Book 6 for 2009: Ghost Soldiers by Hampton Sides

This is by far one of the best books I've read in a long time, not to mention one of the best history books I've ever read. I'm rating it 4.5 out of 5 stars, and the only reason I can't give it a full 5 stars is because in writing this book, the author did tend to jump back and forth between the stories of the prisoners of Cabanatuan Camp in the Philippines and the stories of the Army Rangers who rescued them, while also throwing in asides about other people (for instance, "High Pockets" a female American spy, and the prisoners of Puerto Princesa camp), without warning. There were a couple of times when I had to go back to figure out where he was at that moment, which can get a bit frustrating when a story is so good as to make you want to keep moving forward without putting it down!

Having been a history major in college, I have read my fair share of history textbooks, research books, articles, historical fiction, etc., and as I mentioned above, this is by far one of the best history books I've ever read. It seems obvious to me that Mr. Sides did his research, and the fact that he wrote this book "for the masses", if you will, doesn't bother me at all. I've had my fair share of dry history textbooks/research books/articles and this book was a breath of fresh air. There is a quote from a New York Times review on the front of my copy, and it says "Riveting and patriotically stirring"--I simply couldn't put it better than that.

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Book 5 for 2009: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

I am absolutely torn as to how to rate this book.

On one part, I feel awful about giving it a BAD rating, because it is a classic novel with an impeccably clean story.

On the other hand, I can't bring myself to give it a GOOD rating, because the whole thing read like a Puritanical rant.

Therefore, I think I will go with a 2.5 out of 5 star rating.

I feel that Ms. Alcott said it best in the following quote: "'You said, mother, that criticism would help me; but how can it, when it's so contradictory that I don't know whether I've written a promising book or broken all the Ten Commandments?...This man says, "An exquisite book, full of truth, beauty, and earnestness; all is sweet, pure, and healthy"...The next, "The theory of the book is bad, full of morbid fantasies, spiritualistic ideas, and unnatural characters."'"

As this quote was found in Part 2 of the book, which was written some years after Part 1 was published, I can only assume that the quote itself reflects real criticism that Ms. Alcott received for Part 1 of Little Women and reiterate that "I couldn't have said it better myself."

Of course, all of this is coming from one who is long past childhood and young adulthood and therefore somewhat jaded in both spiritual and relationship matters, and as this book is basically the epitome of happy endings and moral tirades, I just could not bring myself to enjoy it as much as I may have 10-15 years ago.

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Book 4 for 2009: Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk

Although this is only my second Palahniuk experience, I can already see a pattern emerging with his books. The writing style and general progression of invisible Monsters were very similar to Lullaby, but I have to say that this book seemed a bit more all over the place and disjointed. Also, I do not feel the characters in this novel were very well-developed, and it bothered me at how "perfectly" (I use this term lightly, and if you've read this book, or end up reading it, you'll see why) everything came together in the end. That, and I'm not sure Palahniuk really knows much about women, and any women who reads this book all the way through and sees what happens toward the end would probably agree. Therefore, I give Invisible Monsters 3.5 out of 5 stars.

I do have to say that Palahniuk was certainly able to surprise me with some of his revelations toward the end of the book, and I do enjoy his writing style, but this one simply didn't live up to Lullaby.

As always, some good quotes:

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Book 3 for 2009: The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are by Alan Watts

I'm going to keep this as short and sweet as possible, because I simply did not care for and do not recommend this book. Having read numerous books both during and after college on many different religions and life philosophies, this is possibly the worst of any "Religion and Philosophy" book I have ever read. I give it 1 out of 5 stars simply because I will admit that here and there Watts makes a generally "good" point; however, these were few and far between and therefore simply not enough to redeem the quality of "The Book" as a whole.

First of all, I read this book twice, back-to-back, in hopes that maybe I was just missing something, but in the end, I can only conclude that it reads like some sort of drug-induced high-and-mighty take on how much better it is to live as if you are everything and everything is you. What frustrated me the most is that Watts started off by basically saying how all religions (not just Christianity or Judaism, but ALL religions) are bad..then, 18 pages or so later, starts talking about Vedanta and how amazing and perfect it is. Now, I understand that Vedanta is more of a philosophy than a religion, but at the same time, Vedanta does not REJECT religion, so I feel as if Watts is contradicting himself here. Even more annoying is the fact that after a few pages of gushing about Vedanta, Watts moves on to other things and barely ever mentions it again throughout the rest of the book, leaving me wondering why he brought it up in the first place.

This is not the only time Watts contradicted himself in his diatribe on why everything we have ever been told is awful and wrong--for instance, he makes a big long statement about a rainbow only appearing when there is a "certain triangular relationship between three components: the sun, moisture in the atmosphere, and an observer. If all three are present, and if the angular relationship between them is correct, then, and then only, will there be the phenomenon 'rainbow'." Now, I understood the point Watts was trying to make, but if a person isn't there to SEE the rainbow, it does still exist, i.e. the old adage "if a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, does it still make a sound?" Yes, yes it does! The thing is, I could even overlook this whole passage, except that later on in "The Book", Watts makes the statement, "So--there has been a flash, a flash of consciousness or a flash of galaxies. It happened. Even if there is no one left to remember." I understand I'm being a bit nitpicky here, but I'm one to pay attention to details, and regardless of the slightly different wording, this direclty contradicts his earlier statement about a person having to be present in order for a rainbow to exist.

"The Book" was simply all over the place. I never felt as if Watts figures out what HE really believes. He's back and forth and left and right, hence my statement that this work reads like a drug-induced frenzy of bad 1960s "philosophies".

Honestly, I feel bad for this guy's children. If he is this preachy in a published book about his personal philosophies I can only imagine what kind of ordeal their childhood was growing up with such a father. And this is coming from a girl who grew up with a self-righteous Baptist for a father and therefore has major issues with what would be considered her own "religion".

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Book 2 for 2009: Katherine by Anya Seton

I had heard a lot of great things about Anya Seton's novel Katherine, which is about the famous medieval romance between Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. Having read it, I would suggest that if one is a voracious reader of historical pseudo-non-fiction (my term for books based on stories that happened so long ago, no one can ever truly know what was going through the characters' heads and therefore these books are merely BASED on reality, not a great picture of it), it's a good novel to experience. However, if you're not big on historical pseudo-non-fiction (or even historical fiction) in general...I probably wouldn't recommend it.

Overall, I would say this book rates 3.5 out of 5 stars. It was extremely well-researched and probably as historically accurate as Ms. Seton could possibly make it. That said--the author tends to go into excruciating detail about even the least important of things. Also, I was under the impression that Katherine Swynford was very influential politically when she was involved with John of Gaunt. Basically, that she was a woman far ahead of her time. If that was the case, Ms. Swynford does a terrible job of portraying Katherine's character. She does a much better job with other, more minor, characters, such as Geoffrey Chaucer and King Richard II.

I was also left feeling a little lost at the ending. The book really rushes through the beginning of Katherine's story, as she enters court and is married to Hugh Swynford, draws out her time as mistress to John of Gaunt and the story of what happens to her just after their separation, and then rushes to an ending. The little "epilogue" left much unsaid and I would rather have read 50 or even 100 more pages of an actual story than be left with such an unsatisfying ending.

This book did, however, produce some interesting quotes:

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Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk

First of all, I am so happy to have discovered Palahniuk! Thanks to my wonderful boyfriend for that :o) This was the first time in a long time that I picked up a book and literally did not want to put it down, and for that, this novel gets 4.5 out of 5 stars on my stupid rating scale.

The main thing that I enjoyed about this book was that it kept me guessing. Even when I finally thought I had figured everything out, Palahniuk through in a twist that made me second-guess myself...can't beat that! Also, it kept me thinking, even about things he only mentioned in passing, and again, it has been a long time since I've picked up a book that could do that for me. Finally, I truly enjoyed Palahniuk's writing style--he writes like people think, a bit disjointed but easy to understand.

All in all, this was a quick read. If you're squeamish I probably wouldn't be so inclined to highly suggest it, hence the 4.5 stars (instead of 5), but otherwise, this is one of the best books I've read in a very, very long time!

Quotes that caught my eye:

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I really am going to try to update this more often...

Here is a little review on All He Ever Wanted by Anita Shreve. All of my reviews come complete with a one to five star rating, and I am giving this novel 2 out of 5 stars...and so, without further ado:

Having always had a good opinion of Anita Shreve's writing style (if not all of her stories--for instance, I loved A Wedding in December and Fortune's Rocks but was only mildly pleased by Sea Glass), I thought that this novel looked extremely promising. Unfortunately, I simply could not get into this story. Not one of the characters was likeable and everything was so predictable that I was ready to give up on finishing this book before I reached the halfway point.

The one redeeming quality of this novel--and the reason I gave it two stars instead of one--is how well Ms. Shreve was able to write from the perspective of a man, particularly a man such as Nicholas Van Tassel--stuffy, priggish, and a bit of a monster in the end.

If you are a Shreve fan, I would say to give this one a try--but if not, the novels I mentioned above are a bit more accessible and entertaining than this one was.

A good quote from this novel: "'The heart may love, but the mind does not,' I said fatuously. "The heart has no mind, and the mind has no heart. They are two separate organs, often at war with each other.'"

I also like expanding my vocabulary through reading, and one word that stuck out that I actually looked up in order to better understand was "prurient: marked by or arousing an immoderate or unwholesome interest or desire; especially marked by, arousing, or appealing to sexual desire."


books for 2nd grader

I just agreed to start tutoring my friend's 2nd grade sister in reading. I've only taught secondary English but I know I can handle this - I just need a little guidance with materials. She is going to be repeating the year due to her poor reading skills. He says that she loves fantastical stories...especially "princess" stuff.

Can anyone recommend good books for the 2nd grade level that might catch her interest? Anything romantic/fantasy would be good. Also, I feel it's my duty as a role model to introduce her to stories with stronger heroines that aren't always the typical "damsel in distress" which I think sends a horrible message to little girls if that's all they are exposed to (and my friend agrees). I know if it has the fantasy elements she likes she would still like stronger heroines since she refused to leave the room when her brother saw the japanese anime "Revolutionary Girl Utena" which turns the typical fairy tale upside down.

Please post your suggestions ASAP so I can start collecting books!!!


Well well well...(a few reviews)

Your friendly moderator moved and forgot about this community. But I'm back with a vengeance and hope to hear from some of you! At this point, I have been regularly reviewing books on, so I'm just going to start posting past reviews that I wrote for that site. I know the star ratings are cliche but I always feel it's good to help people avoid bad books and hear about good ones! Therefore, I will TRY to remember to post a few reviews at a time on a regular basis ;o) and please please PLEASE if you have read anything good lately...tell us about it! That goes for anything we should avoid, as well...

So without further adieu...

The Princes of Ireland: The Dublin Saga by Edward Rutherfurd (4 *)
I both like and dislike Rutherfurd's style. Having read The Forest, which was decent but not one of my favorite historical novels, I was concerned about Rutherfurd taking on the sweeping history of Ireland, one of my favorite countries. I have to say, however, that he did a wonderful job--he included many things I have studied as well as many things that I had never heard of before. The one complaint I have is that it seemed like whenever I got to the point where I wanted to know more about the characters, he moved tens or even hundreds of years into the future, leaving me just a bit disappointed that I did not hear the whole of said characters' stories. I understood from reading The Forest that this was his writing style, but at the same time, that is the reason I could not give this novel five stars.

The Rebels of Ireland: The Dublin Saga by Edward Rutherfurd (4 *)
I liked the prequel to this novel, but I have to say that I enjoyed this one much more. The one major complaint I had about "Princes of Ireland" was that it would draw the reader in to caring about a particular character or group of characters, and then jump far in the future, many times leaving the character or characters' stories unfinished. Perhaps because "Rebels" covered a more brief period of Ireland's history, Rutherfurd did not abandon so many of his characters so quickly, which I was very happy with. This novel, and its prequel, are great for anyone with a love of Ireland and its history! I only wish that "Rebels" had covered more of the events that happened in the 1850-1900 years, because those are the decades I personally am most interested in. 

The Genesis Code by John Case (3.5 *)
I have mixed feelings about this book. As a thriller, it was good--definitely kept me on the edge of my seat. It's not so much of a "whodunnit" storyline, but a "WHY was it done" storyline, and that was an interesting change from the few thriller/mystery novels I have read in the past. When I finally figured out the WHY, I was shocked, because although it is a little leaves you wondering, "what if?"
Some of the narration, mind you, dragged me down a bit. I just don't think that Joe Lassiter's past love life factors into the story, and yet the author keeps bringing it up. That, and there are certain things (including the main secret) that the reader will figure out long before Lassiter ever does, which gets a little frustrating. Still, if you're a big thriller/mystery fan, or if you enjoyed Dan Brown's books, you will like this one!

The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber (3 *)
I was engrossed with this book from the minute I picked it up. I loved Faber's style, I liked the fact that the novel was billed as a "Victorian epic" while still being fairly modern in other aspects, I believed that this novel had taken Faber twenty years to write. So I rushed toward the ending, wanting more than anything to know what would happen to the prostitute Sugar, the poor sickly wife Agnes, the rotund stressed-out businessman William, the quiet and obedient daughter Sophie...and...NOTHING. The novel simply ended, with no apologies for its abruptness, and I felt cheated. I don't require a happy ending to enjoy a book, or even a completely wrapped-up ending, but I feel that this book did not have an ending at all. Disappointing, to say the least, because the rest of the novel was exemplary.

Sorry I'm such a sucky moderator.

I have been crazy busy lately but at least I have time to read on my breaks at work. My current favorites are:

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series (I spent years making fun of this, then finally saw the movie, decided to read the 2nd book, and was hooked)...and Smashed by Koren Zailckis (sp?).

Avoid the Canaan trilogy by Marek Halter. Well, the first book, Sarah, was decent, but the second and third books sucked.

Anyone have any new reviews? I'm currently reading The Princes of Ireland by Edward Rutherfurd...and I have a handful to read when I'm done with this one as well ;o)