Book Reviews

By Jamie Alan Belanger on March 12, 2012 4:18 pm

Here you will find reviews of books we’ve read. Paul and Jamie are both avid readers and both have profiles on GoodReads which you can follow to see what else we’ve been reading. We both typically read three to five books simultaneously. There has to be a support group on GoodReads for that somewhere, right?

Jamie on GoodReadsPaul on GoodReads

Review: The U.S. Military Pocket Survival Guide: Plus Evasion & Recovery

By Jamie Alan Belanger on January 23, 2014 6:18 pm · 0 Comments

The U.S. Military Pocket Survival Guide: Plus Evasion & RecoveryThe U.S. Military Pocket Survival Guide: Plus Evasion & Recovery by United States Army

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is going to be a difficult book to review… I didn’t hate it, but I certainly didn’t love it either. I found myself completing each section with more questions than answers. There are a lot of really interesting bits of information in this book that are presented in a series of checklists and bullet points. The problem I had with the book is that those little tidbits are pretty much all the book is. Every page is a series of bullet points that tell you, step-by-step, what you are supposed to do in each given situation. Like I said, that’s important; but there’s little to no explanation as to why each step is there. The book will tell you things like “don’t drink salt water,” but never explains what would happen if you did. The whole book looks like someone pasted a series of Powerpoint slides into Word and published it. As far as survival knowledge goes, this conciseness makes it a good and very portable guide for people who already know what they are supposed to be doing. Locate the right checklist and it will remind you of the proper procedures. I just need to find a companion to this that actually explains the reasoning behind the procedures lists.

Review: Knife and Axe Skills for Wilderness Survival

By Jamie Alan Belanger on January 16, 2014 1:24 pm · 0 Comments

Knife and Axe Skills for Wilderness SurvivalKnife and Axe Skills for Wilderness Survival by Bob Holtzman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a very good and interesting book, one of many things that I have been reading for researching the stories I write. The text is well written and easy to follow, and there are a lot of diagrams and photos throughout. The author discusses many survival situations, types of knives, how to shop for knives, and how to use them to build everything from fires and traps, to housing and boats. There are also chapters in here about proper ax usage and first aid. While I haven’t tried to put any of this information to the test yet, there were some things discussed that I already knew, so I feel this would be a great addition to the library of anyone interested in the outdoors… especially up here in Maine where we have so much of it.

Review: We All Need Heroes

By Jamie Alan Belanger on December 31, 2013 11:44 am · 0 Comments

We All Need Heroes: Stories of the Brave and FoolishWe All Need Heroes: Stories of the Brave and Foolish by Simon Zingerman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First, as a disclosure, the author of this book contacted me directly and offered a free copy in exchange for this review. I just wanted to say that up front. And getting a free copy in no way influenced me to say anything positive or negative. What follows is my usual honest opinion:

This book is a collection of stories — some inspiring, some fascinating, some just plain crazy. Some stories were familiar while others were new to me. Each story is no more that two pages, and many are smaller than that. This makes the entire book perfect for reading when you have a lot of small time chunks. We all definitely do need heroes to look up to, to learn from, to emulate, and (sometimes) to laugh at.

The PDF I read had statistics after each story that seemed arbitrary. Granted, individual perceptions differ. I found the inclusion of these statistics was interesting at first, then I soon started scrolling past them. For example, a story of Joshua Bell (one of the top musicians in the world) playing in a subway during rush hour, for free, brought a huge smile to my face. I read the story twice since it was so interesting. The author of this collection gave that story a “Happy Reading” rating of 15% and an “Entertaining” rating of 30%. I can’t agree with either of those ratings… rather than get upset or confused with ratings that I didn’t agree with, I just stopped reading those statistics.

It’s interesting to note that these story statistics (and all graphics except for the cover) are absent from the EPUB I was sent. I glanced at the EPUB version once and then went back to the PDF. Even without reading the statistics section, I still liked seeing the occasional amusing graphic after a story.

Overall, I found this to be an enjoyable collection of real-life stories, easily worth a 3 to 4 star rating.

Review: The Norton Introduction To Literature

By Jamie Alan Belanger on May 28, 2013 11:09 am · 0 Comments

The Norton Introduction To LiteratureThe Norton Introduction To Literature by Carl E. Bain

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

First of all, this book is a monster. It looks like it’s a thousand pages, until you open it. When you see the ultra-thin paper (which, by the way, makes reading difficult due to bleed-through), you know it’s more. Way more. Flip to the back and you see it’s almost 2200 pages. I first acquired this book as the textbook for a required college literature class in 1998 or so, and it’s been sitting on my shelf ever since.

I started reading the commentary and stories, intending to read the entire book from cover to cover. The commentary sections annoyed me quickly. It’s not that the writing or analysis was particularly bad, it’s just that the editors talk about stories they haven’t presented yet. And their analyses are full of plot spoilers. Why do people feel the need to do things like this? Commentary is sometimes interesting, sure, but put it after the stories. Don’t assume I know the stories as well as you do.

So I continued reading the book, except I was now skipping the commentaries. Then I started skipping stories. There are some gems in here, for sure, and since the book is so massive and individual tastes so subjective, I’m sure there really is something for everyone in here. I was particularly impressed with DH Lawrence (Odour of Chrysanthemums and The Rocking-Horse Winner) and Richard Connell (The Most Dangerous Game), writers whose work I had not previously read. But there are a lot of really terrible stories here. Some are the type that read well, then have an annoying end. And there are some where the stories are (in my opinion) so poorly worded that they are unreadable. I call those “word soup.” If I read the first paragraph three times and still have no idea what you are saying, I skip the story. There’s only so much abuse I can take. Like I said above, tastes are subjective, and I’m sure the stories were chosen because the editors understood the stories and decided they were hallmarks of classic literature.

And then the book descends into five hundred pages or so of poetry. I tried to read it, really I did. After the third or fourth poem, I gave up. I never liked poetry when I was in school. I just didn’t quite “get” it. When the writer takes the time to choose words that have a good cadence and plans clever rhyme schemes at the ends of the lines, I enjoy the pace and feel of the poem. But most of these so-called “poems” were really just mediocre prose and a bunch of line returns.

I don’t like when
someone does this
and calls it a poem
because it requires
no talent.
Look, I hit “Enter”
a few times
and now it’s
a poem.

But when the poet takes the time
To arrange the words so that they rhyme
And plans the tempo, word by word
Then, my friend, it should be heard.

I’m not a poet. I’ve written poems in the past, when I was young (I’m still rather fond of haiku). And then we got to studying the non-rhyming (or forced rhyme, yuck) poems and I totally lost interest. Now, I only bother with it when I’m writing something in my fantasy world, and even then it’s rare. But reading poetry? I just don’t enjoy it. So I tried a few and then skipped the rest of the section.

This book finishes its tour of literature with a few hundred pages of drama. I’ve read and enjoyed Shakespeare before, and this collection has two of his plays (Hamlet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream). There are also some other classics in here, like Oedipus Rex and Antigone. One day I will re-read those Shakespeare plays, along with all the rest of his work. But the modern plays in here (like Death of a Salesman and A Streetcar Named Desire)? No thanks. I wouldn’t mind seeing them performed on stage, but I don’t want to read the plays. It’s just not the same experience.

With that, I gave up, having read less than a third of this monstrosity. There are some good stories in here, and since everyone’s tastes are different, grabbing a copy would probably be a good idea for anyone. I have the 6th Edition, and this is one of those textbooks that changes content often, so you could probably grab several editions and not have too much overlap. But I highly recommend that you skip the editor commentaries, or at least read the writings in each section before you read the commentaries.

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Review: Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void

By Jamie Alan Belanger on April 12, 2013 4:34 pm · 0 Comments

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the VoidPacking for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I grabbed this book at my local library two days ago and have already read the entire thing. It’s not that it’s a short book, at slightly more than 300 pages it does take some time to read through. This book is just one of those few nonfiction books that I can call a page turner. Brutally candid, very interesting, and consistently entertaining, this book spends some 300 pages talking about the small details of life in space that most people don’t think about (including quite a few points you probably don’t want to think about), then very quickly says a few things about Mars just before ending. That’s really my only gripe — that the book’s title indicates it’s about Mars, when it’s really about life in space and the history of living in space in general. Still, it gives astronaut wannabes some things to think about.