Showing Posts From: Book Review

17 Nov, 2017

Hiddensee

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Hiddensee Hiddensee: A Tale of the Once and Future Nutcracker by Gregory Maguire, Tbd
on October 31st 2017
Genres: Fiction
Format: Hardcover
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Setting: Germany

In this imaginative novel rooted in the rich soil of early-nineteenth-century German Romanticism, beloved New York Times bestselling author Gregory Maguire twins an origin legend of the famous Nutcracker with the life of Drosselmeier, the toymaker who carves him.
Gregory Maguire’s novels have been called "bewitching," "remarkable," "extraordinary," "engrossing," "amazing," and "delicious." Having brought his legions of devoted readers to Oz in Wicked, Wonderland in After Alice and Dickensian London in Lost, Maguire now takes us to the Black Forest of Bavaria and Munich of the Brothers Grimm and E. T. A. Hoffman. Hiddensee recreates the backstory of the Nutcracker, reimaging how this entrancing creature came to be carved and how it magically guided an ailing little girl named Klara through a dreamy paradise on a snowy Christmas Eve. It also brings to life the mysterious godfather Drosselmeier—the ominous, canny, one-eyed toymaker made immortal by Petipa and Tchaikovsky’s ballet—who presents the once and future Nutcracker to Klara, his goddaughter.
But Hiddensee is not just a retelling of a classic story. Maguire discovers in the flowering of German Romanticism a migrating strain of a Hellenic mystery-cult, and ponders a profound question: how a person who is abused by life, short-changed and challenged, can access secrets that benefit the disadvantaged and powerless. Ultimately, Hiddensee, offers a message of hope. If the compromised Godfather Drosselmeier can bring an enchanted Nutcracker to a young girl in distress, perhaps everyone, however lonely or marginalized on the eve of a winter holiday, has something precious to share.

Goodreads

I came at this book with no idea of the story of The Nutcracker.  I’ve never seen it.  I know there are mice and some soldiers.  That’s all I know.  I didn’t even know that there was a grandfather who made a nutcracker. 

If you aren’t like me (several hundred years out of date with your pop culture), you may see more allusions to the story you know.  For me this was just a series of vignettes in the life of a boy named Dirk.  He was a foundling who seems to move randomly in and out of different people’s lives in Germany.  My favorite part was the subtle, dry humor that is slid into the narrative.

For me this book didn’t stand up to the love that I have for Wicked.  I keep waiting for a book from this author to reach those heights for me.  Hoping for this level of love did decrease my enjoyment of this book somewhat.  It is harder to let this book try to stand on its own without the expectations placed on it. 

This would be a good book for fans of The Nutcracker who want to delve more deeply into the world.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in Europe
15 Nov, 2017

A Country Between

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading A Country Between A Country Between: Making a Home Where Both Sides of Jerusalem Collide by Stephanie Saldana
on February 7, 2017
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Format: eBook
Source: Library
Setting: Israel

When American writer Stephanie Saldana finds herself in an empty house at the beginning of Nablus Road, the dividing line between East and West Jerusalem, she is a new wife trying to navigate a fragile terrain, both within her marriage and throughout the country in which she has chosen to live.
Pregnant with her first child, Stephanie struggles to protect her family, their faith, and herself from the cracks of Middle Eastern conflict that threaten to shatter the world around her. But as her due date approaches, she must reconcile herself with her choice to bring a child into a dangerous world. Determined to piece together life from the brokenness, she sets out to uncover small instances of beauty to balance the delicate coexistence between love, motherhood, and a country so often at war.
In an urban valley in Jerusalem, A Country Between captures the fragile ecosystem of the Middle East and the difficult first years of motherhood in the midst of a conflict-torn city. What unfolds is a celebration of faith, language, family, and love that fills the space between what was shattered, leaving us whole once more.

Goodreads

This memoir is the story of an American woman who was considering becoming a nun in a Syrian monastery.  She met a French novice monk there.  Eventually, they left and married. 

Through a series of unplanned events, they found themselves setting up their first household in Jerusalem.  It was near the dividing line between Palestinian and Jewish areas near the Damascus Gate.

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“The sun rose in the east speaking Arabic and set in the west speaking Hebrew, and we tried to find our way in between.”

 

This is the story of trying to make a marriage while dealing with your husband’s deep grief about leaving the monastery.  It is worrying about what might happen every time you leave the house.

“…a great many of the dramas that happen in the Middle East begin with the simple intention of leaving the house to buy vegetables.”

 

This is a very lyrical memoir of their lives in this house.  I think that it started too slowly.  There was too much information about her childhood.  It slowed down the pace of the book.  Now I know that there was a first memoir about meeting her husband and the decision to leave the monastery.  This was also covered here for those of us who didn’t read the first book.

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There is some discussion of the larger political issues that affected their day to day lives but mostly she discusses the affect of policy on her street.  She discusses roadblocks and violence.  She talks about taking her kids to play in touristy areas.  Her neighborhood is a microcosm of all the religions that call Jerusalem home.

It can also be funny.

 

“When the Franciscans came into view in their brown cassocks, Joseph’s face became overcome with wonder. He ran to them and quietly bowed his head. Then he whispered, in solemn greeting, “Heigh-ho. Heigh-ho.””

 

Ultimately I would have liked more politics to understand what was happening but that isn’t the point of this book.  Read this one if you like beautifully written slice of life stories.

“If I can ask you to remember only one thing, then let it be this: keep watch. You have not been born into an easy world. But every now and then, in the midst of our daily lives, a miracle strikes.”

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in the Middle East
14 Nov, 2017

Beyond the Messy Truth

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Beyond the Messy Truth Beyond the Messy Truth: How We Came Apart, How We Come Together by Van Jones
on October 10th 2017
Length: 7:16
Genres: Nonfiction, Political Science
Published by Books on Tape
Format: Audiobook
Source: Playster

Van Jones burst into the American consciousness during the 2016 presidential campaign with an unscripted, truth-telling style and an already established history of bridge-building across party lines. His election night commentary became a viral sensation. A longtime progressive activist with deep roots in the conservative South, Jones has made it his mission to challenge voters and viewers to stand in one another's shoes and disagree constructively.
Now, in Beyond the Messy Truth, Jones offers a blueprint for transforming our collective anxiety into meaningful change. Tough on Donald Trump but showing respect and empathy for his supporters, Jones takes aim at the failures of both parties before and after Trump's victory. He urges both sides to abandon the politics of accusation and focus on real solutions. Calling us to a deeper patriotism, he shows us how to get down to the vital business of solving, together, some of our toughest problems.
"The entire national conversation today can be reduced to a simple statement--'I'm right, and you're wrong, '" Jones has said. But the truth is messier; both sides have flaws. Both parties have strayed from their highest principles and let down their core constituencies. Rejecting today's political tribalism, Jones issues a stirring call for a new "bipartisanship from below." Recognizing that tough challenges require the best wisdom from both liberals and conservatives, he points us toward practical answers to problems that affect us all regardless of region or ideology: rural and inner-city poverty, unemployment, addiction, unfair incarceration, and the devastating effects of the pollution-based economy on both coal country and our urban centers.
In explaining how he arrived at his views, Jones shares behind-the-scenes memories from his decades spent marching and protesting on behalf of working people, inspiring stories of ordinary citizens who became champions of their communities, and little-known examples of cooperation that have risen from the fog of partisan conflict. In his quest for positive solutions, Van Jones encourages us to set fire to our old ways of thinking about politics and come together where the pain is greatest.

Goodreads

I could identify with Van Jones.  He is a liberal who grew up in a conservative area.  He can understand where people on both sides of the political divide are coming from.  He tries to offer insights to both sides in this book.

He points out that many people in this situation end up moving away from rural conservative areas which makes the isolation from people with differing viewpoints get worse and worse.  He talks about the problems of trying to go home and convert your friends and relatives to your point of view.

He also gives real life examples of how he has worked with bipartisan groups on issues like green energy and prison reform.  He specifically talks about working with Newt Gingrich.  He was a fan of how he built a huge conservative movement (but not of his politics).  He had read all of his books when he found himself working with him on CNN.  They have some interesting joint projects. 

I thought that the chapter on Prince was amazing.  Prince attempted to donate to one of his projects anonymously.  He refused the money because he didn’t take donations that he couldn’t trace.  Eventually Prince introduced himself and they started working together.  He uses examples from Prince’s philanthropy to show how people can be creative and make a difference in the world.  As he says, Prince’s thinking wasn’t “red or blue.  He was Purple.” 

It is rare to have a book that discusses all these serious issues be ultimately hopeful but this one manages. 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • POC authors
10 Nov, 2017

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope by William Kamkwamba, Bryan Mealer
on September 29, 2009
Pages: 292
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by HarperCollins
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: Malawi

William Kamkwamba was born in Malawi, Africa, a country plagued by AIDS and poverty. Like most people in his village, his family subsisted on the meager crops they could grow, living without the luxuries—consider necessities in the West—of electricity or running water. Already living on the edge, the situation became dire when, in 2002, Malawi experienced the worst famine in 50 years. Struggling to survive, 14-year-old William was forced to drop out of school because his family could not afford the $80-a-year tuition.Though he was not in a classroom, William continued to think, learn—and dream. Armed with curiosity, determination, and a library book he discovered in a nearby library, he embarked on a daring plan—to build a windmill that could bring his family the electricity only two percent of Malawians could afford. Using scrap metal, tractor parts, and blue-gum trees, William forged a crude yet working windmill, an unlikely hand-built contraption that would successfully power four light bulbs and two radios in his family’s compound. Soon, news of his invention spread, attracting interest and offers of help from around the world. Not only did William return to school but he and was offered the opportunity to visit wind farms in the United States, much like the ones he hopes to build across Africa.

Goodreads

This story started slow for me.  I’m not a fan of detailed description of childhood in memoirs unless you were doing something very interesting as a child.  Most people aren’t.

The main point of this story started with a drought and subsequent famine that hit Malawi in the early 2000s.  It was devastating.  The author’s family was no longer able to afford his school fees so he had to drop out.  He wanted to continue his education so he went to a library and started to read the books there.  He applied what he learned in a basic physics book to build a windmill from spare parts.  This allowed his family to have lights in their house for the first time.  He went on to build other windmills to pump water for irrigation and personal use, freeing up hours a day that were otherwise spent going to and from wells. He even made cell phone charging stations.

The dynamo had given me a small taste of electricity, and that made me want to figure out how to create my own. Only 2 percent of Malawians have electricity, and this is a huge problem. Having no electricity meant no lights, which meant I could never do anything at night, such as study or finish my radio repairs, much less see the roaches, mice, and spiders that crawled the walls and floors in the dark. Once the sun goes down, and if there’s no moon, everyone stops what they’re doing, brushes their teeth, and just goes to sleep. Not at 10:00 P.M., or even nine o’clock—but seven in the evening! Who goes to bed at seven in the evening? Well, I can tell you, most of Africa.

 

This part of the story was interesting.  He was dedicated to the idea of building his windmill but scavenging the parts took a long time.  It showed a lot of ingenuity.

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One strange section was about witchcraft.  He reports it as fact.

The previous famine had led to reports in the southern region that the government was banding with packs of vampires to steal people’s blood, then selling it to international aid groups.

 

Following the strange beast of Dowa, many people across Malawi reported having their private parts stolen in the night, many of them waking up in the morning with their sheets bloody. Men who’d been drinking in bars were the easiest targets. As they stumbled home in the darkness, an evil creature—perhaps a gang of witch children—would pull them behind a tree and remove their parts with a knife. It was later revealed that most of the victims had been virgins, and their parts had been sold to witches, Satan worshippers, and business tycoons.

 

This often happens while we sleep—the witch children can take our heads and return them before morning, all without us knowing. It’s a serious problem.

 

He was accused of witchcraft for making electricity from the wind.  A bad storm came and the windmill was spinning rapidly.  People accused him of causing storms. 

This book was published in 2009. Since then William has graduated from college. He has an NGO to support community based projects around his hometown. On his webpage you can even donate to the library where he found his physics book.

This is a great story of innovation and survival.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in Africa
  • POC authors
08 Nov, 2017

Made for Me

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Made for Me Made for Me by Kathryn R. Biel
on October 4th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Love & Romance
Published by Kathryn R. Biel
Format: eBook
Source: Owned

Michele's lack of focus in life hasn't bothered her, until the day she finds herself with mounting credit card debt, unable to afford her rent, and without a job. While her meddling family questions how she can end up in this predicament, at the age of 29, and single to boot, Michele doesn't want to admit the truth. All she wants to do is sew.
Faced with the prospect of moving back into her parents' house, Michele throws a Hail Mary pass and applies for a TV design contest, Made for Me. In order to win the contest, Michele will have to compete with nine other contestants to design the new wardrobe for Duchess Maryn Medrovovich, who's about to marry Prince Stephan of the United Republic of Montabago.
While in the seclusion of the show, Michele starts to realize where her focus in life should be, and what's truly important to her. However, a dashing competitor might just cause her to lose her focus once and for all. Can Michele keep her eye on the prize while being true to herself?

Goodreads

I’ve mostly been reviewing very serious books lately so I decided to throw in some lighter fare to prove that I haven’t lost my love of pink books.

Made for Me starts this series of related books.  Each one features a secondary character from the previous books. 

This book was pure fun.  It is set on a Project Runway knock-off reality show called Made for Me.  (The contestants aren’t allowed to mention Project Runway by name.)  Every challenge is to make a look for a commoner who is about to marry into the royal family of an European country.  The winner will win a job as her designer for a year.

The fun of this book is mixing in the competition aspect of the reality show with the chick lit standards of finding yourself and maybe finding love. 

What I didn’t like was the attitude that the main character had about a bisexual contestant.  She voiced a lot of stereotypical thoughts about him.  She assumed that he would be unfaithful in an monogamous relationship purely because he was bisexual.  That’s a stereotype that I thought we were all moving past but it still lives here.  It is challenged lightly. 

Besides that, this one was cute and fun.  I’d recommend it.


Made for Me New Attitude by Kathryn R. Biel
on March 14th 2017
Published by Kathryn R. Biel

As if it's not bad enough that I didn't win the reality design TV show I was on, try coming home to a one word note indicating that my ten-year marriage is over. So here I am, a suddenly single mother in my mid-thirties, doing what everyone advises me to do—have a fling. Except it doesn't go as planned, so I do the next best thing, which is sit on the couch and mope. But having to provide for a five-year-old doesn't let me stay home for too long. Before I know it, I'm back to dying my hair wild colors and trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life.
Except Tony, the fling that wasn't, keeps popping up in the most unlikely places and won't leave me alone. I'd like to be strong—I'm way too old for him—but he's cute and funny and sexy and oh, my ex is getting married to a girl named Bambi. All I know is the way I'm doing things isn't working. If I want to be happy again, I'm going to need to get a new attitude.

Goodreads


This book follows another contestant from Made for Me when she goes home after the show.  Her husband has left her and she needs to decide what to do with her life.

Starting out I liked this book more than the first one.  Kira is older and has a child.  She has to get herself together and act like a grown up.  I appreciate that in a book. 

I wasn’t thrilled about the end of this book.  It took the plot to a place I’m not fond of.  The book also seemed to treat the main character of Made for Me as more flightly and unprofessional than she was made out to be in the first book.


Made for Me Once in a Lifetime by Kathryn R. Biel

Ten years ago, the Sassy Cats were at the top of the charts until Callie Smalls walked away to pursue her career in fashion and television. The other four members—Angie, Tabitha, Mandy, and Daphne—were left to fend for themselves and continue on with their lives.That is, until the day when Callie decides to book a gig for the group at a major music festival, without talking to her former band mates. Scattered across the country, at different points in life, can they rekindle the magic in the music?A soccer mom who's husband doesn't know about her past. A fading star, sacrificing all to stay in the spotlight just one second more. A party girl, challenged with her most important role yet. A tiger mom, fighting for her son. A desperate woman, unhappy and alone. A lot can change in the course of a decade. Will it be harmony or hatred for the Sassy Cats?

Goodreads


This book looks at the life of the host from the Made for Me TV show.  This was a more difficult book for me to get into because of the completely unlikeable main character.  

I also wasn’t a fan of some of the romance here.  It seemed very forced.  The relationship was argumentative and somehow that was supposed to clue us all in that they loved each other.  Not a story line that I’m very fond of. 

The relationship that I did like was the mother of the autistic child.  She had to let go of her attempts to control the situation and accept help from her husband.  That felt very realistic to me. 

Overall, I’d say read Made for Me and maybe skip the other two.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
06 Nov, 2017

Psychobiotic

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Psychobiotic The Psychobiotic Revolution: Mood, Food, and the New Science of the Gut-Brain Connection by Scott C. Anderson, John F. Cryan, Ted Dinan
on November 7, 2017
Genres: Medical, Nonfiction
Format: ARC
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher

Written by the leading researchers in the field, this information-rich guide to improving your mood explains how gut health drives psychological well-being, and how depression and anxiety can be relieved by adjusting your intestinal bacteria.

This groundbreaking book explains the revolutionary new science of psychobiotics and the discovery that your brain health and state of mind are intimately connected to your microbiome, that four-pound population of microbes living inside your intestines. Leading medical researchers John F. Cryan and Ted Dinan, working with veteran journalist Scott C. Anderson, explain how common mental health problems, particularly depression and anxiety, can be improved by caring for the intestinal microbiome. Science is proving that a healthy gut means a healthy mind—and this book details the steps you can take to change your mood and improve your life by nurturing your microbiome.

Goodreads

Purchase Links

National Geographic | Amazon | Barnes & Noble


I love the discoveries that are being made about the role of the gut and the gut microbiome in all aspects of health.  I’ve been applying them in my practice with good success in GI disease.  That’s why I was excited to read this book about the connections between the flora in the GI tract and human brain health.

This book is written for a lay person.  It does a very good job of explaining some difficult concepts in a way that will be easily understood by people who don’t have any biology background without dumbing the subject matter down so much that people with more knowledge would cringe as they read it.  That’s a fine line to walk.

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The main point of the research is that bacteria in the GI tract break down the food that we eat. They are also responsible for some defense against bad bacteria. They secrete substances that help stabilize our moods.

It is our job to make sure that we don’t harm the good bacteria (probiotics) that we have. In addition we need to give them the right types of food (prebiotics) to make sure that they thrive. There are suggestions in this book for all do help do all of these things.

My only criticism is that in their enthusiasm to tie together gut health and brain health, the authors made it seem like the whole key to everything is the microbiome. That leaves out the very real multifactoral issues that go into mental health problems. A proper and healthy microbiome can definitely help but it shouldn’t be thought to fix everything on its own.

I hope more people start to understand the correlation between probiotics and overall health – not just in GI disease. People seem to be getting more open to the idea. The only real pushback I’ve ever had when dispensing probiotics was actually from a human physician who told me that there was no evidence in humans that probiotics did anything beneficial. He allowed that maybe it was different in animals. I hope he reads a book like this someday and opens his mind to the possibilities.

 

Tour Stops

Wednesday, November 1st: Sapphire Ng

Thursday, November 2nd: Peppermint PhD

Monday, November 6th: Based on a True Story

Thursday, November 9th: Jathan & Heather

Monday, November 13th: Instagram: @caitlyn_block

Tuesday, November 14th: Literary Quicksand

Thursday, November 16th: Patricia’s Wisdom

Friday, November 17th: Instagram: @leahbhealthy

Monday, November 20th: Instagram: @wellnesswithedie

Tuesday, November 21st: Dreams, Etc.

TBD: Instagram: @danidoeshealth

IG Story: Instagram: @sierranielsen

28 Oct, 2017

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Dear Martin by Nic Stone Dear Martin by Nic Stone
on October 17th 2017
Pages: 224
Narrator: Dion Graham
Length: 4:32
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Listening Library
Format: Audiobook
Source: Playster
Setting: Georgia

Justyce McAllister is top of his class and set for the Ivy League—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. And despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can't escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates.
Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. But do they hold up anymore? He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out.

Goodreads

I managed to avoid finding out exactly what this book was about before listening to it.  I didn’t even read the full blurb.  (I deleted the part I didn’t read in the synopsis above.)  Not knowing what was going to happen let the emotional impact of the book hit me full force. 

This is an amazing and necessary book.  If any of you are thinking, “I read The Hate U Give, I don’t need to read this one,” get that out of your brain.  While the subject matter is similar, these books are very, very different.  Dear Martin depicts an attempt by an African-American teenager to move past an emotionally traumatizing incident with a police officer.  He finds that that is harder than he expects though as his eyes are opened to what is going on around him. 

I appreciated the way he struggles with different approaches to living in a racist society through his interactions with several adult African-American men in his life.  Each discusses his struggles and his way of surviving, allowing Justyce to try to choose the best options for him. 

The narration in this book was very well done by Dion Graham.  It is a short audiobook at just four and a half hours.  This is one that I will relisten to with my husband in the future. 

I don’t want to say much more about the book.  If you don’t already know the whole plot, I’d recommend just starting this story without finding out much more.  This is a hard-hitting book that will move you.  It is a must read for everyone.

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Books Set in North America
  • POC authors
26 Oct, 2017

A Spoilerific Review of Origin by Dan Brown

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading A Spoilerific Review of Origin by Dan Brown Origin by Dan Brown
on October 3rd 2017
Pages: 461
Genres: Fiction
Published by Doubleday Books
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Setting: Spain

Robert Langdon, Harvard professor of symbology and religious iconology, arrives at the ultramodern Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao to attend a major announcement—the unveiling of a discovery that “will change the face of science forever.” The evening’s host is Edmond Kirsch, a forty-year-old billionaire and futurist whose dazzling high-tech inventions and audacious predictions have made him a renowned global figure. Kirsch, who was one of Langdon’s first students at Harvard two decades earlier, is about to reveal an astonishing breakthrough . . . one that will answer two of the fundamental questions of human existence.

Goodreads

I swear Dan Brown is my soul mate.  I want the worlds that he describes in his books.  That may be concerning to other people.  The last few books have been dark and I love it that way.

I actually find his books to be frustrating to read the first time.  I just want to know what the point is.  I don’t have time for people beating around the bush.  Hint – If you are talking to Robert Langdon just tell him what you have to say.  If you hint and hem and haw and say that you’ll tell him the important point at a later time, you aren’t making it through the book.

If you haven’t read the book yet, I’ll just say that I appreciated the way this book played with the formulas of his previous books.  If you have read it, I have a lot more to say but first we have to give all the spoiler warnings.

Ok, we’re going to be talking about EXACTLY what happens in the book so turn back now if you don’t want to know.

You’ve been warned…….

…….Still here?  Ok. 

First of all, let’s talk about how he upended the expectations that he built in the previous books.

  • The art doesn’t mean anything except for Winston’s self portrait. 
  • The church isn’t involved at all at the end. 

Seriously, I loved that.  What seemed formulaic all through the book – “Here’s another bad priest manipulating a devout follower to kill people” – was all a red herring. 

  • He’s on the run with a beautiful younger woman AND IT ISN’T ROMANTIC AT ALL.  Thank you, thank you, thank you!  I am over the idea of young women falling over themselves for the hero of every book.

I do have a question about Ambra’s story though.  Her big secret is that she is infertile.  Is this a nod to Inferno (in which case it shouldn’t be a surprise at all) or are we living in a universe where the events of Inferno didn’t happen?  I loved the ending of Inferno.  I actually stood up and cheered.  I’m not talking about the ending of the movie version of Inferno which was an absolute abomination.  I’m talking about a plague released on the whole world ending of the book.  My love of the idea of (SPOILER) that a plague could be released that makes 1/3 of the world infertile leads into my appreciation for the ideas in this book.  I’m not a fan of the idea of unlimited human growth nor of the idea that humans have to be the dominant species on Earth.  Evolve away!

So, what do we think about the idea of life evolving as a way to control energy?  I think it is a cool (no pun intended) idea but I don’t know how viable of an idea it is.  As an agnostic/atheist person it doesn’t bother me theologically. 

I am a fan of the idea of humans melding with artificial intelligence.  Of course, the whole time I was thinking, “And then some fool drops an EMP…” because obviously, I’m a cynic.  I would love to live in a utopia of high technology that saves the planet.  I’m afraid to see I don’t see it happening though.

Winston 

I loved him.  I don’t even care if you are a murderous rampaging machine.  Ok, I sort of care.  I don’t mind that he killed his creator.  That was probably kind seeing what kind of death he was facing.  I’m a veterinarian.  Euthanasia is a huge part of my life.  I’m not happy about him killing the iman and the rabbi.  That was unnecessary.  Bad Winston!  Somebody is going to have to come up with some laws to control AI that work a bit better than the ones in I, Robot.  Maybe add in “humans are free to make their own decisions.”  Of course, letting humans make decisions leads to a whole bunch of really bad decisions like Donald Trump.  Somebody else needs to take a crack at making laws that don’t get us all locked up. 

So what did you think?  Do you want this world or not?

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in Europe
25 Oct, 2017

The Crows of Beara

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Crows of Beara The Crows of Beara by Julie Christine Johnson
on September 1st 2017
Genres: Fiction
Published by Ashland Creek Press
Format: Paperback
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Setting: Ireland

When Annie Crowe travels from Seattle to a small Irish village to promote a new copper mine, her public relations career is hanging in the balance. Struggling to overcome her troubled past and a failing marriage, Annie is eager for a chance to rebuild her life.
Yet when she arrives on the remote Beara Peninsula, Annie learns that the mine would encroach on the nesting ground of an endangered bird, the Red-billed Chough, and many in the community are fiercely protective of this wild place. Among them is Daniel Savage, a local artist battling demons of his own, who has been recruited to help block the mine.
Despite their differences, Annie and Daniel find themselves drawn toward each other, and, inexplicably, they begin to hear the same voice--a strange, distant whisper of Gaelic, like sorrow blowing in the wind.
Guided by ancient mythology and challenged by modern problems, Annie must confront the half-truths she has been sent to spread and the lies she has been telling herself. Most of all, she must open her heart to the healing power of this rugged land and its people.
Beautifully crafted with environmental themes, a lyrical Irish setting, and a touch of magical realism, The Crows of Beara is a breathtaking novel of how the nature of place encompasses everything that we are.

Goodreads

I was excited to try The Crows of Beara from the description of magical realism and environmental activism but I wasn’t immediately grabbed by the story.  I put it aside for a while.  Honestly, I probably would have DNFed it if it wasn’t for the fact that this is a book tour book for me and I had to read it.  I knuckled down to read it and found myself drawn into the world.  I finished it in two sittings.  I’m glad that I didn’t pass on this one based on a snap judgement on a day when I wasn’t in the right frame of mind for it.

This is a quiet character-based story.  Daniel and Annie are both recovering alcoholics.  Daniel has been sober for nine years but Annie is just recently out of rehab.  Both are still dealing with the serious repercussions of the issues that drinking caused in their lives.

I appreciated the fact that the author showed them both still struggling.  You see this from Annie’s point of view most.  She is working hard to find AA meetings to attend while in Ireland.  She is trying to avoid pub culture and alcohol during business meetings even though she really wants to drink.

The story of the mine versus the community takes a backseat to the story of two people trying to rebuild their lives after they ruined them while drinking.  The story summons the quiet of a rural, mystical part of Ireland.  The author does a wonderful job of evoking mist-covered cliffs and coastlines.  Read this one on a rainy day while snuggled in a blanket with a mugful of hot chocolate.

About Julie Christine Johnson

Julie Christine Johnson’s short stories and essays have appeared in journals including Emerge Literary Journal; Mud Season Review; Cirque: A Literary Journal of the North Pacific Rim; Cobalt; and River Poets Journal. Her work has also appeared in the print anthologies Stories for Sendai; Up, Do: Flash Fiction by Women Writers; and Three Minus One: Stories of Love and Loss. She holds undergraduate degrees in French and psychology and a master’s in international affairs. Julie leads writing workshops and seminars and offers story/developmental editing and writer coaching services.

Named a standout debut by Library Journal, very highly recommended by Historical Novels Review, and delicate and haunting, romantic and mystical by bestselling author Greer Macallister, Julie’s debut novel In Another Life (Sourcebooks) went into a second printing three days after its February 2016 release. A hiker, yogi, and swimmer, Julie makes her home in northwest Washington state.

Find out more about Julie at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter. You can also follow her on Instagram and Pinterest.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in Europe
24 Oct, 2017

Little Soldiers

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Little Soldiers Little Soldiers: An American Boy, a Chinese School, and the Global Race to Achieve by Lenora Chu
on September 19th 2017
Pages: 368
Length: 11:30
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Harper
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible
Setting: China

When American mom Lenora Chu moved to China with her little boy, she faced a tough decision. China produced some of the world’s top academic achievers, and just down the street from her home in Shanghai was THE school, as far as elite Chinese were concerned. Should Lenora entrust her rambunctious young son to the system?
So began Rainey’s immersion in one of the most radical school systems on the planet. Almost immediately, the three-year-old began to develop surprising powers of concentration, became proficient in early math, and learned to obey his teachers’ every command. Yet Lenora also noticed disturbing new behaviors: Where he used to scribble and explore, Rainey grew obsessed with staying inside the lines. He became fearful of authority figures, and also developed a habit of obeisance outside of school. “If you want me to do it, I’ll do it,” he told a stranger who’d asked whether he liked to sing.
What was happening behind closed classroom doors? Driven by parental anxiety, Lenora embarked on a journalistic mission to discover: What price do the Chinese pay to produce their “smart” kids? How hard should the rest of us work to stay ahead of the global curve? And, ultimately, is China’s school system one the West should emulate?
She pulls the curtain back on a military-like education system, in which even the youngest kids submit to high-stakes tests, and parents are crippled by the pressure to compete (and sometimes to pay bribes). Yet, as mother-and-son reach new milestones, Lenora uncovers surprising nuggets of wisdom, such as the upside of student shame, how competition can motivate achievement, and why a cultural belief in hard work over innate talent gives the Chinese an advantage.
Lively and intimate, beautifully written and reported, Little Soldiers challenges our assumptions and asks us to reconsider the true value and purpose of education.

Goodreads

The author is the first generation American daughter of Chinese immigrants.  She had a hard time reconciling her parents’ attitude toward education with her American school experiences.  Now she and her American husband moved to Shanghai just in time for their oldest child to join the Chinese school system at age 3.  Should he go to the state school or should they send him to an international school?

The book follows the first few years of Rainey’s Chinese education.  It both affirms and challenges what the author thought she knew about Chinese education.  From the first days when the children are continually threatened by the teachers with arrest or not being allowed to see their parents again if they don’t sit still to the teenage years and the national obsession with the college entrance test, she examines the effect of authoritarian teaching.  The results surprised her.

I come from a family of teachers.  What I learned from this book is that being a teacher in China is way better than being a teacher in the U.S.

  • Teachers are to be highly respected.  The proper response to a request by a teacher to a parent is, “Yes, teacher.  You work so hard, teacher.”
  • Bribery and gift gifting to teachers are both expected and illegal.  These aren’t little gifts either.  Vacations, gift cards with a month’s salary on it, and luxury goods are considered appropriate.

She talks about the other downsides of Chinese teaching, besides the threats.

  • Force feeding children
  • Public shaming
  • No help for special needs kids
  • Crushing amounts of homework and additional classes with tutors that start as young as age 3
  • Indoctrination in Chinese nationalism and communism
  • Rote rule following and stifling of creatively

On the plus side, there is:

  • Well behaved children who respect their elders
  • Fluency in written and spoken Mandarin and English before high school age
  • Advanced math skills

She talks to migrant parents who have left children at home in the rural areas of China in order to be able to afford their education.  She talks to teenagers who are preparing for the college entrance exams and have differing takes on how to get ahead. 

Ultimately she decides to leave Rainey in Chinese school up until 6th grade if he is still doing well.  He will learn Mandarin almost fully by then and be strong in math.  He will escape the pressures of the high school and college entrance exams that can crush students.  They will continue to preach thinking for himself at home.

I did enjoy this look at education across China.  I’d recommend it for anyone interested in educational theory.  The narration was very well done in both Chinese and English. 

 

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Books Set in Asia
  • POC authors
18 Oct, 2017

Disrobed

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Disrobed Disrobed: How Clothing Predicts Economic Cycles, Saves Lives, and Determines the Future by Syl Tang
on October 16th 2017
Genres: Nonfiction
Published by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Format: Hardcover
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher

We may not often think of our clothes as having a function beyond covering our naked bodies and keeping us a little safer from the elements. But to discount the enormous influence of clothing on anything from economic cycles to the future of water scarcity is to ignore the greater meaning of the garments we put on our backs. Disrobed vividly considers the role that clothing plays in everything from natural disasters to climate change to terrorism to geopolitics to agribusiness. Chapter by chapter, Tang takes the reader on an unusual journey, telling stories and asking questions that most consumers have never considered about their clothing. Why do banker's wives sell off their clothes and how does that presage a recession? How is clothing linked to ethanol and starvation on the African continent? Could RFID in clothing save the lives of millions of people in earthquakes around the world?
This book takes an everyday item and considers it in a way that readers may not have previously thought possible. It tackles topics relevant to today, everything from fakes in the museums to farm-to-table eating, and answers questions about how we can anticipate and change our world in areas as far-reaching as the environment, politics, and the clash of civilizations occurring between countries. Much like other pop economics books have done before, the stories are easily retold in water-cooler style, allowing them to be thoughtfully considered, argued, and discussed.

Goodreads

 


 
 This is a pop-economics book examining the impact of clothing on various aspects of life now and in the future.  The author is a futurist who uses clothing to help predict future trends.
 
How does that work?  For example, the rate of rich women reselling designer clothing goes up as they start to have financial concerns.  This shows up before some other indicators of impending recessions.  Likewise, the number of bankers wearing their “lucky clothing” increases with financial instability.
 
I thought this book was strongest in its first few chapters.  These discuss superstitious clothing trends, how museums fall for buying fakes, and predictors of recession.  In the later chapters on environmental impacts of clothing I felt that the ideas needed more development.  Yes, there are major problems with disposable clothing and its impact on water and agriculture.  But this book just seemed to rush to skim over the surface of many ideas instead of taking the time to develop a few ideas fully.  The ideas are intriguing but the discussion felt half-hearted and left me wanting more details and nuance.
 
This book would be best for people who have never considered these issues before.  It can serve as an introduction to the topics surrounding clothing and the economy and environment.  It may spur deeper research into the subject and a search for books that dive deeper into the cause and effect of the topics presented here.

About Syl Tang

Syl Tang is CEO and founder of the 19-year old HipGuide Inc. A futurist, her focus is how and why we consume, with an eye towards world events such as natural disasters, geo-political clashes, and pandemics. She has written hundreds of articles on the confluence of world events and soft goods for the Financial Times, predicting and documenting trends such as the Apple watch and other smart wearables, lab-made diamonds, the Department of Defense’s funding of Afghan jewelry companies, the effects of global warming on South Sea pearls, and the unsolved murder of tanzanite speculator Campbell Bridges.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
  • POC authors
13 Oct, 2017

The Third Plate

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Third Plate The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food by Dan Barber
on May 20th 2014
Pages: 496
Genres: Nonfiction
Published by Penguin Press
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

Barber explores the evolution of American food from the 'first plate,' or industrially-produced, meat-heavy dishes, to the 'second plate' of grass-fed meat and organic greens, and says that both of these approaches are ultimately neither sustainable nor healthy. Instead, Barber proposes Americans should move to the 'third plate,' a cuisine rooted in seasonal productivity, natural livestock rhythms, whole-grains, and small portions of free-range meat

Goodreads

This is the kind of book that I absolutely love.  It is a detailed look at ways of growing food with environmental sustainability in mind.  It gave me warm fuzzies every time I picked it up.

The author runs a restaurant on a farm in New York.  You would think that would be great for the environment but he starts to realize that they plant want he wants to use instead of him using what it is best for the farm to grow.  For example, there are cover crops that are ground to help fix nitrogen or add other nutrients to the soil that are just plowed under because they don’t have a commercial use.  Why shouldn’t he try to use those crops because it is part of what his farm needs to grow to survive instead of forcing the farm to grow the few things that he wants?

He visits a community of organic farmers in a small town in New York.  They are doing extensive work on their soils by using crop rotation.  They grew from one family doing this work who spread the word around the town.  I loved this part.  There is something about reading about building healthy soil that thrills me every time.  I accept that I might be weird.

Then he visits the area of Spain famous for jamon iberico.  This is a ham made from free-range pigs that ate a lot of acorns.  There is a farmer here who is trying to do the same thing with geese to make fois gras without force feeding his ducks.  Also in Spain he visits a fish farm next to a national park that is helping to rebuild an estuary to house their fish.  Birds use the area as a stop over in migration.  The fish farmers consider losing fish to avian predation a sign of a healthy farm ecosystem. 

These were stories were interesting to me but I kept thinking about how unnecessary they are.  If you really want to get into environmentally healthy eating, why eat meat at all?

At the end the book went back to plants and I was so happy.  It discusses heirloom vegetable raising versus breeding for better varieties.  So much of the plant breeding going on is for durability.  Flavor isn’t considered.  This section covers some people who are trying to fix that.

This book reminded me a lot of Omnivore’s Dilemma, especially the section on Joel Saladin.  If you loved that book, you’ll love this one. 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in Europe
  • Books Set in North America
12 Oct, 2017

The Fire By Night

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Fire By Night The Fire by Night by Teresa Messineo
on January 17th 2017
Pages: 336
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Published by William Morrow
Format: Paperback
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher

A powerful and evocative debut novel about two American military nurses during World War II that illuminates the unsung heroism of women who risked their lives in the fight—a riveting saga of friendship, valor, sacrifice, and survival combining the grit and selflessness of Band of Brothers with the emotional resonance of The Nightingale.
In war-torn France, Jo McMahon, an Italian-Irish girl from the tenements of Brooklyn, tends to six seriously wounded soldiers in a makeshift medical unit. Enemy bombs have destroyed her hospital convoy, and now Jo singlehandedly struggles to keep her patients and herself alive in a cramped and freezing tent close to German troops. There is a growing tenderness between her and one of her patients, a Scottish officer, but Jo’s heart is seared by the pain of all she has lost and seen. Nearing her breaking point, she fights to hold on to joyful memories of the past, to the times she shared with her best friend, Kay, whom she met in nursing school.
Half a world away in the Pacific, Kay is trapped in a squalid Japanese POW camp in Manila, one of thousands of Allied men, women, and children whose fates rest in the hands of a sadistic enemy. Far from the familiar safety of the small Pennsylvania coal town of her childhood, Kay clings to memories of her happy days posted in Hawaii, and the handsome flyer who swept her off her feet in the weeks before Pearl Harbor. Surrounded by cruelty and death, Kay battles to maintain her sanity and save lives as best she can . . . and live to see her beloved friend Jo once more.
When the conflict at last comes to an end, Jo and Kay discover that to achieve their own peace, they must find their place—and the hope of love—in a world that’s forever changed. With rich, superbly researched detail, Teresa Messineo’s thrilling novel brings to life the pain and uncertainty of war and the sustaining power of love and friendship, and illuminates the lives of the women who risked everything to save others during a horrifying time.

Goodreads
Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

The Fire By Night tells the story of Jo and Kay, nurses who met while in training.  Kay finished her training first and got the cushy assignment to Hawaii at the little known base of Pearl Harbor.  Jo was so jealous.

Now, a few years later, Jo is in a field hospital in Europe.  Their position is about to be overrun and they are trying to evacuate.  She is left behind with the most difficult to transport patients to wait for the last truck to get to her.  Suddenly she finds that they aren’t coming back for her and the Germans are only a few miles away.

Kay is in the Philippines in an underground bunker that is about to fall to the Japanese.  After they are taken, the nurses are kept in a prisoner-of-war camp and used as propaganda while enduring starvation and disease. 

The author uses these stories to highlight the role of women in wars.  They were considered to not be real soldiers because in theory they didn’t get near the front lines.  They made difficult choices to stay with wounded soldiers even when it jeopardized their own safety.  They were disrespected when they came home because they were “only nurses.”

This book doesn’t hold back on the details of what these women went through.  The fear of being left behind and the horrors of being captured are described in detail. 

The ending of the book is not as strong as the rest.  There is a bit of romance tacked on that I didn’t think fit with the rest of the book.

I would recommend this book for people interested in World War II stories and stories about women’s history. 


 
Tuesday, October 3rd: Girl Who Reads

Wednesday, October 4th: 100 Pages a Day…Stephanie’s Book Reviews

Thursday, October 5th: Musings of a Bookish Kitty

Friday, October 6th: West Metro Mommy

Monday, October 9th: BookNAround

Tuesday, October 10th: Peppermint PhD

Wednesday, October 11th: Life By Kristen

Thursday, October 12th: Based on a True Story

Friday, October 13th: Literary Quicksand

Monday, October 16th: Into the Hall of Books

Tuesday, October 17th: Sara the Introvert

Wednesday, October 18th: Books and Bindings

Thursday, October 19th: Jathan & Heather

Friday, October 20th: ML’s Red House Reviews

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in Asia
  • Books Set in Europe
11 Oct, 2017

Oakland Arcana: Awakening

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Oakland Arcana:  Awakening Oakland Arcana: Awakening by Renae Jones
on October 2, 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Format: eBook
Source: Owned

The world is complicated. Power is currency, lives are cheap.   Hephzibah Euphrasia Joséphine d'Albret hates her name. She hates the life she comes from, the fourth daughter of a legendary family—and, perilously, the one with negligible magical potential. And that suits her fine. Fleeing the Authority allows her to choose her own path: software engineer and startup founder. Finally, Zizi’s found a life she loves. One that doesn’t care about the magic she doesn’t have. Unfortunately for her, Zizi is all Oakland has. With misfit allies and lethal enemies around every corner, an encyclopedic understanding of magic theory, and serious amounts of snark, can this Sorceress possibly survive the summer?

Goodreads

Zizi is used to being considered a failure.  She’s the powerless youngest daughter of a powerful Sorceress.  Sorceresses bond with cities and use their power to protect them.  Zizi was trained for the role since birth just like her sisters.  But she never was able to do much magic and she left that world behind.  At least she did until that night a year ago with too much tequila when she bonded with the city of Oakland.

I heard about this book on Twitter.  I was in as soon as I heard the author’s description of Oakland (and all the cities) as distinct sentient beings.

This book was great.  Zizi hasn’t told anyone that she is bonded to Oakland.  She knows that is going to bring down all kinds of bureaucratic nightmares down on her.  No one suspects it because Oakland as been unbonded for thirty years.  But now there are all kinds of weird things going on in Oakland and Zizi needs help.  She needs an Arcana.

Arcanas are the groups of magical helpers that surround Sorceresses.  Zizi doesn’t want one.  Most Sorceresses use their power to bond their Arcana to them.  They can compel their people to do what they want.  The main way they do this is through Earth magic and sex.  Zizi wants nothing to do with this and starts to assemble a team that wants out of the old ways of doing things too.

The characters in this book are fresh takes on many of the common types seen in urban fantasy books.  The vampires are truly vicious but also do a lot of their business at Taco Tuesday/Cowboy Karaoke Night.  (“Don’t do Dolly if you can’t stick the landing” might now be my favorite mixed metaphor ever.)  There is a kraken in a lake raising an orphaned capricorn even though the baby is a vegetarian and the kraken is disturbed by that.  There is a weretiger pack in Chinatown.

The book starts with Zizi having been the secret Sorceress for a year.  Sometimes it can feel like maybe you missed a previous book when she refers to events in the past but this is the first one.  I loved the combination of sassiness and smarts that Zizi has.  She’s very smart and took her magical training seriously growing up so she has the theoretical knowledge she needs even if she doesn’t have the power that would help get everything done.  She’s very funny.  I found myself highlighting a lot of lines in the e-book.  I liked the idea of a sex-positive bisexual heroine who is adamant that she is not going to use sex to get things done.

I’m looking forward to seeing where this series goes in the future.

My only criticism is that there are a few typos, grammatical errors, and misspelled words in the book but I loved this book so much that I’m forgiving that.

About Renae Jones

Renae Jones is driven by an epic, multipart goal

  1. Invent the most fascinating characters she can.
  2. Put those characters in awe-inspiring science fiction or fantasy setting.
  3. Fit those characters together like we’re playing personality Tetris.
  4. And follow them through a complicated adventure of near-death experiences and self-discovery.

Bonus points if those characters are quirky, weird, cranky, neurotic, sassy or have anger management issues. 

Beyond writing, she also loves her dog, over-ambitious home improvement projects, painting, doing weird things to her hair, and data analytics.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
  • LBGTQ authors/characters
05 Oct, 2017

Some of the Things I Haven’t Told You

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading by Anna Yates, Bernard Scudder, Laura Gallego García, Lindsey Davis, Vivian Shaw, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir
Genres: Contemporary, Fantasy, Fiction
Published by Arthur A. Levine Books, Hachette UK, William Morrow
Format: Hardcover, Paperback
Source: Library

I’ve been reading.  I’ve been reading a lot.  But, I haven’t been writing reviews.  Honestly, I got a bit bored with them and I know they aren’t favorites.  It is especially hard when the book is entertaining but nothing mind-blowing.  How many ways can you can up with to say, “It was good.  I enjoyed it enough to read the whole thing. That is all.”

The thing is that I did enjoy these books.  Most of them I haven’t heard much about so they need to get some exposure.  I should stop slacking and write up some reviews.

So here are some books that I haven’t told you about from August.  Seriously, August, people.  Slacking.


Some of the Things I Haven’t Told You Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw
on July 25th 2017
Pages: 400
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy, Contemporary
Published by Hachette UK

Meet Greta Helsing, doctor to the undead.
After inheriting a highly specialised, and highly peculiar, medical practice, Dr Helsing spends her days treating London's undead for a host of ills: vocal strain in banshees, arthritis in barrow-wights and entropy in mummies. Although barely making ends meet, this is just the quiet, supernatural-adjacent life Greta's dreamed of since childhood.
But when a sect of murderous monks emerges, killing human undead and alike, Greta must use all her unusual skills to keep her supernatural clients - and the rest of London - safe.

Goodreads


This is a great idea.  A lot of the monsters from old horror stories are here.  Dr. Helsing is trying to keep a practice afloat while having to keep her patients a secret.

I had a hard time remembering at points that this is a contemporary story.  It kept feeling like it was a Victorian to me and then there would be modern technology.

It was well done.  There are sequels planned and I will definitely read them.


Some of the Things I Haven’t Told You The Third Nero (Flavia Albia #5) by Lindsey Davis
on July 11, 2017
Pages: 321
Series: Flavia Albia #5
Setting: Italy

In 90 A.D., following the Saturninus revolt in Germany, the Emperor Domitian has become more paranoid about traitors and dissenters around him. This leads to several senators and even provincial governors facing charges and being executed for supposed crimes of conspiracy and insulting the emperor. Wanting to root out all the supports of Saturninus from the Senate, one of Domitian’s men offers to hire Flavia Alba to do some intelligence work.
Flavia Alba, daughter and chip off the old block of Marcus Didius Falco, would rather avoid any and all court intrigue, thank you very much. But she’s in a bit of a bind. Her wedding is fast approaching, her fiancé is still recovering―slowly―from being hit by a lightning bolt, and she’s the sole support of their household. So with more than a few reservations, she agrees to “investigate.”

Goodreads


I’ve loved everything I’ve read by this author, which is over 20 books now.  This one seemed to have a lot of historical backstory that needed to be explained in order to understand the significance of The Third (Fake) Nero.  It wasn’t as well woven into the story as she usually does.  It felt like a bit of slog to get through all that in order to get to the story.

That said, I continue to love this series and its take on everyday life in Ancient Rome.


  Some of the Things I Haven’t Told You My Soul to Take (Þóra Guðmundsdóttir, #2) by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Bernard Scudder, Anna Yates
on April 28th 2009
Pages: 352
Published by William Morrow

“Top notch crime fiction.”
Boston Globe
 
American readers first met Icelandic lawyer and investigator Thóra Gudmundsdóttir in Last Rituals. In My Soul to Take, internationally acclaimed author Yrsa Sigurdardóttir plunges her intrepid heroine into even graver peril, in a riveting thriller set against the harsh landscape of Smila’s Sense of Snow territory. A darkly witty and continually surprising suspense tale that places Yrsa Sigurdardóttir firmly in the ranks of Sue Grafton, Tess Gerritsen, Faye Kellerman and other top mystery writers, My Soul to Take is ingenious Scandinavian noir on a par with the works of Henning Mankell and Arnaldur Indridason. Stieg Larsson (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) fans should also take note.

Goodreads

The heroine of this book is a lawyer who did a land purchase deal for a client who wanted to build a spa.  Now he is claiming that the place is haunted and wants to sue the sellers.  The lawyer heads to the spa for a weekend to try to calm him down and gets mixed up in the mystery of what happened on the land years before.

This book was good.  It was the first Icelandic noir book I’ve read.  I read it for Women in Translation month.  I enjoyed the historical aspects of the story more than the present.  The lawyer was a bit too much of the pushy, “let’s hide things from the police” kind of mystery heroine for my liking.


Some of the Things I Haven’t Told You The Valley of the Wolves (Crónicas de la Torre, #1) by Laura Gallego García
on April 1st 2006
Pages: 336
Published by Arthur A. Levine Books
Setting: Spain

Dana attends a school of magic with only one other student. She has a great love only she can see. And only she can unravel these mysteries and become mistress of the Valley of the Wolves.
Ever since Dana was a little girl, Kai has been her best friend and constant companion--even though she's the only one who can see him. Then the mysterious Maestro comes to her farm and offers her the opportunity of a lifetime: the chance to study sorcery in the Valley of the Wolves. And Dana knows she must go, for the Maestro can see Kai too....

Goodreads


This was another Women in Translation month read for me.  This book reads like a fairy tale.  There is a boy that only the girl can see.  Is he real or not? 

A magician comes and takes her away because he says that she will be a great magic user someday.  He trains her in his castle that is surrounded by vicious wolves who come out at night.  After years of training she realizes that she may not be able to leave if she doesn’t figure out the secrets of the castle and the valley.

This book is all about growing up and seeing your life and the people in it for what they really are.  It is a quick read with lots of fun fantasy and magical elements. 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in Europe
03 Oct, 2017

The Blood of Patriots

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Blood of Patriots The Blood of Patriots: How I Took Down an Anti-Government Militia with Beer, Bounty Hunting, and Badassery by Bill Fulton, Jeanne Devon
on September 19th 2017
Pages: 300
Narrator: Bill Fulton
Length: 9:20
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by BenBella Books
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Alaska

For Bill Fulton, being a soldier was his identity. He was called to protect and serve. So when the Army wanted to send him to Alaska, he went—they had never steered him wrong, after all.
After an involuntary medical discharge, Fulton was adrift until he started a military surplus store in Anchorage, where he also took on fugitive recovery missions. He was back on his feet, working with other badasses and misfits he considered brothers. He took pride in his business, with a wife and daughters at home. His life was happy and full.
But when a customer revealed he planned to attack a military recruiting station, Fulton had to make a choice: turn a blind eye and hope for the best or risk his safety, his reputation, and his business by establishing contact with his customers’ arch nemesis: the FBI.
He chose the latter, and his life changed forever.

Goodreads

The beginning of this book sounded familiar to me – like really, really familiar.  Like the author, all my husband ever wanted to do was be a soldier until he was physically unable to do it any more.  He was also in Alaska for a while.  Their stories were so similar that I made him start listening to the audiobook too.  He totally identified. 

After the Army is where their paths diverged.  The author opened a bouncing service that grew into a military surplus store and then a bounty hunting group while giving jobs to veterans who were having a hard time readjusting to civilian life.  All of it came crashing down after he decided to help the FBI expose a militia in Fairbanks that had a plan to kill judges and their families.  No good deed goes unpunished.

This book alternates between being really funny and being extremely horrifying. 

It helps you get into the mindset of people who are convinced that the government is coming after them.  There are people who think that hit squads have been sent after them so they have booby trapped their houses.  None of them tend to be important enough for anyone to take notice of until they lay out their plans to “defend themselves” in paramilitary style.  Even worse are those who are going to strike first before the government comes for them.

One of the most frustrating parts for me to read was when the author was being vilified by the left-leaning journalists he admired because of a run-in with an unidentified journalist while he was working security.  Later when it became known that he was an FBI informant the media got his story all wrong again.  He couldn’t defend himself either time.  It has to be frustrating to be being talked about on TV when people have the basic facts and motivations for your actions wrong and make no attempt to talk to you and find out the facts.  Hopefully, this book helps set the record straight.

Things I had confirmed while reading this book:

  • Living in Alaska isn’t for me
  • There are some really paranoid people out there and they have guns
  • Veterans need a welcoming, nonjudgmental space like his store became
  • Make sure you have your facts right before condemning people

This is a book that I would recommend for everyone.  The topics discussed are important and aren’t covered enough. 

Bill Fulton narrates his own story.  He does a good job for an author-narrator. 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Books Set in North America
29 Sep, 2017

Victoria and Abdul

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Victoria and Abdul Victoria And Abdul: The True Story Of The Queens' Closest Confidant by Shrabani Basu
on April 1st 2010
Pages: 223
Narrator: Elizabeth Jasicki
Length: 11:09
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Nonfiction
Published by History Press (SC)
Format: Audiobook
Source: Playster
Setting: England

The tall, handsome Abdul Karim was just twenty-four years old when he arrived in England from Agra to wait at tables during Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. An assistant clerk at Agra Central Jail, he suddenly found himself a personal attendant to the Empress of India herself. Within a year, he was established as a powerful figure at court, becoming the queen's teacher, or Munshi, and instructing her in Urdu and Indian affairs. Devastated by the death of John Brown, her Scottish gillie, the queen had at last found his replacement. But her intense and controversial relationship with the Munshi led to a near-revolt in the royal household. Victoria & Abdul examines how a young Indian Muslim came to play a central role at the heart of the Empire, and his influence over the queen at a time when independence movements in the sub-continent were growing in force. Yet, at its heart, it is a tender love story between an ordinary Indian and his elderly queen, a relationship that survived the best attempts to destroy it.

Goodreads

The central mystery in this story is Who Was Abdul Karim?  Was he a selfless aide and friend to Queen Victoria or was he an enterprising, self-promoting, dangerous con man like the people around her believed?  I think the answer is somewhere in the middle.

There is no question that he was a devoted servant of the Queen.  He gave her Urdu lessons every day for years.  He helped her answer her correspondence.  He did influence her to be very concerned about Muslims in India.  He also liked the trappings that came along with high status in the Royal Household.  He insisted on not being treated as just one of the nameless servants.  He would storm out of public events if he felt he was being slighted.  He would get newspapers to write articles about him.  He did suggest to the Queen that she give him and his family more and more honors.

This book did a wonderful job of getting into the mind of Queen Victoria through her writings.  You understand where she was coming from.  She loved Karim and his family.  She was hurt by her family’s and staff’s hatred of him.

I don’t think the book did as good of a job figuring out what was going on in Karim’s mind.  There are letters from him but he still felt like an enigma at the end of the book.  He was in a hard position.  There were several Indian servants but he was the only one in the closest inner circle to the Queen.  The Royal Family and the household were both incredibly racist and classist.  They hated him not only for being Indian but for not being an upper-class Indian.  How dare he assume he was their equal?

Put in that situation I can’t fault him for looking out for himself and his family.  The Queen was elderly and he knew that he would be dealt with harshly after her death.  He had to provide for his family while he could.  Did he push too hard?  Maybe.  It doesn’t excuse how he was treated though.

This is an infuriating read.  The racism is so overt.  Many letters from high British officials are included that just drip with disdain.

My only complaint about this book is that it is perhaps too detailed.  There are so many letters cited that they started to all run together.  But, I’d rather get too much information than not enough.

The narrator did a great job with all the voices required in this book – male, female, English, Indian, and Scottish.

There is a movie version of this book out now.  I’m interested to see what angle they take on this story.  Is it going to be a feel-good “Queen Victoria had a friend!” or is going to dive into the hatred from the people around her?  I’ll do a compare and contrast post after I get to see the movie.

 

About Shrabani Basu

Shrabani Basu graduated in History from St Stephen’s College, Delhi and completed her Masters from Delhi University. In 1983, she began her career as a trainee journalist in the bustling offices of The Times of India in Bombay.

Since 1987, Basu has been the London correspondent of Ananda Bazar Patrika group –writing for “Sunday, Ananda Bazar Patrika, “and “The Telegraph.”

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in Europe
  • POC authors
15 Aug, 2017

Graphic Novel Mini Reviews

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Format: Graphic
Source: Library

I decided to read several new to me graphic novels as part of Women in Translation Month.  I was impressed with how many my library had.  Here are the first few series I started.

The Rabbi's CatThe Rabbi’s Cat by Joann Sfar

“In Algeria in the 1930s, a cat belonging to a widowed rabbi and his beautiful daughter, Zlabya, eats the family parrot and gains the ability to speak. To his master’s consternation, the cat immediately begins to tell lies (the first being that he didn’t eat the parrot). The rabbi vows to educate him in the ways of the Torah, while the cat insists on studying the kabbalah and having a Bar Mitzvah. They consult the rabbi’s rabbi, who maintains that a cat can’t be Jewish — but the cat, as always, knows better.”  Translated from French

First of all, the author is not a woman. Whoops. I still loved this story. The cat is full of contempt for any Jewish law that doesn’t make any sense.

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The art is cute. I enjoyed the North African setting. I will be continuing this series.


Bride of the Water God, Volume 1Bride of the Water God, Volume 1 by Mi-Kyung Yun

“When Soah’s impoverished, desperate village decides to sacrifice her to the Water God Habaek to end a long drought, they believe that drowning one beautiful girl will save their entire community and bring much-needed rain. Not only is Soah surprised to be rescued by the Water God — instead of killed — she never imagined she’d be a welcomed guest in Habaek’s magical kingdom, where an exciting new life awaits her! Most surprising, however, is the Water God himself… and how very different he is from the monster Soah imagined.” Translated from Korean

I don’t know about an exciting life. I found this one pretty boring. It is a great concept and it seemed like it was going to be good but then nothing happened by the end of the volume. Maybe it gets better if you read more but I’m not interested.

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The art is good but it isn’t enough.


Fruits Basket, Vol. 1Fruits Basket, Vol. 1 by Natsuki Takaya

“Tohru Honda was an orphan with no place to go until the mysterious Sohma family offered her a place to call home. Now her ordinary high school life is turned upside down as she’s introduced to the Sohma’s world of magical curses and family secrets.”  Translated from Japanese

A girl moves in with a family who are all possessed by the spirits of the Chinese Zodiac. That sounds good. Again, I couldn’t get into this one. I had a hard time telling the male characters apart or even how many of them there were. Bad sign.

FruitsBasket

The art was fine but I’m starting to think that manga just isn’t for me.


A Bride's Story, Vol. 1 (A Bride's Story, #1)A Bride’s Story, Vol. 1 by Kaoru Mori

“Acclaimed creator Kaoru Mori (Emma, Shirley) brings the nineteenth-century Silk Road to lavish life, chronicling the story of Amir Halgal, a young woman from a nomadic tribe betrothed to a twelve-year-old boy eight years her junior. Coping with cultural differences, blossoming feelings for her new husband, and expectations from both her adoptive and birth families, Amir strives to find her role as she settles into a new life and a new home in a society quick to define that role for her.”  Translated from Japanese

I gasped when I opened this one. The art was extraordinary and very detailed.

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It is set in 1800s Turkmenistan. I loved the characters who all had distinct personalities. Amir isn’t just meekly trying to fit into her new family and the family isn’t trying to make her conform. I’m glad this moved away from that trope.

I am definitely continuing with this series.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in Africa
  • Books Set in Asia
10 Aug, 2017

Unbroken Line of the Moon – Women in Translation Month

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Unbroken Line of the Moon – Women in Translation Month The Unbroken Line of the Moon by Johanne Hildebrandt, Tara F. Chace
on October 1, 2016
Pages: 464
Series: Sagan om Valhalla #4
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: Sweden

In this grand saga of love, war, and magic set in the tenth century, young Sigrid is destined to be the mother of the king of the Nordic lands that would become Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and England.
A devout believer in the old Nordic gods, Sigrid is visited regularly in her dreams by the goddess Freya, who whispers to her of the future. Though Sigrid is beautiful, rich, arrogant, and matchlessly clever, her uncanny ability to foresee the future and manipulate the present guides her through dangerous politics as a bloody war between Vikings and Christians rages on.
Sigrid’s father wants her to marry Erik, a local king, to secure the peace between the Goths and the Swedes. Thinking she is doing Freya’s will, she accepts the marriage offer, only to find that her destiny lies not with Erik but with Sweyn, a warrior who dreams of dethroning Harald Bluetooth, the legendary ruler of Denmark. Will Sigrid sacrifice her will for the greatest Viking kingdom of all time, or will she follow her heart at the risk of losing everything?

Goodreads

I got this book for free through the Kindle First program for Amazon Prime members.  That’s a great way to try out some translated books since usually at least one of the selections are translated.

This book 4 of a series published in Sweden but it is the first book available in English.  The next book the series is going to be translated later in 2017.  I’m not sure what the first few books cover but I didn’t feel like I was missing anything by starting the story at this point.

This book is set during the time of the Vikings and everyone knows that they were awful.  That aspect of Viking life is not sugar coated here.  There is a lot of violence.  There are graphic descriptions of multiple gang rapes.

Despite that, I did enjoy this story.  I haven’t read much set during this time in Scandinavia when there was conflict between traditional Nordic beliefs and Christianity.    True believers on both sides are coming across people who will switch religions for personal or political gain.

If you like Game of Thrones style fantasy or historical fiction you will probably enjoy this book.

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in Europe
04 Aug, 2017

The Cost of Sugar – Women in Translation Month

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Cost of Sugar – Women in Translation Month The Cost of Sugar by Cynthia McLeod
on January 7th 2011
Pages: 296
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Published by HopeRoad
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: Surinam

The Cost of Sugar is an intriguing history of those rabid times in Dutch Surinam between 1765-1779 when sugar was king.Told through the eyes of two Jewish step sisters, Eliza and Sarith, descendants of the settlers of 'New Jerusalem of the River' know today as Jodensvanne. The Cost of Sugar is a frank expose of the tragic toll on the lives of colonists and slaves alike.

Goodreads

This is the second novel that I have read by Cynthia McLeod.  She is a hard author for me to review.  On one hand I love the stories that she tells.  She gives you a look into life in colonial Suriname, on the northeast coast of South America.  She tells stories that I haven’t heard from any other author.  The previous book I read of hers, The Free Negress Elisabeth, is a story that has stayed in my mind because it is the type of women’s history that is so often overlooked.  I want to put her books in everyone’s hands and tell them they have to hear about this.

On the other hand though, the writing in the books just isn’t very good.  Clunky is the word that keeps coming to mind.  I’m reading an English translation from the Dutch but I don’t think that is the whole issue.  She is so careful to have so much documented historical fact in the books that she info-dumps continuously.  That doesn’t usually bother me in a story but these passages aren’t blended into the fictional story that she is telling well.  She even has footnotes.  I’m not sure what the footnotes were about because many of them weren’t translated.  The untranslated ones appeared to be quotes.

I’ve had this book for a long time before reading it.  I tried to start it a few times but the writing style made me stop after a few pages.  I decided to knuckle down and read it for Women in Translation Month.  Once I decided to power through, I read it in less than a day.  The story carries you through.

One early wave of settlers to Suriname were Portuguese Jews who migrated from Brazil.  They set up large plantations and did well for themselves.  Subsequent waves of settlers from Holland though were anti-Semitic and over time the Jewish families found themselves not at the top of society anymore.  This is the story of two half-sisters, one had two Jewish parents and one had only a Jewish father so was not considered Jewish herself. The story shows how their lives diverge as Suriname begins to deal with the effects of people living too far in debt for them to maintain. 

White people in Suriname did nothing for themselves.  There were so many more enslaved people than white people that whites gave all responsibilities for running their lives to the slaves.  With nothing to do, they entertained themselves with lavish parties that lasted for weeks.  Gossip was rampant.  There wasn’t a single rich white person that I didn’t want to slap at some point in this book.

The Cost of Sugar refers to all the lives wasted in the plantation system – the enslaved people, the white landowners, the Dutch soldiers brought into protect the plantations, the escaped and free blacks living in the jungle.  It was a system that hurt everyone.

It now occurred to Elza that her family was in fact a model for all Suriname society. Wasn’t everyone and everything totally dependent on the slaves? Just as she felt so completely lost without Maisa, so the colony would be totally lost without its slaves. They did everything and knew everything, and the whites knew nothing and were incapable of anything. The whites needed the negroes, but the negroes didn’t need a single white person”

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in Latin America
  • POC authors
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