Showing Posts From: Book Review

02 Aug, 2017

The Dress in the Window

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Dress in the Window The Dress in the Window by Sofia Grant
on July 25th 2017
Pages: 384
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks
Format: ARC
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Setting: Pennsylvania

World War II has ended and American women are shedding their old clothes for the gorgeous new styles. Voluminous layers of taffeta and tulle, wasp waists, and beautiful color—all so welcome after years of sensible styles and strict rationing.
Jeanne Brink and her sister Peggy both had to weather every tragedy the war had to offer—Peggy now a widowed mother, Jeanne without the fiancé she’d counted on, both living with Peggy’s mother-in-law in a grim mill town. But despite their grey pasts they long for a bright future—Jeanne by creating stunning dresses for her clients with the help of her sister Peggy’s brilliant sketches.
Together, they combine forces to create amazing fashions and a more prosperous life than they’d ever dreamed of before the war. But sisterly love can sometimes turn into sibling jealousy. Always playing second fiddle to her sister, Peggy yearns to make her own mark. But as they soon discover, the future is never without its surprises, ones that have the potential to make—or break—their dreams.

Goodreads

None of the women in this story expected to live a life without their men.  Now, after World War II, they are trying to adapt to what their lives have become. 

Jeanne is a talented seamstress but making knock off dresses for rich women in her small town isn’t enough to make ends meet.  Peggy is a good designer but with a small daughter she needs to find a way to make money.  Thelma is Peggy’s mother in law.  She owns the house they live in and is barely keeping them afloat.

Thelma was my favorite character in this book.  She is portrayed as the matriarch but she is only in her mid-40s.  She has a lot of secrets including lovers who will still do her some favors as the need arises.  She is smart but always underestimated due to her gender and socioeconomic condition.  She comes up with a plan to help them all based on secrets, blackmail, and her talents. 

This is a good look at life for women who were forced to grow up quickly because of war.  Peggy has a child that she probably wouldn’t have had so young if not for the war making things feel urgent.  Jeanne is concerned about being a spinster forever because of the lack of men. 

Overall, this is a grim book.  Times were tough and the women had to be even tougher to get through it. 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
28 Jul, 2017

Good Friday on the Rez

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Good Friday on the Rez Good Friday on the Rez: A Pine Ridge Odyssey by David Hugh Bunnell
on April 25th 2017
Pages: 288
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by St. Martin's Press
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: South Dakota

Good Friday on the Rez introduces readers to places and people that author, writer, and entrepreneur David Bunnell encounters during his one day, 280-mile road trip from his boyhood Nebraska hometown to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to visit his longtime friend, Vernell White Thunder, a full-blooded Oglala Lakota, descendant of a long line of prominent chiefs and medicine men.
This captivating narrative is part memoir and part history. Bunnell shares treasured memories of his time living on and teaching at the reservation. Sometimes raw and sometimes uplifting, Bunnell looks back to expose the difficult life and experiences faced by the descendants of Crazy Horse, Red Cloud, and Sitting Bull while also illuminating their courageous resiliency.

Goodreads

The first thing that needs to be made clear is that this is not written by a Native American author.  I didn’t realize that until I started reading the book.

The author is a white man who has lived on or near the Pine Ridge Lakota reservation off and on through his life.  He is going to visit a man who he met when the author was teaching school on the reservation.  Vernell White Thunder was one of his students in the 1970s.

The road trip is used as a narrative device to comment on events from history and current events that affect life on the reservation.  As the author passes towns where events occurred, he discusses them.  This is a good introduction to the history of United States military treatment of the Native people.  He also touches on:

  • systemic and institutional racism faced by the tribe
  • poverty
  • the effects of alcoholism
  • the importance of Wounded Knee (both the massacre in the 1800s and the uprising in the 1970s)

As he gets closer to the reservation, he gives more information about Vernell.  He is looking for Perrier and Dinty Moore beef stew to take to Vernell.  He tells some jokes that Vernell tells that are very self-deprecating.  I have seen reviews that tear this book apart because of this.  In every case, the reviewer stopped reading the book at this point because they felt that the author was negatively portraying a native man.  I thought that was interesting.  I think it is more of a statement of the inherent expectations of the reviewer than the author.  They seem to assume that Vernell is going to be a poor man living on the reservation who needs beef stew as charity and that this author is exploiting him. 

When you meet Vernell, you find out that he is:

  • an entrepreneur
  • a mentor to local teens
  • the owner of a resort that gets guests from all over the world
  • a successful rancher raising buffalo and horses
  • a large landowner on several reservations
  • the son of a respected chief who was was taking over more of his father’s duties as his father’s health declined

Vernell White Thunder is so cool that he’s almost a rock star.

The author discusses the changes that he has seen in younger Native generations.  He hopes that today’s young people are the Seventh Generation since the military suppression of the tribes that were foretold as the generation who will live up the tribes again.  He is hopeful because of the resurgence of tribal language speakers and young people proud of their history.

The author died before publication of the book so it was bittersweet to read about the wonderful things that he wanted to live to see this generation accomplish.  Although it discusses a lot of dark history, at the end this is a hopeful book.  It is a testament to the people of Pine Ridge and one enduring friendship that started there.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
27 Jul, 2017

The Gilded Years

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Gilded Years The Gilded Years by Karin Tanabe
on July 1, 2016
Pages: 379
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Published by Simon and Schuster
Format: eBook
Source: Playster
Setting: New York

Since childhood, Anita Hemmings has longed to attend the country’s most exclusive school for women, Vassar College. Now, a bright, beautiful senior in the class of 1897, she is hiding a secret that would have banned her from admission: Anita is the only African-American student ever to attend Vassar. With her olive complexion and dark hair, this daughter of a janitor and descendant of slaves has successfully passed as white, but now finds herself rooming with Louise “Lottie” Taylor, the scion of one of New York’s most prominent families.
Though Anita has kept herself at a distance from her classmates, Lottie’s sphere of influence is inescapable, her energy irresistible, and the two become fast friends. Pulled into her elite world, Anita learns what it’s like to be treated as a wealthy, educated white woman—the person everyone believes her to be—and even finds herself in a heady romance with a moneyed Harvard student. It’s only when Lottie becomes infatuated with Anita’s brother, Frederick, whose skin is almost as light as his sister’s, that the situation becomes particularly perilous. And as Anita’s college graduation looms, those closest to her will be the ones to dangerously threaten her secret.

Goodreads

I loved this story of a woman trying to get an education at Vassar before they accepted African-American students.  Her life is compared and contrasted to the life of her brother who was enrolled as a Negro student at newly desegregated MIT.  Where he is able to live relatively freely because the racists just ignored and/or avoided him, her attempts to keep from drawing attention to herself were thwarted by a roommate who is determined to be best friends.  Lottie drags Anita into a high class social life and introduces her to people who she knows wouldn’t talk to her if they knew she was black.

The book addresses the pain of having to cut family members out of your life if you are passing.

The author did a good job of incorporating the views of many different types of people – black people who saw this as a practical way to get an education, black people who wanted her to be a vocal proponent for civil rights, white people both for and against desegregation, and white people who were against bigotry until events touched their lives.

What I found most remarkable about this story is that it is based on real events.  I wasn’t surprised by a woman passing as white to attend a segregated college but I was surprised about some of the details that seemed a bit over the top that turned out to be based in reality.  I can’t discuss it all because of spoilers but make sure to read the historical note at the end.

A good companion to this book would be:

 A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in AmericaA Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in America by Allyson Hobbs

“Between the eighteenth and mid-twentieth centuries, countless African Americans passed as white, leaving behind families and friends, roots and community. It was, as Allyson Hobbs writes, a chosen exile, a separation from one racial identity and the leap into another. This revelatory history of passing explores the possibilities and challenges that racial indeterminacy presented to men and women living in a country obsessed with racial distinctions. It also tells a tale of loss.”

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in North America
  • POC authors
25 Jul, 2017

The Dreamhealers Series by MCA Hogarth

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Dreamhealers Series by MCA Hogarth Mindtouch by M.C.A. Hogarth
on June 15, 2013
Pages: 426
Series: Dreamhealers #1
Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction
Published by Studio MCAH
Format: eBook
Source: Owned, Playster

Seersana University is worlds-renowned for its xenopsychology program, producing the Alliance's finest therapists, psychiatric nurses and alien researchers. When Jahir, one of the rare and reclusive Eldritch espers, arrives on campus, he's unprepared for the challenges of a vast and multicultural society... but fortunately, second-year student Vasiht'h is willing to take him under his wing. Will the two win past their troubles and doubts and see the potential for a once-in-a-lifetime partnership?

Goodreads

M.C.A. Hogarth’s Pelted Universe is a place where humans genetically engineered human/animal hybrids.  These “pelted people” eventually fled from the humans on Earth out into space.  They set up a peaceful multicultural society across planets as life on Earth regressed.  Once humans started exploring space again, they found the species that they created had developed a rich society.

That is the premise for several series that she has written in this universe.  I read the series that starts with Earthrise last year so I was familiar with the world.  That series has a lot more action than this one.  I’m glad I started there to get a sense of the universe.  This series is very different.  It is a very quiet and sweet story two members of empathic species that form a deep bond.

The Eldrich are a mysterious humanoid species.  They have chosen to self-isolate on their planet.  They can read a person’s mind if they touch them so accidental touch is avoided at all cost.  They are also very long lived.  Their society is one of court intrigue and careful deception.  Few leave the planet and those that do are forbidden to talk about the society.

Jahir is an Eldrich who is studying for a xenopsychology degree.  He finds an unexpected roommate in Vasiht’h, a small centaur-like Galeash.  The Galeash speak mostly mind to mind.  They are aromantic and asexual-spectrum.  Vasiht’h takes Jahir under his wing to show him around the university.  They start to develop a bond that Vasiht’h has only heard about in stories – a mindline.  It is a very deep platonic bond between two soul mate empaths.  What will this mean for their lives?  Should they let this form if Jahir is going to live for centuries after Vasiht’h dies?

This book reads like a sweet romance novel without the romance.  Not much actually happens.  They make friends, go to school, volunteer, bake cookies, and eat ice cream.  I loved it though.  I’ve never read a book that celebrates aromantic relationships.  They are deciding if they are going to be life partners.


The Dreamhealers Series by MCA Hogarth Mindline by M.C.A. Hogarth
on December 14, 2013
Pages: 316
Series: Dreamhealers #2
Published by Studio MCAH

At the advice of Vasiht'h, his first and truest friend, Jahir Seni Galare has accepted one of the most coveted residencies in xenotherapy, even though doing so has severed him from all the relationships he's fostered since leaving his cloistered homeworld. But not all the simulations at school have prepared him for the reality of being an esper in a hospital large enough to serve the winter capital of the entire Alliance, and it's not long before he's questioning the wisdom of having left the university for the tumult of one of the largest port cities in the known worlds.

When Vasiht'h follows Jahir to Selnor, he's not sure whether his plan is to help his friend survive his residency, or to drag him back to Seersana University and into a less strenuous program. But a storm is coming to Heliocentrus, one they're uniquely positioned to address, and their nascent mental link is about to receive its first test in the crucible that will either forge their lifelong partnership—or kill them both.

Goodreads

This is the most action packed of the books.  They have started to get an idea of what they can do to help mental health while working with dreaming patients.  Now there is a series of comatose patients who present to the emergency department where Jahir is working.  No medical intervention is helping and they all die.  He is determined to help them but touching them when they are dying is draining the life from Jahir.

This book does a good job of addressing the need for self-care in healing professions. He is sick and working with these patients is harming him but what is his responsibility?


The Dreamhealers Series by MCA Hogarth Dreamhearth by M.C.A. Hogarth
on July 7, 2017
Series: Dreamhealers #3
Published by Studio MCAH

Jahir and Vasiht’h have earned their licenses as xenotherapists at last, and they have their hearts set on starting their practice in one of the Alliance’s most exciting and cosmopolitan destinations: a sector starbase. But dream therapy is a revolutionary treatment modality, and as esper practictioners they will have to work hard to win the trust of their community. Not only that, but they have a deadline: if they can’t prove themselves an asset to the starbase within six months, they’ll have to leave!

Goodreads

I hadn’t noticed until I wrote this review that this book was just published.  I guess I picked the right time to binge read the series!

One cute touch in this book is a novel that Vasiht’h‘s sisters give him to read.  It is supposedly a romance story between an Eldrich woman and a Pelted man.  They make fun of it through the novel for being poorly written.  The story was actually one of the first stories the author wrote as a teenager when she was imaging this universe.  It was never published because of the all the huge problems that the characters make fun of.  It was a funny touch.

More ice cream in this book and now there are scones in different flavors every day! 

This is still a quiet series where not a lot happens but it is fun to just learn about these characters and the people who they help. 

About M.C.A. Hogarth

Daughter of two Cuban political exiles, M.C.A. Hogarth was born a foreigner in the American melting pot and has had a fascination for the gaps in cultures and the bridges that span them ever since. She has been many things—-web database architect, product manager, technical writer and massage therapist—-but is currently a full-time parent, artist, writer and anthropologist to aliens, both human and otherwise.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • LBGTQ authors/characters
  • POC authors
19 Jul, 2017

The Essex Serpent – My Total Book Tour Fail

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Essex Serpent – My Total Book Tour Fail The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
on June 6th 2017
Pages: 422
Genres: Fiction
Published by Custom House
Format: Paperback
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Setting: England

Set in Victorian London and an Essex village in the 1890's, and enlivened by the debates on scientific and medical discovery which defined the era, The Essex Serpent has at its heart the story of two extraordinary people who fall for each other, but not in the usual way.
They are Cora Seaborne and Will Ransome. Cora is a well-to-do London widow who moves to the Essex parish of Aldwinter, and Will is the local vicar. They meet as their village is engulfed by rumours that the mythical Essex Serpent, once said to roam the marshes claiming human lives, has returned. Cora, a keen amateur naturalist is enthralled, convinced the beast may be a real undiscovered species. But Will sees his parishioners' agitation as a moral panic, a deviation from true faith. Although they can agree on absolutely nothing, as the seasons turn around them in this quiet corner of England, they find themselves inexorably drawn together and torn apart.

Goodreads

I am a supremely organized book blogger.  When I do book tours as soon as I find out the date I am scheduled to post, I put a draft post on my WordPress calendar.  That way I don’t get messed up.  I’ve known for months that my review of The Essex Serpent was due on July 19.  When I went to write this up I looked at the list of other bloggers participating and wanted to see what they thought of the book.  I was surprised to find no posts for the people posting before me.  I looked at my email.  Still didn’t see the issue.  Then I saw it.  JUNE 19.  Oh.

 

So here is my way-belated book tour review of The Essex Serpent.

 


I first heard of this book through the enthusiastic promotion of the British release last year by Simon Savidge.  When the book became available in the U.S. I decided to read it to see why he was so enthusiastic.  We obviously read very different types of books because he considers this to be a very plot driven novel and I think of it as more of a character driven one.

Cora is not a typical Victorian widow.  It is implied that her husband was abusive and she certainly is not grieving him.  She decides to go with her companion Martha and her young son Francis to Essex because she wants to follow in the footsteps of female amateur naturalists.  Hearing rumors of a monster in the estuary thrills her to no end. Her friends urge her to contact the local vicar.  She has no interest in that.  She doesn’t want to be stuck in company with a stuffy vicar.  The vicar and his wife don’t have any interest in her either.  They assume she is an elderly lady with a wastrel son but they invite her to dinner to be nice.

This book covers a lot of issues in England at this time.  Martha is a socialist who is campaigning for safe housing for the poor in London.  At this time to get into good housing you had to prove that you were of good morals.  This offends her because the landlords could go out drinking and being irresponsible but the tenets would be evicted if they acted like that.  She convinces a young doctor with family money to spare to join in her the cause.

Francis would now be recognized as autistic but in this book he is just seen as a bit odd.  He’s mostly left to his own devices because Cora doesn’t know how to interact with him.

Cora has an admirer in Luke Garret, the doctor who treated her husband.  He wants to do more and more daring operations and is fighting the medical establishment.

The Ransomes, the family of the vicar, get involved with Cora and her entourage.  Will Ransome is the vicar who is interested in science.  He knows that rumors of a serpent killing people and livestock are just superstition but he can’t get his parishioners to listen to reason.  This talk is tearing his small village apart and then Cora appears and runs roughshod over the town. It is hard to tell what is more damaging – the rumors or the visitor.

The writing is lyrical and mystical.  It evokes foggy mornings and salt water breezes.  Of course because this is historical fiction and not urban fantasy, there is no magical creature in the river.  Seeing how the author resolves all these plot lines and logically explains the serpent is part of the drama.

This is a relatively slow read.  It takes time for the writing to sink in.  The plot jumps around often so it can be a bit tricky to keep track of who is where at what time. You don’t always know why you should be interested in characters until they start to tie into the larger narrative.

This book is good for people looking to lose themselves in the writing of a slow paced glimpse of life in rural Victorian England with a hint of mystery mixed in.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in Europe
18 Jul, 2017

When The Future Comes Too Soon

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading When The Future Comes Too Soon When the Future Comes Too Soon by Selina Siak Chin Yoke
on July 18, 2017
Series: Malayan #2
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Format: eARC
Source: From author/publisher
Also in this series: The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds

In Japanese-occupied Malaya, lives are shattered and a woman discovers her inner strength in a world ravaged by war.
Following the death of their matriarch, the lives of Chye Hoon’s family turned upside down. Now that the British have fled and the Japanese have conquered, their once-benign world changes overnight.
Amid the turmoil, Chye Hoon’s daughter-in-law, Mei Foong, must fend for her family as her husband, Weng Yu, becomes increasingly embittered. Challenged in ways she never could have imagined and forced into hiding, Mei Foong finds a deep reservoir of resilience she did not know she had and soon draws the attentions of another man.
Is Mei Foong’s resolve enough to save herself, her marriage, and her family? Only when peace returns to Malaya will she learn the full price she must pay for survival.

Goodreads

 


I loved the first book in this series – The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds.  That was the story of a woman in Malaya who witnesses  the change of her area when the British colonize.  Her oldest son is educated in England and she has huge hopes for him that he fails to live up to.  He marries a Chinese girl to please his mother.  This book picks up immediately after the death of the protagonist of the first book.  Her Chinese daughter-in-law tells the story of how they survived the Japanese occupation of World War II.

I was a bit reluctant to pick this book up because of the time period.  I know that Japanese occupations in Asia were brutal.  This book does talk about one massacre but overall it keeps a much narrower focus.  It looks at how this one family survived the war.  They know people in the resistance but that isn’t talked about much.

One of the conflicts was knowing how to react to the Japanese.  They were invaders and they could be cruel but they also allowed Asian people into high ranking jobs that the British establishment would have never allowed.  Our narrator Mei Foong’s husband, Weng Yu is given a job that he has always wanted by the Japanese.  She has learned that her husband is a coward.  He would head to bomb shelters first before helping her or their children.  She has lost a lot of respect for him.  He is in turns indifferent and cruel to her.  Mei Foong learns to grow her own food and sells her mother’s jewelry in order for her family to be able to eat.  The family basically keeps their heads down and does what they have to do to survive unnoticed.

“If anyone had called me a collaborator to my face, I would have recoiled.  As far as I was concerned, we were only giving the Japs our unwilling cooperation.”

 

This is a shorter book than the first one.  It only covers the years of the war.  It mostly the story of the disintegration of a marriage and a woman’s finding strength in herself that she didn’t know she had set against a backdrop of war instead of a novel about the war.  It isn’t necessary to read the first book before picking this one up but it adds to your background knowledge of the area and the characters.

I would recommend this to anyone who likes historical fiction.  Mei Foong is a great character.  She grows from a shy, pampered, upper class bride into a woman who knows her worth and is able to take care of herself.

About Selina Siak Chin Yoke

Of Malaysian-Chinese heritage, Selina Siak Chin Yoke (石清玉) grew up listening to family stories and ancient legends. She always knew that one day, she would write. After an eclectic life as a physicist, banker and trader in London, the heavens intervened. In 2009 Chin Yoke was diagnosed with cancer. While recovering, she decided not to delay her dream of writing any longer.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in Asia
  • POC authors
14 Jul, 2017

Series Review – The Agency by Y.S. Lee

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Series Review – The Agency by Y.S. Lee A Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee
on March 9th 2010
Pages: 335
Series: The Agency #1
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Candlewick
Format: eBook
Source: Library
Setting: England

Rescued from the gallows in 1850s London, young orphan (and thief) Mary Quinn is surprised to be offered a singular education, instruction in fine manners — and an unusual vocation. Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls is a cover for an all-female investigative unit called The Agency, and at seventeen, Mary is about to put her training to the test. Assuming the guise of a lady’s companion, she must infiltrate a rich merchant’s home in hopes of tracing his missing cargo ships. But the household is full of dangerous deceptions, and there is no one to trust — or is there?

Goodreads

Mary Quinn is given a last minute reprieve from the gallows and is sent to a school for girls.  She is savvy enough to know that this is very strange.  She doesn’t know what is behind it until years later when she finishes her education and is offered a place in a detective agency run by the headmistresses of the school.

Mary has secrets of her own.  She is an orphan and knows that her father was Chinese.  In 1850s London Chinese people are not admitted to polite society.  She explains away her dark coloring by saying that she is Black Irish.  That settles things for most English people but Chinese people she meets recognize the truth about her.

The Agency places its agents undercover as maids or ladies’ companions because women are considered not smart enough to be spies.  They can infiltrate places that men would never be able to get.

On Mary’s first assignment she runs into James Easton in a closet while snooping.  He is snooping about the family she is assigned to also but for different reasons.  They are forced to work together.  Mary and James have great chemistry in this series.  It is a slow romance that has many reasonable obstacles.


Series Review – The Agency by Y.S. Lee The Body At The Tower by Y.S. Lee
on October 26th 2010
Pages: 342
Series: The Agency #2
Published by Candlewick
Setting: England

Now nearly a full-fledged member of the Agency, the all-female detective unit operating out of Miss Scrimshaw's Academy for Girls, Mary Quinn is back for another action-packed adventure. Disguised as a poor apprentice builder and a boy, she must brave the grimy underbelly of Victorian London - as well as childhood fear, hunger, and constant want - to unmask the identity of a murderer. Assigned to monitor a building site on the clock tower of the Houses of Parliament, Mary earns the confidence of the work crew, inching ever nearer her suspect. But if an irresistible desire to help the city's needy doesn't distract her and jeopardize her cover, unexpectedly meeting up with an old friend - or flame - just might.

Goodreads

The Agency has always placed female operatives but one of the founders wants to expand.  She agrees to let Mary go undercover as a boy in order to get a large contract.  They are hired to figure out part of the reason why a man was murdered at the construction site of the Houses of Parliament.  Mary knows nothing about construction but is trying to fit in with her new crew when an engineer comes to do a review of the building practices.  It is a physically and emotionally battered and beaten down James Easton.

I think that this may be my favorite book of the series.  I don’t usually say that about second books.  They are usually a let down.  In this one the author has already established the characters so well that you care about them and their adventures.  You get a better idea of the dangerous world of the extremely poor in London.  For me this book was more about life in the city and the class and gender and racial barriers that both characters are bending than the mystery.


Series Review – The Agency by Y.S. Lee The Traitor in the Tunnel by Y.S. Lee
on February 28th 2012
Series: The Agency #3
Published by Candlewick

Get steeped in suspense, romance, and high Victorian intrigue as Mary goes undercover at Buckingham Palace - and learns a startling secret at the Tower of London.

Goodreads

Mary is on assignment undercover in Buckingham Palace to investigate some thefts.  This gives the author the chance to examine the lives of maids in Victorian times.  They worked all the time.  They were not supposed to be seen by members of the royal family so they had to freeze or hide if any of the nobility came into a room.  They are also vulnerable to any male member of the nobility who take a fancy to them.

While investigating the thefts, Mary stumbles on a scandal involving the Prince of Wales.  One of his highborn friends was killed in an opium den by a Chinese man who has the same name as her supposedly dead father.  She decides to investigate this and has to face the truth of her Chinese heritage that she has managed to avoid for most of her life.

Right when she is starting to make progress, she is recalled because the Agency finds out that the engineering firm owned by James Easton will be doing some top secret work under the palace.  They don’t want her to get involved with him again because he has complicated her other cases.  Should she stay or should she go?


Series Review – The Agency by Y.S. Lee Rivals in the City (The Agency, #4) by Y.S. Lee
on June 5th 2014
Pages: 352
Published by Walker

The series comes full circle as the one of the criminals from book one is dying in prison. Mary is hired to watch for the one that escaped making a last minute visit. She knows they will have a score to settle with her and James.

Goodreads

This was a great last book.  It ties up a lot of loose ends by going back to the villains of book one and seeing how everyone has changed in the intervening years.  It is hard to talk about this book much without spoilers for the series.

I binged this series over the course of a week.  I absolutely loved it.  On top of complex mysteries there were discussions of the intersections of race and class and gender at the time.  Add a very fun and banter-filled romance on top of that and this is a great series even if mysteries aren’t usually your favorite.

About Y.S. Lee

Y S Lee was born in Singapore, raised in Vancouver and Toronto, and lived for a spell in England. As she completed her PhD in Victorian literature and culture, she began to research a story about a girl detective in 1850s London. The result was her debut novel, The Agency: A Spy in the House. This won the Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s inaugural John Spray Mystery Award in 2011.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in Europe
  • POC authors
13 Jul, 2017

Al Franken: Giant of the Senate

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Al Franken:  Giant of the Senate Al Franken, Giant of the Senate by Al Franken
on May 30th 2017
Length: 12:05
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Hachette Audio
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library

This is a book about an unlikely campaign that had an even more improbable ending: the closest outcome in history and an unprecedented eight-month recount saga, which is pretty funny in retrospect. It's a book about what happens when the nation's foremost progressive satirist gets a chance to serve in the United States Senate and, defying the low expectations of the pundit class, actually turns out to be good at it.It's a book about our deeply polarized, frequently depressing, occasionally inspiring political culture, written from inside the belly of the beast.

Goodreads

This book answers the question that so many people had – How did this man:

turn into this man?

Al Franken was best known as a writer for Saturday Night Live when he announced his candidacy for Senate in his home state of Minnesota.  His candidacy was treated as a joke but he was very serious.  He had written several books on political topics and had been hosting a three hour daily political radio show that taught him a lot about issues.  He had campaigned for Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone prior to Wellstone’s death in a plane crash.  When the Republican senator who took over Wellstone’s senate seat said that he was a 99% improvement over Democrat Wellstone, Franken decided that someone had to defeat that guy.  He just didn’t realize yet that it was going to be him.

This memoir was very well done.  It talked just a bit about his childhood and then moved quickly into his life as a satirical writer.  This is important because as he says he spent 35 years learning to be funny professionally and the next decade learning not to be.  He calls the Republican plan for dealing with him “The Dehumorizer”.  Just assume that everything he ever wrote was absolute truth and not a joke – up to and including shooting elderly people over a river in a rocket.  Turn that into “Franken hates the elderly” and you get the idea.  It wasn’t like he hadn’t given them huge amounts of easy material to work with.  He did write a story for Playboy called “Pornorama” after all.

Once he got into the Senate by winning the closest election in Senate history, he started working to prove that he was there work and not be a clown.  What do Senators do every day?  He discusses in detail how bills are made into laws; what compromises to do you have to make to get things done?  He talks about working with people you totally disagree with in order to get laws passed.  He tells what it is like to grill people you like personally but don’t want to get a cabinet position (Jeff Sessions).  And there is a whole chapter on why everyone hates Ted Cruz.  He also discusses what needs to be done now in the age of Trump.

Franken lets out a little of the vitriol that he needs to keep inside during his day job.  There is more humor than he is allowed to show at work.  Apparently he is only allowed by his staff to speak freely in car between events.  I’d love to hear what actually happens in the car. 

Franken reads the audiobook himself so you can feel the ideas that he is passionate about and feel his anguish at having funny lines in his head that he isn’t allowed to say. 

I’d recommend this book for anyone who wants to know what it is really like to be a Senator.  Now I’m watching the news and seeing the people who he spoke about in the book in a new light.

Rating Report
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Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Books Set in North America
07 Jul, 2017

Sweet Spot – Getting Serious about Ice Cream

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Sweet Spot – Getting Serious about Ice Cream Sweet Spot: An Ice Cream Binge Across America by Amy Ettinger
on July 11th 2017
Pages: 320
Narrator: Kathleen Mcinerney
Length: 8:27
Genres: Nonfiction
Published by Dutton Books
Format: Audiobook
Source: Playster

A journalist channels her ice-cream obsession, scouring the United States for the best artisanal brands and delving into the surprising history of ice cream and frozen treats in America.

Goodreads

Amy Ettinger is obsessed with ice cream.  She says that she routinely eats ice cream 1 – 2 times a day.  She’s the perfect person to go on an exploration of the state of ice cream in the United States.

In her journey she rides along on an ice cream truck route in New York.  I had no idea that being an ice cream truck driver was such a dangerous job.  The woman she was riding with freely admits to getting into fist fights with other drivers that she sees driving in the same neighborhoods as she does.

She visits frozen custard makers in Wisconsin to find out why true frozen custard is regional speciality.  She investigates the rise of new soda shops and discusses the sometimes poisonous history of soda shops.  She finds out what is behind the newest experiments with ice cream flavors – celery or foie gras or mealworms anyone?  She also tries a revival of Dolley Madison’s recipe for oyster ice cream.

She wonders how frozen yogurt stores fit into the ice cream world and investigates the largest chains.  She goes to Penn State’s ice cream course to find out how to make ice cream.  (I will say that Penn State makes some amazing ice cream.  It made all my trips there bearable back when I could eat it.)

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She seems shocked to find out that because of federal regulations most ice cream shops don’t make their own base for the ice cream.  They just add the flavors.  She gets very judgy about it.  Likewise she is horrified that ice cream sandwich makers outsource making the sandwiches.  I found it hard to believe that anyone was actually this naive about how foods are made in the U.S.

If you like books that give you a culinary tour, this is a good book for you.

I just have a few complaints.

  • She points out that people in the midwest are fat and wonders if we have different standards of beauty than in California.  It is a totally passive-aggressive insult to an entire region.
  • I cringed anytime she referred to sandwiches as “sammies”.  Can that please not be a thing anymore?
  • She is absolutely dismissive of the idea of non-dairy ice cream.  As a non-dairy eater, I assure her that just like dairy ice cream, some are horrible and some are amazing.  I offer Ben and Jerry’s PB & Cookies as proof of awesomeness.

Kathleen Mcinerney does a wonderfully upbeat and perky narration that fits the subject matter perfectly.

 

About Amy Ettinger

Amy Ettinger is an essayist, journalist, and editor. She has written for the New York Times, New York magazine, The Washington Post, Salon, and the Huffington Post. She lives in Santa Cruz, California, with her husband and daughter.

Rating Report
Story
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Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Books Set in North America
05 Jul, 2017

Strange Contagion

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Strange Contagion Strange Contagion: The Suicide Cluster That Took Palo Alto's Children and What It Tells Us About Ourselves by Lee Daniel Kravetz
on June 27th 2017
Pages: 240
Genres: Nonfiction
Published by Harper Wave
Format: ARC
Source: Book Tour

Picking up where The Tipping Point leaves off, respected journalist Lee Daniel Kravetz’s Strange Contagion is a provocative look at both the science and lived experience of social contagion.

In 2009, tragedy struck the town of Palo Alto: A student from the local high school had died by suicide by stepping in front of an oncoming train. Grief-stricken, the community mourned what they thought was an isolated loss. Until, a few weeks later, it happened again. And again. And again. In six months, the high school lost five students to suicide at those train tracks.

A recent transplant to the community and a new father himself, Lee Daniel Kravetz’s experience as a science journalist kicked in: what was causing this tragedy? More important, how was it possible that a suicide cluster could develop in a community of concerned, aware, hyper-vigilant adults?

The answer? Social contagion. We all know that ideas, emotions, and actions are communicable—from mirroring someone’s posture to mimicking their speech patterns, we are all driven by unconscious motivations triggered by our
environment. But when just the right physiological, psychological, and social factors come together, we get what Kravetz calls a "strange contagion:" a perfect storm of highly common social viruses that, combined, form a highly volatile condition.

Strange Contagion is simultaneously a moving account of one community’s tragedy and a rigorous investigation of social phenomenon, as Kravetz draws on research and insights from experts worldwide to unlock the mystery of how ideas spread, why they take hold, and offer thoughts on our responsibility to one another as citizens of a globally and perpetually connected world.

Goodreads

The most interesting part of this book to me was the social science of how people interact with each other in a work environment.  It seemed like scientific proof of the old adage “One bad apple ruins the barrel.”  It is important to get rid of people who are going to bring team morale down.  I’ve seen that a lot in different jobs.

The book doesn’t come to a conclusion about the suicide clusters in Palo Alto. He looks at this as an outsider.  He talks to a teacher and a principal but doesn’t talk much to the kids.  Whatever is going on in that school would be invisible to outsiders and may not have anything to do with too much homework or high societal pressure to achieve.

I did like the part of the book that discussed why Palo Alto schools have such high achievement rates.  The kids appear to be intrinsically motivated to succeed.  It would be great if this was not abnormal.  I’ve never understood why people aren’t intrinsically motivated.  It is in their best interest.  Being able to export a culture that creates motivated students would be amazing.

 

Purchase Links

HarperCollins
| Amazon | Barnes & Noble

About Lee Daniel Kravetz

Lee Daniel Kravetz has a master’s degree in counseling psychology and is a graduate of the University of Missouri–Columbia School of Journalism. He has written for Psychology Today, the Huffington Post, and the New York Times, among other publications. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife and children.

Find out more about Lee at his website, and connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
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