Wool by Hugh Howey

Standard

Title: Wool
Series: Wool
Author: Hugh Howey
Genre: Science Fiction
Release Date: 2010
Format Read: Kindle
Pages: 56
Rating:

4feathers

“Back of Book” Summary:

They live beneath the earth in a prison of their own making. There is a view of the outside world, a spoiled and rotten world, their forefathers left behind. But this view fades over time, ruined by the toxic airs that kill any who brave them. So they leave it to the criminals, those who break the rules, and who are sent to cleaning. Why do they do it, these people condemned to death? Sheriff Holston has always wondered. Now he is about to find out.

My Review:

Wool by Hugh Howey is a fantastic science fiction short story. At 60 pages it is quite a fast read. It is written in present tense with flash backs. I downloaded this to my Kindle several months ago and selected it at random yesterday to read. However, I think perhaps I’ve learned my lesson to always read the book’s description, whether that be on the back of the book or wherever, prior to reading. Having no idea what the book was about when I started reading it I felt very confused for several chapters until I started to piece everything together. Had I read the description that this was an underground world in which people lived in because the world was bleak and poisonous outside, much of the first chapter would have made more sense to me. I knew this book must have sounded interesting enough to have download it in the past, but this was a rare example of reading a book without refreshing my memory what to expect. I wonder if this is something that others have come across? It is me just wanting to know a little about the book first to perhaps create a frame of reference, or is it the author not establishing the setting in the first chapter properly?

In short, the lead character Holston is sheriff in the silo. He desperately misses his wife who was sent to death outside the airlock three years prior. Allison had been uncovering deleted information from the computer system and found some disturbing things that led her to a desire to utter the words of condemnation, “I want out”. Holston decides to join her in the outside world. The book takes us several times back and forth from believing that the outside world is destroyed and environment toxic to humans and the silo is sanctuary to the silo being prison and the outside world being beautiful freedom. The book leaves off with the reader still unsure of what is actually going on but gears them towards believing that the environment is actually toxic, but there is no answer to the bizarre information uncovered from the databases that contradicts this. This is good sci-fi and post-apocalyptic literature. I do struggle at times with short stories because I just want so much more. However, this book was a successful short story in regards to getting the reader to think about details within the book over and over to uncover what actually happened.

There are several more short stories in this series which I intend to read. The title Wool is a play on words. Those who leave the airlock are asked to use steel wool to clean the camera lenses to give those inside the silo a view of the outside world. It could also be in reference to Allison attempting to pull the wool off Holston’s eyes.

I highly recommend this short story. While, as admitted I did find it confusing initially to understand the world in which this book was set, and perhaps the author should have established this setting more clearly in introduction instead of having relied on the reader to have read the book’s description. In some ways this was a misunderstanding between myself and the author. Even so, I cannot see rating this book lower than 4 Feathers because it was truly one of the best short stories I have ever read.

This is a segment of the first chapter. Out of the entire book, the language and imagery of this scene struck me the most.

Holston took his time, each step methodical and ponderous, as he wound his way around and around the spiral staircase, old boots ringing out on metal treads…Holston could feel the vibrations in the railing, which was worn down to the gleaming metal. That always amazed him; how centuries of bare palms and shuffling feet could wear down solid steel. One molecule at a time, he supposed. Each life might wear away a single layer, even as the silo wore away that life.

Zomblog by T.W. Brown

Standard

Title: Zomblog
Series: Zomblog
Author: T.W. Brown
Genre: Horrow
Release Date: 2010
Format Read: Kindle
Pages: 262
Rating:

3feathers

“Back of Book” Summary:

Samuel Todd is a regular guy: …Failed husband… …Loving father… …Dutiful worker… …Aspiring rockstar. He had no idea if anyone would care, or take the time, to read his daily blog entries about his late night observations. But what started as an open monologue of his day-to-day life became a running journal of the firsthand account detailing the rising of the dead and the downfall and degradation of mankind…

My Review:

I recently finished another semester and finally have time to read what I want to read about: zombies. Zomblog by TW Brown was a nice transition from months of academic books to that of fiction. Sure, I watch some TV and movies, but nothing compares to how relaxing I find reading. I think all avid readers can agree that there isn’t much that takes your mind off everyday life like getting sucked into a novel and envisioning life in another world. A fantasy world on a different plane of time and space.

Zomblog, takes place directly before the zombie apocalypse and follows several survivors for a little less than a year. Like most zombie stories the origin of the infection is rather glossed over. In this book, it came from Indonesia. This book is written like a blog, or perhaps calling it a journal would be a better description. The original author is Sam, who details the beginnings of the outbreak and his travels and interactions with many different survivor groups. Eventually Sam dies and his girlfriend, Meredith, takes up the journal recording as she fights daily to survive in a world full of the undead and diminishing food and other resources. The book is written in short dated entries-what the author refers to as a blog- in first person perspective. The author chose a writing style that was more representative of how people actually talked, which absolutely went well with the book’s style as being a ‘blog.’ However, the writing was rather simplistic because of this. Not once was there a time when I thought ‘wow that is beautiful phrasing’ or any words that struck me as powerful imagery. I guess literary genius isn’t something I should realistically expect from a zombie novel. However, what I was expecting was an original story with gore and that is what I got. Parts of the book are absolutely gruesome. Perhaps enough to give some people nightmares and definitely beyond what a film producer would add into a movie adaptation of this book.

Overall, the casual language used in this book makes for a very quick read. The storyline is original but redundant at times as the characters are constantly running into similar situations. It is a good zombie novel. This is the first in a trilogy. I would find it worthwhile to read the others, especially since this novel ended on a cliffhanger.

Darlin’ Druid by Lyn Horner

Standard

Title: Darlin’ Druid
Series: Texas Druids
Author: Lyn Horner
Genre: Historical Romance, Fantasy
Release Date: 2010
Format Read: Kindle
Pages: 320
Rating:

3feathers

“Back of Book” Summary:

Set in the American West of 1872, Darlin’ Druid is a tale of epic adventure, stormy romance and family strife, sparked by flashes of Druid magic. Jessie Devlin, a daughter of Irish immigrants and a survivor of the Great Chicago Fire, is descended from the “Old Ones,” her mother’s name for their ancient Druid ancestors. Gifted with second sight, Jessie suffers nightmares in which an unknown man saves her from burning to death. A prophetic vision convinces her the man truly exists and to find him she must look west. But will her quest lead her to love or into a deadly trap?

Captain David Taylor is a Texan who sided with the North in the Civil War, earning his father’s abiding wrath. Now serving on the frontier, David longs for home and a family of his own. After a trip east, he encounters Jessie in the Omaha train depot. He’s entranced by her beauty but has no taste for her firecracker temper. She brings to mind a ghost from his past who he’d rather forget. As the two journey westward, their clashing personalities war with fiery passion that threatens to overwhelm common sense. Violence dogs them along the rails and explodes amid the unexpected beauty of Mormon Utah and in an isolated mountain mining camp. Whether love will win the day or be lost forever is a question that hangs in the balance until the terrifying conclusion on the broad Texas plains.

My Review:

I don’t generally read romance novels, but I occasionally read paranormal romances. I guess somehow supernatural powers in a storyline makes it seem less cheesy. It’s like a Lifetime movie, but with mysticism. Or in the case of Lyn Horner’s Darlin’ Druid, Druids. This book takes place (mostly) in Utah and Texas in 1872. Jessie Devlin, the daughter of Irish immigrants, has Druid blood that gives her the gift of foresight. In her visions she saw both a man she would fall in love with and a devil trying to destroy her. Jessie follows her brother Tye west as her vision told her to do and meets Captain David Taylor, the man of her dreams, except they don’t exactly get along very well for much of the book. Jessie eventually does run into her devil who charms her for a short while but quickly turns on her and attempts to kill her and David Taylor. Long story short, this is a typical girl meets guy and guy is anything but sweet and romantic, but eventually guy’s heart melts after he almost loses girl and girl realizes that she cannot resist guy kind of over-used, but still keeps you wanting to finish the book, sort of storyline. It was a good story with elements of a Western tale that I find fascinating. There are several more books in this series, but at this point I think I’ve had my fill and probably won’t be interested in reading them for quite a while. However, I would recommend this to those looking for a just post-Civil War era Western-themed paranormal romance.

Shadows of War by Carolyn Nordstrom

Standard

Title: Shadows of War: Violence, Power, and International Profiteering in the Twenty-First Century
Series: N/A
Author: Carolyn Nordstrom
Genre: Non-Fiction
Release Date: 2004
Format Read: Paperback
Pages: 306
Rating:5feathers

“Back of Book” Summary:

In this provocative and compelling examination of the deep politics of war, Carolyn Nordstrom takes us from the immediacy of war-zone survival, through the offices of power brokers, to vast extra-legal networks that fuel war and international profiteering. She captures the human face of the front lines, revealing both the visible and the hidden realities of war in the twenty-first century. Shadows of War is grounded in ethnographic research carried out at the epicenters of political violence on several continents. Its pages are populated not only with the perpetrators and victims of war but also with the scoundrels, silent heroes, and average families who live their lives in the midst of explosive violence. War reconfigures our most basic notions of humanity, Nordstrom demonstrates. This book, of crucial importance at the present moment, shows that war is enmeshed in struggles over the very foundations of the sovereign state, the crafting of economic empires both legal and illegal, and innovative searches for peace.

Nordstrom describes the multi-trillion-dollar international financial networks that support warfare. She traces the entangled routes by which illegal drugs, precious gems, weapons, basic food supplies, and pharmaceuticals are moved by an international cast of businesspeople, profiteers, and black-market operators. Shadows of War demonstrates how the experiences of both the architects of war and of ordinary people are deleted from media accounts and replaced with stories about soldiers, weapons, and territory. For the first time, this book retrieves from the shadows the faces of those whose stories seldom reach the light of international recognition.

My Review:

We’ve all heard of the black market economy and often have negative views of it. Guns. Drugs. Classified military information. The black market is a place where the lowest of the low exist. However, common people purchase goods on the black market every day. The same ‘shadow economy’ sells that the knock-off version of the Louis Vuitton purse you’ve wanted but couldn’t afford, a bootleg DVD of a newly released film, and the marijuana that you don’t think should be illegal are all goods sold ‘underground’ and off the radar of taxation. In the public sphere these are probably not be things we admit to finding acceptable, but many people in their personal lives may have no qualms about purchasing. When posed with the situation of a woman unable to afford the drug company’s price for her life-saving medication most wouldn’t condemn her to death opposed to accepting that black market drugs may not always be negative. We just don’t call this the black market, but it is. And it exists because there is a demand for it.

Shadows of War is an ethnographic study into the world of this shadow economy and its relationship to people in conflict zones. Nordstrom discusses the results of ethnographic work in Angola, Mozambique, and Sri Lanka. The locations are different; the dependence on a shadow economy is the same. Many governments cannot afford the wars they support and often resort to trade in the black market. The same black market that Nordstrom says makes up about 30% of the American economy and pushing up to 80-90% in others. These are radical statements that do not go along with the long-held ‘normal’ discussions amongst economists. It is quite interesting that more people have not studied this phenomenon. Perhaps we don’t want to accept that such a world exists in such large proportions even within “first-world” nations. Many people also do not study conflict in active war zones. In my opinion, Carolyn Nordstrom is an incredibly brave woman and has conducted some of the most interesting research into the globalization and war profiteering.

Many people within war zones have had their entire lives interrupted and often find themselves in situations of life and death where purchasing goods through shadow networks becomes the only way to survive. Trans-national smuggling networks coordinate the transportation of goods and food into war zones, but often at the same time export illicit goods such as cocaine or stolen diamonds. These actions we may deem ‘negative’ are often overlooked for the ‘positive’ humanitarian aspect. Businessmen can weave their way in and out of the shadow economy. Our very own CIA has openly acknowledged they conduct clandestine activities. This is one example of “magicians” who can easily cross the interface from the “legal” approved and the “illegal” black economies and also have the ability to become “invisible” once again.

One of the most significant ideas I’ve gained from Nordstrom’s book is that those involved in the shadow network do not often fit within our value judgments of ‘good’ and ‘bad’, ‘moral’ and ‘immoral’. Nothing in this world is black and white. Everyday people living within war zones deal with hardships that I can only imagine (and Carolyn Nordstrom has been successful at creating this imagery). Therefore, it would not be acceptable of me to place judgments on the buying and selling of goods in circumstances that could mean survival or death of their families and community. Situations in which I may perhaps make the same decisions. To show what life is like in someone else’s shoes is precisely the purpose of ethnography- clearly this has been a successful one.

After completing Carolyn Nordstrom’s book, I feel obliged to say that this is the best book on war and war profiteering I’ve read since becoming an International Peace and Conflict Resolution student. Surviving war can be beautiful in the sense of love, hope and cooperation, but it can also be ugly for its cruelties and the reality of hard decisions that people have to make every day to support their families. In a conflict zone actions often become indecipherable in terms of ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Is the pilot who smuggles out diamonds from your village bad? What about if he is only one bringing much needed food and medicine into your village? Context changes everything. However, what if we elaborate more in this scenario and say the pilot in this story works for an NGO (a non-governmental organization). Nordstrom discusses how she saw this several times. What can you do? Can you even do anything? It is hard enough to convince people to volunteer in war zones. What if this pilot got fired from the NGO and sent home and nobody is willing to replace his position of flying shipments of aid through a war zone? Yet again, that changes things too. I’d be interested to learn what types of policies NGO’s have regarding this type of behavior. I can guess what they would be; however, I think it is implied that often people turn a blind eye to certain behaviors in the name of peacebuilding. Peacebuilding is an industry after all.

Besides my first true introduction to the immensity of the ‘shadow economy,’ the biggest thing I’ve taken from Nordstrom’s book is this game of labeling a country as ‘at war’ or ‘at peace.’ When is a country at peace? After the signing of a treaty? Certainly a piece of paper is meaningless to most people who live in a war zone and define reality as what people do, not what they say they will do on paper. Just as instances of peace arise on the battlefield, instances of war continue through into ‘peace’ time. Nordstrom makes it clear that the distinction of war and peace-times are not clear cut, and often when wars “start up” again it is indicative that the war had never really stopped in the first place.

She used to term ‘organizational scarcity’ to describe this game played that keeps people reliant on informal market goods. It is a great question of how to reestablish networks of formal economy that is affordable and accessible to everyone after a war ends. Many times this is not put into place and people have no choice but to rely on the only networks they know. Informal economies encourage exploitation in many ways and allow individuals to gain incredible amounts of power that they otherwise wouldn’t have. Is this one of the reasons why some countries are in a state of perpetual conflict?

Two AK-47 rifles are displayed for sale among other items in a shop in northern Iraq. Photo: Christoph Bangert for The New York Times

In her chapter “Peace,” Nordstrom discusses her experience with orphaned street children in Angola who lived in the storm drain. When discussing illusions that occur within war, one example is how these street children fit into the group of invisibles- undesired members of society that are encouraged to disappear. Homeless people exist in all cities in the world often fit into this category. We all know they exist, but pretend they don’t. It is very upsetting for sure. The people that need help the most, like orphaned children, often do disappear. Sometimes this means they get integrated into an underground community, and sometimes this means death. There is another group of invisible people and this is the many who do not flee their countries but remain to set up community centers, administer aid and health care, and the NGO workers who leave their homes to work in lower than ideal conditions in the service of others. When was the last time you saw them on the nightly news? “In a final curious irony; in crafting the parables of power that are “just so” and “as if” stories, in silencing the truths of violence, and in deleting indices of the vast profiteering that emerges from war and the suffering it exacts – the stories of hope, human dignity, and peace are deleted from formal accounting as well” (pg. 242).

Nordstrom’s book clearly illustrates that more studies of the global black market must be conducted; it is just too large and influential to be ignored any longer. Black market sales include things like slaves and animals, as well as encourages animal poaching, which are unethical, destructive, and illegal around the world. I am interested in the study of terrorism and what it is, how it is created and why is it spreading. When Nordstrom says that by declaring war on Al Qaeda we have declared war on the shadows she is absolutely correct. The United States has quite obviously had a difficult time fighting this type of enemy. If I had to guess I would say that our intelligence agencies are probably spending much more time learning about the intricacies of the shadow networks in regards to how Al Qaeda operates. If we are not spending time researching these types of trails then we surely will not get far in this “war against terrorism.” Military power means nothing if you cannot shut off the valves of money and weapons into terrorist organizations; deals that are obviously not being conducted in the ‘formal’ economy.

I highly recommend this book.

Betrayal by Mayandree Michel

Standard

Title: Betrayal
Series: The Descendants
Author: Mayandree Michel
Genre: Fantasy
Release Date: 2011
Format Read: Kindle
Pages: 603
Rating:

3feathers

“Back of Book” Summary:

Where there is love and power, there is always… betrayal. At seventeen, Cordelia is an ordinary teen with an extraordinary and frightening secret. A secret that induces vivid dreams which she not only experiences true love, but crippling fear while barely escaping with her life each night. After a life altering event, Cordelia has an unexpected encounter with Evan, the mysterious boy from her dreams, who reveals who and what she is, a descendant of the Greek gods. At that moment everything she knows of her world is a lie, and she must leave the present and go into the past to assume the role she was put on this earth for, safeguarding her ancient empire amidst evil forces that toil hastily to destroy it. In a race against time, Cordelia must decide if she is truly a part of this dangerous world, or risk defying the gods, and ultimately lose the boy who has put a claim on her heart.

My Review:

Where there is love and power, there is always… Betrayal

Betrayal tells the tale of Cordelia, a teenage girl who goes back in time. Only she actually returned to the present because it was the future that she had been sent to. The problem was she had no memory of her past life and nothing anyone told her about who she was made sense. The book was original in the storyline that Cordelia was the Greek god Zeus’ daughter. Michel created a world of Greek gods and their descendents fighting against the evil minions of Hades. The fate of the empire relied on Cordelia regaining her memory, and along with it her powers.

I liked the story, I really did. However, there are two main reasons why I had to think really hard to give this book either 2 or 3 Feathers. The first was the addition of vampires and werewolves, and several other mythical creatures, was overkill. The ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ storyline started to get annoying each time a werewolf or vampire or ghost got added into the mix. How about just sticking with Greek mythology? It seems that Mayandree Michel was trying to appeal to a wider audience, but it was not successful. When vampires take up about 10 pages of a 600+ page book does not make this a vampire book, it makes the storyline overstretched. Secondly, the amount of content in the book did not equate to its length. It went on and on and on. Mostly in the form of the main character’s thoughts as she constantly over analyzes everything. Not just once, but time and again. Usually this is a technique that is used to make the reader recall an event that happened earlier in the book. However, I do not need a reminder of what just happened 5 pages ago, and then another reminder 15 pages from that. Again, overkill. The author could have probably cut out about 100 pages of the main character constantly reviewing events in her head and discussing her feelings using the same repetitious language.

Generally, due to the reasons why I disliked the book, and all of the elements I can describe best as overkill, I would have rated it 2 Feathers. However, the story was quite original and overall I did enjoy it so I have upgraded it to 3 Feathers. You can see the position this book put me in: I enjoyed it, yet due to its annoyances, I would not recommend it as I do most of my other reviewed books rated as 3 Feathers.

Betrayal is book one of the Descendants series, as of now there are only two books. I will most likely read the sequel, Sacrifice, and hope that Michel’s writing as matured.

Abducted by Theresa Ragan

Standard

Title: Adbucted
Series: The Lizzy Gardner Series
Author: Theresa Ragan
Genre: Horror/Suspense
Release Date: 2011
Format Read: Kindle
Pages: 357
Rating:4feathers

“Back of Book” Summary:

When Lizzy Gardner was only seventeen, what should have been the perfect night became the perfect nightmare. Kidnapped just blocks from home after a romantic evening with her boyfriend, Jared, she woke up to find herself at the mercy of a depraved serial killer. Imprisoned and tormented for months by the maniac she came to know as Spiderman, Lizzy narrowly escaped, the only one of his victims to survive. But Spiderman escaped too, outwitting police and cursing Lizzy to spend her life looking over her shoulder… Fourteen years later, Lizzy is a private investigator who teaches self-defense to teenage girls in her free time. She does what she can to help others protect themselves and to forget the horror of her ordeal, yet fears she will always be known as “the one who got away.” Then she receives a phone call from Jared, now a special agent for the FBI, with grim news. The killer has resurfaced, this time with a very specific target—Lizzy. And he’s made it clear that she will not escape him again. So begins a chilling game of cat-and-mouse, a terrifying, heart-pounding hunt that only one will survive.

My Review:

Abducted is a page-turner for sure. The main character Lizzy Gardner was abducted as a teenager by one of the most frightening villains I’ve come across in a long time. Lizzy was with him for two months before she managed to escape. Fourteen years later the serial killer is back and targeting everyone around Lizzy, the bad girl who got away. Obsessed with labeling teenage girls as ‘good’ girls and ‘bad’ girls -who smoke, do drugs, have boyfriends, or talk back to their parents- the killer goes after bad girls to teach them a lesson. The lesson is torture and ultimately a slow death in an inconspicuous suburban house. Lizzy Gardner is now a private detective and vows to find the killer named Spiderman before he can strike at her family. Unfortunately, not everything goes as planned due to Spiderman’s web of horror he has spun around everyone in her life.

There is a fair amount of sadistic torture, but overall this book included just enough of it to make a truly scary story without being over-the-top gruesome. I think this is one of the differences between the ‘thriller/suspense’ and ‘horror’ genres. I rate this thriller 4 Feathers. It is a well thought out story with a great many character interconnections that add to the element of the horror in which one man was able to terrorize many. This book is the first in the Lizzy Gardner series. The second book in the series by T.R. Ragan, Dead Weight, has received great reviews. I look forward to reading it.

Black Angel by Barbara Samuel

Standard

Title: The Black Angel
Series: St. Ives Family
Author: Barbara Samuel
Genre: Historical Romance
Release Date: 1999
Format Read: Kindle
Pages: 368
Rating:

3feathers

“Back of Book” Summary:

Ardor once foolishly led Lady Adriana St. Ives into the arms of a rake, an affair that cost her everything she held dear. Though that was five years ago, this golden English beauty still vows that no man will ever again ignite the sensual passion hidden deep in her soul–not even her new husband, Tynan Spenser, Earl of Glencove, a darkly handsome and rich Irish rogue. Known as “The Black Angel” for his wild and lascivious ways, Tynan is as determined to melt his icy bride as she is to resist his seductive charms. Vowing that she will be his in just one hundred kisses, Tynan sets out to win her with a kiss each day–a challenge Riana is sure she can withstand. But the willful beauty has no idea of the power of a single kiss…

My Review:

The Black Angel is an historical romance set in 18th century England. I did like the story, but it wasn’t entirely original in the sense of the storyline of Adriana’s father arranging a marriage with an unfamiliar Tynan Spencer, a mysterious Irish lord, prior to his death. Adriana fights against any feelings for a husband she is forced to marry, but in an obvious twist she falls for him when he defends her brother who is on trial for killing a man in a duel. Despite this overused plot, an aspect of the book that made it more entertaining was Andriana’s past that created quite the scandal and the element of Tynan’s planned revolutionary actions to free Ireland from British control. Overall, a good read. However, I would only recommend this for a light read with some romance. I had wished for more politics and less romance. I most likely will not read any of the remaining St. Ives Family books in the series.