I’ve heard of people tracking how far they run/walk on a map to see your distance this year. That’s cool if you run to Brazil or something but at my rate I’d spend a month just trying to get out of my neighborhood. Still, I like the idea so I was excited to find something similar on Yes.fit.
This is a site for virtual races. You sign up for race, pay your entry fee, and then do it on your own time. There are short races that you could do on one day up to races hundreds of miles long. That’s what I’m going to do.
I’m doing the Tortoise Creep. It is 155 miles long. The route is in Thailand. As you enter your workouts you get moved along on your map. You can even go to streetview to see where you are running.
You can have a fitness tracker upload your info but I’m entering my data manually. I’m only counting actual workout miles. Miles I walk for other reasons don’t count in my race. Let’s see how long it takes me to earn my medal.
Spoilers for The Little Bookshop on the Seine – I wanted to like this book but I realized that I had missed the point. I thought we were firmly in the “woman realizes she has horrific boyfriend who undermines her confidence so she gets rid of him” plot until the very end of the book when they suddenly reaffirm their love for each other for reasons that absolutely baffle me.
What Am I Reading?
DNF This Week
I’m a big fan of debt free living. I especially like memoirs from people who have achieved this creatively. But this guy…. He basically was a middle class white dude who coasted on that until his junior year of college. Then he decided that he liked learning and wanted to keep going to school and learning things. He doesn’t want to be tied down to any job that he could get with a liberal arts degree. He wants to be free. So he goes to Alaska and works a low pay job that provides room and board. He throws all his money at the debt from his student loans. That’s all fine.
The problem is that he is callous to anyone who isn’t him. He talks about one guy in Alaska who he knows is beating his Native girlfriend every night. He mentions it casually like it was the color of his hair. There is no attempt to help her. Eventually the guy gets fired when he beats her bad enough to make her bleed from her ears. The author recounts this in a section that talks about why people were moving on. There is no compassion for her.
He talks about people pouring water on sleeping sled dogs at night in the Arctic as an example of people being weird. His friend from back home sends emails about having to work in “the ghetto” with a “stereotypical black man”.
Yeah, DNF. I did have an absolutely lovely time reading the 1 star reviews on Goodreads of this book. They are hysterical. Click on the picture to go there.
What Am I Listening To?
“In celebration of the one-year anniversary of Women’s March, this gorgeously designed full-color book offers an unprecedented, front-row seat to one of the most galvanizing movements in American history, with exclusive interviews with Women’s March organizers, never-before-seen photographs, and essays by feminist activists.“
I was first introduced to historical romances through my grandmother’s vast collection of clean/sweet romances. We called them the Smut Books precisely because there was zero smut in them. People met, fell in love, got married, then maybe, but just maybe, they kissed – cut to epilogue where magically children have been obtained from somewhere.
That’s always been my preferred type of romance. I’m just not interested in anyone’s sex life in books, movies, or the real world. I was disappointed to find that clean romances were harder to find now that I’ve gotten back into historical romance. I like the stories so I’m marching on and now I have opinions about sex in romance books.
Can we be more realistic?
Here’s the storyline that makes me roll my eyes. A blushing English beauty who has never had a sexual thought in her brain meets a dashing Duke. (It is always a Duke. Apparently there are two of those for every non-Duke person in England.) They get married or if they are really racy they are planning to get married and then they have sex. It is always straight to the intercourse. Never any sessions of “Hey, I know you don’t have any idea what sexual activity is because we’ve got messed up ideas about keeping knowledge away from women, so why don’t we just kiss for a while until you feel more comfortable?”
Then, then, this woman has a mind-blowing orgasm purely through intercourse with no other stimulation at the same time as her partner because of course she does.
Look, I understand that this is female escapism but come on. About 70% of women never experience orgasm through vaginal intercourse alone. I’m willing to bet that number is near 100% for virgins who have been told to lay back and think of England. Given the sorry state of sexual education in the world I would guess that romance novels might be the main sex ed some people get. I hate to think that some people might think that that is what sex is supposed to be like every time and that they are somehow wrong if that isn’t how it is for them.
Here are some outlandish thoughts for other plot lines that could be interesting.
I love you but this sex stuff isn’t doing much for me. Maybe we could talk about it and figure something out.
Male virgins who learn from experienced ladies. Think man marries rich widow if you want to keep it between married folk.
Sometimes a sexual encounter doesn’t have to include intercourse. GASP!
That’s just off the top of my head while writing this post. I’m sure authors could come up with more ideas.
I have found some books with more realistic and open minded sexual story lines. The common denominator seems to be that they are stories about working-class people, especially people of color, instead of aristocracy. (Although I’m not even sure how they find each other with all the Dukes running around.)
How do you feel about sex in historical romances? Too much, not enough, too predictable? What would you like to see?
**Shout out for creativity to a book I picked up once that had a guy running a sex dungeon in his castle’s actual dungeon. It was one of the first books I picked up when coming back to the genre after 20 years. I was quite surprised how things had changed from my grandma’s books. I didn’t read the book or remember what it was called.
Being a superheroine is hard. Working for one is even harder.
Evie Tanaka is the put-upon personal assistant to Aveda Jupiter, her childhood best friend and San Francisco's most beloved superheroine. She's great at her job—blending into the background, handling her boss's epic diva tantrums, and getting demon blood out of leather pants.
Unfortunately, she's not nearly as together when it comes to running her own life, standing up for herself, or raising her tempestuous teenage sister, Bea.
But everything changes when Evie's forced to pose as her glamorous boss for one night, and her darkest comes out: she has powers, too. Now it's up to her to contend with murderous cupcakes, nosy gossip bloggers, and supernatural karaoke battles—all while juggling unexpected romance and Aveda's increasingly outrageous demands. And when a larger threat emerges, Evie must finally take charge and become a superheroine in her own right... or see her city fall to a full-on demonic invasion.
Annie and Evie have been friends since Annie first stood up for Evie against some bullies in elementary school. Now as adults, Evie is Annie’s personal assistant. Annie is San Francisco’s only superhero Aveda Jupiter. She’s all about the glory. She dumps everything else on Evie who takes it because she feels like she owes Annie.
Annie/Aveda is truly abusive to Evie. Everyone sees it but her. When Evie is forced out of the shadows she needs to rely on her own powers to save the city and find a life for herself outside of Aveda Jupiter’s orbit.
Good things about this book:
Asian female superheroes – Annie is Chinese and Evie is half-Japanese
The menace is fairly lighthearted and fun. It starts with demons taking the form of cupcakes that bite and ends with demonic minions who complain about everything the boss demon does. I could imagine this whole book as a technicolor comic strip.
Evie learning to stand up for herself is wonderful.
Evie has been suppressing her emotions in order to keep her powers under control. When she starts to get in touch with her feelings, the first one that she notices is lust. She refers to her lack of lustful feelings as the Dead Inside-o-meter. The idea that she hasn’t had sex in three years is considered proof of emotional problems. I’m not a fan of stories that consider either asexuality or celibacy as the weirdest thing that ever happened.
Evie’s teenage sister is the worst person ever. Well, maybe second worse next to Aveda. It is hard to tell but then they start hanging out together and amplify each other’s behavior and it is everything horrible. They are selfish and childish but Evie is supposed to be seen as no fun for objecting to it all.
I didn’t like the romances in this book. They just seemed added because you have to have a sexual partner (see complaint 1). Suddenly, she has feelings for a person who annoys her all the time? The fact that someone annoys you is actually stated as proof that you probably deep down want to sleep with them. No, maybe they are just annoying and you have the good sense to stay away from them.
“Grace Owens danced her feet bloody to become the finest en pointe prodigy of her generation, but the only accolade she longed for—her father’s approval—never came. Finally, broken and defeated, she cut ties and fled to London to live life on her own terms.
Now, after four years as an actress in London’s smaller theatres, a last-minute production change lands her right where she never wanted to be again. Front and center in the ballet—and back in toe shoes.
From his perch on the catwalks, machinist and stagecraft illusionist Isaac Caird can’t take his eyes off Grace. A woman who wears men’s clothing, but not as a disguise. An exquisite beauty who doesn’t keep a lover. A skilled dancer who clearly hates every pirouette.
The perfect lines of her delicate body inspire him to create a new illusion—with her as the centerpiece—that will guarantee sold-out shows. Maybe even attract a royal’s patronage. But first he has to get her to look at him. And convince her the danger is minimal—especially within the circle of his arms.
Featuring a gender-fluid ballet dancer, an amateur chemist who only occasionally starts fires, and an old rivalry that could tear them apart.”
What Am I Listening To?
“In this memoir, Ken Ilgunas lays bare the existential terror of graduating from the University of Buffalo with $32,000 of student debt. Ilgunas set himself an ambitious mission: get out of debt as quickly as possible. Inspired by the frugality and philosophy of Henry David Thoreau, Ilgunas undertook a 3-year transcontinental journey, working in Alaska as a tour guide, garbage picker, and night cook to pay off his student loans before hitchhiking home to New York.
Debt-free, Ilgunas then enrolled in a master’s program at Duke University, determined not to borrow against his future again. He used the last of his savings to buy himself a used Econoline van and outfitted it as his new dorm. The van, stationed in a campus parking lot, would be more than an adventure—it would be his very own Walden on Wheels.“
For over a century and in scores of countries, patriarchal presumptions and practices have been challenged by women and their male allies. “Sexual harassment” has entered common parlance; police departments are equipped with rape kits; more than half of the national legislators in Bolivia and Rwanda are women; and a woman candidate won the plurality of the popular votes in the 2016 United States presidential election. But have we really reached equality and overthrown a patriarchal point of view? The Big Push exposes how patriarchal ideas and relationships continue to be modernized to this day. Through contemporary cases and reports, renowned political scientist Cynthia Enloe exposes the workings of everyday patriarchy—in how Syrian women civil society activists have been excluded from international peace negotiations; how sexual harassment became institutionally accepted within major news organizations; or in how the UN Secretary General’s post has remained a masculine domain. Enloe then lays out strategies and skills for challenging patriarchal attitudes and operations. Encouraging self-reflection, she guides us in the discomforting curiosity of reviewing our own personal complicity in sustaining patriarchy in order to withdraw our own support for it. Timely and globally conscious, The Big Push is a call for feminist self-reflection and strategic action with a belief that exposure complements resistance.
I heard about this book somewhere on Twitter. I was able to get a copy sent to me through interlibrary loan. Then through the vagaries of mood-reading, I didn’t start to read it. I felt that it was going to be an academic slog through feminist theory. But, I had gone through some effort to get it and it needed to be returned soon so I decided to give it a try.
I was so wrong about this book.
I didn’t expect to get teary-eyed sitting in a restaurant that specializes in feeding huge plates of food to Trump supporters with a country music soundtrack because of the author’s insistence of the importance of the Women’s Marches. The author perfectly recreated the feeling of needing to be in the vast sea of people to voice your opposition to what was going on in the country.
I didn’t expect to have to totally recalibrate my thinking about how I look at world events because I had missed a major plot point. I had read Richard Holbrooke’s book about negotiating the Wright-Patterson Accords to end the Bosnian War. I had read Might Be Our Powers by Leymah Gbowee about women’s protests outside the peace negotiations for Liberia. What I missed in both was these was asking why women were not included in the peace negotiations from the beginning. Ending armed conflict is traditionally seen as requiring just the armed participants to come to an agreement. That can stop the fighting but it is ignoring the majority of the population who need to live in the rebuilt country afterwards. Even now, women are not seen as participants even if they are the people still on the ground providing assistance to civilians. The author gives examples of conflict resolutions that were seen to be enlightened because they would let women draft a statement that would be read into the proceeding by a male delegate. There could only be one women’s statement though so women from all sides of the conflict had to sit down together and draft a consensus statement that might or might not be taken into consideration by the men who hadn’t yet been able to reach a consensus. How would the rebuilding of nations look different if women were included from the beginning?
This book will lead you to see more areas for improvement in our world that you may have been blind to before. I was reading this at the same time as I was reading a book that glamorized a war from a patriarchal perspective. Every comment like that in the other book jumped out at me in a way that it may not have before.
This book gives hope for a world that so far has been beyond most of our imaginings. Hopefully, once people start to see what really could be possible we might be able to approach it.
Everyone knows a guy like Jared: the burnout kid in high school who sells weed cookies and has a scary mom who's often wasted and wielding some kind of weapon. Jared does smoke and drink too much, and he does make the best cookies in town, and his mom is a mess, but he's also a kid who has an immense capacity for compassion and an impulse to watch over people more than twice his age, and he can't rely on anyone for consistent love and support, except for his flatulent pit bull, Baby Killer (he calls her Baby)--and now she's dead.
Jared can't count on his mom to stay sober and stick around to take care of him. He can't rely on his dad to pay the bills and support his new wife and step-daughter. Jared is only sixteen but feels like he is the one who must stabilize his family's life, even look out for his elderly neighbours. But he struggles to keep everything afloat...and sometimes he blacks out. And he puzzles over why his maternal grandmother has never liked him, why she says he's the son of a trickster, that he isn't human. Mind you, ravens speak to him--even when he's not stoned.
You think you know Jared, but you don't.
This is not the book that I expected from the blurb. I expected urban fantasy with Jared finding out he’s supernatural in the beginning of the book and then he has adventures. That doesn’t happen. Instead this is a hard look at the life of a First Nations teenager who lives with his unreliable and violent drug dealer mother and her boyfriend. This book takes you up close and personal into a life of poverty and crime. There is almost no magic happening for the first 2/3 of the book.
It even has two of my automatic DNF plots. His dog dies of heartworm at the beginning of the book (with a very odd veterinary clinic scene that isn’t anything that would happen for real). There is also a scene of his mother killing a dog with her truck on purpose. Animal abuse is a DNF.
I also absolutely hate stories of teenagers who do nothing but drink and take drugs. I hate it in real life and I hate wasting my time on that type of plot in books.
So, knowing all that, why did I finish this book and think it was great?
The writing pulled me in and kept me engaged with the story. Jared looks like he has nothing going for him. His mother is an addict and dealer. He is doing some low-level dealing. But he is trying to keep his mother’s bills paid while also trying to keep his father and his new wife’s rent up to date. He even helps his elderly neighbors with their chores. None of the adult relatives in Jared’s life are responsible so he feels that he needs to be. The only person he feels like he may be able to rely on is his paternal grandmother but his mother has forbidden him to talk to her. He does anyway and he really wants to go live with her in order to finish school but he feels that it would be a betrayal of his mother, even when she is continuously betraying him. By the end you want to protect him from yet another person who lets him down.
As Jared starts to see manifestations of his traditional beliefs appearing before him, he decides that he has been doing too many drugs and decides to get clean. I love that that was his response to an invisible bear in the living room and cavemen in his bedroom. But the magic is real and has always been there even if it is just starting to get through to him.
The author did a good job depicting the charm vs the dangerous irresponsibility of a drug-involved parent. Jared’s mom obviously loves him and dotes on him but she also exposes him to men who hurt him and she will disappear without warning. She relies on him to get her through bad trips and lavishes presents on him when she is manic. She’s horrible but draws you into her self-absorbed world.
Jared’s friends feel real. They are a mix of popular and unpopular kids. Native and non-Native also. Each is well fleshed out and are unique characters.
Of course this book really started to pick up for me when the magic became more apparent. And then it was over. I feel like there wasn’t a resolution. This is part one of a series so I know that there will be more to the story but I would have liked to see more of an ending than this.
Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.
Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti's stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.
If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself - but first she has to make it there, alive.
I decided not to read any of this trilogy until they were all released. I think that was a good decision. I bought the first two novellas and preordered the third right after Christmas. In the years since Binti came out I had heard a lot about it but somehow did not entirely understand what it was about. I knew that she was a girl from Africa who was going to university on another planet. I thought this was going to be the story of her schooling. It isn’t.
Binti takes place almost entirely on the ship on her way to the university. Binti comes from a insular culture. Family and tradition are of the highest importance. At the same time they are very technologically advanced and make advanced devices for everyone. Binti is most comfortable working with mathematical formulas. They help her focus and relax. She can manipulate electrical current through formulas. Sheis a harmonizer who can bring disparate things together. She’s supposed to take over the family business. Instead she runs in the middle of the night to go off planet. This is an ultimate betrayal of her family and culture.
Every time I read a Nnedi Okorafor book what stays with me is the imagination in the fine details more than the plot. It starts with Binti’s faulty hover technology that she uses to move her suitcases. It extends to the interstellar ships that are actually live animals that look like shrimp. They like to travel and are fine with taking passengers along.
This whole series is an exploration of what it means to be uniquely “you”. Does Binti lose her identity when she leaves her family or is she changing into an expanded version of herself? Is it right or wrong to change in that way? The women of Binti’s tribe wear a mixture of clay and oils on their skin to protect it from the desert. It marks her as an outsider from other cultures on Earth but it saves her when the ship is attacked. She is the only survivor and has to learn to use her gift for harmonizing to help stop a war.
It’s been a year since Binti and Okwu enrolled at Oomza University. A year since Binti was declared a hero for uniting two warring planets. A year since she abandoned her family in the dawn of a new day.
And now she must return home to her people, with her friend Okwu by her side, to face her family and face her elders.
But Okwu will be the first of his race to set foot on Earth in over a hundred years, and the first ever to come in peace.
After generations of conflict can human and Meduse ever learn to truly live in harmony?
The events of the first novella were very traumatic for Binti. She is still learning how to handle her nightmares in addition to the changes in her body after some Meduse DNA was placed in her. Is she still Himba with the addition of alien DNA? Will her family ever be able to accept her if she goes home? She decides that she has to go back to Earth to see. Her goal is to take part in a pilgrimage that will earn her place as an adult woman of the Himba. Okwa, her Meduse friend, decides to go with her. He will be the first Meduse to ever come to Earth peacefully.
Friends and family members turn their back on her. Then she is prevented from going on the pilgrimage by the arrival of members of a desert people who the Himba have always looked down on. They take her into the desert to explain their history to her. Her father is one of the them but he turned his back on them to become Himba. Again we get into questions of identity. Binti was raised to stay in her own community. Her world keeps expanding against her will.
While she is in the desert, her family and Okwa are attacked. Now she has to try to make her way back to see if anyone survived.
This was my favorite of the series. Binti is pushing through the boundaries that have been set for a woman of her age and tribe. As she grows, there is a ripple effect in her community.
Binti has returned to her home planet, believing that the violence of the Meduse has been left behind. Unfortunately, although her people are peaceful on the whole, the same cannot be said for the Khoush, who fan the flames of their ancient rivalry with the Meduse.
Far from her village when the conflicts start, Binti hurries home, but anger and resentment has already claimed the lives of many close to her.
Once again it is up to Binti, and her intriguing new friend Mwinyi, to intervene--though the elders of her people do not entirely trust her motives--and try to prevent a war that could wipe out her people, once and for all.
I’m glad I read these almost back to back. This story picks up immediately where the last one left off. Binti is getting back to her village that has been attacked while she was gone. She tries to rally the survivors but meets opposition from people who believe that their nature requires them to stay neutral and out of harm’s way while other more powerful groups fight. Binti wants to use the power of her culture to bring peace. She is ignored because after all she is just a girl and a very poor example of a Himba, in the elders’ eyes. Binti is becoming a bit more used to her expanded world view though. She can see how to bring people together even though it is going to cost her everything to do this alone.
These books do a very good job of combining traditional Himba culture, other West African beliefs such as the importance of Masquerades, advanced technology, and alien civilizations without making it feel like one is automatically better than any of the others. Binti learns to incorporate all these aspects of herself into her idea of who she is even if she really doesn’t want to.
“I have always liked myself, Dr. Tuka.” I looked up at her. “I like who I am. I love my family. I wasn’t running away from home. I don’t want to change, to grow! Nothing … everything … I don’t want all this … this weirdness! It’s too heavy! I just want tobe.”
I would recommend this series for anyone who enjoys science fiction that is very personal instead of a vast epic. It is for anyone who ever felt like they didn’t fix exactly in the space that they were born to occupy even if they really want to fit there perfectly.
I’m not going to waste a review day on Fire and Fury because everybody knows what is in it by now so here’s a mini review. For me, there weren’t any real revelations in here. I’ve always been of the opinion that he is too stupid for public office. I’ve never been able to take the leap of faith that makes some people think that he is some kind of master manipulator who just wants you to think that he’s stupid. This book confirms what I previously thought.
It was sort of helpful to read this to help get a sense of the timeline. There have been so many bad actors in this story already that you find yourself getting them confused. Reading this book helped set me straight a few times when I found I was confusing who was who.
I was disappointed that there wasn’t any coverage of the effects of protests. There was no mention of the Women’s March. No mention of response to the airport protests and apparently the repeal of the healthcare bill failed purely because of Paul Ryan and not millions of phone calls made to Senators. So much was made in the book about him just wanting everyone to like him that I would have loved to see something about the effects of the protests on him.
What Am I Reading?
Sundown Towns – “In a provocative, sweeping analysis of American residential patterns, Loewen uncovers the thousands of “sundown towns”—almost exclusively white towns where it was an unspoken rule that blacks could not live there—that cropped up throughout the twentieth century, most of them located outside of the South. These towns used everything from legal formalities to violence to create homogenous Caucasian communities—and their existence has gone unexamined until now. For the first time, Loewen takes a long, hard look at the history, sociology, and continued existence of these towns, contributing an essential new chapter to the study of American race relations.“
Son of a Trickster – “Everyone knows a guy like Jared: the burnout kid in high school who sells weed cookies and has a scary mom who’s often wasted and wielding some kind of weapon. Jared does smoke and drink too much, and he does make the best cookies in town, and his mom is a mess, but he’s also a kid who has an immense capacity for compassion and an impulse to watch over people more than twice his age, and he can’t rely on anyone for consistent love and support, except for his flatulent pit bull, Baby Killer (he calls her Baby)–and now she’s dead.
Jared can’t count on his mom to stay sober and stick around to take care of him. He can’t rely on his dad to pay the bills and support his new wife and step-daughter. Jared is only sixteen but feels like he is the one who must stabilize his family’s life, even look out for his elderly neighbours. But he struggles to keep everything afloat…and sometimes he blacks out. And he puzzles over why his maternal grandmother has never liked him, why she says he’s the son of a trickster, that he isn’t human. Mind you, ravens speak to him–even when he’s not stoned.”
What Am I Listening To?
Yeah, still. I had a weird week. My office (my less than a year old, beautiful office) flooded because of a water pipe break on an upper floor. We were off work for most of the week because of drying out and the repairs. So, I didn’t drive to work and that’s when I get most of my audiobook time. That’s why this one is taking a while.
I also listen to audiobooks when I sew but I found some other entertainment. I listened to a radio play version of Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys done by the BBC. It was wonderfully done and you can listen to it for a while longer. I’ve also started listening to The Wicked Wallflowers podcast featuring interviews with romance authors.
Sometimes the greatest dream starts with the smallest element. A single cell, joining with another. And then dividing. And just like that, the world changes. Annie Harlow knows how lucky she is. The producer of a popular television cooking show, she loves her handsome husband and the beautiful Los Angeles home they share. And now, she’s pregnant with their first child. But in an instant, her life is shattered. And when Annie awakes from a yearlong coma, she discovers that time isn’t the only thing she’s lost.
Grieving and wounded, Annie retreats to her old family home in Switchback, Vermont, a maple farm generations old. There, surrounded by her free-spirited brother, their divorced mother, and four young nieces and nephews, Annie slowly emerges into a world she left behind years ago: the town where she grew up, the people she knew before, the high-school boyfriend turned judge. And with the discovery of a cookbook her grandmother wrote in the distant past, Annie unearths an age-old mystery that might prove the salvation of the family farm.
I chose to read this book because of the mystery surrounding her grandmother’s old cookbook. I wanted to see how it saved the family farm. You know, “living well is the best revenge” and all that.
This book is told in alternating time lines. In the present timeline, Annie has had an accident that put her in a coma. She’s been moved to back to her hometown in Vermont. She wakes up not remembering much about her previous life.
In the flashbacks, you get the story of her growing up on the farm and falling in love with the new kid in town. Then you find out how she became the producer of a hit TV cooking show and met her husband.
I found myself getting bored with the flashbacks. I was much more interested in her current situation than with how she got here. I was glad when the storylines converged and it was all in the present.
How was the foodie content?
You get the basics of how maple syrup is made
You get a brief look at distilling whisky
She did run a successful cooking show
She really likes to cook
But what about the mysterious cookbook that saves the farm? That gets into spoiler territory so I recorded some spoiler-full observations about the book if you are interested.
I would recommend this book to people who like romances with former partners. If you are most interested in the food portions of the book you might be a bit disappointed because it doesn’t play as major of a role as I would have thought.
Carolyn Jourdan had it all: the Mercedes Benz, the fancy soirees, the best clothes. She moved in the most exclusive circles in Washington, D.C., rubbed elbows with big politicians, and worked on Capitol Hill. As far as she was concerned, she was changing the world.
And then her mother had a heart attack. Carolyn came home to help her father with his rural medical practice in the Tennessee mountains. She'd fill in for a few days as the receptionist until her mother could return to work. Or so she thought. But days turned into weeks.
Her job now included following hazmat regulations for cleaning up bodily fluids; maintaining composure when confronted with a splinter the size of a steak knife; distinguishing between a "pain," a "strain," and a "sprain" on indecipherable Medicare forms; and tending to the loquacious Miss Hiawatha, whose daily doctor visits were never billed.
At first glance this is a funny memoir of life in a small town medical office. Stories of men who try to operate on themselves or get injured doing ill advised things abound. There are also heart breaking stories of the deaths of beloved patients and friends. If you like stories full of small town characters, this would be a great read for you.
On a deeper level though, I found it quite disturbing. The author’s father is a doctor. He has a practice with one nurse and his wife is the receptionist/office manager. His wife is unpaid for this more than full time job. She also has a doctorate but has spent her life doing unpaid work to support her husband’s job. When she gets sick her daughter comes home to take over her job. Her daughter is a lawyer working for a Senator and is an expert on U.S. nuclear policy. She gives up that job to become her father’s unpaid helper. The reason they can’t hire anyone else is that the practice doesn’t make enough money to support a paid receptionist. So now you have two highly educated women who have given up their careers to support this practice and you are denying a job to a person in the community who could be a fine receptionist if the job was paid.
The reason the practice isn’t making any money is because the patients are too poor to pay for healthcare. Now we get into the failures of the U.S. health care system. Unfortunately, that isn’t what people tend to take from memoirs like this. They see a fine doctor who cares enough not to charge for services if people can’t pay. That’s admirable but not sustainable. If you can’t pay to keep the electric on, then the community loses its only health provider.
(This is a touchy subject for me. I work in a low cost, walk in veterinary clinic in a poor area. I am basically living this doctor’s life in the veterinary world but with better staffing and hours. People come in and regale us with tales of TV shows they’ve seen where the vet cares so much about animals that they don’t charge people. The implication being that if we do charge, then we don’t care. We just nod because no one wants an economics lesson or to hear about my massive pay cut to work here or the fact that the owner isn’t getting paid yet because the clinic just opened…)
The answer for communities like this is to find a better way for people to afford health care, not to emulate this model. It isn’t possible moving forward. Student debt is too high for newer doctors to be able to afford to live on what a practice like this makes. I looked at buying a practice like this once. The vet was making about $100,000 a year being on call 24/7. I wasn’t willing to do that because that type of stress will kill you and once you figured in paying back a loan to buy the practice and doing some way past due maintenance to the building, I would have almost been paying to work there. I had been out of school long enough not to have any student loans left. If I had had the debt of today’s graduates, I could never have even considered it.
So, yeah, the book is cute and funny and sweet as long as you don’t look too closely at why a practice like this is needed.
In 2017 I challenged myself to read more books set in Asia. I had noticed that it was an area of the world that I was missing in my reading. I did much better with that goal so this year I’ve decided to tackle another neglected area of the world in my reading – Latin America.
Every year I look at my reading map and say, “Poor South America, ignored again.” I might have 1 or 2 books on the whole continent. I’m going to fix that this year. I’m looking for books set Latin America and the Caribbean. I would like them to either be nonfiction or fiction written by an author who is from that country or who lived there for a while. The problem is finding the books. When I think of Latin American literature, I think of heavy, depressing books by men. Maybe that is just my impression of the literary fiction that gets translated. What else is out there? Are there good genre books that I should know about?
“Cultivated by slaves, consumed by the elite, paid out as a tribute to conquerors, this tale of one of the world’s favourite foods draws upon botany, archaeology, socio-economics and culinary history to provide a complete history of chocolate, beginning 3000 years ago in the jungles of Mexico.”
Well, obviously I’m going to read this. I actually have this one at home.
“Beloved as “the Zoo Lady” in her adopted land, Matola became one of Central America’s greatest wildlife defenders. And when powerful outside forces conspired with the local government to build a dam that would flood the nesting ground of the last scarlet macaws in Belize, Sharon Matola was drawn into the fight of her life. In The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw, award-winning author Bruce Barcott chronicles Sharon Matola’s inspiring crusade to stop a multinational corporation in its tracks.”
“As seamstresses, the young sisters Emília and Luzia dos Santos know how to cut, how to mend, and how to conceal. These are useful skills in the lawless backcountry of Brazil, where ruthless land barons called “colonels” feud with bands of outlaw cangaceiros, trapping innocent residents in the cross fire.”
“The year is 1854. In Paris, Francisco Solano — the future dictator of Paraguay — begins his courtship of the young, beautiful Irish courtesan Ella Lynch with a poncho, a Paraguayan band, and a horse named Mathilde. Ella follows Franco to Asunción and reigns there as his mistress. Isolated and estranged in this new world, she embraces her lover’s ill-fated imperial dream — one fueled by a heedless arrogance that will devastate all of Paraguay.”
“In 1994, Andrew Gurr was perusing the employment pages of the Sunday Times when an advertisement caught his eye: “Wanted: Chief Executive of the Falkland Islands Government.” Intrigued, he decided to follow it up. Nobody was more surprised than Andrew when, a few months later, he was offered the position. What followed was 5 remarkable years on a remarkable island, doing the most curious job that can be imagined.”
I’ve started this one and I have mixed feelings.
And that’s what I have so far. Any other suggestions?
Here are some books I’ve read in the past few years that would fit into this challenge too if, you know, I hadn’t already read them.
“On ship-tracking websites, the waters are black with dots. Each dot is a ship; each ship is laden with boxes; each box is laden with goods. In postindustrial economies, we no longer produce but buy. We buy, so we must ship. Without shipping there would be no clothes, food, paper, or fuel. Without all those dots, the world would not work.
Freight shipping has been no less revolutionary than the printing press or the Internet, yet it is all but invisible. Away from public scrutiny, shipping revels in suspect practices, dubious operators, and a shady system of “flags of convenience.” Infesting our waters, poisoning our air, and a prime culprit of acoustic pollution, shipping is environmentally indefensible. And then there are the pirates.”
I got a big gift card from my boss for Christmas. I decided to buy books with it.
I suck at buying books. I’m too cheap. This is what I wrote while I was trying it.
Me trying to spend a gift card: 1. I wonder if the library has that book 2. It does! Request! 3. Stop requesting books before they all come at once 4. Make request order list 5. Still have gift card b/c @akronlibrary is too good.
“In a world where we have been genetically engineered so that we can photosynthesise sunlight with our hair hunger is a thing of the past, food an indulgence. The poor grow their hair, the rich affect baldness and flaunt their wealth by still eating. But other hungers remain…”
“Anica and Bienvenida pass prayers and small comforts through the gaps in the prison walls. Incarcerated by the Inquisition for the faith she won’t surrender, Anica longs for solace for her family and freedom for herself. And Bienvenida, heir to her mother’s Nahua magic, now practiced out of sight of the Spanish religious authorities, will trade a great deal for the fragile chance at friendship and snippets of poetry.”
This author’s INK is one of my all time favorite books.
“Evie Tanaka is the put-upon personal assistant to Aveda Jupiter, her childhood best friend and San Francisco’s most beloved superheroine. She’s great at her job—blending into the background, handling her boss’s epic diva tantrums, and getting demon blood out of leather pants.
Unfortunately, she’s not nearly as together when it comes to running her own life, standing up for herself, or raising her tempestuous teenage sister, Bea.”
Victoria-Margaret is the crown princess of the empire, a direct descendant of Victoria I, the queen who changed the course of history two centuries earlier. The imperial practice of genetically arranged matchmaking will soon guide Margaret into a politically advantageous marriage like her mother before her, but before she does her duty, she'll have one summer incognito in a far corner of empire. In Toronto, she meets Helena Marcus, daughter of one of the empire's greatest placement geneticists, and August Callaghan, the heir apparent to a powerful shipping firm currently besieged by American pirates. In a summer of high-society debutante balls, politically charged tea parties, and romantic country dances, Margaret, Helena, and August discover they share an unusual bond and maybe a one in a million chance to have what they want and to change the world in the process —just like the first Queen Victoria.
This is a YA alternative history book that imagines that the British Empire is still alive and well. The decision that made the difference was that Queen Victoria named her eldest daughter heir and then married off all her other children to people in the Empire instead of other European royal families. Now, the Empire is predominately made up of mixed race people. Canada has a high percentage of people originally from Hong Kong. The Church of England consists mostly of a DNA database that chooses the best DNA match for people.
The Crown Princess Victoria-Margaret wants one summer away. She decides to make her debut in Canada while passing herself off as a cousin to one of the leading families there. She makes other friends though who aren’t in on her secret and this leads to romantic entanglements that aren’t what she expected.
I thought the world building was interesting in this book. It was intriguing to think about what might have happened if the British had treated their subjects as people worthy of respect. If you pick too much at the assumptions made in the book though it might all fall apart. My recommendation is just to enjoy it and go along for the ride.
At the end of the book the main characters are hatching a plot. It doesn’t seem very well thought out to me so I will be interested to see what happens in upcoming books.
I read a lot of books about food. A lot of these books have recipes in them. I usually don’t make the recipes. But there is one recipe from one book that I not only made but I have adapted it and screwed it up in so many ways and it is still a family favorite.
It is from the book A Trip to the Beach by Melinda Blanchard. It is the story of Americans who start a restaurant on Anguilla. I looked them up while writing this post and they are still in business (but currently closed due to hurricane damage). This cornbread is still on the menu.
I hate cornbread. It is dry and nasty. But this stuff is amazing. I wrote about it first on February 22, 2005. (What is the point of having a long term blog if not to remember stuff like this?) That post has the real recipe. The real recipe will probably kill you if you eat it too much. It is delicious though. Over the years I’ve lightened it up and veganized it. No matter what I try it is still amazing. I even made it once without corn meal because I was out. Still amazing. No one noticed.
I made it for New Year’s Eve this year. It is a full meal unto itself. We have it with a side of baked beans. It should be the other way around but this stuff is good. I decided to make a double batch. I went to two stores to find the ingredients.
Then I came home and started to cook.
First off, I didn’t have enough sugar to double it. So I threw in a little brown sugar and called it good.
Then I didn’t have any flax. I keep my flax in the refrigerator. I was shoving stuff around yelling, “Where’s the flax!!???”
The husband wandered up. “I don’t know. What’s flax?”
“There’s no flax and if there’s no flax, there’s no cornbread!!!” That might have come out in a rising shriek because his response was, “RUN FRECKLES!!! SHE’S MAD!!!!!” Then he took off for the living room and left the poor dog to fend for herself. I stomped off to google how to make chia eggs because I had chia. Then I had to have a serious think about the math to substitute a different type of egg replacer while also doubling the recipe because that could have gone bad.
Then, then, I picked up my can of baking powder and it was suspiciously light. I was on my knees peering into the cupboard muttering, “I swear to #@$%^&*^%$# god, if there is not another can of baking powder….” I didn’t have to finish the threat because whatever deity was listening wisely showed me where the new can of baking powder was.
It is cooking as I write this and I’m not even worried. This is a recipe that you can seriously abuse and it still somehow tastes great.
Here’s my new and improved version of Caribbean Cornbread.
1 cup flour
1 cup cornmeal
2 Tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 lb vegan butter, room temp
3/4 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons flax in 1/4 cup of water, sit for 5 minutes
1/2 cup applesauce
1.5 cups creamed corn
1/2 cup crushed pineapple, drained
Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, corn meal, baking powder, and salt, and set aside. Cream the butter and sugar. Add in the flax and applesauce. Mix well. Add the corn and pineapple and mix to blend. On a low speed, add the dry ingredients and mix until blended well. Pour the batter into a 9 inch glass pan and bake until golden brown around the edges and a tester stuck in the center comes out clean, about 1 hour.
—The totally messed up version I made turned out pretty good. It needed a little more sweetness so I topped each slice with a drizzle of honey and it was perfect.
Once again I read overwhelmingly more female authors. Most of those male authors wrote nonfiction. I only read a few male fiction writers.
How did I do with my goal of reading diversely?
I was right about at 50% white. That’s better than I’ve done in the past but still not representative of the world as a whole. In 2015 I was 72% white and in 2016 68% of the female authors I read were white. One of my goals this year was to read more Asian authors. Last year I only read 13 and none of them were Southeast or Southwest Asian, so not a huge gain overall but more geographically spread out.
What about the men?
Yeah, not so good. 80% white. That’s way worse than last year. I know why too. I talked about it in my post about my nonfiction reading skewing towards white male authors. This is why I keep track of these things so I know if I need to reach out more in my reading to get different perspectives on the world.
My most read author was M.C.A. Hogarth.
These are four of the series of hers that I either started or read all of this year. I read 12 of her books and short stories this year. Emily Larkin had a strong surge at the end to tie with Seanan McGuire for second with 7 books each.