29 March 2010

Orbis Terrarum, To Be Read, Non-Fiction Five and Chunkster Challenges Accepted.

Follow this link and join. I will do this within the 50 book challenge.
Orbis Terrarum 2010 Challenge Rules:
*The Orbis Terrarum Challenge begins April,1st 2010 (you are welcome to join later) through the month of November.
*For the challenge each reader is to choose 8 books (for the 8 months of the challenge).
*Each book must from a different country, I have decided to go by the country of origin of the author, or the country he/she lives in is fine as well-meaning not the country the book is set in!!
*You don’t have to have a list, that means you can change your mind at any time. As long as there are 8 books you have completed the challenge.

Here is my plan, though it is flexible:
1. Darkness at Noon - Arthur Koestler - Hungary
2. Remains of the Day - Kazou Ishiguro - Japan
3. The Sky Unwashed - Irene Zabytko - Ukraine
4. Night Train - Martin Amis - England
5. The Fountainhead - Ayn Rand - Russia
6. Reading Lolita in Tehran - Azar Nafisi - Iran
7. A Thousand Spledid Suns - Khaled Hosseini - Afghanistan
8. Things Fall Apart - Chinua Achebe - Nigeria

Possible alternates sitting on the shelf:
The Odyssey - Homer - Greece
The Age of Reason - Jean-Paul Sartre - France
Utterly Monkey - Nick Laird - Northern Ireland
The Rape of Nanking - Iris Chang - China
The Eyre Affair - Jasper Fforde - England
Candide - Voltaire - France
Siddhartha - Herman Hesse - Germany

Another challenge is called the "To Be Read" challenge. This is where you list twelve books (one per month)that have been sitting on your shelf for a year or more that you have been wanting to read. Keep track of those twelve as you read them. Read them all during the year and you have reached the goal.
Here are my twelve for this challenge:
1. The Sky Unwashed - Irene Zabytko
2. The Remains of the Day - Kazou Ishiguro
3. The Hot Zone - Richard Preston
4. It Can't Happen Here - Sinclair Lewis
5. The Fountainhead - Ayn Rand
6. As I Lay Dying - William Faulkner
7. Cat's Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut
8. The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemingway
9. Things Fall Apart - Chinua Achebe
10. Walden - Henry David Thoreau
11. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
12. The Art of War - Sun Tzu

Next is the Non-Fiction Five challenge. Read five non-fiction books between May and September 2010.
1. The Redneck Manifesto - Jim Goad
2. Gianna: Aborted...and Lived to Tell About It - Jessica Shaver
3. Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap labor in the American
      Black Market - Eric Schlosser
4. Blood on the Shores: Soviet Seals in World War II - Viktor Leonov
5. Scientific Dumbology: Gaffes, Foul-Ups and Blunders - Robert Youngson

-That Others May Live: The True Story of the PJs, the Real Life Heroes of The Perfect Storm - Jack Brehm
-Jihad Vs. McWorld: How Globalism and Tribalism are Reshaping the World - Benjamin R. Barber
-How to Read Literature Like a Professor - Thomas C. Foster
-None Dare Call It Treason - John A. Stormer
-The Bobby Kennedy Nobody Knows - William Nicholas
-Juiced - Jose Canseco
-Stormin' Norman: An American Hero - Jack Anderson and Dale Van Atta
-Chariots of the Damned: Helicopter Speacial Operations from Vietnam to Kosovo - Maj. Mike McKinney
-Hawk, Occupation: Skateboarder - Tony Hawk
-The Culture of Fear: Why Americans are Afraid of the Wrong Things - Barry Glassner
-Selling Olga: Stories of Human Trafficking and Resistance - Louisa Waugh
-A Nation of Victims: The Decay of the American Character - Charles J. Sykes
-My Turn At Bat: The Story of My Life - Ted Williams
and many others.

I am also going to accept a challenge called "The Chunkster" challenge. This one requires three books per year to have 450 or more pages. It is designed to keep readers from grabbing shorter novels just to reach the fifty book goal. I think I will make that 500 pages and at least 4 books.
--Walden was well over 560 pages. One down.
--Child 44 was 528 pages. Two down.
--The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand is the next Chunkster. I have made a deal with a guy at work where we both start reading it on 1 June 2010.
--I have yet to decide what other Chunksters will follow, but I have a few on the shelf.

See my menu lists to the right and follow along all year.

28. Chernobyl: A Russian Journalist's Eyewitness Account

Chernobyl: A Russian Journalist's Eyewitness Account - Andrey Illesh
I have read many books about Chernobyl. They all write extensively about the events of the night of the disaster, the response, the recovery and the investigation. This one gave those same subjects a bit of discussion and then moved in a different direction each time.

This book was published in 1987. It was only one year after the accident. It was before the collapse of the Soviet Union. The news was still new and the cleanup was still being accomplished.

This book wrote about the people. It wrote about the firemen, but did not leave of with them. This book wrote about nurses, construction workers, taxi drivers, the families that took in entire relocated families into their homes. It wrote of the doctors in Moscow working to save the injured and the relationship they had with the American and European specialists who came to help. It wrote about how the farmers would plant certain crops to leech different types of radiation from the soil or other crops because they did not absorb other kinds of radiation.

This was a fascinating side of the story that I had only gotten glimpses of from the other books I have read.

The author had me wondering though. He seemed to back the Soviets in all the decisions they made. I understand that we tend to do the same with our own government, usually, and that we have many years of cold war propaganda to dispel to truly be allowed to see Russia for what it is. My problem is that I know the Soviets used the media to control the people. This author was a reporter for Izvestiya, a major daily paper in Moscow. Was he spewing the party line or was he telling the whole truth? I think he leaned toward the “story” as opposed to the truth, but that does no make much difference in the stories of these people’s lives.

As an example of what I mean, here he is writing about “Account No. 904”. This is the name of an account opened in Gosbank (the government bank) for receiving aid funds brought in voluntarily by Soviet citizens and organizations as well as from other countries. He goes on to say “Every resident of the USSR voluntarily contributed one day’s labor without pay. The day’s salary for this day of work was transferred to the fund used to help those who suffered from the accident.”

Really? Every resident did this? Every resident volunteered to do this? Like I said, I am sure there were many that did, but wouldn’t it be more like the Soviet way to tell the world that every citizen volunteered for this? Yeah, right. Sure they did.

No matter if the author was a puppet for the Soviet government spewing propaganda to control the masses or if he was a writer attempting to dispense the truth in some diplomatically acceptable way, this book was an excellent read and provided an insight into a culture that we rarely get to view.

23 March 2010

27. The Night of Four Hundred Rabbits

The Night of Four Hundred Rabbits - Elizabeth Peters

This book stunk. It was boring. I was dying just trying to finish it.

Elizabeth Peters is actually a pseudonym for a writer of mystery novels.

The characters lacked depth. The relationships seemed shallow and not well thought out.

The one bright spot was a line early on that struck me as quite funny. "That's maturity - when you realize that you've finally arrived at a state of ignorance as profound as that of your parents."

Don't bother with this book.

22 March 2010

26. Deal Breaker

Deal Breaker - Harlan Coben

Here is one of those crime novels that seem to be so popular. I am not sure why. They all seem the same. Different characters in a different place and with a different crime, but still, somehow the same.

Myron Bolitar, the hero, a very good looking ex-basketball star who worked for the government, then was a private detective and is now a sports agent and is some kind of hand-to-hand fighting expert. He might just be the cockiest character I have ever read. With a gun to his head from the bad guys he still cracks jokes about their mothers and makes fun of them? Come on.

Just happens to have a partner, Win, who is some kind of trained government killer in his past. Now he is a nerdy guy who nobody expects to be such a bad-ass.

Oh, and Myron has an ex-girlfriend (Jessica) who he still has feelings for...and she just happens to be the sister of his new client's girlfriend (Cathy). Christian, the phenom rookie football quarterback is the new client. The whole NFL wants him, but he gets caught up in some stink when Cathy disappears and then her father is murdered. Wow, conveniently Myron starts investigating the murder of Jessica's father and the disappearance of Cathy. All in the name of helping his client, of course.

Also very conveniently Jessica shows up and she realizes the breakup was a big mistake because they have been pining away for each other for years. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

So, Myron is investigating and interviewing all kinds of people. Mobsters. Porn photographers Cocaine dealers and crack addicts. Owners and head coaches of NFL teams. Policemen. The College Dean. Professional football players. Other private detectives. It does not matter who they are. Myron is his overconfident sarcastic self everywhere he goes...and somehow everyone around him caves. They conveniently always give him a clue to follow. One more piece of the puzzle, just when he needed it.

Sorry, I just don't see these people answering Myron's questions and incriminating themselves throughout the story just because he is a good looking guy who wants to ask some questions.

It was a fun story, but no way would this ever be able to happen. Myron would have been dead numerous times over.

I have a feeling this is one of those writers that has some kind of standard writing format that he plugs names and circumstances around to crank out books.

It was not bad, but not believable and way to predictable.

19 March 2010

25. You Suck

You Suck: A Love Story - Christopher Moore

New vampires who are learning the ropes without guidance from the old one that turned them. A 16 year old goth girl minion and her friends, along with all the teenage drama. A group of nerds who work the night shift at Safeway who double as vampire hunters. A call girl from Vegas who has dyed her skin blue to attract customers. A homeless man who is known as The Emperor and "runs" San Francisco. Some bumbling cops who have to deal with the sarcasm of all these adolescents.

The story is humorous. It made me laugh quite a bit. It is also very immature, which could be why I laughed so much. It is probably geared toward a younger demographic than I would consider myself.

The charachter development was very good. Even the guys from Safeway all had personalities of thier own. Parts of the story were told as diary entries from 16 year old Abbie Normal (real name was Allison, named after a song by Elvis. LOL) She was a goth kid who happened to be perky. Her charachter was hilarious.

Anyway, the story is actually a continuation of a previous book which I forget the name of. Numerous times there were digressions to that book or references to events from the beginning of the story. It made me wish I had read that one first so I knew what they were talking about. You Suck stood on it's own just fine, but it did make enough references to the past to be slightly annoying. I guess the author assumed the readers would have already read the first book.

Tommy and Jody were the young vampires figuring everything out as they went along. They didn’t even know what powers they had as vampires. They just knew the sun hurt and stuff like that. The adventures they had were quite funny because they kept messing up and bitching at each other like teenagers do.

The book was funny, but I think I will pass on any other Christopher Moore titles. It made me feel old. Maybe that is what my problem was. Maybe it made me realize I am not twenty a few too many times. That must be it. :-)


Am I able to make a post from my BlackBerry?

I think I can.

10 March 2010

24. Under And Alone

Under and Alone : The True Story of the Undercover Agent Who Infiltrated America's Most Violent Outlaw Motorcycle Gang - William Queen

This is a true story written by an ATF agent who went undercover inside the Mongols outlaw motorcycle gang. This gang was the most violent of all the motorcycle gangs in the country. William Queen spent two and a half years working his way into the gang, gathering evidence, and living as a biker dude. He went from a hang-around to a prospect to a fully Patched member of the gang. He ended up being an officer and held the position of Treasurer. His sacrifices to get these criminals off the streets were well beyond any call of duty.

I was amazed as I read this book. The conflicts within this man were tremendous. He wants to make a case against these guys, but can not do the things they would normally do. How can he be a Federal agent and commit a crime at the same time? How could he not commit a crime and still not draw the suspicions of the gang members? If they even thought he was a cop they would kill him in a heartbeat.

Agent Queen became Billy St John and took on a whole new life. He was separated from his family. He was separated from his friends. His entire life was turned upside down. He was hanging around with psychopaths and deviates all the time. The thoughts he conveyed in this book made me feel for him and understand his thinking and internal turmoil.

The gang was called the Mongols. They were arch enemies with the Hells Angels and had a war with them in the 60’s. Billy went undercover in 1998 and finished his work in 2000. During that time the tension between the two gangs ramped up and they antagonized and confronted each other numerous times. The Mongols were some very bad dudes. The chapter Billy joined was from the San Fernando Valley in California. Just over the hill from downtown Los Angeles.

The part that really touched me was when his mother died. Billy went away for a week or so and attended the funeral in North Carolina. Upon his return he went back to work. None of his colleagues at the ATF even mentioned his mother’s death. He felt like he was just a “badge number” to them. Then he went back to the Mongols. One by one they gave their condolences, embraced him, and told him they loved him. Billy St John/ William Queen had a very hard time with this reality. I can imagine the conflict within him.

The stories of the things being done by the Mongols and how he maneuvered his way through the minefields were outstanding. I was left wanting more. I was left wishing I was able to sit down and just hear this man tell these stories and ask questions.

This was an awesome story about a man who has more balls than anyone I have known in my life.

09 March 2010

23. Something Good's Gonna Happen

Something Good's Gonna Happen - Paul Orberson

This is the story of a man who made millions. He was busting his butt as a high school sports coach and went into network marketing in the early 90's.

He joined a company called Excel which sold long distance telephone service. For a few years he struggled. Eventually he was being paid over a million dollars per month.

Then he retired, at 39 years old.

But he got bored playing golf and traveling around goofing off. So, he started his own company in 2000. Fortune High Tech Marketing it is called. It has been growing quickly and is the only network marketing company listed in Forbes.

This is a motivational book that is designed to get you off your ass and go do something. He asks a lot of questions about where you are and where you want to be. He gives a lot of anecdotes about how he was there and what he did. He struggled. He worked. He goes over it all and explains how he was thinking at the time. It shows his state of mind and what his motivations were.

I could relate to his story. The dead endedness I feel when I go to work and think that I will be doing this same junk forever and then I will die. Maybe I can be financially independant like Paul Orberson. Why not?

I will try to use some of what he has said and make some changes in my outlook on my own life. Who knows where that will lead.  :-)

08 March 2010

22. State of Fear

State of Fear - Michael Crichton

Ecological terrorists attempt to shear off a huge chunk of Antarctica, cause a large loss of life due to flash floods, divert a hurricane into Miami, and cause a tsunami that will hit the West coast of America.

They do all this to "prove" man has caused a global warming problem and catastrophic abrupt climate change is coming.

They try to prove it by causing these things to happen and then blaming it on an increase in CO2 in the atmosphere.

I liked this book a lot. No matter which side of the climate change issue you fall on, the story was pretty darned exciting.

It is not one of the best books I have read (well, heard, since it was an audio-book. A long one.)
It is not even one of Michael Crichton's best, but it was interesting.

I am making this a short post because I don't feel like typing very much. I would rather go read more of Under and Alone, which I am enjoying much more than State of Fear.

06 March 2010

21. Child 44

Child 44 - Tom Rob Smith

Set in Stalin's Soviet Union in 1953, this story is intriguing and insightful. It not only was an excellent crime novel, but it explained how the people of the Soviet Union thought. How they would act to protect themselves in many different ways..

I found it fascinating how each person’s existence was based on their relationships with everyone else around them. Everyone went through life behaving as if the smallest problems with anyone at all could cause an investigation. These were investigations in which the accused was presumed guilty and was never able to prove their innocence, even if they were. The accusation alone made them guilty.

One of the premises of this book is that during Stalin’s reign there was no crime in the Soviet Union. There was no crime because the State said there was no crime. Whatever the state said must be true, even if the facts prove otherwise. There could be no crime because the State promised it’s citizens that it would provide a paradise where all their needs were met. The only way there could be a crime is if the State failed in some way. That was not allowed.

So, in this book there is a serial killer. He is murdering children all over the Soviet Union. They are all found naked, mutilated, with their mouths full of “soil”, and with a string tied around their ankles. There murders are routinely covered up and “solved”. The blame is always placed on some crazy person. A drunkard. A foreigner. A Lunatic. An orphan. All the people who would not cast a shadow on the Soviet system. These people were outside the Soviet system. They were vagrants and problem people.

This is where the protagonist, Leo Demidov, becomes involved. He works at the MGB. This is the predecessor to the KGB. Leo works as an agent who investigates and arrests political dissidents. He goes after the people who take “actions detrimental to the Soviet way of life”. Needless to say, admitting there are multiple murders that have resulted in confessions, yet are all incorrect, is something that is “detrimental to the Soviet way of life”. If one confession is wrong then thousands are suspect. The entire legal system is based on these confessions. It would all fall apart if a coverup is exposed.

There are alternate plot lines taking place for the whole first half of the book. It took quite a while for me to realize which plot line was the main story line. They were all interesting.

Anyway, for reasons unrelated to the murders, Leo falls from favor. He and his wife, Raisa, are arrested and sent to the far eastern regions of The Soviet Union to work. He has a rival at the MGB who has succeeded in setting him up and getting himself promoted.

Leo’s world is shattered. He has dedicated his life to the Soviet Union. He has bought the party line in totality. Now he has nothing. The very system he loved has sent him packing. He now learns to see things and think very differently.

At that time he discovers the body of a murdered child and realizes that the same evidence was present at a murder he covered up in Moscow. He convinces the local militia general that they need to investigate.

The story rolls from there. The killer’s identity and motives eventually are revealed. It is not a big surprise, but the unfurling of the chase was very interesting and exciting.

Something that I found both heart-wrenching and sad was the attitude of the Soviet people and it’s government towards orphans. I have adopted four children from Ukraine. I know what happens to these kids and how they are literally “non-persons”. Yes, “non-persons” is a legal term used to define them. I swear to God.

During the story there were two times that orphans choked me up. One was when the militia arrested an orphan and railroaded him for a child’s murder. The teen boy was executed for a murder he did not commit and was accused of it only because he was an orphan. An easy target.

The second was early in the book. Leo and Vasili are pursuing a “criminal”. Leo catches him, but Vasili ends up executing two of the man’s friends to set an example. The man and woman are executed in front of their two daughters. Leo later has to interrogate Brodsky (the prisoner) in Lubyanka prison. The conversation goes as follows.

“-The children? Mikhail’s daughters? Where are they now?
-They’ve been placed in an orphanage. They’re safe.
An orphanage- was that meant as a joke, was that part of this punishment? No, this man wouldn’t make a joke. He was a believer.
-Have you ever been to an orphanage?
-The girls would’ve had a better chance of surviving if you’d left them on their own.
- The State is looking after them now.”

The State is looking after them now. Yeah, just like it was looking after my four children.The State sucks today. I am sure it sucked much more under Stalin.

This was an excellent book. Especially for a first novel. I will read more of Tom Rob Smith’s work, despite the weird name.