“The Dreamer, Her Angel, and The Stars” — and A Few Other Capsule Reviews

26 05 2012

I’ve not been reading as much lately because I’ve been going up against writer’s block. Bleeeck! However, I HAVE accomplished some reading. I’ve yet again neglected my long-form reviews, so here’s another capsules roundup. Some great reads I want to share.

1) “The Dreamer, Her Angel, and the Stars” by Linda S. North: Arranged marriages are a staple of straight romance, but for obvious reasons, they’re rare in lesbian romance. So, since this book features an arranged lesbian marriage, I was instantly intrigued. Usually, you marry someone you love, right? You meet, go through dating and maybe you live together and get a pet. You discuss kids. THEN comes the wedding.

Ariel and Kiernan do it backward except they meet first. As is usual in many love affairs, the feelings are deeper on one side at first (Kiernan’s side in this instance). Ariel resents having to marry Kiernan, but eventually she comes to realize that while the marriage was arranged, she did have a choice in the matter. She chose to marry Kiernan, and it’s up to Ariel to decide how she reacts. She can continue pouting or make the best of it.

She decides to make the best of it—and not a moment too soon.

This book is an interesting break from traditional lesbian romance and well worth picking up for that reason alone. Kiernan is a believable LIPS (Lesbian in a Power Suit).

This book has no forced intercourse and no Stockholm syndrome, as a couple of reviews indicate.

I felt a few scenes were too long and/or unnecessary, but overall, a solid debut novel. I’d definitely read Linda S. North again.

2) “In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex” by Nathaniel Philbrick: An engrossing tale of whaling, race and survival at sea. And yeah, um, cannibalism. Read this! One of the best non-fictions I’ve read.

3) “Defending Jacob” by William Landay: I really liked this book. It’s bound to make you think, which is always a good thing. I love how the author captures the voices of teenagers. If you like crime books, pick this up.

4) “Kill Switch” by Neal Baer: The authors’ backgrounds are in TV shows, and it’s obvious. The book reads like a TV show, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just not my style. Don’t expect characters with too much depth. DO expect utilitarian, bare-bones writing. Two stars out of five on my scale.






Many reviews in one post!

1 05 2012

This post isn’t going to be a full fledged review of any one book. Instead, it’ll be capsule reviews of several books. I’ve neglected my reviewing lately, but I’ve been gulping books down. Didn’t want to miss the chance to get the word out about some great reads. (These aren’t ALL the books I’ve read lately, just the highlights.)

In no order below we have…

“Death at La Fenice” by Donna Leon: If a book is set in Italy, chances are I’ll snatch it up. I loved my three weeks in Italy and so have a weakness for such books. “Death at La Fenice” takes place in Venice, and Leon does the city justice. Seeing gay, lesbian and bisexual characters in such a mainstream mystery was awesome. Even awesomer was looking at Leon’s other books (“La Fenice” was published in the early 1990s, although it just came out in ebook) and seeing that some of the lesbian characters return in future books. Observing the evolution of respect and tolerance for GBLTs over time will be interesting.

I got “La Fenice” for just 99 cents for the Nook. As of yesterday, it was still at the same price. Probably the same for Kindle. Warning: the rest of the books in the series are priced about $9.99 and higher. I’ve already put some on reserve at the library. Yep, back to reading some print books for me! 😉

Bottom line: great, gripping mystery and I am thrilled to  have discovered a new mystery writer.

“Word Painting” by Rebecca McClanahan: A must-read for any writer. This book on description will take your writing to the next level. I hope it does mine! I wish I had read this book a long time ago, but better late than never. Whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned writer, I reckon this book has something for you.

“Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer: If you can read only one book from this bunch, pick this one. It tells the story of several doomed Mount Everest expeditions, focusing on one in particular. It becomes clear why corpses dot the slopes of Mount Everest.  This book combines many genres in one: adventure, mystery, historical fiction, journalism, world affairs (the interplay among the various expeditions from different countries is fascinating. Krakauer didn’t think too highly of the South Africans, for example). I felt like I was freezing up there along with Krakauer. A must read.

“Blind Descent: The Quest to Discover the Deepest Place on Earth” by James M. Tabor: An eye-opening read on the science of caving. There’s a race underfoot to reach the deepest place on Earth first. Where is it and who will win?

“Rawhide Down: The Near Assassination of Ronald Reagan”: A must-read for anyone interested in politics and presidential assassinations. The Lincoln assassination fascinates me (JFK not so much, I don’t know why) so when I saw this book, I knew I had to read it. Reagan had a flair for comedy which alone makes this book worth the read. It’s compelling in all areas, though.

“You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You’re Deluding Yourself ” by David McRaney: The title alone is explanation enough for why you should read this. You’ll recognize yourself, even if you don’t want to or even if you won’t admit it to yourself.

“A Civil Action” by Jonathan Harr: I love legal thrillers/courtroom books and TV shows. There aren’t enough of them in books, but this nonfiction book scratched that itch and then some. I never realized putting together a class-action suit was so exhausting.

“The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean” by Susan Casey: A fascinating look at surfing and giant waves.

“Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch” by Sally Smith Bedell: A nice study of Elizabeth II’s life from her birth until now. Only three stars, though. It comes across as too much of an “official” biography. Rumors of Prince Philip’s cheating, for example, are swept under the rug with basically this explanation: “He didn’t do it.” Um? Need more than that, especially since many other biographies I read went into detail on WHY he did cheat. However, this book portrayed Diana much as I believe she was. It doesn’t flinch from her troubles, her psychological condition and her eating disorders. It even says that if one of the queen’s trusted aides hadn’t died before Diana, Diana would’ve had a much better chance fitting in with the royals. This book also gave the best look I’ve read so far on why Elizabeth, even if she wanted to, couldn’t let her sister, Margaret, marry her first love.

Maybe O.J. Didn’t Do It

29 03 2012

I’ve read many O.J. Simpson books, but this one is probably the most important. The book “O.J. Is Innocent and I Can Prove It” by William C. Dear is a must-read on several levels.  The most obvious level, of course, is that it quite compellingly presents an argument for O.J.’s innocence in the killings of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. (However, it posits O.J. helped the true killer cover up the crime and took the blame, so to speak, for the true killer.) The book presents a suspect whom the police never interviewed BUT a suspect for whom O.J. got a defense attorney for the day after the murders for no apparent reason.  O.J. also has a history of cleaning up after this suspect’s violent acts. This suspect was never interviewed, police didn’t bother to look into him, so why the defense attorney?

Who is this suspect? Jason Simpson, O.J.’s son (who was 24 at the time of the killings). Now, let me say something here. My purpose in this review is not to persuade you O.J. is innocent or that Jason is guilty. I’m not going to get into debates about that UNTIL you’ve read this book. Then we’ll talk. 😉

My mind remains open as to who killed Nicole and Ron, but Jason is someone the police should have interviewed for sure. He has blackouts, has assaulted multiple girlfriends, describes himself as a Jekyll and Hyde, was snubbed by Nicole on the day of the murders, had a handwritten time card on the night of the killings (the only handwritten time card among computerized punch-outs) and no alibi. In interviews (not police interviews, of course), Jason Simpson’s story keeps changing. The book gives a long, detailed list as to why O.J. is innocent and why Jason should be considered a major suspect.

Why this book is a must-read on other levels: it shows the danger of police tunnel vision. The police decided O.J. was guilty without even investigating him and any other suspects.

It also shows how badly police botched the crime scene with its carelessness. However, there are a few blood samples, skin samples, a shoe print and fingerprints that remain unidentified. The police say the case remains open, then in the next breath, say it’s closed. Which is it? It seems to be whichever is most convenient at the moment for the cops. When it’s a request to get Jason Simpson’s DNA and fingerprints for comparison, the cops say the case is closed, OJ was tried but found not guilty (whatever sense that makes). When it’s media speech, the police say the case is open.

The police still refuse to interview Jason Simpson despite many experts, including Henry Lee, saying he is at the very least a plausible suspect.

I could write on and on and on about this book, but I urge you to just read it. Please. I’ve read books on both sides of the O.J. argument, and I’ve always felt something was a bit fishy, a bit off. This book could very well explain the answer.


Trafficking in How People Think

4 03 2012

“Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (And What This Says About Us)” by Tom Vanderbilt is ostensibly a book about traffic, but it is really a (very fascinating) book about why people act the way they do. Traffic is merely used as a behavioral prism. Many overarching themes come to the forefront, themes such as humans are social animals and what is more dangerous may actually be safer and that safety measures make something more dangerous.

Humans as social animals: cars and many traffic setups don’t foster socialization. That’s why many people’s personalities change when they’re behind the wheel. The roads are flat, uniform, charmless, choked with signs, impersonal. People are not seeing these other drivers again, so, sure, cut in front, give the finger, yell curses. Knock yourself out. And how dare that pedestrian or cyclist try to mess with the system? I’m trying to get somewhere, and these people are streaming across the crosswalk! Oh, the humanity.

Which do you think is more dangerous: a wide, straight road where all buildings and sidewalks are set way back from the road OR a narrower, jostling street where children and pets play near the road’s edge? How about an intersection versus a roundabout? The answer to both questions is the second choice. Why? Humans are AWARE of the risk and so act more safely. They must socialize with other drivers/pedestrians/cyclists to maneuver the road or roundabout.

Basically, humans have a risk threshold. Safety measures sometimes backfire because they then lead drivers to feel safer and therefore, drivers act less responsibly (examples: talk on cellphone, drive faster). Also, signage often isn’t necessary. People in fancy department stores don’t need signs telling them not to spit, so let’s give ourselves a little credit and follow the example of these localities that cut down on signs and therefore, on traffic wrecks and fatalities.

The book offers a neat parallel of the risk concept to climbers of Alaska’s Mount McKinley. There were no fatalities in the first ten years of the 20th century among the mountain’s 47 climbers. What happened after climbing went high tech and climbers knew they could be rescued if they got into a pickle? Yep. Dozens of deaths each decade.

A false sense of security is dangerous. Our brains need to work. They need to be engaged. Otherwise we’re just gonna speed up, put makeup on, pop large bubblegum bubbles, babble on our cellphones and fumble for a magazine. BAD IDEA.

This is a book all drivers should read as a condition of getting their licenses. (Whether/how to evaluate if people actually read the book is a different matter, but some people reading the book is better than none.)

Other interesting aspects of this book discuss late merging (good), driving and culture/country and fatalities/accidents as they relate to a country’s GDP and/or corruption index. (The more corrupt a country, the more likely it is to have bad accident and fatality numbers.)

The book’s writing style is engaging. The concepts are easy to grasp and eye opening.



Dive Into Another World

31 01 2012

I’m thirty-two years old, and I love history. Old history, that is. More-recent history, such as WWII, WWI, Vietnam and so on, doesn’t have the same allure for me as the Civil War, Roman history, British history, Egyptian history, etc. do.

Well, heck. That has changed because of one book, “Shadow Divers” by Robert Kurson. Did you know that during WWII, German U-boats snuck up in American waters and some got so close to the shore that the crew could smell U.S. trees, listen to U.S. radio? Many of these U-boats were sunk in waters around the United States coast and are still there. I’d had no idea. Ignorant me had this misconception of WWII being fought way over there, there being Germany, Japan, England, wherever. Hawaii was attacked, yeah, but Hawaii isn’t mainland U.S.

When I saw the U-boats fact mentioned in the book’s blurb, I knew I HAD to get this book. And it’s a treat. It’s a must-read for anyone. It has mystery, suspense, intrigue, honorable men, rapscallion men, the bad boys with hearts of gold and the women who love them, and death. Lots of death but an uplifting ending. It’s nonfiction but is better-paced and more suspenseful than most fiction I have read.

Kurson basically follows a group of divers as they discover a sunken U-boat  and the group’s struggle over several years to identify which boat it is. The divers end up changing recorded history. Kurson provides a fascinating and sometimes heartbreaking look into diving culture.

I have no quibbles with this book, but I did wonder about some of the divers. They did what is an honorable thing, at least on first glance. They found bodies in the wreckage, lots of bodies. Well, not bodies. Skeletons and bones are more accurate. The divers refused to ransack the bones in order to identify the U-boat. Respect for the dead, respect for their families. The divers didn’t want to have to tell the families that they had to paw through their loved ones’ pockets to find a tag to identify the U-boat.

That’s great. All well and good.

Except what happens? The divers can’t find ID elsewhere. Several years go on. Still they refuse to riffle through the bodies/clothes on the bodies. I dunno. It seems presumptuous of them to assume what the families would have wanted. If I had lost a loved one at sea, I’d like to know where he was, even if that meant someone had to go through his pockets for a tag. The divers had a pretty good idea which U-boat this was, so why didn’t they just ask the families what they preferred instead of assuming for them?

Anyway, that was a bit maddening but is no reflection on the author. This book gets five stars out of five. Once you start reading, be prepared to be immersed in claustrophobic and thrilling situations for hours.






The Amazon: A Trip for the Imagination

24 12 2011

During the past three weeks, I have read three terrific books on Amazon exploration. Taken individually, they are great, but reading them close together has to be the best way to go. The books are “The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey” by Candice Millard, “River of Darkness” by Buddy Levy and “The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon” by David Grann.

The bottom line is this: the Amazon, especially “back then,” was not for the faint of heart. Or even for the strong of heart. The majority of people who went in did not come back out. Amazon exploration strikes me as a lottery. These people literally gambled with their lives. Indians sometimes decided to kill explorers. Sometimes they let the explorers go. U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt barely survived his expedition in the early 1900s, and he has Indians to thank for his survival (the Indians left him alone). Grann’s book is the only one that presents a picture of the Amazon today, and it is for that reason if you read only one of the three books, I recommend Grann’s. Grann’s book also gives the best depiction of how savage/plentiful bugs and other predators were.

Overall, I left these three books with a feeling of sadness for what exploration brought to the Amazon: deaths of its peoples, its ecosystem and so much more. I hope the Brazilian government stays with its policy of letting uncontacted Indian tribes be.

These three books made me feel as if I were right there in the Amazon, and I want to find more books. This is a place I’ve loved going to in my head. But going in person I will leave to others! 🙂




Borgia Yumminess

13 11 2011

A couple of weeks ago, I finished watching my second 2011 TV show on the Borgias. Both TV shows presented dramatically different events and chronologies. Hmmm. I wanted to find out the real dealio (which TV show was right, or were they both wrong?) so I checked out “The Family” by Mario Puzo. Of course, I didn’t notice  until a few days later this book was classified as fiction. No matter. Like the TV shows, “The Family” is soap-opera goodness. After “The Family” I found a TRUE nonfic on the Borgias:  “The Borgias and Their Enemies” by Christopher Hibbert.

This is a review of these two books. First, the Puzo book. Yes, read it! 🙂 It presents yet a third chronology compared with the TV shows, but what a yummy, weird chronology it is. Puzo has the whispered-about incest flying its proud freak flag here. In one scene, the pope watches his son Cesare and daughter Lucrezia have sex. Cesare is supposed to break Lucrezia’s virginity and be gentle about it. Alas, Cesare knows not gentleness, so dear old Daddy admonishes his son and takes Cesare’s hand. He guides the hand all over Lucrezia’s body as she becomes aroused.

Dad becomes aroused too, but to his credit, he leaves at last. Icky and at the same time OH MY GOD… REALLY?? I HAVE TO READ THIS kind of stuff.

Daddy Pope was not a very nice guy. Or a nice dad, either. He especially had a blind spot concerning his favorite (spoiled brat of a) son, Juan. Now, this book is written kind of superficially. This means Puzo doesn’t really get deep into the character’s emotions or what they are feeling. In this respect, it reads very much like you’re watching a TV show. This did not bother me in the least because I’d just come off these two Borgia shows. I enjoyed this style quite a bit, but I might not have if I had not just finished with the shows.

OK, now on to “The Borgias and Their Enemies.” This nonfic book was okay. In some places, however, it reads as a mere recital of lists and events. I have a feeling there are better Borgia nonfics out there, and I’m going to read them — after taking a Borgia break 😉 It’s possible that one reason this nonfic book numbed me was my Borgia overdose.