Saturday, April 19, 2014

Queen Anne: The Politics of Passion by Anne Somerset

Queen Anne: The Politics of PassionThe opening weeks of the year 1665 were particularly cold, and the sub-zero temperatures had discouraged the King of England, Charles II, from writing to his sister Henrietta in France.

"She ascended the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland in 1702, at age thirty-seven, Britain’s last Stuart monarch, and five years later united two of her realms, England and Scotland, as a sovereign state, creating the Kingdom of Great Britain. She had a history of personal misfortune, overcoming ill health (she suffered from crippling arthritis; by the time she became Queen she was a virtual invalid) and living through seventeen miscarriages, stillbirths, and premature births in seventeen years. By the end of her comparatively short twelve-year reign, Britain had emerged as a great power; the succession of outstanding victories won by her general, John Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough, had humbled France and laid the foundations for Britain’s future naval and colonial supremacy. While the Queen’s military was performing dazzling exploits on the continent, her own attention—indeed her realm—rested on a more intimate conflict: the female friendship on which her happiness had for decades depended and which became for her a source of utter torment."

Despite having no interest in this period in history or in this particular monarch, once I cracked open this book I rather quickly found myself immersed in Anne's story (take that whichever way you choose). I received a copy from a Goodreads giveaway many month ago, and initially I was sorry that I didn't take a look at this engaging biography sooner.

That said, I never finished the book because I kept starting other ones that appealed to me more. It started to get bogged down, and probably because I wasn't interested in this particular monarch I felt like there were better things to be reading. It's not a bad biography though; a lot of the politics involved was quite interesting to read about, and parts of the book were downright suspenseful to a point. For anyone interested in British royalty in general this is a worthy book to add to your shelves. From the parts I read, Somerset is detailed and accurate, drawing from many primary sources.

640 pages.

DNF.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Frankenstein's Cat: Cuddling up to Biotech's Brave New Beasts, Emily Anthes

Frankenstein's Cat: Cuddling Up to Biotech's Brave New BeastsIn China, the world's manufacturing powerhouse, a new industry is taking shape: the mass production of mutant mice.

"For centuries, we’ve toyed with our creature companions, breeding dogs that herd and hunt, housecats that look like tigers, and teacup pigs that fit snugly in our handbags. But what happens when we take animal alteration a step further, engineering a cat that glows green under ultraviolet light or cloning the beloved family Labrador? Science has given us a whole new toolbox for tinkering with life. How are we using it? In Frankensteins Cat, the journalist Emily Anthes takes us from petri dish to pet store as she explores how biotechnology is shaping the future of our furry and feathered friends. As she ventures from bucolic barnyards to a “frozen zoo” where scientists are storing DNA from the planet’s most exotic creatures, she discovers how we can use cloning to protect endangered species, craft prosthetics to save injured animals, and employ genetic engineering to supply farms with disease-resistant livestock. Along the way, we meet some of the animals that are ushering in this astonishing age of enhancement, including sensor-wearing seals, cyborg beetles, a bionic bulldog, and the world’s first cloned cat. Through her encounters with scientists, conservationists, ethicists, and entrepreneurs, Anthes reveals that while some of our interventions may be trivial (behold: the GloFish), others could improve the lives of many species—including our own. So what does biotechnology really mean for the world’s wild things? And what do our brave new beasts tell us about ourselves?"

There were many fascinating aspects to this book; the subject is so, so interesting, and the book could have been an intriguing and absorbing look at various new techniques for altering and creating animals. Instead, I was annoyed by the author's writing and use of tacky language, as well as by her heavily, heavily biased slant (more on all of this later). 

What Anthes is writing about should be astonishing to anyone; the very idea that humans would be able to say control animals' movements through their brains is such a new one. This is just one of the many mindblowing technologies covered in Frankenstein's Cat, and I certainly enjoyed reading about them. For that alone, this book would get a good rating. But even though the author has a master's degree in science writing, she doesn't know how to write well. Her diction is simply cringe worthy, and I winced many times as I read the book. She uses words like "critters" and "pooches" and at one point talks about using eggs from "plain ol' tabbies". The only reason I finished the book was because what she was writing about interested me immensely. If I had been any less interested, I would have put it down after a few chapters. As it was, I learned a lot, but the experience wasn't exactly enjoyable. The mediocrity of the writing got harder and harder to ignore as the book progressed; perhaps that kind of folksy writing is to some people's taste, but it certainly isn't to mine, especially in a science book. That's not to say that science writing can't use humor to great effect, but this wasn't humor; I don't even know what it was. Perhaps Anthes speaks like this, or perhaps she was trying to interest readers. 

The author also churns out painful similes in another attempt to relate to readers. Or something. I don't even know. I also found at least a few portions of the book that seemed somewhat inaccurate to me; at the very least, these passages were vague and misleading. For example: "Consider the enormous variation among human beings, all the different traits possessed by the people in your family, or in your state, or in Mozambique, Sri Lanka, and Iceland." I'm probably just being nitpicky, but despite our physical differences in fact there's not actually a whole lot of genetic variation among humans due to the fact that we all originate from a small original band of Homo sapiens. I get the point she was trying to make (if a lot of individuals of a species are wiped out, there's less genetic variation), but the whole comparison just fell apart for me. Also, she goes on to imagine that only you and the people on your block survive a meteor hitting the earth. But in fact there might be comparatively large genetic diversity on your block (especially if you have the good fortune to live in a city like New York). 

And my last criticism: the author's heavy, heavy bias. Inevitably the author's opinion is always a part of a book, but in this case her constant cutting in to talk about her own opinions annoyed me. That actually happens in many science books (in fact many science books are written to persuade people of things), but with such complicated issues, scientific and ethical, at the heart of this book, I couldn't help wondering if there were negative aspects of bioengineering that Anthes was leaving out.

Something about the whole tone of the book set my teeth on edge. I don't understand the recognition it's received or how the serious science community (like Science magazine) can endorse this book. The topic's fascinating, and I suppose Anthes is pretty comprehensive, but the writing to me was atrocious. I wouldn't recommend this one at all unless you're a fan of corny language. It's a shame; the book could have been really intriguing and enjoyable.

181 pages. 

Rating: **

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Darwin's Ghosts: The Secret History of Evolution, Rebecca Stott

Darwin's Ghosts: The Secret History of EvolutionJust before Christmas in 1859, only a month after he had finally published On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection, Charles Darwin found himself disturbed, even haunted, by the thought of his intellectual predecessors. 

"Soon after the publication of On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin received an unsettling letter that accused him of taking credit for a theory that had already been discovered by others. Realizing his error of omission, Darwin tried to trace all of the natural philosophers who had laid the groundwork for his theory, but he found that history had already forgotten many of them. Rebecca Stott goes in search of these ghosts, telling the epic story of the discovery of evolution and natural selection from Aristotle to the ninth-century Arab writer Al-Jahiz to Leonardo da Vinci to the brilliant naturalists of the Jardin des Plantes to Alfred Wallace and Erasmus Darwin, and finally to Charles Darwin himself. Evolution was not discovered single-handedly. It was an idea that was advanced over centuries by daring individuals across the globe who had the imagination to speculate on nature’s extraordinary ways—and the courage to articulate such speculations at a time when to do so was often considered heresy."

The idea behind this book is a fascinating and fairly original one; so often, many people who contributed to the creation of something great are forgotten, with only one person heralded as the genius. But through the centuries, there were many who flirted with many concepts related to evolution, even if they didn't come up with the theory of natural selection.

Although it took me quite a while to finish Darwin's Ghosts, I don't think it was because the book was uninteresting. It profiled many figures who I'd never heard of, like Jahiz and Abraham Trembley, as well as many who I had heard of but didn't know much about. The book also has a chapter on Lamarck and Cuvier, who are both quite well known for their contributions to evolutionary science (Cuvier more so than Lamarck, who tends to be ridiculed).

Some of the chapters captured my interest more than others, but nevertheless Stott writes engagingly of all of these historical figures. She provides some background information but mainly focuses on their work and on the attitudes of the period. I found the chapter on Trembley and his discovery of the polyp particularly fascinating; it's an organism that we now know as a protist, and at the time it challenged the distinctions between animals and plants, exhibiting some characteristics of each. Which as you can imagine caused a lot of religious tension.

Stott uses Darwin's compiling of a sketchy list of figures in order to begin her own; she reveals that Darwin himself was no great historian, and so wasn't entirely sure whether all of the people on his list actually contributed to evolutionary research. For instance, someone informed him that Aristotle wrote of species changing over time, but in fact that was the very thing Aristotle was deeply scornful of (in the passage in question he was actually quoting and criticizing someone else who believed in species change). Darwin, not knowing Greek, included Aristotle's name, and Stott begins with him. Aristotle did do a great deal of research on animals after all.

There's a large gap in terms of time period (from the 9th century to the 17th or 19th century), but somehow the narrative still flowed seamlessly over centuries and over continents. It's all woven together quite skillfully, and the book is also so atmospheric. There are lush, evocative descriptions of the historical settings, particularly in the sketch on Aristotle, and the general societal and scientific attitudes of each period are vividly conveyed. Stott also conveys the fascination of the research, and the various scientists' burning desire to get to the bottom of it.

Many of the chapters are short, but they are succinct and informative; however, within chapters the transitioning was sometimes a bit shaky. Although they're all tied together superbly, the conclusions of many of the chapters felt too much like a broad restatement of the chapter's topic. I was glad there was some sort of resummarizing, but all the same it felt like a bit too much.

Other than that, Darwin's Ghosts was an original and engaging book, blending science and history quite well (although I'd say there was more history). I would recommend it to those interested in evolutionary theory.

300 pages.

Rating:****

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, Elizabeth Kolbert

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History
Beginnings, it's said, are apt to be shadowy. So it is with this story, which starts with the emergence of a new species maybe two hundred thousand years ago. The species does not yet have a name - nothing does - but it has the capacity to name things.

The Sixth Extinction tells the story of just that, of the coming major die-out of species due to humans. There have only been five such events in the history of life on the planet, so it's clearly a major deal. (I still fail to understand how some people *cough*cough*conservatives* can continue to deny that there's a problem at all). Kolbert also reveals that it is not only recently that us humans have altered the plant; there used to be megafauna on almost every part of the globe, and these large mammals were killed off by early humans. Since then, we've over-hunted many animals, and have transferred animals and plants and fungus from different continents to places where they never existed before. This also causes damage to many species which don't have the evolutionary tools to combat the invasive species.

I found The Sixth Extinction fascinating and provocative. Despite the fact that she isn't a scientist, Elizabeth Kolbert does a great job making things clear but not too simplistic. She offers analogies that make sense and shares the insights of the many scientists she talked to. Traveling all over the world, Kolbert traces the histories of different species that went extinct in the past and those are critically endangered for various reasons, all relating to humans.

The writing wasn't remarkable, but it certainly held my interest; Kolbert knows how to weave a good story. And since she travels to all sorts of fascinating places from the Great Barrier Reef to the Amazon to Iceland, the book is never boring in the slightest. She also intersperses personal observations and feelings, because a lot of things she did were rather frightening and new. This also makes the book more entertaining and compelling.

I did want a little more detail in some of the sections, but overall the book was absorbing in terms of its science. Kolbert writes with clarity and clear-headedness about the coming challenges that the globe will face, and while she's certainly not optimistic, there are some thoughts for future preservation. It was also quite heartening to see her talking to people who are aware of the problem and are trying to help. Yet it's also very sobering, as in the case of Amazonian frogs and Northeastern bats who are suffering from various fungi. There's not much that can be done.

It's also posited that it's not because humans are cruel and evil that species go extinct; it's because we're humans, and the qualities that make us so successful like altering our environment and using resources are the very properties that have always made us animal killers. It's all very gloomy and depressing, but as the author points out, that doesn't mean one can avoid reading about it because it's the truth. And it's a nasty thought that "if you want to think about why humans are so dangerous to other species, you can picture a poacher in Africa carrying an AK-47 or a logger in the Amazon gripping an ax, or, better still, you can picture yourself, holding a book on your lap." If you're reading this blog post, you're probably an unwitting part of the problem. Just like me, and just like everyone in the developed world.

Many people often point to the fact that there have been mass extinctions in the past, wiping out a myriad of species. They say that it occurs naturally, and that humans are not the reason for this latest problem. But that's clearly not true; many of the extinctions chronicled in this book are due to the fact that we humans reassemble the biosphere, taking species of animals, plants, and fungi from their natural home to other parts of the globe, with sometimes disastrous effects. And Kolbert also points out that many of the previous extinctions, drastic though they were, occurred over a much longer time period, a much longer scale, giving species time to adapt to their new environment and migrate to better areas. But this extinction is proceeding at a pace like never before, on the scale of a human lifetime. It's startlingly predicted that a huge percentage of species will be gone by 2050. Except for the most recent extinction, an asteroid that took out the dinosaurs and many other species, all of the other ones have occurred over at least thousands of years (still a geologic blink of an eye). Not so this time. Kolbert leaves us with the troubling thought that perhaps "homo sapiens might not only be the agent of the sixth extinction, but also...one of its victims."

269 pages.

Rating: ****

The Bohemians: Mark Twain and the San Francisco Writers Who Reinvented American Literature by Ben Tarnoff

The Bohemians: Mark Twain and the San Francisco Writers Who Reinvented American LiteratureWhat people remembered best about him, aside from his brambly red brows and rambling gait, was his strange way of speaking: a drawl that spun syllables slowly, like fallen branches on the surface of a stream.

The Bohemians is the chronicle of a certain circle of Western writers who redefined American literature, bringing the culture and feel of the West Coast to Eastern readers and in some ways uniting the country as a whole. Ben Tarnoff focuses primarily on Mark Twain, Bret Harte, Charles Warren Stoddard, and Ina Coolbrith, some more famous than others, who all lived and worked in California during a certain period. Their friendships and enmities would fuel the growth of Western literary culture. In their own ways, each changed the cliched image of the West and brilliantly portrayed the spirit of California and nearby locales. The Bohemians focuses on this period in the 1860's and 70's when some of these writers rose to fame and others sunk into obscurity. But they were all important, though some were less visible than others.

Although I was never enthralled by this history, I also never put the book down out of boredom. Tarnoff does not use much humor or wit, yet he solidly engaged me with his seemingly accurate history and thought-out observations. Despite the fact that the period isn't one I'm hugely interested in or knowledgeable about, I enjoyed the book, although it was nothing to rave about.

I don't have a great deal to say about this work, but I did find certain elements of it interesting, particularly the way that in the 19th century it took so long for things and people to go from coast to coast and how isolated the two regions used to be. Of course, I knew this already, but The Bohemians reminded me even more of this separation. It was partly the writers who connected the two areas, bringing a sometimes inaccurate portrayal of the West east. The Bohemians set about righting that wrong, and Bret Harte in particular shattered the typical cliches held by many about the West. I believe that I read a few of his stories several years ago, and they turn upside down the tropes of Western stories; the hooker with a heart of gold, a man reunited with his long-lost son who turns out to be an imposter, and more.

Of course, Twain ultimately became the most well known; Ina Coolbrith and Charles Warren Stoddard are all but forgotten, and Bret Harte is very rarely read. As Tarnoff reveals, Harte was at first the toast of the east, causing Twain a lot of jealousy, but Harte ruined his popularity through various social mistakes, and it was Twain who really changed the history of literature (he was embraced wholeheartedly first by the British).

Tarnoff portrays the Bohemian scene in San Francisco quite well. They were a group of highly intelligent, witty, and sarcastic individuals who were frank and not afraid to point out the idiosyncrasies of the very society they were a part of. All of these writers got their start writing fiction, poems and editorials for various San Francisco newspapers, and this is primarily what the author focuses on, although he does also talk about Harte and Twain's first experience with publishing.

The ending was rather abrupt and I kind of wanted more, but overall The Bohemians provided a satisfying and enriching read in which I learned a fair amount about this scene. The book came out about a week ago, and I would recommend it if you're interested in this period or any of these writers. I received an ARC from the Penguin Press.

256 pages (in the ARC).

Rating: ****

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Wayward Bus, John Steinbeck

The Wayward BusForty-two miles below San Ysidro, on a great north-south highway in California, there is a crossroad which for eighty-odd years has been called Rebel Corners.

The Wayward Bus is one of Steinbeck's least known novels, yet it is a beautiful and compelling story. Not a whole lot happens, and the book is slim, yet it's another example of Steinbeck's powerful writing and his ability to capture something about America and Americans. The setting is a wayside establishment called Rebel Corners, and the story revolves mainly around the people who live there and the people, "the lost and lonely, the good and the greedy, the stupid and the scheming, the beautiful and the vicious", who pass through the town, clashing and colliding and revealing something about humanity. Despite the lack of action, I had no desire to put the book down at first because every paragraph showcased Steinbeck's masterful prose and characterization skills. 

The first chapter, setting everything up, was by far the best. After that, the book was less absorbing, though still good. Perhaps the fact that not much of interest actually happened did drag me down; the real interest is all in the way the passengers interact with each other, and the tensions that arise between friends and strangers. Often times these tensions are overtly sexual. I was surprised by howfrank The Wayward Bus was; it explicitly talks about desire and longing and a more ugly, brutal side to it all. Steinbeck doesn't mince words; I suppose the difference in this novel is a sign of the shifting times. From what I remember of other earlier Steinbeck novels, it's not so explicit, more hinted at. Like, Steinbeck usually makes references to "cathouses" and all of that, but in this book he spends a lot of time writing about men staring at women's legs and about this particular woman, "Camille", who has such power over all of the men. It's not just that she's beautiful; there's something magnetic about her. 

There's a great deal of description in The Wayward Bus, yet somehow it also feels sparse and spare. The characterization and the description are brilliantly crafted, bringing the scenes to life, scenes that seem like they could actually happen somewhere out in the California countryside. There's just so much detail, and Steinbeck does a great job of portraying a certain part of America, and the different people who collide in it. There's also one passage at the very beginning of the novel that brilliantly shows the disparity between some exalted perception of a woman held by the media and a real woman: "The walls, where there was room, were well decorated with calendars and posters showing bright, improbable girls with pumped-up breasts and no hips - blondes, brunettes and redheads, but always with this bust development, so that a visitor of another species might judge from the preoccupation of artist and audience that the seat of procreation lay in the mammaries. Alice Chicoy...who worked among the shining girls, was wide-hipped and sag-chested and she walked well back on her heels...She was not in the least jealous of the calendar girls and the Coca-Cola girls. She had never seen anyone like them, and she didn't think anyone ever had." It was quite well-written and gave me pause, because this section is scarily relevant to today. You see so many images in all medias (books, alas, are not exempt) where there are improbably skinny, improbably proportioned women, and that just doesn't reflect real women who live their lives. The harshness of the people's lives is also shown; it's nothing like the gleaming, bright posters that are tacked on the walls. Thoughts?

Perhaps uniquely American is the phenomenon of just a single building on a road as a stop for people traveling vast distances through the country, and that is where The Wayward Bus begins, at a shop that is kept where passengers can buy food. From there, the group of characters expands.

The later sections get really disturbing in terms of their violent nature, and a creeping sense of horror pervades them. There's no huge tragic event like in Of Mice and Men, but overall the latter half of the book was just kind of disgusting. That didn't make the novel bad, but perhaps not as enjoyable as it could have been. 

This is a huge cliche, but John Steinbeck is one of those writers who is able to convey the "American spirit" and also the American dream. Through vivid prose and sharp commentary, the American landscape is illuminated. It's not just America though; many of his novels, including The Wayward Bus, offer commentary on humanity in general.

The bus is one example of an excellent and oft-used device to have an unlikely group of people from different backgrounds stuck in a confined together. The passengers are all quite different, and their having to talk to each other brings out lots of excellent tension.

The characters are all really flawed, and I disliked many of them, although I also felt sorry for many of them too. In typical Steinbeck fashion, the ending isn't really a resolution, although it is a parting of the ways. However, there's a lot that's not wrapped up (although really, there wasn't a whole lot to be resolved in this one). The characters are in sight of their destination, and they all go their separate ways after a brief interlude.

The Wayward Bus didn't offer anything earthshattering, and it wasn't a hugely momentous or impactful novel, but I did enjoy many elements of it. 

261 pages.

Rating: 3.5 stars.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Rags & Bones, edited by Melissa Marr and Tim Pratt

Rags & Bones: New Twists on Timeless TalesFrom "That the Machine May Progress Eternally": It isn't until he's nearing the bottom of the ladder that Tavil realizes his sister hasn't followed him. He stares up the narrow tunnel to the surface expecitng to see her there, but instead he finds nothing except darkness capped by a wash of stars. 

"Literature is filled with sexy, deadly, and downright twisted tales. In this collection, award-winning and bestselling authors reimagine their favorite classic stories, ones that have inspired, awed, and enraged them; ones that have become ingrained in modern culture; and ones that have been too long overlooked. They take these stories and boil them down to their bones, and then reassemble them for a new generation of readers." 

Going in, I knew that a collection like this had the potential to either be really good or not so great, but as with most short story collections, was most likely to be a mix of the two. That actually wasn't the case; I loved almost all of the stories included, despite not having read many of the original texts or many of these authors. They each had similar elements but were distinctive, offering their own delights and thrills. 

Almost all of the stories were amazing; they all had a certain chilling element in common, with many of them ending in similar fashions, and each one kept me absorbed until I had finished. Although the first story, Carrie Ryan's "That the Machine May Progress Eternally" started off oddly, with little development, I was quickly sucked in by its chilling portrayal of an underground world in which the Machine regulates every facet of people's lives; they basically don't have to do anything. A boy from aboveground gets trapped in the Machine's world, and although he initially longs to get back home, eventually he succumbs to the torpor and the easiness of life below-ground; his descent was awful to read, and the story was quite skillfully written. It was inspired by an E.M. Forster story.

The second story,  Garth Nix's "Losing Her Divinity", was probably the oddest one in the collection, but it was quite hilarious, with a very pedantic, scholarly protagonist narrating both the past and the present (you see, he's being interrogated by a rather violent intruder who periodically interrupts his very wordy account of events). It ends rather predictably, but was good for a laugh and a chill.

The next story is by Neil Gaiman, one of my favorite contemporary authors. "The Sleeper and the Spindle" is a mix of Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, and the traditional sleeping beauty myth is turned on its head. Yes, it is a beauty who sleeps, but not the one you might think. And it is Snow White and several faithful dwarves who journey to the palace behind the rose vines. I have to say that I wasn't expecting the twist towards the end, and I was awed and shocked by Gaiman's mastery, and yes, chilled.

"The Cold Corner" is a more contemporary story, although it's certainly still fantasy. The main character, TJ, returns to his North Carolina hometown after five years for a family reunion. But things become surreal, with the little town warping and twisting, and TJ's not sure if he's going mad or not. But then he stumbles into a bar called T.J's...I enjoyed the Southern jargon here, and while I predicted some elements of the story, not all of them were so obvious.

I'm generally not a fan of vampire-related stories, but Holly Black's "Millcara" was pretty good, certainly spine-tingling in its own way. It's intriguingly narrated by the vampire/fiend herself, and while I was disturbed her, I was also sympathetic. Which was of course the point.

"When We Were Gods" is also science fiction, set in an unnerving futuristic society where certain classes of people live forever and can frequently change their bodies (their memories are downloaded onto a card and inserted into the new bodies). There are also those who are not immortal; it's the story of a love between an immortal and mortal, and like most loves between vastly different kinds of people, it does not end well. I loved this harrowing story too.

"Sirocco" was to me one of the weakest stories in the collection; a modern-day horror story based on The Castle of Otranto. However, I didn't find it that compelling or entertaining. It was funny at times, and I suppose the ending was sort of shocking, but other than that, it wasn't impressive at all.

I enjoyed "Awakened", which deals with selkie lore. The portrayal of Leo, a not totally evil man who controls the selkie chilled me to my very bones; it was uncannily realistic and hit home. I loved the ending; it felt like such a release.

"New Chicago" was another excellent post-apocalyptic story; again, it definitely had that chill factor down pat, with a monkey's paw that grants wishes - but not in the way you'd want. Not at all. "The Soul Collector" was also set in a seedy, filthy world, and had its points too.

I admit to skipping the next story, based in part on the Faerie Queen. I really don't have an excuse except that it didn't interest me. The final story, "Uncaged", was something of a disappointment. I got what Gene Wolfe was getting it, but I didn't enjoy reading it very much.

Overall, though, I definitely enjoyed this collection, and there were only a couple of stories that I didn't love. The idea of the collection was so great, and thankfully it delivered. I love the way the original stories were used, and the new stories weren't exact modern replicas of them or anything. They really were boiled down to their bare bones and then stitched together with a dash of the author's own distinctive style and their own personal touches. Many of the contributors talking about using parts of their own heritage and background. Although many of the stories had similar elements, each was compelling in its own way.

349 pages.

Rating: *****