Blind Descent: The Quest to Discover the Deepest Place on Earth

Blind DescentCaves and caving fascinate me, so when I saw there was

a book about supercave exploration, I had to read it. I am

so glad I did. I was absolutely glued to this book from the first page to the last. The only thing it lacked was a section of pictures, but that’s the price I pay for reading an advance copy–the published edition has several pages of them. Even so, I was able to look those up on the internet so I could have a visual reference,

which made the book even more powerful.

This is not so much the story of cave exploration as it is about cave explorers. Tabor researched two premier cavers from the USA and the Republic of Georgia, and devoted a section of the book to each. American Bill Stone has led several expeditions into supercaves in Mexico, while Ukranian Alexander Klimchouk has headed several European expeditions on the Arabika Massif in the Republic of Georgia.

In addition to following the amazing accomplishments of both men, Tabor explained in great detail the hardships and dangers involved in supercave exploration. I felt like I was there on the expeditions; rappelling, digging, crawling, diving, and freezing underground for days or weeks on end along with the cavers mentioned in this book. I have nothing but respect for this handful of people who risk their lives for the thrill of going thousands of feet underground and braving the dangers there in order to share their discoveries with the world. There’s pretty much no chance at all of me dropping down the first shaft of Cheve Cave, and forget it with Krubera, so I really appreciate this insider view.

I cannot recommend this book enough. It’s highly informative, giving outsiders an intimate view of what goes into supercave exploration, and it’s also an exciting page-turner. Tabor has a way of keeping readers on the edge of their seats as he takes us through real-life underground exploration. I found myself thinking of several fascinating topics I wish he would write about because he has a way of making an informative, nonfiction book into an exciting adventure, and not many authors can pull that off.

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The Passage

The passageIt has been a while since I’ve encountered a horror novel of

such magnitude

and scope, but Justin Cronin’s hefty tome “The Passage” seems poised to announce itself as the latest true “horror epic.” It’s about time too! Ambitious and thought-provoking, but filled with propulsive action and bloodshed, “The Passage” is the thinking person’s genre thrill ride. This massive book starts in the near future with a pretty unique combination of vampiric lore meshed with science gone awry. But Cronin, while nailing these explosive first chapters, has much more

up his sleeve. The expansive (and sometimes it seems the story will never end) plot resets several times until we have followed the confrontations to their inevitable conclusion many generations later.

The comparisons to Stephen King’s “The Stand” seem apt and, I believe, will be widespread. And in case anyone has a passing interest on where I fall on “The Stand,” I think it’s the best book of its type that I’ve ever read. Although the books are quite different in plotting and structure, thematically they share much. From the veritable destruction of the world as we know it, to the efforts to rebuild some semblance of a new world order, to the ultimate confrontation between good an evil replete with the requisite supernatural underpinnings–both books challenge ordinary citizens to rise to extraordinary levels to champion the human cause. In the right hands, these apocalyptic epics can be unforgettable–and I’ll just say that Cronin’s hands are quite capable.

Don’t misunderstand the King reference, however, “The Passage” stands as its own unique portrait of a ravaged future. It’s just that there are so few horror novels that set out to accomplish so much in storytelling. Cronin’s novel is gutsy, challenging and filled with high level drama of the first order. It’s not breezy or light entertainment, however. It’s a serious reading commitment for those looking for their gore mixed with a lot of substance. A real change-of-pace and a welcome new addition to the ranks of horror lore, “The Passage” has earned the title of “epic.”

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Sh*t My Dad Says

As you can probably tell from the title, the language in this book is very raw, so if you are offended by curse words, this book may not be for you.

Justin, the youngest viagra tabs of three sons, writes about some of the things his father says. Most of them seem a bit over the top when you read them out of context

but they never come across as glib or hate filled, just honest. In a society where almost everything offends someone, it

is very refreshing to find someone who is completely honest and transparent.

With fathers day just a few days away, this is a book I

would recommend. It’s a quick and easy read. It’s not just a bunch of hilarious quotes, it’s also a good, heartfelt story with family values and moral components intertwined.

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The Last Child

The Last ChildI dare you to read the prologue of this book without getting totally pulled in to the story. My heart was pounding by page 2, and I think my boss might want to have a talk with Mr. Hart because I went in to work a couple of mornings on very little sleep because I couldn’t put this book down until I got to the last word.

Johnny Merrimon was once a happy child. He and his twin sister, Alyssa, lived with their beautiful, vibrant mother and strong, caring father. Then Alyssa goes missing. She’s seen being pulled into a mysterious van, and a year later, Johnny’s life is completely different. His mother is bullied into passivity by a rich, abusive man who keeps her strung out on drugs and treats her like a possession. Johnny knows in his heart that he can find his sister, bring his father home, and save his mother, and for months he plays a dangerous game of spying on local child predators, convinced that at least one of them knows what happened to his sister. Detective Hunt is the haunted cop who cannot break out of his obsession with Alyssa’s case – and the beautiful mother – to save his own family from falling apart. Jack is the wounded best friend who idolizes Johnny and tries to mask his own pain with the alcohol he steals from his cop father.

Hart could have taken the easy way out and turned this into a suspenseful but heartwarming story of mystery

and redemption. Instead, he creates complex, rich characters and places them in terrifying, soul searching situations. Johnny is a child living with nightmares, and he reaches into ancient mysticism, searching

for strength and clues to help him heal his family. He’s seen too much of the harsh reality of life for someone his age, and this dark desperation colors all the events in this book.

I was, simply put, blown away by this book. It is well written, intelligent, and impossible to forget. A week after finishing it, I’m still thinking about it. Hart is now on my must-read list, and I look forward to reading his next novel.

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Dead in the Family (Sookie Stackhouse, Book 10)

Dead in the family“Dead in the Family” has a very appropriate title — all sorts of family members pop up, and not just for Sookie. Charlaine Harris still can whips up a pleasant warm Southern vibe for her not-so-urban fantasies, but unfortunately this latest novel isn’t quite up to her usual standards: it’s basically a mass of fluffy in-between storylines that rarely go anywhere.

Just after Amelia leaves for New Orleans, Sookie’s cousin Claude appears at her home and asks to move in with her, since he’s a lone fairy who needs the presence of another. Bill is suffering from silver poisoning AND depression, and Sookie has to find a “relative” who can help him.

And Eric has some family issues as well — his maker Appius Livius Ocella shows up on Sookie’s doorstep, along with his “son”/lover Alexei.

To make matters worse, unidentified fairies and were have been crossing Sookie’s land,, and it also turns out that there’s a dead body buried back there. And it’s not Debbie Pelt’s. Now Sookie must unravel the secrets plaguing the supernaturals around her, or there might be even more deaths.

“Dead in the Family” feels like Charlaine Harris wrote half-a-dozen short stories, ripped them apart at the seams, and then sewed them back together. There’s no central plot to this book, just a mass of fluffy subplots woven loosely around each other. And some of the stories don’t really have much point to them, so the book feels cluttered and fragmented.

The saving grace is that some of those subplots ARE interesting, mainly the ones that develop the characters — the whole subplot involving Bill and the elderly Caroline Bellefleur is quite sweet and touching, and it should be interesting to see where Harris takes the religious/political pressure on the weres. And the typically bloody climax is a pretty shocking, gruesome one, if a bit slapdash.

But Sookie’s characterization is very shaky in this book — Harris zooms through her

entire recovery from being TORTURED in ONE CHAPTER (ARG! Cop-out!), and initially she seems so aggressive that it feels like she’s channeling Anita Blake. Fortunately she gets steadier and sunnier after

the first few

chapters, and it’s intriguing to see her various family members interacting with her — fae, were and telepathic human.

And there’s some much-needed development given to the sexy, devil-may-care Claude (it’s very cute when he’s goofing around on the playground with Hunter), as well as new insights into Bill and Eric’s lives and families (both living and undead).

“Dead in the Family” is all about the family ties, but it feels like Charlaine Harris just whipped together a bunch of short story ideas rather than writing a cohesive plot. Better luck next time.

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Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose

Delivering Happiness A Path to Profits Passion and PurposeThis book traces Tony Hsieh’s rapid progress in the business world, from callow party dweeb with a high IQ to his selling of Zappos to Amazon for north of a billion dollars. Along the way, we get some ups and downs in business start-ups, the hunt for money, the hunt for the secret to corporate long-term success, and some input from partners and employees along the way. Zappos’ leadership eventually decided to emphasize sterling customer service as the key to their own corporate culture, and the last third of the book – the part worth reading – covers what this means to the customer, to the employees tasked with turning it into a reality, and to the bottom line. The idea was to infuse ten larger values (with numerous sub-meanings and applications) into every aspect of every department of the company. Since Hsieh is now a billionaire or very close to it, one can say that, certainly in this case, it worked.

In general the book is a very light read. It is destined to be given out to employees for free, and to serve as a sort of corporate diary and the documentation of the corporate mythology. That’s not necessarily bad, just what it is. The last few pages are a little more thoughtful, where the author tries to relate his business experience to a philosophical discussion of life, the universe and everything. This stuff might be a bit

of a stretch, but it is the kind of expansive view of things one can expect from a businessman in his position and there are few business books by hugely successful authors that can resist this kind of thing.

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Beautiful Creatures

beautiful creaturesAfter beginning to read Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, I checked my hands to see if there happened to be glue on them. Use that as a warning. Once you start the book, it’s impossible to put it down.

There is action after action and even when you close the book, what you just read stays in your thoughts throughout the whole day.

Beautiful Creatures can be classified under fantasy-fiction, and I would recommend it for readers between sixth and eighth grade. The book has a wide range of themes and settings.The themes include romance, wizardry, school-life,

the civil war, and many more! The settings go from an old town in South Carolina, to graveyards, to high schools, and even haunted mansions!

The book revolves around a high school boy named Ethan Wate who is living a boring and depressing life in the town of Gatlin. The book is also in his point of view. Ethan does not have a mother, and he spends most of the time trying to find out information about her. His Dad is no help either. He spends his whole life sitting in an office writing, never taking his eyes off the screen. Because of all this, Ethan has gained a large amount of independence. As you read, you will see how much this independence helps him in life.

The authors did a marvelous job when creating each character. Kami and Margaret made the characters realistic, unlike many other fantasy books. You easily imagine the people in the book being real and living life like

we do today. Each character is unique in his/her own way and that makes the reader pay attention closely. They all have distinct traits and you really learn a lot about how different people can be from each other.

Ethan (the main character) is continuously haunted by dreams of a mysterious girl he’s never met or seen. He is starting to lose control of his thoughts and even finds mysterious items in his room that he never had. The dreams Ethan has are very well described. You can really visualize what’s happening and it’s so well written that you feel like you’re looking through Ethan’s eyes.

The book isn’t only about a boy having nightmares. It’s also about a girl named Lena Duchannes (another main character) who moves into her Uncle’s house, also located in Gatlin. Lena’s family members are all “casters”. Now, the book’s’ definition of a “caster” isn’t exactly someone who cast spells. If you want to know what the real meaning of the word is, read the book!

Lena Duchannes is the new girl at Stonewall Jackson High. Everyone hates her because of what she wears, how she looks, where she lives, and the fact that she’s new at the school gives her a bad reputation. Not only do people think she’s bizarre, but they think her whole family is too. Well in a way, the people are right. Lena and her family aren’t normal. Actually, to be more specific, they’re not even human. Just like any other romance, the boy comes to the rescue. In this case, it’s Ethan who saves Lena from her misery. Nobody understands why such

a popular kid like Ethan would have interest in such a strange person like Lena.

The book just keeps getting better from that point. The couple constantly, become stuck in conflicts whether it’s with their friends, families, or even monstrous creatures. You’ll have to read the book to learn more about it!

There are some parts though, where it might seem slow at times. While reading the book, I felt there were scenes that did not need to be in the story. Almost as if the authors just put those scenes in to make the book longer and look bigger. Beautiful Creatures is still one of my favorite books read so far, and it is worthy enough to recommend it to a friend in the appropriate age group. Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl came up with a great story, and I praise them for having such creativity.

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Wolf Hall: A Novel

Wolf hallThe scope and breadth of this novel is immense. Hilary Mantel sets out to describe a tumultuous period in English history, not by focusing on viagra usa the main event- Henry and Anne- but by showing the struggle faced by those more behind the scenes. Thomas Cromwell says, late in the book, that worlds are not changed by kings and popes, but by two men sitting at a table, coming to an agreement, or by the exchange of thoughts and ideas across countries. And that is what Mantel seems to believe, too; thus, she does not focus her story on the huge proclamations or big meetings.

She shows us Cromwell, alone at his desk, thinking and reminiscing. She details short, almost off-hand conversations between Cromwell and his wonderful family. And then, sometimes, she will give us fascinating debates between Cromwell and Sir Thomas More, the “man for all seasons” who was ruthless in his practices to rid England of heretics.

Even the title of the book is more suggestive than straight-forward. Wolf Hall is the seat of the Seymour clan, but no scene in the book takes place there. The Seymours make cameos, and Cromwell takes note of them, but Wolf Hall is a distant building for most of the book. Instead, it represents Cromwell’s forward thinking. He is grateful to the Boleyns for his rise in court and favor, but he does not allow himself to depend on them. He tells his son, “…it’s all very well planning what you will do in six months, what you will do in a year, but it’s no good at all if you don’t have a plan for tomorrow.” And Cromwell always, always has a plan for tomorrow.

I am not sure if I fully believe in Mantel’s reconstruction of Cromwell as a man who wanted only to reform England, and was so forward-thinking in his ideals. However, it’s understandable; Cromwell was a blacksmith’s son who rose to prominence at a time when everyone important was noble or royal. Of course he would want the same opportunities for his family and friends. Perhaps in the promised sequel, we’ll get the hardened and more ruthless Cromwell that people remember.

Mantel’s writing style drew me in completely. This book reminded me a great deal of A Place of Greater Safety, in terms of writing style. I don’t think I enjoyed it as much as that book, but that’s probably because the French Revolution

absorbs me far more than Tudor England does. Mantel writes so lyrically, so adeptly. She immerses herself in the period- the food, the clothes, the heat, the stench. She researched this book for years, and it’s obvious in the product. But she does not get bogged down by her facts, or by history. Her flair for witty conversation brings

her characters to life, giving them flesh and blood where history only gives them stark facts and wooden portraits. Yes, Cardinal Wolsey was able to tell a joke. Yes, Cromwell loved his wife. We don’t see those things, 500 years later.

The only parts of the writing that annoyed me, stylistically, were as follows: first, Mantel usually uses quotation marks to denote conversation, but sometimes she does not; second, Mantel uses the pronoun “he” too much. The first is just frustrating in reading such a thick novel because it can interrupt a rhythm. The second is confusing because there are often multiple “he” in conversation, and you can’t be sure who she is referring to, all the time.

Other than that, though- this book is great! Very worthy of the Booker Prize, in my view, and I look forward to the sequel. Lovers of epic, varied novels will be thrilled. Not only are extensive family trees provided, but there is also a five-page long list of characters. This isn’t the sort of book you read for ten minutes on the morning commute. It’s one to savor with a glass of wine.

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Long for This World: The Strange Science of Immortality

Long for this worldI have to say from the start that I am disappointed in this book. I was hoping for a detailed look into the science of aging in the world today, but only got glimpses of it as we moved through the book.

A great deal of time and space is devoted to the musings of Bacon, Shakespeare, Dante, Keats, various mythological figures, the

Bible and other writers from generations past. There was also a great deal about the musings of Aubrey de Grey who is eccentric and brilliant, but also most likely a little daft. And, while it did add to the story, it took time away from the details of what the

science leads to.

From what I could discern, there is not real consensus on whether it is possible to extend life by much more than a few years (or possibly a decade) in the foreseeable future. The science just is not clear enough yet, and while theories abound, they are just that:

theories. In addition, even if it were possible to extend life by decades, there is certainly no consensus of the ethics of the situation. The ethicists are just as divided on the subject as the scientists.

While I found this to be an interesting read, I was also disappointed. If you are looking for the pure science of this field, you too will be disappointed. However, if you enjoy the musings of long dead writers and poets mixed with your science, you should enjoy this well written book.

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Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

Switch How to Change Things When Change Is HardI am a big fan of the Heath brothers’ first book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die and I am happy to report that they cialis 5mg have stepped up to the plate and hit another home run.

In “Switch,” the Heaths once again take the kernel of a good idea originated by someone else and build an expansive original work around it. In “Made to Stick” that kernel was Malcolm Gladwell’s concept of “stickiness,” what makes ideas memorable. In “Switch” the core is psychologist and The Happiness Hypothesis author Jonathan Haidt’s analogy for the mind: that the emotional side of our mind is like a headstrong Elephant, and the rational side of our mind is the guiding Rider.

The Rider holds the reins and seems to be the leader, but we all know what it’s like for an emotional Elephant to overpower a rational Rider. (For example, this is why many of us would say that a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice

cream should be labeled one serving and not four. Once a worked up Elephant digs in, the Rider has a hard time reining her in. Um, speaking hypothetically, of course.)

Add in the third element to this

framework, the Path, and you have three elements that can be worked on to address change. “Switch” addresses each of these elements in detail; Directing the Rider, Motivating the Elephant, and Shaping the Path, bringing in research-tested solutions

and real-world success stories. What I liked best was the simplicity of many of the examples. To encourage people to “eat healthier,” an initiative that could go in so many directions, rather than doing something complicated like following an illogically-designed government “Food Pyramid,” a West Virginia initiative instead encouraged people to take one step, to buy 1% or skim milk. That is simple, and creates change at the level of purchasing behavior rather than altering drinking or eating behavior. (If the Ben & Jerry’s isn’t in the freezer in the first place, the Rider doesn’t have to worry about controlling the Elephant.) And by narrowing the change down to one action, that eliminated choice paralysis and ambiguity that arise with more complicated directives.

“Switch” is a book for anyone from the grassroots, to cubicle nation, to CEOs. Most of the examples consciously focus on people who needed to effect significant change with little power and few resources available to them. How could a low-level NGO employee make a difference in alleviating the malnourishment of Vietnamese children, in only six months? By finding “bright spots,” identifying children who were thriving, finding out what their mothers were doing differently, and spreading that knowledge to other families. Stories like this are both inspiring and practical for all of us. This is really what I appreciated most about “Switch.” I found myself taking notes that were not only about the book itself, but about how I could apply this knowledge to challenges I am working on. The Elephant-Rider-Path metaphor helped me see my own work in a new light. What more can a reader ask for?

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