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Beautiful Children: A Novel

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Bock's novel, Beautiful Children, is an unapologetic look at the dirty aspects of life and Las Vegas. This wonderfully researched book is raw and jagged at times. The back cover may make it sound like it could maybe be a romance novel, but it's anything but. It's more about people being torn apart than coming together.The book centers around Newell, a missing child. However, many other plot lines intersect his. The story is crafted in a style reminiscent of the movies Love Actually and Crash, with all of the many characters linked, however loosely. One of the real marvels of this work is that all of the characters whose stories we follow are beautifully developed. I never felt like any were being ignored. They're all fleshed out and grow throughout the story. We learn about them, and they are alive in the pages of the book.All of the characters have some hard-to-address aspect of their lives. Something about them that makes us uncomfortable on some level, at least according to social norms. A stripper who repeatedly sacrifices her dignity, a boy who thinks his girlfriend could be a porn star, parents who are grieving and torn apart over the disappearance of their child, a friend who crosses an unspeakable line. Bock is unafraid to delve into the harsh realities of strippers, runaways, and those in the porn industry. Sex plays a role in many of the storylines, but it falls short of being obscene.Bock's writing itself is phenomenal. The detail he portrays in each and every paragraph is hard to come by in a novel. It's vivid and alive, and only emphasizes the jagged edges of life. Despite it's incredible descriptiveness, he manages to keep his writing tasteful, no matter how coarse the subject matter. He's descriptive, but not overly graphic.I felt dragged into this story. I was invested in all of the characters. Whenever the plot turned to one, I was simultaneously drawn to that character and wondering what was happening to the others. Bock's final accomplishment is in what he didn't write. He knew just what to leave out to make his story continue to resonate, even after the last page was turned.
Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time

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This book was an incredible, inspiring story of Greg Mortenson's quest to bring schools to children, especially girls, in rural areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Before reading this book, I was worried that it may be a bit dry, but it was anything but. The narrative was vivid throughout. Part of this is because the book was written in the third person, and with the help of David Oliver Relin, a journalist who admits to abandoning all journalistic objectivity when it comes to Mortenson. Mortenson's story is just that inspiring. A wonderful read, no matter what genre you normally lean towards.
The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus

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This book was, for me, a disappointment. I was hoping for a new telling. A new point of view. And sure, we do get that, to an extent. But the point of view is that of a sniveling, whiny, weak Penelope. I know that she's not portrayed as the strongest-ever character in the Odyssey, but this isn't the Odyssey. This is her story, and I was expecting more. It frustrated me that her solution to just about every hardship was to burst into tears.I didn't hate this book, but it did frustrate me often. And the main reason for that is simply that I couldn't stand Penelope's narration of events.I admire the extent to which Atwood researched Greek myths. However, it disappointed me that she didn't research more of Greek history. I know a fair amount of it, and this only contributed to my frustration with Penelope's character. She was raised as a Spartan, and as such, I expected her to be strong, perhaps with a slight warrior bent. But no, her childhood in Sparta was glossed over, and none of the traditional Spartan characteristics showed through.Overall, I found this to be interesting, but frustrating. It was a very short read, and not horrible, it just didn't appeal to my tastes, and I think a lot of this is due to my knowledge of how Spartans actually were in ancient Greece.
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