Friday, October 30, 2009

20. American Shaolin by Matthew Polly

When my sister Annie first heard about the project, she sent me an e-mail with book suggestions. American Shaolin was at the top of her list, and so I put it near the top of my list of suggestions. All I really knew about the book before I picked it up was that it was about martial arts, something I know almost nothing about. Annie and her husband Doug have practiced Aikido for years, but I've never really seen them in action. All I know is that their kids will definitely be able to beat up our kids, should they care to.

Matthew Polly was scrawny and insecure during his childhood in Kansas, always a favorite target of neighborhood bullies. He kept a running mental list of Things That Are Wrong With Matt, and no matter what he did to eliminate an item from the list, it was inevitably replaced by something else that he found lacking in himself. Matt developed an interest in kungfu after seeing David Carradine's Kung Fu, and pursued it as a student at Princeton. Not only did he take kungfu lessons, he also studied Chinese and eastern religions. After three years at Princeton, Matt happened to read Iron and Silk by Mark Salzman, a memoir about a Yale student who studies martial arts with a kungfu master in China. Matt decides to take a leave of absence and study with the monks at Shaolin Temple. Although it's difficult to convince his family and friends that he's serious and needs to go through with it, he does make it to China and the Shaolin Temple. He arranges to study with the monks, and remains there for two years.

My first reaction the the book? I would NEVER do something like this! It's SO impractical! I just don't have the cojones or the desire to embark upon this kind of journey. Matt leaves for China in 1992, long before you could find the location of the Shaolin Temple with a few clicks online. He flies to China, and simply asks around until he finds his way to the temple. Did I mention that he goes to China all by himself? Totally alone. Matt considers himself cowardly (it's on his Things That Are Wrong With Matt list) but I think taking that leap was incredibly brave. I spent a semester in Spain during my junior year in college, but I don't know if I could have done without the other 11 people in my group. I probably wouldn't have even considered going alone.  

"It was a shock to discover that after three years of studying Mandarin in college I could not actually speak Chinese."

I can relate! It's one thing to study and speak a second language with other students, but it's completely different to immerse yourself in another country with native speakers. When I was in Spain, it took about two months to feel really comfortable speaking with my host mother and other Spaniards.

Matt, or Bao Mosi as he is known in China, is hysterically funny. I laughed out loud at many points in the book. His observations and commentary on his experiences are so witty and humorous, without taking away from the seriousness of the subject matter.

"I nicknamed her 'Shou Ting,' because I have a weakness for bad puns, and deep down inside I'm not a very nice person."

I giggled over that line for at least two minutes. I really had the feeling while reading that Matt was someone that I would like to know and hang out with. I bet his Facebook statuses would be hilarious.

Not only was the writing funny and personable, it was engaging. The book is intended for readers who may know nothing about Shaolin Temple, kungfu or China. Matt imparts a lot of historical background, detailed explanations of his kungfu routines, and information about Chinese culture. It's a lot of information, but I never felt like I was "learning" and I never got bored. He really cares about what he's writing about, and he makes you care too. And not only do you care about his surroundings, you care about his journey. By the end of his time with the monks, Matt has really grown up. He no longer harbors revenge fantasies about his former bullies, he feels at peace spiritually, and he's certainly more than competent in kungfu. While I did say that I would never do something like this, I would like to think that I would re-consider for the type of reward that Matt earned for himself.

As a professional proofreader, I really appreciated the note on spelling and pronunciation included at the beginning of the book. Matt explains the system he used to romanize the Chinese language in the text and the few exceptions, as well as providing a few tips on pronunciation for the Western readers. But this is by far the point that I appreciated the most:

"...while most American dictionaries spell 'kung fu' as two words, I reduced it to one, 'kungfu,' because I didn't want thousands of orphaned 'fu's populating the pages of my book with no 'ck's to keep them company."

See? Funny. (You'll notice that I used the same spelling throughout as an homage.)

Please read this book. I promise that you will enjoy it. If you do, Annie recommends Angry White Pajamas by Robert Twigger for contrast.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

19. The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama

It took a long time for Barack Obama to show up on my radar. I didn't pay too much attention to the 2004 presidential campaigns, feeling pretty safe in my assumption that the Democrats would regain control of the White House. As it turns out, just because everyone you talk about these things with is liberal doesn't mean that the majority of the country is. Lesson learned. So I didn't see Obama's keynote speech at the convention, and didn't hear the phrase "the audacity of hope" until years later. I had hoped to vote for John Edwards in 2008, his family and their background having appealed to me since the previous election cycle. When it came down to Obama or Hillary Clinton, I didn't really care anymore. I knew that I would be voting Democrat regardless of the candidate chosen in the end. So it wasn't really until the convention in Denver and following months leading up to Election Day that I started to pay attention to Obama and really care about the potential for his presidency. The Audacity of Hope has been on my mom's bookshelf since then, and I finally decided to borrow it.

In The Audacity of Hope, Obama identifies the problems that he sees Americans facing and offers his take on how to approach said problems to alleviate or eliminate their negative consequences. He basically uses the book as a platform on which to explain what kind of president he will be. As Gary Hart, a former presidential nominee himself, put it in a New York Times review, "In a more perfect world, a graduate program complete with a doctoral thesis might be required of all those seeking the presidency. In certain ways, 'The Audacity of Hope' qualifies as Senator Barack Obama's thesis submission." A recurring theme is the current polarization of liberals and conservatives. He looks to recent political history and the nature of the media and special interest groups to explain the divisive nature of politics today, taking the time to differentiate between "politics" and "government." Emphasis on values that are common to all Americans and a renewed focus on the American Constitution are offered as possible common ground for liberals and conservatives to move forward on together. Obama also provides thoughts on the role of opportunity, race, faith and family in politics; mixing personal anecdotes with historical context and proposed government policy.

I don't want to say that Obama's writing isn't accessible, because it is... and isn't. Like most people, he's best when writing about his life and using personal stories to illustrate a point. I sympathize with his wife Michelle when he writes about her bearing the brunt of running their household while he's away working. I love his mother for instilling in him such a strong sense of empathy. He's self-deprecating to a fault, which is a very attractive trait to me. But this is not a straight autobiography. Obama is writing about serious issues, examining them from all sides and providing thorough background information. This is where I begin to feel like I can't keep up. While I think that I am among the intended audience for the book, the aim is a bit high. I think that Obama is so passionate about the issues and his ideas that he gets a bit wrapped up in writing about them. I can easily imagine him debating said matters with friends and colleagues for hours. When left to his own devices, Obama seems to be writing for that audience, rather than the general public. I was a bit surprised by this, expecting something more accessible because of Obama's excellent speaking skills. I suppose that he has people to reign in him for speeches and remind him who the audience is.

Regardless of one's political leanings or views on Obama's performance as President thus far, I think most readers will come away from reading the book with some measure of admiration for him. He comes across as a very thoughtful person, one that carefully considers all sides of an issue. He's a bit idealistic, but is that a bad thing? We should all be a little idealistic, I think. He feels compelled to roll up his sleeves and put in the hard work to fix that which is broken. He genuinely wants to help. It also seems that he sincerely enjoys meeting people and is invested in hearing their stories; relating them back to his own in order to understand them better. It's probably starting to sound like I drank the kool-aid, but I swear I didn't. All of the traits that I just mentioned happen to be important to me and it's comforting to see them in our president regardless of his flaws, of which I'm sure there are many.

Friday, October 23, 2009

If you'll allow me a moment on my soap box...

I finally watched a YouTube video that's been making the rounds this week, and it warmed my bleeding liberal heart. Below is the video (and transcript) of Phillip Spooner's testimony before the Maine state legislature in support of gay marriage.

Good morning, committee. My name is Phillip Spooner and I live Biddeford. I am 86 years old, a lifetime Republican, and an active VFW chaplain. I still serve three hospitals and two nursing homes, and I also served meals on wheels for 20 years. My wife of 54 years, Jenny, died in 1997. Together we had four children, including one gay son. All four of our boys were in the service. 

I was born on a potato farm north of Caribou and Perham, where I was raised to believe that all men are created equal, and I’ve never forgotten that. I served in the US Army 1942-1945 in the First Army as a medic and an ambulance driver. I worked with every outfit over there including Patton’s Third Army. I saw action in all five major battles in Europe including the Battle of the Bulge. My unit was awarded Presidential Citations for transporting more patients with fewer accidents than any other ambulance unit in Europe, and I was in the liberation of Paris. After the war, I carried POWs back from Poland, Hungary, and Yugoslavia, and also hauled hundreds of injured Germans back to Germany. 

I’m here today because of a conversation I had last year when I was voting. A woman at my polling place asked me, “Do you believe in equality for gay and lesbian people?” I was pretty surprised to be asked a question like that; it made no sense to me. Finally I asked her, “What do you think I fought for at Omaha Beach?” 

I have seen so much blood and guts, so much suffering, so much sacrifice. For what? For freedom and equality. These are the values that make America a great nation, one worth dying for. 

I give talks to eighth grade teachers about World War II, and I don’t tell them about the horror. Maybe I have to invite them to the ovens at Buchenwald and Dachau. I’ve seen with my own eyes the consequences of caste systems, and it makes some people less than others, or second class. 

Never again. We must have equal rights for everyone; it’s what this country was started for. It takes all kinds of people to make a world. It doesn’t make sense that some people who love each other can marry and others can’t, just because of who they are. This is what we fought for in World War II, that idea that we can be different and still be equal.

My wife and I did not raise four sons with the idea that three of them would have a certain set of rights, but our gay child would be left out. We raised them all to be hard-working, proud, and loyal Americans, and they all did good. 

I think if two adults who love each other want to get married, they should be able to. Everybody’s supposed to be equal in this country. Let gay people have the right to marry. 

Thank you.

18. 20 Times a Lady by Karyn Bosnak

One night when Colin was working, I spent a long time trying to figure out how to check out ebooks from my library and found it to be impossible. The next day, Colin figured it out in 5 minutes (maybe less). I chose this book based on the two-line summary provided on the ebooks webpage, mainly because I wanted to try out this exciting new technology with something that sounded fun and easy. Blogs aren't the only thing I can read on my laptop!

20 Times a Lady presents us with Delilah Darling, our zany chick lit heroine de jour. Delilah is a thirty-year-old singleton living and working in Manhattan whose life crashes down around her after she's laid off. After celebratory/commiseratory drinks with her former coworkers, she wakes up the next day in her archenemy's apartment and is disgusted to realize that she actually slept with him. Chalk it up to the margaritas and move on? Not so simple this time. Delilah recently read a New York Times article stating that the average woman has 10.5 sexual partners in her lifetime. A shocking and somewhat devastating discovery for the excitable Delilah, whose number has somehow reached 19. She avows that she will not exceed 20; giving herself one last chance to find her soulmate -- one last chance which she has now blown on Roger, the aforementioned disgusting archenemy. In a desperate attempt to keep her vow, she decides to use her severance pay to track down her 19 former lovers and try to figure out what went wrong with each relationship. With any luck, she'll be able to rekindle a romance with one of them, and narrowly avoid breaking the vow.

I got the feeling while reading (on my laptop!) that Bosnak had some kind of study guide on how to write chick lit, and followed it to the letter. There are no real surprises here, no effort to step out of the box. Delilah is a little too zany for my tastes; her antics walked the fine line between entertaining and annoying. Who would throw away all of their severance pay on a fool's errand instead of looking for another job? Who checks into rehab to see an ex because he's in the middle of a stay there and can't receive visitors? Seriously! Delilah's cast of supporting characters serve her well, from her supportive best friend to her overbearing mother to her new neighbor with the sexy Irish accent. The major plot points can be seen from more than a mile away, including the ingenious twist that allows our heroine to avoid being 21 times a lady, but the interactions with the exes are interesting and humorous for the most part. This would be a good read for a day at the beach or on a plane ride, meaning that it's okay for a couple of hours of mindless fun, but I think that there's definitely better to be had in this genre. While it was a good concept with some nice moments and a few laughs, it just didn't quite hit the mark for me.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

17. Derby Girl by Shauna Cross

Colin brought this book home from the library one day and proceeded to breeze through it, oftentimes chuckling. His obvious enjoyment annoyed me to no end, as I was in the middle of An American Tragedy and basically hating life. I had to check out Derby Girl for myself, especially because we were both obsessed with seeing the movie adaptation, Whip It, as soon as possible. Not only did the trailer look awesome, but we got to attend a promotional event at a roller rink by our apartment and see Drew Barrymore in person (she is TINY). We even stole a poster on our way out. Yay!

Derby Girl is the story of Bliss Cavendar, a blue haired, indie-rock loving misfit struck in the tiny town of Bodeen, Texas. Her pageant-addicted mother expects her to compete for the coveted Miss Blue Bonnet crown, but Bliss would rather feast on roaches than be subjected to such rhinestone tyranny. Bliss' escape? Take up Roller Derby. When she discovers a league in nearby Austin, Bliss embarks on an epic journey full of hilarious tattooed girls, delicious boys in bands, and a few not-so-awesome realities even the most bad-assed derby chick has to learn.

(BTW, I picked up the official plot summary because I was a little daunted to sum it up myself. I wanted to do it justice, and nothing I wrote came out right.)

I was not surprised to learn that Cross is a screenwriter. The novel seemed to follow the arcs of a movie, if that makes sense. It was a quick, enjoyable read. I think that this book is technically aimed at "young adults" (read: younger than me) but I found it to be very relatable. The all-consuming passion for a new project, the heady excitement of a first boyfriend, the sobering realization that you've neglected your best friend in the world and she has every right to be pissed -- who hasn't experienced some of those highs and lows at some point? I especially liked how Bliss' relationships -- with her friends, boyfriend, parents -- were realistic. It would have been easy to make the Cavendar parents one-dimensional and unsympathetic, but instead Cross fleshed out enough details to really show the many layers of complicated parent-child relationships. Yes, your mom can be overbearing and exasperate you, but she can also comfort you after the fall-out from breaking the cardinal rule -- Never date a boy in a band!

I only have two complaints about the book, but even those don't really take away from it. For the record, I wish that the rules of roller derby had been explained. Come on, let's have a little exposition! Some of us have never seen the sport in action. Also, Bliss fit pretty neatly into this indie girl mold. When she noticed that everyone had on Converse shoes at a party in Austin and felt relieved that she hadn't been able to buy a pair because the trend was obviously becoming passe, it bothered me. If you're truly "indie" what do you care about the trendiness of your shoes? Although to be fair, most 16 year olds are dying to fit in somewhere, regardless of how unique they proclaim to be.

Whip It is a great adaptation. We had the good fortune to go to two (two!) free screenings. The tweaks they made from the novel both set it apart and enhanced it. I think Drew Barrymore definitely has a future as a director if she wants it. You could tell there was a solid and consistent creative voice at the helm. The casting was dead on -- Ellen Page totally embodies Bliss and her alter ego Babe Ruthless and, let me tell you, that girl can skate. Kristen Wiig is hilarious as Bliss' mentor, Maggie Mayhem, who is supportive but doesn't hesitate to give Bliss a reality check when needed. Andrew Wilson killed it as Razor, the derby coach. This role was beefed up from the book, and it totally worked. His scenes were among my favorite. Juliette Lewis was born to play Iron Maven, captain of the Holy Rollers and Bliss' arch rival. I was a little sad that they dropped the line "Never date a boy in a band!" from the movie; it worked so well in the book, but the depiction of Bliss and her first boyfriend Oliver still worked without it. My only real complaint? They explained the rules of roller derby -- one or two too many times. Come on, I'm a savvy movie-goer, I can keep up! It's not a major complaint, though; I mostly thought it was funny after the book didn't explain the rules at all.

By the way, did you know that Stryper is a real band? I don't know very much about the history of Christian metal bands, so when I read about Bliss' favorite Stryper t-shirt in the book, I assumed it was made up. It wasn't until after the first free screening that Colin set me straight. He has a dark past and so is more knowledgeable about such things.

Monday, October 19, 2009

16. Julie and Julia by Julie Powell

I heard about this book when it came out, and it sounded vaguely interesting. I would see it on my mom's bookshelf and briefly consider reading it, but never did. And here's why: I'm not a foodie. If you know me at all, you probably know this by now. I don't watch the Food Network or try fancy dishes at restaurants, and I certainly don't cook for the enjoyment of it. Also, my mom could never really teach me how to cook. She's an amazing cook, and was a successful caterer for many years. People really look forward to eating at our house. But she's an instinctual cook -- she doesn't need a recipe to tell her how much of an ingredient will be just right. She just knows. But in this area, I take more after my dad. I need a list of directions that spells out for me exactly what to do and when. I don't know when to substitute one thing for another, and I don't like to deviate from what my directions tell me to do. So, this book just didn't seem quite right for me, and I never picked it up. Until I saw the movie. The trailer for Julie and Julia was so good, and I was seduced. Colin and I went to see it on a random Thursday night, and had such a good time. It was utterly charming, and funny, and a tiny bit magical. Having blogged about a project before and currently, I totally got the Julie part of the story. And so, I decided that I had to read this book finally.

If you're not familiar with the story, here's a brief synopsis:

In 2004, Julie Powell was a frustrated secretary approaching thirty, living in a small apartment in one of New York City's outerboroughs, who was looking for some kind of meaning and purpose. Her husband suggested that she start a blog (not quite as popular a pastime then as it is today) and after some consideration, she settled on the Julie/Julia Project. Her mission? To cook each of the 524 recipes in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year. The book Julie and Julia is adapted from Julie's blog, and rounds it out with anecdotes about her childhood, friends and co-workers.

Admittedly, expectations were high. And not met. See, I loved the movie. This story really worked for me in that medium. And it didn't really in the written word. Here are some of the reasons why:

I wanted to read a memoir about Julie's project, more so than about her life. I don't care about the time that she discovered her parents' copy of The Joy of Sex. The movie focused on this particular year in Julie's life, while the book did not.

As previously stated, I am not a foodie. Reading about the recipes and the process of making them wasn't riveting for me. I enjoyed the scenes of cooking in the movie more; seeing the cooking done simply worked better for me.

I liked how the movie cut back and forth between Julie and Julia. It was interesting to see what Julia was going through and relate it back to what Julie was doing. In the book, Julie includes some stories about Julia and her husband Paul but freely admits that she made them up. I thought that was kind of weird. (Although in the post-James Frey age, it's nice to note that she was upfront about it.)

Julie in the book? Not that likeable. When I asked my mom if I could borrow the book, she asked me if I was sure. In her opinion, all Julie did was whine the whole way through. They definitely toned that down in the movie. Seriously, Amy Adams as Julie in the movie? Love her! Want to hang out with her! Cute as a button.

I saved one of the more important reasons for last. In the book, Julie doesn't really explain what Julia meant to her until the end. She does kind of tie it all together when writing about Julia's death and how she felt about it. But in the movie, it's clear right from the start that Julia Child meant something to Julie. The project meant something to her. I really didn't get a sense of Julie's passion about her project in reading the book, and by the time I got to the end it was almost too little, too late.

That's not to say that Julie and Julia is not a bad book, per se. But for me, the story was better told in the medium of film. They were able to better tell the story that I wanted to hear.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

15. Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo

I got a notice from the library that a book was being held and when I stopped by, Sworn to Silence was waiting for me on the shelf. I have no memory of putting it on hold and I can't remember when I heard about it or where! I do love a good mystery, so I was excited to get home and read it.

Sixteen years ago, a series of brutal murders shattered the peaceful farming community of Painters Mill, Ohio. A young Amish girl, Katie Burkholder, survived the terror of the Slaughterhouse Murders. In the aftermath of the killings, the town was left with a sense of fragility, a loss of innocence, and for Katie, the realization that she no longer belonged with the Amish. Now, a wealth of experience later, Kate Burkholder is back. Her Amish roots and big city law enforcement background make her the perfect candidate for Chief of Police. She's certain she's come to terms with her past -- until the first body is discovered in a snowy field. Kate vows to stop the killer before he strikes again. But to name him, she would betray both her family and her Amish past -- and expose a dark secret that could destroy her. 

I really enjoyed this book. It's a page-turner, a fast but not lightweight read. It's a great mystery, with clues dropped in throughout artfully. You can figure out the whodunit, but it's so not obvious that you lose interest or feel stupid for not catching on earlier. Castillo picked a very interesting setting, and provides good exposition on the English and the Amish co-existing. She didn't shy away from the violence; after all, the book is about a serial killer. But I appreciate that those scenes are realistic rather than gratuitously gory. This is no torture porn (a popular trend that I've noticed in movies, and think is reprehensible). I've read that Castillo is an established romance novelist who is now moving into the mystery genre. I would never have been able to guess that her background is in romance -- not that the love interest plotline in Sworn to Silence isn't well done. But overall, it's just such a well constructed mystery that it's hard to believe it's her first one. Apparently, this is the first in a series featuring Kate Burkholder. I'll be very interested to see what's next for the author and the character.

In case you're wondering, I tried to avoid giving too much detail about the plot because I think you should go out and get this book to read today! If you like mysteries at all, please give this one a chance. I think you'll be happy that you did.

Monday, October 12, 2009

14. 1632 by Eric Flint

Someone commenting as The Ancient Skeptic left a few science fiction suggestions on my first Magnolia Reads post, one of which was 1632 by Eric Flint. My dad seconded the suggestion and lent me his copy of the book, which sat forlorn on my coffee table for weeks as I struggled to get through An American Tragedy. I finally picked it up the day after I finished that post and I haven't put it down until finishing today. By the way, my dad made sure to mention that he also owns a shelf-full of the sequels, in case I'm interested (1633, 1634 and so on).

1632 opens during a wedding reception in a West Virginia coal-mining community named Grantville. Mike Stearns, president of the local United Mine Workers of America, reflects upon the marriage of his sister and new brother-in-law as well as the various guests, introducing readers to many of the main characters. After a sudden flash of light outside, Mike and a band of friends decide to investigate the cause. Even then they can tell that the event, which will eventually come to be known as the Ring of Fire, was no ordinary inclement weather. Not far from the high school where the wedding reception is taking place, they come upon an ancient farmhouse, the likes of which they've never seen. From a distance they can see a man and woman being assaulted by what looks like a small band of soldiers. They intervene using the firearms stored in their trucks, saving the woman (although they are too late to help her husband). They also come across an elderly man and his beautiful daughter traveling on the same road in a coach. Mike leads the group back to the high school, where all involved come to realize what has transpired -- the town of Grantville has been transported to Germany in the year 1631, right in the middle of the devastation of the Thirty Years War. The community adapts to the new surroundings amazingly well, calling upon all of their various resources from the high school history teacher to the power plant manager. Mike, a natural-born leader, proposes that the community begin the American Revolution 150 years early and is elected to head up the temporary governing body. The main focus of Grantville's population is to gear down before their modern resources are exhausted, as well as solidify a new constitution and form of government. Amidst those challenges, they also have to defend themselves against enemy armies (mainly comprised of ruthless mercenaries). Grantville becomes a force to be reckoned with, not only because of their modern weaponry, but also their acceptance of refugees. The town grows by leaps and bounds, with a unique combination of old world and new world ideas.

Flint excels at putting the time and place, and especially the conflict of the war, in context. You don't have to be very familiar with this historical period to follow the story and enjoy it. I didn't know much at all about this war, and I feel like I learned a few things. Some were funny, such as the fact that in 1631 not even prostitutes in Amsterdam would go out dressed the way that American women do in the present day. Most were not, such as the descriptions of mercenaries raping and pillaging. I respect that those descriptions were accurate to the time and not gratuitous in nature, yet I still found them disturbing. I didn't like reading about the abuse of power by religious institutions, although I know it is important to understand how damaging it can be. The atrocities committed in the name of faith are astounding. I very much appreciated how Flint emphasized the mentality of the refugees taken in by Grantville, and their difficulty coming to grips with their new surroundings after being abused and repressed for so long.

As Colin can tell you, I am not very interested in action scenes. During most movies we watch, I lose track of what's happening in the action sequences and shrug that there's simply too much action. I don't get anything out of it; I'm much more interested in the story than the action. Unsurprisingly, there were many descriptions of fighting in this book. I found myself very involved in those scenes when they included characters that I was familiar with; I was very invested in finding out what happened to them. There were a few chapters describing battles in which no main characters were present. I think they were meant to convey historical background, and they certainly affected the main characters, but I found myself struggling to pay attention.

I really admire many of the main characters. They were incredibly smart about how to use their resources and how to replace the ones that would inevitably be exhausted. Their acceptance of refugees was kind but not wholly unselfish; they were able to train the thousands of refugees in different trades and ultimately helped themselves survive. They took advantage of historical hindsight in building their new government, and recognized that varying points of view needed to be represented. Many people flourished in their new surroundings, finding love and lasting friendships, learning new languages and really stepping up the task at hand, whatever that might be on a given day. Flint took turns narrating through different characters, showing the many different viewpoints of people involved. You are able to strategize with Mike, adapt to a new world with his wife, experience terror with a refugee, fall in love with a young man. This effect can be hit or miss -- in the wrong hands, it can feel jarring. But Flint handles it expertly, and really rounds out the entire story.

Toward the end I realized that Mike, arguably the true main character, doesn't really have any flaws. He is a good, standup guy. He looks out for others, he's smart and decent and kind. He doesn't cave under pressure. This didn't really bother me or take away from the story, but I thought it was interesting. I think I understand why Flint wrote him this way after reading the Author's Note at the end. Flint states that he is "more than a little sick and tired of two characteristics of modern fiction, including science fiction. The first is that the common folk who built this country and keep it running -- blue-collar workers, schoolteachers, farmers, and the like -- hardly ever appear... The second is the pervasive cynicism which seems to be accepted 'sophisticated' wisdom of so many of today's writers." The Americans depicted in 1632 are mostly "common folk" who have a great deal of confidence and optimism. There's little whining or hand-wringing, and it's easy to believe that they would succeed in building a new country and keep it running. I think Flint is celebrating the American spirit that he sees in so-called common folk.

Overall I liked this book very much, and think it was a good first sci-fi pick. It was very accessible, much more so than I expected. It seemed more like a history or war story, with a science fiction element that set the plot in motion.