually 1.5 stars.
I tried more than several times to like this book but it just did not happen. I also rarely rate any book this low.
The book is tiny and has an adorable cover. A great concept. It has some decent key ideas. Its just that they are surrounded by information that is unclear and is organized poorly. It also has information which conflicts. I do not recommend this for women who need help in their relationships. I believe it will only confuse a reader more, whom in most cases needs more clarity not less. A good therapist and/or and older woman (or a man for that matter) whom has had successful relationships would be my choice.
If you want a few decent books on relationships and with helping one choose the right partner I suggest the following:
A thought-provoking novel on the possibilities, rights and wrongs of stem-cell research and associ...moreOriginal review by John posted at Layers of Thought.
A thought-provoking novel on the possibilities, rights and wrongs of stem-cell research and associated medical science.
About: The Marshak brothers are both brilliant doctors - Arthur focusing on leading-edge research and Jesse focusing on trying to help poor and disadvantaged sick people. While Jesse goes on to win a Humanitarian of the Year award, Arthur covets the Nobel prize.
Arthur is now head of a research laboratory, pushing back the boundaries of medical knowledge and techniques. In particular he and his team are making great strides in working out how to regenerate limbs and organs – and in the process have caused great angst among many religious groups, conservatives and people concerned about ethical and moral aspects of the research. Most importantly, as far as the arc of the story is concerned, Arthur’s own brother becomes opposed to the research.
In order to try and clear the way ahead for his work, Arthur manages to convene a “science court”, designed to help the scientific community pass judgment on the validity of the research. Inevitably the court sessions become something of a circus, straying far beyond the scientific issues and attracting the attention of powerful lobby groups, politicians and the media.
As the court proceedings come to a head, the story examines the conflict and dynamics between the brothers, some of the troubling aspects of the research and the corporate goings on in the company that owns Arthur’s laboratory.
John’s thoughts: This is great subject matter and the plot is nicely teed up, but somehow the book never quite took off for me. The main problem was the characters – they felt a bit two-dimensional and some of their motivations and actions just weren’t quite believable. In particular the relationship between the brothers and the woman they both love just didn’t feel realistic.
I do like the way that the story explored various aspects of the controversial subject matter, but even then some issues are brought up but never come close to any sort of resolution or meaningful debate, a case in point being animal experimentation and vivisection. In most instances Bova made it quite clear what his views were on issues, but on the use of animals in research I have no idea what he thinks.
I’d never read a Ben Bova novel before, and he had come highly recommended, so I was a bit disappointed with this read. It was still ok, but I was expecting so much more. I’d say this is one for Bova lovers and anyone with an interest in issues around stem-cell research. I’d rate it three stars. (less)
**spoiler alert** Dr. Gundry has given us a diet which I would consider an offshoot of the "caveman diet". His premise, which is a fairly complex, sta...more**spoiler alert** Dr. Gundry has given us a diet which I would consider an offshoot of the "caveman diet". His premise, which is a fairly complex, states that we are genetically programmed to eat in a certain way and that what we eat today is not what our bodies need, so we are consequently seeing many health problems which can be reversed through this diet. He states that the way and what we are eating is telling our genes/bodies that we are not fit enough to survive and consequently that they should not pass their genetic information on - therefore killing us. He basically wants the dieter to start out by cutting out all carbohydrates, dairy, and fruits - eating protien, and vegies. He then has you progress into less protien and then to no or very little protien and even suggests that any protien (beef and fish) and vegies should be eaten raw. He has some examples of people whose health has significantly improved on the diet which are amazing. There are cute little sayings at the end of each section of explainations which helps the dieter remember what to do while dieting and has some very low cal/carb recipes at the end of the book. I gave it 3 stars because of these recipes.(less)
An awarding winning novella, that has a dark and lovely rendition of a numb...moreOriginal review posted at Layers of Thought in a graphic novel trio review.
An awarding winning novella, that has a dark and lovely rendition of a number of combined ancient fables. It’s gorgeously illustrated and celebrates Japanese mythology.
About: A young Buddhist monk who is at peace with his life is in charge of a small temple set in some beautiful mountains in Japan. While attending to his his daily rituals and household maintenance he is emotionally accosted by two animals/spirits who want to live in his place. In their attempt to finagle the little church from the Zen priest, the fox falls in love with him. Later when his life is in danger from another selfish faction who would like to live his life, the fox spirit has no choice but to attempt to save him.the dream hunter
Thoughts: This is a stand alone story from the Sandman series which I am only just learning about, it was apparently written after the series had been “retired”. Technically not a graphic novel, this is really a story with a lot of illustrations. Happily they are gorgeous – I love Japanese art. The text is incredible too – complex and yet very easy to read, which is a big favorite style for me.
It won several awards in 2000 including a Bram Stoker and a Hugo. In my research I also became aware that several other versions of the book have been printed and are using other artists in a more traditional comic book format, including a very recent version. A warning for parents is that it is adult in nature with some very dark themes, so I would not give this book to children or immature teens. The story contains “dream hunters” which are particularly menacing – very cool but scary. I am thinking nightmares.
I loved this book at 4 stars and I am now a fan of Neil Gaiman. Believe it or not this is the first of his books that I’ve read. So what’s next? Perhaps American Gods before the movie comes out? I better get cracking!
Please note according to my searches the version I read is not available in the US. It is however available in the UK and Canada. (less)
An unflinching tale of how three different US cops react to the wave of illegal...moreOriginal review by John posted at Layers of Thought.
3.5 stars actually
An unflinching tale of how three different US cops react to the wave of illegal immigration and try to maintain control amidst the turmoil.
About: Tell Lyon is an ex-border patrol officer who takes over as police chief in an Ohio town which is beset by a wave of immigration – much of it illegal. He soon bumps into county Sheriff Able Hawk (hawk is “gavilan” translated from Spanish, which provides the title for the book). They are two very different characters who approach their jobs in very different ways. Lyon is a fluent Spanish speaker who was married to a Mexican-American woman, before she was murdered by a Mexican gang who fire-bombed their house. While tough, he is keen to be fair and soon wins the trust of most of the local Latino population. Hawk, on the other hand, is a much rougher character who takes a very hard line with illegal immigrants and also has little tolerance for what he sees as weak federal government. But he is fiercely protective of legal immigrants, Latino or otherwise, and forms a strong bond with some of them.
After some initial sparring and testing each other out, the two agree to work together and soon find themselves pitted against the corrupt sheriff of a neighboring county, Walt Pierce, who will stop at nothing to maintain the peace in his territory. Matters quickly come to a head when Thalia Ruiz, a legal immigrant that Hawk had taken under his wing, is brutally raped and murdered and dumped in a spot close by the county line.
We learn the horrific back story of how Thalia’s family made the illegal journey into America several years previously, during which many of them died while walking across the Sonoran desert. Only a young child at the time, Thalia could never understand why they had left their tropical and bountiful home, but for her parents the siren call of the rich promised land to the north proved irresistible. The remnants of the family find the US anything but bountiful, barely managing to exist while having to take low-wage menial jobs. Over the years Thalia drifts north, eventually becomes legalized, and then loses her new husband in an explosion at a factory, leaving her to somehow care for their daughter on her own.
Thalia’s murder threatens to ignite the local Latino population, so Hawk and Lyon are determined to quickly solve the case, but they face an ugly battle with Pierce who insists that he has jurisdiction over the case. The growing tensions divide families as careers and more lives are threatened.
John’s thoughts: This is a great topic for a novel. Despite the sloganeering of many politicians who want to make immigration a simple black-and-white issue, this can only be seen as many colors of gray – which provides a lot of material that authors can use to create rich backdrops for their novels. And McDonald does a fine job of crafting an interesting plot that does provide a variety of perspectives on immigration.
At the same time this is a good police procedural novel, following the cops as they try to unravel a vicious crime, while at the same time getting tangled up in complex personal, career and inter-departmental issues. No-one comes out of this squeaky clean, though for sure some are a darn sight cleaner than others.
It is a fast-paced and easy-to-read novel that I devoured quickly. I would opine that it has a little too much going on it, resulting in some things seeming a little rushed or not adequately developed. The same thing goes for some of the characters, though I did like the way that McDonald developed the Lyon and Hawk personalities. They feel like good material for a movie or TV show; and I’m thinking there may be follow-up novels on the horizon?
Anyhow, overall I found it an enjoyable read and would rate it 3.5 stars. I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who likes a good police/thriller novel, and also to anyone who wants to read a story focused around immigration – a subject which doesn’t seem to get a lot of attention in novels. (less)
Mini Synopsis: This is a classic dystopian science fiction novel written by a “Grand Master” of the genre. It tells of a future world where books are...moreMini Synopsis: This is a classic dystopian science fiction novel written by a “Grand Master” of the genre. It tells of a future world where books are illegal. They are burned by firemen whose sole purpose in life is to rid society of their supposed evils. Where the members of this society are indoctrinated with an audio/video infused system that produces a collective numbness. The main character Montag is one of these firemen, whom after some internal conflict comes to a transitional point in his life where he questions the loss of books and their importance to humanity. My thoughts: I listened to this book on an audio version on my iPod which was read by the author. It was my first book downloaded this way and I had some problems listening to it in order. In addition, when I first read Fahrenheit 451 when I was in high school the only thing I remember is my own teenage boredom. So naturally my thoughts are still a bit “choppy” around the book. However, I do know that revisiting it again in middle age, I can now relate to its significance as to why it was required reading for high school in the late 70’s. I believe it was to show us, as young adults, a significant precept in the US constitution - the right of our freedom of speech – specifically the press. So it was an indirect lesson in civics. The story reminds me that it is important to remember, and I truly believe, that information - specifically in this example books, should not be censored. Instead, labeled as we do with the movie industry’s rating system so that the individual has a choice, but never banned. It is a slippery slope if even one of our basic rights be dismissed or controlled as exemplified in this society. If I had not been so possessed with teenage apathy in my first so called reading of this book then perhaps I would have gotten half of the author's point. Here I finish with a quote which is significant on the issue of one of the gifts books bring us:
… books are to remind us what asses and fools we are. They're Caesar's praetorian guard, whispering as the parade roars down the avenue, 'Remember, Caesar, thou art mortal.' Most of us can't rush around, talk to everyone, know all the cities of the world, we haven't time, money or that many friends. The things you're looking for, Montag, are in the world, but the only way the average chap will ever see ninety-nine per cent of them is in a book. Don't ask for guarantees. And don't look to be saved in any one thing, person, machine, or library. Do your own bit of saving, and if you drown, at least die knowing you were headed for shore.
My rating for the book is 3 out of 5 stars. Translation - I Iiked it and recommend it for anyone interested in classic Science Fiction. (less)
A romantic and emotional journey of an abused woman and her path towards healing...more The original review with more elements is posted on Layers of Thought.
A romantic and emotional journey of an abused woman and her path towards healing - all within a vampire urban fantasy.
Synopsis: Set in a present day Los Angeles, a young woman named Serenity is in a difficult and very abusive marriage. Her self esteem is poor and she questions whether she deserves her nightly beatings and emotional abuse from her creepy and jobless husband.
When she stumbles upon a very compelling and gorgeous stranger named Sebastian, all her feelings rearrange. As she begins to question her relationship with her husband, his abuse, and herself - the inevitable relationship develops. When Serenity realizes Sebastian is something other than human there is the inevitable conflict, some evil meddling, and ensuing drama.
Thoughts: This is a romantic, mildly horrific, urban fantasy – with some important real life aspects and concerns. Some are based upon domestic violence and the inevitable emotional journey into the experiences of an abused woman. Additionally there is the internal conflict which one can only imagine a monster must feel when needing to kill to exist. With much angst within the pages one sees into the emotional travails; caring and empathizing with some characters while loathing others. Marissa Farrar does a fine job of showing the reader her character’s complexities in a easy and readable and page-turning manner.
My only very small quibble around the book is that although the book was set in the US with the main character being American, the language is distinctly from the UK and British in nature, creating a mild internal conflict for me. I would say that some American readers may have a slight lag in the reading flow with a few small bits of the language. Thinking it would not be a detriment for most, especially if you like the Brits, I give this romantic and redemptive vampire novel a 4 stars. It was grand! (less)
**spoiler alert** Actually, it deserves 3.5 stars. I can't say I enjoyed this novel, but I was moved by it. It was a heart wrenching novel about physic...more**spoiler alert** Actually, it deserves 3.5 stars. I can't say I enjoyed this novel, but I was moved by it. It was a heart wrenching novel about physical and sexual abuse, addiction, redemption, and recovery. It gives the reader a very good excuse why one may start to drink and may have difficulty giving up their drug/drink of choice. Here the main character "uses" to forget a horrible event, and the tangle her pain over the situation and her drinking weaves. It was hard to like the main character but her behavior was understandable but not excusable. If you want to read a painful, powerful, moving, and emotional novel then read this. I almost had to have a drink, myself, to forget it.(less)
I devoured this murder mystery. It is a definite page turner as the author's writing is easy to follow and kept me up till past midnight.
The story is...more I devoured this murder mystery. It is a definite page turner as the author's writing is easy to follow and kept me up till past midnight.
The story is based lightly upon some ancient myths from where it's set - The Shetland Islands off the Northern Coast of Scotland. This legend involves Nordic trolls (I love trolls), giving this novel a bit of a supernatural edge. However this doesn't shift its anchor in reality. It just gives the story a slight other worldly flavor. Delish!
The story reminded me a bit of the Nancy Drew novels that I read as a young girl. This includes the strength of the main character, that it is a female centered mystery/thriller, and she is a doctor - also adding interesting medical tidbits. All these elements add to the connection with its Nancy Drew"ishness". However, the main character is not a child, and the story has some very mature themes.
Highly recommended! (updated review June 2010)(less)
Actually, I would give it 3.5 stars. Speak in the audio format feels realistic, as the reader sounds like a teenage girl whom narrates to us in the fir...moreActually, I would give it 3.5 stars. Speak in the audio format feels realistic, as the reader sounds like a teenage girl whom narrates to us in the first person. She sarcastically and moodily goes through her disrupted life with the experiences of a typical teenager, and one whom has experienced a traumatic event. Its easy to sympathize with her as she fumbles her way through her cynicism, pain, and angst which are otherwise present in most untouched young people's lives. The audio book plays identically to the movie which was good, and had unfortunately watched before I listened to the audio book. Generally, I like to read the book before I watch the movie. I'd prefer not to read a book when I know its conclusion. It's more of a commitment to spend the time reading a book rather than watching an hour long movie, but I would say that this book was worth it. (less)
This is a great healthy cookbook. The author is a nutritionist and pares down recipes that most of us are familiar with but which are high in fat and...moreThis is a great healthy cookbook. The author is a nutritionist and pares down recipes that most of us are familiar with but which are high in fat and unhealthy. She uses realistic ingredients and the book has gorgeous pictures! I have tried a number of the recipes and they are really good. My husband even likes them.(less)
A well organized, easy to read (and skim) book on ways to prevent Alzheimer's. It includes advice on diet, physical fitness, memory tests, and mental...moreA well organized, easy to read (and skim) book on ways to prevent Alzheimer's. It includes advice on diet, physical fitness, memory tests, and mental exercises to help memory and retention. As well, there is an extensive bibliography.
Included is information on the what they do know about the disease: what are its known causes, the known statistics around one's genetic propensity for getting the disease, and statistics regarding one of the newest drug used in the treatment of Alzheimer's.
This is a book for anyone who is concerned that he/she may have the disease and distinguishes between normal memory loss in the aging process and the actual illness. There is a difference.(less)
This was a tough one to rate - I debated internally for the past several days as to a 4 or 5 star. I don't give many 5 stars and try to do so to books...moreThis was a tough one to rate - I debated internally for the past several days as to a 4 or 5 star. I don't give many 5 stars and try to do so to books that have some sort of social significance. It was such a great read even with and incredible story. I'm not sure if it is to be considered great literature, but I finally relented and gave it a 5. I was sad that it finally had end. Its not your standard love story but its message is important (although mushy) - that love survives beyond life as we understand it. Which is why I think that for the most part women will enjoy this tale more than men. (less)
I found this author through a free itunes podcast. It was an easy read, and I did so in several hours. Gelb's writing and podcast are eloquent, concis...moreI found this author through a free itunes podcast. It was an easy read, and I did so in several hours. Gelb's writing and podcast are eloquent, concise, and interesting. His message is also achievable and believable - well mostly - which unlike some of the folks whom are in the motivational/self help book/speaking business. Many are egotistical and so far out in left field that it is diffiuclt and illogical to relate to them. His message is that we can look to da Vinci and his amazing gifts for ways to increase our creativity and intelligence and he gives us some direct ways. One is a method that he uses everyday. It is - from my memory - sort of a written/drawn diagram where one uses free flowing thoughts to elaborate on a subject. It can be collective or individual, where everyone in a group or family can add thier thoughts. This is not new, however, I believe he expands on his method in another book. I recommend this to anyone whom is interested in the creative process, da Vinci, or self growth whether in business or personally. (less)
Daddy is going away on a trip. A long trip. He will be gone a long time. It’s called deployment. A big word but a child hears it. It could mean anythi...moreDaddy is going away on a trip. A long trip. He will be gone a long time. It’s called deployment. A big word but a child hears it. It could mean anything but the child knows it’s important. What is a parent to do to help a little person, who knows something scary is happening to the family, to understand?
This book will help. It’s simple with cute pictures and a positive message. Daddy loves you even though he’s going away. He will be back.
It has resources for the parents. Giving both mom and dad constructive ways to help a young child (and older children too) deal with this recurrent theme within the United States. An excellent example of one of these methods is the use of colored tacks on a map to show where daddy will be staying, as well as weather research for the area of deployment.
Being a teacher for a number of years, with some graduate level courses in early childhood education, and caring for young family members on a consistent basis – I have some personal and professional knowledge about small children. I highly recommend this book for use as “a teaching moment tool”. It would be wonderful to use for repeat readings helping a child understand this difficult and all too common transition.(less)
Shellie’s quick take: Mainstream fiction with a separate storyline that is speculative in nature. This is...moreOriginal review posted at Layers of Thought.
Shellie’s quick take: Mainstream fiction with a separate storyline that is speculative in nature. This is a subtle page-turner that has a heartrending story juxtaposed with a narrative about a comic-book superhero called Comrade Cosmos.
Shellie’s description: When 18 year old Jeremy Soto’s single mother is murdered by a young male tourist during a solo vacation to Mexico, his grief is understandable, but as horrible as he feels he must pick up the pieces of his life. But it’s not just Jeremy who has to get past the violent death of his mother Melinda; there are others who are reeling from her loss - Melinda’s close circle of friends, mature characters who have life complications of their own. Then there is the murderer’s mother Anna who has the heartbreaking job of dealing with her son’s suicide as well. All of this culminates when Anna invites Jeremy and Melinda’s friends to her son’s funeral.
What gives this book an interesting twist is that the subjects addressed in the main story are contrasted with those of a popular comic-book series, which are covered in alternating chapters.
Shellie’s thoughts: This is an unusual book and it has a deep message. It examines the roles of chaos and order in the world, with the author questioning the effects of trauma and hardship on characters. In so doing she attempts to answer the question: what do we do with an impossible situation, one that we cannot fix or change? With that in mind Mending the Moon pulls in issues such as loss through death, divorce, and Alzheimer's, contrasted with friendship, responsibility, love, forgiveness, and moving through grief. This leaves a lot of room for emotional content in the book and the author uses the space very well.
It is highly recommended, with its well-developed characters and rare-to-see main female characters aged 60-years plus. I think it would be a good selection for a book group since there are many issues that can be discussed. It’s also a perfect read if you’re interested in superhero comics or character-driven emotional novels that pull you in and keep you reading. I read this book in a matter of days – a rarity for me. 4.25 stars.
**A note which may be a plus or a minus to some readers: there is a Christian element running through the novel. Several of the main characters are clergy and church services play a big role in many of the scenes. However, the subjects addressed in the book are universal and, as a person who is not religious, I would say that it is done well and didn’t put me off.(less)
This is the best, easiest, and most effective method of discipline for children that I have found. Working as a substitute teacher for several years a...moreThis is the best, easiest, and most effective method of discipline for children that I have found. Working as a substitute teacher for several years and as a kindergarten teacher for one year - a few years ago - it was a life saver. I had read many books on the subject because it was my understanding that a peaceful and maintained classroom are the foundations for learning. The video was also recommended by the teacher with whom I was sharing the classroom in my first and last year teaching. She had been teaching for many years and was very effective at maintaining classroom peace. Within one viewing and implementation of the method my classroom was more successfully managed. I also lent the video to several of the parents of the children in my class whom were having troubles at home. The results were amazing. They loved it. I recommend this book to any parent/teacher looking for an easy and effective method of discipline for children. I suggest watching the video and implimenting its advice and then reading the book for support, and for a more in depth understanding of the system.(less)
I've always liked Marilyn Monroe - she did sexy with such innocent grace. As this is punctuated through the book as she describes her survival of a ve...moreI've always liked Marilyn Monroe - she did sexy with such innocent grace. As this is punctuated through the book as she describes her survival of a very difficult childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood with the strength and perseverance which would mold the woman that she would become. She also alludes to the circumstances of her death. My Story shows us a side of MM that is contrary to her identity as sex symbol - she in fact felt anything but sexy. She was also strong, choosey, and had high standards which she stood by – even when it was not in her best interest. For example - not sleeping with the powerful movie executive as a career move, or marrying a man she was not truly in love with although he was dying and would have left her a fortune. I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to women looking for an example of strength, character, and grace. Or men whom are seeking to understand complex women a bit more. Too bad this “autobiography” was cut short – it ends abruptly during her second marriage to Joe DiMaggio, leaving me wanting to know what really happened to this American Icon. (less)
John’s quick take: An ambitious science fiction brain tease in which the protagonist “falls into an aston...moreOriginal review posted at Layers of Thought.
John’s quick take: An ambitious science fiction brain tease in which the protagonist “falls into an astonishing metaphysical shadow play”. What is real and what isn’t? What does real even mean?
John’s description: Set at some point in the future, the story revolves around Heath Ransom who is a very special kind of private investigator. He is a former police psychic and machine-enhanced “endovoyant” who is able to travel into etheric worlds in order to answer puzzles and to track down missing people.
Ransom is hired to find the consciousness of an extremely rich but comatose old woman and to try to bring it back to her body. However, while trying to track her down in the etheric world he finds a terrifying, dark vortex. Falling through the vortex he soon finds himself inhabiting the body of a young man who has just been poisoned by his girlfriend. This in turn leads him into an ever-darker investigation involving government conspiracies, mutants, corruption, torture, self-aware artificial intelligence, androids and attempted immortality.
In deadly danger himself, Ransom starts to jump back and forth between the two worlds. He then finds out that much of what he thought was real is in fact artificial and as paranoia and conspiracy abounds, he starts to doubt his own sanity.
John’s thoughts: Where to start? Well, it is a very interesting idea on which to base a novel. I like how it started and was quickly pulled into the plot. Soon, however, two things started to happen. Firstly, I started to hit some dense pieces of text that were so full of obscure words and complex ideas that I didn’t comprehend them even after a few re-reads. There weren’t loads of sections like this, but there were enough to make it a difficult read. Secondly, as the novel progressed, the underlying (and interesting) story almost disappeared into the background, seemingly having become just a vehicle to explore some complex concepts and ideas.
Nonetheless I stuck with it as Nasir did create an interesting future world and I did like many of his ideas. Sadly, for me the underlying story didn’t come to any sort of satisfactory ending; in fact I really disliked how the novel ends. Having spent so long building details and ideas, I think the ending is rushed and a bit glib.
Part way through the book I thought this was going to be a four-star read, but having lost the plot (almost literally) and not liking the conclusion, I’d only rate this three stars. Who would like it? Well the jacket references Philip K. Dick, as do some other reviews that I saw out there. If you like Dick’s ideas and world view, this book might well appeal to you. (less)
About: This is a child’s picture book and is a retelling of Shakespeare’s play. It is about Prospero, the Duke of Milan, and his small daughter who are set adrift on the sea by the king of Naples and Prospero's evil brother. They are conspiring to acquire his land and holdings, but do not murder Prospero and Miranda since the evil doers do not want to be blamed for their deaths.
However, Prospero is a magician of great talent and he and Miranda survive the incident. They are washed up on an enchanted island inhabited by a variety of magical beings – both good and bad. Taking refuge in a cave, they try to live a peaceful and happy life. As Miranda comes of age Prospero knows she will need the companionship of others, so he conjures up a storm which blows his brother’s traveling ship onto the rocks around the island. He and the remaining crew are brought on shore, but because this includes the conspiring king as well as the king’s son, the story has just begun.
Thoughts: Ah Shakespeare, the incredible and articulate bard from days of yore. What I would not give to understand his wonderful and archaic language. Difficult as the verbiage it is for adults, it is much more so for children. With consideration to the many wonderful tie-ins around this fantastical story, it’s a shame not to have a simpler basis on which to build an understanding. That’s where a book like this can come in, as a way for adults to help children understand and to introduce them into the language of old England, and the wonders of ~ The Tempest.
With lacey and old fashioned illustrations from Gennaday Spririn, the co-author has included current language which is understandable for children (and for adults like me). Yet for authenticity she has included some brief and easy to understand quotes from Shakespeare’s actual work – like the one prefacing this review. (I have always wondered where that familiar line had originated). Helped by the illustrations, it is a way for children and adults to further understand the basis for Shakespeare’s complex story lines and language. I liked this book a lot and give it 3.5 stars.
I am actually surprised there are not more picture books as well as a graphic novel for the tale published. If there are I could not find one (hint to artists and publishers).(less)
Are you interested in dinosaurs, time travel, space travel, religious cults and strange “alien” sp...moreOriginal review by John posted at Layers of Thought.
Are you interested in dinosaurs, time travel, space travel, religious cults and strange “alien” species? All mixed together with a good dose of impending apocalypse? Then this book is for you.
John's thoughts on what it's about: While this is the third in the “Thunder” series, it is reasonably self-contained and stands on its own.
Eighteen years ago the prehistoric past and the present day collided creating a patchwork time-quilt. Whole cities and regions were ripped away and replaced by dense primeval jungles populated by dinosaurs; while conversely, back in the Cretaceous period many millions of years ago, parts of the primeval jungles were replaced by chunks of the twentieth century.
In the present day, man has eventually learned to live with the dinosaurs, with most of the beasts now contained safely in large nature reserves. But something is going amiss - again. New dinosaurs are suddenly appearing in the present, tunnels to the past seem to be opening up at random and a mission to the moon finds a living Tyrannosaurus Rex trapped in some sort of alternative reality or timeline. Something must be done and it’s left to Nick Paulson (director of the U.S. Office of Security Science), aided and abetted by a motley crew of mostly-accidental helpers, to figure out what is triggering these potentially cataclysmic events.
Traveling back to the Cretaceous period the crew finds embattled survivors from the twentieth century who had been cast back in time eighteen years previously, and surprisingly find a whole new species of sentient beings that are very different from humans. To their dismay they also discover that a huge asteroid is rushing toward the Earth and that impact is imminent. It being the Cretaceous period there are also dinosaurs – and lots of them.
John’s afterthoughts: On the plus side there is no shortage of creative ideas and plotlines in this book, and it certainly races along at high speed making it a quick and easy read. It also mixes action and adventure with a sizeable dollop of humor, so I got quite a few chuckles out of it. All very good things for the right sort of reader.
However, it is all a bit light-weight for my preferences. In particular the two-dimensional characters have little depth and it isn’t always obvious why people are doing what they are doing. Meanwhile there is so much action and things going on that the book doesn’t have that feeling of realism and believability that I like to see in my science fiction reads. And then there is the ending. Parts of it didn’t quite make sense for me and one conclusion to a key thread was just a tad on the silly side.
But I kept going along for the ride and mostly it was a fun ride. In the end this novel was not a big favorite and so I’d rate it 2.5 stars. But if you’re in the mood for some action-packed , escapist, “end-of-the-world-is-nigh” frolics involving dinosaurs and time travel, then this one has your name on it. (less)
A page-turning posthumous noire novel, by crime fiction master James M. Cain. Told from the first person perspective of the gorgeous Joan Medford – who, the reader is left to decide, is either a victim or a murderer.
About: Joan Medford is a “knock out” - leggy, curvy and smart too; some of the characteristics of a quintessential femme-fatale. However, looks and brains have not stopped her from making mistakes, like her accidental pregnancy and subsequent marriage to a brutal drinker. Her story begins after the “accidental” death of her inebriated husband, when she winds up at a local bar as a cocktail waitress – to help her pay her bills.
Although socially unacceptable for “nice women” to work in bars (this is the 1950’s), she is more than grateful for her new job serving alcohol in the required uniform of velveteen shorts and a peasant blouse. She knows that she can now financially care for her toddler and turn on the electricity, which was cut off for non-payment. It's even better when she starts receiving unusually large tips from a very wealthy older businessman who becomes smitten with her.
But to Joan’s chagrin, she has also caught the eye of a poor, booze-loving, but handsome rake that she finds all too alluring. Still, Joan is determined to do the best for her little boy and chooses to marry the richer older man. She is relieved that the marriage will not be consummated, since her husband-to-be has a delicate heart which will not withstand the exertion of marital relations.
Events become intriguingly complicated around this warped love triangle as the men in Joan’s life die, or are murdered. As she tells her story in an uncompleted and direct way, the reader gets to decide – is Joan an unreliable narrator or a victim?
Thoughts: It’s kind of neat that this novel has been published 35 years after the author’s death. It’s interesting to think about the effort that the editors have had to put into piecing it together, attempting to imagine what the author would have done had he been alive to help the process. Interestingly, there is a 11 page afterword describing how some of this was done, by editor Charles Ardai. Regardless, I do have to say the results are wonderful.
The Cocktail Waitress is my first noire crime fiction. I have learned that noir is told from the perspective of one of the victims, suspects, or perpetrators. Which is different from a detective novel, told from the perspective of a crime fighter. I think that is one reason why I enjoyed the novel so much. It was written as if Joan was attempting to explain her story to the reader and judge. It’s written with her old fashioned voice, appropriate to the character during the time, and in my opinion creating a page-turning pleasure to read. I don’t have any other books by Cain to compare this with, but if it’s any gage of what to expect from his other books, I am going to have a blast attempting to read his entire collection.
Additionally, I enjoyed the book for other reasons. My favorite characters are strong women, and the darker the better. So Joan could be a perfect fit, depending on your opinion of her after finishing the book. I liked the ambiguity of not knowing whether Joan was an unreliable narrator. So the book is one of my favorites for 2012 at 4.5 stars. Highly recommended for crime fiction lovers, and anyone who enjoys strong female leads.
Content advisory: This book has adult themes, nudity, sexual references and scenes, violence, as well as strong language (although I do not recall any cursing) so some readers should be advised.(less)
I picked this book up on a whim - just for curiosity's sake from the local library while I was on an organization kick. I thought it might be helpful....moreI picked this book up on a whim - just for curiosity's sake from the local library while I was on an organization kick. I thought it might be helpful. It mostly wasn't, only on a very basic level (I am an organized person whom was looking for more advanced tips, I am also not overweight.) So, if you want a kick in the seat because you are very unorganized and/or overweight then its a book for you. From the title is is obvious that the author makes the assumption that people (specifically women) whom are overweight also have a problem keeping themselves organized and getting rid of "stuff". It can be a reality check that lets the unorganized and overweight reader know that, according to the author, that one does have control over stuff and fat, and that it often can be linked - or not depending on the reader.(less)
I have read a number of books on health and diet over the years. I am no expert but one gets a feel for which are good and those containing junk or ju...more I have read a number of books on health and diet over the years. I am no expert but one gets a feel for which are good and those containing junk or just fluff. The SuperStress Solution is of the good sort. It is both logical and comprehensive.
The SuperStress Solution is broad in scope, and almost exhausts the options for remedies to consider when you are under, as Dr. Lee terms it - SuperStress. It is intelligent, well written and its advice is from a medical doctor. She is also trained at Dr. Andrew Weil’s Program in Integrative Medicine in AZ. Both of these facts are very comforting in a world where medical advice and prescriptions are dispensed randomly and often casually.
The Superstress Solution has natural suggestions to support and change stressful behaviors. As well as a plan to move away from uber-busy lives into a healthier state. Dr. Lee includes subject matter such as pathways to peace, healing foods, mindfulness, and connecting with others. She also has programs specific for each individual stress profile, which is determined by a diagnostic questionnaire. This assesses an individual’s level and type of stress. By asking questions it determines what your SuperStress type is, where in your body does the stress manifest itself, and an individual’s resilience to SuperStress. It also includes a list to determine your personal level of stress in relation to current life events. All elements combine to create a personal profile so that focus can be on the areas where it is needed the most.
My only thought is that because the scope of the book is so broad there is very little room to go into depth for each recommendation. Therefore I would say that The SuperStress Solution can be seen as a beginning place for exploring personal stress levels, and for considering the options available for caring for oneself in a reasonable and holistic way.(less)