I find it hard to describe this book without making it sound dull and boring. I've tried to tell my husband and he just looks at me blankly.
"It's abo...moreI find it hard to describe this book without making it sound dull and boring. I've tried to tell my husband and he just looks at me blankly.
"It's about trees?"
"Well, yes, but it's interesting and it's about...trees."
Sometime in the late '80's, a few people who didn't even know each other decided to start exploring the remaining stands of redwoods. Michael Taylor believed that the biggest redwood had yet to be found, despite a National Geographic statement to the contrary made decades earlier. Steve Sillett became the first biologist to really explore and attempt to describe the redwood canopy. They each had friends who helped them and they eventually met each other and joined forces as they attempted to understand these ancient living things.
I was fascinated from the beginning. I do have that old biology degree that I mention every single time I read something even remotely scientific, but I am more interested in mammals than plants. I was so interested in the lives of these guys who were/are climbing 30 stories on some ropes in a freaking tree. I panic if I get above the second or third rung on a ladder. The descriptions of the canopy, their progress and trial and error as they tried to figure out how to do what no one really had done before, their personal setbacks and triumphs, I liked it all.
The author starts climbing with them and adding his own perspective maybe two-thirds of the way through the book. I was a little turned off by this at first. I don't know if the part of me that had "Don't ever use I in an essay" drilled into her head was horrified that a published author was breaking that cardinal rule or if I had a little bit of an attitude of "Seriously? You're talking about climbing an oak tree while these guy are climbing redwoods?" but I did get over it pretty quickly. The descriptions of what he saw firsthand were of course better than what he'd only been told about. I even got really interested when he goes on vacation in Scotland to climb in the few remaining ancient Highland forests.
I really kept meaning to look up some of the climbing techniques that these guys use just to see what they involve. They sound beautiful and graceful and scary as hell! I never got around to it while I was reading but I definitely will before posting this review on my blog.
My copy had a few illustrations, but I really wish there had been photos. Preston tried to be secretive about where the oldest, biggest trees are located in order to protect them from weekend climbers who might damage them, so maybe he was afraid that pictures would give away something about the location. Or maybe it was a cost decision. Either way, I would have like to have seen pictures. I plan to look for photos of some of the named trees as soon as I finish this review.
If you're at all interested in the natural world or even explorers' lives, this might be a good choice for you. I'm doing a terrible job with this review but it was a surprisingly informative yet entertaining book.(less)
Alice Tanner is helping out on an archaeological dig in the south of France when she finds a cave that obviously has some significance. She finds an a...moreAlice Tanner is helping out on an archaeological dig in the south of France when she finds a cave that obviously has some significance. She finds an altar, a labyrinth, and two skeletons inside. Unbeknownst to her, she has stumbled on a secret that a lot of people have been searching for, most who would do anything to find it, and she's caught right in the middle of it.
Centuries earlier, Alaïs Pelletier is caught up in even bigger events. Her beloved city of Carcassonne is the object of a Crusade. The tolerance that makes her city so vibrant has drawn the wrath of the Catholic Church. A vast army from the northern part of France is marching to stamp out the heretics. Amidst all this turmoil, Alaïs finds out that her beloved father has a secret that must be kept safe at all costs.
Ugh, I'm having a hard time getting my thoughts about this down.
This just never grabbed me. It's supposed to be some sort of Grail-literary-thriller thing and I just kept looking for the thrills. I finally found them about 30 pages from the end. The rest of the time I was just kind of waiting on the characters to catch up to what I had already pretty much figured out. That's not even exactly right. What was going on was so obvious that I kept wondering what the point of the whole thing was. Now that I've finished I'm still kind of wondering.
I did a little better with the storyline set in the past. It was moving a little too slowly for me, but at least I could see where the characters were coming from, I understood the tension, and I felt like they were reacting to it realistically.
I couldn't really buy Alice's reaction to anything in the present. She discovers a cave, gets roughed up by some random dude, and all of a sudden she's running around the French countryside, away from the bad guys, and trying to find out the meaning of the labyrinth while having crazy dreams. She never seemed to grasp how bad the baddies were. "Oh, someone I don't know just gave me a message to meet someone else I don't know in a cemetery? I'll be right there." Um, she's worried about her life at this point, and she goes skipping off into the unknown. Someone breaks into her hotel room? "Well, Mr. Manager, I need a different room." See that? Not a different hotel, a different room. They found her the first time, but it's going to be infinitely harder to find her down the hall. She spends a couple of hours on the internet in the library and she discovers everything anyone could possibly ever want to know about labyrinths and, I believe, this Crusade in France. Granted, there's a mystical element to the story that gives her some "insider access" (more about that shortly) but I couldn't buy that she learned so much in such a short time. Her whole storyline just irked me.
The mystical element bothered me a little too. I love fantasy, so don't think that I'm someone who just has trouble with this kind of thing. Alice keeps having these dreams that seem to be showing the past, but once we learn what actually happened in the past, it has nothing to do with what she dreamed. Well, not as directly as I expected it to. (view spoiler)[Specifically, she keeps dreaming about fire, and being chased through the woods, and then she finally dreams about throwing herself off a cliff so that the pursuers don't have the satisfaction of catching her. I read this as Alice being the reincarnation of Alaïs. None of this happened to Alaïs. None of it. And here I was wondering when she was going to go cliff diving. (hide spoiler)]
And now that I'm sitting here thinking about it, the ending bothered me too. Some stuff happens that makes me wonder at the need for all the secrecy. Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration. I do see the need for secrecy, it just doesn't seem to be such a matter of life-and-death.
I did like learning about this Crusade. I had no idea anything like this had ever happened. I kept wondering what Europe would have been like if the religious tolerance of this region had spread. It would have been a much different place, I'm sure.
I'm thinking that fans of The Eight by Katherine Neville (another Grail book that I had issues with) will like this more than I did.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Obviously, whether or not these photographs truly changed the world can be debated. Whether or not you agree with the title, this is a collection of p...moreObviously, whether or not these photographs truly changed the world can be debated. Whether or not you agree with the title, this is a collection of powerful photos. A lot of them are not easy to look at. But they're all important and help us to remember where we came from, very often places we should never go again. Many of these gave me goosebumps or left me teary-eyed. I highly recommend this collection.(less)
Ishmael Beah was about 12 years old when Sierra Leone's civil war found him. He and his brother were visiting friends in a neighboring town and got cu...moreIshmael Beah was about 12 years old when Sierra Leone's civil war found him. He and his brother were visiting friends in a neighboring town and got cut off from their family. Their world descends into chaos and they are left trying to survive on their own.
Oh my gosh. This was just heartbreaking.
I started reading it one night, didn't even get to anything about him being a soldier, and had nightmares. I was afraid of what Ishmael was in for.
In that respect, it was actually easier to read than I was afraid it would be. He tells about his time in the war pretty quickly. There are quite a few flashbacks, but he only tells enough to show what his life was really like. He doesn't relive every waking moment. It was still tough to read, but not as bad as it could have been.
He and I are very close to the same age. He's almost exactly a year older than my sister. So when he gives a date for whenever something happened, it was easy for me to compare it to our lives. In 1997 he was on his way to speak to the UN about child soldiers. I was getting my heart broken in college. The war reached him in 1993. I was a freshman in high school, swimming along just fine in my niche. We were practically the same age but our lives were light years apart. It was somehow humbling. It's downright frightening to think this started when he was just a bit older than my youngest cousin is right now.
I was frustrated that this group of boys were basically coerced into the army because they were hungry and wanted some sense of community. Oh, there was a lot more to it than that, but before they became soldiers, they kept finding villages where they were not welcome and no one would feed them. I understand that the villagers were afraid they were soldiers, but still. Even if they were fed, no one invited them to stay. I tried to understand that if your family was hungry, you would not take in an extra mouth to feed. But it was so, so frustrating. It was a cycle that no one seemed interested in breaking.
Considering that these are memoirs, I don't consider this to be a spoiler, but just in case....(view spoiler)[The people who worked to "rehabilitate" the boy soldiers must be saints. I'm glad they are out there doing so much good in the world, but I could not be one of them. I couldn't handle it. They literally took beatings from these traumatized boys and came back to try to help them again the next day. There is a special place in heaven for them. (hide spoiler)]
This was not an easy read by any means but I still recommend it. We tend to lose sight of exactly how good our lives are and this is a stark reminder. I also feel that anyone who is willing to bare his or her soul in this kind of memoir should find a receptive audience to bear witness.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Calliope Stephanides is born to a family of Greek immigrants living in Detroit. She tells the story of how she came to be by starting with her grandpa...moreCalliope Stephanides is born to a family of Greek immigrants living in Detroit. She tells the story of how she came to be by starting with her grandparents in their isolated village. As the Turks and Greeks were fighting, they managed to flee to America and start a new life there. Calliope then moves on to her parents' courtship and then her own life, up into her teen years.
What makes Calliope's story so different though, is that she's a hermaphrodite.
Thanks to a less-than-thorough family doctor and parents with a bit of a "hands off" policy, no one realizes that Calliope is different for years and years. For her part, she's pretty happy as a girl until she hits her teens. Then her hormones start raging and her life changes forever.
I wish I had reviewed this immediately after I read it. I really liked it, but I've forgotten a lot of details. For the purposes of simplicity, I'm mostly going to refer to Calliope as she throughout my review because she's living as a girl for the vast majority of the book. This is not a spoiler; the first sentence spells this out.
"I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michgan, in August of 1974."
I liked Calliope and her eccentric family. She's a great narrator, being almost painfully honest. She's never very judgmental of the choices her parents and grandparents made along the way. She just tells her story the best way that she knows how.
I'm sure other people rattle on about gender identity, race relations, the callousness of medicine and serious stuff like that. All of that is definitely present but it doesn't smack you in the face. I just liked reading about this crazy family and what they were getting up to. As I read, knowing that something had to be coming to make Calliope, at the very least, realize that something wasn't right, I got more and more worried for her. I hoped it wasn't going to be too traumatic because I liked her and I wanted life to go a little easy on her.
It would have been easy for the book to get confusing with Calliope and Cal and he and she, but it all unfolds so gradually that it's effortless to follow.
My one complaint is that I thought the book ended just when I really wanted to know more. Calliope's differences have been identified, she's made some big choices and adjustments, and I want to know how she goes from being a terrified teenage girl to a 40ish urbane man. There's a whole big chunk of time missing there! I want to know that people were treating Calliope, now Cal, right! There are little hints here and there as Cal talks about his life in the present, and I don't think that he's terribly happy, but at least he's hopeful.
This isn't the best review I've ever written, but this is a very good book that I recommend. (less)
Nonny Frett is caught between. She was born into the Crabtree family and secretly adopted into the Frett family, two groups that have been fighting si...moreNonny Frett is caught between. She was born into the Crabtree family and secretly adopted into the Frett family, two groups that have been fighting since time immemorial. She wants to divorce her husband but she's caught between lust and lassitude. She's frequently caught between what she wants to do and what she feels like she has to do. How appropriate is it that she lives in a town called Between, Georgia?
I enjoyed this. Parts had me laughing out loud, I was worried sick in other places, and I was ready to slap some characters around in still others. It felt like a real slice of someone else’s life. The whole Hatfield and McCoy thing was a little over the top, but it made for a good story, and gave Nonny a good backdrop against which to grow into herself.
Nonny is thirty years old, but she hasn’t really found herself yet. She’s constantly dissecting herself and her behavior, looking to see if she’s more Crabtree or Frett in the whole “nature vs nurture” dichotomy. She tends to float along in life, either choosing not to make decisions, or content to let others make them for her. In all honesty, I related a little too much to her, so I liked watching her become who she was always meant to be.
I loved Nonny’s mother. She was born deaf and has lost her sight by the time the book takes place. There's no word of complaint from her though. She's actually the rock of the family. She's an artist, she's wise, and she takes care of business. Her sister Bernese would argue, but Stacia is the one they rely on to keep them anchored.
Nonny’s family is practically all women. She has an aunt Bernese that is a holy terror. She’s supposed to be going through a “bad patch” in the book, but since that’s all I saw of her, I didn’t like her at all. Nonny’s birth grandmother, Ona, is possibly even worse. She’s mean, she’s drunk, she’s manipulative, and she’s lonely. It’s a bit of a lethal combination. But even these two manage to grow, and I found myself seeing through their eyes a little by the time everything was over.
This would be a good book club book. There are lots of things to discuss here, the various ways that females relate to each other and hurt and heal each other being chief among them. Life in a small town and that whole “nature vs. nurture” thing would invariably come up as well. Any red-blooded women are probably going to talk about the men in the book too. Oh my! I’m a sucker for a fictional man with long hair, especially if I get to “watch” him let it down, literally and figuratively. Is it a little steamy in here? ;-)
After all the good stuff I just said, I can only bring myself to give this three and a half stars. There’s no real reason except that I enjoyed it while it lasted, but I don't think I'll remember it very long. I do recommend it if you're looking for a family drama with touches of humor.(less)