4 Stars

Interesting Twist on the Traditional Photo Travelogue

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Rajasthan – India’s ‘Land of Kings’ A Photographic Journey by Mike and Jo Coad

4 star

4 Stars

This short but fascinating photo travelogue by the husband-and-wife team of Mike and Jo Coad is one of many they’ve produced. The book is an entertaining, visual look at Rajasthan (literally “Land of Kings”), India’s largest state not far from New Delhi. It offers commentary and stunning photos of Rajasthan’s best tourist destinations, including Jaipur.

I’ve visited many places around the world but have yet to visit Rajasthan. This photographic journey gave me ample taste of what to expect. I suspect that the authors’ other travelogues offer similar adventures off the beaten path. Though short, their travel journal features beautiful color photos and enlightening personal commentary to help would-be visitors prepare for their own trips.

Publishing a short book with material often featured on blogs offers an interesting take on travel writing. While a novel concept, it faces the same challenges that all travelogues do; that is, a lot of travel information and photos are available online for free. It’s a crowded market. The Coad’s book offers some great information for the would-be traveler or armchair tourist, but it does not cover enough new ground to merit a substantial investment. Virtually everything in this travelogue can be found elsewhere for a pittance. Their travelogue may be worth a pretty penny for those planning a trip to one of their featured destinations, want to know what to visit, see, and do there, and/or want to live vicariously through the Coads. Their photography is also worth a look.

This photographic journal – and perhaps all of the Coad’s travelogues – merit four (4) stars for excellent photos and content. This rating is tempered by the reality that free information about places like Rajasthan is readily available online. Their travelogues may be ideal for those planning trips who want to read more personal accounts of their destinations.

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A Stunning Departure from Afghanistan that May Leave Some Behind

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And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

4 star

4 Stars

As a fan of Khaled Hosseini’s books, I jumped at the chance to read his latest novel. The author once again delivered a gem of a book with vignettes woven into a complex tapestry of the nation and culture that is Afghanistan. Hosseini has arguably done more than any other author redefining contemporary Afghanistan beyond the caricature of a tragic, war-torn mess. His previous bestsellers, The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, paint a colorful portrait of a haunting land misunderstood by many.

His latest is a departure from his tried-and-true formula of writing epic stories that bring to life the rich culture and heritage of the Afghan people. Set in far-flung locales from California to France and Greece, And the Mountains Echoed takes readers to new places and realities. Although the author tried to depict life in the United States and Europe, he merely whetted my appetite to read more about Afghanistan. His homeland is where his pen spills mastery onto the page.

Hosseini detoured from his almost-mythical stories of Afghans who persevered under the most difficult of circumstances toward the frailty and flaws of human nature. And the Mountains Echoed offers more shades of gray than its predecessors. The moral hazards and ambiguity in his characters come to life in fateful decisions that lead to pay-off or penance as their choices affect others whose lives they touch…and their own. The morality tale the author spins may leave readers used to rooting for his typically heroic figures wanting. Those expecting this book to be another Afghan epic may be disappointed.

I laud Hosseini for departing from his previous works and breaking new ground. Though I wished at times while reading the book that it was more like what he is best known for, I appreciated his determination to write something different. It adds to his standing as one of today’s best writers of historical fiction. If you’re a fan of his books, you can’t go wrong once you understand that this novel is different from the rest. I give And the Mountains Echoed four stars and recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction.

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Sand Omnibus Holds Up Under Weight of Howey’s Silo Saga

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Sand Omnibus by Hugh Howey

4 star

4 Stars

After the runaway success of his “Silo Saga” series, Hugh Howey must have been under pressure of sand-dune proportions to come up with a worthy follow-up to his blockbuster. That his new, five-story “Sand” omnibus comes on the heels of the last “Silo Saga” installment was a stroke of marketing genius by Howey. He put the proverbial glassblower in the oven while it’s hot by releasing another series sure to bask in the glow of the “Silo Saga.”

Therein lies the weakness in the new “Sand” series – it feels rushed and reads like a vague retelling of the author’s other works. The “Sand Omnibus” comes off as an above-surface version of the silo world introduced in Wool. Although the “Sand” series has some notable distinctions from the “Silo Saga,” the similarities are too obvious to ignore. Both are set in post-apocalyptic versions of what was once the United States, featuring a changed environment created long ago by self-destructive ancestors. Ageless technology from a bygone era keeps survivors alive in hostile landscapes. Both series feature several protagonists’ points of view that jump from character to character as the storyline progresses. The reality of both worlds shatters when two worlds collide. What was new and refreshing in the “Silo Saga” leaves the reader with a “Sand” aftertaste like grit in one’s teeth.

The omnibus does break some new ground for Howey. His imaginative, “Max Max”-style take on how people adapt to living on the surface and sand diving in a desert world is fuel for the imagination. He delves deeper into human relationships as told through a dysfunctional family almost torn apart by the sands of time. The author’s portrayal of love, loyalty, and camaraderie among family and friends is uneven but a gripping story. His depictions of humans using vibrating dive suits to move through sand like water seems unique in literature, as are other adaptive technologies harnessed by post-apocalyptic humanity.

Although the “Sand Omnibus” is well written, its storyline and pace suggests that the author should have slowed down and spent more time tightening the plot to avoid questionable coincidences and tidy conclusions. Had the series not been published in the aftermath of the ground-breaking “Silo Saga,” it might have elicited a better response. I give the book four stars and recommend it to anyone who enjoys dystopian science fiction.

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