Tainted by Brooke Morgan

Tainted by Brooke MorganTitle:  Tainted

Author:  Brooke Morgan

Paperback:  429 pages

Published:  2009

ISBN:  9780061853371

Challenges:  ARC Reading Challenge, New Author Challenge

… she worried whether Katy was normal and totally adjusted.  Did she laugh enough?  Was she too introspective?  To serious?

She’d obviously had fun digging the clams, so she was clearly capable of joy; she just didn’t jump up and down and let herself go wild very often.  Was that bad?…

How do you ever know as a mother?  There are landmines everywhere, waiting to blow up in your face.  Am I too strict?  Not strict enough?  Should I tell Henry, for example, that he really has to stop swearing in front of her or is that being overprotective and silly?  Will Katy be sitting in a shrink’soffice some day, blaming me fo everything wrong in her life?  Will she make the same mistakes I did?

-Tainted by Brook Morgan, pages 21-22

First off, I’d like to thank Trish of TLC Book Tours for inviting me to join the Tainted virtual book tour :-)

Tainted by Brooke Morgan is about a young single mother, Holly Barrett, who has always been the wallflower and shy friend of the more gregarious Anna.  Holly got pregnant with Katy the first, and only, time she had sex and the father, Anna’s ex, ran as fast and far away as he could.  Two years after Katy’s birth, Holly’s parents died within days of each other, leaving Holly with a sense that the world is full of pain and she has virtually no control in it.  Henry, her 75-year-old grandfather, Anna, Katy and the Cape Cod house that had been her summer home growing up is her entire world.

Enter Jack Dane.  Tall, handsome and English, Jack is “faintworthy” and Holly is quickly swept away by his charm and he provides her with a sense of safety; he fast becomes a part of every aspect of her life.  He, too, has lost both of his parents.  By all appearances, Jack is Mr. Perfect.  But is he really this good? Or is he keeping dark and dangerous secrets?  Is he really Prince Charming? or a monster in disguise?

Tainted by Brooke Morgan is a slow cooker and an unassuming book.  I really like how Morgan has really captured the sensitivity and worries of the “dating” single mom, and that of worry-worry-worry that goes along with motherhood (sometimes I wonder if worry is the force that drives our engines as mothers!).  I also love Henry, Holly’s grandfather, who reminds me of a few grizzled souls whom I love dearly.  Not one to want to be called “Gramps” because it made him seem infantile and incapable, nor “Grandfather” because it made him seem ancient, he’s always went by just “Henry” but hasn’t lost the effect of his role as a grandparent by this choice. 

Confession time:  I haven’t finished this book yet, but I fell in love with it after the second or third chapter.  I’d have to say that Holly is my literary twin, and I can completely relate to her.  Jack is still Mr. Perfect where I’m at in the book but, to tell you the truth, he has a really Dexter-feel to him.  The dog didn’t like him, and I’m waiting for him to go on some murderous rampage.  Or bodies to turn up, at least.  He’s too nice, and people who are always nice are creepy and are hiding something.  It pulls me along and I hafta-HAFTA read the next page.. the next chapter… and before I know it, 50 pages have gone by.

Of course, since I haven’t finished it  yet, I’ll reserve rating it for now, but I’m definitely loving it :-)

If you’d like to check out other reviews, here’s a list of fellow tour hosts:

I’m Booking It
All About {n}
Savvy Verse & Wit
Café of Dreams
Clever Girl Goes Blog
Dolce Bellezza
The Literate Housewife
Life in the Thumb
Bookworm With a View
Cozy Little House

PUSH by Sapphire

Push by SapphireTitle:  Push

Author:  Sapphire

Paperback:  192 pages

Published:  1996

Acquired:  bought new from Walmart

Challenges: New Author Challenge 2010, We Didn’t Start the Fire 2010 (AIDS), POC Reading Challenge

I don’t have nothing to write today – maybe never.  Hammer in my heart now, beating me, I feel like my blood a giant river swell up inside me and I’m drwoning.  My head all dark inside.  Feel like giant river I never cross in front me now.  Ms Rain say, You not writing Precious.  I say I drownin’ in river.  She don’t look me like I’m crazy but say, If you just sit there the river gonna rise up drown you!  Writing could be the boat carry you to the other side.  One time in your journal you told me you had never really told your story.  I think telling your story git you over that river Precious.

I still don’t move.  She say, “Write.”  I tell her, “I am tired.  Fuck you!”  I scream, “You don’t know nuffin’ what I been through!”  I scream at Ms Rain.  I never do that before.  Class look shock.  I feel embarrass, stupid; sit down, I’m made a fool of myself on top of everthing else.  “Open your notebook Precious.”  “I’m tired,” I says.  She says, “I know you are but you can’t stop now Preciuos, you gotta push.”  And I do.

-Push by Sapphire, pages 96-97

wow.  I mean really, WOW.

Push by Sapphire is a book of truth.  It is raw, heart-breaking, and hard.  It is inspiring, hope-filled, naked and honest.  It is not the kind of book that will appeal to everyone, not that happy beach book many want, it is stark and dark and real and beautiful.  It could’ve been exploitative, could’ve been depressing and hopeless, could’ve so easily become an anti-white, anti-men rant, but Sapphire managed to weave the story together, as told by the main character, Precious Jones, into an emotional tale of how education can give hope for a chance at freedom and a better life.

I knew a bit about the story from the movie based on the book, Precious.  I haven’t yet seen the movie (are you kidding?  There’s no way the theater owner of our little 2-screener would’ve had THAT movie in HIS place!  Heck, he wouldn’t bring in a Tyler Perry movie, and they’re funny with a little “let’s get real” on the side), so I have to way until it comes out on DVD next month (already in my Netflix queue), but I have seen the trailers and watched the interviews and heard the awards buzz about it.  From the few scenes I’ve seen, and after reading the book, the movie should win every award it could qualify for, and if it doesn’t, I’ll be irate.  I also knew about this book from seeing it being checked out… always out and never in… at the library, and from reading Kathy at Bermudaonion’s review back in December.

So when I wandered (drifted mindlessly, to be more accurate) to the book section at Walmart the day before yesterday and saw it on the shelf, it was in my cart before Maggie could say, “No more books, MOM!”  Now, my policy for buying new books at full price is that it HAS to be a book I will read immediately.  Not next month or next year, but this week or sooner.  I was already several pages into Push before I left the store, and finished a little more than 24 hours after buying it.  Push is the kind of book that, as soon as you put it down, you pick it back up and start reading again, forgetting why you’d put it down in the first place.  The kind of book you forget to eat because it’s so engrossing.  I could barely go to the bathroom, and would worry and wonder what was going on with Precious while I was gone from her.  It will, without a doubt, be one of my top 10 books of 2010, and on my favorites list forever.

Okay, so enough gushing….  Let’s deal with the book itself.

One of the first things I got out of Push, was the realization of what it was, exactly, that I’d hated about The Blue Notebook by James A. Levine.  Both Precious and Batuk narrate their respective stories through writing in a journal.  Both books deal with the loss of innocence, sexual abuse, the sacrifice of the child by a parent, animosity between mother and daughter, and that education is the only hope and chance of escape.  But where they differ greatly is in the voice of the narrator.  Precious is pissed.  She’s upset, emotional, and expresses her sense of injustice at the terrible hand life has dealt her.  WHY? is her question over and over.  And understandably so; you expect these feelings.  Batuk, on the other hand, falls flat.  She’s accepting of her situation, barely registers emotion, occassionally expresses that she misses her father (the same man who sold her) and waxes nostalgic for the past.  Aarti of B O O K L U S T tweeted that she felt Batuk was a strong character, but I never saw any strength in her.  I do, however, agree that the overall voice of The Blue Notebook was despair and hoplessness, as Batuk knew she could never escape the situation.

Another thing I can tell you, with personal authority, is that the feelings and experiences Precious expresses from the standpoint of being an incest survivor is very real and very true.  There are things that Precious says about the sex with her father that are difficult for a child to wrap their own head around, let alone have the courage to say outloud, even in a journal.  Things like the shame you feel at feeling physical pleasure during this situation that you know in every fiber of your being is WRONG.  It’s one of the things that totally screws up the person’s ability to relate sexually for the rest of their life.  Also, Precious’s reference to genitals, hers as well as others, reflects how deeply incest survivors view their own objectification as a sex object.  “I am of no value nor worthy of love except through sex.”  is the personal worth statement of many, no matter how long it’s been since the last occurance (it’s been over 10 years for me, and he’s now dead, and yet it still that thought pervades), and the longer the abuse went on, the more pervasive and rooted that feeling becomes.

Besides the sensitive subject of molestation and the emotional affectation of the book, there is also the racial side of things.  This is where my brain spent more time, because it’s the only part I don’t share with Precious (well, that and I didn’t have children by my abuser).  I would say, “I hope I don’t offend anyone,” but then would holding back in an attempt to be non-offensive honor my Flavor of the Week, Amy, or create dialogue?  No, it would not.  So let the offense commence!

Push by Sapphire – on Race and racism

This review may become my longest ever (except The Book Thief, and may surpass that and the companion post), but I don’t care.  It deserves the length and the discussion.  Let’s get real, as Dr. Phil says.

Precious has a poster on her wall of the famous leader of The Nation of Islam, and often refers to him as the only real man she knows.  One of his sentiments that she echos more than once is, “problem is not crack but the cracker” (page 83).  I will heartily admit there are far more white people who have put their feet on the back of the neck of blacks throughout history than have helped, but maybe I’m naive in hoping things are better now than before.  I grew up in with a racist father who told offensive jokes and used the N word often, though he was not as bad as a lot of my friends parents.  It’s the way things were then.  It should NOT have been, and it was wrong, but it was what it was.  I’ve done my best to free myself from all that biggotry and to unlearn the prejudice, but it’s still something I’m aware of.  My hope is that my children will never think multiculturalism an oddity, but that it comes as natural to them as sunshine and breathing.

As the story progresses, Ms Rain, Precious’s teacher, shows her that not ALL Farrakhan’s ideas are right, like his anti-semitism and anti-homosexual beliefs, and Precious understands and sees her point.  She still hangs on to him as an inspiration and hero, citing him in her poem at the end of the book “Get up off your knees, Farrakhan say”, which I think is maturity in anyone.  As I’ve gotten older, read more, and learned more, there’s one thing I’ve come to understand about people.  We want a quick and easy, singular answer.  Life is anything but that, though, and no one person has the answers to everything, nor is he or she right all the time.  You have to sift and take away what’s worthy and leave the rest.  Most of the people you glean from aren’t good or bad, but a mixture of the two, and we must see their humanity and avoid the temptation to adulation or hate.

Other moments in the book that show the sense of distrust and dislike of whites are things like Precious’s feelings in the school counselor’s office, or the social worker’s office in the halfway house.  Precious, as well as the others in her class, express distrust, fear, and blame the white people in charge of her case.  This, I think, is the sentiment that sticks in my heart and throat as I try to wrap my head around it and put myself in her shoes.  Everywhere Precious would turn, there is a white wall blocking her escape.  No one stepped in to take her out of the situation after her first baby was born.  Who stood up to help her learn to read?  Where was the teacher when Precious was having such emotional problems (other kids in the class, her mother’s abuse at home, and the main start of the sexual abuse) in the second grade that she was wetting her pants?  Ugh!  I can understand the blame and anger she feels toward whites, and it breaks my heart to know I myself, my kids included, are judged the same, though we would NOT be like that.

And maybe it’s that that makes the racism in this book painful.  I’m being judged by the color of my skin, too, and it isn’t fair – it is never fair.  And with that thought, I have to bump Push by Sapphire up another notch, because reading it has given me a glimpse at what it feels like for African-Americans all the time, and they can’t close their book at “The End”.  They live it all the time, while I get to go back to being white in a white world.

I really love this book and, but for the explicit language and the mature subject matter, think it should be read by everyone.  Okay, so it’s not likely to be a classroom read for a high school, but definitely a college study.  I wish I’d known about it when I was in college, I could’ve had another 13 years of mulling it over and letting it work through me.  Of course, obviously, I give Push by Sapphire 5 out of 5 stars.

Here is the author Sapphire in an interview with Katie Couric discussing the journey of the book Push to the movie Precious

And, I couldn’t resist a trailer for the movie.. k, now I’m weepy.

The Mom’s Guide to Growing Your Family Green ~ review

The Mom's Guide to Growing Your Family GreenTitle:  The Mom’s Guide to Growing Your Family Green

Author:  Terra Wellington

Paperback:  322 pages

Published: 2009

ISBN:  9780312384739

Acquired:  won in the March 2009 LibraryThing ER batch

Challenges:  ARC Reading Challenge 2010New Author Challenge 2010

Because most parents have limited time and budgets, an understandable reaction is, “I have too much on my plate already.  How can I possibly add more to my to-do list?”  Have no fear.  All the how-to’s in this book are about raising your family green in a practical way- so that it becomes part of your lifestyle.  Trust me:  It is doable.

…This book is all about creating lifestyle changes.  Some of these changes don’t add more to your plate, they just change how you do things.  Other changes ask you to care more, and donate what time and resources you have available.  This is how you create meaningful change in your home, your community, and beyond – one person making a difference in a real way.

-The Mom’s Guide to Growing Your Family Green by Terra Wellington, pages xi-xii

Terra Wellington has been around the green circuit for a few years now, guesting on The Montel Williams Show and other TV shows, as well as being a syndicated collumnist, ClubMom contributor, and has her own blog, MomsandthePlanet.com.  And I grant you she knows quite a lot about green living.  However, I found this particular book not my thing.

To be honest, I can’t fathom why the LibraryThing algorithm picked it for me, other than I am a mother who read and loved The World Without Us.  Quite frankly, I’m a very naughty polluter.  I’m bad at recycling, often throwing my cereal boxes, newspapers and aluminum cans in the garbage with everything else.  I do try to keep the plastic bags, though, because they make excellent trash bags for the smaller cans in the bedrooms and bathroom.  I have the CFL squiggly-looking light bulbs because some dude on the morning show I watch said they lasted 5 years, and I’m lazy and hate climbing ladders to change light bulbs, so I ran out and got a bunch.  After changing almost every bulb over now, I can tell you this:  The whole 5 years thing is a lie.  More like one year, maybe a year and a half.  BUT they do save on the electric bill, and they last 3 times as long as the cheap bulbs I was buying, so the cost is offset, I think.

Honestly, I do think about what I buy before I buy it and what impact it might have on the environment.  I’ve taught my kids that styrofoam is evil, and never breaks down.  I never buy the six packs because I’d hate to kill some bird or fish or dolphin because I forgot to tear the plastic rings.  I don’t leave the fridge door open, oven on, water running, and I keep my thermostat at around 70 degrees.  Frankly, I’m pretty much doing as much as I am willing to do.

Most of what Wellington offers in the book is either impractical (for me), expensive (I’m not running out and buying new appliances, hiring an energy guy to go over my house for leaks!), or not possible since I’m a rentor.  A lot of what she suggests I already do.  There were a couple things though that actually irritated me:

If it’s possible, have your pet stay outdoors to reduce pet dander.

Or better yet, give your pet to someone who will love it, dander and all.  HONESTLY!  It infuriates me when I see some dog tied up outside, year round, never see a person talk to it, pet it, and often see it’s bowls empty, and I wonder WHY on God’s green earth do these people even think they need an animal?  How ’bout we reverse that.  Let the pet stay inside, and have the owner stay outside to reduce his dandruff.  BTW, it’s about 16 degrees here right now, and I don’t let my cats out on the front porch right now, even.

Another one that made my eyes roll was the “reduce your showers (if you must take them) to 10-minutes”.  Maybe I could just shower ever three days, then I can have a nice long shower.  How ’bout if I just skip them altogether?  That’ll save even MORE water!  Also in this book is things for pool heaters and stuff, but how many 10-minute showers worth of water are in all these private pools?  Why not get rid of those, everyone swim at a community pool and enjoy more community? 

Do you know that if everyone parked their cars, took public transportation instead or EVEN BETTER, walked everywhere (OMG, I know… scary!) the carbon gases would be greatly reduced, and maybe so would the rising obesity rates.  AND, you would have much more time to stop and smell the roses, so maybe the heart disease rates would drop, too?

Okay, so what did I like about this book?  Wellington is trying.  She’s offering solutions.  She believes in what she’s doing and writing, and it shows.  There’s great cheat sheets and worksheets for readers to fill out.  Most of the sections are short and readable.  I think the book would work best as a reference book on someone’s shelf who actually is into that stuff.

I give The Mom’s Guide to Growing Your Family Green by Terra Wellington 3 out of 5 stars.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Here’s a quick and funny video (Mom and Maggie approved) about recycling.  I enjoyed this vid a lot more than the book, and actually feel inspired to get a recycling tub after watching it.

The Blue Notebook by James A. Levine

The Blue Notebook by James A. LevineTitle:  The Blue Notebook

Author:  James A. Levine

Paperback: 210 pages (ARC)

Published:  2009

ISBN:  9780385528719

Acquired:  won through LibraryThing’s ER March 2009 batch

Challenges:  The ARC Reading Challenge 2010, New Author Challenge 2010, POC Reading Challenge

The Blue Notebook by James A. Levine is a fictional novel told from the point of view of Batuk Ramasdeen, a 15-year-old prostitute living in a closet-sized “nest”, as she calls it.  It is written like a journal or diary and gives a graphic glimpse of the life of a child sex slave.  While it’s called “The Blue Notebook”, it is written in three separate collections of pages, the first being contained in the blue notebook for which the book is named, while the other two sections were written on hotel paper then later plain paper.  The reason I mention this is because, in a lot of ways, this book felt like two separate and distinct stories, falling in these different segments.

The first part, the part written in the blue notebook, was inspired by Levine’s experiences when he traveled to Mumbai as part of a research trip for his work at the Mayo Clinic.  While there, he interviewed several street kids on the infamous Street of Cages, when he noticed a child prostitute writing in a notebook.  He talked with her for a long time and her story and what he saw there stuck with him and led him to writing this book in hopes of shining a light on the tragic events occurring to such young children, stealing their childhoods, their souls, and often their very lives.

“The Blue Notebook” section is hauntingly real and fairly true to the character of Batuk as a young girl who was sold into prostitution by her own father at the age of 9.  Now 15, Batuk is an adult woman, aware of her sexual allure, one second, then a playful, giggling, daydreaming child the next, writing stories and telling jokes to cheer up her friend.  She tells us from the beginning that she is prone to waxing dramatic, and, at times, her writing has a poetic beauty to it, with metaphors and stunning word pictures.  It does have some amount of stream of conciousness to it, as she may be talking about having sex with the men in one sentence and then write about some event back home before being brought to Mumbai in the next.

Batuk is unusual for a child of the streets, and even unusual for the men that she services, in that she can read and write.  She tells of having TB and spending 12 weeks in a missionary hospital where she had had the privilege of a tutor three times a week and was even sent away with a goodbye gift of a box full of books for her to keep.  As soon as they’re home, she has her father close his eyes as she reads a story to her father and then waits for his reaction.

Father did not say a word until I finished.  As I concluded the story, I peeked under his hat; his eyes were shiny and tears were streaming down his face.  He just stared at me.  “Father, there are happier stories, let me…”  “Batuk, that is not why I am crying.  I never imagined that any child of mine would ever learn to read… this is your ticket out of Dreepah-Jil.”  He caught his thoughts and continued to speak excitedly.  “We will have to find you a teacher… One day you will be a… doctor, a lawyer.”  I interrupted, “Or a teacher.”  “Yes, darling, or a great teacher, Batuk.  Come to me.”  I went to my father with another book tucked under my arm, the magical abhang poems of Namdev.  As I read words I barely understood and soaked them within me, my father held me.  That night we both created dreams for me.  Neither he nor I ever aspired to my becoming a prostitute.(embolden added)

-The Blue Notebook by James A. Levine, page 82 (ARC)

While “The Blue Notebook” section is stark and unvarnished glimpse into the lives of the street children, most all-too-short lives, at that, the remainder of the book is crap, to be honest.  I could really feel the children who had inspired Levine in the first segment, but in the second half of the book, it all felt sleazy.  It felt like I was reading snuff kiddie porn.  I’m not giving anything away, I don’t think, in telling you Batuk dies.  I knew it within the first 20 pages that it would not end well, and at the end of The Blue Notebook, there is blatant foreshadowing, and you know by then, if you didn’t already, that she was going to die a cruel and violent death.  So did she, sadly, and she was powerless to act on that prescience, because after six years of conditioning, it never occurred to her to run.

I understand what Levine was trying to do with The Blue Notebook, and I think it commendable, and according to the back of the book, all the profits from the book is being donated to organizations that help missing and exploited children, so the fact that Levine didn’t write this book for the money touches my heart.  This fact also makes me feel bad to give a frank and honest review, but the truth is, the second half of the book feels like a gorean child molesters erotica book.  Batuk is raped repeatedly, and basically answers, “Thank you, Master, for the pleasure.”  She’s kicked and beaten and starved, and all that is horrible and fits into where Levine wanted to go with the story, but the way in which it was written felt like a male fantasy. 

IDK, I’m not saying he enjoyed writing it, just that it felt creepy, like when you were a kid, the uncle at the family picnic that hugged you a little too long.  He didn’t do anything wrong, per se, he just hugged you, but it leaves you feeling like you’re crawling with cooties and need a scalding hot shower.  Yeah, the second half of this book is like the creepy uncle.

I’d say that if you’re inspired to buy this book because doing so helps out children, just donate directly to the International and National Centers for Missing and Exploited Children.  Don’t bother with the book, just donate the $10 straight to the cause.

For all that he wanted to do with this, and for the beautiful sections that the book does contain, I’m going to give The Blue Notebook by James A. Levine 2.5 out of 5 stars.  That represents a balance of what I loved and what I hated, I think.

Other links of interest

The Street of Cages:  In Mumbai the Sparrows — children of prostitutes — are being rescued and given an education, thanks to a remarkable project – A Times Online article also by James A. Levine

Other Reviews:

Lisa at Books On the Brain

Petunia at Educating Petunia

Nicole at Linus’s Blanket

Natasha at Maw Books

Jen at Devourer of Books

Rants and Reads at The Novel World

Rebecca at The Book Lady Blog

Swapna at S.Krishna’s Books (is there a book she hasn’t read?)

Meghan at Medieval Bookworm

Jennifer at The Literate Housewife

Jill at Rhapsody in Books

Laurie at In Laurie’s Mind

At this point, I’m just gonna stop adding links because, apparently, I’m the only person left in the blogosphere to read and review this book.  If you’d like to add you review to the list, link it in your comment :-)

Islands Apart by Ken McAlpine

Islands Apart by Ken McAlpineTitle:  Islands Apart:  A Year on the Edge of Civilization

Author:  Ken McAlpine

Paperback:  256 pages (Advance Reader’s Edition)

Published: 2009

ISBN:  9781590305300

Acquired:  won in the May 2009 LibraryThing ER batch

Challenges:  ARC Reading Challenge, New Author Challenge, We Didn’t Start the Fire Challenge (under California)

A humorous and wise look at contemporary American life—and how time spent alone in nature can give us a fresh perspective and greater clarity about what matters most.

In this touching and often humorous book, author Ken McAlpine does what many of us long to do. Overwhelmed by the hectic pace of his life, he escapes to a beautiful, remote location where he finds the open spaces and solitude that bring him some peace of mind. McAlpine camps alone in the Channel Islands National Park off the coast of Southern California, a place where time slows down, the past reveals itself in prehistoric fossils, and where a person can become attuned to the rhythms of the natural world and find their rightful place in it

For McAlpine the Channel Islands become a modern-day Walden Pond—an enchanting, isolated location from which to reflect on nature, civilization, and what matters most. Back on the mainland, McAlpine continues his explorations by seeking out experiences that reflect who we are and what we value today. His travels include spending time at a soup kitchen in Beverly Hills; a Catholic monastery; and visiting Arlington West, a veteran-run memorial to soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Islands Apart is an engaging meditation on what we can learn about ourselves and our world when we open ourselves to the wisdom of nature and begin to look more deeply.

-Product description at Amazon.com

I have had Islands Apart by Ken McAlpine on my ARC-alanche pile since June of 2009.  It’s one of my way-overdue ER books, and the second one I’ve completed this month (three more to go, woot).  When I first read the description and clicked the button to enter my name in the fandangled LT ER algorithm, I was intrigued by the premise of the book.  McAlpine wants to get away from it all, and find a quiet place to reflect on humanity… kinda like Thoreau with Walden, but on the Channel Islands in Southern California.

For the most part, I really enjoyed this book.  The chapters on time spent between the islands and the mainland alternate, so that it has a feeling of interaction with people and then reflection on our place in this world.  I liked this book so much, that I have struggled to understand how the two diverse world are suppose to relate to each other because a lot of the time it felt like I was reading two different books that were mashed together.  What do a hustler/wannabe actor, a tree-loving priest, homeless diners, veteran protestors, and preschoolers have in common with each other, let alone with the foxes, eagles, and xantus murrelets of the Channel Islands?

We lay claim to the things we come across in our lives, as if it is possible to own them, but you can no more own an island or a stoic gull than you can possess the fleeting moments that accumulate into a lifetime.  It is good to recognize life’s gifts, but foolish to hold them too tightly.

-Islands Apart by Ken McAlpine, page 201 (ARE)

I think what McAlpine was trying to do was to show that there is a deep desire in all things, in people and in nature, to know that there will be some piece of them left behind after they die.  To know that they won’t just fade into oblivion.  It is why we have children.  It’s why writer’s write, cavemen drew, why the park ranger’s work so diligently to preserve the foxes and murrelets and the ugly scrub that’s native to the islands.  It’s why the xantus murrelets continue to lay eggs in caves where rats destroy the embryo within before it’s even had a chance to firm up.  What’s more, in an effort to ensure we continue on, we do what we can to control what little bit we can, whether by planting a tree in the desert or by working long hours to invest every cent possible in a future hoped for. 

This book was a slower read, no matter how much I wanted to hurry, and I almost abandoned it at one point.  Despite absolutely loving the first 127 pages, when I hit the chapter on San Miguel Island, it was like falling into a pit of quicksand.  It’s the only part of the book that I hated.  I think it was too long, too boring, and interminable (a word I had to learn to spell to describe this chapter)  That chapter should just say, “Spent a week on San Miguel. Ian was cool. The elephant seals were horny buggers. The fur seals are mean little shits. And all the pinnipeds are louder than a Greek convention at Grant’s Farm! There’s bird poop everywhere, the ravens know how to pick locks… oh, and some dude killed himself because he thought this place was Heaven on Earth.” Next chapter!

I’m very glad I didn’t abandon it, because the next chapter, “Almost Famous”, was the best part of the whole book.  In this chapter, McAlpine explores the extent people go for the chance to be famous.  He spends long hours with James, a Captain Jack Sparrow working the tourists outside Grauman’s Chinese Theater.  I liked James, and you can tell McAlpine does, too, but I can’t help but wonder how much more he could accomplish if he would put his hard work toward something tangible.  At what point in time do you accept the reality that your dreams are just that, pipe dreams, and the real world is calling.  James wants nothing more than, and WORKS harder than anyone I’ve seen to achieve it, to be a star.  But does he have a viable and real future in it?  Sadly, I don’t think so.  I think he should grow up and get a job and find a way to contribute that way.  But… no one’s depending on him, he’s his own man, and he’s not taking public assistance, so who is he hurting?

I also relished the chapter “Lunch in Beverly Hills” where Ken spent time getting to know and gaining an understanding and appreciation for the homeless.  I have a personal interest in this issue.  You see, seven years ago, the girls and I WERE homeless.  We weren’t without a place to stay, there’s a large shelter here in town, and the people who run it are fantastic.  Thanks to them, I was able to take some time to look at my life and where I was taking my kids, and to reevaluate my priorities.  I want to go back to school to finish up my degree in Sociology so that I can get a job as a client-to-community liaison in a homeless shelter.  In this book, McAlpine says that homelessness is a complex problem, and that is very true.  Some people have chosen it as a lifestyle, others are there because shit happens, while still others are there because it’s better than where they came from.  We were in this last group, having left an abusive and volatile situation with the hope of something better.

I must admit, however, that I can very much relate to MRS. McAlpine, who told him at one point in his working on this book, “I hate you, you know.”  Ken is a white professional male, close to, if not already, middle-age, and has the means, ability, and the people in his life that affords him the ability to just take off whenever he feels like it to spend a week camping on an island or at a monastary, to just sit and think.  Kathy McAlpine makes the statement that she doesn’t have time to go off and think.  And I have to say this:  Where are the books where women just take off, leaving their children for weeks at a time with their fathers, so they can go listen to their inner voice? 

No Where.

Why?  Because we live in a society that, despite the lip-service of equality, that if Ken had been a Kendra, she would have been railed against as a bad mother who abandoned her kids to selfishly wander.  Mr. Kendra would have filed for divorce, and NOT wanted custody, so that Kendra would have had to either cart the kids around, (What a bad mother, not giving her kids a stable place to live) or leave them with someone (What a bad mother, she just dumps her kids and runs off). 

Okay, social rant is over.  In the interest of full disclosure, I hate Ken, too, and wish I could run off to an island and just sit and ponder, too. But, I still love the book, even if I am jealous. ;-)

I think Islands Apart by Ken McAlpine is a book that will stick with me for a while.  The Channel Islands are a beautiful place, and I recommend you take time to check out their website.  The Parks Department has put together an extensive, multimedia site with details of what’s being done to preserve as much of the indigenous species as possible, as well as the discovery of the best preserved and most complete fossilized remains of  a pygmy mastodon.

4 out of 5 stars

Maggie Guest Reviews Nim’s Island by Wendy Orr

Maggie Guest postsMaggie and I just finished reading Nim’s Island by Wendy Orr last night, which was a re-read for me, but a first read for her since she fell asleep on it last year and never picked it back up.  I enjoyed it more this time around, and wonder if it was because I haven’t recently seen the movie, or that I saw things this time I didn’t before, or that it was the wide-eyed (most of the time), often giggling girl cuddling beside me.  Maybe it was all three, but I’m thinking it was the last that increased my enjoyment the most ;-)

Since I reviewed it in 2008, I thought it’d be a perfect chance for Mags to do her first official review.  She has given a paragraph here and there on different books that we’ve read together about what she thought of a book, but never the whole review.  So, take it away Maggie!

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Nim's Island with MaggieMy mom is making do this, I want to play and this is boring and stupid, but she’s making me sit here and write this with her. 

So why did I read Nim’s Island?  “Because I wanted to” isn’t enough, mom says, so I guess I have to say more.  At school we do Accelerated Reader.  You get points for reading books and you get prizes and it goes on your report card.  Also, if I don’t meet my point goals, I can’t play computer games.  With Nim’s Island‘s 3 points, I’ll have 46 points.  I want to get 100 points by the end of the year, I’m trying to get mom to read Twilight with me, it’s worth like 20 points or something :-D

Nim’s Island is about a girl named Nim who lives on an island with her dad, Jack.  Her dad leaves her alone while he goes to study plankton.  He only means to be gone for 3 days, but then a storm hit and his boat got broke, and he couldn’t get back to her.  He let Nim know what happened by hooking up a note on Nim’s bird named Galileo.  While he was gone, they got an email from Alex Rover, who is the author of the adventure books Nim loves.  Having someone to talk to makes Nim feel less alone and happy to have a friend.  When Alex finds out that Nim is alone, she comes to the island immediately, even though it was hard for Alex to even leave her apartment because she’s afraid of everything, even just going outside.

Five things I liked about the book:

  1. I liked Fred, the iguana, best.  He’s so funny.  He always forgets he doesn’t like banana and takes a bite of Nim’s then spits it out and then Nim’s too grossed out to eat the banana. 
  2. The book was funny.  When Fred got mad, he swam down to the bottom of the pool and hid under a rock.
  3. It was cool that they lived on an island.  I’d love to live on an island and swim in the ocean whenever I wanted.  And she didn’t have to sit in a boring classroom for school, but got to sit outside and learn about nature and stars and how to talk to the seals.
  4. It was a short book.
  5. I liked the pictures in the book.

Things I didn’t like:

  • I didn’t like that Nim was left alone.  It’s bad to leave kids alone.  It made me feel sad that she didn’t have anybody to share the coconut pearl with or to comfort her when her knee got hurt. 
  • I didn’t like it when my mom teased me and said she was going to stop in the middle of the storm, in the middle of a sentence.  This is what she did:

“The water was up to Alex’s waist, then her chest, and up to her neck; she was spluttering and ducking, and… “

Okay, time for bed.

I threatened to bite her if she didn’t finish.  She finished.

  • Did I mention I didn’t like writing a review?

I give Nim’s Island by Wendy Orr 4 out of 5 stars.  Okay, that’s all I can think of, so I guess I’m done. 

YAY! I’m FREE!!!!

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I’m counting Nim’s Island by Wendy Orr as part of my We Didn’t Start the Fire Challenge 2010 under “South Pacific”.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

Charlie and the Chocolate FactoryTitle:  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Author:  Roald Dahl

Paperback:  176 pages

Published:  1964

ISBN:  0140328696

acquired:  I bought it at our St. Vincent DePaul thrift store.

Challenges:  Welsh Reading Challenge

“I stood there shouting, ‘Burp, you silly ass, burp, or you’ll never come down again!” -Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, page 112

For me, this was either my second or third reading of Roald Dahl‘s children’s classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  I remember reading it a few years ago with the kids, but I’m not sure if I read it by myself as a kid.  But whatever the number of reads, it is easy to say this book is fantastic fun… especially to read aloud with a child.  As Mags and I read it, we took breaks at the departure of each child to watch the particular scene from the Tim Burton’s movie adaptation (and occasionally from the Gene Wilder version, as well). 

Most people know the basic premise of the story:  Charlie Bucket and his family are very poor, barely having enough money for food, let alone candy.  Little Charlie gets one chocolate bar a year for his birthday, which is falls a few days after Willy Wonka, greatest candy-maker EVER, announces that he has placed a golden ticket in just FIVE of his candies, and these tickets will grant the winning child and up to two parents entry into his mysterious and fantastic factory, as well as a lifetime supply of chocolate.  Charlie and Grandpa Joe hold out hope that they have just as much chance to get a ticket as anyone, and when the first four tickets are found by beastly, spoiled, selfish children, they almost give up.  But then Charlie spots a dollar bill half buried in the snow, and rushes to buy a couple of Wonka’s Whipple Scrumptious Fudgemallow Delights, saving the rest of the money for his family, and finds the ticket in the second bar. 

Roald Dahl creates a world in which children aren’t safe, which I think appeals to kids because they DON’T feel safe.  In their particular position, they’re subject to the whims and fancies of the adults around them and have very little control over their lives.  Readers, particularly young readers, see these over-indulged children who get everything they want which, at first blush, is something most kids would love.  However, as the book progresses, we watch as each child suffers an accident which their own self-centeredness is a direct cause.  Violet rips the meal-in-a-gum from the drawer and chews it, ignoring Wonka’s warnings, and ends up a giant blueberry.  Veruca Salt refuses to take NO for an answer, in fact is inflamed by being told she can’t have one of Wonka’s squirrels, and goes in the nut room to claim one anyone, ending up tossed into the garbage chute by leader of the squirrels who judges her to be a “bad nut”.  In the end it is the considerate and well-behaved Charlie who is rewarded.  Even when Dahl shows the children leaving the factory in one piece, they are still not escaping unscathed, but instead will retain some scarring for the rest of their lives.  Violet, for instance, is still purple, while Mike Teavee has been over-stretched and is now very tall and thin, about whom Wonka makes an almost-callous remark that every basketball team in the country will want him.  I think Charlie and the Chocolate Factory could fit in the fable category, as it is a cautionary tale with a lesson.

The best part of this book, in my opinion, was cuddling up with Maggie, who is ten and won’t let me do this much longer.  She’s in her last semester of Elementary school and will, no doubt, be “too cool” to lay in bed, snuggling and being read to by her mom.  Part of the book was also read at the library, which drew attention from a few people, which gave Mags the chance to tell them about the book.  I will always have warm memories of this book, which was even good enough to draw my 15-year-old into the room for her favorite part, which is the quote I included.  For all these things, and for making me fee like a kid again while reading it, I give Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl 5 out of 5 candy stars :-)

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This book is my first book read for The Welsh Reading Challenge 2010.  Roald Dahl was born in Llandaff, Wales, which is part of the Cardiff cosmopolitan area.  Roald Dahl day is September 13th, his birthday, every year. Check out The Official Roald Dahl website where you can learn more about the author, his books and even play games.  Mags and I did the Wonkanator, a math game, and the “find the differences” game for a while this morning before she left for school, taking the book with her.

Any Given Doomsday by Lori Handeland

The Phoenix Chronicles book 1Title:  Any Given Doomsday

Author:  Lori Handeland

Paperback:  343 pages (ARC)

Published:  2008

ISBN:  9780312949198

Acquired:  Won in the August 2008 batch of the LibraryThing Early Readers Program

Challenges:  The ARC Reading Challenge 2010, New Author Challenge 2010

“You’re telling me the fallen angels are still on earth in the form of demons?”

“In a way.  Ever heard of the Grigori and the Nephilim?”  I shook my head.  “The Grigori were known as the watchers.  They were sent to earth to keep an eye on the humans.  They lusted after them instead and were banished by God to Tartarus, the fiery pit where all divine enemies are thrown.”  He shrugged.  “Basically the lowest, locked level of hell.”

-Any Given Doomsday by Lori Handeland, page 47 (ARC)

Any Given Doomsday by Lori Handeland was massively given out to LibraryThing’s ER program in August of 2008, and I’ve had it on my ARC-alanche pile since then.  It was out of laziness and distraction, but after reading it, I wonder if it was something more.  Maybe I was tapped into the Collective Conciousness and subconsciously knew it was a craptastic book.  Either way, I’m done with it.  Yay!

Oh my god… where do I begin.  Let’s start with the good things about it.  The plot is an interesting concept.  The Nephilim were the biblically mention sons and daughters of the forbidden union between the angels who were suppose to keep an eye on people and those whom they were suppose to watch.  The creation of this new race gave them a variety of supernatural powers and it is they who are the vampires, werewolves, gods, etc of our mythologies.  Opposing them is a federation of good who seek out and destroy the evil Nephilim.  Another thing I liked about the book was the action (not the action, btw) of demon hunting and solving the mystery of who killed Ruthie, everyone’s favorite mentor.

So where does it go wrong? 

There is vulgar and graphic sex scenes that go on for pages.  I’m not a prude, I can enjoy well-written love-making when it’s appropriate to the story, as in Bedlam, Bath and Beyond.  Even more barbaric and twisted sex like in Bentley Little’s The Store is okay, because it was a necessary part of the story.  But what soils the pages of this book is just gaggy.  The first event occurred within the first 50 pages in which the female narrator describes how she wants to give the guy a blow job.  Later she’s date-raped by the guy who’s suppose to be teaching her how to use her powers, then forcibly raped for a few chapters toward the end.  The sex is bestial and perverse, and isn’t gentle “love” until it’s too late.  No, you don’t have your heroine being raped all over the book, then try to slip in some sweet-lovin’ to make the reader forgive the rape.

And it’s not just the whole rape thing, but it’s the way in which it’s shown.  I swear these are straight out of some guy’s rape-fantasy magazine, because as she’s being raped, she reaches orgasm over and over, as if she has to be taken to have pleasure.  And if all that wasn’t enough, you get to the big boss bad guy’s lair and it’s Gor all the way.  Women waiting around wearing nothing but a chain around their waist, desperately hoping to be used next.  It just started turning my stomach after awhile.

Besides the rape and lack of any moral fiber of anyone, good or bad, except Ruthie who dies in the first chapter, there is the way the book is put together.  At times, the writing is less-than-descriptive (which never happens during the porn), events and sections of the story seem thrown together and not woven in well, and it seems like Handeland wanted to make sure to use ever supernatural being anyone has ever heard of, whether it worked or not.  Case in point:  The half-Nephilim (called breeds) who is a werehyena who fights the cougar (in rural WISCONSIN in April) that’s possessed by a chindi (what the hell is that?), but is defeated when it touches the turquoise necklace our heroine just happens to be wearing that was given to her by her “teacher” who is a skinwalker and hates her dhampir ex-boyfirend who turns out to be a dream-walker.  Oh, and the reason he’s an ex is because she had a psychic vision of him screwing a chick who turns out to be a fairy.

Stretch the limits of credulity much?

Yeah, so it’s an easy guess.  Since I did enjoy some parts of this book it’s not a complete hated-it! but I can’t really give it much higher than a 2 out of 5 stars.

Oh yeah, and I got a very strong feeling the two lovers here will turn out to be brother and sister.

Fruits Basket Volume 5 by Natsuki Takaya

Kagura coverTitle:  Fruits Basket, Volume 5

Author:  Natsuki Takaya

Translator:  Althea Nibley

Paperback:  208 pages

Published:  2004

ISBN:  9781591826071

Challenges:  Manga Challenge, What’s In a Name?3 Challenge (food)

In this book we are introduced to Kisa Sohma, who is the tiger.  She enters the story when Tohru and Yuki are walking home and come across a drenched Haru carrying something in a blanket.  The bundle turns out to be a baby tiger, Kisa in animal form, and Tohru squeals “What a cute kitty!” in delight.  The “cute kitty” shows her how much she wants to be around people by chomping down on Tohru’s hand.  As it turns out, Kisa has run away from the Sohma house because she’s being made fun of at school.  She refuses to talk, and bites Tohru every time she tries to comfort her.  But Tohru’s persistance and kindness brings the girl around, and her explosive, “I LOVE YOU!!” accompanied by a warm, long hug turns her into a big sister in Kisa’s eyes.  Tohru’s past healing affection for Yuki, Kyo and Haru move them to compassion for Kisa and help her come out of her shell.

Other things in Fruits Basket, Volume 5 - Ayame… oh, Ayame! makes a visit, much to the consternation of both Kyo and Yuki, the latter telling his older brother he’d rather see him sink to the bottom of the lake than “bond” with him, to which Aaya replies, “I See!  We’ll ALWAYS be together as brothers then!”  LOL.. poor Yuki! 

We meet Megumi, Hanajima’s little brother, when the Prince Yuki Fan Club girls visit “wave girl’s” house in an attempt to find Hanajima’s weakness so they can get her out of the way of their destroying Tohru.  Megumi, like his sister, also has a power.  He can use a person’s name to curse them.  The girls run screaming from the strange siblings house in fear.  It’s also revealed in this scene that Hana has been a bit jealous of the Sohmas for taking Tohru away but, unlike the Fan Club girls, she understands if you love someone, you have to be willing to let them have their own life and other friends and not try to possess them.

Fruits Basket, volume 5 by Natsuki Takaya is one of my favorite Furuba books so far.  The characters are becoming more defined, and she’s relying more on the story and character interactions than on the slapstick shtick of the first couple books.  Not that I don’t find it hilarious when Kyo flies off the handle at Yuki, and I LOVE it when the cat ears and tail come out… Mags and I always giggle about that… but it’s more of a life and friends story that I feel a sense of becoming a part of their world, which always makes the best books, whether they’re regular novels or manga and graphic novels.  *sigh*  I give Fruits Basket, Volume 5 5 out of 5 stars.

Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan

Title:  Of Bees and Mist

Author:  Erick Setiawan

Paperback:  405 (Advaced Reader’s Edition)

Published:  August 2009

ISBN:  9781615233502

Acquired:  Received from Barnes & Noble’s First Look online book club

Challenges:  ARC Reading Challenge 2010, New Author Challenge 2010

“If you have something to say, then say it,” said Meridia.  “I know you’ve been talking to Mama behind my back.”

A smile slow and calculating parted the girl’s lips.  The liveliness in her eyes extended to her mouth, which now took on a delight almost to fiendish for her thirteen years.

“You’re wearing… the necklace Mama gave you.  You wear it three, four times a week.”… Malin’s laugh leapt up with contempt.  “You’re just like the rest of them.  So easily fooled.  When I first met you, I thought you had it in you to stick it to her….  Can’t you see how cheap that necklace is?  I wouldn’t be surprised if she fished it out of  a garbage bin.  And yet you wear it like it’s the most precious thing you own.”

“I wear it because I like it.  Mama was generous enough to give it to me.”

“Have you listened to yourself lately?  Every other sentence you say is ‘ Mama this and Mama that.’  It makes me sick to hear you go on!  Well, she’s not your mother and she never will be.  Why do you bend to her every wish?  Why does everyone?  If you only knew the things she says behind your back.”

 -Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan, pages 128-129

Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan is descibed on the back of the book as an adult fable, and I had to Google “fable” to understand how they could call it this, as my previous understanding of the term was “a short story told for the purpose to entertain an audience while teaching them a life lesson.”  You know, “Moral of the story is…”  But Of Bees and Mist is not a short story, and I’m not exactly sure if it’s got a moral. 

According to Google, there are two specific definitions of “fable” that can apply to this book:

A fable is a succinct story, in prose or verse, that features animals, plants, inanimate objects, or forces of nature which are anthropomorphized.

A story about mythical or supernatural beings or events.

In Of Bees and Mist, Setiawan tells the story of two families of strong matriarchs who are brought together by the marriage of Daniel and Meridia.  Eva, Daniel’s mother, is a larger-than-life personality with poise and charm and sweeps everyone up into the palm of her hand by her charisma.  Once in her grasp, however, she expects them to do her bidding and never argue or suffer the consequences.  She takes particular aim at her own husband, Elias, as well as her youngest daughter, Permony, of whom she has always seen as competition for her husband’s affection.  She continually nags, berates and cajoles them for differing reasons and effects.  With Elias, she peppers him with swarming bees at all hours, particularly at night when he’s trying to rest (she naps during the day so she can keep at him) until he breaks from exhaustion and flies off the handle.  As to Permony, Eva treats her as the whipping girl and gets out her frustration and irritation on the young girl.  When Meridia comes along and takes up Permony’s cause, expresses her own opinion and shows herself to be both beautiful and intelligent, Eva can’t stand it.  She levels her sights to destroy her new daughter-in-law.

The second mother in the equation is Ravenna, who has gained a reputation in their small town as not being quite right in the head.  A great deal of the time, Ravenna lives in her own world, mumbling her own private language to herself while constantly cooking for no one in particular.  She lives her life behind a veil of forgetfulness, hiding from a past no one will talk about.  However, occasionally she finds her way to the surface, and is a force to be reckoned with.  Her essence and spirit has lasting power and Meridia is able to sustain herself in between Ravenna’s moments of sanity.  Whereas Eva has a vile and evil presence that drives people to bitterness and contention, Ravenna has a soothing and calming effect, bringing peace with her and driving out Eva’s bees.  It is between these two women that the battle of Good versus Evil seems to play out.

Along with the bees that pour from Eva’s lips to attack those at whom she directs them, there are other supernatural elements.  There are the three different mists that are characters in their own right in the book.  The white mist that encases the house that Meridia grew up in which keeps it the temperature and hearts within the home cold.  The yellow mist that comes in the evenings to take Gabriel, Meridia’s father, away to his mistress’s house and the blue mist that brings him back in the mornings.  There is a ghost that inhabits the mirrors, as well as fireflies that visit, protect and guide Meridia, and roses and marigolds that seem to war for dominance over Eva’s lawn.  AND, there is Hannah, Meridia’s best friend from childhood, who returns for visits with her as an adult when times are hard for her.  No one ever sees Hannah, but I don’t think she’s Meridia’s imaginary friend.

The worst evil Eva commits is to make a deal with a man whom she knows is wicked to marry her daughter in order to profit monetarily from the match.  Worse yet, when her daughter confesses to discovering the man to be part beast (a pig-man), and to raping young girls in their basement, Eva sends her back to him.  Telling her daughter she doesn’t want a scandal surrounding her name.  For Eva, saving face and her pride are her most precious treasures.

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Honestly, Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan is a complex story with many facets.  One of the things I found most amazing was that Setiawan hung so many guns on every room of a mansion in this book, and fired them all.  There are no strings left untied, everything was used.  Another thing I was impressed by reading Of Bees and Mist is the difference in storytelling between Western and Eastern cultural style.  This book really showed off the Oriental thought process of fluidity, connectivity and moments of experience, whereas in the Occidental custom, storytelling and philosophy is linear and cause-and-effect.  Because of this, Of Bees and Mist doesn’t follow the “this-then that-then that happened” but was more like friezes in the lives of the characters within, with the balance of their lives being weighed out in the end.

I may re-read this book later… I haven’t decided.  There were just so many aspects of the story that I think I’d could still get more out of it.  Overall, Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan is a fantastic story that sweeps the reader along.  I was surprised how much time and pages went by as I read.  Though I’m not exactly sure why I’m not giving this a 5 out of 5, it’s still a great book, and so I’m giving it 4 1/2 out of 5 stars.

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