Review: The Lizard King by Bryan Christie

The Lizard King: The True Crimes and Passions of the World’s Greatest Reptile Smugglers – The Tiger King ain’t got nothing on these guys!

If you’re looking for a nonfiction book that reads like fiction, this is it! If you’re looking for a plot where sometimes the good guys are the bad guys and the bad guys are the good guys, here’s your book. And if you want to read something unbelievable but true, look no further.

The lengths people have gone to in order to procure and trade exotic reptiles is ridiculous. The money that’s changed hands is extraordinary! Growing up, I had a number of snakes, iguanas, even a Nile monitor, and I never stopped to think where these pets came from or what they went through before they came into my home. I feel horrible for having contributed to some of the horrors that occur in this eye-opening tale of the world’s reptile trade, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

From Goodreads: Michael J. Van Nostrand owns a business in Florida importing as many as 300,000 iguanas each year as well as hundreds of thousands of snakes, lizards, frogs, spiders, and scorpions. This book tells how, for years, Special Agent Chip Bepler has been trying to expose Van Nostrand’s suspected crimes as a reptile smuggler

Monday (Mini Book Review) Madness

This week I read:

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This was a page turner – plenty of suspects, lots of suspense, and danger round every corner. That said, I wasn’t feeling any of the characters, which kept me from being as vested in the outcome as I would have liked, but still a stellar read. Recommended for readers who want to be kept on their toes. Not recommended for those who want to scoop the mystery.

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I’ve had a hard time with non-fiction lately, but I enjoyed reading about the naturalist aspects of this book – the plants, animals and science. It took a while for the author to approach the purpose of the book – the story of how his son went missing while hiking in Costa Rica, and what he had to do to find him. Recommended for those who like a slow burning true mystery. Not recommended for those looking for light entertainment.

I just started:

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The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch ~ Non-fiction #BookReview

8137230So, some of you may have heard of ‘last lectures’, where a professor is asked to give a lecture on what they would impart to their students before their death. Seems a little morbid, but the intention is right (I think). Randy Pausch, who was a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon, was asked to give a last lecture. The only difference was he really was dying.

Instead of giving a lecture about lessons to learn before death, he gave a lecture on living. Entitled “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams”, Professor Pausch shared what he wanted his three young children, who would grow up without him, to know. The lecture was video taped, as well as used as the starting point for this book. In this book, Professor Pausch shares what he believes led to his success, lessons he learned while facing his impending death, and the wisdom he believed was truly important to pass on to his children.

It was inspirational, if a bit sad. In a way, it seems that when no longer faced with thoughts, worries and plans for the future, one can truly focus on living in the present, which I think too many of us fail to do. We’re so focused on our goals for the future, that we tend to forget to enjoy the now. I think it was Oprah who said, “live your best life now.” (I’m probably wrong, but it sounds good, right?) Regardless, I enjoyed this book and the lessons I found on every page. 5 stars!

The Wild Truth by Carine McCandless ~ Nonfiction Book Review

20828370This is the response to Into the Wild written by Chris McCandless’s sister, Carine. It’s supposed  to be the ‘real’ story, the one that helps readers to better understand Chris’s actions, and why they weren’t as rash or reckless or selfish as some people believe.

Let me begin by first saying that when I read Into the Wild, I didn’t judge Chris’s actions. He was simply a young man whose life came to an unfortunate, early end. I didn’t analyze his actions or scrutinize his motives. It’s not up to me to judge, and who’s to say that by doing what he did, that he didn’t manage to live more in 24 years than some do in a lifetime. To each their own.

That said, this wasn’t so much an expose as an emotional journey. Nothing shocking was revealed that wasn’t in Into the Wild to some extent, so if you’re looking for scandal, you’ll probably be underwhelmed. A powerful, moving, intimate tale about volatile family dynamics and a sister’s grief. 4 stars.

Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty by Diane Keaton ~ Nonfiction Book Review

wpb10When I saw this book I knew I had to read it because 1) I love Diane Keaton and 2) I really needed to read something funny. I might as well get this out of the way – this is not a funny book. It has a few funny parts, some amusing anecdotes, but this is by no definition of the term a comedy.

I’ve loved Diane Keaton since I was a little girl and saw Baby Boom. Maybe it’s strange that I’ve never watched any of her earlier movies such as Annie Hall, but I’ve liked her in every movie I have seen her in. She struck me as kooky and quirky and someone who lives to the beat of their own drummer without caring what others think. My bubble has been burst. That’s the risk you run when you read a book written by a celebrity you like – you may feel differently about them after reading their words.

Don’t get me wrong – I still like Diane Keaton – but she is not the person I assumed her to be. Most of this book is about her insecurities – which are many. She shares the numerous flaws she believes exist in her appearance and the resulting disguises that have evolved. The hats, glasses, turtlenecks – none are kooky quirks; all are attempts to conceal perceived flaws.

In the later pages, Keaton shares some words of wisdom while also exploring the various definitions of what is beautiful. This book was not at all what I was expecting, but it was not entirely without its merits. 4 stars.

My Childhood by Maxim Gorky ~ Nonfiction Book Review

wpb8Maxim Gorky, hailed as the father of Russian literature, shares his firsthand account of Russian life in the late nineteenth century in this book, the first of three memoirs he would produce. This beautiful, if tragic account, paints a window for the reader to peer through time into an era of struggle and despair, told in the dispassionate  voice of a child. It reveals the both the resilience and the fortitude needed by the Russian people.

This is not a book with plot, action or humor. What it is is a series of eloquent descriptions and hard realism, laced with priceless Russian fairy tales, folklore and songs as told to Gorky by his Grandmother. It is a quick read, and one I’d recommend to those interested in memoir, history, realism, and to writers. Five stars.

My Top 5 Books of 2015

Despite a 3 month hiatus while moving and fixing up our new house, I read 48 books in 2015. That’s a visit to 48 different worlds, a brief stint spent living 48 different lives, and countless new (if imaginary) friends. This past year, I read novels to broaden my literary horizons, works to learn from, pieces to grow from, and books just for fun. It was incredibly hard to pick my top 5 favorites this year, but here they are:

wpb11). TANA FRENCH – Okay, I know that I’m cheating here, but seriously, if you like mysteries with a twist and you haven’t read anything by French before, you’re missing out. On my grandmother’s recommendation, I read In The Woods at the beginning of the year. I then proceeded to read everything French has written, and she can’t write more fast enough! I highly recommend anything by this author.

wpb2) EIGHTEEN by Jan Burke – This is a collection of 18 short stories by bestselling author Jan Burke. The anthology includes an Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Readers Award and Macavity Award winner, an Agatha Award winner, an Edgar Award and an Agatha Award nominee, and the first story ever to feature her popular character, Irene Kelly. I read a Jan Burke book years ago and loved it, yet strangely never picked up another. After reading this book, I will not make that mistake again. This collection spans every color of the mystery rainbow, historical to modern day, professional detective to amateur, and everything in between. This is a must read!

wpb33) GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn – I didn’t expect to like this book. I saw the movie first (which I hate and almost never do), but after watching the movie I was really interested in seeing how Flynn had structured the novel. I am so glad that I did! I enjoyed this book on many different levels. Even though I knew what was going to happen, it still seemed fresh. This book delivers!

wpb24) THROUGH A WINDOW by Jane Goodall – I read a number of nonfiction books this year, and was wondering which one to include on this list until I looked back and saw this one. I love Goodall’s writing. I love her subject matter. Put them together and you get a thought provoking, engaging work that reads like fiction and stirs the heart like a Disney movie.

wpb45) THE 6TH EXTINCTION by James Rollins – This was a given. Rollins is returning to his weird science, Michael Crichton-ish early works and I could not be happier. I though that I might eventually outgrow these type of fast paced thrillers, but I’m happy to report that hasn’t happened yet! Take one part heavy science, add a dash of outlandish ideas and a dollop of adventure and you get a recipe that makes this reader very happy.

 

(On a side note, I’ve taken to using a board on Pinterest to keep track of the books I read, and I’ve found that it works really well. This is definitely a habit that I will carry on into 2016. Click the above link to see all of the books on my 2015 reading list.)

Under The Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer ~ Nonfiction Book review

book1This was a very scary book. Written by Jon Krakauer, the author of Into Thin Air and Into the Wild, this books explores the history, and violence, of the Mormon faith. Due to the subject material, it was a little slow at times – I found my attention wandering and occasionally had to make myself reread passages.

Religion is a touchy subject, especially when you are discussing the darker aspects of faith, such as what is considered ‘God sanctioned violence’. I am aware that all religions have a history of ‘killing in the name of the Lord’. It’s just that for most (Western) religions, that history is far in the past, whereas Mormonism is relatively young, ‘American born’ faith. This is a subject that I honestly don’t want to get into, so there’s not much to say.

I read this book because it was recommended to me, and because I believe that it’s important for me to educate myself before forming opinions about matters that I know nothing about. This book has left me with some very strong opinions. One of them is that I really don’t want Mormons knocking on my door (not that I did before, but now I really don’t).

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer ~ Nonfiction Book Review

book24This is a book that I’ve wanted to read for a long time. I’ve read Jon Krakauer before and knew he had an easy, enjoyable style of writing. I expected this to be a gripping story, but I had no idea exactly how enthralling it would be.

Let me start by saying that I also had no idea how dangerous it is to climb Mount Everest. Difficult, yes, but when actually presented with the statistics (and these are out of date – they don’t include several subsequent tragedies) I was absolutely shocked. That tourists, as in, not professional mountain climbers, would continue to pay upwards of $65,000 apiece to be led into such a deadly situation leaves me speechless. Not speechless enough to not find the words to tell my husband that I am no longer okay with him climbing Everest, but I had few words beyond that.

The book explores Krakauer’s firsthand account of a climb during the deadly 1996 season, during which several of his fellow climbers and guides, among others, lost their lives. After reading his story it is clear how easily (and how often) tragedy strikes on this mountain. There are no rescue missions to the top of Mount Everest. You are literally hiking at the altitude that jets fly, under what are severe conditions at best.

I can’t remember ever reading a nonfiction book that kept me in such a state of suspense before. It almost reads like fiction, and like a horror story, it’s scary. I could not put it down. Five stars.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer – Nonfiction Review

book1 I initially had some reservations about reading this book. I had heard a lot of hype about it, both good and bad, and it seemed like most people who read it focused on judging the decisions made by the subject, Chris McCandless. It’s definitely tempting. An educated young man from an affluent family decides to live as a bum, ultimately ending up in the wilds of Alaska where he dies, seemingly from his own recklessness, when he could have opted for one of the many opportunities at his disposal instead and had a bright and successful future.

Well, there are no guarantees in life. McCandless could have died just as easily while crossing the street. He could have seized the more conventional opportunities that life presented him with and ended up living a miserable, if lucrative, life. Who’s to say which is a better choice for someone else to make? So as I read this book, (with the exception of noting that the book is well researched, and the author seems passionate about getting the facts straight), I considered it a work of fiction, thereby freeing myself from making judgements about McCandless and worrying that my comments would in any way be construed as condoning his behavior.

book2Jon Krakauer has an easy writing style that holds the attention. He tells the tale of a young man who seeks a deeper meaning which can only come from within. In order to achieve the level of introspection needed to accomplish this, the young man leaves his family and hits the road, learning to live in solitude, off the land, and in extreme conditions. The man enjoys the company of others and is by no means a recluse, but seems to feel that the answers he seeks can only be discovered when stripped of company and comforts. It is by no means a new tale, as narratives abound in which man turns to nature to answer the questions that burn within his soul, but it is a retelling that I enjoyed very much.

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