Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Book 26: The Descendants

Like probably everyone else, I heard of this novel when I heard about the George Clooney movie, and it just didn't interest me.  I honestly couldn't tell you the last Clooney movie I saw - probably one of the Ocean movies.  He seems like a charming nice guy, but I just don't quite share the same opinion about his appeal as everyone else.  Thus, if anything, Clooney's involvement made me slightly less interested.  After all, it sounded like a simple enough story.  While that is the case, I couldn't believe just how much I enjoyed this novel.  It was just very well-written, very realistic, and it didn't seem like it provided easy answers.  It is obvious how the narrator, Matthew King, has been deluding himself, how he has been an absent father, but he shares enough for the reader to make their own judgements and decisions.  Since I had finished The Tiger's Wife before reading this, I appreciated a narrator and character that I could feel connected to.  While I didn't agree with everything King did or has done, I understood his reactions, I understood him, and I cared for him.
The novel begins in the hospital during a daily visit to the hospital to see Joanie, Matt's comatose wife.  His ten year old daughter Scottie seems afraid of her mom though Matt keeps trying to get Scottie to talk to her.  Joanie, a model, has been the primary care giver and decision maker in her daughters' lives, and Matt has let her call the shots.  Now that he finds himself responsible, he is shocked by Scottie's actions, and also tries to change things.  Alex, his older daughter, is away at boarding school as punishment for a drug problem and due to an argument with Joanie.  The girls portrayed in this novel have issues, and it is clear that they aren't simply the result of a mom in a coma, or being spoiled rich girls.  As the novel reveals more and more about Joanie, the picture is not necessarily flattering.  Her friends and family love her, she was smart, sarcastic, adventurous and beautiful, but it also meant the girls had no idea how to live up to their mother.  After all, her coma is the result of a boat racing accident, another example of Joanie's zest for life.  How does one deal with being plain, or cautious when growing up under a shadow like that?  Matt believes that he and Joanie teased each other a lot, but that they loved each other and that she was self-sufficient.  However, the more the novel reveals, the more it leaves one to wonder how many of her comments were inside jokes and how many were real complaints that Matt ignored.
When Matt finally has to face the idea that Joanie won't recover, he gets Alex out of boarding school, and gathers friends and family.  In this process he makes a discovery about Joanie he has been trying to avoid despite clues.  Amidst all this, Matt also has one big business decision to make.  As a descendant of the last princess of Hawai'i, he and his extended family have owned a large amount of land under a trust, and they now have the option to sell their land and inheritance, leaving the question of who to sell to, and how it will be developed.  Basically, with his wife's coma, Matt is facing decisions and questions involving the future of his family as well as the past and their legacy.  While it is hard to say what will happen to the Kings, it ended on a hopeful note, and left me wanting things to work out for all the characters involved.  I enjoyed the fact that even though Matt was the narrator, the novel provided some other perspectives, and that he included his flaws, giving the reader his view of things but still letting them infer the reality.  I know I'm way behind the crowd on this, but I'd definitely recommend checking this one out.  Maybe I'll even watch the movie now.

Book 25: The Tiger's Wife

I never know about award winning novels: on the one hand, the awards occasionally introduce me to amazing novels I wouldn't have noticed otherwise but sometimes their opinions and mine just don't mesh.  That is somewhat the case when it comes to The Tiger's Wife.  Tea Obreht is originally from Serbia, one of the countries that was once part of Yugoslavia, before war and bloodshed.  Her novel deals with war, conflict, ethnic differences, and tells the story of coming of age in an unnamed war torn city.  And while I feel like I should care about this, I had a hard time actually feeling that way.  I felt too distant from the narrator, Natalia, to truly care what was going on with her specifically.  At the beginning of the novel, she is enroute to give vaccines to children in an orphanage when she finds out that her grandfather has died in a random village, confusing his family.  Though accompanied by her best friend, she keeps the information to herself and seems rather numb.  For the rest of the novel, she reflects on her childhood, growing up with her mom and grandparents, the war, and the stories her grandfather used to tell as well as the stories of her grandfather she learned later in life.
Natalia remembers visiting the tigers at the zoo with her grandfather until the zoo was closed down by the war, though she never quite understood his interest in them.  While I was never completely drawn into the modern day part of the story with only a few exceptions, I quite enjoyed the vignettes and two stories that played such an important role in Natalia's grandfather's life.  One of these is the deathless man, whom the grandfather comes across at various times throughout his life, a man who cannot die and also ends up playing a small supporting role in the tiger's wife story, though it isn't clear if the grandfather knew this.  The tale of the tiger's wife was a beautifully written fairy tale like story set during the World War II, and is about her grandfather's village and a tiger that escaped from the city's zoo during bombing, making its way north.  It is sad, tragic and poignantly written.  The characters are written with redeeming qualities or enough of a backstory to give them some depth, even the ones that end up playing villainous roles.
If the novel had stayed in the past, I would have easily said that this was a good novel and recommended it (though I wonder if part of that was simple manipulation - of course, I'm going to feel lots of emotions about an abandoned tiger; I think most people would agree with me that an animal's struggle in a book or movie is almost always more moving than a person's).  Unfortunately, I didn't like the parts set in the modern day or even the previous decade of warfare. It just felt like it could have been so much more but I was apathetic to the main character and her family.  Every once in a while there is an interesting glimpse into their daily lives, but mostly she portrays herself as a dissatisfied teen that grew up to become a doctor like her grandfather.  Additionally, while I enjoyed the stories, the overall narrative is a bit disjointed as a result.  Natalia uses these stories to explain and understand her grandfather but I would have preferred him as the narrator in that case.  In fact, I think that would have been a better novel - the grandfather's perspective of his life and the war.  Basically, I don't quite understand all the attention this novel received - I was emotionally invested for half the novel which may be enough for a lukewarm recommendation but not for an award winning novel.  Natalia was too disconnected from her surroundings and as a result, I was disconnected from her.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Book 24: The Devil's Star

Though this is fifth Harry Hole novel in Norway, it's only the third one in the US.  While things seemed to be going well for Harry at the end of Nemsis (he had solved a high profile case, and received permission to pursue investigating his partner Ellen's death), he appears to have hit bottom in this one.  An alcoholic, Harry has mostly been avoiding alcohol in the last two novels.  When The Devil's Star begins, Harry is coming off a four week long bender, and would probably have continued even longer if his boss hadn't call him in on a case.  While his boss, Moller, has been trying to cover for him, and even put him down as on vacation, it is the holiday season, so he has no one else to call but Harry for a new murder case.  Worse, he has to partner him with Tom Waaler, and Moller knows that Harry suspects Waaler of being behind Ellen's death and a gun smuggling ring.  It was one of the last things Harry had him told before disappearing for four weeks, a binge prompted by his inability to find any usable evidence to support his theory and bring Ellen justice.
At the crime scene, Harry and Tom discover a young woman, shot in her bathroom, index finger cut off.  An odd mark on her eye turns out to be a small, red diamond in the shape of a star or pentagram placed there by the killer.  Harry soon gets drunk again, and Moller puts in the paperwork to get him suspended from the force.  While waiting for the final decision, Harry uses a call by a distraught husband about a missing wife to get out of the office, and soon realizes that the police force actually has a serial killer on its hand, and that the wife is the second victim.
The rest of the novel follows the pursuit of the case, the implosion of Harry's personal and professional life (he and Rakel, his girlfriend, are separated as a result of Harry's self destructive behavior), and Harry's desire to prove what he knows about Tom to the rest of the force without knowing who to trust.  While I quite enjoyed the investigative piece of it and the mystery part, some of the things involving Tom towards the end just kind of went a bit all over the place with chases and intrigue.  Fortunately, it was really only the last fifty pages or so, and didn't take away from the rest of the novel, and I enjoyed the rest of the novel.  What I've found interesting is that so many of the negative reviews on Goodreads and Amazon say "he's no Stieg Larsson" simply because they're both Scandinavian and write crime thrillers.  I really don't think it's an apt comparison - the Harry Hole novels are series of detective or police crime novels, like so many other series in the US, that just happen to be by Norwegian author and take place in Norway.  I would say they are primarily mysteries, like any other series.  Larsson on the other hand has a trilogy that tells one woman's story - yes, there is a mystery at the center, but it still seems like it's more about what happens to Lisbeth.  The Hole series is a very well done myster/thriller series, though, and while there might be bits and pieces I could do without in the novels, overall they are very entertaining and engaging.  Actually, a certain plot point reminded me of a case involving a classic mystery character.  I'm curious to see where the series goes from here since Harry lays at least one demon to rest by the end.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Book 23: Midwives

While I have enjoyed every Bohjalian novel I've read (though if you are new to him, don't start with The Night Strangers), I was in no real hurry to pick this novel up.  I think sometimes I'm hesitant to read older novels by some authors, afraid they won't be nearly as good as their later work (for example, I really didn't like Chabon's The Mysteries of Pittsburgh), even though some people peak early and can never recapture the magic of earlier novels.  Maybe it was just the fact that the premise of the story didn't interest me as much because I don't plan on having kids or giving birth or anything like that.  Once I picked it up, it was just as good as any other one of his novels.  In fact, I'm kind of surprised he doesn't seem to be a more popular author - his novels have covered a variety of topics, always focus on the characters and their relationships, and some have twists, but since not all of them have twists, I'm not reading the novel expecting a twist, and am instead pleasantly surprised when there is a twist, adding an extra layer of complexity to the narrative I thought I just read.  Given that this particular novel dealt with court room drama, I especially found myself thinking Jodi Picoult fans should totally read him though his novels are better told and written.
Connie Danforth, the daughter of midwife Sybil Danforth (she is a lay-midwife, not a nurse midwife) and Rand, narrates the novel several years after the events that are the focus of the story.  In 1981, Sybil attends a homebirth for Charlotte Bedford, and though she originally expected no complications, the labor takes a long time, the expectant mother is exhausted, and Sybil considers transferring her to  the hospital.  Unfortunately, there is also a terrible winter storm that night in March, and the phones are out and the roads impassable - they are stuck in that bedroom in the isolated house in Vermont.  Eventually, Charlotte dies, and Sybil does an emergency casearean to save the baby.  However, Sybil's new assistant and midwife apprentice Anne doubts what she saw, and starts making phone calls to people, implying that Sybil did not save a baby from its dead mother's body - instead, she cut into a living woman, thus killing her.  The rest of the novel examines the after effects of these two very differing views of the events of that evening.
Sybil Danforth soon finds herself under investigation, and pressed with charges of involuntary manslaughter and practicing medicine without a license.  Of course, the trial is about much more than how Charlotte died.  It's about two competing views of life and childbirth.  While Charlotte's death could have been seen as unfortunate but an accident, it becomes part of a political agenda - the medical institution vs midwives.  I don't know how divisive of an issue this still is, but I think that as early as my high school AP history class, I was already introduced to do the idea of doctors villainizing midwives due to a documentary about a 18th century midwife whose journal had been discovered.  At first, doctors had no interest in birth since such womanly things were beneath them; however, slowly, the medical profession gained more prestige, and doctors realized there was money to be made, even though in many cases they had no idea of some simple home remedies and instead relied on bad science with no bed manner.  As a result, it added a certain amount of background and depth to this simple story about three women - Charlotte, Sybil and her daughter, Connie.  As a result of this prior knowledge of midwives and women's treatment in medicine (based on various women's studies classes), I found the portrayals here particularly interesting, even though the topic of childbirth in general isn't really something I care about on a personal level (I don't plan on having kids, even if I did, I doubt I'd have a homebirth although that has less to do with fears of something going wrong - though my mom was in labor for 28 hours - and more with the fact that I don't understand why people would want to ruin their own sheets and mattresses when they could mess up the ones at the hospital; I realize that is probably juvenile and somewhat shallow reasoning).
Since the story is told from hind sight, the novel reveals different pieces at different times, so that the reader knows about the eventual trial before they know about everything that happened that night.  The whole time I was waiting to see what the trial's outcome would be, and Bohjalian wrapped up the novel in a very satisfying way, giving voice to both sides of the debate, though it would be impossible not to feel for Sybil.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Book 22: Every Man Dies Alone

"He might be right: whether their act was big or small, no one could risk more than his life.  Each according to his strength and his abilities, but the main thing was, you fought back." (132)

Sometimes, a novel is more important because of what it represents than the actual writing or the novel itself.  Set in World War II era Berlin, the novel tells the story of Otto and Anna Quangel, a working class couple, who decide they have to do something to oppose Hitler's regime after their son's death during the conquest of France.  The story itself was written in 1946/47, when the wounds were still rather fresh, and is inspired by a true story.  Hans Fallada was a prominent German writer prior to Hitler's rise, and at that time was probably best known for the novel Little Man, What Now? which is about a German couple living in Berlin during the Depression, whose lives just seem to get worse and worse yet do not despair.  When Hitler came to power, many German authors left Germany; others became part of the regime.  Fallada tried to straddle the middle - he stayed in Germany but attempted to write novels that would neither offend nor support the Nazis.  The afterword specifically mentions one novel he wrote and changed to appease the Nazis, the ending being somewhat supportive of the regime.  After the war ended, a friend gave him the Gestapo file on Otto and Elise Hamperl, a couple that started a postcard campaign against Hitler and eluded capture for almost two years, inspiring this novel.
This novel tells a very different story from what one usually sees in Holocaust or World War II literature.  The Quangels resist, but this isn't the type of effective, organized and inspiring resistance so often portrayed in novels.  Instead, it is the story of two working class people with little education and their campaign against the Nazis.  Every Sunday, Otto writes one or two postcards, calling on the German people to wake up and realize what is going on, decrying the actions of Hitler and the government, and on Monday or Tuesday, Otto and Anna leave these postcards in random buildings, hoping that someone will read them, pass them on and be called to action because of them.  As Fallada shows in his novel, Otto and Anna do not have the effect they believe they do - basically, every postcard gets promptly turned into the Gestapo or the authorities and the few that aren't are destroyed as soon as the person that found them realizes what they are reading.  Basically, Fallada chooses to tell the story of people that are basically completely ineffectual in their efforts, but are still risking their lives to do the right thing.  It's actually a very interesting perspective to tell a story from, and Fallada has various characters throughout the novel to compare and contrast with the Quangels.  For example, there is Trudel, the Quangels' son's former fiancee, who finds comfort in family life but begins to ask herself about her own complicity by not acting against the Nazis; Eva Kluge, the postwoman (and my favorite character) who leaves the Nazi Party after she is confronted with an atrocity that her son has committed; Judge Fromm who is guided by the concept of justice.  These are the people that do small things and take small stands but even these things can be dangerous.  On the other side of things are the thugs and opportunists that have gained power from the Nazi's ascent, and the small time crooks and informers that are at the bottom of society regardless of who is in charge.  Some of these characters are rather cartoonish, and incredibly selfish, but I actually liked that Fallada chose to tell a smaller story, and in a way focused his attentions on one small building in a working class neighborhood in Berlin.  Its inhabitants included the Quangels, the Persickes (ardent Nazis), Judge Fromm, Mrs. Rosenthal (a Jew), and the informer and thief in the basement while Eva Kluge was their postwoman.
Unfortunately, I didn't love the novel, though I wish I had.  Fallada has a very simple writing style, and it's easy to follow but I can't say I always like how he portrays people that much.  Having read Little Man, What Now? in college, I think I can honestly say it's just the author's style that doesn't do it for me - I'm not sure if it's Fallada's beliefs or his characters' beliefs but there is a certain amount of "men do this, women do that" in his novels that just prevents me from enjoying them more.  In some ways the relationship between Otto and Anna is very sweet, but in other ways, Otto is very stubborn and Anna gives in to him in ways I didn't like.  The women seem to be very melodramatic and given to grand statements (I feel like I saw this with Trudel especially).  I think it is a story that deserves to be told, and even if the Quangels/Hamperls didn't have any effect on the German populace, it is an affirming story to see that people will do the right thing even against impossible odds.  While I liked the way some of the story developed, in the end I think this novel is significant not because it is an outstanding novel but because of what it represents and the stories behind its creation.

Book 21: Nemesis

Technically the fourth Harry Hole novel, it is the second one available in English (at least in the US), and takes place after The Redbreast.  Rakel and Harry are still seeing each other, but the custody battle that started in The Redbreast is ongoing, so that Rakel actually spends the entire novel in Russia, attempting to keep custody of her son Oleg.  Due to Rakel's absence, Harry accepts an invite from an ex-girlfriend for dinner, one of the first mistakes he will make throughout the novel.  At the same time that Harry and Anna decide to catch up, Harry is working a bank robbery case - this may seem a bit of a surprise given that Harry is usually involved in murder investigations, but this particular bank robbery ended with the death of one of the bank employees.  The robbery itself was immaculately conceived and executed.  Being Harry, he naturally sees things in a different way than the investigator in charge of the case, and quickly butts heads with him until he receives permission to run a separate task force to ensure they are staying open to fresh ideas.  The task force is comprised of Harry and Beate Lonn, daughter of a cop killed on duty, who has the ability to remember every face she has ever seen.
The night after Harry's dinner, he wakes up at his apartment with a hangover, and no memory of the previous night - he doesn't remember seeing Anna or getting home.  That morning he is assigned to a case with Tom Waaler, whom readers will remember from The Redbreast.  Next thing Harry knows, he finds himself at Anna's apartment, an apparent suicide victim, but things don't add up to Harry.  While admitting that he had seen her the previous evening or that he knew the victim may have helped lead to an investigation, Harry instead investigates her death independently and quickly narrows in on a possible suspect.
There is also some overlap between the two cases since it turns out that Anna's uncle is an infamous bank robber that may be able to provide information regarding the robbery that started the novel.  Overall, I was much more interested in the bank robbery and murder than Anna's murder.  I think this had a lot to do with the fact that I thought Harry was making stupid decisions in regard to Anna's case, and I was not at all convinced that he was going after the right suspect.  Something about the case was off to me, and it irritated me that he was pursuing it like a dog with a bone.  Other than that, I would say this was another tightly plotted mystery with a good amount of twists, though there were a few too many with regard to one of the cases.  Overall, I would say The Redbreast was the better book, but I'm still looking forward to continuing the series, especially since I have gotten the impression that some of the more recent ones are especially good.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Book 20: My Cousin Rachel

As much as I loved DuMaurier's novel Rebecca, in ways it has made me more hesitant to pick up more of DuMaurier's novels, afraid that they couldn't possibly live up to Rebecca.  I have had this novel for awhile now (in fact if Amazon is to be believed, I've had this novel for over three years, meaning it's moved with me from Germany to Virginia to Georgia to Illinois/Iowa) but the monthly keyword challenge is what finally inspired me to actually sit down and read it since it has a word related to the February keyword "family" in it.
My Cousin Rachel, like Rebecca, is a gothic novel, and this one is set in some undetermined time in 19th century England - a time when people used carriages and horses to go into town, when a letter from a different country took over three weeks to arrive, and telegrams and trains don't seem to exist or be in common usage yet.  The narrator, 24 year old Philip, has been raised by his cousin Ambrose in a house without women.  Ambrose was a bachelor for life, and didn't need any women around with their desire for order and cleanliness, and as a result, I didn't get the impression that Philip or Ambrose really understood them at all.  Due to health issues, Ambrose spends most winters on the continent, until one winter he visits Florence to explore the gardens, where he meets Rachel.  Philip only hears everything through letters, long delayed and occasionally sporadic, but Ambrose and Rachel get married, Ambrose extends his stay in Florence, and Philip feels jealous and neglected.  Eventually two letters arrive from Ambrose, both odd, alluding to illness, and carrying a certain tone of paranoia regarding Rachel, calling her his torment, claiming that she is watching and monitoring him.  Philip, being the loyal cousin that he is, races to Florence, only to discover that his cousin died three weeks previously, the letter only arriving after his departure, and Rachel has left the villa and the town.
Upon his return home, the will declares Philip heir to everything though he must remain under his godfather's guardianship until 25 years of age to ensure he is of sound moral character.  Philip blames Rachel for his cousin's death, thinking her a murderer, and is rather shocked when he hears she plans to visit his home soon.  Planning to confront her, he instead becomes fascinated by her, the woman in question not looking at like the woman he created in his mind.  During her stay, the reader continues to question what is going on.  Did Rachel poison Ambrose or did he die of natural causes?  His behavior was odd but Ambrose's own father died of a brain tumor with similar changes in attitude and personality.  I think this was the biggest difference to me between Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel - in Rebecca, I very definitely wanted to know about the past, and what mystery was being hidden on the grounds of Manderley while in the case of My Cousin Rachel I was more interested in how the relationships would develop.  Was Rachel a conniving murderer and opportunist?  Is she completely innocent?  Or is there some compromise between the two, where she may not resort to murder, but is certainly willing to manipulate people and situations for her benefit?  The interesting thing is that in a way I didn't even care because I actually quite liked Rachel, even though I was only getting Philip's perspective of her.  I didn't completely trust her, but I prefered her to Philip.
Even though he is the narrator, Philip does not come off in a good light at all.  Given his upbringing, not only does he not seem to understand women, he also has some views that could only be described as sexist and misogynistic, and not simply in the "he's a man in the 19th century" way.  Of course, I'm going to judge a character when he owns a library and says he doesn't spend much time reading.  He talks constantly about how awesome bachelor life with his cousin was, and how women just get in the way (of what?  your reading time that you don't use?  your hunting that you also don't seem to do?  walking around the estate restlessly?); he is also incredibly sheltered, having only ever left the estate to go to school, and then returned to the family home.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing but Philip seems to take glory in his unworldly ways, his lack of culture and also displays a certain amount of xenophobia (against those crazy Italians), showing little to no interest in expanding his horizons.  He often acts like a petulant child and is unwilling to take advice from others.  At first, he is ready to judge Rachel based on the letter from a sick man; later, when there is indeed reason to question her motives, he refuses to take anyone's advice and makes dramatic, thoughtless decisions.  Men in the novel refer to Rachel as impulsive repeatedly but as Philip's godfather rightly points out, that word applies just as much to him.
DuMaurier doesn't exactly give straight answers in this novel either - the end itself is up for question, and it's up to the reader to decide what they believe about Rachel, Ambrose and Philip.  From other reviews, I think I may have taken a more favorable view of Rachel then some others, but Philip honestly just pissed me off.  However, I think it worked for the novel because I wasn't rooting for him, and even I was questioning his decision making process in regards to Rachel.  Hopefully, it won't take me three more years to read another DuMaurier novel (is Jamaica Inn a good follow up?  I already have that one at home).

Monday, February 11, 2013

Book 19: The Redbreast

It seems like I've been eyeing the Harry Hole series for quite a while now, but half the time I either couldn't figure out which novel was the first one in the series, or the later part of the series would be available as part of the "Buy 2 get the 3rd free" deal but not the actual beginning.  I finally let curiosity get the best of me, and picked up the first one available in English though it is the third one in the series (actually, I think the first novel is also available now, but I don't know if it's out as a paperback yet).  Considering that this one has to do with World War II history, it's probably the perfect one for me to start with anyway, and I'm sure the WWII premise had a lot to do with this being the first one translated (I can just imagine the decision making process: "English speakers love WWII; The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo had a WWII connection; it'll totally be a moneymaker").
After Harry Hole is involved in a shooting with an American Security Service agent, Hole is promoted to inspector as part of the cover up (basically, the Americans and Norwegians agree they don't need an international incident, Hole was doing everything within regulation and since no one had alerted him of the agent's presence on the route he was guarding, he took what would have been the proper actions).  As part of his promotion to inspector, he is moved from Crime Squad and his friend and partner Ellen up to POT, the Norwegian Security Service.  One of the regular reports that crosses Harry's desk raises his interest, and though his boss isn't initially that impressed with its importance, Harry runs with the case - case shellings from a Marklin rifle were discovered after locals in a community heard shots, and given the type of rifle involved (only three hundred made, incredibly expensive, originally intented for elephant hunting), Harry thinks it may be something worth investigating, not believing this was just a collector playing with his new toy.
Nesbo does a great job of switching back and forth between narrators and timelines, placing part of the story at the Eastern front during World War II, following a small group of Norwegian Soldiers who have volunteered with the Germans.  It's a slow building story, and this is one of the first times in a long time where I didn't feel tempted to turn to the back page and see who the killer was, letting the story develop organically instead.  In ways, I think it has a lot to do with the fact that the reader doesn't even completely know what the crime is going to be, just that one will occur, so not only was I waiting to see who was behind it all, I was all waiting to see what they were trying to do.  There are some minor mysterious incidents during World War II but it is obvious that one of these men is connected; the question simply remains which one and how.  Additionally, there are other plot lines going on that are partially related to the case which add some layers as well as setting up for later in the series, at least I assume so.  Though Harry is the main character, not everything is about him and there are plenty of plot points that involve other characters that Harry never gets involved in or figures out.  I actually quite liked that though he was the main character, he wasn't at the center of everything.  I figured out the mystery before Harry did, but it wasn't obvious from the beginning, so I also think that was a definite point in the novel's favor.
I definitely can't wait to crack open the next one in the series, Nemesis, to see how one of the unresolved plot pieces plays out.  Of course part of me also thinks I should wait and try to drag out the series.  My main resolution regarding this series (and series in general) is that I can't start reading another one in the series before writing it up since series novels especially have a tendency to blur, which means as soon as I'm done with the novel I'm currently reading, I'll probably be jumping back into Harry's world.

Book 18: The Forty Rules of Love

In retrospect, I don't think I've ever read anything else by a Turkish author before.  I tried to read Snow by Orhan Pamuk but gave up halfway through because the story seemed to be going nowhere at a snail's pace.  I am not sure why I bought this book.  It was definitely one of those that I picked up because it was highlighted in some way at the book store, only to realize that somehow the description I thought I read in the book store and the description I read at my house sounded like two completely different novels.  Mysticism?  Spirituality?  Wait, this isn't a romantic love story?
Anyway, having finally found some motivation to actually read this, I was pleasantly surprised by the novel, though in the end I also think it will end up being somewhat forgettable.  Ella Rubenstein, a forty year old New England housewife, has to read the unpublished novel Sweet Blasphemy as her first assignment for her new job with a literary agency.  The actual novel ends up flashing back and forth between Ella's life and the novel within the novel.  Sweet Blasphemy is the story of Shams of Tabriz and his friendship with Rumi, famous Persian poet and mystic.  When it begins, Shams, who has visions, realizes it is time to give up his solitude as a wandering dervish and to find a companion, someone whom he can teach all he has learned in his life and converse with.  He hears that the famous cleric Rumi is in search of a companion because while he is successful and has everything he might need in life, he still feels unsatisfied and unhappy.  Shams goes to Konya (in present day Turkey), and he and Rumi quickly strike up a friendship, with Shams challenging Rumi to see life in a different way and interact with the types of people he had never come into contact with before, including beggars, drunks and prostitutes.  At first, I had my doubts about this section, especially when I realized that Sweet Blasphemy was actually going to contain all forty rules of love - every time something would remind Shams of a rule, he would tell that person, "that's like one of the rules" and then quote it.  While it seemed very gimmicky, especially in the beginning, I actually ended up quite liking the historical novel part of this book.  The section are narrated by various people, including Rumi, Shams, Rumi's family, and various townspeople, and seeing the conflict that Shams brought into the town and the family was quite engaging.  The poor loved Shams, the rich and powerful felt he was challenging their status, and Rumi's family wasn't sure how to react - happy for Rumi, yet feeling left out and neglected.
The modern day story wasn't bad but Ella was a very bland character.  Due to her interest in the story that Aziz Z. Zahara is telling in Sweet Blasphemy, she googles** him, finds his blog and begins an online correspondence with him.  Ella has always been the kind of person that just goes with it, but she is now realizing that she isn't happily married, and she isn't in love with her husband anymore.  While I had no problem with her internal journey, I just didn't quite get her fascination with Aziz, a photographer and Sufi.  Honestly, Aziz sounds like one of those guys that might be cool in a novel but I would find him obnoxious and insufferable in real life.  I understand Ella's interest in him given how huge a contrast his life is from hers, but I couldn't quite see his interest in her, other than simply being a nice guy which is enough for a friendship, but not a love story.
Overall, this really was much better than I expected - while there is more religion than I would normally choose in a novel, it didn't seem overly preachy.  It was also somewhat new agey and the principles themselves were less about any particular religion as much as they were about god - as I said, those things are fine to see in a novel every once in a while even if I wouldn't actually want to hang out with anyone with New Age believes.  One of the author's previous novels was long-listed for the Orange Prize a few years back, so I definitely think I might check that one out, especially since that one is less focused on the mystical and spiritual based on descriptions.
*I know I usually link to Amazon but for some reason the novel is showing up as $199.00 on Amazon.
** Am I the only who thinks the fact that Gmail's spell check doesn't recognize the word "googles" is amusing - I could see Yahoo or MSN being against the word.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Book 17: Black Hearts

I've been meaning to read this book since I first heard about it three years ago when a friend of mine who had previously been stationed at Ft. Campbell was looking for it at Barnes and Noble.  She actually knew one of the Soldiers mentioned in the book, though I can't remember who specifically it was or what that person's role had been.  Still, knowing myself and how bad I am at actually reading things that could be considered part of my professional development, I waited for the book to come out in paperback before purchasing it, and then let it languish in my to read pile for a long period of time.  Last spring/summer, my BDE CDR at the time had all the company commanders read and watch War and Restrepo, and then had us get together to discuss them.  He said he planned to do it again, and that the next book would be Black Hearts.  I PCS'ed before that session occurred, but it was good to hear that my BDE CDR thought this would be a worthwhile read, especially since I already had the book.
I finally got around to reading it this month, and I have to say I really enjoyed it.  In fact, I prefer this book to Sebastian Junger's War, though War is the one I've seen referenced much more often and is definitely more well known.  As Frederick writes in the foreword, in June 2006, the kidnapping and killing of three US Soldiers made headlines in the United States.  Only a few weeks later, four Soldiers were implicated in the rape and murder of an Iraqi family.  It was only later that Frederick realized that both of these new stories involved men from the same platoon.  As a result, he became interested in discovering what exactly was going on in that one group of about 35 men that would lead to two events like this.  He begins by tracking down the men of 1st Platoon and interviewing them, but as his research and conversations progress, his circle widens, first to include interviews with men in the other platoons in the company, to discussions with the other companies in the battalion, and of course the battalion and brigade leadership.  He also talks to the Iraqi family's surviving relatives, and other Iraqis.
This book presents a rather clear picture and analysis of what happened over the course of the deployment to Bravo Company's 1st platoon.  He does a very good job of giving a balanced view, showing different perspectives and interpretations of events, and also letting the men speak for themselves.  As the events progress, it becomes clear that in many ways the platoon was dealing with the same kind of stuff as everyone else in the area but Bravo and Charlie Company both had the rougher areas of operation.  Initially, there wasn't anything too noticeable that distinguished 1st platoon from the rest of Bravo's platoons, though they did have younger leadership.  However, the platoon managed to get on the BC (battalion commander) and the sergeant major's radar early on for what they saw as lack of discipline, and from then on 1st platoon always faced more scrutiny.  In and of itself, this may have led the platoon to feel a bit more isolated or develop a "us against them" attitude, but when added with other factors they faced during the deployment, it became something much worse.  Circumstances and events piled up to lead to catastrophic events.   While all the platoons and companies had casualties, this platoon had some very critical ones within the first few months, losing personnel in key leadership positions.  As portrayed in the book, at this point, the platoon could have used an encouraging word from the battalion leadership, but instead received diatribes about how they were ate up and to blame.  In addition to combat losses, the platoon sergeant was moved and replaced, and the platoon had three different platoon sergeants between the end of December and the beginning of February.  None of this would have helped the men have any type of stability.  This doesn't excuse the actions of a few, and Frederick doesn't try to do this - instead he attempts to explain what happened, how it was even possible for four Soldiers to leave their posts and rape and kill a family, and places the incident in a larger context.
While I have been fortunate to have rather low key deployments, and I have always been on the support side of things (at my last duty station, I was in the support battalion of a light infantry brigade, but most of my daily interactions were with other loggies (logisticians)), I could definitely relate to some of parts of the book.  I completely understand the idea of not feeling like there are enough Soldiers to complete all the taskings, and having to deal with whether that was because my company was overburdened or because I wasn't managing personnel correctly - in the Iraqi Triangle of Death, this of course led to some huge issues.  While I could understand why the battalion might be telling them that they had enough personnel but weren't using them effectively, I still wondered why one of the senior staff couldn't have sat down with the companies then and provided some mentorship, going through the troop to task with them and show them how to use their Soldiers.  I could also relate to the different types of leadership styles I saw in the book.  CPT Bordwell, the Alpha commander, mentioned that when LTC Kunk arrived at the battalion, he was a huge change from their previous BC.  The previous one may have asked what the company was doing and be happy with "Army training, sir" while LTC Kunk would ask for specifics, such as how many water cans a company had.  It wasn't until later that Bordwell realized how important these other pieces were.  As a result, I can see where Kunk was using this to make a teaching point, but his approach made many people feel belittled.  I have also experienced a similar change in leadership, going from a more hands off approach to a detail oriented on; unlike Kunk, though my BC could be hard, he also was approachable, especially one on one, and he knew when the Soldiers needed a supportive word.  While in the end, the higher headquarter elements attempted to shift all the blame to the platoon and company level, it is also clear that some of the problems were leadership levels at a higher level.  Battalion and brigade failed the men, not listening when told that the platoon was combat ineffective following several casualties in December.  The Bravo commander cared about his men, but is portrayed as someone that became afraid to make decisions, and would spend far too much time in the TOC, afraid to miss anything.  While it is a leader's job to take care of Soldiers, there also must be a line where the leader takes care of himself - at some point, if the leader isn't sleeping or taking a few minutes for himself every once in a while, he will become ineffectual - you can't take care of anyone else if you are completely neglecting yourself.
I would definitely recommend this - I know I've seen tons of reviews for War on CBR over the years, and I think this would be another great book to read that talks about military culture, leadership and leadership failures, and some of the more challenging parts of modern warfare.  Personally, I think he explained the military acronyms and jargon very well, and the back of the book included a list of the different people mentioned by the unit they fell under which made it very helpful to remember where they fell in the grand scheme.  Of course, I don't know how accessible it will be to a civilian with no military experience, but it is worth a read.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Book 16: The Traitor's Wife

Originally published as The Wolves of Andover, this novel is a prequel to The Heretic's Daughter.  The heretic of the previous novel's title is the wife in this story, and it makes sense that they changed the title to reinforce the connection between the novels.  While I quite enjoyed The Heretic's Daughter, and how it explored life in a small community during colonial times, this novel was oddly structured.  Kathleen Kent is descended from Martha Carrier, one of the women to die during the Salem Witch Trials, and this novel attempts to give more of her back story.  The novel itself is fiction though inspired by family and local legends, including the question of Thomas Carrier's possible role as executioner of King Charles for Oliver Cromwell.  The problem seems to be that Kent decided that the courtship between Martha and Thomas wasn't enough for a full novel, and added in a story of political intrigue.  While she is probably correct in believing that the actual courtship couldn't have been expanded more, personally I think there would have been other ways to approach this, focusing on colonial life, even if it had simply been telling the story from a few more perspectives such as Patience, Martha's cousin, or Daniel, Patience's husband, for example.
Instead, the novel goes back and forth between chapters focused on Martha and chapters focused on King Charles II's special mission to track the traitor that killed his father in the Colonies.  Though Charles II has pardoned most of the people involved in the English Revolution, that pardon did not extend to people directly involved in his father's death, including judges and executioner.  Many of these are suspected to be hiding in plain sight in the Colonies but no extraction attempts have worked.  A spy master decides to send a group of five men to sneak up on Thomas Morgan, the executioner, suspected to be Thomas Carrier, and bring him back.  Unfortunately, the men chosen for this mission are a bunch of rough untrustworthy thugs so these chapters read more like a comedy of errors without the humor.  The story didn't add to the tension for me at all, because it just seemed like this mission was doomed for failure given the men's incompetence, not to mention that this is a prequel.  Additionally, each one of these chapters is told from a different perspective which also prevented me from getting too wrapped up in the story, given the lack of narrative continuity.
The novel was strongest when it focused on the story of Martha, the strong willed and sharp tongued daughter who gets to sent to her cousin's to work as a servant - and hopefully, meet a man that hasn't been driven off by her sharp tongue yet.  Martha is hard and harsh.  While I enjoy strong women, it took me a while to get used to her because in the beginning her behavior bordered on mean.  As I adjusted to the character, however, and she adjusted to her new surroundings, I became more interested in this part of the story.  Her relationship with Patience and its slow disintegration is well-written and very believable.  Unfortunately, as I said the novel was too mixed up about what it wanted to be - it failed as a story of intrigue but had too much in its pages to be a simple tale of domesticity and life in the colonies.  I wouldn't recommend this one unless the person has read Kent's previous novel and really needs to see how this went for themselves.

Book 15: Agent 6

I admit I had no idea that this series was intended as a trilogy until I saw Agent 6 at the bookstore last weekend.  I loved the first novel in the series, and while the second one didn't love up to it, I still enjoyed it.  Overall, I would say the same thing about this third and concluding novel.  Good, but nothing beats the first one.  I think one of the reasons for this is that Child 44 is a more intimate, and tighter story - it is all about tracking a serial killer while in comparison The Secret Speech featured a detour to Budapest (during the rebellion) while this novel spans three decades and includes scenes in New York and Afghanistan.  However, that also means that the novels cover quite a bit of Soviet Union history and some of the major incidents involving the USSR post World War II.  The other reason I think I generally preferred the first novel is that it is a story of disillusionment and redemption.  Leo, a dedicated and loyal member of the secret police who truly believes, begins to reevaluate his life, his actions and what the State really does.  The Secret Speech shows what happens when Leo's past comes to haunts him, even after he has changed his ways.  Agent 6, on the other hand, shows what happens when Leo loses his purpose in life and no longer has a reason to care.
The novel begins in 1950 when Leo is part of a security detail for the American singer/celebrity Jesse Austin who is visiting the USSR.  The Soviet government wants to make a good impression on this very famous supporter, and Leo plays an important role in keeping him happy.  At this same time, Leo has become interested in a woman he keeps seeing on his route to work, Raisa, a school teacher, and as readers of the series know, his future wife.  After using this to introduce the characters and set the scene for later, the novel flashes forward to 1965, nine years after The Secret Speech.  Raisa's star has risen within the school system, and she has organized a trip to the US for a select number of music students to perform at the UN in New York.  As one of her conditions, her adoptive daughters Zoya and Elena will accompany her, though Leo must stay home - due to his resignation from the KGB, he is black-marked and somewhat ostracized, which means no trips outside the country.  Unfortunately, it quickly turns out that Elena has become a pawn in some type of conspiracy and things begin to unravel after Elena visits Jesse Austin, pleading with him to attend the children's performance.  Austin's life and livelihood have been destroyed by the McCarthy hearings and FBI harassment as a result of his public support of Communism.  While Elena completely believes in her cause, it becomes clear that she is being used for a nefarious purpose.  As the novel progresses, the question is what is the actual plan, and how will it affect Leo and his family?  After it all goes down, the reader is left with a cover story for a botched conspiracy and three dead bodies.
From here, the novel flashes forward seven years for a quick interlude, before ending up in Afghanistan in 1980.  Leo continues to struggle with the question of what happend in New York fifteen years ago, but has given up hope of ever getting to New York or finding the answers, instead spending his days in an opium filled haze.  However, events in Afghanistan are about to conspire to give him an opportunity to move forward and fulfill his vow to discover the truth.
While I enjoyed the book, I feel like the biggest issue wasn't the novel itself, but rather the advertising.  The backcover, for example, reads "3 decades, 2 murders, 1 conspiracy," putting the focus on the conspiracy.  However, it seems rather clear in the first half of the novel what the conspiracy's intent was, even though there was one piece that didn't make much sense to me and it still didn't compute by the end.  Leo is driven by the question of what happened, and what caused his family to lose a member, but the story's focus isn't on solving this mystery - instead, it is about Leo's reactions, his despair, and his search for meaning.  In Child 44, Leo's purpose in life was the State.  Once he became disillusioned with it, his family and his wife became his life - this novel explores what happens when this is taken away as well.  Given how much I grew to like Leo over the course of the other novels, I can't say I'm happy with how things ended up for him, but I am glad to see his story wrapped up.  I would also argue that it helps to read the three novels in this series close together because I think some of the impact was reduced for me because it had been such a long time since I had spent time with one of the other characters.  I would definitely recommend the series, but as I said above, the first novel is the strongest.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Book 14: Bridge of Scarlet Leaves

As Bridge of Scarlet Leaves opens, Maddie Kern is hiding the fact that she is dating her brother's best friend, Lane Moritomo, from her brother TJ.  Maddie has spent her entire life preparing for entrance into Julliard, devoting endless time to violin practice.  With her parents out of the picture (her mom is dead, her father indisposed), TJ sees himself as in charge of his sister and her future, attempting to protect her from any distractions such as dating and men.  While Maddie and Lane are already aware of the judgments they could face from American society due to their different racial backgrounds, they choose to elope, only to wake up the morning after the wedding to discover that Japan has attacked the US at Pearl Harbor, making Lane an instant target for hatred.
TJ, already under pressure to keep his scholarship due to declining academic and athletic achievement, feels especially betrayed when he discovers the secret elopement, and comes to blows with his best friend.  The rest of the novel follows these three main characters through World War II as they must choose loyalties and sides.  Lane and his family end up in an internment camp, and Maddie eventually gives up her dreams of Julliard to follow Lane to the camp.  TJ enlists, and gets sent to the Pacific Theater of the war.  McMorris covers a lot of territory in this novel, and one female character even ends up playing baseball professionally (which immediately made me want to watch A League of Their Own again).  After facing judgment from Lane's family, Maddie begins to develop an understanding of Japanese culture as she struggles through hardships with his family.
The thing is that this novel is basically a very by the numbers World War II novel.  I enjoyed it while I was reading it, and I certainly understand McMorris's motivation behind writing it  - her father was Japanese, her mother Caucasian, and when she discovered that in addition to all the Japanese in the internment camps, an additional 200 non-Japanese people lived in these camps in order to be with their families, she was inspired to write about them.  She even talked about a few other things I hadn't really seen too much of before, such as the Japanese-American Soldiers assisting in the Pacific Theater (I am mostly familiar with the Japanese American troops in Europe), and the fact that there were actually some factions of Japanese in the internment camps that were pro-Emperor (a minority, but still not something I had previously seen referenced).  This is not a bad book, by any means, but I didn't quite connect with the characters, and feel that they are rather forgettable.  It may be that McMorris tried to cover too much territory - Lane enlists into the Army from the internment camp, TJ ends up as a a POW, basically covering every possible occurrence of the war.  Considering that most of the topics covered in this novel have already been visited by many other authors, it needed characters I could really care about to stand out, and they are just too bland to distinguish this novel from any others in the pack.  If someone wanted to read about Japanese internment camps in America, I would recommend A Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.  Interested in Japanese-American units in World War II?  Read Hawaii by James Michener.  For books about the horrors of the POW camps the Japanese ran, I would direct readers to Ghost Soldiers by Hampton Sides or Tears in the Darkness.  If, however, you tend to devour anything World War II related like I do, and you have already read all those amazing books listed above, this novel certainly isn't a waste of time.  It's a sweet story, if somewhat predictable, and will certainly fill the fix.  I've also read good things about the author's other novel, Letters from Home, and will certainly be giving it a shot in the future.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Book 13: Collapse

I read and enjoyed Jared Diamond's more well known book Guns, Germs and Steel a few years ago, though I thought he repeated himself a bit much on a few occasions.  I've been meaning to read Collapse for a while now, and I'm so glad I picked it up - if anything, it was even better than Guns, Germs and Steel, and while reading it could occasionally be depressing and bleak, I am very glad I read this, and really think it could end up as one of my favorites for the year. 
As the title implies, in this book, Diamond chooses to look at why certain societies have failed where others have succeeded and what sets them apart.  He comes up with a list of five factors that play a crucial role in the failure or success of societies, and these are environmental damage which includes things such as deforestation, soil erosion, etc, all of which are man made issues; climate change, such as droughts, floods, or dropping or rising temperatures; hostile neighbors; reduction in relationships with beneficial trade partners; and finally,  the culture's reaction to its problems.  All of these factors can contribute to why a society might fail, though only one of these factors could be enough to cause the collapse.  For example, he cites Carthage as a society that collapsed due to hostile neighbors (the Romans), but then discusses how an ill-timed drought could be the tipping point for a society that has already caused a large amount of environmental damage and is working with limited resources to begin with.
While Diamond spends a majority of his time discussing failed cultures, he opens the book with a long chapter about Montana, using Montana as an example of environmental issues that face many different areas.  While he discusses Montana, much of it seems bad, but he says that in many ways, Montana is better off than others.  Having given the issues societies face a personal face, he then discusses several societies that have collapsed, and where we don't have that personal connection, using archaeological evidence to determine the fates of these now defunct civilizations (also, while in some cases, collapse meant everyone died, in many it just means that particular society collapsed, some people survived but without the large system that had previously existed such as the Mayas, or they were absorbed into nearby communities, such as the present day Hopis being partially descended from surviving Anasazi).  He chooses several different examples, all of which illustrate different points of his argument - for example, Easter Island was very isolated so they would not have been affected by diminishing trade relationships with trade partners or hostile neighbors (except for each other on the island).  Henderson Island and Pitcairn Island, on the other hand, were very small communities that relied heavily on trade with a third island, Mangareva.  When Mangareva's society collapsed, Henderson and Pitcairn soon followed, unable to support themselves on their small islands without the resources from the larger island.  In the case of the Anasazi and the Mayans, climate changes played a role.  While both groups had survived droughts before, by the time the droughts that led to their final collapse occurred, populations had grown and other resources had been diminished so that something that would have once been difficult suddenly became impossible to overcome - especially since neither one of these groups appear to have written accounts of weather (surviving Mayan writings focus on the leaders, not the weather), and therefore had no historical records to refer to (obviously, it is unknown what may have been in their oral histories).
He spends the largest majority of time on the collapse on Norse Greenland because not only is there more of a record (and given their European Christian background, it is easier to determine cultural influences that played a role in their decision-making process), but it provides an example of a society that was affected by all five of the factors.  Additionally, there are places to compare it to since Norse Greenland is one of six colonies from Viking Norway, the others of which survived, because their environment was less fragile, and they were less remote.  Still, Iceland could easily have faced a similar collapse, but it realized how it was destroying its environment, and changed its ways.  It was one of the poorest communities for a long time, but it hung on.  Norse Greenland, on the other hand, was the most remote, and as time progressed, Europe lost interest partially because one of the trade goods that Greenland provided (walrus tusks) was no longer needed or in demand.  This meant that this society, which already had a shortage of lumber and metal, was on its own.  While the Norse were able to succeed for over four hundred years, eventually their European life style and farming methods could not be sustained.  Inuit societies (which may have also been an example of hostile neighbors) have survived on Greenland though often facing starvation, so it wasn't impossible to live on the island, but the Norse lifestyle wasn't sustainable without some changes or adjustments they were either unwilling to make or simply couldn't determine.
After discussing some societies that have dealt well with their resources, and survived for long periods of time, including a small island that practiced population control for much of its existence (of course, as soon as Christians spread their message, the island no longer used its methods of keeping the population down, which included abortion and contraception, grew by 50% and faced a famine - after emergency evacuation, the island has a set limit on population allowed on the island), Diamond shifted to the current day, and looked at four examples of societies that are facing some rather severe environmental issues.  He chose Rwanda, the Dominican Republic and Haiti (as two countries sharing one island, they worked rather well to compare but also show how different nations influence each other especially in this time of globalization), China and Australia, a country with an incredibly fragile environment.  Many of the issues facing these countries, and the world at large, are rather bleak and somewhat frightening: much of the world has issues with deforestation which leads to soil erosion which means even less can grow there; forests and fisheries aren't well managed and treated as one time resources, being completely logged or fished rather than seen as something that could be renewable if only used at a proper rate; countless species have been driven to extinction due to loss of habitat, over-hunting, or human imported pests.  While some countries have very low population growth, others do not, and even the ones that don't are all trying to achieve first world living standards.  For example, China's population is growing at minimum rates, but given its people's desire to achieve first world standards, its impact on the world is still growing.  It basically seems like humans have come close to using up everything they can, and if things continue, everything could go very badly.  Many effects aren't even being felt yet, or will still be felt for years even if appropriate repercussions are taken now.  Some first world countries are preserving their resources but basically destroying other countries' resources in the process (Japan imports its wood from Australia).
Still, Diamond ends his book with what he describes as cautious hope: while many things seem bleak, lots of countries are realizing the costs and taking action (top-down), and many citizens as well are coming together and creating bottom up initiatives.  While consumers may not be able to directly affect some industries, they can affect the companies that buy from these industries, such as putting pressure on Tiffany's to buy from gold mining companies that have better environmental policies.  They can also vote for the politicians with the better record and policies.  It is much cheaper for companies to implement procedures that protect the environment than to clean it up later, as Diamond also demonstrated with the example of a very well run Chevron oil site.  Reading this book really has helped put the environmental damage into perspective and the necessity for action.  While Diamond is hopeful, I myself am concerned, especially watching the politics in current day America, where even the idea of birth control seems to cause controversy in some areas, and any type of regulation is considered anti-business.  This book is incredibly well-written, interesting, and relevant.  I would highly recommend it to just about anyone, especially if they don't mind the occasional denser nonfiction book.