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19 Apr, 2017

Revolution for Dummies

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Bassem Youssef

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

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Books Set in the Middle East
  • POC authors
23 Feb, 2017

Celebrity Memoir Edition

/ posted in: Reading Celebrity Memoir Edition Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick
Published by Touchstone on November 15th 2016
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Pages: 271
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Goodreads

Even before she made a name for herself on the silver screen starring in films like Pitch Perfect, Up in the Air, Twilight, and Into the Woods, Anna Kendrick was unusually small, weird, and “10 percent defiant.”
At the ripe age of thirteen, she had already resolved to “keep the crazy inside my head where it belonged. Forever. But here’s the thing about crazy: It. Wants. Out.” In Scrappy Little Nobody, she invites readers inside her brain, sharing extraordinary and charmingly ordinary stories with candor and winningly wry observations.
With her razor-sharp wit, Anna recounts the absurdities she’s experienced on her way to and from the heart of pop culture as only she can—from her unusual path to the performing arts (Vanilla Ice and baggy neon pants may have played a role) to her double life as a middle-school student who also starred on Broadway to her initial “dating experiments” (including only liking boys who didn’t like her back) to reviewing a binder full of butt doubles to her struggle to live like an adult woman instead of a perpetual “man-child.”

 


I’m not a big fan of celebrity memoirs.  I’m also not a big fan of memoirs written by people in their 20s.  So why would I listen to this audiobook?

I took a chance on it because I figured that Anna Kendrick’s public persona is funny so maybe the book would be too.  I was right.

This isn’t a straight biography.  Her life isn’t told in strict chronological order.  This is more a series of stories that illustrates different points in her life.  I hadn’t realized that she was in a Broadway musical as a kid.  She talks about her life in California before she could get a job.  You find out what changes when you get famous and what doesn’t.  You find out how Twilight films pay for your life while you are doing press for the film that got you an Oscar nomination but didn’t pay much.

I recommend this one on audio to hear her read it.  This book also has the best book group discussion questions ever.

If you want a fun, short book about the ups and downs of show business with a large dose of anxiety thrown in, this is the book for you.


Celebrity Memoir Edition Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls, and Everything in Between by Lauren Graham
Published by Ballantine Books on November 29th 2016
Pages: 224
Goodreads

In this collection of personal essays, the beloved star of Gilmore Girls and Parenthood reveals stories about life, love, and working as a woman in Hollywood—along with behind-the-scenes dispatches from the set of the new Gilmore Girls, where she plays the fast-talking Lorelai Gilmore once again.
In Talking as Fast as I Can, Lauren Graham hits pause for a moment and looks back on her life, sharing laugh-out-loud stories about growing up, starting out as an actress, and, years later, sitting in her trailer on the Parenthood set and asking herself, “Did you, um, make it?” She opens up about the challenges of being single in Hollywood (“Strangers were worried about me; that’s how long I was single!”), the time she was asked to audition her butt for a role, and her experience being a judge on Project Runway.

Despite my protestations that I don’t like celebrity memoirs, I listened to another one.

I never realized that they talked fast on Gilmore Girls until I read a review of the series. I figured that’s just how people talked. (Likewise, I found out that they speak in Chinese on Firefly long after I watched the whole series.  I’m slow on the uptake.)

But when I started this audiobook on my standard 1.5 times the speed setting on my iPod, it was quick.  I learned to listen fast enough for it though after a minute or so.  If you thought the show was quick, you may want to slow this audiobook down.

Like Anna Kendrick, I didn’t know anything about Lauren Graham outside her roles.  This is also not a straight chronological memoir but a series of thoughts on different points in her life.  She talks about being on shows with younger cast members led her to feeling old and giving advice that isn’t always appreciated.  For example, are you sure that’s a body part you want to pierce and/or post a picture of on the internet?

She talks about moving into writing from acting.  This part can sound a little too much like an advertisement to buy her novel.

I wish for the audiobook they had described the photos that she is referring to in the book instead of just saying, “See photo 16 for how I looked that day.”  Not helpful.

Overall, this was a fast (4 hour) listen and fun if you are a fan.  If you haven’t watched Gilmore Girls, skip it because you’ll get confused.  There is a lot of talking about a scene here or there and if you haven’t got a basic familiarity with the show, it would be boring.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
22 Feb, 2017

Being Mortal

/ posted in: ReadingWork Being Mortal Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
Published by Metropolitan Books on October 7th 2014
Genres: Medical, Nonfiction
Pages: 282
Format: Audiobook, Paperback
Source: Library, Owned
Goodreads

Medicine has triumphed in modern times, transforming birth, injury, and infectious disease from harrowing to manageable. But in the inevitable condition of aging and death, the goals of medicine seem too frequently to run counter to the interest of the human spirit. Nursing homes, preoccupied with safety, pin patients into railed beds and wheelchairs. Hospitals isolate the dying, checking for vital signs long after the goals of cure have become moot. Doctors, committed to extending life, continue to carry out devastating procedures that in the end extend suffering.

I find the discussion of end of life matters fascinating.  I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve been asked if I’m not scared about what will happen when I’m old since I’ve chosen not to have children.  That never seemed like a good enough reason to have kids since there is no guarantee that your children will outlive you or be physically/mentally able to take care of you in your old age.

Regardless of your number of offspring, I think everyone is nervous about what will happen with age.  No one wants to lose their independence.  That is the point of this book.  The author looks at several programs that aim to let people continue to live a good life as they age and then have a good death.

I was encouraged by reading about all kinds of different ways that people are rethinking elder care.  I have a dream of a community of cottages for old introverts where you check in once a day so everyone knows that you are still alive and there is a movie playing every night in case you want a group activity where you don’t have to talk to anyone.  No one has quite made that yet but there were some that I wouldn’t mind.

One of the major concerns in allowing a more independent old age is safety.  If you want people to be totally safe, then you can’t let them walk around and make (possibly poor) decisions for themselves.  Children of elderly people tend to value their safety over their happiness.  This leads them to make decisions about care that take away options from the parent.

Has anyone made progress with good deaths?  I still think that the way humans approach death is pretty horrific.  I’m coming to this discussion from my perspective as a veterinarian.  We’re all about palliative care until there is a poor quality of life and then euthanasia so there is no suffering.  The author discusses increasing access to hospice care earlier in the patient’s care to decrease extreme medical interventions that are required of hospitals but don’t ultimately aid the patient.  That’s good but then every story of a “good” death he cites ends with several days of the patient being on all kinds of pain medication so they drift in and out of consciousness.  They may not be in pain but what is the point?  They are past communication.  The families are holding vigils waiting for them to let go.  It seems to me that an overdose at this point is so much kinder.

I hear this all the time during euthanasias.  People start to talk about their relatives’ deaths and how they wish they could have helped them in this way so they didn’t have those last few days.  I understand slippery slope arguments but it just seems like common sense to me.

The author also discussed different personality types of doctors and how they help and hurt decision making.  There are authoritarians who tell the patient what to do without much discussion.  There are doctors who give the patient all their options and let them decide what to do.  I’m the latter one.  We were trained to do this in school.  It can confuse clients because they get overwhelmed.  They then counter with, “What would you do?”  We aren’t supposed to answer that question.  It isn’t a fair one anyway. We aren’t in the same situation.  I could do things at home that you might not be able to.  I might tolerate inconveniences more or less than you do.  The author talks about how he learned to give more opinions about how different choices might affect their lives.  I’ve started to do this too some.  I think it has helped some people.

He also recommends having end of life discussions with your family members before decisions need to be made.  Then if you are in an emergency situation where you can’t talk to them about it, you know what to do.

What would be your ideal way to live out your last few years?

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Backlist Books
  • POC authors
13 Feb, 2017

Her Nightly Embrace – Fun but oh so problematic

/ posted in: Reading Her Nightly Embrace – Fun but oh so problematic Her Nightly Embrace (Ravi PI #1) by Adi Tantimedh
Series: Ravi PI #1
Published by Atria/Leopoldo & Co. on November 1st 2016
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 320
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Goodreads
Setting: England

Ravi Chandra Singh is the last guy you’d expect to become a private detective. A failed religious scholar, he now works for Golden Sentinels, an upmarket London private investigations agency. His colleagues are a band of gleefully amoral and brilliant screw-ups: Ken and Clive, a pair of brutal ex-cops who are also a gay couple; Mark Chapman, a burned-out stoner hiding a great mind; Marcie Holder, a cheerful former publicist; Benjamin Lee, a techie prankster from South London; David Okri, an ambitious lawyer from a well-connected Nigerian immigrant family; and Olivia Wong, an upper-class Hong Kong financial analyst hiding her true skills as one of the most dangerous hackers in the world—all under the watchful eye of Roger Golden, wheeler-dealer extraordinaire, and his mysterious office manager, Cheryl Hughes.
Thrust into a world where the rich, famous, and powerful hire him to solve their problems and wash their dirty laundry, Ravi finds himself in over his head with increasingly gonzo and complex cases – and the recent visions that he’s been having of Hindu gods aren’t helping. As Ravi struggles to stay ahead of danger, he wonders if the things he’s seeing are a delusion – or if he might, in fact, be an unrecognized shaman of the modern world...


I loved this story of a private eye handling high profile cases while the Hindu gods watch him and text on their phones.  There are several cases discussed here and they were well done.  I want to read more in this series to see what happens with the gods.

BUT….

The first case in the book is super problematic.  It only covers maybe the first 1/3 of the book so discussing it isn’t going to going spoil the whole thing but here’s your warning.

A politician comes to the agency because he says that his dead girlfriend is having sex with him at night.  It turns out that the politician takes a lot of sleeping pills at night so he isn’t fully aware of what is going on.  His former girlfriend was a transwoman and he didn’t know.  She was mid-transition when she got sick and then met him.  Instead of talking to him about, you know, her life or anything, she would have her twin sister switch places with her at night.  Her sister had sex with him.  Then the girlfriend died of her illness and the sister kept sneaking into the house and having sex with the drugged guy because she was a sex addict.

(Go ahead and pick all the nonsense out of that paragraph at your leisure.)

Ok, so no matter how you dress that up, that’s a rape case.  But, the word rape is never uttered.  I think the closest they get is saying assault.  I believe you are meant to feel bad for the woman who might get prosecuted if the politician decides to go public.  I didn’t.

But then ….. wait for it…..

The woman who should be in jail for rape not only starts dating the main character but she gets a job in the agency.

via GIPHY
I kept listening in hope that something was going to happen to get them to all see that this was wrong. They don’t. The rest of the book is so much better than this.  This story could easily have been gotten rid of and not affect the rest of the book.  I would love to think that when they adapt this for TV that they will live this case out but these things never work out the way I’d like.

About Adi Tantimedh

Adi Tantimedh has a BA in English Literature from Bennington College and an MFA in Film and Television Production from New York University. He is of Chinese-Thai descent and came of age in Singapore and London. He has written radio plays and television scripts for the BBC and screenplays for various Hollywood companies, as well as graphic novels for DC Comics and Big Head Press, and a weekly column about pop culture for BleedingCool.com. He wrote “Zinky Boys Go Underground,” the first post-Cold War Russian gangster thriller, which won the BAFTA for Best Short Film in 1995.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Books Set in Europe
  • POC authors
07 Feb, 2017

I Almost Forgot About You

/ posted in: Reading I Almost Forgot About You I Almost Forgot About You by Terry McMillan
Published by Crown on June 7th 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Fiction, Love & Romance
Pages: 368
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Goodreads
Setting: California

In I Almost Forgot About You, Dr. Georgia Young's wonderful life--great friends, family, and successful career--aren't enough to keep her from feeling stuck and restless. When she decides to make some major changes in her life, quitting her job as an optometrist, and moving house, she finds herself on a wild journey that may or may not include a second chance at love.

Georgia’s life is turned around when she finds out that a person she loved in college has died.  She decides to get in touch with the men she has loved to tell them that she appreciated them.

I decided to download this book on a whim before a long road trip.  It was fun and laugh at loud funny in parts.  Georgia is trying to decide what to do with her life.  Her children are grown.  Her job is boring her.  She wants to make a change but isn’t sure what that will look like.  In the meantime, she is dealing with her mother’s remarriage, her daughters’ marriages and pregnancies, and her friends deciding that they too will be making big changes.  Facing the men from her past feels like too much at times.

The first thing Georgia wants to do in her new life is to take a solo train trip from San Francisco to Vancouver and then across Canada.  That’s something I’ve always wanted to do too.  I’d love to just look at the scenery and read for a week.  It sounds like the perfect introvert trip.

The women  in her life are very against her traveling solo.  They even imply that she shouldn’t go on her trip unless she can take a man with her, even though Georgia isn’t in a relationship and hasn’t dated in years.  That annoyed me.

Bad rep alert:

There is a minor storyline about a man leaving his wife for his boyfriend.  This is discussed as the man being gay now. Bisexuality is never discussed.  That’s a missed opportunity.  The wife doesn’t want him to discuss this with their children until they are older.  It seems to imply that homosexuality/bisexuality has to remain an adults-only conversation.  This is refuted later when the kids talk about it very matter of factly. They obviously aren’t traumatized at all.

There is a man in Georgia’s life who seems to me to be very smug.  He routinely overrides what Georgia says she wants.  This is portrayed in the book as romantic and him knowing Georgia better than she knows herself.  I found it a bit creepy.


Despite its issues, I really enjoyed this book.  The depictions of female friendships are very well done.  I love her friend Wanda and her outlook on Georgia’s life.  This is a great light read when you want a book that will make you laugh.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • POC authors
06 Feb, 2017

Beneath The Surface

/ posted in: Enviromentalist Wacko PostsReading Beneath The Surface Beneath the Surface: Killer Whales, SeaWorld, and the Truth Beyond Blackfish by John Hargrove, Howard Chua-Eoan
Published by St. Martin's Press on March 24th 2015
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs, Science
Pages: 264
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Goodreads
Setting: United States

Over the course of two decades, John Hargrove worked with 20 different whales on two continents and at two of SeaWorld's U.S. facilities. For Hargrove, becoming an orca trainer fulfilled a childhood dream. However, as his experience with the whales deepened, Hargrove came to doubt that their needs could ever be met in captivity. When two fellow trainers were killed by orcas in marine parks, Hargrove decided that SeaWorld's wildly popular programs were both detrimental to the whales and ultimately unsafe for trainers.
After leaving SeaWorld, Hargrove became one of the stars of the controversial documentary Blackfish. The outcry over the treatment of SeaWorld's orca has now expanded beyond the outlines sketched by the award-winning documentary, with Hargrove contributing his expertise to an advocacy movement that is convincing both federal and state governments to act.

As I listened to this book written by a former orca trainer at Sea World, the analogy that kept coming to mind was alien abduction.  Humans have taken orcas out of their natural environment by force.  They are made to live in cells with others of their species with whom they do not share a language.  Several died before the exact requirements for keeping them were figured out.  Humans control when they eat, when they play, and when they are bred.  Humans separate them from their offspring even though we know orcas have complex matriarchal families.

This is a fitting analogy because eventually the author discusses it too.  Seen in this light, it is impossible to justify the practice of using whales and dolphins for entertainment.

The author started as a true believer in Sea World.  From the age of 6 he dedicated his life to becoming an orca trainer.  He loved the whales.  He believed that some of the whales cared for him too.  But he came to realize that no matter how close the relationship between whale and trainer was, at the end of the day he was still their prison guard.  It is only natural that an intelligent creature kept under these conditions will try to fight back.

The book opens with the detailed account of his attack by a whale.  He is clear that the whale chose to let him live.  His break with Sea World came after the 2009 and 2010 deaths of trainers.  In each instance Sea World’s public statements blamed the trainers for making mistakes.  After studying the incidents it was clear to him that they did not and that Sea World was lying to hide the fact that this aggression was a result of psychological stress to the whales.

He discusses many types of aggression and health problems that result from captivity.  One telling story concerns the baby whales.  They swim nonstop for several months after birth.  This is because in the wild orcas never stop moving.  They have to learn to stop and float still in the tiny Sea World pools.

Since the animals are not able to released, he discusses options for how to care for the current whales in a more humane way.

Even if you’ve seen Blackfish, I’d recommend this book to get a better idea about the lives of the whales from someone who has lived on both sides of the issue.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Backlist Books
  • LBGTQ authors/characters
24 Jan, 2017

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

/ posted in: Reading Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers on February 21st 2012
Genres: Young Adult
Pages: 359
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible, Owned
Goodreads
Setting: Texas

Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

Aristotle and Dante is a book that I have been hearing about for a long time but just finally listened to. This is a coming of age story of two Mexican-American boys set in El Paso Texas in the 1980s.

Ari is a loner with many questions about his family. He has a much older brother who went to jail when Ari was four. He doesn’t know why and his family refuses to talk about it. Ari’s father is a Vietnam veteran struggling with PTSD who is having difficulty communicating with his family.

Dante is the extroverted only child of expressive and loving parents. He loves poetry. He offers to teach Ari to swim when they meet at a public pool. Over the summer they become friends and then very gradually start to realize that they may be falling in love.

This is the story of Ari and Dante’s lives through one summer, the school year, and the next summer. There are everyday milestones like getting a driver’s license and having your first job in addition to larger issues.

  • How do you stand up to your parents so they start to see you as an adult?
  • How do you deal with unrequited love?
  • How do you most effectively face homophobia, including violence?
  • How do you learn to let yourself learn to feel and act on your emotions?
  • How do you deal with being too American for your Mexican relatives and too Mexican for other Americans?

Lin-Manuel Miranda reads the audiobook and does a very good job.  (There is a nice moment when Ari complains about learning about Alexander Hamilton that gets a bit meta when you hear Lin-Manuel Miranda read it.) This book is a bit slow on audio for my tastes.  In fact I set it aside for a few months after about the first hour.  I’m glad I came back to it because the story picked up but this is one that might be better in print form if you like a lot of action in your audiobooks.

In whatever format you decide this is a great book for everyone to read.

About Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Benjamin Alire Sáenz (born 16 August 1954) is an award-winning American poet, novelist and writer of children’s books.

He was born at Old Picacho, New Mexico, the fourth of seven children, and was raised on a small farm near Mesilla, New Mexico. He graduated from Las Cruces High School in 1972. That fall, he entered St. Thomas Seminary in Denver, Colorado where he received a B.A. degree in Humanities and Philosophy in 1977. He studied Theology at the University of Louvain in Leuven, Belgium from 1977 to 1981. He was a priest for a few years in El Paso, Texas before leaving the order.

In 1985, he returned to school, and studied English and Creative Writing at the University of Texas at El Paso where he earned an M.A. degree in Creative Writing. He then spent a year at the University of Iowa as a PhD student in American Literature.

He continues to teach in the Creative Writing Department at the University of Texas at El Paso.

from his website

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Backlist Books
  • LBGTQ authors/characters
  • POC authors
19 Jan, 2017

Labyrinth Lost

/ posted in: Reading Labyrinth Lost Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova
Series: Brooklyn Brujas #1
Published by Sourcebooks Fire on September 6th 2016
Genres: Fantasy & Magic
Pages: 336
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible, Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: New York

“Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives.
Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange markings on his skin.
The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland…”


I heard about this book through the #DSFFBookClub (Diverse Sci Fi/Fantasy) on Twitter a few months ago.  From the description somehow I got the impression that this took place in Mexico and perhaps was set in the past.  That isn’t true at all.

Alex is part of a family of witches in Brooklyn in the present day.  Their numbers are dwindling.  Alex has been hiding the fact that her powers have appeared because they are very strong and they scare her.  She also thinks that magic has been responsible for a lot of the problems in her family.  She doesn’t want anything to do with it.

She accidentally reveals her powers at school while defending her friend Rishi from a bully.  Now her family is planning her Death Day, a traditional celebration of a young bruja’s power.  Alex doesn’t want anything to do with it.  She decides to try to relinquish her powers during the ceremony but her attempt to use a canto goes wrong.  Her family (living and dead) is banished to another realm and now Alex has to try to get them back.

I liked the depiction of a family for whom magic is a normal and expected part of everyday life.  The next book in the series is going to focus on her sister Lula who is a healer.

This book uses a lot of YA Fantasy tropes but twists them in small ways so they weren’t totally annoying.

There was a love triangle in this book which I absolutely hate but instead of a perfect girl trying to decide between two guys who love her here she is deciding between a girl and a guy.  (I’m still waiting for my dream book where the two objects of affection decide they don’t need the perfect one and go off together.)

Alex is, of course, the Chosen One who can fix everything.  She’s the most powerful witch in generations.  Only she can defeat the bad guy.  At the end though she had to accept help from others.  She does also acknowledge that part of her wants to take all the power and be a despot too.

There is a point where a person who has hurt Alex tries to explain that it was all ok because this person loves Alex so much.  She ultimately rejects that but it teetered on the brink.  It was a little too close to “stalking is ok because this person loves you SO MUCH” for my liking.

Overall, I enjoyed this book and am interested to read the rest of the series when it comes out.

 

 

About Zoraida Córdova

“Zoraida Córdova was born in Ecuador and raised in Queens, New York. She is the author of The Vicious Deep trilogy, the On the Verge series, and Labyrinth Lost. She loves black coffee, snark, and still believes in magic. Send her a tweet @Zlikeinzorro” – from her website

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • LBGTQ authors/characters
  • POC authors
14 Dec, 2016

Nujeen: One Girl’s Incredible Journey from War-torn Syria in a Wheelchair

/ posted in: Reading Nujeen: One Girl’s Incredible Journey from War-torn Syria in a Wheelchair Nujeen: One Girl's Incredible Journey from War-torn Syria in a Wheelchair by Nujeen Mustafa, Christina Lamb
Published by Harper Wave on October 11th 2016
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Pages: 304
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: Syria

“Prize-winning journalist and the co-author of smash New York Times bestseller I Am Malala, Christina Lamb, now tells the inspiring true story of another remarkable young hero: Nujeen Mustafa, a teenager born with cerebral palsy, whose harrowing journey from war-ravaged Syria to Germany in a wheelchair is a breathtaking tale of fortitude, grit, and hope that lends a face to the greatest humanitarian issue of our time, the Syrian refugee crisis.
For millions around the globe, sixteen-year-old Nujeen Mustafa embodies the best of the human spirit. Confined to a wheelchair because of her cerebral palsy and denied formal schooling in Syria because of her illness, Nujeen taught herself English by watching American soap operas. When her small town became the epicenter of the brutal fight between ISIS militants and US-backed Kurdish troops in 2014, she and her family were forced to flee.”


I finished this audiobook a few days ago just as the news was coming out about the Syrian government retaking Aleppo.  If you don’t have a good understanding of the causes of the conflict in Syria or the history of the Kurds, read this book.

Nujeen’s family was well off.  Her siblings are all older than she is.  One is a director living in Germany.  The rest were university students or graduates.  She was unable to go to school because of her cerebral palsy.  They lived in a fifth floor apartment with no elevator so she almost never left the house.  She learned by watching TV.  She is very smart.  She taught herself English by watching Days of Our Lives.

When the rebellion against Assad started, life didn’t change too much for her family.  They didn’t think it would because they lived in such a safe city – Aleppo.  Her sister joined in the protests at her university until the regime’s response became too violent.  Eventually they moved to their other house in Manbij.

They got used to the hardships.  When her brother visited from Germany, he was horrified at their living conditions and what they were now accepting as normal.  They started to make plans to leave.

Her insistence that live didn’t change that much for them and that no one thought that anything bad could happen in a city as safe as Aleppo was upsetting.  I kept thinking that someday we’ll be telling this story about the U.S.  I had to sit this audiobook aside for a bit because it was making me really depressed.  I listened to it on the way to work one morning and was on the verge of tears all day.  I finished it by listening to it in large sections on the way to and from large family gatherings so I didn’t have time to dwell as soon as I finished listening.

“We will just be numbers while the tyrant is engraved in history.”  Nujeen wondering why history only remembers the names of the dictators and not their victims.

 

The family first left for Turkey and then the children headed on to Europe.  I would love to hear this story from her sister Nasreen’s perspective.  Nujeen was a teenager who had never left the house.  Nasreen was in charge of her.  It sounds like she drove poor Nasreen to distraction with her excitement about being out in the world.  Nasreen was trying to get them through hostile countries and Nujeen was bubbling over with how exciting it all was.  She did realize that there were times that Nasreen just wanted her to shut up.

They went through Turkey and then took an inflatable boat illegally to Greece.  Whether or not to take her wheelchair on the boat was a major point of contention.  They made the trip on the same day as three-year-old Aylan Kurdi drowned trying the trip from farther down the coast.  From there they moved country to country to Germany to meet their brother just as the countries in Europe were starting to close their borders to refugees.

Nujeen talks about how her status as an English speaking refugee in a wheelchair led to a lot of interviews.  One of them made its way into this John Oliver piece.

I enjoyed Nujeen’s story because she is a very smart and very sassy teenager.  That comes through in the writing.  She’s funny.  I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to put a human face on the humanitarian crisis.

12 Dec, 2016

Becoming Nicole

/ posted in: Reading Becoming Nicole Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family by Amy Ellis Nutt
Published by Random House on October 20th 2015
Pages: 279
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: Maine

“The inspiring true story of a transgender girl, her identical twin brother, and an ordinary American family’s extraordinary journey to understand, nurture, and celebrate the uniqueness in us all, from the Pulitzer Prize–winning science reporter for The Washington Post.”


Wayne and Kelly Maines adopted identical twin boys at birth.  They were named Jonas and Wyatt.  Starting around age 2, Wyatt started showing a strong preference for stereotypically female toys, clothes, and activities.  He started asking about why people thought he was a boy.

I did enjoy the discussion of prenatal development that attempt to explain how identical twins can turn out so differently.  Different positioning in utero can influence the availability of hormones to each twin, for example.

Mrs. Maines accepted what Wyatt was trying to tell her at an early age but Mr. Maines did not.

This section of the book was frustrating for me to listen to because there seemed to be so much misogyny involved.  It seemed like the reason that Mr. Maines fought this for so long and so hard is that he had a hard time with a son of his preferring female things over male things.  The book talks about how he wanted to play sports and hunt with his sons.  Well, a girl child could do those things also.  That was never mentioned.  It was either there was going to be a rough-and-tumble boy or a sweet little princess girl.  For a book about trans issues, the discussion of gender roles seemed very inflexible.

Wyatt’s classmates didn’t have a problem with any of this through elementary school.  When it came time for middle school, the decision was made after talking to teachers, doctors, and counselors to have a legal name change to Nicole and to let her wear feminine clothing to school.  This more public acknowledgement of Nicole’s transgender identity started to become controversial.

A Maine anti-LGBT group got involved in protesting against her.  A grandfather of another student in the school told his grandson that if he ever saw Nicole go into the girls’ bathroom, he was to follow her in there because he had every right to be in there too.

It always comes down to the bathrooms.  Why is that?

bathroom-453420_640

It makes me wonder if I’ve been using public restrooms wrong this whole time.  Are we supposed to be getting naked and cavorting around the stalls?  What do people imagine is going on?

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Amazingly, the “logic” always seems to go like this:

  1. Letting transgender people use the bathroom they identify with is the same as letting any random person choose any bathroom they feel like going into on any given day.
  2. So, cis heterosexual men will take advantage of this opportunity to go into women’s restroom where (we must presume) they are imagining naked women lining up for their perusal.
  3.  This will lead to rape.

So, if I’m following the logic correctly, all we can fix all this and still let transgender people go to the bathroom in peace.  All we need to do is:

  1. Make cis heterosexual psychosexually disturbed men use a private restroom of their own — and —-
  2. Teach these same men not to rape people

Problem solved!  Notice that nowhere in here are transgender people a public hazard AT ALL.

Anyway, instead of using my logic, the school district banned Nicole from the girl’s restroom and made her be monitored by an adult at all times.  This was supposed to be for her safety to keep the other student who was harassing her away but it punished her instead of dealing with his harassment.  After trying to work out a solution, the Maines moved and filed suit against the district.

The lawsuit worked its way up to the Maine Supreme Court where they finally won a ruling that kids in school in Maine are allowed to use a restroom that conforms to their gender identity.


I finished this audiobook a few days before HBO released The Trans List, which includes an interview with Nicole.  In this trailer, she is youngest woman who is talking about bathrooms.  I watched the documentary.  It is very good.  It is only an hour long so if you have access to it you should definitely watch.

 

29 Nov, 2016

The Piano Shop on the Left Bank

/ posted in: Reading The Piano Shop on the Left Bank The Piano Shop on the Left Bank: Discovering a Forgotten Passion in a Paris Atelier by Thad Carhart
Published by Random House Trade Paperbacks on March 12th 2002
Genres: History, Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Pages: 268
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: France

“Walking his two young children to school every morning, Thad Carhart passes an unassuming little storefront in his Paris neighborhood. Intrigued by its simple sign — Desforges Pianos — he enters, only to have his way barred by the shop’s imperious owner. Unable to stifle his curiosity, he finally lands the proper introduction, and a world previously hidden is brought into view. Luc, the atelier’s master, proves an indispensable guide to the history and art of the piano. Intertwined with the story of a musical friendship are reflections on how pianos work, their glorious history, and stories of the people who care for them, from amateur pianists to the craftsmen who make the mechanism sing.”


This book starts out with a mystery.  How does a small shop that repairs pianos survive in a neighborhood that isn’t around any other music stores?  The author is an American living in France, is fluent in French, and played the piano as a child.  He uses the excuse of asking if they know of any place to find a used piano to get into the store.  He is turned away for weeks with the excuse that they will let him know if they hear of any used pianos. Finally, a new worker, Luc, lets him know that he needs an introduction from a current customer to be allowed in the store.  Once he gains that password he is let into the back of the store where they keep an ever rotating collection of used pianos.  Luc takes on the task of finding the perfect used piano for the author’s family.

In between the story of learning how to be accepted in a very French establishment, the author tells the history of the piano.  We hear about trying to pick up the piano again as an adult.  He introduces us to people trying to make the most perfect piano possible.  He compares learning the piano as a child in France with the lessons that he continued to take when his family moved back to America.  He also discovers all the musicians that inhabit the world around him.

This is a quiet book that had a fascinating amount of history in it.  I learned more about how pianos work here than in years of music lessons.

 

25 Nov, 2016

The Wonder Trail

/ posted in: Reading The Wonder Trail The Wonder Trail: True Stories from Los Angeles to the End of the World by Steve Hely
Published by DUTTON on June 14th 2016
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs, Travel
Pages: 336
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads

“Steve Hely, writer for The Office and American Dad!, and recipient of the Thurber Prize for American Humor, presents a travel book about his journey through Central and South America. Part travel book, part pop history, part comic memoir, Hely’s writing will make readers want to reach for their backpack and hiking boots.The Wonder Trail is the story of Steve’s trip from Los Angeles to the bottom of South America, presented in 102 short chapters.  The trip was ambitious – Steve traveled through Mexico City, ancient Mayan ruins, the jungles and coffee plantations and remote beaches of Central America, across the Panama Canal, by sea to Colombia, to the wild Easter celebration of Popayán, to the Amazon rainforest, the Inca sites of Cuzco and Machu Picchu, to the Galápagos Islands, the Atacama Desert of Chile, and down to the jagged and wind-worn land of Patagonia at the very end of the Western Hemisphere.
Steve’s plan was to discover the weird, wonderful, and absurd in Central and South America, to seek and find the incredible, delightful people and experiences that came his way. And the book that resulted is just as fun. A blend of travel writing, history, and comic memoir, The Wonder Trail will inspire, inform, and delight.”


I loved this book.  I listened to the audio and the author’s enthusiasm for his trip was infectious.  He was so excited that he got to spend time fishing in the Panama Canal, for example.  He set off on this trip with no set plan other than a few dates where he would be meeting up with friends at a specific spot.  I’m never brave (or crazy) enough to travel like that.   He’s the kind of traveler who always finds interesting people to talk to in bars.  They tell the best stories.

The other thing I loved about this book is that it led me to other books.  The author read a lot of books set in and about South America.  He listed many of them.  Since I was listening to the audio it was hard to remember a lot of them but I did mutter some names over and over until I got to a place where I could write them down.  In fact, I’ve already read one of his recommendations and it was as exciting as he promised it would be.

If you are looking to read more books set in South America, this is a great place to start.

16 Nov, 2016

Brazillionaires

/ posted in: Reading Brazillionaires Brazillionaires: Chasing Dreams of Wealth in an American Country by Alex Cuadros
Published by Spiegel & Grau on July 12th 2016
Genres: History, Nonfiction
Pages: 352
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: Brazil

“When Bloomberg News invited the young American journalist Alex Cuadros to report on Brazil’s emerging class of billionaires at the height of the historic Brazilian boom, he was poised to cover two of the biggest business stories of our time: how the giants of the developing world were triumphantly taking their place at the center of global capitalism, and how wealth inequality was changing societies everywhere.  Eike Batista, a flamboyant and charismatic evangelist for the country’s new gospel of wealth, epitomized much of this rarefied sphere: In 2012, Batista ranked as the eighth-richest person in the world, was famous for his marriage to a beauty queen, and was a fixture in the Brazilian press. His constantly repeated ambition was to become the world’s richest man and to bring Brazil along with him to the top.  But by 2015, Batista was bankrupt, his son Thor had been indicted for manslaughter, and Brazil its president facing impeachment, its provinces combating an epidemic, and its business and political class torn apart by scandal had become a cautionary tale of a country run aground by its elites, a tale with ominous echoes around the world.”


ballots-1195084_1280

This is a book that I would not have picked up if I wasn’t consciously trying to read more books set in South America. I’m glad I read it.

Alex Cuadros was selected for an unusual job.  He was to monitor the billionaires of Brazil.  He needed to maintain an up to date list of the net worth of the richest people in Brazil.  In trying to find out who these people were, he started to look at the world around him.  Who owns the company that makes your soap or the roads you drive on? There may be a hidden billionaire behind it.  Some billionaires weren’t so hard to find.  Eike Batista was one of these.  He flaunted his wealth.  He bragged on Twitter whenever he moved up in the rankings of richest people.  Then suddenly he lost it all.

The rise and fall of Eike Batista is told along with the stories of other Brazilian billionaires.  Some are in construction or broadcasting.  There is even a billionaire pastor.  Cuadros brings up the question — Is is possible to amass this amount of money in an ethical way in a country with such rampant poverty?  Is corruption endemic in a country founded on a system where slaves do all the work and higher classes live off of others?

I didn’t know anything about Brazilian history or politics.  This was a great introduction in an engaging story.  I enjoyed listening to the author narrate the book so I could hear the proper pronunciations of places and names in Portuguese.

brazil-1542335_1280

I’d recommend this book to anyone who wants to combine the voyeurism of watching how the super rich live with an education in the culture and politics of Brazil.

28 Oct, 2016

Juliet Takes a Breath

/ posted in: Reading Juliet Takes a Breath Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera
on January 1st 1970
Genres: Fiction
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible, Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
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Setting: Oregon

“Juliet Milagros Palante is leaving the Bronx and headed to Portland, Oregon. She just came out to her family and isn’t sure if her mom will ever speak to her again. But Juliet has a plan, sort of, one that’s going to help her figure out this whole “Puerto Rican lesbian” thing. She’s interning with the author of her favorite book: Harlowe Brisbane, the ultimate authority on feminism, women’s bodies, and other gay-sounding stuff.
Will Juliet be able to figure out her life over the course of one magical summer? Is that even possible? Or is she running away from all the problems that seem too big to handle?
With more questions than answers, Juliet takes on Portland, Harlowe, and most importantly, herself. “


Everyone needs to read Juliet Takes a Breath

Ok, that was easy.  Review over.

Seriously though, this book has something to say to everyone.

Juliet is nineteen and has her first girlfriend.  Her family doesn’t know and that bothers her.  They are very close and keeping something this important from them feels wrong to her.  She tells them right before she leaves for the summer to do an internship in Portland with her favorite author.  The reception is not what she hoped for.

Portland isn’t what she expected either.  It is so overwhelmingly white but the white people are weirder than any white people she’s met before.  If she’s come to her favorite lesbian author’s house, why is there a naked man in the kitchen?  Why doesn’t she understand what anyone is talking about?

There is no right way to be

Juliet had idolized Harlowe as a lesbian author who seemed to have the answers to everything.  But as Juliet gets more involved in Harlowe’s world she sees that some of the ideas that Harlowe has might not be right for her.  Part of her growing up and owning her own story is finding out how she needs to branch out and be different.  Learning what to keep and what to reject is hard.  She needs to see a variety of ways of being a lesbian so she realizes that there are options out there.

Likewise, Harlowe can’t mold Juliet to fit into her preferred narrative.  This causes conflict in the book as they try to find neutral ground to speak to each other.

Not everyone speaks your language

Juliet doesn’t have the background in the language of the LGBT movement to be able to understand everything that people in Portland are talking about.  Preferred pronouns?  Polyamory?  As readers follow Juliet’s stories they are exposed to concepts that they may also have not known about.  It is also a reminder not to denigrate people who may not know the “correct” terminology but to educate.

This is a book for anyone who has ever felt out of place but who wants to belong.  Juliet is charming and you root for her the whole way through the book.

I listened to the audio version of this book.  The narration was amazing.  Her accents were well done and the Spanish in the book flowed naturally in the story.

Do yourself a favor.  Pick up this book and fall in love with Juliet.

 

18 Oct, 2016

The Girls of Atomic City

/ posted in: Reading The Girls of Atomic City The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan
Published by Touchstone/Simon & Schuster on March 5th 2013
Genres: 20th Century, History, Nonfiction
Pages: 373
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible, Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: Tennessee

“The incredible story of the young women of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, who unwittingly played a crucial role in one of the most significant moments in U.S. history.
The Tennessee town of Oak Ridge was created from scratch in 1942. One of the Manhattan Project’s secret cities, it didn’t appear on any maps until 1949, and yet at the height of World War II it was using more electricity than New York City and was home to more than 75,000 people, many of them young women recruited from small towns across the South. Their jobs were shrouded in mystery, but they were buoyed by a sense of shared purpose, close friendships—and a surplus of handsome scientists and Army men!
But against this vibrant wartime backdrop, a darker story was unfolding. The penalty for talking about their work—even the most innocuous details—was job loss and eviction. One woman was recruited to spy on her coworkers. They all knew something big was happening at Oak Ridge, but few could piece together the true nature of their work until the bomb “Little Boy” was dropped over Hiroshima, Japan, and the secret was out. The shocking revelation: the residents of Oak Ridge were enriching uranium for the atomic bomb.”


Oak Ridge was a temporary city in the middle of nowhere, hidden by topography, and never meant to see the light of day.  It had one purpose — to enrich uranium to feed the development of the nuclear bomb.  A lot of people were required to build and then run the huge plants.  How do you get a lot of people to agree to do a job that they aren’t allowed to know about or talk about?  Pay high wages and tell them it is for the war effort.

People left other jobs without knowing where they would be going or for how long.  Many were told to go to a train station and they would be met.  They had no idea where they were heading.

I can’t believe that people agreed to do this.  I’m too nosy.  If you gave me a job and told me to spend eight to twelve hours a day manipulating dials so that the readout always read the correct number, I couldn’t do it.  I certainly couldn’t do it for years without needing to know what I was doing.  I would have been fired and escorted out of there so fast.  How was the secret kept for so long?

Coming out of the Depression though, any job was a good job.  These jobs were hiring women and African Americans at wages they wouldn’t see elsewhere.  Of course, there was discrimination and segregation.  Housing for African Americans was poor and they were not allowed to live together if they were married.  When someone started wondering, “What happens if we inject this uranium into a person?” you know they picked a black man who just happened to have a broken leg to experiment on.  He did manage to escape eventually but not before they had done a lot of damage to him.

This book tells the stories of women in several different jobs – secretarial staff, Calutron operators, cleaning staff, and scientists.  They made a life in a town that wasn’t supposed to last long.  The audiobook was compelling listening.  The story sounds like a novel.

I went to vet school in Knoxville, which is 20 miles away from Oak Ridge.  I had friends who were from there and friends whose families had been forcibly removed from the area in order to build Oak Ridge.  It was interesting to hear what went on behind the scenes.

I would be interested in pairing this with this book:

Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear WarNagasaki: Life After Nuclear War by Susan Southard

“On August 9, 1945, three days after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, the United States dropped a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, a small port city on Japan’s southernmost island. An estimated 74,000 people died within the first five months, and another 75,000 were injured.

Published on the seventieth anniversary of the bombing, Nagasaki takes readers from the morning of the bombing to the city today, telling the first-hand experiences of five survivors, all of whom were teenagers at the time of the devastation.”

The Girls of Atomic City does discuss the reactions of the citizens of Oak Ridge when they found out what they had been doing.  It discusses the guilt that some people still have for their part in making the bomb.


You know what I kept thinking about while listening to this?  This scene from Clerks.

Randal: There was something else going on in Jedi. I ever noticed it till today. They build another Death Star, right?

Dante: Yeah.

Randal: Now, the first one was completed and fully operational before the Rebel’s destroyed it.

Dante: Luke blew it up. Give credit where credit is due.

Randal: And the second one was still being built when the blew it up.

Dante: Compliments to Lando Calrissian.

Randal: Something just never sat right with me that second time around. I could never put my finger on it, but something just wasn’t right.

Dante: And you figured it out?

Randal: The first Death Star was manned by the Imperial Army. The only people on board were stormtroppers, dignitaries, Imperials.

Dante: Basically.

Randal: So, when the blew it up, no problem. Evil’s punished.

Dante: And the second time around?

Randal: The second time around, it wasn’t even done being built yet. It was still under construction.

Dante: So?

Randal: So, construction job of that magnitude would require a helluva lot more manpower than the Imperial army had to offer. I’ll bet there were independent contractors working on that thing: plumbers, aluminum siders, roofers.

Dante: Not just Imperials, is what you’re getting at?

Randal: Exactly. In order to get it built quickly and quietly they’d hire anybody who could do the job. Do you think the average storm trooper knows how to install a toilet main? All they know is killing and white uniforms.

Dante: All right, so they bring in independent contractors. Why are you so upset with its destruction?

Randal: All those innocent contractors hired to do a job were killed! Casualties of a war they had nothing to do with. All right, look, you’re a roofer, and some juicy government contract comes your way; you got the wife and kids and the two-story in suburbia – this is a government contract, which means all sorts of benefits. All of a sudden these left-wing militants blast you with lasers and wipe out everyone within a three-mile radius. You didn’t ask for that. You have no personal politics. You’re just trying to scrape out a living.

____________

This book is basically the point of view of the people building the second Death Star.

 

 

11 Oct, 2016

Troublemaker

/ posted in: Reading Troublemaker Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology by Leah Remini, Rebecca Paley
Published by Ballantine Books on November 3rd 2015
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Pages: 228
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible, Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: California

“Leah Remini has never been the type to hold her tongue. That willingness to speak her mind, stand her ground, and rattle the occasional cage has enabled this tough-talking girl from Brooklyn to forge an enduring and successful career in Hollywood. But being a troublemaker has come at a cost.
That was never more evident than in 2013, when Remini loudly and publicly broke with the Church of Scientology. Now, in this frank, funny, poignant memoir, the former King of Queens star opens up about that experience for the first time, revealing the in-depth details of her painful split with the church and its controversial practices.”


Leah Remini is the perfect person to write this tell all book about the inner workings of The Church of Scientology.  She was brought into the religion as a child when her mother joined.  She was taken out of school and moved to Florida in order to work at retreat center for Scientologists.  She progressed through the religion as she started her acting career.  As she became more famous, she was given more and more opportunities to promote her faith.

She knew that she was working to clear the planet.  She was part of saving the world.  If that meant that she needed to go to the center and do her courses for hours a day, she did it.  If it meant giving millions of dollars for church activities, she went along.  She faced interrogations based on reports that people wrote about her.  She was even thrown off a boat once.  It didn’t faze her.

Through it all she remained a true believer

Then she was invited to be part of the elite group of Scientologists who grouped around Tom Cruise.  That was when she started to see hypocrisy.  She saw people how weren’t behaving like the church demanded and nothing was being done about it.  She noticed that people were disappearing and no one would talk about it.  She decided that she needed to speak up to save her church — and they silenced her.  Eventually she was declared to be a Suppressive Person who no Scientologist is allowed to associate with.  This is a horrific punishment for a person whose entire life revolved around the church for thirty years and whose entire family are members.

That’s when she decided to speak out publicly.

I listened to the audio version of this book and I think that was a good choice.  She reads her own story and you can hear the emotions brought up.  There is sadness for her lost life and anger at the people who deceived her.  There is love for her family who decided to stand by her.

My only issue with the audio is that got slow in the middle.  She spends a lot of time detailing growing up in Scientology.  It was necessary information to have to understand what happened later but it didn’t keep my interest.  I actually put this audio down for several months and didn’t intend to go back to it.  I only listened again because I finished another book and didn’t have anything else with me while in the car.  I’m glad I picked it back up.  The last third of the book was very compelling.

I’d recommend this book for anyone who wants to learn more about Scientology or anyone who is in the mood for a different look at a celebrity memoir.

 

12 Sep, 2016

If At Birth You Don’t Succeed

/ posted in: Reading If At Birth You Don’t Succeed If at Birth You Don't Succeed: My Adventures with Disaster and Destiny by Zach Anner
Published by Henry Holt and Co. on March 8th 2016
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Pages: 338
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: Texas, New York, California, Berlin

“Comedian Zach Anner opens his frank and devilishly funny book,  If at Birth You Don’t Succeed, with an admission: he botched his own birth. Two months early, underweight and under-prepared for life, he entered the world with cerebral palsy and an uncertain future. So how did this hairless mole-rat of a boy blossom into a viral internet sensation who’s hosted two travel shows, impressed Oprah, driven the Mars Rover, and inspired a John Mayer song? (It wasn’t “Your Body is a Wonderland.”)”


I have a confession.  I hate YouTube.  If I am forced to watch a video because of a deep interest in the subject, it better be captioned so I don’t have to turn the sound on my iPad on.  It is no wonder that I’d never heard of Zach Anner before reading this book.  It is also a testament to my love for his story that I’ve watched several of his YouTube videos and shared them with others.

Zach has cerebral palsy which causes him to have limited fine motor skills and poor balance.  He describes his legs as mostly decoration.  He has a lazy eye and his eyes don’t track which makes it difficult for him to read.  He also has a razor-sharp mind, a wild sense of humor, and the compulsive need to express himself through pop culture references.  This leads to a laugh out loud funny memoir about the unexpected turns his life has taken.

The book is not organized chronologically.  I appreciated that.  How many memoirs have you read where you know something interesting happens in the author’s twenties but first you have to suffer through the minutia of their childhood for many, many chapters?  Here we start on a high note.  He entered an online competition to win a spot on a reality show on OWN, Oprah’s network.  The prize? His own TV show on the network.

His video went viral when it was discovered on Reddit and adopted as the favorite by 4chan purely because of the spelling of his name.  He went on to win his own travel show on OWN.  From there you can only go downhill through cancellation and strangers asking, “Didn’t you used to be….?” in stores.  He describes how he moved to YouTube to make the realistic traveling with disabilities show that he wanted to make.

Along the way we learn about his attempts to find love, his love for music, his time working at Epcot policing other people’s disabilities, and his failures in adaptive P.E. class in 4th grade.  Each story is hysterical but ends with a life lesson that manages to be uplifting without being sappy.

This is best experienced by listening to the audiobook.  Zach narrates it himself.  I can’t imagine this book without his upbeat and charming narration or without listening to himself crack himself up retelling the adventures that he’s had.
One of the first videos Zach talks about making is this one where his friends torture him at a trampoline park. I had to look it up.


It is even funnier when you hear the background story of what went into making it.

I will be recommending this book to EVERYONE! Do yourself a favor and get the audiobook and step into Zach’s world.

02 Sep, 2016

Neither Snow Nor Rain

/ posted in: Readingtravel Neither Snow Nor Rain Neither Snow nor Rain: A History of the United States Postal Service by Devin Leonard
Published by Grove Press on May 3rd 2016
Genres: Nonfiction
Pages: 288
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: United States

“The United States Postal Service is a wondrous American creation. Seven days a week, its army of 300,000 letter carriers delivers 513 million pieces of mail, forty percent of the world’s volume. It is far more efficient than any other mail service—more than twice as efficient as the Japanese and easily outpacing the Germans and British. And the USPS has a storied history. Founded by Benjamin Franklin, it was the information network that bound far-flung Americans together, fostered a common culture, and helped American business to prosper. A first class stamp remains one of the greatest bargains of all time, and yet, the USPS is slowly vanishing. Critics say it is slow and archaic. Mail volume is down. The workforce is shrinking. Post offices are closing.”


I’ve always been fascinated by the workings of the post office.

I’ve never understood how they can sort all that mail and get it to where it is going.  If you told me that this was involved, I’d believe you.

That why I was so excited to listen to this book about the workings of the post office. I also had just visited the Smithsonian’s Post Office museum in Washington D.C. when I started the book. In all my visits to D.C. I had never known about this museum. It is right next to the train station.

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Did you know?

  • Many of the major roads of the United States were laid out by mail carriers
  • Mail used to be delivered up to four times a day in U.S. cities
  • There have been a few times when mail volume got so high that the system collapsed
  • It was illegal for anyone other than the U.S. mail to deliver letters
  • The United States Postal Service is now an independent company that reports to the government instead of a government department

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The Post Office is required to deliver everywhere. At times that has required mule trains to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, sled dog teams, and even reindeer.  Mandatory rural delivery allowed farmers to get daily newspapers.  This kept them informed of the best time to sell crops for the highest profit.  It kept everyone in the country informed about events.  The United States mail has helped to hold the country together.

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I particularly liked learning about the mail trains. Specialist clerks rode these mobile sorting cars, picking up letters at high speed and getting them sorted before the next town. There was one of these mail cars in the museum and a video of former clerks showing their system of sorting. It was amazing. I also learned about Owney, the famous mail dog.

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Technological advances have helped the mail be delivered faster and faster. Optical scanners were developed to read printed labels of bulk mailers and now can even read handwriting. After a few passes through the scanners, mail can be sorted into the order in which each carrier will deliver it. I think that’s just magical.

One thing that wasn’t covered at the museum but was well covered in the book was the Comstock Era.  This is a time of strict censorship of the mail.  Items that were judged to be obscene were not allowed.  This included information on contraception.  There was a lot of entrapment by postal inspectors who would order an item and then arrest the person who sent it.

Also not covered in the museum but talked about in the book was the wave of violence at post offices in the 1980s and 90s leading to the phrase “Going Postal.”

We all know the Post Office is having problems. First class mail is down as most people send emails instead of letters. The Post Office is not allowed to get involved in electronic forms in the U.S. by law, unlike in other countries. Amazon’s new partnership with them to deliver mail on Sundays is helping as is a renegotiation of the labor contracts of Post Office employees.

Those of us who love getting mail hope that they will find a way to survive and thrive.

I’d recommend this book for anyone who love learning about how everyday things work. The audio narration was very well done. The story moved quickly enough to keep my listening interest.

 

12 Aug, 2016

Outcasts United

/ posted in: Reading Outcasts United Outcasts United: A Refugee Team, an American Town by Warren St. John
Published by Spiegel & Grau on April 21st 2009
Genres: Nonfiction
Pages: 320
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: Georgia

“Clarkston, Georgia, was a typical Southern town until it was designated a refugee settlement center in the 1990s, becoming the first American home for scores of families in flight from the world’s war zones—from Liberia and Sudan to Iraq and Afghanistan. Suddenly Clarkston’s streets were filled with women wearing the hijab, the smells of cumin and curry, and kids of all colors playing soccer in any open space they could find. The town also became home to Luma Mufleh, an American-educated Jordanian woman who founded a youth soccer team to unify Clarkston’s refugee children and keep them off the streets. These kids named themselves the Fugees.
Set against the backdrop of an American town that without its consent had become a vast social experiment, Outcasts United follows a pivotal season in the life of the Fugees and their charismatic coach.”


Luma Mufleh came from a wealthy Jordanian family.  She was disowned when she decided to stay in the United States after college.  Several years later, she was coaching a girls’ under 12 soccer team and running a failing business in Decatur GA when a chance trip took her to nearby Clarkston.  She didn’t understand why she saw so many non-white residents.  After investigating, she decided to coach youth soccer teams for refugee boys.

This is the story of the Fugees’ 2006 season.  Luma is very demanding of her players.  They have to adhere to a code of conduct and soccer practice starts with mandatory tutoring sessions.  There are three teams – under 13s, under 15s, and under 17s.  Each has their own unique sets of challenges.

The overarching problem is finding a place to practice.  They are stuck on a dirt and gravel field frequented by drug users.  There is a fenced field in a local park but the mayor has declared that NO soccer will be played there because the field is for use only by Clarkston’s Little League baseball teams.  It doesn’t matter that there are no Little League baseball teams in Clarkston.

The players come from all over the world.  Liberia, Congo, Sudan, Iraq, Kosovo, and many other countries are represented.  Most of the children have seen horrors.  Now they are in a town that isn’t friendly to them and they just want to play soccer.

The book tells the story of the town also.  How did it become a popular place for refugees?  How is the town adapting or failing to adapt to a changing population?


The book was published in 2009 and contains an afterword that discusses what happened after the 2006 season.  One of the things mentioned was that when the author, who was a newspaper reporter, published some articles the Fugees started to get donations.  He mentioned that Luma’s goal was to buy some land so they could have a dedicated place to practice that was safe.  She also said that she dreamed of having good facilities for tutoring times.

I went online to see what had happened since then.  Look at this!

Fugees Family

They don’t just have practice fields.  They started a school!  The middle school serves to teach English as a second language and to get kids whose formal schooling has been interrupted up to speed to go to American schools.  They also have a high school. It is now coed.  They accept donations so the kids don’t have to pay for this private education.

It was great to see that the program prospered after all the abuse they endured.


I’d recommend this book to everyone.  The stories of the families fleeing from war zones around the world are heartbreaking.  They put a personal touch on events that we hear about on the news and then forget about.  Would you be able to survive what they did just to come to a new country where everyone seems to hate you?

4flower

02 Jun, 2016

Just Mercy

/ posted in: Reading Just Mercy Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
on October 21st 2014
Genres: Civil Rights, Nonfiction, Political Science
Pages: 336
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible, Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Set in Alabama five-stars

A powerful true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to fix our broken system of justice—from one of the most brilliant and influential lawyers of our time.  Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.  Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.


Just Mercy had been on my radar for a while but I didn’t decide to pick it up until it was the first pick for the social justice book club hosted by Entomology of a Bookworm.  I listened to the audiobook.  It was narrated by the author and he did a good job of telling his story.

The story begins with the author setting up a branch of the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama.  The goal is to help people on death row have legal representation.

The case of Walter McMillan is used to explain to the readers how our justice system can go horribly wrong.

Walter McMillan was convicted of a murder even though he was far away from the murder scene with a large group of people, the person who accused him couldn’t identify him in a room, and the truck he was supposedly driving had its transmission rebuilt that day at the time of the murder.

Other cases are discussed throughout the book.  Another focus of the author’s is the plight of children who were tried as adults and received life sentences without the possibility of parole.  One of the people featured had been kept in solitary confinement for decades.  He was caught in a loop of self harming because he was isolated and every time he self harmed he had more time added in solitary.

Sometimes helping someone is making sure seemingly logical things are done like housing young children away from the adult prison population so they aren’t raped.

The author also does a good job of explaining how entire communities are involved in cases of wrongful convictions.  He talks a lot with the family and friends of the accused but I would have also been interested to see how finding out that the person in jail for a family member’s murder was innocent affected the victim’s family.  There was just one brief interaction about this.


Aside from any discussion of the ethics of capital punishment there is one thing that I just don’t understand.  How is it possible to mess up lethal injection as horribly as seems to be happening?  I guess I have an unusual perspective on this because euthanasia is an important part of my job.  It is easy to do without causing pain and suffering.  Why can’t people figure it out?  I guess a large part of the problem is that doctors aren’t allowed to be involved.  Changing that would probably solve the issue instead of letting untrained personnel do it.  But still, books and articles are published in the veterinary literature all the time.  Do some study.  Get it right if you are going to do it.  /rant

 

five-stars
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