You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

My Photo
Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Stone of Tears

Stone of Tears is the sequel to Wizard's First Rule. It is the second book in Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series. The book begins where the first book ends. Richard Rahl, the wizard Zedd, and Kahlan are in the People's Palace, having defeated Darken Rahl. Yet they are not able to rest because they are soon attacked by an evil creature called a skrin, a powerful creature from the underworld. In defeating Darken Rahl, they have left open a rift to the underworld. Richard comes to understand that only he has the power to close the rift and save the world.

Richard and Kahlan travel to the Mud People to return one of their children, and there Richard insists on doing the ritual to speak with the ancestors, in order to get advice on how to close the rift. However, he falls victim to the wizard's second rule, which says that in deciding on an action, one may make the situation worse through unintended consequences. Too late, Richard realizes that his father Darken Rahl is his direct ancestor, so he has called him from beyond the veil. Darken Rahl marks Richard with a black handprint on his chest, which Richard bears as a constand reminder of his father's evil.

The plot starts to take shape when Richard and Kahlan are visited by three women who are from the Sisters of the Light. The Sisters claim that the headaches that Richard is suffering will kill him unless they put a collar on him and take him away to teach him how to control his magic. Kahlan, convinced by Denna's ghost that only this can save his life, persuades Richard to take the collar and go away with Sister Verna. Richard, though he complies, is bitter about Kahlan sending him away and is convinced that she no longer loves him. This break affects him for the rest of the book. It will take most of the novel for him to realize that Kahlan acted out of love. The way he realizes this is by adopting a gar after killing its mother, and being forced to send it away to keep it from being killed by civilized people. However this whole subplot feels a little forced, and Richard comes to his epiphany too easily.

With Richard being taken away, Kahlan takes three escorts with her to Aydindril, the seat of power for the Midlands. There she intends to help maintain peace in the land in her duties as the highest leader and peacemaker. However they do not get far before they encounter a city that has been laid waste and all its inhabitants killed. Here the author provides gruesome scenes of the viciousness of the attackers. We gain insight in Kahlan as she witnesses the devastation and must make a decision whether to continue to Aydindril to see to her duties, or help a small army of young men pursue vengeance against a stronger force. The overwhelming nature of the slaughter provokes her into action, and so the story takes another turn. Kahlan becomes a cunning leader, but also faces personal challenges, including a sudden betrayal. The betrayal is a true plot twist that changes the arc of the story.

The middle third of the book follows Richard as Sister Verna leads him to the palace where the Sisters of the Light train young wizards. Suspense builds as we we learn more about the Sisters, particularly with scenes of intrigue at the palace they are approaching. The contrast between the scenes of Kahlan's action and Richard's slow acculumation of knowledge and power blend together well. As Richard grows in knowledge he still has trouble controling his magic, and we wonder if he will be able to deal with whatever is in store for him. At their destination, Richard is still unhappy without Kahlan and determined to leave. This determination drives his actions in the last third of the story, where he becomes more confident and slowly starts to master his power. He learns that he has a power that has not been seen in three thousand years, making him a powerful and dangerous wizard. As he has accepted his role as the Seeker, he must accept the gift of magic.

Unfortunately after several hundred pages, the last few chapters feel rushed. Whereas the first novel was slow in the beginning and grew slowly to a crescendo, this installment is a little more spotty. There is a lot packed into the novel, and it's nice to see more of the world Goodkind has created. The resolution feels a little to easy after all the work building up to it. There is a nice twist at the end regarding Kahlan's fate, a prophecy that Richard tries to prevent.

The story revolves around the two main characters, their love for each other, and their attempts to reunite after forcing to be separated. They are drawn each other and this drives the story, each wanting to make the other's love worthwhile. Kahlan is the destination that Richard is always seeking, and he is her drive to succeed. The trope of the young wizard coming to accept his power is a little overdone, but I think the author does a pretty good job of building on it. It can be tiring to hear Richard deny his power or refuse to come to terms with it, yet in the end it makes a nice story. B+

Labels: , , ,

Monday, November 21, 2011


Michael Lewis's latest book is called Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World. Here he discusses his travels to Europe to understand the aftermath of the financial meltdowns in several countries. Each country had a different path to downfall and thus provides a different window into modern financial pitfalls.

He starts with Iceland, the scene of a spectacular economic collapse in 2008. Iceland's three largest banks had accrued debts larger than the entire GDP of the country. When they needed more capital to keep running, even Iceland's Central Bank could not find enough money to keep them afloat. The end result was a huge crash in the value of the krona. The three banks went into receivorship. May foreigners had deposits on the banks that are still being worked out. Lewis looks at the transformation of a society based on fishing to one based on international finance.

Next is Greece, which has a completely different financial difficulty. After joining the EU, it was discovered that the Greek government had a much larger deficit than was known before, something like three times larger. Lewis finds fault in the culture of Greece, where the public workers do little work for high pay and benefits, including lavish pensions. Moreover, tax compliance is so bad that most people get out of paying their tax bill, even wealthy doctors manage to get paid in cash and avoid taxes. Lewis does a great job describing the culture, especially the Greek's relationship to each other and their government.

Ireland provided yet another type of collapse. Driven by demand for labor, Irish citizens and foreign workers flooded to the country leading to a real estate bubble. Funds were flowing in from the rest of Europe. According to Lewis, "By 2007, Irish banks were lending 40 percent more to property developers than they had to the entire Irish population seven years earlier." The typical part of the cycle happened when real estate values peaked, the banks finally slowed lending, and a credit crunch occurred. The ensuing run on deposits forced the governmnet to gaurantee all bank obligations, essentially putting the Irish taxpayer on the hook. Lewis describes the attempts of a economics professor named Morgan Kelly to get the powers that be to look at the dangers the economy was in in 2007. Obviously, nobody wanted to listen until it was too late. Confidence in the economy was entwined with patriotism, so to question the economic future was to show uncertain faith in one's country.

Lewis also examines Germany, the source of many of the funding for the bank failures and the possible salvation of the Greeks. He then turns his attention to the United States, and in particular California, which has a political system that has led to higher debt and worse credit ratings. He points out that the system in California, where politicians are constantly fighting, is actually good at giving voters what they want: social programs without having to pay for them. He examines the cities of San Jose and Vallejo. Vallejo is a warning sign to all municipalities; it went into bankruptcy and now has a bare bones government.

I found all of the segments illuminating, and none more so that the segment on the U.S. The themes of optimism and false hope are constant through all the world economies. The book shows the many pitfalls in running a large modern economy. Lewis provides detailed statistics and commentary on the culture to give a full picture of each collapse. It is educational as well as entertaining. A-

Labels: , , , ,

Saturday, November 12, 2011


I finally got around to listening to the audiobook of Ian McEwan's Atonement. The story begins in 1935 England, at the Tallis estate. Briony Tallis is a 13-year-old girl who is imaginative and outgoing, though a bit naive. Her sister Cecilia is five years older and has been away at Cambridge for the year. Their friend Robbie Turner is the son of their servant, and their father has supported his education ever since Robbie's father disappeared. Robbie has also been at Cambridge, but has barely acknowledged Cecilia, due to the separation of the genders as much as his strong feelings for her and his awkward and unequal relationship to her family. The issue of class is not a major issue in the book, but nevertheless it has its negative effects that are a dark thread throughout.

When Briony sees Cecilia and Robbie in the courtyard acting mysteriously, she invents her own explanation for what she has witnessed. She does not have a positive view of Robbie, and this worsens when she reads a letter that Robbie has given her to give to Cecilia. Robbie has accidentally given her a letter with a crude description of his feelings for Cecilia, so Briony becomes convinced that Robbie is a pervert. Later, when Briony sees her cousin Lola with a boy in the night, she assumes the worst and accuses Robbie of rape. Robbie spends years in prison based only on Briony's invented testimony, and becomes estranged from the whole Tallis family. Only Cecilia, seeing through Briony's mistake, maintains his friendship.

The story jumps forward five years to Robbie in the army in France, retreating to the coast with the German army on their heels. Robbie witnesses death and destruction, and he must make choices regarding his survival and his duty. One such choice is when he and his two friends rescue an English pilot who is being mobbed by angry soldiers accusing him of not protecting them. Here Robbie's actions stand in stark contrast to the actions made against him when he was falsely accused. He seems determined that others will not suffer needlessly. Robbie makes it out of France and back to England where he reunites with Cecily. Briony, now eighteen and a nursing student, must suddenly take care of a flood of wounded English soldiers. She takes a moment to visit Cecilia and spends an awkward time with her and Robbie. Briony is contrite about her role in Robbie's suffering but does not know how to make amends.

The last part is where the novel goes from being a good story to being an inventive literary novel. It is sixty years later and Briony is a successful author. She is looking back on her life and the wrong that she did to Robbie and Cecilia. She still does not know how she could fix things, but at least she understands the circumstances and what led her to her incorrect assumptions. In her wish to make it up to Robbie, we see that the novel itself is her creation. It is more than a need to air the truth after decades: the novel becomes an alternate story for Robbie with a better ending. The story is reflective and reflexive, the author McEwan has inserted Briony as another author between himself and the text. Briony stands in as the author's alter ego, and is able in the text to comment on the text itself. It is the finest form of paying back to the characters, as she actually rewrites the story to create a happy ending that never could have been. We see Briony's transformation from a naive and self-important girl to graceful woman who has not forgotten her biggest mistake. McEwan's writing is already good enough; we live inside the three major characters and feel their emotions and understand their point of view. The story is filled with scenes and characters that all contribute to make a complete story. The reflection at the end is more than a summary or commentary of the rest of the story; it creates a new sense of what is possible. The novel is book-ended by a play within a play--Briony's creation--providing the lens with which to view the story. It is enjoyable on all layers. A

Labels: , , , ,