Showing Posts From: Entertainment

26 Apr, 2017

The Third Son

/ posted in: Reading The Third Son The Third Son by Julie Wu
on April 30, 2013
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 320
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: Taiwan

It's 1943. As air-raid sirens blare in Japanese-occupiedTaiwan, eight-year-old Saburo walks through the peach forests of Taoyuan. The least favored son of a Taiwanese politician, Saburo is in no hurry to get home to the taunting and abuse he suffers at the hands of his parents and older brother. In the forest he meets Yoshiko, whose descriptions of her loving family are to Saburo like a glimpse of paradise. Meeting her is a moment he will remember forever, and for years he will try to find her again. When he finally does, she is by the side of his oldest brother and greatest rival.Set in a tumultuous and violent period of Taiwanese history — as the Chinese Nationalist Army lays claim to the island and one autocracy replaces another—The Third Son tells the story of lives governed by the inheritance of family and the legacy of culture, and of a young man determined to free himself from both.


This synopsis sort of made me cringe. I’ve read the whole “my brother is marrying the girl I want” story so many times. I’m over it. This isn’t that though. There was a delightful change.

Saburo gets the girl. Actually, even better, the girl makes up her own mind and chooses him over his brother. Yes, a female main character with agency. I love her. She’s tough and independent minded. She’s chafing under the demands of her time and place. She’s determined to change her life and basically pushes him to get them where they need to be. That isn’t the whole point of the book either.  That happens partway through and the rest of the book is about their life.  

This is the second book I read because of Shenwei’s post about the 228 Massacre in Taiwan. This first one was The 228 Legacy. I enjoyed The Third Son a lot more.  I actually read it in one sitting.  

I’d recommend this one to any historical fiction fans especially if they are looking for settings you don’t often see.  I hadn’t read anything about Taiwan prior to these books.  This is set during a period of a lot of unrest in Taiwan and did a great job explaining the history.  

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in Asia
  • POC authors
25 Apr, 2017

Top Things That Will Make Me Instantly NOT Want To Read A Book

/ posted in: Reading

Last week we covered what will make me want to read a book.  Now we are going to the talk about the opposite.  What makes me run for the hills?

Books About Dogs

Nope, no dogs allowed.  I don’t do tear jerkers about any animals but dog books seem to be the worst.

The Art of Racing in the RainThe Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

Nope, nope, absolutely not. I’m the kind of person who can read a fantasy story about people going in and slaughtering villages but if the rampaging army hurts a dog on the way out of town, they are dead to me. Automatic DNF.


Wailing White Women

This is what I think a lot of YA readers think that all adult books are like.  There are some very rich but very sad white ladies sitting around stewing in their ennui.  Boring.

Mrs. DallowayMrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

I ignore this genre of books so much that I couldn’t even think of an example. This was all I could come up with. I’m not even sure if it fits because I haven’t read it.


I Am Such A Manly Man

Maybe this a reaction to the books we had to read in school that were all from the dead white man canon.

For Whom the Bell TollsFor Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

I’ve never read Hemingway and I have no interest in ever reading him.


Award Winning

I never have any interest in books that are on the lists for the most prestigious prizes. The ones that I read usually bore me. A book winning the Man Booker Prize pretty much makes it dead to me. The exceptions for prize winners would be the Hugos and Nebulas. I like a lot of those books.



Possession by A.S. Byatt



Excuse Me Sir, You Forgot Your Shirt

I love some historical romance. I love muscles. It seems though that the more pecs and abs on view on the cover of a romance book, the worse I find the book.

What a Wallflower Wants (Bad Boys & Wallflowers, #3)What a Wallflower Wants by Maya Rodale

I picked this example at random. It may be a lovely book but I’m not interested in reading it because of the cover.



I do hate westerns. The whole time period is a turn off for me.

A Tall Dark CowboyA Tall Dark Cowboy by Mackenzie McKade

This poor man also is inadequately dressed for a day’s work on the range.  He’s going to get a sunburn and get all scraped up by plants and barbed wire.



Cozy Mystery Series

Ok, how many dead bodies have you ever stumbled across? I’d guess not many. Why then do these people who run bakeries or craft shops keep finding them? I’ve been to a lot a quilt stores and craft shops and there has never once been a dead person there. I think that you maybe get a pass on one dead person in your small business but if it is happening over and over, you are a Person of Interest. Who keeps being friends with these people anyway when people they know keep dropping dead? I think they are serial killers who haven’t been caught yet.

Death, Taxes, and a Chocolate Cannoli (Tara Holloway, #9)Death, Taxes, and a Chocolate Cannoli by Diane Kelly




What Are Your Book Turn Offs?

24 Apr, 2017

It’s Monday! What are you reading?

/ posted in: Reading

It's Monday! What Are You Reading



New In This Week

Free ebooks from Amazon

Paper BoatsPaper Boats by Dee Lestari




Page (The Highland Brides #1)Page by Tanya Anne Crosby




DNF this week

I liked the main character and her story. However, she ends up living with her American cousins and I couldn’t handle them. I get irrationally angry at stories about teenagers where all they do is drink and engage in self-destructive behavior. Automatic DNF.  I wanted to know what happened to Fabiola and her mom.  The narrator was doing an exceptional job with the accents of all the characters.  I just couldn’t get past the stupid teenagers.

Let me sum up.  She sees this guy and immediately wants to sleep with him.  She thinks, “He’s so hot!” over and over.  Then they sleep together.  There wasn’t any emotional growth here and that bores me.  DNF.

Where has my book been this week?

Relaxing afternoon with the manatees swimming around the boat

A post shared by (@dvmheather) on

Beach reading #beach #sandkey #bookstagram #thewitchsmarket

A post shared by (@dvmheather) on

The first was in King’s Bay at Crystal River Florida. Some manatees were swimming around our boat. The second was at Sand Key park in Clearwater FL. That is on the Gulf of Mexico.

What Am I Listening To?

One Hundred NamesOne Hundred Names by Cecelia Ahern

21 Apr, 2017

Binge Worthy Foodie Reads

/ posted in: Reading Binge Worthy Foodie Reads Summer at the Comfort Food Cafe by Debbie Johnson
on April 29, 2016
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 347
Format: eBook
Source: Owned

The Comfort Food Cafe is perched on a windswept clifftop at what feels like the edge of the world, serving up the most delicious cream teas; beautifully baked breads, and carefully crafted cupcakes. For tourists and locals alike, the ramshackle cafe overlooking the beach is a beacon of laughter, companionship, and security – a place like no other; a place that offers friendship as a daily special, and where a hearty welcome is always on the menu.
For widowed mum-of-two Laura Walker, the decision to uproot her teenaged children and make the trek from Manchester to Dorset for the summer isn’t one she takes lightly, and it’s certainly not winning her any awards from her kids, Nate and Lizzie. Even her own parents think she’s gone mad.
But following the death of her beloved husband David two years earlier, Laura knows that it’s time to move on. To find a way to live without him, instead of just surviving. To find her new place in the world, and to fill the gap that he’s left in all their lives.
Her new job at the cafe, and the hilarious people she meets there, give Laura the chance she needs to make new friends; to learn to be herself again, and – just possibly – to learn to love again as well.

I’m a sucker for light fiction set in English cafes or tea shops or bakeries.  I recently read these two fun romances that are perfect for Foodies Read.

Laura Walker has been a widow for two years and is just starting to emerge from the fog that she has been in.  She needs a job and she wants to give her children a vacation this year.  She combines the two into working for the summer at a cafe near a beach in Dorset.

This isn’t just any cafe.  It stocks the favorite comfort foods of the regulars to make them feel at home.

Laura, her kids, and her dog Jimbo settle into the community.  They are starting to make new good memories for the first time since the accident that took her husband’s life.  This book is full of quirky characters.  It also feels like it is really set in the present.  Lizzie is documenting her summer on Instagram.  Other people use Skype.  So many of these books tend to ignore any technological details so that was a touch of realism that I appreciated.

The love interest’s name was Matt and he is a veterinarian.  Now you know I’m gonna have to comment on this, right?  Ok, two things.  Of course he is described as being muscular and gorgeous.  He has to be.  That’s in the contract for romance book heroes.  But, I know A LOT of vets.  I don’t know any who fit the bill.  (Send pictures if you know one.)  We tend towards the nerdy side.  I particularly don’t know any who are built like that and never work out.  I’m not sure where his muscles come from.  He never lifts a weight.  Number two, he never really seems to go to work either.  He’s always around.  It is mentioned vaguely that he is “at work” a few times but it doesn’t seem like he is missing from the story very often.  I’d like that schedule.

Anyway, this one is fun and sweet and made me a bit teary in one part that I can’t talk about without being spoilery.

Binge Worthy Foodie Reads Little Teashop of Horrors by Jane Lovering
on March 26, 2017
Genres: Fiction
Format: eBook
Setting: England

Amy Knowles has always been the plain sidekick to her pretty best friend Jules. And whilst the tearoom they both work in on the Monkpark Hall estate in Yorkshire is not exactly awash with eligible bachelors, it’s obvious where the male attention is concentrated – and it’s not just on the cakes!
There is one man who notices Amy. Joshua Wilson also works at Monkpark, where he flies his birds of prey for visitor entertainment. He lives a lonely existence but he has reasons for choosing isolation – and, in Amy, he may have found somebody who understands.
Then a management change brings slick and well-spoken Edmund Evershott to Monkpark. He’s interested in Amy too, but for what reason? Josh suspects the new manager is up to no good – but will Amy?

I read this one right after the first one.  This is told in alternating voices of the two main characters.  Amy is the third generation of her family to work in an historic trust building.  She and her grandmother are able to live in the village at reduced rent because a family works at Monkpark.  This wasn’t Amy’s goal in life but she can’t afford to keep her Gran at home any other way.  She’s always been a bit of a doormat for people but figures that is her lot in life.

Josh loves his birds but is very uncomfortable around people.  He doesn’t like to be in enclosed spaces, even inside houses.  He’s never had a relationship with a woman.  He likes Amy though because she seems to see him as a real person and not just that strange guy with the birds.

I liked the story of trying to keep a historic house profitable.  Amy runs the tea shop and Josh does the falconry demonstrations.

This is an unusual romance.  The characters both have back stories that make them think that they are unsuitable for love.  I wish Amy’s had been a little deeper.  I felt like she was written almost as a cliche at times.  I haven’t seen a lot of male romance characters like Josh though.  There was a lot of trauma in his background that made him stay away from people.  Although the term is never used, he felt like a demi romantic/sexual character.  He did not see people as potential love interests at all until he got to know Amy very well.  I’m not sure if that was an innate orientation for him or if it was all secondary to psychological trauma though.  He doesn’t magically overcome his problems just because he meets a love interest either.  He still has issues that drastically affect his life and relationships.  That’s a nice change from books where the hero or heroine’s entire life gets fixed when they get a lover.

I’d recommend both of these for fun reads.  Of the two, the tea shop book is definitely darker.  The Comfort Food Cafe book stays mostly upbeat except for a few emotional parts.  There is a short story sequel to that one that I’ve downloaded already that is set at Christmas.  I’ll report back on it soon.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in Europe
  • Foodies Read 2017
19 Apr, 2017

Revolution for Dummies

/ posted in: Reading Revolution for Dummies Revolution for Dummies: Laughing through the Arab Spring by Bassem Youssef
Published by Dey Street Books on March 21st 2017
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Pages: 304
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible
Setting: Egypt
Length: 7:12

"The Jon Stewart of the Arabic World"—the creator of The Program, the most popular television show in Egypt’s history—chronicles his transformation from heart surgeon to political satirist, and offers crucial insight into the Arab Spring, the Egyptian Revolution, and the turmoil roiling the modern Middle East, all of which inspired the documentary about his life, Tickling Giants.
Bassem Youssef’s incendiary satirical news program, Al-Bernameg (The Program), chronicled the events of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, the fall of President Hosni Mubarak, and the rise of Mubarak’s successor, Mohamed Morsi. Youssef not only captured his nation’s dissent but stamped it with his own brand of humorous political criticism, in which the Egyptian government became the prime laughing stock.

Bassem Youssef was an Egyptian cardiac surgeon trying to find a way to move out of Egypt in 2011.  He was not politically active until the Arab Spring protests.  A friend wanted to have a YouTube series discussing politics and he convinced Bassem to star in it mostly because he wouldn’t have to pay him.  Suddenly, the series that they filmed in Bassem’s bathroom was an internet hit.   Over the next few years they moved to TV and then to larger networks.  The show was a hit.  However, making fun of politicians in Egypt isn’t the safest life choice.

In a few years he rose from obscurity to being the most famous entertainer in Egypt to being forced to flee the country.

I loved this audiobook.  I had never heard of Bassem Youssef before although he had been on The Daily Show and other U.S. TV shows. He says that he isn’t able to explain Egyptian or Islamic politics well but then explains them in an easy to understand manner.  Now I understand who most of the players are and a little bit about what their goals are.  His goal was to make fun of them all.

This is a scary book to read because you see so many parallels between Egypt and the path that the United States is on now.  In fact, he came to the U.S. just in time to document the rise of Trump.  Like Trevor Noah, he points out that Trump follows the same line of thinking as the African dictators.  He talks about how people can convince themselves that everything is fine when everything is falling apart around them.

He shows how media can be manipulated to show whatever ‘truth’ the government wants you to believe.

Speaking satirical truth to power cost him his relationship with his family and his ability to go back to his country.  His wife stayed with him but he isn’t really sure why.  After all, she married a surgeon who a few months later decided that he was going to be a comedian in the country where it is illegal to make fun of the president and it went downhill from there.

There is a new documentary on the festival circuit called Tickling Giants about his life.  I want to see it to be able to see many of the sketches that he describes in the audio book.

He is a huge fan of Jon Stewart.  They ended up meeting and collaborating.  (Or as it was charged in Egypt, he was recruited by Jon Stewart to work for the CIA.)  Here’s Jon Stewart’s take on things the first time Bassem got in trouble.

If you want to understand more about the Arab Spring and the aftermath, this is a great book. If you want to know what resistance can look like, listen to this book.  He narrates it himself and does a great job telling his story.

About Bassem Youssef

Bassem Raafat Muhammad Youssef is an Egyptian comedian, writer, producer, physician, media critic, and television host. He hosted Al-Bernameg, a satirical news program, from 2011 to 2014.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Books Set in the Middle East
  • POC authors
18 Apr, 2017

Top Five Things That Will Make Me Instantly Want To Read A Book

/ posted in: Reading

There are so many books in the world.  How do I choose the ones that I want to try?  I always consider the synopsis first to decide if I want to read a book but if I’m not quite sure, these attributes will push me towards saying yes.

Pink cover

Sad but true.  I am a sucker for chick lit and happy fluffy books.  If your cover is pink, I promise I will take it off the shelf and read the synopsis every time.  Seriously, I’ve stood at the new arrivals section of the library and picked up and read the back of every pink book more often than I can count.


If you’ve been hanging around here you know that I have a thing for books about food.  Fiction or nonfiction, it doesn’t matter.


Pastel books about food are going to get me every time.  I don’t even try to resist any more.

Be Funny

If I’m not sure about a synopsis and then they work in the phrases “darkly funny” or “hilarious take on”, I’m in.  I want to be entertained.  I don’t like my books to be Oh So Serious.

POC author

I’m always trying to diversify the authors that I’m reading.  If I’m wondering if a book is good based on the synopsis, I’m more likely to give it the benefit of the doubt if the author is a different race than me.

Set Somewhere Else

I’m always looking for books set outside North America and Western Europe.

What Will Make You Pick Up A Book?

17 Apr, 2017

It’s Monday! What are you reading?

/ posted in: Reading

It's Monday! What Are You Reading



New In This Week


New Ebooks I Bought

What can I say?  These books are perfectly designed to be my kryptonite.  I’ll be posting about that tomorrow.

Finished This Week

Click book for the Goodreads page.  I went on a bit of a binge of English cozy foodie reads.  I love them but they do skew my numbers towards my reading goals.  I wish there were as many books like that set in Asia or Africa or South America.  Anyone know of any?

What Am I Listening To?

I listened to a BBC radio production of Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.  It had a few disturbingly racist moments in the production that I don’t actually remember from the book.

I started listening to American Street.

I was a bit worried about this on audio.  I tend to listen to nonfiction or urban fantasy.  I have a harder time getting into other genres while listening and not reading.  This is a fiction story about a teenage girl who is separated from her mother on the way from Haiti in order to visit her aunt and cousins.  So far, so good.  It is holding my attention well.

What Am I Reading?

I’m partially through Phantom Pains.

I’ll finish this up today maybe.  I have some books picked out for some prime reading time at the end of the week.  I’m going to need a transition book for a few days in between and I’m not sure what that is going to be since the library lost my interlibrary loan I was planning to read.   If I’m still in my fluffy mood, I’ll start on some of my new ebooks.

14 Apr, 2017

I Watched the TV Show/Movie Instead

/ posted in: EntertainmentReading

I know, I know, this makes me a monster.  How dare I prefer the TV show or movie? I’m not even going to pretend that I’m going to go back and read the book. Totally not going to do it.


The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events, #1)The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket


I was too old for the Lemony Snickett books where they came out. I loved the new series with Neil Patrick Harris and Patrick Warburton on Netflix though.


A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, #1)A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin


I did listen to the audiobook of the first book but I’m not reading the rest of the series. I watched the TV show for a while but I realized that while I wanted to see what happened in the story, I didn’t want to watch all the unnecessary nudity and violence. There was one scene that had a completely random f/f sex scene taking place behind the main characters who were talking that put me off the show for good. There was literally no reason for the naked women other than to be exploitative. I still want to know what happens though so I read the recaps on the internet after each episode airs.

The Fellowship of the Ring (The Lord of the Rings, #1)The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien


Same thing here. I read the Hobbit as a kid. I listened to the audiobook of The Fellowship of the Ring after I saw the movie but I have no desire to read the others. The movies are enough for me.


Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse, #1)Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris


I read the first Sookie Stackhouse book when it came out but never followed through with the series. I loved True Blood though.


Do you have books/series that you never read but love the adaptations?

12 Apr, 2017


/ posted in: Reading Borderline Borderline by Mishell Baker
Series: The Arcadia Project #1
Published by Saga Press on March 1st 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: California

A year ago, Millie lost her legs and her filmmaking career in a failed suicide attempt. Just when she's sure the credits have rolled on her life story, she gets a second chance with the Arcadia Project: a secret organization that polices the traffic to and from a parallel reality filled with creatures straight out of myth and fairy tales.
For her first assignment, Millie is tasked with tracking down a missing movie star who also happens to be a nobleman of the Seelie Court. To find him, she'll have to smooth-talk Hollywood power players and uncover the surreal and sometimes terrifying truth behind the glamour of Tinseltown. But stronger forces than just her inner demons are sabotaging her progress, and if she fails to unravel the conspiracy behind the noble's disappearance, not only will she be out on the streets, but the shattering of a centuries-old peace could spark an all-out war between worlds.
No pressure.

Millie was a grad student in filmmaking at UCLA when a failed relationship led her to a suicide attempt.  She survived but lost her legs.  She has spent the last six months in an inpatient psychiatric facility learning to handle her borderline personality disorder.

“The symptoms of borderline personality disorder include: a recurring pattern of instability in relationships, efforts to avoid abandonment, identity disturbance, impulsivity, emotional instability, and chronic feelings of emptiness, among other symptoms.

The main feature of borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a pervasive pattern of instability in interpersonal relationships, self-image and emotions. People with borderline personality disorder are also usually very impulsive, oftentimes demonstrating self-injurious behaviors.”  – Steven Bressert Ph.D


That describes Millie.  She is working with a therapist but she doesn’t think that it is going well.  Then she is recruited for a job.

The Arcadia project manages human-fey interactions.  The branch in Los Angeles works with the fey in Hollywood.  The project is staffed by people who all have mental health issues.  During her probationary period she just needs to live in a group house and find one missing fey.  How hard can that be?

This is a fairly standard urban fantasy plot with a missing person that leads to a larger problem.  It is the characters in the Arcadia Project that make it stand out.  How many books have a disabled, mentally ill, bisexual main character who gets to be the hero?

Millie’s mental illness and her new life as a double amputee are huge factors in this book.  Her mobility challenges are taken into account whenever she needs to go out.  Even seemingly simple decisions like whether or not to take a shower have to be carefully considered.  If she gets her legs wet then she can’t use the prostheses for several hours.  If she needs to run she needs to get the hydraulics in her knee on the right setting and sometimes she messes that up.  Even small things like should she take her wheelchair up to her second floor room (no elevator) or leave it downstairs in the living room where it will be in everyone’s way are considered.  Trying to get to the house was hard by herself with a wheelchair, a cane, and all her bags.

Mental illness is a large part of this story.  Millie feels like she hasn’t made any progress in therapy.  Once she is out on her own though we see that she has learned how to help herself.  She uses several different techniques that she was taught to help her deal with rage and insecurity.  She isn’t perfect though.  She still lashes out at people.  She also clings to anyone who shows her kindness and feels incredibly insecure if she feels like they are pulling away.

Millie’s boss, Caryl, has been through extensive emotional trauma.  She is a wizard and she is coping by splitting her rational and emotional mind.  She keeps her emotional mind in an invisible dragon construct so she can be entirely rational while she is working.  This is working for her but Millie comes to see that it isn’t healthy in the long term.

The author has spoken about being mentally ill.  These are from her AMA on Reddit.

“I didn’t expect Borderline to get published. Honestly. It was the story I wrote because I needed to write a novel or I’d explode, and it was the only novel I could write at that point in my life. So I wrote it, and when it was finished I did what I did with the first four novels I’d written, and shopped it around. I was shocked when my first choice of agent offered to represent it. Slightly less shocked when he landed it with a big publisher (because that’s why he was my first choice agent). Extremely shocked when it got starred reviews, and the Nebula nomination just about broke my brain.

This is not false modesty. I actually spent a week in a psychiatric hospital for suicidal ideation in 2013, and a huge part of it was that I was 38 and had pretty much decided that I’d failed as a writer and was never going to make it, that I’d wasted my life. BORDERLINE was already out there. My agent was already reading it. That’s how little faith I had in it.”

“I was in a psych ward on October 1, 2013 because I thought my life was over.

I heard back from my agent with an offer of representation twenty-nine days later.

In a sense, the entire Arcadia Project series has become ABOUT this. About how we inevitably pick the stupidest, stupidest times to think our lives are “over.” What might we live on to do and accomplish if we give ourselves a second chance?”


I’ve already requested the sequel from the library.  I’m looking forward to seeing where this series goes.

About Mishell Baker

When Mishell isn’t convention-hopping or going on wild research adventures, she lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two changelings.  When her offspring are older, she will probably remember what her hobbies are.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in North America
11 Apr, 2017

Epic Measures

/ posted in: Reading Epic Measures Epic Measures: One Doctor. Seven Billion Patients. by Jeremy N. Smith
Published by Harper Wave on April 7th 2015
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Nonfiction
Pages: 352
Format: Paperback
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher

Moneyball meets medicine in this remarkable chronicle of one of the greatest scientific quests of our time—the groundbreaking program to answer the most essential question for humanity: how do we live and die?—and the visionary mastermind behind it.
Medical doctor and economist Christopher Murray began the Global Burden of Disease studies to gain a truer understanding of how we live and how we die. While it is one of the largest scientific projects ever attempted—as breathtaking as the first moon landing or the Human Genome Project—the questions it answers are meaningful for every one of us: What are the world’s health problems? Who do they hurt? How much? Where? Why?
Murray argues that the ideal existence isn’t simply the longest but the one lived well and with the least illness. Until we can accurately measure how people live and die, we cannot understand what makes us sick or do much to improve it. Challenging the accepted wisdom of the WHO and the UN, the charismatic and controversial health maverick has made enemies—and some influential friends, including Bill Gates who gave Murray a $100 million grant.
In Epic Measures, journalist Jeremy N. Smith offers an intimate look at Murray and his groundbreaking work. From ranking countries’ healthcare systems (the U.S. is 37th) to unearthing the shocking reality that world governments are funding developing countries at only 30% of the potential maximum efficiency when it comes to health, Epic Measures introduces a visionary leader whose unwavering determination to improve global health standards has already changed the way the world addresses issues of health and wellness, sets policy, and distributes funding.

Christopher Murray is originally from New Zealand but he grew up around the world.  His parents ran a clinic in west Africa for a year.  The clinic was so understaffed when they got there that Chris and his older siblings had to do a lot of the care.  During their time there the family noticed that malnourished people who were fed got sick from malaria.  They found out that the virus requires iron to thrive.  When people are starving they don’t have the iron stores for their bodies to support the virus.  When they are refed, they are again good hosts for the disease.  The family published their findings in Lancet.  This led to Chris’ lifelong interest in scientific research – especially research into whether or not conventional wisdom is correct.

At the World Health Organization, he found that a lot of the health data used to make policy decisions was based on numbers that were made up.  He worked with another researcher to develop a formula that figured out the true cost of disease in each country.  He also took into consideration not just the deaths from that disease but the damage done from a disease causing less than optimal health in the population.  I also appreciated his focus on adult health statistics and not just childhood disease.

Using this data lets countries and NGOs decide where the most effective places to put their money are.  Does it help more people to treat malaria or diarrhea?  If you can only vaccinate for one is it better to give polio vaccine or measles?  Measles kills more people but if you survive it you are fine.  Polio doesn’t kill as many people but survivors have more disability.  These are the kinds of questions that they try to answer.

I found the subject matter interesting but the book got bogged down in a lot of interdepartmental politics in the middle.  It picks up again at the end with ideas for living a better life based on the findings of the Global Burden of Disease study.  If you are interested in the real life applications of science and mathematics, this is a great book for you.

Tuesday, March 28th: Lit and Life
Thursday, March 30th: bookchickdi
Tuesday, April 4th: Sapphire Ng
Wednesday, April 5th: Readaholic Zone
Thursday, April 6th: Man of La Book
Monday, April 10th: Doing Dewey
Tuesday, April 11th: Based on a True Story
Wednesday, April 12th: Kissin Blue Karen
Friday, April 14th: Read Till Dawn
Friday, April 14th: Jathan & Heather

Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
10 Apr, 2017

It’s Monday! What are you reading?

/ posted in: Reading

It's Monday! What Are You Reading I used to do this meme every week until a few years ago. I’ve decided to give it a go again because I realized that what I’m reading isn’t at all the same as what I end up posting. I have enough books to review that things I read now might not get up for weeks. I feel like I’m living in the past. So here’s what’s going on now.

Book mail

I received Raindropt from my OTSP Secret Sister. raindropt I had to kill some time last week and I went to Barnes and Noble. I actually bought books. You might not think that’s strange but I never buy books in a store.


A post shared by Heather Raynack (@dvmheather) on

Whole Bowls is amazing! It is a vegetarian book for (obviously) foods served in one bowl. I made the Greek Mushroom Stifado with Horseradish Mashed Potatoes and it was wonderful. Tonight dinner will be quinoa and roasted vegetables with chickpeas and apple dressing. I’m going to be cooking my way through this one. I haven’t started the others yet. The first and third books are for Foodies Read prizes.

What Am I Listening To?

The Foundling: The True Story of a Kidnapping, a Family Secret, and My Search for the Real MeThe Foundling: The True Story of a Kidnapping, a Family Secret, and My Search for the Real Me by Paul Fronczak So this day old baby gets kidnapped in the 1960s. Two years later they find him and bring him home. Fifty years later he does a home DNA test. He finds out he’s not the missing baby after all. So what happened to the baby and who is he?  

What Am I Reading?

Borderline (The Arcadia Project, #1)Borderline by Mishell Baker   Millie has been living in a mental institution since her suicide attempt that cost her both legs. Now she is recruited to work with an organization that monitors Fey involvement in the human world. This one is good. I’ve already requested the sequel from the library.

What Am I Stalled On?

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and HopeThe Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope by William Kamkwamba A kid in Malawi learned to build a windmill from a library book. That’s cool. But it got bogged down in stories about his younger days. Seriously, memoirists, I’m sure your childhood games are interesting to you but not really to anyone else. You can skip things to get to the good parts.

07 Apr, 2017

My Exile, or How I Ended Up Watching Power Rangers

/ posted in: Entertainment

Every other Thursday I get banished from my house.  I have a house cleaner who comes to do all the cleaning that I am too lazy and unmotivated to do.  In the circles I travel in this is a confusing thing.  People don’t do this.  In fact, it took a while to make the people I work with understand that I haven’t engaged in human trafficking.  I don’t have a sad woman locked in my basement who needs to clean for me every day.  Basically, she comes in and cleans whatever big stuff she can get done in four hours.

This used to be perfect because I would leave for work every other Thursday and come home to a clean house.  Then my work schedule changed and I have Thursdays off.  Now I have to leave the house before she gets here at 8 AM.  In theory I don’t have to flee but I can’t be here.  It is super uncomfortable.  I couldn’t be the woman who is lounging on the couch reading while someone else cleans the house.  Too much Protestant work ethic or guilt or something.  So I flee from 8 to noon.

Sometimes I watch an early matinee.  This week I ended up watching Power Rangers.  Yeah, the pickings were slim.  Ghost in the Shell seemed like a more interesting story but I support the spirit of the boycott over the whitewashing of the film.  I had been drawn in my the Power Rangers trailer before I knew it was Power Rangers.  A group of kids find some artifacts and they become powerful.

I’m a sucker for an origin story.  I always want to know how something started much more than how it ends.  I like the tales of regular people finding out that they can become something extraordinary.

I’m too old to have been a Power Rangers fan when it was out in the U.S. before.  I knew nothing about it other than the cheesy costumes I saw when flipping channels.  Turns out that I may not have missed much.

It started out ok.  White jock boy does something stupid and crashes his car running from the cops.  He hurts his leg and all his dream of football glory are gone.  I hate that this story line is a thing.  Can adults please stop caring about high school athletics?  It’s embarrassing to me when a whole town is super into a football team or other sport.  I understand the students liking it and the family members of the players maybe but no one else should be that into it.

Then there was a black, autistic guy who gets rescued from a bully by the white jock boy.  Does stupid white boy have to automatically be the hero?  He turned out to be the leader of the team because he had the red coin.  Whatever.  I think it had more to do with racism and sexism myself but I might be jaded and cynical.  Anyway then there is a white girl and a Latina girl and a Chinese guy.  More diversity than you seen in a lot of superhero films. They all end up at an abandoned mine with all kinds of Keep Out Signs that everyone seems to ignore.  They find these coins that give them super powers.  In the meantime they total black guy’s mom’s minivan that he took without permission.  This is never addressed.  How did his mother not kill him?  He should have been grounded for the rest of the movie.

Then you get the obligatory training montages with the worst teachers ever.  In the meantime someone is trying to resurrect a monster made of gold?  Why gold?  Gold is soft and expensive.  If I was making a monster it would be made out of something tougher and cheaper.  I’d be a very practical supervillian.

Finally, finally, they get to be power rangers and then the movie got boring.  How?  How did they actually make super powers boring?  That takes skills.  They get these artificial dinosaurs to drive around in so they don’t even have to do any of the fighting they were training for.  They just shoot the bad guy until he throws them in a pit and the dinos accidentally combine into a giant robot.  That’s just like Voltron.  I know Voltron.  I saw those cartoons.  That was cat robots turning into a giant human robot.  Is this a common thing in Japan?

They beat the gold monster and then the towns folks clap and take pictures while the giant robot dances.  Yeah, I wish I was making that up too.

This is why Hollywood needs to stop whitewashing movies so I could have gone to see Ghost in the Shell and not have felt morally obligated to support the better casting in an awful movie.  At least I got soft pretzels and a clean house.


05 Apr, 2017

People of the Songtrail

/ posted in: Reading People of the Songtrail People of the Songtrail by W. Michael Gear, Kathleen O'Neal Gear
Published by Tor Books on May 26th 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Historical
Pages: 352
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

On the shores of what is now northeastern Canada, a small group of intrepid settlers have landed, seeking freedom to worship and prosper far from the religious strife and political upheaval that plague a war-ridden Europe . . .
500 years before Columbus set sail.
While it has long been known that Viking ships explored the American coast, recent archaeological evidence suggests a far more vast and permanent settlement. It is from this evidence that archaeologists and early American history experts Kathy and Michael Gear weave their extraordinary tale.

I never know quite how to characterize the Gear books.  Historical fiction with magic?  Magical realism?  Historical fantasy?

The authors are archeologists.  They start with the archeological details of pre-Columbian American sites and build adventure stories from there.  This book is set on the east coast of Canada during the time of the Vikings.  A group of boats has sailed together from Greenland but were separated in a storm.  They make landfall up and down the coast.  The different groups have different experiences of contact with the Native Americans.

There have been Viking raids previously.  The Native Americans are rightly hostile to any landing on the shore.  Children have previously been taken as slaves.  These slaves have taught a few Vikings the language so they have translators.  One group talks to the Native Americans.  Another sets off a massacre of a village.

Now one boat with a judge on board tries to convince the Native Americans to trust him to deliver justice to them for the crimes committed against them.  Yeah, I wouldn’t have believed him either.

This isn’t my favorite of their books.  There is so much going on that it is hard to focus on a main plot.  There are political dealings in Scandinavia and England.  There is a Danish witch and a Native American spirit worker getting together to fight the bad guys.  There is fighting among the Vikings.

I think I would have liked this one more with a little more historical detail and less magic.  Those aren’t words that I say very often.  I was interested in how these groups of people interacted.  With all the magic flying around I knew that it didn’t go like that in real life.  No one was resurrecting people by riding into the afterlife on eight legged horses.

Read this one if you are in the mood for a historical fantasy that compares and contrasts Native American and Scandinavian spirituality and mythology. Look elsewhere if you want to know what really happened.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in North America
04 Apr, 2017

My Own Country

/ posted in: Reading My Own Country My Own Country: A Doctor's Story by Abraham Verghese
on April 25, 1995
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Pages: 432
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Setting: Tennessee

Nestled in the Smoky Mountains of eastern Tennessee, the town of Johnson City saw its first AIDS patient in August 1985. Working in Johnson City was Abraham Verghese, a young Indian doctor specializing in infectious diseases who became, by necessity, the local AIDS expert. Out of his experience comes a startling, ultimately uplifting portrait of the American heartland.

I have been coming across books in the most roundabout ways recently.  For March’s 6 Degrees of Separation post I needed a book set in Ethiopia.  I thought of Cutting for Stone which I’ve never read so I wasn’t absolutely sure that’s where it was set.  I looked it up on Goodreads and saw that the author wrote this book about his life in Tennessee.  Was I actually mixing up Ethiopia and Tennessee in my mind?  Not exactly.  He was in rural east Tennessee at about the same time I was in school there.  That intrigued me.

In the late 1980s he finished his residency as an infectious disease specialist in Boston.  He decided to take a job in Tennessee for the slower pace and better quality of life.  He planned to split his time between a VA nursing home/hospital and a small public hospital.

At the same time he moved to Tennessee, the first AIDS cases were appearing in the area.  He had seen AIDS patients in Boston.  His experience in infectious disease made him the logical doctor for people to refer patients to in the area.  At this point there was no real treatment.  All he could do was monitor their blood counts and support them through their secondary diseases.  At first the community of AIDS patients was small and he spent a lot of time going into their homes and getting to know them and their families.

The initial patients he saw were gay men who had moved away from the area in order to lead more open lives in big cities.  Now they were sick and were coming home for help from their families.  There was a huge stigma.  AIDS was a curse handed down for sinful behavior in a lot of the minds of the people of the area.  Even the local gay community didn’t think it was in their local group.  Many nurses refused to work with the patients.  Some protested even offering them treatment in the hospital at all since it was ultimately futile.

Dr. Verghese had to confront his own bigotry.  He was uncomfortable at first with gay men.  He later concerned that he was showing preferential treatment to an elderly couple who had been infected by the husband’s blood transfusion.  Was he falling into the “innocent victim” mentality towards AIDS?  How did he feel about the man with AIDS-related dementia who had infected both his wife and her sister?

Even though this book was written in 1995, I would recommend it for anyone interested in medical history.  This is an account of the front lines of an AIDS epidemic as it moved into an area.  He is a very empathetic and compassionate writer who gave so much of himself to the patients that he ended up destroying his own marriage.


About Abraham Verghese

Born of Indian parents who were teachers in Ethiopia, he grew up near Addis Ababa and began his medical training there. When Emperor Haile Selassie was deposed, he completed his training at Madras Medical College and went to the United States for his residency as one of many foreign medical graduates.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in North America
  • POC authors
01 Apr, 2017

Six Degrees of Separation – Room to The Unintentional Time Traveler

/ posted in: Reading

Six Degrees of Separation is a meme run by Books are my Favorite and Best. You are given a starting book and then you link it to six others using whatever stream of consciousness reasoning pops into your brain.

The Starting Book this month is Room by Emma Donoghue

Room is about a woman and child held captive in a room.  There is a similar story in my local area that recently had a book written.

Hope: A Memoir of Survival in ClevelandHope: A Memoir of Survival in Cleveland by Amanda Berry

“On May 6, 2013, Amanda Berry made headlines around the world when she fled a Cleveland home and called 911, saying: “Help me, I’m Amanda Berry. . . . I’ve been kidnapped, and I’ve been missing for ten years.”

A horrifying story rapidly unfolded. Ariel Castro, a local school bus driver, had separately lured Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight to his home, where he kept them chained. In the decade that followed, the three were raped, psychologically abused, and threatened with death. Berry had a daughter—Jocelyn—by their captor.”

There have to be happier books set in Cleveland. I found a list on Goodreads.

Little Fires EverywhereLittle Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng


“In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.
Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons.”

True confession time. I’ve never read anything by Celeste Ng. I know, I know. Maybe I should read this one. Guess who else I’ve never read anything by? Ursula Le Guin. I feel like I have to turn in my sci fi/ fantasy fan card with that confession.

A Wizard of Earthsea (Earthsea Cycle, #1)A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin


“Ged, the greatest sorcerer in all Earthsea, was called Sparrowhawk in his reckless youth.

Hungry for power and knowledge, Sparrowhawk tampered with long-held secrets and loosed a terrible shadow upon the world. This is the tale of his testing, how he mastered the mighty words of power, tamed an ancient dragon, and crossed death’s threshold to restore the balance.”

The name Ursula is always going to remind me of mermaids. There is way too much Little Mermaid in my past.

The Mermaid ChairThe Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd

“Telling the story of Jessie Sullivan — a love story between a woman and a monk, a woman and her husband, and ultimately a woman and her own soul — Kidd charts a journey of awakening and self-discovery illuminated with a brilliance that only a writer of her ability could conjure.”


I read The Mermaid Chair but I don’t remember it. I like her other books better. Another book I know I’ve read repeatedly but never remember the plot of is:

BeautyBeauty by Sheri S. Tepper


“Drawing on the wellspring of much-loved, well-remembered fairy tales, Tepper delivers a thought-provoking and finely crafted novel that thoroughly involves the reader in the life of one of the most captivating heroines in modern fantasy — Beauty. On her sixteenth birthday Beauty is seemingly able to sidestep her aunt’s curse. Instead she is transported to the future. Here begin her adventures as she travels magically back and forth in time to visit places both imaginary and real. Finally she comes to understand what has been her special gift to humanity all along.”

Even that description means nothing to me.  Time travel, you say?  Not ringing a bell but the blurbs for her books are never quite representative of the books.

I did recently read a time travel book that I remember though.

The Unintentional Time TravelerThe Unintentional Time Traveler by Everett Maroon

“Fifteen-year-old Jack Bishop has mad skills with cars and engines, but knows he’ll never get a driver’s license because of his epilepsy. Agreeing to participate in an experimental clinical trial to find new treatments for his disease, he finds himself in a completely different body—that of a girl his age, Jacqueline, who defies the expectations of her era.”

01 Apr, 2017

April 2017 Foodies Read

/ posted in: Reading

Welcome to April Foodies Read!

We had 18 posts linked up in March.  The winner of the giveaway for the month is Cam for her review of Banana.  That made me laugh because Banana is one of my favorite foodie nonfiction books ever.  I promise the Random Number Generator picks the winner!

Here are the books that she will be able to choose from.  Click the picture to go to the Goodreads summary.




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31 Mar, 2017

March 2017 Wrap Up

/ posted in: Reading

I read 18 books and short stories in March.


Two of my auto-buy audio series


Short stories and novellas

The books were:

  • Set in England, Canada, Taiwan, and Italy/Czech Republic
  • The U.S. books were set in Washington, California, Hawaii, and Tennessee
  • 4 had LGBTQ themes

There were 18 unique authors:

  • Two books were written by two people
  • I read one author 3 times
  • 7 were male and 11 were female
  • 7 were POC
  • 9 of the books were written by POC authors though – I read 3 books by a Latina author and then 2 books with 2 white authors each which makes my stats look all screwy

The Hate U Give is as amazing as everyone was predicting.  I read it myself in the first few days and now I’m reading it again with the husband.

Reading All Around the World challenge from Howling Frog Books

  • Read a nonfiction book about the country – or
  • Read fiction written by a native of the country or someone living for a long time in the country.

I didn’t add anything this month. I’m not counting the book about Taiwan because it was mostly in the U.S. I’m getting another Taiwanese book from the library so I’ll use that one instead.

I leveled up on the Read Diverse Books challenge. I went from the 10 posts badge to the 20 posts one. The next level (and last level) is 30.

I’m hosting a readalong for Small Gods by Terry Pratchett in April.  Posts will be in the Discworldathon Goodreads group.


30 Mar, 2017

The 228 Legacy

/ posted in: Reading The 228 Legacy The 228 Legacy by Jennifer J. Chow
Published by Martin Sisters Publishing on July 25th 2013
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 320
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Setting: Taiwan

Three generations in an all-female Taiwanese family living near Los Angeles in 1980 are each guarding personal secrets. Grandmother Silk finds out that she has breast cancer, as daughter Lisa loses her job, while pre-teen granddaughter Abbey struggles with a school bully. When Silk’s mysterious past comes out—revealing a shocking historical event that left her widowed—the truth forces the family to reconnect emotionally and battle their problems together. A novel of cultural identity and long-standing secrets, The 228 Legacy weaves together multigenerational viewpoints, showing how heritage and history can influence individual behavior and family bonds.

I didn’t know anything about Taiwanese history until I read this post from Shenwei about the 228 Massacre.  After World War II Japan ceded control of Taiwan to China.  The government that was put in place on the island was hated for corruption.  There were protests on February 28, 1947 that led to a violent crackdown from the government.  Thousands of people died.  It was not officially acknowledged or discussed until 1995.

Shenwei gave a list of books in her post that touch on the massacre.  I decided to read The 228 Legacy.

This book is about three generations of Taiwanese-American women living in LA in the 1980s.  The grandmother, Silk, came to the U.S. as a pregnant widow.  She has never talked much about her life in Taiwan other than trying to pass on the language.  Her daughter, Lisa, knows nothing about her father.  She is struggling with keeping dead end jobs while caring for her mother and daughter.  The granddaughter, Abbey, is trying to make friends with the popular people at school but this has disastrous consequences.

The heart of the story is Jack, a Chinese man who recently lost his wife.  He lived at the nursing home that Lisa worked at.  He recently ran away.  Lisa gets involved in his life but when Silk meets him she reacts violently to having a Chinese man in her house.  This is the beginning of finding out about Silk’s memories of the massacre.

I wish this book went deeper.  There are several good storylines here but I didn’t feel like it did more than scratch the surface of each.  There should have been more emotion in both Silk and Abbey’s stories.  Both are traumatic but they feel like they are recounted matter of factly.

I liked Lisa’s story the best because it showed her growth as she discovers a career that she actually enjoys.

I may look into some other books on Shenwei’s list to learn more about Taiwanese history than I learned from this book.

About Jennifer J. Chow

Jennifer J. Chow, an Asian-American writer, holds a Bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and a Master’s in Social Welfare from UCLA. Her geriatric work experience has informed her stories. She lives in Los Angeles, California.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in Asia
  • POC authors
28 Mar, 2017

Life’s That Way

/ posted in: EntertainmentReading Life’s That Way Life's That Way: A Memoir by Jim Beaver
on April 16, 2009
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Pages: 303
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: California

In August 2003, Jim Beaver, a character actor, and his wife Cecily learned what they thought was the worst news possible- their daughter Maddie was autistic. Then six weeks later the roof fell in-Cecily was diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer.

Jim immediately began writing a nightly e-mail as a way to keep more than one hundred family and friends up to date about Cecily's condition. Soon four thousand people a day, from all around the world, were receiving them. Initially a cathartic exercise for Jim, the prose turned into an unforgettable journey for his readers.

I came to this book in a roundabout way.  In Lauren Graham’s memoir she talks about a friend of hers writing a book.  I looked that book up on goodreads.  I scrolled down to the comments to see if anyone else liked it.  One of the first comments mentioned that he was also friends with the author.  I looked over at the icon and saw Jim Beaver’s picture.


My first thought was, “Bobby Fisher wrote a book?”  I know that he is not the character that he played on Supernatural but the idea was intriguing. I wanted to read it.

Towards the end of 2003, Beaver and his wife Cecily Adams’s 2 year old daughter Maddie had stopped talking and was having melt downs.  She was diagnosed as autistic.  They were also in the process of building their dream house.  They had moved out of their current house and into a rental until their house was finished.  His father was slowly slipping into advanced dementia.  Then Cecily was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.

A few days after the diagnosis, he sat down and wrote a group email to family and friends explaining what was going on with Cecily.  He started writing nightly updates to the group.  People started forwarding his emails to other people who didn’t even know him.  I didn’t understand why until I read the book.

The book is a sampling of the emails.  They don’t cover every day of the time he wrote from the day of her diagnosis until 1 year later.  The emails themselves haven’t been edited though.  This is a day by day account of what it is like to watch your spouse die of cancer and what grieving looks like in real time.

That may sound incredibly depressing to read but it isn’t.  It is sad but not depressing.  He notes the many kindnesses that their friends showed them.  He especially talks about the people involved with That 70s Show, where Cecily was working as a casting director.  They came over and decorated the house for Christmas for them.  One woman who Cecily just knew hated her cleaned their house for them.  He talks about what was helpful and what wasn’t.  This is a great book for anyone who ever wanted to help someone but didn’t know what to do.

He’s an amazing writer.  He was incredibly open about what he was feeling each day.  He talks about his fears – of losing his wife, of having to go away to jobs to earn money while his wife was sick, of dealing with a child who was already in crisis.  He talks of the joys along the way.  He talks about grief hitting you unaware just when you thought you were starting to function again.  He remembers his life with his wife –both the good and the bad.

This is a hopeful book about what you can endure if you have to even if you don’t want to.  It helps to have a great support structure of friends and family around you like he did.  I kept thinking that he must be a great guy to have friends like these.

About Jim Beaver

im Beaver is an actor, playwright, and film historian. Best known as Ellsworth on HBO’s Emmy-award winning series Deadwood and as Bobby Singer on Supernatural, he has also starred in such series as Harper’s Island, John from Cincinnati, and Thunder Alley and appeared in nearly forty motion pictures. He lives with his daughter Madeline in Los Angeles.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in North America
27 Mar, 2017

Hillbilly Elegy

/ posted in: Reading Hillbilly Elegy Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
Published by Harper on June 28th 2016
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Pages: 272
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: Ohio

Vance’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love.” They got married and moved north from Kentucky to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. Their grandchild (the author) graduated from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving upward mobility for their family. But Vance cautions that is only the short version.
At times funny, disturbing, and deeply moving, this is a family history that is also a troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large portion of this country.

Wow.  I read this book in one sitting.  I spent the whole time nodding my head.  I got out of bed to start writing this to make of the thoughts flying around my brain.  Before reading the book I had heard that it was controversial.  After reading it I have no idea why.

This is the story of most of the people I know.

I’ve often summed up my husband and I like this:

  • My husband is what happens when you educate a hillbilly.
  • I’m what happens when two educated hillbillies breed.

In my life I’ve lived in Western Pennsylvania, East Tennessee, Central Ohio, and Northeast Ohio.  I don’t wander far from Appalachia.  Most white people I know have roots somewhere deeper in Appalachia.  I had never considered that the reason for this was a migration north of people from coal mining country to the industrial centers farther north in the 40s and 50s even though that fits part of my family history.

“It was not simply that the Appalachian migrants, as rural strangers ‘out of place’ in the city, were upsetting to Midwestern, urban whites.  Rather, these migrants disrupted a broad set of assumptions held by northern whites about how white people appeared, spoke, and behaved…the disturbing aspect of hillbillies was their racialness.  Ostensibly, there were of the same racial order (whites) as those who dominated economic, political, and social power in local and national arenas.  But hillbillies shared many regional characteristics with the southern blacks arriving in Detroit.”


One of the author’s central points is that one of the major problems facing people in these areas is a lack of imagination.  I may be an overly educated person but all my coworkers are not.  Most are high school graduates who never imagined going on to do any college or ever leaving their hometowns.  If no one you know ever leaves, how can someone even imagine that it is an option?  There needs to be people to model what healthy relationships look like or what steps you take to go to college in order for someone to aspire to that.  The author talks a lot about the very small worldview people have.  I keep threatening to buy a world map and teach geography lessons to my coworkers between appointments at work because not only can they not identify some cities as belonging in certain states, they can’t identify certain names as belonging to real states.  They’ve never been there so why would they care?  They just shrug.

“It’s not like parents and teachers never mention hard work.  Nor do they walk around loudly proclaiming that they expect their children to turn out poorly.  These attitudes lurk below the surface, less in what people say than in how they act.  One of our neighbors was a lifetime welfare recipient, but in between asking my grandmother to borrow her car or offering to trade food stamps for cash at a premium, she’d blather on about the importance of industriousness.  ‘So many people abuse the system, it’s impossible for the hardworking people to get the help they need,’ she’d say.  This was the construct she’d built in her head:  Most of the beneficiaries of the system were extravagant moochers, but she–despite never having worked a day in her life–was an obvious exception.”


Oh yes.  I love that one.  I know people who have used every government program out there who expound at length about immigrants coming here and getting benefits that “hard working” Americans don’t get.  I also found the discussion in the book about how people overestimate how many hours they work because they think they are more industrious than they are fascinating.  If they are working so hard (in their minds) and aren’t getting ahead, obviously someone is out to get them.  I think this is a big part of the reason why I hate the terms ‘working class’ and ‘working man’.  It is like the rest of us magically make a living by waving our hands and the money rains down from on high.

The author’s story is rough. His mother was a drug addict with a never ending stream of boyfriends.  He found stability in his Memaw.  That wasn’t a given because she was an incredibly unstable person who didn’t model healthy living to her daughter.  She got herself together in her later years and was able to help her grandson.

I understood his story completely.  Everything that happens to him has happened to someone I know.  It hasn’t all happened to the same person but there was nothing in his story that I haven’t heard at least once from someone in casual conversation.  I kept pointing out parallels to my husband’s life to him.  There is a passage at the end where he talks about his non-hillbilly wife being shocked that he had several bank accounts spread out in different banks.  He attributes that to a childhood habit of spreading out his money in several hiding places so no one in his house could steal it all at once.  I just handed the book over to the husband at that point.  One of the ‘in case of death’ paperwork things I keep meaning to do is to get him to write down all the banks he has accounts in.  I’m not talking multiple accounts in a few local banks.  I’m talking about small accounts in multiple states that he can’t bring himself to close.

Some of the major criticisms of this book is the idea that the author hates poor people.  They accuse him of saying that he worked hard and got out so everyone should be able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and do it too.  I feel like this a lot too.  I look at people and think, “You have all the opportunities in the world available to you.  You have people who are begging to help you and you just don’t care.”  Maybe that isn’t the case in other poor communities but it is true here.  Kids graduate having never given a thought to what they want to do with their lives.  It isn’t because no one ever asked.  It is just pessimism and lethargy.  I don’t know how else to explain it.  They are smart and capable of doing more than scraping to survive in dead end jobs but it never seems to occur to them that there is more possible in life.

You see this dynamic in the author’s life.  He acknowledges that he had good schools with caring teachers who couldn’t help him learn because he was too preoccupied with the chaos of his home life.  His high school was poorly rated but he considered that to be at least partially due to a lack of student caring.  He talks about good teachers there too.  He talks about the programs that are available to help kids go to school but the pessimism of people may make them assume that there is no help available so they don’t look for them.  The insularity of the group means that no one talks about family problems (until they are over) so people aren’t getting help.  People are suspicious of outsiders so they don’t believe anything an outsider tells them.  Change and hope need to come from inside the community.   

It seems like a lot of people wanted this book to explain Trump voters to them.  It has been touted as the book to read to understand “those people.”  They are criticizing it for not explaining them.  It doesn’t try to.  This is his story.  It doesn’t have a political bent to it.  It was written before the current election.  People need to stop projecting what they want this book to be and see it for what it is.



Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America