4
Dec

Review: Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea

   Posted by: Garrett   in Path

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was another book club selection. I wouldn’t have chosen this on my own, but I definitely found value in the book and content. I’m glad that I read it.

This book tells the stories of various refugees from North Korea(they are considered traitors by their country). The book aims to give details about what life is like in North Korea for ordinary people.

I found it slow going at first – I think this has to do more with the distant, newspaper-writing style that the author uses (she is a journalist, after all). But about half-way through, I was definitely drawn in and read it much more quickly.

The stories are interesting and heart-breaking and it is easy to see why Kim Il-sung (and now his son, Kim Jong-il) was so successful at keeping the country from revolting against the horrible conditions and the greed and warmongering of their leaders. In a way, it is genius (albeit evil).

Towards the end, as it shared the stories of how people fled over the border and the treatment they got from their northern neighbors (China), it made me feel sad. At times, China just ignored them. Other times, they deported them back to North Korea in some sort of political face-saving move. And other times they exploited them.

It reminds me of the illegal immigration issue that the United States is trying to deal with. I hope that we can work on it with much more compassion and mercy than our Chinese counterparts have done and are doing.



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17
Nov

Review: The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America

   Posted by: Garrett   in Path

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The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America
The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America by Bill Bryson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Just finished reading this (a month late) book. It was a book club selection. The person who picked it apologized profusely at the book club meeting because Bryson’s “books are usually really good.”

I did find it tough to get through. I think the biggest problem is that the laughs were often forced. It just was not very funny to me. In fact, the humor came at the expense of the author for me. Instead of looking for the good in the places he visited, he usually only noticed the bad and made fun of it. Like a snobby tourist (ironically, he made fun of them too).

He had some interesting insights and I thought it would be amazing to travel the country like he did. It would have been even better if he would have visited all lower 48 states.

All in all, it was interesting and I might just read another of his books just to see if this one really was his worst one!



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4
Sep

Review: The Giver

   Posted by: Garrett   in Path

The Giver
The Giver by Lois Lowry

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another book club read. This one was a quick, easy read. I finished it in one night.

I hadn’t heard anything about this one either – except that it was going to be a movie.

Turns out that it is another dystopian novel. It is quite similar in story to Divergent, and even to the Maze Runner (although only tangentially there).

I did enjoy it (although not as much as Divergent), and I’m intrigued that it has received so many awards.

Setting: The story is set somewhere in the US. In a small town that has secluded itself from other towns and areas. Everyone has a job and is given a job when they turn 12. The job is supposed to fit them perfectly. In any case, there is not much information given about the area so it feels bland and unobtrusive. We do learn that the weather is always nice and has been so for a long time. The town keeps everyone in the dark about history and bad things.

Plot: The plot is that a 12 year old boy is asked to be the new “memory” for the town. He becomes the receiver of all good and bad memories (from the Giver) so that the rest of the town doesn’t have to have them because they want everything calm and controlled. But, as he learns the “truth” about his town and their way of life, his perceptions and morals change.

Characters: Jonas is the main character, although the title character is also prominent since he is giving the memories to Jonas. At first, all the characters seem likeable and pleasant, but as we get to know them, we see that they are all rather flat. This is not bad in this case, because that is what the author is going for. Jonas has some genetic or special gift that they don’t have that makes him able to receive the memories. We learn much about his thoughts and feelings throughout the book.

Conflict: The main conflict is with Jonas trying to figure out what it all means. This is more an “idea” story, so conflict and character are not really that prominent or important compared to the “message” being given. It seemed all a bit too heavy-handed to me, which is why I’m so surprised it earned a Newberry award.

Text: The writing is actually well-done for the effect that is being created – especially with word choice that makes everything seem calm and nice. There is an abundance of oxymorons and softening language to belie the depth of the darkness that lives in the story.



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4
Sep

Review: Fahrenheit 451

   Posted by: Garrett   in Path

Fahrenheit 451
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Somehow I made it through school without ever having had to read this book. But, I have been wanting to, so when my book club at work asked me for a recommendation – this one came to mind.

I really had no idea what to expect – except something about fire. I didn’t even know about the theme it had of book burning. SO, in some ways it was appropriate since the book club recently read The Book Thief.

Anyway, I thought it was an interesting book. It was complex like most older literature, so it took me longer to get through than I’d like. However, I did also take the time to read all the Appendix content of reviews and analyses of the book and its impact on the culture of the time. All very interesting.

I don’t know that it is my favorite book ever. Nor did it have a major impact on me. But, I’ve read lots of dystopian lit and I already believe that reading is important.

I did think his “future” was eerily accurate with the large screen TVs, immersive programming, and people who have headphones in ALL THE TIME!



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19
Aug

Review: Divergent

   Posted by: Garrett   in Path

Divergent
Divergent by Veronica Roth

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I actually read this one very quickly (before I had seen the movie, by the way) because it was a fun read and very engaging.

I won’t go into my normal specifics because I read this over a month ago, but I did enjoy it and I highly recommend it.



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The Loyal Lieutenant: Leading Out Lance and Pushing Through the Pain on the Rocky Road to Paris
The Loyal Lieutenant: Leading Out Lance and Pushing Through the Pain on the Rocky Road to Paris by George Hincapie

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After finishing Lance Armstrong’s biography, my friend lent me this one to get another perspective on biking and doping and Lance. He warned me that I might feel “dirty” after reading this.

I don’t know that I necessarily felt dirty though. But that is probably because this was not written like a normal autobiography. There were pull-out quotes from other people about how awesome George was (which was a little strange, but acceptable). The worst thing is that it read like a travelog. There was rarely any emotion expressed or any indication of thoughts. It was just, “we went here and we did this, then we went there and did that.” It made for very dry reading. It also made it seem like George was trying to hide information, which is probably where the “dirty” feeling came from.

I hadn’t really thought about the roles played by a team’s support to the big name, so it was interesting to read a little bit about how that worked.




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30
Jun

Review: The Cuckoo’s Calling

   Posted by: Garrett   in Path

The Cuckoo's Calling
The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a bookclub pick. I don’t know that I would have picked it up otherwise. Galbraith is the pseudonym for J.K. Rowling, so perhaps I would have eventually.

It is a little hard to go into this without expecting another Harry Potter book (probably why she used a pseudonym), but I didn’t know anything about the book or the story before.

It was an interesting story and a fairly good first foray into mystery writing. There were a couple problems with style and plot that kept this from getting all 5 stars for me, but I still recommend it if you like mysteries and don’t mind A LOT of swearing.

The story is about the supposed suicide of a high-profile model. Her brother doesn’t believe it though, and hires a private detective, Cormoran Strike, to investigate it more fully.

Setting: The setting is basically present-day London. A lot of the story feels like it takes place in various bars (pubs) around the city. The author doesn’t really spend a lot of time on details of place – there is enough to know where you are and to keep things organized, but since I don’t know the city, I wasn’t sure what any of it meant. There are details given about the murder/suicide scene and surrounding area so as to help us learn what happened along with the PI, Cormoran Strike.

Characters: Cormoran Strike is a great character and we get to know lots about him. He is proud and fierce and insightful. He lost a leg in the war and wears a prosthesis, but he works hard at not letting anyone know. He was in a close relationship with a very beautiful lady but ends it at the start of the novel. He had a friendship with a family member of the model (he had also apparently committed suicide many years earlier), so that is part of the reason he is brought into this.

There is his temp secretary, Robin, who grows to like the job and the excitement more and more, straining her relationship with her fiance.

There are all the other characters and suspects who Strike interviews and gets information from. Some of them seem more like personas rather than real people, but there are some interesting ones here.

Plot: Lulu Landry, a popular model, seems to have jumped to her death. Her brother (she was adopted) is a member of a wealthy family and does not believe it was suicide. Strike takes the case and tries to track down the killer or to prove that it was suicide. There are some twists and turns with trying to get people to talk and with one person turning up dead. There are some other minor plot lines with Strike and his ex, and with Robin and her job and her fiance, but the main focus is on the case. This is where the book falls short a bit for me, though. Part of the fun of a mystery is figuring out (along with or shortly after the main character) who did it and why. But it remains fairly hidden until the very end. Part of this is because the author chooses to not tell us even though we are in the main character’s head. POV needs to be handled much better for a mystery for me to accept the artifice of uncovering “the truth” about something and treading the thin line between suspense and obvious.

Conflict: This is conflict here. Most of it revolves around getting people to share what they know and figuring out what it all means. Towards the end, the conflict is ramped up with the threat of death after someone close to Lulu ends up dead.

Text: It is easy to tell that Rowling has gotten so big that either she ignores her editors or they treat her with white kid gloves, because she is still using “said-isms” and way too many adverbs for a book that is not a YA novel. That said, the writing flows well and the interactions and dialogue are written well. There is a lot of swearing, which may turn off some readers.



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30
Jun

Review: Cycle of Lies: The Fall of Lance Armstrong

   Posted by: Garrett   in Path

Cycle of Lies: The Fall of Lance Armstrong
Cycle of Lies: The Fall of Lance Armstrong by Juliet Macur

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A coworker who is also a biker lent this book to me.

I had heard of the whole doping scandal and I also assumed that it was a bit of a witchhunt because I bet everyone in the sport was doing it, so they should strip everyone of their medals.

What I didn’t know was how much of a mafia boss Armstrong was with the whole thing and what a bully and jerk he is in general.

Along with a lot of America, I was taken in by the whole cancer survivor who comes back to race thing.

This was an interesting and enlightening read, to say the least.



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5
May

Review: The Sweetest Hallelujah

   Posted by: Garrett   in Path

The Sweetest Hallelujah
The Sweetest Hallelujah by Elaine Hussey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I didn’t really like my bookclub’s last pick, so I was dreading reading this one.

However, I was hooked within the first couple of pages!

This is the story of a little black girl, Billie, whose single mother is dying from cancer (most people would say the story is about the mother, Betty Jewel, but the whole story revolves around Billie, so I see it a little differently). The year is 1955 and the place is the South; so racial tensions are very high.

Billie’s mother places an ad in the paper for someone to take care of Billie, and that is where the fun starts.

We get to know Cassie Malone, a stalwart and rich white widow, who sees the ad and goes to investigate (she is a sometime reporter for a local paper).

The story revolves around Billie, Betty Jewel, Cassie, and a host of friends and family and their love for each other and for Billie.

The writing was wonderfully clear and evocative of southern charm and manners. It was a heart-rending story, and the author did not shy away from the difficulties of that era in the South, which was brilliantly and lovingly handled.



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The One-Eyed Man: A Fugue, with Winds and Accompaniment
The One-Eyed Man: A Fugue, with Winds and Accompaniment by L.E. Modesitt Jr.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I picked up this book because it was recommended by the author as a good book to start with (I thought that I had not yet read anything by L.E.). I had forgotten that I had read another book of his before – Flash – which I had liked. I also have the Magic of Recluse books on my list of “to buy” books for the future some time. I’m interested to see where L.E. takes me with his fantasy as compared to what I’ve sampled of his SciFi.

This book reminded me a lot of the Elijah Bailey (Robot) books by Asimov. It had that same outsider feel with strange environments and the same mysterious/dangerous elements of people trying to stop the main character from discovering the truth.

The main character, Paulo, also reminds me a lot of Elijah. He is smart, good at hand-to-hand combat, and has knack for asking the right questions. He was as fun to get to know as Elijah was.

The main plot revolves around Paulo’s assignment to do a study on ecological impacts in relation to the planet Stittara. The problem is that the planet is the source of products that give youth and health to everyone. What if he finds something that will ruin that? And why does the government have to send him in the first place when they will be out of power by the time he arrives? There is a strange struggle between those who live on the land and those who live beneath it. And, of course, Paulo’s conflicts with the companies with offices on the planet and some of their work.

There are lots of twists and turns in this book, which makes it an interesting read. There were lots of details about space and ecology that also made me feel smarter after reading it – which is a bonus in my opinion.




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