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Sarena has commented on (9) products.

Strange But True, America: Weird Tales from All 50 States by John Hafnor
Strange But True, America: Weird Tales from All 50 States

Sarena, August 9, 2009

There are two things that can get me as excited as a kid; trivia and history. Yesterday I received the book Strange but true, America weird tales from all 50 states yesterday and by this afternoon I was done reading it. Thanks Lone Pine Publications and John Hafnor for putting out such a fun book and sending a copy to me.
This is a must have book for all American history lovers, not to mention those who love American trivia. The book is broken down by state. The reader can pick and chose which stories to read as each piece or article is written as if it came from a newspaper column. I found it fun to jump around reading about Native Americans, then our presidents and finally about some of our more colorful American citizens. My favorite piece is titled Skull ‘speaks’ of prehistoric kindness. In this article the reader is told of some 9,000 year old skulls found with their brains intact. The DNA evidence shows there is no connection to present day Native Americans. Why haven’t we heard about this in the news? I find it terribly fascinating.
Towards the back of the book there are very short trivia pieces that are as fascinating as the longer articles. Did you know several planes carrying nuclear missiles have crashed on American soil? Look under the heading When Doomsday came calling to your state to find out when and where this has happened.
This book will surely please those who love the Uncle John’s trivia books. I have several relatives on my holiday gift list who do. This is the book they will receive instead.
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Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl
Special Topics in Calamity Physics

Sarena, June 21, 2009

“As a Harvard freshman recounting the events of the previous year, when her childhood "unstitched like a snagged sweater," Blue remembers being thoroughly in thrall to her father, a political science professor who changes jobs at third-tier colleges so frequently that by age 16 she's attended 24 different schools. To compensate for this rootlessness (her lepidopterist mom died in a car crash when Blue was 5), Dad has promised his daughter an undisturbed senior year in the North Carolina mountain town of Stockton, where Blue will attend the ultra-preppy St. Gallway School.
It's at St. Gallway that Blue's dedication to her pompous, theory-spouting father begins to waver. Her attention is diverted by the school's most glamorous figures, a clique of five flighty kids called the Bluebloods who meet every Sunday night for dinner at the home of their mentor, Hannah Schneider, a charismatic film teacher.”(Washington Post, 2007).
It is not often that a book gets to me the way this one did. A few days into the reading I had a dream about the characters; this is how much I identified with Pessl’s book (yes this how her last name is spelled). The main character Blue Van Meer (I love this name!) and her father Garth remind me of my best friend in high school and her father (though they did not travel, rather her dad attracted many people to his world). Garth Van Meer is a laid back political professor who thinks rather highly of himself but has little regard for other people’s feelings, especially the women who come and go. Blue calls these women June Bugs as they are attracted to her father like a bug to a flame, and like bugs and flame, nothing good comes to these women. My friend Heidi’s dad would date women for sex, but when they wanted more he pushed them away without a thought about the feelings of these women. Garth Van Meer does the same.
The book takes place during Blue’s senior year at a preppy high school, and like many teens finds herself drawn to a group of her peers while pulling away from her dad. Reading the novel as Blue starts to see her dad in a new light just as she starts to rebel, got me thinking about the relationship between parent and child. It seems to me no matter how well we think we have raised our kids, they can be highly influenced by their peers. Years of carful parenting can be thrown out the window if our children fall under the spell of other kids. At some point in our relationship our children will stop seeing us as mom or dad and start seeing us as humans. This change can sometimes be painful, for Blue it is shattering.
The charismatic teacher Hannah Schneider seems at first to be the tragic figure in the novel, the reader is told in the beginning that she is found hanging from a tree. The story is about the events that led up to this suicide (or was it?). Again, it seems Hannah is the tragic figure, but as the book unfolds it becomes clear all the characters are tragic or damaged in some way.
Pessl manages to make five spoiled preppy teens sympathetic, though not always likable, not an easy task and not one that many first time writers can pull off. I never really cared about them, but I did understand them so what ends up happening makes their response believable. What is not believable is the final plot scenario. It is not that Pessl writes a twist; rather she brings the reader in a secret that is not only unbelievable, but leaves the reader asking questions. There are a couple of serious plot holes that make the ending feel forced and drags the book down. The other thing that drags the book down is Pessl incessant use of footnotes in the text (see redundant in any dictionary). At first the footnotes drive Pessl’s description but after awhile they start to wear on the reader and become a distraction.
This is Pessl’s first novel and though I had problems with the plot and her writing style I do hope she writes more books, minus the footnotes in quotations. I would not hesitate to read another by her. After all, it is not often I dream about fictional characters.
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Enemies & Allies by Kevin J Anderson
Enemies & Allies

Sarena, April 23, 2009

Once in a while I like to read something out of my comfort zone. This month Kevin J Anderson was good enough to supply me with a book way, way out of my comfort zone. I received a copy of his soon to be released Enemies & Allies, a novel in which The Dark Knight meets The Man of Steel. I have never read a Graphic novel nor have I read a comic book since grade school, but being a big fan of Batman I was delighted to have a chance to read this book.

Anderson sets his story in the 1950’s, which adds to the book’s charm and character. The plot centers on the two super heroes learning to trust each other in order to stop evil Lex Luthor and a General in Stalin’s Russia. I personally liked Anderson’s Cold War inclusion, it made the plot believable. Anderson moved the story right along, there never seemed to be a point where the plot dragged.

Though the book Enemies & Allies is not advertized as a young adult novel, I did wonder more than once, if this book was written for 11 year old male readers. The text can be overly simplistic, and the dialog seems to be lifted from older comic books. My 17 year old son read the book the same week as I and found though he liked it, he too wondered what age level Anderson was going for.

The most intriguing aspect of Anderson’s book is the development if Batman. Though some of the back story seems to be lifted from the movie Batman Begins, I found Anderson’s explanation of why Batman does what he does satisfying. I can not say the same for Anderson’s Superman; here Superman comes across as slightly arrogant. The first time we read about Superman saving people Anderson writes “Although it was difficult to show modesty after carrying a giant passenger ship across the sky, the Kents’ had taught him to be humble”. Throughout the book Superman sees himself as protector of the people, yet Anderson never fully explains why this is. After doing such a fine job with Batman’s character development I was a little surprised at this. My son and I had a very interesting conversation about the psychology of both Batman and Superman because of Anderson’s portrayal of Superman; we agree that Batman has better reasons to call himself a super hero.

All in all I have to say this is a fine book for those who love old fashion comic book fun. Anderson can be counted among those who add to the super hero genre and now I can say I read something way out of my comfort zone and enjoyed it.
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Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
Satanic Verses

Sarena, August 9, 2008

Salman Rushdie was a relatively unknown writer when The Satanic Verses was published. Though his second novel Midnight’s Children won him an award, most American’s were unaware of Rushdie’s talent. What put Rushdie on the literary map was the death sentence the Ayatollah Khomeini handed down because of The Satanic Verses.
I was not sure what I was getting into when I picked up the book. I know the story behind the title. It is written that Mohammad recited some controversal law given to him by the Archangel Gabriel. When it became apparent these new laws angered both his followers and retractors Mohammad questioned Gabriel about them. Gabriel told Mohamed the devil had desquised himself as Gabriel and lied to bring confusion to Mohammad’s people. These verses were struck from the “books” and are known as The Satanic Verses. So from the title I knew I was reading lies.
The story centers around two Indian men both whom live “lies”. One is a big Indian movie star named Gibreel (though as a child his mother called him Shaten) who always plays Indian deities. The other named Saladin (whose name resembles the author’s enough to not go unnoticed) who left India for England to get away from the Indian way of life. Saladin considers himself British and not at all Indian.
The two meet on a plane heading to London from Bombay. Gibreel is running away from his life because of a woman, while Saladin is returning to London after visiting his dying father in Bombay. Terrorist take over the plane, and after letting all of the women and children go, they demand to be flown to England. During the flight the plane is blown up. Gibreel and Salidin find themselves falling through a cloud like tunnel, and miraculously fall onto an English beach. The fall has mutated the two; Gibreel develops a halo while Salidin turns into a goat like creature, not unlike the classic pictures of Satan.
What follows are stories within the story, which is way the book is so long. Gibreel finds he is drawn into other people’s dreams that in turn affect the person’s life. One story within this book is the story of Mohammad and Gabriel which must be why The Ayatollah went off. Mohammed is not to be portrayed in any medium. Changing Mohammad’s name did not change his story though, so again this is why Rushdie was in so much trouble.
The bigger story is of self realization and acceptance of one’s own life. Saladin must come to grips with his Indian background and accept “his people” . He also had to learn to express his feelings. Once he did all of this he was able to become human again. It really was his story, Gibreel was really just a catalyst for his adventure, as Gibreel was for everyone else in the book.
What I really liked about the novel was Rushdie’s use of Irony and Satire. The archangel Gabriel is an avenging angel but Gibreel is a revenging angel. Everywhere Gibreel goes revenge and death follow (except for the story of Mohammad). Salidin becomes human when he allows his feelings to show. In the end it is up to Salidin to avenge those who have been hurt by Gibreel. Though it is a long book it is well worth the time as Rushdie is a master at story telling. If you like deeper/hidden meanings in books and love characters that stay with you for a long time this is a book not to be missed.
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