Tuesday, May 31, 2011

book reviews: summer reads

I read a lot.  Like, 2-3 books a week a lot.  The books I recommend on this blog, those are the stand-out, you-have-to-read-this books.  Since I've only written a few book reviews, it seems those kind of books don't come along very often.  A few months ago I thought it might be fun to try and read some of the books listed on Amazon as top sellers-- if thousands of people were reading them, they must be good, right?  Um, mostly no.   I thought I'd give some brief reviews on books worth reading... and also books to skip.

Books worth reading:

I'm a Stranger Here Myself- or anything else by the author Bill Bryson.  I'm a Stranger Here Myself is a collection of essays written by Bryson, a born American, after he returned to the States from a 20-year stay in Britain.  The essays are a funny look at aspects of American life that you mostly don't even think about when you are from the States.  The thing I like about Bryson's writing is that it is funny without being negative.  Other books of his that I have read and enjoyed are In a Sunburned Country, which is about his travels in Australia, and A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail.  These are great summer-and-traveling reads, cause they're light reading and you can pick them up and return to reading easily. 

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld and Keith Thompson- This is an imaginative story about a young girl and her adventures posing as a boy.  What makes it unique is that the story is set in an alternate- reality future, where the world is divided into those who rely on machinery as technology, and those who use huge creatures who have been created through "Darwinian" technology to function as machines.  It's kinda hard to explain, but trust me when I say it's a fun story.  The cover is what grabbed me initially, and the illustrations that are scattered through the book are unique and really add to the story.  Technically a young adults book, but not just for them.

the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan- another young-adults book series that I thought was really well written.  This series follows Percy Jackson, in a current world where Greek gods still exist and interact plenty with people.  Percy's father is a god, which automatically makes him a hero, and this series follows the adventures he has.  I loved how the greek mythology was accurate but made relevant and fun in these books.  It definitely would be an easy way to learn mythology. The books are a quick read.  I haven't finished the series yet, but so far they've all been good.

If you can't find anything better to read books:

The Company We Keep: A Husband and Wife True-Life Spy Story by Robert and Dayna Baer- when I saw this on Amazon's top buys list, I thought it sounded like a really cool story.  Real life James Bond and his wife!  However, the authors keep assuring readers that a spy's life is actually quite boring.... which leads to a fairly boring book.  There are a few neat incidents, like when Dayna is describingthe training where they are taught to throw themselves out of moving cars and how to lose a tail.  So Jason Bourne.  The rest of the book mostly details them sitting places taking pictures.  There is no central plot, no exciting chase- filled conclusion like in fiction spy books, sadly.  The intro says that the book was reviewed by the CIA, so you have to wonder if all the exciting parts were edited out....

Why are these top-selling books they were awful:

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen-  Here, I'll sum up the book for you:  Enter a nice guy.  Bad things happen to a nice guy.  Guy meets a girl and falls IN LOVE.  Bad things happen to guy and girl.  Guy and girl eventually live happily ever after.  Oh, and a circus!  There, now you don't have to read the book (or watch the movie).  Things I didn't like about this book: the main character was wimpy, his girl was wimpy, and the circus was kinda boring.  The author's note said she spend a long time researching circuses for the book... I would expect some interesting characters at the least.  But no. Skip.

The Girl With a Dragon Tatoo series by Steig Larsson- this was one of those books where I read it and then asked, why in the world is this book so popular?  The writing is only so-so, the main male character is frankly unlikeable, and there are looooong, boring essays on politics.  Swedish politics.  Add in unnecessarily graphic torture scenes, and ick.  I read all three of these books, thinking that they must get better.  Nope.  I thought the main female character was interesting and unique, but not enough to carry the series when the other stuff was added in.  Skip.

Ok, any book suggestions for me?  I would love to get some recommendations!

Friday, May 27, 2011

life in a country with only 2 main roads...

It is hot here.... the usual April/ May melting temps, but this year there have been a lot of fires, so the atmosphere is heavy with smoke.  Hot, smoky weather does not create a good environment for ticking off entire segments of the population, as the government has just discovered.  Earlier this week, someone in the government decided to take a privately owned bus route, and give it to a relative to run.  Nepotistic things like that are all too common here, and mostly get a little comment and then everyone moves on.  But in Belize... you do not mess with buses.  A few years ago the bus companies tried to raise the ticket rate, and a riot broke out culminating in someone being shot.  This time it is the bus company owners that are rightfully upset.  Their livelihood was suddenly taken away from them, because of a government official's whim.  So they protested, by parking some buses across the Northern Highway, blocking the whole two lane road.  Anywhere else, this would not be a big deal, because cars would use an alternate route.  In Belize, however, there are only 2  main roads.  The roads run North to South, and East to West, forming a cross through the country.  There are plenty of smaller dirt roads, but these don't connect.  So blocking one road effectively cut off the entire northern part of the country.  The people up North probably don't mind much, cause they can just hop over the border into Mexico and go to McDonalds if they want.  But it is a pretty good way of calling the entire country's attention to your cause.   At one point this morning the East/ West highway was also blocked, which gets a bit more tricky for us because we live on that highway.  I've heard the government has agreed to negotiate, and the roads are now unblocked, so hopefully all the return volunteer teachers who are flying in for graduation this weekend will make it!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

wherein I am irritated and irradiated by the US government

Thursday I flew home, and had a tight hour-long connection in Houston.  Since I knew I would have to go through customs in Houston, I decided just to travel with a carry on... not checking a bag then having to pick it up and recheck it after customs should have given me enough time to get to my gate easily.  Should have, but we all know how flying goes.  We actually left Belize early, and got in about 20 minutes early, amazingly.  Unfortunately, there was a thunderstorm in Houston, which shut the whole airport down (?  really? Because I would think that they get thunderstorms a lot....).  I ran of the plane, and then ran to customs... only to encounter the longest line I have ever seen.  One hour and ten minutes later, I got my passport checked and ran to my next stop-- security.  At this point it was 3:42, and my flight was scheduled to leave at 3:55.  In customs an employee had come around with a list of delayed flights, but mine was not on it.  So I am operating on the assumption that I have 10 minutes to get through security, ride a train to my terminal, and run to my gate.  No problem, I could do that.  And here is where I encountered my moral dilemma.  That particular day in Houston, every person was selected to go through the xray machine (usually it's like 1 in 3).  I had absolutely no intention of going through the xray-- I don't even stand in front of the microwave when it is on.  When I got to the front of the line, I asked to opt out.  Ok, the TSA lady said, but you are going to have to wait.  How long?  Don't know, but that girl over there has been waiting 10 minutes all ready.  Miss, I said, I have 10 minutes to catch my flight.  She just looked at me.  My options are to miss my flight, or be subjected to an xray which I most certainly do not want to receive.  Yep.  So I got the xray.  As I was running out of security, I saw that the girl who had been waiting finally was being checked.

My flight ended up being delayed, information that wasn't available until I had passed security.  Sitting on the plane, I realized I was really, really upset about the whole situation.  Throughout this whole media  storm about the xray machines, the choice has always been xray vs pat downs.  I have no problem with a pat down; I work in medicine and understand that impersonal touching can be required in certain professions.  Having to choose between missing my flight and a test that is not without risk to my future health-- that is upsetting.  I can only hope that my situation was an isolated one.  I don't know why there weren't personnel available for pat downs, but I do know that there was only one other person waiting, and I didn't see anyone being given a pat down at that time, so I don't think they were occupied with a long line of pat downs.  Security was not super busy.  Now I am curious about the quoted statistics that say most people don't opt out of the xray-- how many of those people would if they had the time?  I think the only way I can avoid this situation in the future is to make sure my layovers are way longer then I ever think I could need. Normally I would not risk an hour layover, this was an unusual situation, but I still think it was fairly reasonable when only traveling with a carry on.  I also think the TSA should ensure they have adequate personnel on hand at all times to deal with pat downs-- after all, isn't that their job?  So to everyone traveling in the future:  be aware, xrays are becoming the norm instead of the exception.  Plan for it, and give yourself lots of time if you know you don't want to be given an xray.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Sometimes this is our view through the truck windshield in the mornings.

Last weekend was the agriculture fair, we brought rabbits, goats and a calf.  This was my hammock set- up with Homer the goat.  It went fine until he decided he was hungry and got cranky and started bucking me into the fence.

Finally, after over a year and multiple decimations by goats, our passion fruit vine is flowering!  I am so looking forward to fresh passion fruit juice!
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