Friday, December 24, 2010

Crazy Wisdom by Chögyam Trungpa

Rating 4/5

This book helped me finally understand the attraction of Tibetan Buddhism. I have always preferred the simplicity and directness of approaches like Zen; have felt like there were so many bells & whistles in Vadjrana that they get in the way. Now I get why they are used - to create "sudden" awakening. I still don't know if it's the best approach for me, but I found Chogyam Trungpa's talks in this book deepened my understanding of the lineage. I found his explanation of hopelessness gave me a lot more insight than did his student Pema Chodron's. I will continue to read more of his books.

Monday, December 6, 2010

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

Rating 4/5

I've read plenty of horror stories before, but never one without a supernatural element. This book wasn't meant to be shelved alongside Stephen King, but it may have just as many shudders per-capita than anything by the Master. Lionel Shriver says she's "a sucker for ambivalence" and that is just what you get from We Need To Talk About Kevin. Ambivalence in the protagonist, and ambivalence as a reader. It is scathing and epically tragic. I took off a star because of how many times I wondered why Eva didn't DO anything about what was going on - why didn't she send Kevin to a psychologist? Why didn't she try to prove to her husband how Kevin was duping him and torturing her? Why didn't she just run away? This last question was briefly addressed, but... I don't know. If it were me, I would've been doing these things, something, anything, and the fact that she didn't was infuriating.

Shriver has an amazing vocabulary and writing style. She draws out the story with just the right amount of mystery and suspense. It was not an easy read - each time I picked it up (including the first time), it took awhile to get back into the story. I almost gave up on page 20, but thankfully stuck it out. Once you get going, it's almost impossible to put down.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America by Robert Whitaker

Rating 4/5

This book should be required reading for everyone with a prescription pad, and everyone even contemplating being on the receiving end of a psychiatric prescription. Society at large and especially those of us in the mental health system have been lied to and duped into taking drugs that can and do turn a single episode into chronic, disabling illness.

I was skeptical when I picked up this book. Part of me expected a hysterical tirade a la an irate Scientologist. Instead I found a meticulously researched, heavily referenced and calmly reasoned expose of the psychiatric industry's self-salvation, at the expense of millions of already suffering and marginalized people. It's a travesty and an outrage. This is a book of vast importance, and I wish I could buy a copy for every doctor and fellow patient I've come across during my nearly twenty year journey as a psychiatric "consumer". It will change your mind about everything you've been told about psychopharmacology.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Ark by Boyd Morrison

Rating 2/5

Written like an action movie, a mediocre one at best. I picked this up because of the Ark archeology, but there wasn't much in there. Most of it was engineering, weapons, military stuff...definitely a "guy" book. Not to say I ever read chick-lit (no offense to those who do) - I prefer books that both genders can relate to. I couldn't relate to anything in this book, really. I wouldn't recommend anyone waste their time with this book, unless it's very much up their alley and they can't find anything better to read. So unless you are a guy stuck in a cabin with nothing but a copy of this book...

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Waking the Witch (Women of the Otherworld, #11) by Kelley Armstrong

Rating: 3.5/5

I enjoyed this more than I expected. Usually in Armstrong's witchy books there's Cabal involvement, which I don't like, but there was none in this book - bonus! The mystery was great, full of twists & turns. Not much character development or emotion, tho, just a smattering here & there. I like Armstrong's other characters (werewolves/Jaimie) much more because of their emotional intensity.

When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chödrön

Rating 3/5

I had some strong emotional reactions to this book, notably resistance to tonglen practice. Which is worth exploring, obviously. I think part of it is the fact that since I have a chronic pain condition, the idea of breathing in even more suffering seems like masochism, even though intellectually I understand why/how it works paradoxically. Maybe I'm just not ready for that teaching yet. Chodron talks a lot about meditation, which I'm unable to do because of the pain I'm in - it's so uncomfortable, it also feels like masochism. Maybe I'm just not facing up to it, but I don't think torturing myself is the way to go. So there wasn't as much in this book for me as I hoped there would be. I'm much more amenable to mindfulness and philosophy as opposed to sitting meditation. But I have great respect for Chodron as a person and a Buddhist, and anything she has to say is worth a read. Perhaps one day I will be able to come back to this book and have it be more helpful.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Betrayal of Love and Freedom by Paul Huljich

Rating 1/5

Alright, I just can't take anymore. I've never read a book so in need of an editor in my life. The author apparently has such a low opinion of his reader that everything has to be spelled out - blatantly and repeatedly. There is absolutely no subtlety here. There are phrases so melodramatic they'll make your eyes roll, and paragraphs so dry you imagine the author intended to come back and polish them up later. This book reads like an unaltered first draft - punctation and spelling mistakes included. And it's a shame, because the story had some potential. Unfortunately that potential blew away in the author's long-windedness and histrionics.

Note: I won this book in the Goodreads First Reads giveaway, which had no influence over my rating or review. Obviously.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Clockwork Angel (The Infernal Devices, #1) by Cassandra Clare

Rating 2/5

Meh. The first half was really boring, but it picked up after that. The characters seemed rather lifeless caricatures, especially Jessamine and Henry. The protagonist, Tessa, was inconsistent -she had all these ideas about what was proper, and her inner thoughts seemed those of a timid, proper girl, but her dialogue was at odds with this. All the characters seemed to be stereotypes to which the author half-heartedly added a bit of mysterious past in order to give them more depth, without much success. The plot was rather murky. I really enjoyed The Mortal Instruments series, so I found this book to be quite disappointing. It feels like the author's heart wasn't really in it.

See my reviews of Clockwork Prince (#2) and Clockwork Princess (#3)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers by Toni Bernhard

Rating 3/5

I have mixed feelings about this book. When I saw it at Chapters, I thought, well hey, here's a book written just for me - a chronically ill Buddhist. Just like the author. Except my situation isn't like the author's - she's older, had a good career and a family before she got sick, and has a very supportive husband. I'm on my own, without having done much of anything. Still, I found much to think about in this book. It's a little more simple than I like my Buddhism, but there were ideas I hadn't studied or thought about in relation to my illness. Each chapter was short and to the point, and I read a couple of chapters a day. Reading anything about Buddhism always makes me feel emotionally calmer (unless I'm triggered/resisting - then I get angry - my issue), and it was educational to read exactly how the author uses Buddhist practices to relieve her own suffering - not the physical symptoms, but the emotional ones that make having a chronic illness potentially devastating and seriously depressing. I will be revisiting this book and exploring the techniques she uses to help her cope. An important book for anyone with chronic illness.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Dracula, My Love: The Secret Journals of Mina Harker by Syrie James

Rating 1/5

Don't read this. Read Dracula In Love by Karen Essex instead. Syrie James has succeeded in turning every character from Stoker's original into a total idiot - especially Mina, and even Dracula. This may be the most trite, insubstantial, obvious and unoriginal book I've ever read. Much of it was ridiculous, and I literally rolled my eyes several times. I suppose if I'd never read Dracula, it might have been bearable, but besides the character names and certain events, it has nothing in common with the original. James has killed this story and resurrected it as a brainless zombie. And did I mention it was ridiculous?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Rating: 2.5/5

I honestly don't know how to rate this book. I could give it 5 stars for originality and creativity, or 1 star for how little I cared about any of the characters. Parts of it made me slightly nauseous, and most of it made me impatient. The many, many references to other works (of literature and art, I think) are alienating to the reader, unless that reader happens to have Masters degrees in those subjects. Nabokov has an interesting grasp of the English language, and he pretty much uses every word in the dictionary. He paints a very vivid portrait of obsession, and I can appreciate why this book is a classic, but in truth I didn't really like it. Everybody in it was despicable to me, including (after awhile) Lolita.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Fanny Hill, or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure by John Cleland

Rating 3.5/5

I've seen reviews of this book in which it is described as porn, smut, and/or as having no plot. None of this is true. It's a coming of age story and an exploration of sexuality. Cleland deserves some sort of award for writing a book almost entirely about sex without using a single "dirty" word - although some of his metaphors are extremely amusing. My personal favourite is "oily balsamic injection". Fanny is an interestingly delightful character. However, I thought it completely unrealistic that Fanny was so enamoured with the appearance of men's testicles. In reality, women do not admire that particular body part - it is of no use to us (unless we are trying to get pregnant or want to hurt a man badly!), and it looks, at the very least, ridiculous. Nature should have made sperm hearty enough to survive a man's internal body temperature. Just sayin.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Rating: 2.5/5

This book has some merits, but it took all my patience to get through it. There was about 100 pages in the middle that I found myself actually very interested, but the rest was quite tiresome. To be fair, I am not a fan of the mystery genre, but I actually didn't know this was a mystery until I began reading it. I'd just heard all the hype and figured it was a must read. It's not. The original Swedish title for this book is Men Who Hate Women, and while that's not a very good title, it's more appropriate than The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Lisbeth is an interesting character and has a big role to play, but the book isn't really about her. Which is disappointing. The Swedish family in this story is also interesting, and pretty much the only reason I kept reading this book. However, I was disappointed with how it turned out. Maybe it was all the hype, but I was expecting something much more unusual than what actually happened. I don't know how things are in Sweden, but in North America we are so addicted to crazy crime stories on television, movies and books that nothing can really shock me anymore. So the "whodunit" of this book was a real let down. So, I'll give this book 3 stars for its interesting bits, but overall I have to say I was very disappointed.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Rating 4/5

I enjoyed this book very much and will definitely read the next in the series. There were a few things that stretched my sense of credibility, though being a fan of scifi, the time travelling wasn't one of them. It was some of claire's decisions - like choosing to remain in dirty, cold and smelly 1743 where people were trying to kill her rather than go back to a great life in the future; not to mention quickly forgiving and continuing to respect a man who had enjoyed lashing her nearly to death with his belt. I'm a (closet) romantic, but even to me love seems a poor excuse for these things. Moreover, these decisions don't fit with her practical, headstrong character. But I admit her doing otherwise wouldve completely ruined the story. I did think at one point maybe she'd go through the stones again and find herself another 200 years into the past, which would have changed but not necessarily ruined the story. Anyway, I found the story as it was fast paced and rather action packed. I had absolutely no interest in the history of the period in Scotland, but she managed to make it compelling for me.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Ender's Game (Ender's Saga, #1) by Orson Scott Card

Rating 3.5/5

I'm not quite sure how to rate this book yet. I'm leaning towards 3.5 stars. I was irked in the middle section of the book, when Ender was in Battle school. In the introduction, Card says the Battle Room was his "great idea", and while I think that zero-G laser tag sounds like fun, I can't see what practical use that kind of training could possibly have in real war situations. There was no infantry battles in the final war, let alone in zero gravity, and the idea that there could be seems to me absurd. Thus, the battle school training really bothered me since it seemed like there was little reason for it except as a literary device and Card's love of the idea. But once Ender was out of battle school I enjoyed the book much more.

Ender's Saga Reviews:

Ender's Game (#1)
Speaker for the Dead (#2)
Xenocide (#3)
Children of the Mind (#4)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Tale of the Body Thief (The Vampire Chronicles, #4) by Anne Rice

Rating: 3.5/5

I didn't like this book as much as the first 3 in the Vampire Chronicles, but it had its moments. Something about the whole setup seemed contrived. Maybe I just couldn't suspend my disbelief enough to get my head around a Body Thief. Though if I can accept psychics and spirits and vampires, I'm inclined to think it's the author's fault for not convincing me about body thieves. *shrugs*

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Dead in the Family (Sookie Stackhouse, #10) by Charlaine Harris

Dead in the Family (Sookie Stackhouse #10)

by Charlaine Harris


Rating: 2.5/5

I suppose that if I was a zillionaire and knew that people would buy up my book no matter what, I wouldn't bother putting much effort into it either. Half the words in this story were spent on reminding us of things from the previous nine books, and another quarter were spent on totally random things that really had no bearing on anything. It's like Harris just sat down and wrote it in one shot, packed it up and sent it off to the printers. I think she mentions every single character that appeared in all of the previous books, and updates us on their current status. Obviously, there wasn't much actual story to this book. It was so haphazard I couldn't really figure out what the main plot of the book was until the very end. And let me just say that I liked True Blood's version of the story of Eric's maker much more than Harris'.

Overall, a lackluster effort. Perhaps Harris is bored with the world she created?

See my reviews of:
Dead Until Dark (#1)
Deadlocked (#12)
Dead Ever After (#13)

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Season of Risks (Ethical Vampire #3) by Susan Hubbard

Rating 4/5

Facebook is run by vampires!

I really like this series. It's written in a more lyrical way than most in the genres (urban fantasy, young adult). I listened to the first two books of the series on audiobook, which was a fantastic treat. I don't normally like audiobooks, but the narrator was amazing, and Hubbard's sensually descriptive style suits the format. So I was slightly hesitant to read this one on paper, afraid my enjoyment would change. The experience was different, but no less rewarding.

Although there were a few things in this book that struck me as inexplicably absurd, I was willing to overlook them. Hubbard creates a misty sense of mystery with her writing that is compelling and addictive. I highly recommend this series to anyone who likes the genre.

See my review of The Society of S (Ethical Vampire #1) by Susan Hubbard

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by Randy O. Frost

Rating 4/5

Fascinating. I read this book in one sitting, which surprised me, since I usually have to take breaks from non-fiction books. I saw myself in some of the rationalizations people use to hoard, but fortunately I've been able to let go of things over my life. It helps that I'm a buddhist. I still hoard craft supplies - my tiny apartment would be much more livable if it weren't for the stacks of beads, yarn and fabric. But I still have less "stuff" than anyone I know. I especially identified with the problems with potential and opportunity that hoarders find in any object. I think it's the reason why I have shelves of books I haven't read and get anxious when I think about committing beads to a specific project - once they've been used, they lose their potential for everything else. Anyway, I thought this book was great!

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova

Rating 4/5

This is a book about painting, and painters, and it needs - and deserves - a painter's patience to read. I don't know how many times I found myself having read two or three long paragraphs and then realizing my mind had wandered and I hadn't absorbed anything I'd just read. It was always necessary to go back and re-read what I'd missed, so I could follow along with what was happening next. This is to say, it's a long-winded and exquisitely described narrative, but I don't think it could've been done any other way.

The man the story revolves around, Robert Oliver, is a painter who winds up in a psychiatric facility after attempting to attack a painting at a museum. For some strange reason, his diagnosis (obviously bipolar disorder) is never explicitly mentioned - it seems like Kostova has purposefully avoided it even in places where it would've been natural to say the words. The only reason I can think of for this is that she believes "bipolar disorder" might bring up some false or misleading impression/stigma/prejudice by the reader against her character.

There are a lot of characters in this book, and each has been written well. Oliver is haunted by a woman he saw in a painting, but it is Oliver himself who haunts the pages of this book, despite the fact that he speaks perhaps four sentences in his own voice throughout. The rest of his character is depicted by those who knew him. He has a profound effect on these people, and on the reader.

This is a long, but ultimately satisfying novel, inspired by art and written in a way that mimics an epic painting. The descriptions of people and places and things are delicate and thorough, which sometimes becomes tiresome. Reading this book with patience is like studying each brush stroke of a masterpiece. Some people aren't into that, and some people (like me) can get into it after they realize the rewards.

I found this book to be less compelling than Kostova's first novel, The Historian, but still a very worthwhile read.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Denial: A Memoir of Terror by Jessica Stern

Rating 2/5

I had to stop reading this book half-way through and take a break for a few days because I was having a very visceral reaction to it. It wasn't the subject matter so much as the way it was written. Firstly, the prose was jolting - so many short sentences - and made me feel almost sea-sick. Secondly, Stern talks a lot about her disassociative states, and it seems to me the whole book had a disassociated feel about it. She names emotions but you don't get the sense she identifies with them or is unable to really explain or understand them. Obviously, that is not her fault, it is a result of her trauma. It just makes it hard for the reader to fully engage with her, since she's not fully engaged with herself.

Stern shifts back and forth between her life, her rape investigation, PTSD theory, and terrorism. These subjects are indeed related, but somehow she fails to articulate the connections in a way that satisfies me. And the switching between these ideas and the way that she approaches them - sometimes intensely personal, sometimes academic - is also jarring and interrupts flow and interest.

It also seems to me that her father's concerns over the way he has been characterized has influenced her book to the point where she's not been completely honest. I sense an extreme ambivalence despite the author's efforts to insist how great he is and how much she loves him. She *should* be ambivalent. I also think that an author of a memoir shouldn't cater her book to the feelings of the people in it. Either tell it like it is or leave it out completely.
In general, this book was interesting, but difficult to read. I'm sure my responses to it have to do with my own emotional issues at least as much as the writing itself. In any case, I have read far more engaging memoirs about abuse. Please know that I'm evaluating *the book* here, and not judging the author. She has lived through hell, and is still trying to heal.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Book of the Dead by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

Rating 3/5

A standard mystery-thriller wrapped in Egyptian heiroglyphic paper. It starts off extremely slow and very gradually builds up steam. About 1/3 of the way through I realized this book was part of a series, and I think I would've enjoyed it more if I'd read the preceding books - there were a whole lot of characters introduced right away, which was confusing, and a lot of them had interconnected backgrounds that were mentioned but not fully explained. This took away from my connection to the characters. In addition, I was hoping for more Egyptian history and mythology, but in truth the subject was incidental to the plot - an Egyptian tomb was just the place where the authors decided to host the events of the story. Although the build up was very gradual, the pace eventually quickened and I found myself extremely interested in what happened next. Despite my lack of enthusiasm for murder mysteries, I may read the rest of the series, since some of the characters are quite intriguing.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Inheritance by Simon Tolkien

Rating 3/5

Despite a whole lot of 'meh', I was compelled to keep reading this book, so I suppose I'm ambivalent, although my over-all feeling is of being unimpressed. I've never been much of a fan of straight murder mysteries, and even though a mysterious codex and sacred relic were pivotal to the plot, the history behind them wasn't, and was only briefly discussed in order to merely identify the object. Which, for me, made this book far less interesting than I thought it would be. The narrative unfolds in a meandering, seemingly disorganized style, sometimes shifting perspectives between characters in the middle of a paragraph, which I found disruptive. As may be standard in a murder mystery, details are withheld and given up over time so that the reader feels led from one conclusion to the next in a somewhat contrived fashion. In the end, the final clue turns out to be something we've repeatedly been told was impossible. Tolkien's characters, however, are interesting and varied, and redeem this otherwise mediocre book. IMHO.

Note: I won an advance reader's copy through the Goodreads First Reads program, which had no influence over my rating or review.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Field: The Quest for the Secret Force of the Universe by Lynne McTaggart

Rating: 5/5

I don't know if I had the skill and knowledge to read this book in a critical fashion, but from my limited perspective, it was convincing. There are several reasons for this: a) McTaggart's research seems - aside from her brief stereotyped characterization of the theory of natural selection - impeccable, as is her own critical analysis of the scientific method of the numerous studies she's cited. She doesn't make wild, unevidenced claims, and makes it clear what is speculation, what is theory, and does point out certain flaws in the experimental method where they crop up. Her skeptical critical approach and background stories of the scientists involved in this research give a lot of credibility.

On their own, these features are convincing. But then there's b) - I WANT to believe. As someone with chronic illnesses that standard medicine has utterly failed in every way, this book and its ideas gives me hope. In the past I've brushed off "energy medicine" and "alternative therapies" as mostly placebo effects, but this book makes a very strong case that there's more to it than that. Most important to me, it makes SENSE to me scientifically and therefore doesn't require flaky, New-Agey faith in mumbo-jumbo. I can deal with the concepts of electro-magnetic waves at certain frequencies a lot more peacefully than a vague mystical energy like "chi". Specifics make me a lot more comfortable exploring alternative ways of regaining my health. I will be seeking out additional scientific-minded books on the subject.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Angelology (Angelology, #1) by Danielle Trussoni

Rating: 2.5/5

The author has a talent for words and sentences, and a creative vision, but disappointingly was not able to pull it off. So much of this book seemed contrived - the characters bent to the plot, rather than drove it. And while the descriptions of the characters tried to make them distinct individuals, their speech & behaviours were largely generic, sometimes downright absurd, without any explanation. The result was a sloppy and confusing dissonance. And I won't even go into my philosophical objections to the premises and ideas contained within. This book had potential, but was ultimately disappointing and frequently annoying.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Confession of a Buddhist Atheist by Stephen Batchelor

Rating 4/5

This book took some perserverance. Batchelor calls his books collages, and this one did have a fragmented feel to it. I found my interest waxing and waning throughout as the subject matter flipped back and forth between the author's story, the Buddha's story, Buddhist politics and history. However, I have a very strong affinity with Stephen Batchelor, who, like me, is more interested in Siddhartha Gotama's Buddhism than the myriad sects of organized religious Buddhism available today. On page 229 he states that a Buddhist's practice "need not correspond to anyone else's idea of what 'buddhism' is or should be." I find this very validating. Batchelor likens the Dharma to pieces of a raft - the only useful bits are those which currently float. He points out that Gotama intended his followers to take refuge in the Dharma only after his death, to walk the path individually. This is how I've always practiced, and it is comforting to find validation in the words of this respected Buddhist author. So while this book was a bit scattered, it was well worth reading.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Covet (The Fallen Angels, #1) by J.R. Ward

Rating 3.5/5

Dear JR Ward. Please stop using the phrase "what's doing". I don't know if that's common where you come from, but it just makes me cringe. I can deal with your other slang, but not that. Not that.

I missed the way Ward writes. I'm still awaiting Lover Mine from the library, so this was a nice distraction. If you can get past the whole - love-at-first-sight-makes-people-into-better-people thing (who wouldn't like to believe this?), her books are fun, and Covet is no exception.

All Ratings and Reviews For J.R Ward (Black Dagger Brotherhood and Fallen Angels Series)

Friday, April 30, 2010

Lonely: Learning to Live with Solitude by Emily White

Rating 4/5

This is the kind of book that reminds me why I love psychology, social psychology in particular. I enjoyed this book, and I think it's unique and makes a valid point. A few criticisms though. For one, the author gets a bit muddled in places, but that can be excused by the fact that her topic is rather muddy. It was part memoir, so I suppose I can forgive the fact that some of her judgments seemed quite subjective, like endorsing loneliness categories defined by a researcher but making fun of a similar division made by a journalist.

The biggest problem I had with this book is the anger bombs the author placed in the first half regarding depression. There is a lot of discussion about how depression and loneliness are not the same, which I agree with, but she repeatedly calls depression "the blues". And "just the blues" and "nothing but the blues". She says she's experienced depression herself, and even uses the term "noonday demaon" to describe it, but I have to wonder if she even read Noonday Demon. You NEVER call depression "the blues". It's the biggest insult to anyone who's ever suffered with real depression. The author seems to be making light of depression in order to emphasize the seriousness of loneliness, and I was really offended by that. I suffered from severe, suicidal depression for twenty years. I was also lonely. I'd take loneliness over depression any day, but they are BOTH serious afflictions. At one point while reading I was so furious about this "just the blues" issue that it ruined a good chunk of the book for me. Fortunately the second half of the book didn't have these landmines. I was disappointed that someone who points out how much research she did into her topic didn't do enough research into depression to avoid such a simple pitfall. It does take away a lot of respectability from her work, and I'm surprised her editor didn't catch it. It would have been so easy not to have made that mistake!

In addition, White pooh-poohs the use of the internet to make connections and help with lonely feelings, though it doesn't seem like she really tried it out. Personally, being stuck at home with chronic illness, Twitter is the one thing standing between me and insanity, and I know a lot of other people who feel the same way. It's not ideal (the ideal would be to have loving people actually present with you), but it does actually help.

Well, with the complaints out of the way, I would like to talk about the book's merits. The fact of its existence and the author's unique approach to the topic makes it a must-read. It's true, loneliness is such a taboo subject, we all like to ignore it and hide it and pretend we never feel it. Numerous studies mentioned in the book make it absolutely clear, however, that loneliness is very much a health problem - emotionally and physically. Our bodies ail when we are lonely. White calls on governments to take loneliness under its wing and do something about it, and I fully agree.

Facts and theories interspersed with the author's own personal struggle with loneliness makes for interesting, engaging reading. I was kind of disappointed that throughout the book she alluded to having overcome it, only to find out that it was because she'd found a romantic partner. And on top of that, she still says she's lonely for a wider social circle. So, there are no answers in this book, only hints at what could be done from a societal perspective. Basically, you just have to keep trying to be social and surround yourself with people, relax, and hope you are lucky enough to meet that special someone. *sigh* Right.

Anyway, despite that, I thought this book was fascinating, and I hope it starts a shift in perspective when it comes to loneliness. It's nothing to be ashamed of or hidden. It's not our fault, it doesn't mean we are defective. A large part of loneliness is luck, genetics, and circumstances, things which we have little or not control over. White has written a brave "coming out" book for the lonely, and I must applaud her courage.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Wake (Dream Catcher, #1) by Lisa McMann

Rating 3/5

Not as good as I'd been hoping. A friend wrote a review and got me really excited about this book, but I almost quit after 15 pages. It's very sparse at the beginning - I could've done with a lot more background, a lot more about the protagonist's childhood, growing up with an alcholic single mother and her struggles with falling into dreams. The book is short, which is ultimately one of the reasons I did finish it - it took me only a couple hours. I did end up liking it, just not as much as I expected. I am interested to see what happens next in the series. One thing that really bothers me is the assumption that Melinda is a lesbian just because she dreams about having sex with women. It's actually not true - studies show that lots of heterosexual women have dreams about other women. I think it's irresponsible of the author to not mention that fact. Young adult readers struggling with their own sexuality could become confused. Another thing, everyone in the book has recurring dreams. I'm not positive, but I think recurring dreams are not that common!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Sign of Seven Trilogy by Nora Roberts

Sign of Seven Trilogy:
Blood Brothers
The Hollow
The Pagan Stone

Rating 3/5

I will review the Sign of Seven Trilogy as a whole, rather than each book separately.

The story is great, right out of a Stephen King novel. However, I wish Stephen King had written it. As a King fan, I can't help but compare the depth of the writing and character of this book to something he would write, since the story is so similar to one of his. Roberts is as prolific a writer as King, but her genre is romance (I think), and she prefers to write many shorter novels than the amazing tomes King comes up with. If King had've written this series, it would've been one massive novel. I read all 3 of the Sign of Seven in a row, so it amounts to the same.

However, Roberts' characters are pretty unrealistic and unbelievable. Two of the three women were seriously pushy, and not just assertive or "strong". Women like that are not as easy to get along with in real life as they are in this novel, even for men who respect women. The men were mostly too good to be true, and their families were more or less perfect - especially their mothers (well, the two that were alive). The imperfections of these characters seemed like add-ons to fantasies, like Roberts said - oops, I made them too perfect, let's give them a flaw or two. By contrast, King's characters all have believable dark sides, genuine inner conflicts and grey natures. They are also much more fleshed out and interact authentically with each other.

I suppose it's to be expected that sex and sexual attraction would show up on every page in a book from a romance novelist. It almost seemed like filler in this book though, since the horror story was much more interesting and had much more potential. Again, if King had written this book, it would have been fleshed out and much more detailed, more of the action scenes written in 'real time', and far more riveting. Roberts' descriptions of any kind of action seemed vague. She also has a very clear line of what she will and will not include in her sex scenes, which I found ridiculously prudish considering sex was a huge factor in the story.

Each book focuses on one couple getting together. The first two love stories were not bad, but the third pushed the boundaries of the credible. She tried to keep the loner personalities of the two people in question intact even as they were drawn together, and I can appreciate that effort. Yet in the end, *spoiler* it's impossible to think that all three women could be so content to be pregnant, especially the third.

Despite the embarrassing characters in this book, the horror storyline was good enough to keep me reading. So technically I would've given this series 3.5 stars, because I like the good vs evil, mythology and history in it. I just wish there had been more of that, and less romance.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Mania by Craig Larson

RATING: 3/5

This book was like a grade-A steak sandwich on moldy bread. I hated the beginning and end, loved the middle. It started off very slowly, which is an odd thing to say for a story that begins with a murder. Larsen's descriptions of scenery seem like filler rather than setting any mood, and slow the pace down. But with the introduction of the character of Sara Garland, the story becomes much more intriguing. The author's frequent use of flashbacks creates a disorientating effect that echoes and allows us to share the protagonist's experience of mental instability.

The "meat" of this story becomes quick-paced, harrowing and suspenseful. Larsen draws out the mystery and intrigue perfectly to keep us turning the pages. But the ending left me cold and angry, feeling even more duped than the protagonist. Perhaps it's my unfamiliarity with the straight mystery genre that led me to expect a few more clues that would help the answer to "whodunit" make more sense. I felt the character motivations, in the end, were exceedingly shallow and unbelievable.

This book, however voraciously I read it, left me with a foul after-taste. Which is unfortunate, since most of it was excellent.

Note: I won this book free through the Goodreads First Reads giveaway, which in no way influenced my rating or review.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Strain (The Strain Trilogy, #1) by Guillermo del Toro, Chuck Hogan

5/5

I'm quite new the the vampire genre - I haven't even read any Anne Rice - but I've got to say *this* is what a vampire horror should be. Reminiscent of I Am Legend, with the same creepy spook-factor (at least as the movie, I haven't yet read the classic book). I've read quite a lot of Stephen King, but have never been as freaked out reading a book as I was from the very first chapter of The Strain. Something about the way it's told, the suspense created...it is literally the scariest book I've ever read. If you like horror, you *must* read this!

Later edit: I re-read this book when the next two books in the trilogy came out, to refresh my memory. It wasn't as good the second time around, so I would revise my rating to 4/5.