Review: “Windshift” By Joyce Faulkner

Through NetGalley I was provided a copy of this book by Red Engine Press for the purpose of reading and reviewing it. Although it was provided to me at no cost, I am under no obligation to give a positive review.

Set during World War II, this novel follows the paths of Shirley Maxwell and her three friends, Emmie, Delores and Mags. All of them have flight experience, and due to the shortage of available male pilots, they are recruited as part of the WASPs (Women’s Airforce Service Pilots) program to ferry planes from the factory in Ohio to an airbase in California.

Facing hostility from traditionally-minded civilians as well as military personnel concerned the ladies are taking jobs from able-bodied men, the four forge a strong bond. This helps them face with dignity and strength the challenges ahead.

Along the way, one of the four dies, another is burned badly, and a third contracts polio. Each finds love in some manner with varying results. Most of all, they just keep plugging along in the face of adversity.

First and foremost, this is a story of strength of will and character. Even though each of the four ladies has significant flight time under her respective belt, they are faced with men and women who believe they are wasting their time or not filling a traditional female role. Of course, there are also men in the Army who view the women as, at the very least, an infringement on their territory or, at the worst, undeserving women who are taking pilot jobs from more skilled males.

This is also a story of growth and development. While most characters demonstrate this, none do so more than the protagonist, Shirley. The story is told in the first person from her point of view. While this can be difficult to pull off when it comes to including details the narrator may not be aware of, Faulkner pulls this off nicely.

Finally, I really enjoyed this as a historical novel because it was, ashamedly, a part of history of which I was unaware. Thanks to Faulkner I will dig into the history of these brave women even more.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)


Review: “Song Of The Shaman” By Annette Vendryes Leach

Via NetGalley, MindPress Media was kind enough to provide me with a copy of this book for the purpose of reading and reviewing it. While it was provided to me at no cost, I am under no obligation to give a positive review.

Sheri Lambert is a New York ad executive who was adopted as an infant following the death of her mother during childbirth. Being a strong single woman who just hasn’t found the right man yet, Sheri decides to become a single mother. Her son Zig soon becomes the center of her world, as you would expect.

But as Zig grows, more and more bizarre things happen. He seems to have an innate knowledge of Indian traditions of all sorts, his fascination coming through at home and at school, often at the most inopportune times. Even though Zig is an outstanding student, he is perceived by his private school administrators as being disruptive and likely ADHD.

Zig regularly demonstrates his knowledge of Indian culture, including music, art and even the language, speaking Spanish and a a native tongue fluently at age ten, even though he has been immersed in neither language. A mishap with a fellow student further focuses the attention on Zig and pressure on Sheri to set him right increases.

This story flips back and forth between modern New York, primarily 2006, and Panama and Costa Rica of 1899.  The nineteenth century story tells of Benjamin grandson of an awa, a native shaman, who falls in love with Louise while caring for her ailing sister Maud. The relationship develops and continues in secret, finally coming to light and causing the friction one would expect with a mixed race relationship at that time.

As the story develops, we learn more about Sheri, who she is, and where she came from. We also learn how the two stories eventually meet up at the end of the novel.

Ultimately, this is a past-lives story full of romantic love as well as unconditional love, namely that of a mother for her son. While the reader is privy to most of the details of the story and can see where it’s going, leading to some predictability, it’s not all tied up in a semi-neat bow until the very end, which is very nice. There are a couple questions left unanswered, but they aren’t gaping holes by any means.

I really enjoyed this story, as it was well-paced and well-written. I certainly hope this novel brings success for Leach and she produces other books in the future. I would definitely like to check them out.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Review: “Brave Genius” By Sean B. Carroll

Crown Publishing provided me a copy of this eGalley, via NetGalley, for the purposes of reading and reviewing it. Although it was provided to me at no cost, I am under no obligation to provide a positive review.

Before I get started, let me say this is an epic book. It’s 576 pages of (as my sixteen year old son would say) “beefy” reading. The amount of research required to produce this tome must have been extensive, and for that I commend Carroll. Unfortunately, I could only read 10-20 pages at a time before getting bogged down in details and having to set it aside.

On the surface, this looks like a fascinating story: two famous Frenchman, Albert Camus and Jacques Monod, have their paths cross during the French Resistance against the Nazi Germany regime of World War II. Each has a completely different background and career, and yet they strike up a friendship that lasts well beyond World War II until Camus’s untimely death in 1960.

While I had only a passing familiarity with Monod prior to reading this book, I have been a fan of Camus’s writing for years. It was fascinating to read the path each person took on their way to receiving a Nobel Prize in their respective fields.

My biggest complaint about this book is it spends far too much time on the details surrounding the lives of Camus and Monod. Sure, the strategies the Nazis employed for invading France are fascinating and set in motion the Resistance effort that led to Camus and Monod meeting, but the details are too far removed from the actions of the men themselves. Don’t get me wrong, I am fascinated with World War II and Nazi Germany in particular, but that’s not what I was hoping for or expecting from this book.

The same thing applies later when the author spends a significant amount of time describing the research leading up to Monod’s Nobel Prize. You can see that Carroll’s training as a biologist shines through, as he is obviously passionate about Monod and his work. But it does seem to become unwieldy at times.

In a nutshell, it seems this book doesn’t really have a clearly defined identity. Is it a biography of Camus and Monod? Historical text? Biology text? While Carroll’s details and research are undoubtedly meticulous, the book could have been cut by 150 or more pages and still be an outstanding recording of these men’s lives. As it is, it gets bogged down under its own weight.

Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

Review: “The Book Of Lost Things: Mister Max #1” By Cynthia Voigt

Through NetGalley, I was given a copy of this eGalley by Random House Children’s Books for the purpose of reading and reviewing it. Although it was provided to me at no cost, I am under no obligation to provide a positive review.

Max Starling is twelve years old when he accidentally gets separated from his parents, who are famous stage performers, as prepare to they sail to India to perform for a royal host. Fortunately he still has his Grammie to rely on for housing and food. But as time goes on, it becomes apparent the trip his parents took was not what it appeared to be at first. When nothing is heard from his parents besides a couple cryptic postcards, Max decides he must be independent.

Fortunately, Max is well-equipped for the task as he knows what it takes to be a good performer, having watched his parents up-close for years. The ability to play roles, including appropriate costuming, ends up being a skill Max is quite adept at, and it serves him well throughout the book.

Things begin rolling for Max when he receives a reward for finding a lost child who actually found him. Suddenly Max is in demand for finding lost things, which eventually morphs into problem-solving. Not quite a detective and not quite sure what to call himself, Max eventually settles on a new title: Solutioneer.

In addition to his ever-present Grammie, supporting characters include Max’s math tutor and roommate Ari and Max’s clever, pesky and loquacious assistant/partner/cohort Pia.

As Max solutioneers others’ problems, the main question remains: can he solutioneer his own biggest problem — what has happened to his parents?

When I saw this book was written by Newberry medalist Voigt, I had high expectations — and Voigt definitely delivers. While this book is aimed at children 8-12 years old, according to Random House’s website, it should be of interest to readers of all ages. There’s no dumbing down of the subject matter and plot. In fact, I suspect there will be plenty of words young readers will need to look up in order to increase their vocabulary, and that’s a good thing. There are even some math and geography lessons thrown into the plot.

It’s ironic this book is written better than an adult mystery book I recently reviewed, as this one is aimed toward children. The clues are there for you to mine if you’re paying attention, and they aren’t thrust into your face in an obvious manner.

The book is obviously the first in a series, and it ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, as you would suspect. I will absolutely have to check out the remainder of this series as the author produces them.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Review: “Bullying Under Attack” By Teen Ink

Via NetGalley, I received a copy of this book from HCI Books for the purposes of reading and reviewing it. Although it was provided to me at no cost, I am under no obligation to provide a positive review.

As a martial arts instructor to children and youths, bullying is very much on the forefront of my areas of interest. Not just how to protect yourself from and handle bullies in a non-violent manner, but also how to prevent our youngsters from becoming bullies in the first place.

This book is an outstanding collection of prose and poetry written by teens. As the cover states, the stories are told by victims, former bullies and even bystanders. Not all of them are happy endings, but all of them are a message a hope. The victims may not have reached of point of power where the bullying is non-existent or doesn’t bother them anymore, but sometimes a glimpse of hope is all it takes.

I was also pleased to see a couple stories from bystanders who readily admit they did nothing to stop a bullying situation. But by acknowledging it, they are putting themselves on notice to not let it happen again, which is still a positive step.

The editors have included an extensive collection of books, websites, organizations and resources to help. Can’t put enough weight on how those resources might be able to help someone someday.

My favorite excerpt had to the the following, which encapsulates all you need to know, regardless of which side of the bullying coin you fall:

“Define yourself. Be yourself. Love yourself.”  — Elana Burack

Yeah. Exactly.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Review: “Love Gone Mad” By Mark Rubinstein

Through NetGalley I received an eGalley of this book from Thunder Lake Press for the purposes of reading and reviewing it. While it was provided to me at no cost, I am under no obligation to give it a positive review.

This book is essentially a thriller with a love interest thrown in as part of the plot. In a nutshell, Dr. Adrian Douglas is very talented and handsome cardiovascular surgeon. He meets Megan Haggarty, a drop-dead gorgeous neonatal nurse.  As their relationship develops, enter Conrad Wilson, Haggarty’s ex-husband. He’s Mensa-level brilliant, built like a bodybuilder with the speed of an NFL running back, and he’s as crazy as the day is long. But his obsession is very monomaniacal in its focus: he only wants to hurt and or kill Douglas and Haggarty. Oh yeah, he doesn’t think Haggarty’s daughter, born during his marriage to the nurse, is his.

And away we go on this path, with lots of drama and tension and a growing love interest. Will Wilson succeed? Whose daughter is it really? Will the Couple Made In Heaven find peace and happiness together?

Overall, this book really didn’t do that much for me. There’s plenty of drama in the beginning, plenty in the end, and a huge lull in the middle. While it was necessary to progress the plot and is deep in accurate legal information, the lull really took away the thriller feel from the novel.

I also didn’t like the death revealed at the end of the book. The reason behind it felt too preachy, as if the author was trying to make a point. That’s not why I read thrillers. I can form my own political opinions, thankyouverymuch.

I also found the tension moments to be predictable. I could tell at the beginning of a chapter something was going to happen and what it would be, for the most part. Haggarty alone in the locker room after a long shift? Oh yeah, something’s going to happen.

Rubinstein does a great job of describing scenes and that helps the flow tremendously. In that area at least, the author does have chops. But the climactic portion of this book almost has a deus ex machina feel to it, which kind of detracts from it a bit. I would rather have an twist revealed by a clue I missed earlier than something brought to light after the climax.

My final beef are the characters. They struck me as being too cardboard / cookie cutter. The male lead is stunningly handsome and a cardiovascular surgeon. Of course he is. The female lead is drop-dead gorgeous and an RN at the same hospital. Uh huh. As mentioned before, the antagonist is a huge, physically intimidating man, very quick for his size and also exceedingly brilliant. Yeah.

So in a nutshell, decent prose and dialog, but predictable with characters and plots, as well as a big lull in the middle which causes the book to lose momentum.

Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

Review: “Taekwondo Black Belt Poomsae: Original Koryo & Koryo” By Richard Chun & Doug Cook

YMAA Publication Center provided me with this book, via NetGalley, for the purposes of reading and reviewing it. Even though it was provided to me at no cost, I am under no obligation to provide a positive review.

In many ways, I may be one of the perfect people to review this book. As a third degree black belt in taekwon-do, I have the foundation in the art to perform the techniques required for these two poomsae. But as my black belt is in another style of taekwon-do, where we perform the Ch’ang-Hon patterns instead of the Taegeuk / Palgwe / Yudanja sets, I don’t already know these poomsae, so they would be completely new for me.

Overall, I liked the way the authors demonstrated the patterns. For each move, a diagram was shown giving foot position before and after the move. Also included was a picture of the technique being performed by Grandmaster Chun. If appropriate, an inset photo from a different angle is shown for clarification of hand positioning, etc. Each move is also described in detailed steps, showing what stance transitions and techniques need to be performed.

Having only seen Koryo pattern in passing on video, and having not seen Original Koryo at all, I was able to take this text and learn both patterns to memorization in under an hour. Certainly, that’s not a level of proficiency required to advance to the next rank, but I believe it’s a tribute to the quality of the book that I was able to teach myself the patterns. While a book should never be used as a substitute for a qualified instructor, it can certainly be a valid complementary tool.

My only beef with the book is the description and demonstration of the patterns do not start until Page 73. All the pages up to that point are filled with a history of taekwond-do from its origins prior to its naming, as well as photos and descriptions of various taekwon-do techniques. As the target audience for this book is, by definition and title, black belts, why spend so much time on this subject matter? On the history of the art, perhaps, although I would hope any black belt worth his or her salt would have that familiarity already. But photos and descriptions of techniques learn at white belt or soon after? I’m sorry, but it comes across as fluff and an attempt to pad the book to a particular length.

That said, it’s definitely worth it as a supplemental resource for black belts wanting to learn Original Koryo or brush up on Koryo.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)