Dancing With Death Book Review

Offering an intensely evocative and aptly titled narrative, Dancing with Death both guides and inspires, armchair adventurers as well as venturesome travelers to the jungles, seas, people and cultures of the world’s “roads” less traveled within the beautiful panoramas of Latin America. Co-authored by co-adventurers Jean-Philippe Soulé and Luke Shullenberger, this dynamic read memorializes not only their experiences during their expansive sea kayaking journey, but also serves to help bring awareness to the cultures and history of the seldom seen or noted native peoples they encountered.

From the start, the story treats the mind to the emotions and visages entwined in this thrilling narrative which memorializes the unforgettable and awe-inspiring expedition by sea touted as a one of a kind undertaking. Author, guide, and adventurer Jean-Philippe Soulé accompanied by fellow adventurer and able friend Luke Shullenberger find themselves and their kayaks sorely tested by weather, tides and their bodies as they paddled thousands of miles braving often life-threatening conditions including near drowning, malaria, shark attacks, crocodiles, guerrillas, armed bandits and corruption during their one of a kind undertaking. The overall journey spanning three years, 3000 miles and seven countries included Baja, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. The expedition fully titled as the Central America Sea Kayaking Expedition 2000, but also known as the CASKE2000, was a quest intended as an effort to connect with, learn about and preserve in writing the history of the self-reliant, indigenous peoples and their respect for and relationship with the earth.

Overall, the book provides an absorbing view of life for the two sea bound kayakers. Readers are made privy to the challenges, successes, and failures of their journey supplied via their intimate thoughts and experiences through the inclusion of their alternating journal entries, of which I found did well to enhance the read by providing deep insight and focus to emotions with differing perspectives concerning the elements of planning, preparation, and embarking on the expedition.

Altogether, I did enjoy reading Dancing with Death. The book was easy to engage with and well-organized. I found the narrative an intelligently composed chronicle and compelling read that riled the senses with descriptive exposition and well-organized literate visions of superhuman determination, extreme traveling adventure, fraught with kayaking adventure, spine-tingling moments, exotic environments and intriguing people and cultures.

I also enjoyed their close up encounters with wildlife which made for particularly exciting reading especially the section on playing hide and seek with giant sea turtles. Additionally, aside from portraying a phenomenal travel super-adventure, included in the book are some of the most stunning photos that I have seen, as well as the additional perk of a fantastically organized website where you get to experience even more details of their journey. However, the very best aspect of the book is the inspirational tone of the whole book. The authors, although faced with the adversity and danger of their expedition, did not quit. They simply followed their dreams, a must I think, for all travelers. I definitely and heartily recommend this for fans of travel books.

Either-Or – By Soren Kierkegaard – A Book Review and Summary of the Existentialist Book

Either/Or is a highly influential book that contrasts two different ways of living your life: the aesthetic and the ethical. The aesthetic life is one of passion, desire and whim, whilst the ethical one is more inclined to discipline and order. It was written by Soren Kierkegaard, one of the brilliant philosophers of the 19th century. His work was originally unregarded and obscure, not least to it being shunned by the Danish Church, yet it became increasingly popular at the turn of the century, and has significantly influenced a number of preeminent philosophers ever since. It is cited as a founding work in the discipline of Existentialism, which is a broad category of works that emphasize the concepts of free-will and subjectivity; it is basically a treatise tackling the question: ‘How should we live our lives?’.

“What is a poet? An unhappy man who conceals profound anguish in his heart, but whose lips are so fashioned that when sighs and groans pass over them they sound like beautiful music”

The first half of the book is the writings of ‘A’, a man who lives his life in the aesthetic phase. He is a highly impulsive, capricious and fanciful person who bemoans the bored, prosaic nature of life; and his answer to this is to lead a highly inconsistent, spontaneous life to combat the unhappy effects of boredom. The main aim of this man is to pursue sensory pleasures for himself, and thus his actions are highly selfish, not factoring in the concerns and interests of those around him. The structure of this section is written to reflect the nature of the authors mind: it is highly poetic and idyllic, or, for lack of a better word, aesthetic. This section contains the famous ‘Seducers Diary’, which chronicles the story of a man who toys with the love life of a young lady purely for fun. The second section is written by a ‘Judge Wilhelm’ and contains Kierkegaards idea of an ethical phase of life. This section makes the assertion that a consistent and stable existence is much more inducive to happiness, as the polarized emotional existence of the aesthetic phase is too uncertain, and will eventually lead to emotional ruin. He contrasts the benefits between the life of a married man and of a seducer: the married man always has something to look forward to, whilst the seducer is always looking back, recollecting on past conquests, and constantly searching for new ones.


How absurd men are! They never use the liberties they have, they demand those they do not have. They have freedom of thought, they demand freedom of speech.

However, what we see at the end is that the two stages of life are inextricably linked, and that it is impossible to live your life solely according to one phase. This is evident by the very fact that Judge Wilhelm advocates the ethical life as it is more inducive to aesthetic pleasures, and the very fact that A is trying to instruct the reader shows he has ethical concerns. What is posited as a separate sphere of life is the religious phase of life, which is treated with a lot more detail in Kierkegaards other works, but still touched upon substantially here. Either/Or is an extremely deep read – the sort of book where you must read and re-read sections to gather the full meaning of them.


I feel as if I were a piece in a game of chess, when my opponent says of it: That piece cannot be moved.

Book Review – Waking Isabella by Melissa Muldoon

Melissa Muldoon delivers an enchanting story set in Arezzo, Italy about love, intrigue, mystery, traditions, and art in her latest novel, “Waking Isabella.”

Leonora (Nora), a young research assistant who is at a crossroads in her life, travels to Italy to film a documentary on 16th Century Italian princess, Isabella de Medici. Fascinated with the history surrounding the princess, Nora hopes to uncover some of the mystery surrounding her tragic death, and a painting of Isabella and her mother that has been missing for decades. There is also the rumor of Isabella’s ghost to consider.

While in Italy, Nora reunites with an old friend and meets several new ones. Of particular interest is Gianluca (Luca) Donati, owner of an antique business that has been in his family for generations. When Luca shares details about his ancestor’s participation in smuggling famous artwork out of the country during WWII, Nora’s research takes her down yet another path, exploring the life of Margherita, Luca’s grandmother. Muldoon magically weaves together the lives of Nora, Isabella and Margherita, spanning the course of many centuries, into a story that will mesmerize and haunt readers long after the last page is read.

As a big fan of Melissa Muldoon’s since reading her debut novel, “Dreaming Sophia,” I could not wait to dive into “Waking Isabella.” The author has such a unique voice you can feel her personality in every sentence. Her writing is magical, as she incorporates her distinctive style through various methods. She eloquently takes the reader from the past to the present and back again with seamless delivery. She transitions from real-time drama to bits of fantasy through almost dream-like sequences. She delivers historical references and tells of lasting traditions that drive you want to learn more, and exhibits a contemporary voice through her protagonists, all the while weaving bits of Italian into the dialogue. I’ve read books where intermingling languages actually took me out of a story-but not so in “Waking Isabella,” where the words flow harmoniously together, further adding to the author’s individuality and voice.

The characters are intriguing, versatile and genuine. At the onset of the story readers are drawn inside Isabella’s character, all at once capturing the essence of her free spirit and strength in light of the heartbreaking end to her short life. Protagonist Nora’s character grows impressively with the story as she pushes through her fears with courage and determination to reinvent herself and follow her dreams. Supporting characters are equally portrayed with authenticity and it is an exciting spin inside their heads.

It’s apparent “Waking Isabella” required extensive research, though it certainly feels like a labor of love. Muldoon’s passion for Italy is evident and I really enjoyed the addition of the last few pages of the book where she provides information distinguishing the facts from the fictional parts of the story. I found these tidbits the perfect way to wrap things up, inviting and encouraging the reader to learn more about the historical period, if so driven. All in all, I would say “Waking Isabella” by Melissa Muldoon is a must-read for all fans of Italy, history, romance and intrigue. Eccellente!

Book Review: Dreaming in Hindi

Dreaming in Hindi

I was introduced to this book while browsing the web in search of interesting references. As somebody working almost daily in at least a bilingual context, I found fascinating the idea of ​​exploring the mind settings we develop while learning foreign languages. I become bilingual at five years old, without being aware of the philosophy of practicing another languages. I needed to understand and talk in more than one tongue, and didn't pay too much attention of the details: I was able to switch from a language to another, answering the various contexts I was part thereof. This almost natural-born bilingual structure of my mind was enriched by a new language at the age of 10. English is the fourth on my list – at around 17 -, almost self-taught, after the failure of my mother to play anymore the role of teacher. Years after, I can understand this situation as the result of our second language experience, I didn't want to acquire – who would like at the age of 5, to spend time making conversations in a language spoken exclusively by the adults? But this linguistic experience defines my linguistic history, as until now I am aware by the limitations of fully mastering all the other languages ​​I acquired by now (almost 10, out of which one who required to learn a new alphabet, learned as in the first grade, with pages of hand writing exercises and loudly voice spellings).

Given this experience, I am trying to do not insist too much upon because it is not my book I intend to write about now, the lecture of Dreaming in Hindi had for me the effect of a linguistic therapy.

Entering the dream

I started the lecture with a 75% enthusiasm. The rest of 25% was represented by the reserves on the topic of Hindi, India. My very recent experience was the Eat Pray Love book, an example about the stereotypes of spiritual journeys. We are learning foreign languages ​​because of personal or sentimental failures, we are keen to know the world and other countries because we failed to know ourselves. We are unable to go out of our lonely shells and we recognize the merits of the culture only in direct relation with the success brought in our personal achievement. There are some discrete references to this kind of issues in this book too, but there are wrapped intelligently. Of course we are looking for something when we are traveling or starting to learn something new – be it Chinese painting or Hindi – but this is more than killing some time between two relationships. We acquire knowledge for better understanding the world around and afterwards, using this knowledge to induce change.

The references to India are well pondered: you will not find here first-hand experiences about illuminations and spiritual awakenings after spending a couple of days, weeks or months in an ashram. In a very journalistic and alert style you will find information about this part of India Katherine Russell Rich is discovering while starting the learning of Hindi, during and shortly after 11/9. This part of India where people are living and making a living, dying or killed, facing terrorism and fear for the security of their children and their families, getting married, looking for a mate or falling in love, surviving as women, temporary visitors or tourists. The recent history or the history on the making, the ethnic or geopolitical conflicts being reflected at the level of the language. And I am the first to recognize that the success of learning a foreign language rely upon the immersion into the culture of the linguistic family whose richness you want to share. The pages dedicated to the social and historical description are limited by the purpose of reflecting the sociolinguistic processes taking place with the author aka. the Hindi student.

I found the style sometimes arid, sometimes mid-way between a scientifical expose and a journalistic description. In some fragments, it was like recollecting automatically segments from disparate notebooks recording the diary of the year spent in the ancient city of Udaipur. But this gave to the story a mysterious note of authenticity.

Knowing the brain

The main reason I loved reading this book was the intelligent mixture between the personal discoveries and the scientific research, looking for understanding the mechanisms developed in our secret black box while learning a new language. We are rarely aware of the complicate processes taking place during the linguistic adventures of the brain. I experienced some of them myself – and I observed more clearly to my daughter, who by the age of 12 was overexposed to multilingualism and forced to master daily three different languages. Our brain is both flexible – adapting to new sociolinguistic contexts – conservative – in relationship with the other languages, including our first tongue.

And I will give an example: we are aiming to learn a new language, for various reasons. By learning, direct practice, exercises, we could acquire the new skills in a certain amount of time. But, the linguistic structures already acquired, including our mother tongue, will be affected. If not used any more over time, we are forgetting the details of the grammar or our vocabulary is including funny and clumsy approximate translations from a language to another. During this process we can experience as well the unpleasant situation of blocking: we are unable to switch immediately, if ever, from a language to another. Or, the overexposure to a certain foreign linguistic environment create difficulties in recognizing what used to be once our familiar context. The social and psychological contexts are playing a very important role in our linguistic development – or blockage. A certain experience in relation with a certain event connected to a language might close the ways of communications in this language.

More we learn, the bigger our possibilities to make fast connections and to diversify our brain activity – with results including on our life-spam, according to recent studies. With influence on our deepest conscious and unconscious activities, as it is the case of dreaming. The strangest might be to dream in a foreign language without understanding the words you or the others present in the dream are talking. The intermediate level is, according with my understanding of the book, when you are able to tell and understand jokes in a foreign languages, meaning that you acquired a least familiarity and subtlety for juggling with significations. As for me, being able to read the newspaper is the best level you acquire before upgrading for having access to the language of the elites.

As well, being able to read and write on one hand, and being able to speak a language, however, are two different skills, not automatically inter-connected. In my case, for the non-European language I am in process of acquiring, I was able first to talk and understand the language of the street, but took me much more to read fluently while I am still facing problems in writing correctly. For the different alphabets the photographic memory might be helpful. I lived for one year in a Asian country and I was able to recognize a couple of disparate characters, only by over visual exposure – usual signs for "open", "closed", "metro", "street", the symbol of the currency etc.

The limits of our communications from a language to another are not exclusively limited to the cases when we have to switch from a system to another – as, such as, from a alphabet-based to a sign base. Not everything can be translated and for some cases the expression of privacy – in the case of Hindi a non-existent term – and feelings differs significantly. It is why we are assuming that some nations are "colder" and some are "warmer": we are what we talk.

My curiosities

The book opened me a series of questions and left unanswered a couple of curiosities. I don't find too much details about the experience of writing in another alphabet. Did she tried to? What are the transformations observed reading in a different writing universe.

The reader lacking expertise in Hindi is left frustrated with not acquiring any information about what it is this Hindi alphabet about. I found only one explicit about, at the end, when trying to read the terrible news about the killing of the journalist Daniel Pearl in Pakistan. Do they read from left to right or from right to left? It is possible, as in Chinese or Japanese to read horizontally and / or vertically?

Maybe I would like to read and find out more also about the author's experiences with Hindi after this year spent in India: did she continue practicing? what happened with the linguistic luggage in her familiar cultural environment? Or did she start to learn other languages ​​too and how she connected this experience with the one of learning Hindi?

My plan was to dedicate one hour to this review. After three long and intensive writing hours, I am approaching "the last dot" moment with a certain shadow of regret. This book made me think about a couple of direct experiences, gave me some hints for reevaluation others and observing some evolutions in my future linguistic wanderings. Enough reasons for encouraging others to read it too and to start learning at least other foreign language than the one used by birth.

Book Review of "Farewell, My Subaru"

My husband loves gardening and has fantasies about owning a large plot of land and being a farmer. He drives me nuts, asking if he can keep worms on our second floor apartment balcony in La Jolla. My answer is no!

For now, he gets his little square box in the church community garden. I'm not a nature girl but did find a book title that caught my eye in the library. It was "Farewell, My Subaru", written by Doug Fine. It caught my attention because that's the brand of car I drive. The cover photo was cute, with a garden growing under the hood of the car.

Doug was previously a journalist who bought a piece of land as a bachelor with the intention of settling down and going green all the way.

This book was an entertaining, light-hearted read. His adventures began with car trouble, a flash flood, purchasing two goats and some chicks. The goats got into mischief but he grew attached to them. He had to convince the inspector that his property was a farm. He moved on to trying vegetable oil fuel, installing solar panels and a well, hunting and gardening.

As with many small town stories, there were local characters, including his hippie neighbor. Of course, they saw him as the character. He scared off the FedEx delivery man by wearing home-made body armor to fight off a rattlesnake. The locals got a few chuckles from this newcomer as they watched him adjust to his new life. He had to ask for help and learned by trial and error. He eventually figured things out and even found love along the way.

Doug loves his new life and wrote this charming book about his adventures. He included interesting facts along the way with some statistics. I still have no interest in farming but I'm sure if we moved to a small town, I'd find myself adjusting over time. At first, I'd probably look like the lady from "Green Acres".

Somehow, in centuries past, people survived without cell phones, computers and telephones. They lived off the land and were productive with their hands. They actually spoke to each other verbally and wrote letters.

For garden enthusiasts, this is a fun read. There were a few swear words and adult themes in it so I wouldn't give it to children but it could be an amusing gift to give.