All Book Reviews

Book Review: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry: A Novel
Joyce, Rachel
3 stars = Pretty Good

Setting: Modern day, southern coast of England. Quite unexpectedly, after twenty years, Harold Fry receives a letter from Queenie Hennessy (a former co-worker), who informs him that she is dying of inoperable cancer and is in hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed, located in northern England. He writes her a note and sets off to post it. Along the way he meets a young woman who tells him that knowing someone cares can mean all the difference to a person with cancer. Harold hadn't known he would walk the 600 miles to Queenie, but after that short conversation, he phones the hospice (he has left his mobile phone at home) to tell Queenie to "hold on. I'm walking to you." He just kept walking, buying her souvenirs and sending his wife postcards along the way. He endures blisters, hunger, sleeping outside, and publicity-seekers. As he walks, he remembers his parents, his job, his wife and his absent son. And his wife remembers him. It's a simple story, but also extraordinary.

Book Review: A Free People's Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Futur
Guinness, Os
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

America's Suicide?

Suicide as a personal or a social phenomenon is never a comfortable conversation, as tragedy seldom is. When presented on the level of civilization itself, suicide is a challenging subject indeed, particularly when it is your own society at stake. Yet, in his 2012 volume "A Free People's Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future," this is precisely what Os Guinness invites us - even commands us - as Americans, to think hard on. It is a penetrating read. It is a vital read.
As an Irish descendant of a certain beer magnate and as a self-described "resident alien" in the U. S. A., Guinness brings to his argument the presumed objective detachment of a third party looking in at America. He holds a doctorate in philosophy from Oxford, is widely published in American social studies, is founder of the Trinity Forum and past member of the Brookings Institute and Woodrow Wilson Center for International Studies. He is a dedicated and very empathetic observer of the contemporary American scene and is highly informed of the trajectory of American history, the foundations of our political success as an independent nation, our internal struggles to maintain our freedoms and suggests what we might do to halt our suicidal plunge into incoherence.
Guinness comes armed with the full panoply of some 200 of history's observers and participants in the rise and fall of societies, from Thucydides, Sophocles and Xenophon among the ancients, through the Revolutionaries of Voltaire, Montesquieu, Jefferson, Madison and Adams to the moderns of Keynes, Weber and Wilson. All of this collective "wisdom of the ages" testifies to the hard fact that every civilization known to history has disappeared. While foreign invasions have precipitated many of these social catastrophes, Guinness insists with volumes of evidence that it is the internal decay of societies that universally explains their devolution. It is not the "wolves at the door" that today threaten our survival, but the "termites within" that will inevitably do the job.
The footnotes should not scare off the American reader. The inevitable conclusion should. Guinness' journalistic style is aimed at the concerned citizen, not the PhD.
Guinness first establishes his baseline for understanding the current American condition with a review of the American Founding, the forceful riddance of external control begun in 1776. This was the revolutionary startup of 1776, the first stage of the three-phased cycle of freedom. The second phase was the creation of ordered freedom manifested by the constitutional structure that provided the perimeter fence against any future government tyranny and the internal "checks and balances" to prevent internal anarchy. Here the Founders combined the negative freedom from excessive government intrusion and the equally important positive freedom to believe in what we will and to act on those beliefs. This was history's first attempt at structuring a society from scratch on specific ideas and tenets. This took time, as the Constitution was only ratified in 1787 together with the original Bill of Rights. This Constitution was a "covenant" among freely consenting partners as much as it was a document, a "covenant" that manifested the Founders' understanding of how "freedom" was to be defined and commonly understood.
The third phase of Guinness' freedom is the sustaining of freedom. This has become the critical phase, a continuing one over the decades and is the principle theme of "A Free Peoples' Suicide." Simply put, Guinness pictures an American society that has disintegrated to a level of incoherence and spends most of his pages explaining why. Pick your metaphor: a physician attempting to heal his living patient; a coroner dissecting a carcass looking for clues of the cause of death. The reader might suppose that Guinness himself is unsure which one he represents.
"Freedom" alone, Guinness claims, is not an ultimate value. It is a vacuum into which we import values. Freedom is an identifiable structure, a "golden triangle" consisting of three equilateral corners, freedom, virtue and faith. Removing any one corner and the structure falls to the ground.
The virtue he proclaims is that of "personal restraint," the consensus among mature citizens that there are essential norms of behavior that can be agreed upon. This was the Jeffersonian notion of "reason" and "sentiment,"
the "aristocracy of virtue" of John Adams and de Tocqueville's "habits of the heart" that together enabled citizens to govern themselves rather than be subjected to the destructive dependancies of "monarchy" and an all-consuming government.
The faith that Guinness proclaims is one essential source of that virtue, an interdependency that results in "morality" itself. This is the Christian/Judeo faith that acknowledges something superior to the individual, something that offers guidelines of behavior that all citizens can agree on voluntarily without government dictat. The loss of this faith in the "invisible" unhappily is the "completest revolution" of the American experience since we also have no faith in anything "visible."
The challenge to the reader of "A Free Peoples' Suicide" is whether to continue with Guinness' excruciating depiction of the collapse of that "golden triangle," of American society itself, or to retreat ignominiously under his security blanket of "I can have it all" at the hands of beneficent and ever-expanding government.

Book Review: Assholes: A Theory
James, Aaron
4 stars = Really Good

If language doesn't offend you, this is one of the more thought-out, funny and smart books about certain members of our society. While reading, it seems more like entertainment, but you catch yourself noticing patterns in reality that apply. It's both fun and educational!

Book Review: Rant
Palahniuk, Chuck
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

This is one of Chuck Palahniuk's best novels. It's everything you love about any of his other books, but it's nothing you'd expect. It's written in an interview-esque style, detailing the life of Buster "Rant" Casey, one of the most notorious and mysterious serial killers. It's funny, it's shocking, it's utterly mind-blowing. One of those novels you'd hate to ever put down.

Book Review: Black Bird
Sakurakōji, Kanoko
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

the black bird series has fifteen books so far and they are really good i have read them over and over again. the sixteenth one is coming out on may 7th. i would suggets reading them if you like romance.

Book Review: Heaven is for Real
Burpo, Todd
4 stars = Really Good


Book Review: The Star Shard
Durbin, Frederic S.
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

I first read The Star Shard in my sister's Cricket magazines. It was a ten part issue with fantastic drawings and a writing style so unlike what I had read in the other short stories in Cricket. We couldn't wait till the next issues came out. Then a year or so later when we heard it was being made into a book, we bought it right away. It was even better than what we saw in the magazine.

The story is about a young girl named Cymbril who lives on a massive moving city-like wagon, called the Thunder Rake, where she is enslaved to a rich man named Rombil. As the Rake moves from town to town, she must sing at the markets to attract customers and gain money for her master. Since she is Rombil's slave and even her clothes are owned by him, her only true possessions are beautiful hair clip from her mother and a smooth turquoise stone from her father. When Rombil one day buys another slave named Loric, her life is changed. She finds that Loric is one of the Fae, a race of elvish magical people. Loric tells her that she is half-Fae and even her hair clip and stone have magical properties. Her stone is a fragment of a star that fell in Fae lands. Now, with this knowledge in her mind and her parent's gifts close, Cymbril promises herself that she will sacrifice everything to grant she and Loric freedom.

Although not too well known, I ask that you give this book a try. You will be surprised. It is a very charming and beautiful book.

Book Title: After Visiting Friends: A Son's Story
Hainey, Michael
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

I heard about this book from my cousin who read it in her book club. It is one of the best books I read all year. I wish I was a faster reader but I managed to finish it all the way to the end. You know exactly what the author is thinking. Its a great book!

Book Review: If You Were Here
Lancaster, Jen
2 stars = Meh

It was okay. The author kind of annoyed me with all the cutsie footnotes. But I did read it fast and it did remind me of a friend of mine, so there's that.

David Sedaris: Live For Your Listening Pleasure
Sedaris, David
3 stars = Pretty Good

This was a good way to be distracted on my runs. I didn't find it to be laugh-out-loud funny, but it was somewhat engaging, which is good enough for my needs.

Book Review: Where'd You Go, Bernadette?
Semple, Maria
4 stars = Really Good

Not bad. I liked Bernadette and Bee's voices. I also liked that while Bernadette seemed unhinged, she really just needed something spectacular to create in order to function. I liked how the author resolved that need. I'm not familiar with Seattle or Microsoft, but the book made me feel like I was there. I liked that Audrey was not a two dimensional character. Overall, I enjoyed the book

Book Review: Our Dumb World: The Onion's Atlas of the Planet Earth
Dikkers, Scott
4 stars = Really Good

Very funny, especially on eAudio. I liked the Luxembourg section the best but they were all good.

Book Review: Lies That Chelsea Handler Told Me
Handler, Chelsea
3 stars = Pretty Good

Let me just say that I cannot understand why anyone would want to work for Chelsea Handler. My God, I'd be in hell. It was entertaining but not hilarious until the chapter about Standards and Practices and the chapter written by her dog. This makes me want to read another book by Chelsea herself. This one was written by her cronies.

Book Review: Chomp
Hiaasen, Carl
4 stars = Really Good

I really enjoyed this book. It was textbook Hiaasen, which is a good thing. It's aimed toward younger readers and I plan to give it to my nephew for his birthday.

Book Review: Skulduggery Pleasant
Landy, Derek
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

Skulduggery Pleasant throws you into a magical universe where the classic fight between good verses evil is exercised. Thrown into a new world, Stephanie learns to adapt and explore magic with the help of her mentor Skulduggery Pleasant, a dry humor irish detective skeleton.
It's simplistic enough that a 12 yr old can understand but advanced enough for a teenager to enjoy as well. Kept me laughing all the way.

Book Review: City Of Fire
Yep, Laurence
2 stars = Meh

It was alright- especially in the beginning. I thought that is was interesting with all the fantasy with San Francisco a few decades ago. The main characters have to go and leave San Francisco after they are attacked and travel across the sea to avenge the deaths of certain people who were very important in their lives. They are attacked even more and come up against a lot of roadblocks. Laurence Yep incorporated a Hawaiian goddess who was crazy and nice. Yet, I thought the story was just a little undeveloped, maybe because it was the first book in a trilogy. I felt like it was trying to wrap up everything while introducing new ideas and plot twists at the same time. I didn't connect with the book, but that it just my opinion. It is good for the ages eleven to twelve or thirteen.

Book Review: The Magician's Nephew
Lewis, C. S.
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

Favorite book EVER! Great characters! Good, good, good! Great story, characters, and moral. Great fantasy mixed with our world and putting the Bible retold into it. Amazing story, good for all ages.

Book Review: Among The Brave: A Shadow Children Book
Haddix, Margaret Peterson
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

One of my favorite books of all time! Great characters with good development. A very interesting story line with lots of bumps and twists and turns. Good for all ages, from ten to adults in my opinion. But it is in a series of books and is near the end of the series, so reading it without the other books would definitely put a damper on how good it is. But really amazing book!

Book Review: Mockingjay
Collins, Suzanne
4 stars = Really Good

Great book! I made me cry. Exciting and interesting, it really was good. The catch is that it is in a series of books, so it wouldn't be good unless you have read the first two books. But overall, it was good and the characters were very well written.

Book Review: Salmon Fishing In The Yemen
Torday, Paul
4 stars = Really Good

After having seen the movie, I really appreciated the format of the book. It is written in interview, press release style. So you're only seeing what each character is thinking at a time. The premise is so far-fetched but you begin to really believe it can happen after hearing the thoughts of the main character Dr. Jones and the Sheikh who wants to do the project. There is also the human interest of the relationships between Dr.Jones and his wife Mary and Harriet Chetwode-Talbot, who represents the Sheikh, and her boyfriend who has gone to Afghanistan.

Book Review: The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story
Ackerman, Diane
4 stars = Really Good

The Zookeeper's Wife: A war story by Diane Ackerman tells the story
of Polish zookeepers, Jan and Antonina Zabinski and how they saved 300 Jews in the middle of occupied Warsaw in WWII. It is a remarkable story of imagination and fierce resistance, as the Zabinskis harbored Jews in their home and on their zoo grounds, with Nazis all around them. Antonina was especially concerned that the Jews not merely survive but survive with their humanity in tact--at night the house was full of art and music for the hidden Jews. Because Diane Ackerman is the writer of this tale, she draws upon her work as a naturalist to explore the relationship between animals and humans and to explore the odd fascination that the Nazis had with questions of "pure" and "aryan" animals, which the Zabinskis exploited to gain access to
the Jewish ghettos, where they took out Jews and brought in food. A fascinating, bizarre tale. This is a perfect book for book clubs: the questions raised are many and heady.

Book Review: Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage
Lansing, Alfred
5 stars = Curiosity Mars Rover Awesome!

An incredible true story that details the leadership, skills and experience of Ernest Shackleton and his crew as they survive daunting odds and extreme misery while attempting to cross Antarctica. While the book starts a bit slowly, a few chapters in it is near impossible to set down. It reminds us of the endless capability of man to survive in situations where death seems to be the only option available.

Book Review: When I Fall in Love
Kurland, Lynn
4 stars = Really Good

If you enjoy historical romance that's more about the relationship and the time period than the bedroom scenes, this is a fabulous book! Part of Lynn Kurland's paranormal romance series with the MacLeods and the DePiagets, this is a fun, light-hearted time travel experience. Jennifer is a 21st century girl who ends up in 1229 England, and lives to tell about it!

Book Review: Honolulu: A Novel
Brennert, Alan
4 stars = Really Good

This is a gripping tale of four "picture brides" dreams, challenges, and successes set in scenic Hawaii during the early 1900's. This author brings us to places not in the tour books. Instead, he describes the life of everyday and impovished people with a frankness that is both informative, overwhelming, yet hopeful.

Tina Marie
Book Review: A Beautiful Dark
Davies, Jocelyn
3 stars = Pretty Good

While this paranormal romance begins like "Twilight," there's new twists to keep this original. (Spoiler alert--there are no vampires to be found) Perfect for fans of "Fallen," and the "Hush, Hush" saga. It also takes place in Colorado, which is pretty cool.