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  • silversyntax - A Jewel of a Story

    She’s a scribe in ancient times. Reading and writing different languages is her gift. But when she does her job too well, the queen’s reward may be her undoing.

    Harvest of Rubies is mostly a historical romance with a little bit of suspense and intrigue thrown in for good measure, but it is also a story about the broken finding healing, a story about a searching for God.

    The character development progresses along nicely, and the plot was pretty original. It’s true, the main character’s lack of femininity was almost laughable, and I really can’t imagine that being tolerated in the time period where this book is set, but for the most part this was an intriguing book. I read it all in one sitting, which means it was good enough to keep my attention for 2+ hours.

    If you like historical Christian romance with a little suspense, this book is a good choice.

    All in all, this book was good enough that I’ll be getting the next one in the series, and I can't wait to read more by this author.

    I received a copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.

  • John Umland - another family's harrowing tale of injustice at the hands of FEMA

    A new friend this year, a Muslim international student, bought me Zeitoun for my birthday, and I am very grateful. The last time I read about post-Katrina New Orleans was Douglas Brinkley's book,The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 2006. But this story did not start with equally destructive force called FEMA. Instead, the book starts with the young boy Abdulraham Zeitoun fishing off the coast of Syria. With frequent flashbacks we learn of his amazing life, his adventures around the world, and his settling down with his wife Kathy in New Orleans and the successful contracting business he founded there. Incidentally, they are Muslim, she an adult convert before meeting him. I appreciate so much how normally Eggers treats their faith. If only everyone's faith could be treated so respectfully, yet causally. Faith pervades so many Americans' lives, yet typically seems ignored or exagerrated, read the Get Religion journalism blog to see what I'm talking about.

    I really enjoy biographies. No fiction author can come up with the crazy twists and turns of real life, by our ultimate author. Zeitoun's oldest brother was a world champion open-water distance swimmer who made Syria proud, but died young and has a statue memorializing him in his hometown. Kathy is one of nine children, Zeitoun one of 10 or so. The incident that finally compelled her conversion to Islam, of embarassment by a pastor in front of a large congregation for investigating Islam is tragic. Why would a presumed representative of God think public humiliation would help someone who was honest as she struggled with her understanding of God? That does make me so mad, but that injustice is smaller to what Zeitoun faced as a consequence of riding out the storm and staying in his neighborhood which resulted in his ability to protect his properties, his tenants, his clients' properties, his elderly neighbors and some abandoned pets. A week after the storm, Zeitoun, a Muslim friend, a tenant, and a new friend were all picked up by a heavily armed police team, assumed to be looters, (we learn that even a lady in her 70's was arrested for the same charge, as well as contractors hired to do clean up), and treated like animals, under the auspices of FEMA. Why does this organization still exist? His story is just one of many whose constitutional rights as well as human rights were violated in the name of order. At some points, I couldn't tell the difference between Zeitoun's experience and Victor Herman's in Communist Russia in his book, Coming Out of the Ice: An Unexpected Life. These things are not supposed to happen in the USA, but they do, all too often. It was worse than the hurricane, according to his wife Kathy.

    Doctors have asked Kathy what she thinks the most traumatic part of the Katrina experience was. She surprised herself and the doctors when she realized that it was after she knew Zeitoun was alive, and had been told he was at Hunt Correctional Center, but wasn't allowed to see him or even know where a court hearing might be held. It was that moment, being told by the woman on the phone that the hearing's location was "private information," that did the most damage.
    "I felt cracked open," she says.
    That this woman, a stranger, could know her despair and desperation, and simply deny her. That there could be trials without witnesses that her government could make people disappear.
    "It broke me." p.319

    It breaks me too. For all the political clamoring about the Constitution in the news these days, it only matters when people with power care about it. That Bill of Rights is intended to protect us from the absolute power of those with better weapons and training, intended for out protection, that we employ through our taxes. All I can say is I am glad my hope is not in this world. One unnamed hero in the story is an anonymous prison minister who passed on word from Zeitoun to his wife that he had not died, but was not communicating with her due to incarceration. Mercy changes everything.

  • Brian Ning - Worthy of its Title

    Here are my thoughts about this book:

    Strengths:
    1. Each chapter begins by listing what should be memorized/understood/forgotten
    2. All topics are covered (as far as I can tell using the AAMC guidelines) + some good online videos.
    3. Chapter review practice questions follow actual MCAT test patterns (not questions that just ask you to repeat what you just read)
    4. There are 3 tough practice tests that you can do online with full explanations (CBTs).

    Weaknesses:
    1. Including material that can be "forgotten" (phenols, ethers, alkenes, etc) seems unnecessary.
    2. It would be way more convenient to have the chapter review questions in the book rather than online.
    3. The mix of chapter review questions is mostly independent but the real exam is 85% associated with passages.
    4. If the exams are online, why also have them in the book? Those pages could have been used for the chapter review questions.

    * Why is this book valuable?
    There are tons of MCAT review books but this is one of about 3 companies that have done a good job.

    * Why is the book not sufficient by itself?
    You absolutely need official AAMC materials: The Official Guide to the MCAT Exam and all the online practice AAMC tests (currently there are 8 and they are numbered 3 to 11).

    * Why 5 stars?
    I don't know if any book deserves a perfect ranking especially after I have already laid out some weaknesses. But taking into account some odd low star reviews and an overall reasonable price, I hope this gives a little balance. Good luck!