Abducted by Theresa Ragan is a page-turner for sure. The main character Lizzy Gardner was abducted as a teenager by one of the most frightening villains I’ve come across in a long time. Lizzy was with him for two months before she managed to escape. Many girls were not that fortunate. Fourteen years later the serial killer is back and targeting everyone around Lizzy, the bad girl who got away. Obsessed with labeling teenage girls as ‘good’ girls and ‘bad’ girls -who smoke, do drugs, have boyfriends, or talk back to their parents- the killer goes after bad girls to teach them a lesson. The lesson is torture and ultimately a slow death in an inconspicuous suburban house. Lizzy Gardner is now a private detective and vows to find the killer named Spiderman before he can strike at her family. Unfortunately, not everything goes as planned due to Spiderman’s web of horror he has spun around everyone in her life. There is a fair amount of sadistic torture, but overall this book included just enough of it to make a truly scary story without being over-the-top gruesome. I think this is one of the differences between the ‘thriller’ and ‘horror’ genres. I rate this thriller 5/5 stars. It is a well thought out story with a great many character interconnections that add to the element of the horror in which none man was able to terrorize many. This book is the first in the Lizzy Gardner series. The second book in the series by T.R. Ragan, Dead Weight, has received great reviews. I look forward to reading it.
Where there is love and power, there is always… Betrayal
Mayandree Michel’s book Betrayal tells the tale of Cordelia, a teenage girl who goes back in time. Only she actually returned to the present because it was the future that she had been sent to. The problem was she had no memory of her past life and nothing anyone told her about who she was made sense. The book was original in the storyline that Cordelia was the Greek god Zeus’ daughter. Michel created a world of Greek gods and their descendents fighting against the evil minions of Hades. The fate of the empire relied on Cordelia regaining her memory, and along with it her powers. I liked the story, I really did. However, there are two main reasons why I just could not get myself to rate this book higher than 3/5 stars. The first was the addition of vampires and werewolves, and several other mythical creatures, was overkill. The ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ storyline started to get annoying each time a werewolf or vampire or ghost got added into the mix. How about just sticking with Greek mythology? It seems that Mayandree Michel was trying to appeal to a wider audience, but it was not successful. When vampires take up about 10 pages of a 600+ page book does not make this a vampire book, it makes the storyline overstretched. Secondly, the amount of content in the book did not equate to its length. It went on and on and on. Mostly in the form of the main character’s thoughts as she constantly over analyzes everything. Not just once, but time and again. Usually this is a technique that is used to make the reader recall an event that happened earlier in the book. However, I do not need a reminder of what just happened 5 pages ago, and then another reminder 15 pages from that. Again, overkill. The author could have probably cut out about 100 pages of the main character constantly reviewing events in her head and discussing her feelings using the same repetitious language.
The story was quite original. I did enjoy it. However, there were aspects in it that I can best describe as overkill. I rate this book 3/5 stars. It is book one of the Descendants series, as of now there are only two books. I will most likely read the sequel, Sacrifice, and hope that Michel’s writing as matured.
We’ve all heard of the black market economy and often have negative views of it. Guns. Drugs. Classified military information. The black market is a place where the lowest of the low exist. However, common people purchase goods on the black market every day. The same ‘shadow economy’ sells that the knock-off version of the Louis Vuitton purse you’ve wanted but couldn’t afford, a bootleg DVD of a newly released film, and the marijuana that you don’t think should be illegal are all goods sold ‘underground’ and off the radar of taxation. In the public sphere these are probably not be things we admit to finding acceptable, but many people in their personal lives may have no qualms about purchasing. When posed with the situation of a woman unable to afford the drug company’s price for her life-saving medication most wouldn’t condemn her to death opposed to accepting that black market drugs may not always be negative. We just don’t call this the black market, but it is. And it exists because there is a demand for it.
Carolyn Nordstrom’s book Shadows of War is an ethnographic study into the world of this shadow economy and its relationship to people in conflict zones. Nordstrom discusses the results of ethnographic work in Angola, Mozambique, and Sri Lanka. The locations are different; the dependence on a shadow economy is the same. Many governments cannot afford the wars they support and often resort to trade in the black market. The same black market that Nordstrom says makes up about 30% of the American economy and pushing up to 80-90% in others. These are radical statements that do not go along with the long-held ‘normal’ discussions amongst economists. It is quite interesting that more people have not studied this phenomenon. Perhaps we don’t want to accept that such a world exists in such large proportions even within “first-world” nations. Many people also do not study conflict in active war zones. In my opinion, Carolyn Nordstrom is an incredibly brave woman and has conducted some of the most interesting research into the globalization and war profiteering.
Many people within war zones have had their entire lives interrupted and often find themselves in situations of life and death where purchasing goods through shadow networks becomes the only way to survive. Trans-national smuggling networks coordinate the transportation of goods and food into war zones, but often at the same time export illicit goods such as cocaine or stolen diamonds. These actions we may deem ‘negative’ are often overlooked for the ‘positive’ humanitarian aspect. Businessmen can weave their way in and out of the shadow economy. Our very own CIA has openly acknowledged they conduct clandestine activities. This is one example of “magicians” who can easily cross the interface from the “legal” approved and the “illegal” black economies and also have the ability to become “invisible” once again.
One of the most significant ideas I’ve gained from Nordstrom’s book is that those involved in the shadow network do not often fit within our value judgments of ‘good’ and ‘bad’, ‘moral’ and ‘immoral’. Nothing in this world is black and white. Everyday people living within war zones deal with hardships that I can only imagine (and Carolyn Nordstrom has been successful at creating this imagery). Therefore, it would not be acceptable of me to place judgments on the buying and selling of goods in circumstances that could mean survival or death of their families and community. Situations in which I may perhaps make the same decisions. To show what life is like in someone else’s shoes is precisely the purpose of ethnography- clearly this has been a successful one.
After completing Carolyn Nordstrom’s book, I feel obliged to say that this is the best book on war and war profiteering I’ve read since becoming an International Peace and Conflict Resolution student. Surviving war can be beautiful in the sense of love, hope and cooperation, but it can also be ugly for its cruelties and the reality of hard decisions that people have to make every day to support their families. In a conflict zone actions often become indecipherable in terms of ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Is the pilot who smuggles out diamonds from your village bad? What about if he is only one bringing much needed food and medicine into your village? Context changes everything. However, what if we elaborate more in this scenario and say the pilot in this story works for an NGO (a non-governmental organization). Nordstrom discusses how she saw this several times. What can you do? Can you even do anything? It is hard enough to convince people to volunteer in war zones. What if this pilot got fired from the NGO and sent home and nobody is willing to replace his position of flying shipments of aid through a war zone? Yet again, that changes things too. I’d be interested to learn what types of policies NGO’s have regarding this type of behavior. I can guess what they would be; however, I think it is implied that often people turn a blind eye to certain behaviors in the name of peacemaking. Peacemaking is an industry after all.
Besides my first true introduction to the immensity of the ‘shadow economy,’ the biggest thing I’ve taken from Nordstrom’s book is this game of labeling a country as ‘at war’ or ‘at peace.’ When is a country at peace? After the signing of a treaty? Certainly a piece of paper is meaningless to most people who live in a war zone and define reality as what people do, not what they say they will do on paper. Just as instances of peace arise on the battlefield, instances of war continue through into ‘peace’ time. Nordstrom makes it clear that the distinction of war and peace-times are not clear cut, and often when wars “start up” again it is indicative that the war had never really stopped in the first place.
She used to term ‘organizational scarcity’ to describe this game played that keeps people reliant on informal market goods. It is a great question of how to reestablish networks of formal economy that is affordable and accessible to everyone after a war ends. Many times this is not put into place and people have no choice but to rely on the only networks they know. Informal economies encourage exploitation in many ways and allow individuals to gain incredible amounts of power that they otherwise wouldn’t have. Is this one of the reasons why some countries are in a state of perpetual conflict?
In her chapter “Peace,” Nordstrom discusses her experience with orphaned street children in Angola who lived in the storm drain. When discussing illusions that occur within war, one example is how these street children fit into the group of invisibles- undesired members of society that are encouraged to disappear. Homeless people exist in all cities in the world often fit into this category. We all know they exist, but pretend they don’t. It is very upsetting for sure. The people that need help the most, like orphaned children, often do disappear. Sometimes this means they get integrated into an underground community, and sometimes this means death. There is another group of invisible people and this is the many who do not flee their countries but remain to set up community centers, administer aid and health care, and the NGO workers who leave their homes to work in lower than ideal conditions in the service of others. When was the last time you saw them on the nightly news? “In a final curious irony; in crafting the parables of power that are “just so” and “as if” stories, in silencing the truths of violence, and in deleting indices of the vast profiteering that emerges from war and the suffering it exacts – the stories of hope, human dignity, and peace are deleted from formal accounting as well” (pg. 242).
Nordstrom’s book clearly illustrates that more studies of the global black market must be conducted; it is just too large and influential to be ignored any longer. Black market sales include things like slaves and animals, as well as encourages animal poaching, which are unethical, destructive, and illegal around the world. I am interested in the study of terrorism and what it is, how it is created and why is it spreading. When Nordstrom says that by declaring war on Al Qaeda we have declared war on the shadows she is absolutely correct. The United States has quite obviously had a difficult time fighting this type of enemy. If I had to guess I would say that our intelligence agencies are probably spending much more time learning about the intricacies of the shadow networks in regards to how Al Qaeda operates. If we are not spending time researching these types of trails then we surely will not get far in this “war against terrorism.” Military power means nothing if you cannot shut off the valves of money and weapons into terrorist organizations; deals that are obviously not being conducted in the ‘formal’ economy.
I highly recommend this book. It was quite eye opening to many aspects of the black market that I had never previously thought about. I rate this book 5/5 stars.
I don’t generally read romance novels, but I occasionally read paranormal romances. I guess somehow supernatural powers in a storyline makes it seem less cheesy. It’s like a Lifetime movie, but with mysticism. Or in the case of Lyn Horner’s Darlin’ Druid, Druids. This book takes place (mostly) in Utah and Texas in 1872. Jessie Devlin, the daughter of Irish immigrants, has Druid blood that gives her the gift of foresight. In her visions she saw both a man she would fall in love with and a devil trying to destroy her. Jessie follows her brother Tye west as her vision told her to do and meets Captain David Taylor, the man of her dreams, except they don’t exactly get along very well for much of the book. Jessie eventually does run into her devil who charms her for a short while but quickly turns on her and attempts to kill her and David Taylor. Long story short, this is a typical girl meets guy and guy is anything but sweet and romantic, but eventually guy’s heart melts after he almost loses girl and girl realizes that she cannot resist guy kind of over-used, but still keeps you wanting to finish the book, sort of storyline. I rate this book at 4/5 stars. It was a good story with elements of a Western tale that I find fascinating. There are several more books in this series, but at this point I think I’ve had my fill and probably won’t be interested in reading then for quite a while.
I finished my Spring semester on Monday and finally have time to read what I want to read about: zombies. Zomblog by TW Brown was a nice transition from months of academic books to that of fiction. Sure, I watch some TV and movies, but nothing compares to how relaxing I find reading. I think all avid readers can agree that there isn’t much that takes your mind off everyday life like getting sucked into a novel and envisioning life in another world. A fantasy world on a different plane of time and space.
Zomblog, takes place directly before the zombie apocalypse and follows several survivors for a little less than a year. Like most zombie stories the origin of the infection is rather glossed over. In this book, it came from Indonesia. This book is written like a blog, or perhaps calling it a journal would be a better description. The original author is Sam, who details the beginnings of the outbreak and his travels and interactions with many different survivor groups. Eventually Sam dies and his girlfriend, Meredith, takes up the journal recording as she fights daily to survive in a world full of the undead and diminishing food and other resources. The book is written in short dated entries-what the author refers to as a blog- in first person perspective. The author chose a writing style that was more representative of how people actually talked, which absolutely went well with the book’s style as being a ‘blog.’ However, the writing was rather simplistic because of this. Not once was there a time when I thought ‘wow that is beautiful phrasing’ or any words that struck me as powerful imagery. I guess literary genius isn’t something I should realistically expect from a zombie novel. However, what I was expecting was an original story with gore and that is what I got. Parts of the book are absolutely gruesome. Perhaps enough to give some people nightmares and definitely beyond what a film producer would add into a movie adaptation of this book.
Overall, the casual language used in this book makes for a very quick read. The storyline is original but redundant at times as the characters are constantly running into similar situations. It is a good zombie novel. I rate this 4/5 stars. This is the first in a trilogy. I would find it worthwhile to read the others, especially since this novel ended on a cliffhanger.
This post was initially published on the Arcadia University’s Lessons from World Travel blog. I went to Costa Rica to study indigenous rights and sustainable development. Prior to my January 2013 field study in Costa Rica, I wrote a list of questions to answer once I got back with the hopes that my travels would have given me insight into my questions. Here is what I had to say:
In my initial post I posed several questions about the hydroelectric project, sustainable development, and indigenous culture prior to visiting Costa Rica. This post is my responses to those questions.
The El Diquís Hydroelectric Dam Project:
- What is the level of distrust between parties in the Boruca dam mediation process? Has distrust been a big factor in failed negotiations? What are the techniques used to alleviate this?
Among the indigenous tribes there is a general sentiment of distrust of ICE’s actions. The Costa Rican Institute of Electricity (ICE) has been planning to build a dam within the Buenos Aires region for over 40 years. During this time the country’s human rights legislation has been discussed time and again. Because of ICE’s actions in the last decade of purchasing indigenous land from a non-Indian and beginning construction prior to any sort of tribal consultation or consent has led to a great rift between many tribal peoples and ICE. Many also blame the government for not ensuring their rights are protected. The Constitutional Court of Costa Rica has halted all construction and ordered ICE to fulfill its legal requirements and begin consultation with affected tribes right away. In order to alleviate the tensions caused by distrust both parties need to go into consultation with the desire to want to discuss and hear the other stakeholders side- opposed to only wanting to proclaim what their own position is. This is important, because in the world of negotiations opinions and positions can change.
- The negotiations have been going on for decades. How stable have the mediators been? Has the stability of the mediator(s) lead to improved negotiations or has it hindered them?
The mediators have not been stable outside of the tribe. Several indigenous community organizations have appeared over the years and have made a stable presence fighting for the community’s rights. These organizations have learned the legal rights accorded to them by the Costa Rican government and also international UN declarations of indigenous rights that Costa Rica has signed. Using this knowledge they have been able to gain legal representation and were able to file a lawsuit against ICE which successfully halted construction. I think it was due to the instability of mediators in the past that tribal members have stepped up to form these community organizations which have been quite a positive thing for the tribes. Having knowledge and power over their representation has helped alleviate some of the feelings of helplessness against such a large company as ICE.
- Are there any new factors present that have not been discussed in the conflict assessments that I have read?
The conflict assessment I read prior to the trip left off several years ago. There has been many new developments since then. Most notably what I’ve previously discussed about the construction on indigenous land illegally sold to ICE by a non-Indian which was halted by Costa Rica’s Constitutional Court. Also, a big development is a report released by the U.N.’s Special Rapportuer on the rights of indigenous peoples. James Anaya traveled to Costa Rica in 2011 specifically to research the potential human rights violations that this hydroelectric dam project may present to several indigenous tribes in the Buenos Aires region in Southwestern Costa Rica. This international recognition is a big deal for the indigenous community. The Special Rappartuer sent the Costa Rican government a list of recommendations to act on right away which include ensuring that consultations between the tribes and ICE reach a ‘free, prior, and informed consent’ on whatever direction the project ultimately takes.
- How have the indigenous people of Costa Rica preserved their native cultures? How do they balance their own identity of their tribe as well as being Costa Rican? How has globalization and/or tourism influenced their cultures?
I cannot speak for all 8 indigenous tribes in Costa Rica, but I can say what I’ve learned about how the Boruca and Térraba have preserved theirs. For starters, globalization and tourism have both affected them in both positive and negative ways. Negative because now more outsiders, or non-indigenous people, are moving onto their territory and the tribe has been struggling with the government to reclaim some of this territory. Also, now everyone speaks Spanish and almost all of the indigenous languages are becoming extinct. There are, however, attempts to save and record them. Some positive effects include jobs and money from making and selling crafts. In the village there is also a visitor’s center. While walking around the Borucan village I noticed through someone’s open door a big screen TV. The general public’s notions of what it means to be indigenous is probably not always accurate. Globalization has basically reached everywhere. As I’ve previously stated there has been an increase in community organizations since ICE proposed the dam, I think if cultural preservation was not on everyone’s mind in the past, it is now. Just recently journalism students from Elon University in North Carolina have helped the Teribe (Térraba) Indigenous Cultural Association publish a website (Terraba.org) with information about the tribe’s culture, medicinal herbs, and even video commentary of how the dam project would affect the tribe.
- What lessons from Costa Rica regarding environmentalism and sustainable development can be learned? Are there any aspects that can be applied within the United States?
Costa Rica has set a big goal to become carbon neutral by 2021. This country is composed of numerous protected rainforests, wetlands, and beaches. Costa Rica can boast about being one of the most biodiverse nations on earth. The United States does not boast about promoting “green,” “sustainable,” or “renewable” energy and technology. We could definitely learn some lessons from Costa Rica. However, this is such a detailed question that I am honestly not prepared to answer. The El Diquís Hydroelectric Project is encouraged by the Costa Rican government for its renewable energy potential. However, as I have learned there are also quite serious effects to communities when they have to be uprooted for development. Sustainability involves more than just the environment. Sustainability involves us all. This, perhaps, is the greatest lesson learned in Costa Rica which I can bring home with me and apply in everyday life.
Wool by Hugh Howey is a fantastic science fiction short story. At 60 pages it is quite a fast read. It is written in present tense with flash backs. I downloaded this to my Kindle several months ago and selected it at random yesterday to read. However, I think perhaps I’ve learned my lesson to always read the book’s description, whether that be on the back of the book or wherever, prior to reading. Having no idea what the book was about when I started reading it I felt very confused for several chapters until I started to piece everything together. Had I read the description that this was an underground world in which people lived in because the world was bleak and poisonous outside, much of the first chapter would have made more sense to me. I knew this book must have sounded interesting enough to have download it in the past, but this was a rare example of reading a book without refreshing my memory what to expect. I wonder if this is something that others have come across? It is me just wanting to know a little about the book first to perhaps create a frame of reference, or is it the author not establishing the setting in the first chapter properly?
In short, the lead character Holston is sheriff in the silo. He desperately misses his wife who was sent to death outside the airlock three years prior. Allison had been uncovering deleted information from the computer system and found some disturbing things that led her to a desire to utter the words of condemnation, “I want out”. Holston decides to join her in the outside world. The book takes us several times back and forth from believing that the outside world is destroyed and environment toxic to humans and the silo is sanctuary to the silo being prison and the outside world being beautiful freedom. The book leaves off with the reader still unsure of what is actually going on but gears them towards believing that the environment is actually toxic, but there is no answer to the bizarre information uncovered from the databases that contradicts this. This is good sci-fi and post-apocalyptic literature. I do struggle at times with short stories because I just want so much more. However, this book was a successful short story in regards to getting the reader to think about details within the book over and over to uncover what actually happened.
I rate this book 4/5 stars. There are several more short stories in this series which I intend to read. The title Wool is a play on words. Those who leave the airlock are asked to use steel wool to clean the camera lenses to give those inside the silo a view of the outside world. It could also be in reference to Allison attempting to pull the wool off Holston’s eyes.
This is a segment of the first chapter. Out of the entire book, the language and imagery of this scene struck me the most.
Holston took his time, each step methodical and ponderous, as he wound his way around and around the spiral staircase, old boots ringing out on metal treads…Holston could feel the vibrations in the railing, which was worn down to the gleaming metal. That always amazed him; how centuries of bare palms and shuffling feet could wear down solid steel. One molecule at a time, he supposed. Each life might wear away a single layer, even as the silo wore away that life.