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26 Apr, 2017

The Third Son

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

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

 


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


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

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

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

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

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

Borderline

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

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


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

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

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

 

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

About Mishell Baker

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

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

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

People of the Songtrail

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

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

Life’s That Way

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

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

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


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

jimbeaver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Jim Beaver

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

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

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

Hillbilly Elegy

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
22 Mar, 2017

Writings on the Wall

/ posted in: Reading Writings on the Wall Writings on the Wall: Searching for a New Equality Beyond Black and White by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Raymond Obstfeld
Published by Time on August 23rd 2016
Genres: Nonfiction
Pages: 256
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads

Since retiring from professional basketball as the NBA's all-time leading scorer, six-time MVP, and Hall of Fame inductee, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has become a lauded observer of culture and society, a New York Times bestselling author, and a regular contributor to The Washington Post, TIME magazine and TIME.com.
He now brings that keen insight to the fore in Writings on the Wall: Searching for a New Equality Beyond Black and White, his most incisive and important work of non-fiction in years. He uses his unique blend of erudition, street smarts and authentic experience in essays on the country's seemingly irreconcilable partisan divide - both racial and political, parenthood, and his own experiences as an athlete, African-American, and a Muslim. The book is not just a collection of expositions; he also offers keen assessments of and solutions to problems such as racism in sports while speaking candidly about his experiences on the court and off.


This is the first book by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar that I have read.  I didn’t even know that he was an author until last year at BEA when he was there.  I didn’t try to get a ticket to his signing but I was working my way through a crowd at one point and ended up standing right beside him.  The crowd was actually his line.  I now know that I’m the same height as Kareem when he is sitting in a chair.

“One thing all that history has taught me is the dangers of the uninformed, quickly formed and ill-informed opinion.  Passionate defense of bad logic is the main cause of most of the world’s misery.”

 

That is the main theme of this book.  Don’t be lazy.  Learn about issues.  Look at all the sides before coming to a conclusion.  Be willing to change your mind as you learn more.

Politics

“When I was a child, I remember adults complaining that voting often came down to selecting the lesser of two evils.  I still hear that today.  But while it feels cathartic to blame elected officials and demonize them for their many failings, the sad truth is that we voters are the real villains in this story.  Our profound laziness and unyielding arrogance as voters have allowed our system to become polluted by hucksters, egomaniacs, dimwits and mack-daddy pimps willing to rent out their stable of votes.”

I started out wanting to underline everything in this book.  Kareem has a strong point of view on many issues.  He explains them well, often using pop culture references to get his point across.  I think the broad scope of the book wore me down by the end.  It started to feel like, “And another thing I’m mad about is…”  I think this book would be better read by dipping in and out of chapters over a longer period of time instead of reading it straight through in order to get it back to the library.  That being said, I think this is a book that is very worth reading.  He ties in his own life experience as a person who has lived most of his life in the public eye, including during his conversion to Islam.  I will look into some of his other books also after reading this one.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
  • POC authors
15 Mar, 2017

Why I Left, Why I Stayed

/ posted in: General Why I Left, Why I Stayed Why I Left, Why I Stayed: Conversations on Christianity Between an Evangelical Father and His Humanist Son by Tony Campolo, Bart Campolo
Published by HarperOne on February 21st 2017
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Pages: 176
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads

Bestselling Christian author, activist, and scholar Tony Campolo and his son Bart, an avowed Humanist, debate their spiritual differences and explore similarities involving faith, belief, and hope that they share.
Over a Thanksgiving dinner, fifty-year-old Bart Campolo announced to his Evangelical pastor father, Tony Campolo, that after a lifetime immersed in the Christian faith, he no longer believed in God. The revelation shook the Campolo family dynamic and forced father and son to each reconsider his own personal journey of faith—dual spiritual investigations into theology, faith, and Humanism that eventually led Bart and Tony back to one another.


The last time I read a book by Tony Campolo I ended up in a police manhunt so I was a little concerned about picking up this one.  I had heard about Bart Campolo leaving Christianity and working as a Humanist chaplain.  It was big news in the Christian community.  Either it was seen as proof that you can escape your upbringing or it was seen as proof that the Campolos had always been too liberal anyway so obviously they are going to go astray.

This book comes from the discussions that they had after Bart came out as not believing in God.  The book is written in alternating chapters with each man expressing their point of view on a particular topic.

The first thing that surprised me was a preface chapter written by Peggy Campolo, Tony’s wife and Bart’s mom.  She talks about how she didn’t identify with Christianity during the early years of the Tony’s ministry while her kids were growing up.  She has since become a believer and seems to feel a lot of guilt.  She thinks that if she was a Christian while Bart was growing up then he wouldn’t have left as an adult.  This is typical of the baggage that gets put on parents if the children leave a religion.

I was frustrated while reading Tony’s chapters.  Because Bart has now lived on both sides of the debate, he is able to discuss options openly.  Tony freely states that he has never known a life where he wasn’t certain of the presence of God in his life.  It is obvious that he sees Bart as a wandering child who he hopes gets back to the right path.  In the meantime he not really listening to what he has to say.  He just seems to be patting him on the head as he speaks and then saying, “Oh, you don’t mean that.”

“For the Christian parents of positive secular humanists like Bart, however, I have some advice:  Take every opportunity to affirm and encourage your children whenever they say or do something that reflects your Kingdom values, and let them know that you see a direct connection between their behavior and the love of God, even if they don’t.  Doing so demonstrates that you notice and appreciate your kids’ goodness while maintaining your own understanding of its ultimate source, and also opens up opportunities for you to talk about what gets lost when God drops out of the picture.”

 

Obviously he is still hung up on the idea that you can’t be a good person if you don’t have a God dictating what is right and what is wrong.  Bart does a good job discussing why this isn’t true.  Too bad his father wasn’t listening.

Tony also talks a lot about guilt.  He doesn’t understand how people without God handle all their guilt.  He says he lies awake at night feeling guilty about all the harm he does until he is able to let God take the guilt away from him.  I don’t think most people have those kinds of guilty feelings.  Has he ever considered that maybe the guilt comes from following a religion that teaches that you are a horrible person?

The idea behind this book was to help families have conversations about some members leaving Christianity.  I don’t think this book fosters productive conversation because it felt to me like the humanist was explaining over and over and the Christian was just waiting for him to see things the “right” way again.  This might be better for people who need to talk to Christians.  Bart gives answers to a lot of the questions that he’s been asked.  It could help to have some well thought out answers on hand for the common questions.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
02 Mar, 2017

My Favorite Magical Land

/ posted in: Reading My Favorite Magical Land Unquiet Land by Sharon Shinn
Series: Elemental Blessings #4
on November 1st 2016
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 400
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads

Leah Frothen has returned home. But she can scarcely catch her breath before she is summoned by regent Darien Serlast, the man who made her a spy. Leah is reluctant to take on a new assignment, but Darien has dangled the perfect lure to draw her in…
Leah finds she enjoys the challenges of opening a shop catering to foreign visitors, especially since it affords her the opportunity to get to know Mally, the child she abandoned five years ago.
But when the regent asks her to spy on ambassadors from a visiting nation, Leah soon learns that everyone—her regent, her lover, and even her daughter—have secrets that could save the nation, but might very well break her heart.


Years ago Leah left Welce under mysterious circumstances.  She fled to a neighboring country where she was recruited to spy for Welce.  In this series we first meet her in book three.  Now, because of the events in that book she is going home, but she isn’t able to escape spying as easily as she thought.

Each of the countries in this world have specific religions and magical systems.  I love the Welce system.  It is based on elemental affiliation.  If I had to pick one magical land from any book I’ve ever read to live in, it would be Welce.  It is fairly calm and peaceful and I love the magical system.

The Karkans are on a diplomatic mission to try to find an ally in Welce.  They have a very strict system of morality.  They believe that they need to atone for any wrongdoing.  However, they believe that if they atone properly and even in advance, there are no consequences to any behavior.  This leads to huge acts of charity that they feel allows them to do anything evil they want.  The ruler of Welce thinks that they are up to no good when huge anonymous donations start to show up in temples.  Leah is in charge of finding out what they are doing to do.

If you are interested in the series don’t start with this book.  This is a series that you should read in order from the beginning in order to properly understand the world and all the people in it.

If you could pick any magical place to live, where would it be?

About Sharon Shinn

“I mostly write my fiction in the evenings and on weekends. It requires a pretty obsessive-compulsive personality to be as prolific as I’ve been in the past ten years and hold down a full-time job. But I do manage to tear myself away from the computer now and then to do something fun. I read as often as I can, across all genres, though I’m most often holding a book that’s fantasy or romance, with the occasional western thrown in.” from her website

24 Feb, 2017

The Magnolia Story

/ posted in: Reading The Magnolia Story The Magnolia Story Published by HarperCollins Christian Publishing on October 18th 2016
Genres: Biography & Autobiography
Pages: 208
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads
Setting: Texas

Are you ready to see your fixer upper?
These famous words are now synonymous with the dynamic husband-and-wife team Chip and Joanna Gaines, stars of HGTV’s Fixer Upper.

The Magnolia Story is the first book from Chip and Joanna, offering their fans a detailed look at their life together. From the very first renovation project they ever tackled together, to the project that nearly cost them everything; from the childhood memories that shaped them, to the twists and turns that led them to the life they share on the farm today.

 


Chip and Joanna Gaines first met when he stopped by her father’s tire store.  Then he was 45 minutes late for their first date with no explanation.  He didn’t have a plan for what to do either.  This should have made her lose interest in him but he talked to her about his plans for buying and renovating small houses.  She was intrigued.

I’ve always been interested in that too.  In fact we are working on that ourselves now too.  But there is one huge difference.  As Chip got more and more houses and started eyeing bigger projects, he started taking on large amounts of debt.  As an advocate of trying to be debt-free, that made me cringe.  It seemed like he had either no idea of the financial risks that he was taking or he just didn’t care.  He talks at one point about Joanna thinking they were broke when they had $1000.  He didn’t think they were broke until there was no money left at all.  Seriously, this would stressful to read if you didn’t know the ending.  I feel like the message here could be interpreted as, “Go wild.  Go crazy in debt.  It’ll be ok.  Someone will come along and fix it for you like magic.”

Don’t do that.

Sure, they bumped along for a while in small houses that they would fix up and then rent out.  They did a lot of work to build up their various businesses.  But a lot of the original capital came from family money and they got bailed out by rich friends after they messed up their credit.  So while I think that this is supposed to read like a rags to riches tale of entrepreneurship, there is always the reminder that there were fairly well off parents in the background who weren’t going to let them crash and burn completely.

I did enjoy the story of their multi-day audition for HGTV that was horrible until they got into a fight over Chip buying a houseboat that didn’t float.

This was a quick read that gives you a glimpse of the back story of a popular TV show.  It fleshes out the people involved a little more.  I think that Chip comes across as more self-centered and irresponsible than he does on TV.  He makes a lot of reckless decisions without consulting his wife that he then expects her to deal with.  She goes along eventually and makes it sound like it is all fine with her but there is a bit of a brittle edge to her story telling sometimes.  I just want to ask her, “Girl, you have an emergency fund in your name only for you and all those babies, right?  Because this man is going to do something catastrophic sometime.”

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • POC authors
08 Feb, 2017

On The Noodle Road

/ posted in: Reading On The Noodle Road On the Noodle Road: From Beijing to Rome, with Love and Pasta by Jen Lin-Liu
Published by Riverhead Books on July 25th 2013
Genres: Cooking, Nonfiction
Pages: 388
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads
Setting: China, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kzyrgystan, Iran, Turkey, Greece, Italy

Feasting her way through an Italian honeymoon, Jen Lin-Liu was struck by culinary echoes of the delicacies she ate and cooked back in China, where she’d lived for more than a decade. Who really invented the noodle? she wondered, like many before her. But also: How had food and culture moved along the Silk Road, the ancient trade route linking Asia to Europe—and what could still be felt of those long-ago migrations?
The journey takes Lin-Liu into the private kitchens where the headscarves come off and women not only knead and simmer but also confess and confide. The thin rounds of dough stuffed with meat that are dumplings in Beijing evolve into manti in Turkey—their tiny size the measure of a bride’s worth—and end as tortellini in Italy. And as she stirs and samples, listening to the women talk about their lives and longings, Lin-Liu gains a new appreciation of her own marriage, learning to savor the sweetness of love freely chosen.


A travel book about noodles?  I had to read this book as soon as I heard of it.  Add in the fact that in 2017 I’m trying to read more Asian authors and books set in Central Asia and this book was perfect for me.  It took me forever to read it though.  I think I found this book so soothing that I would fall asleep after a few pages.  It wasn’t boring.  It just relaxed me.

The author is a Chinese-American journalist who lives in Beijing with her white American husband.  She owns a cooking school.  While most people in the west think of rice when they think of staple dishes of China, noodles are more common in the cuisine of northern China.  She decides to follow the path of the Silk Road to see how noodles spread between China and Italy.  Who invented them?

First of all, the old story about Marco Polo discovering noodles in Asia and bringing them to Italy is not true.  The true history of noodles turns out to be very difficult to figure out.  The author travels from China through central Asia and into Iran and Turkey interviewing chefs and home cooks.  She is taught to cook dishes that amaze her and dishes that she learns to dread like plov, a central Asian rice dish that she was fed at every meal.  I thought plov sounded really good if you left out all the dead animal parts that she kept being served.  For a book that was supposed to be about noodles, it was very heavy on the meat.  She had sheep killed in her honor and a lot of time was spent sourcing and waxing poetic over pork in Muslim countries.

There is also a lot of discussion about relationships and the role of women in society.  At the time she started this trip, the author was recently married and was considering whether or not to have children.  She is very conflicted about what her role should be in her marriage.  Both she and her husband travel for work.  Can they keep doing that?  Should they stay in China?  Does being married automatically mean giving up her independence?  She spends part of the trip traveling alone and part of it with her husband.  She talks to women as they cook about what their relationships are like. She realizes that her love of homemade noodles means that someone has to spend all that time making them. Younger women with jobs outside the house tend not to learn those skills.

I-was-beginning-to

This book does have many recipes if you would like to try making different types of noodles and dishes featuring noodles. It even has recipes for plov. It won’t give you the answer though to where the noodle originated. That answer is lost in time.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in Asia
  • Foodies Read 2017
  • POC authors
26 Jan, 2017

The Reader by Traci Chee

/ posted in: Reading The Reader by Traci Chee The Reader (Sea of Ink and Gold, #1) by Traci Chee
Published by Putnam on September 13th 2016
Genres: Fantasy & Magic
Pages: 442
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads

Once there was, and one day there will be. This is the beginning of every story.
Sefia lives her life on the run. After her father is viciously murdered, she flees to the forest with her aunt Nin, the only person left she can trust. They survive in the wilderness together, hunting and stealing what they need, forever looking over their shoulders for new threats. But when Nin is kidnapped, Sefia is suddenly on her own, with no way to know who’s taken Nin or where she is. Her only clue is a strange rectangular object that once belonged to her father, something she comes to realize is a book.
Though reading is unheard of in Sefia’s world, she slowly learns, unearthing the book’s closely guarded secrets, which may be the key to Nin’s disappearance and discovering what really happened the day her father was killed.

Looking at reviews of this book it seems like this is either a book you adore or one that you don’t understand at all.  I’m in the don’t understand category.

The premise seems good.  A girl’s family is killed and she goes on the run with the thing that they were guarding – a book.  No one reads in this time so she doesn’t know why the book is important.

Ok, that seems like a good start.  But it starts to break down quickly.

RiverSongSpoilers

She vaguely remembers her mother playing with blocks with letters on them with her until her father tells them that it is too dangerous.  From that vague memory of a few letters, she somehow teaches herself to read.  Not buying it.  She starts reading a story in the book about pirates.  Then she rescues a boy who is being held to fight other boys to the death.  They chase after people who captured him and took her aunt away.  Eventually, the pirates from the book show up in real life.  Yeah.   But then she can’t find the story about the pirates in the book anymore.  Is the book gigantic or does it change or what?  Suddenly, it supposedly contains the stories of everyone but the only story that we see from it is the pirates.  Then there are people chasing the girl because she has magic but it isn’t clear whether they want her or the book or what.  Then they get captured but they run away.  The end.

What we don’t know:

  • Why is she magic?
  • Why do some people have magic of various kinds and others don’t?
  • Why are books outlawed?
  • What or who made this book so powerful?
  • Is Archer (the guy she rescued) the embodiment of a prophecy or just some guy?

I kept reading this book because I was certain it had to go somewhere and have everything tie together eventually.  I was wrong.  It wasted a great premise.  This is supposedly the first book in a series so maybe it will all make sense eventually but I don’t want to slog through more books to find out.

About Traci Chee

“Traci Chee is an author of speculative fiction for teens. An all-around word geek, she loves book arts and art books, poetry and paper crafts, though she also dabbles at piano playing, egg painting, and hosting potluck game nights for family and friends. She studied literature and creative writing at UC Santa Cruz and earned a master of arts degree from San Francisco State University. Traci grew up in a small town with more cows than people, and now feels most at home in the mountains, scaling switchbacks and happening upon hidden highland lakes. She lives in California with her fast-fast dog.”

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • POC authors
18 Jan, 2017

Every Heart a Doorway

/ posted in: Reading Every Heart a Doorway Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
Series: Wayward Children #1
Published by Tor.com on April 5th 2016
Genres: Fantasy & Magic
Pages: 173
Format: Hardcover
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children

No Solicitations

No Visitors

No Guests
Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else.
But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.
Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.
But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.
No matter the cost.”


What happens to kids who go on adventures to fantasy lands when they return home?  Obviously, they tell people what happened to them and then they are treated as mentally ill or as the survivors of such horrific abuse that they made up stories to get themselves through their kidnappings.  When they don’t recant the stories they may end up in a boarding school for their own protection.

Eleanor West takes in these children.  She was one of them too.  She takes the children who are desperately looking for a way to return to their lands.

I loved this book so much I read it twice.  The first time I read it myself and the second time I read it out loud to my husband.  I thought he’d enjoy it and so to force the issue I declared that it would be story time on the way to and from my parents’ on Christmas.  That’s about 4 hours round trip and we were able to finish it.  He did take the long way in order to get more reading time in though.  Yes, I could have gotten the audio but he gets distracted and wants to chit chat when listening to audio.  He pays attention when I’m reading.

I loved the characters.  Each had been to a different land with different rules.  They have a whole system for categorizing the world that you visited.  It reminds me of this cartoon.

dorothy-alice-in-wonderland-ive-seen-some-weird-shit

 

How do you come back from that?

As soon as Nancy arrives and starts to get acclimated to the strange people around her, there is a murder.  Since she came from the Halls of the Dead, she’s a suspect.  When murders keep happening it is up to the students and staff to find out what is going on before the authorities find out and shut down their school.

Read this one for the wonderful language and characters.  The students are diverse racially and in their gender expressions.  The only thing they have in common is wanting to go back home to the magical worlds they miss.

This is listed as first in a series.  I would love to read more in this world.

About Seanan McGuire

“Hi! I’m Seanan McGuire, author of the Toby Daye series (Rosemary and Rue, A Local Habitation, An Artificial Night, Late Eclipses), as well as a lot of other things. I’m also Mira Grant (www.miragrant.com), author of Feed and Deadline.

Born and raised in Northern California, I fear weather and am remarkably laid-back about rattlesnakes. I watch too many horror movies, read too many comic books, and share my house with two monsters in feline form, Lilly and Alice (Siamese and Maine Coon).”

  • from Goodreads

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • LBGTQ authors/characters
12 Jan, 2017

Kingdom of Strangers

/ posted in: Reading Kingdom of Strangers Kingdom of Strangers Series: Nayir Sharqi & Katya Hijazi #3
on June 5th 2012
Genres: Mystery & Detective
Pages: 375
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads
Setting: Saudi Arabia

“A secret grave in the desert is unearthed revealing the mutilated bodies of nineteen women and the shocking truth that a serial killer has been operating undetected in Jeddah for more than a decade.
However, lead inspector Ibrahim Zahrani, is distracted by a mystery closer to home. His mistress has suddenly disappeared, but he cannot report her missing, since adultery is punishable by death. With nowhere to turn, Ibrahim brings the case to Katya, one of the few women on the force. Drawn into both investigations, she must be increasingly careful to hide a secret of her own.”


This is the third book in this wonderful mystery series that features a woman trying to advance in the man’s world of Saudi Arabia.  Katya is officially a forensics tech.  She wants to be a detective but that is not allowed.  There is push back now about even allowing women to work in the police department at all.  Some people only want women to do things men absolutely can’t like search female suspects and handle female corpses.

Katya has set out to make herself necessary.  Now a gravesite with nineteen women has been found and she wants to help with the case.  When an expert on serial killers is brought in to help with the case and she turns out to be female, Katya is excited but worried about the hostility this brings up in her male coworkers.

She is also worried about her secret getting out.  Only married women are allowed to work for the police.  She isn’t married but has been pretending that she is.  Now she is actually getting married and her father wants to invite everyone.  She is also having concerns about the marriage.  Nayir, her fiance who she met in the first book, is much more conservative than she is.  She can tell that he is uneasy about her working with men.  Will he try to control her once they marry even if he claims that he won’t now?

The author lived in Saudi Arabia and that shows in the small details of her writing.  The story seems to have a strong sense of place in Jeddah.  There are many issues brought up in this book.

The mistreatment of Asian women

Many Asian women are brought to Saudi Arabia to work as maids.  Abuse is rampant.  The women are charged fees to get jobs.  They can’t always pay back the fees and end up in virtual slavery.  Some are repeatedly raped.  The mystery in this book focuses on the difficulty of solving crimes involving these women because so many run away from the abuse and are not reported missing.

Morality as a weapon

Enforcement of morality is a theme in several parts of this book.  The investigation is dragging on because the head coroner won’t let men handle the bodies of the murdered women to preserve their modesty in death.  But, there aren’t enough women to process the bodies quickly because they don’t like to hire women.

Old case files have the pictures of female victims removed because of modesty making it hard to compare them to new cases.

A missing woman can’t be reported missing because the only person who knows that she is gone is her married lover.  If it is found out that they were together, she will be charged with prostitution and he will be charged with adultery.

devils

Even if you aren’t a big mystery fan, I’d recommend this series for the details of life in modern day Saudi Arabia.

About Zoe Ferraris

Zoë Ferraris moved to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of the first Gulf War. She lived in a conservative Muslim community with her then-husband and his family, a group of Saudi-Palestinians.

In 2006, she completed her MFA in Fiction at Columbia University.

She currently lives in San Francisco.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in the Middle East
09 Jan, 2017

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf

/ posted in: Reading The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf (The Tribe #1) by Ambelin Kwaymullina
Published by Walker Books Australia on July 2012
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Young Adult
Pages: 395
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: Australia

“There will come a day when a thousand Illegals descend on your detention centres. Boomers will breach the walls. Skychangers will send lightning to strike you all down from above, and Rumblers will open the earth to swallow you up from below. . . . And when that day comes, Justin Connor, think of me.”
Ashala Wolf has been captured by Chief Administrator Neville Rose. A man who is intent on destroying Ashala’s Tribe — the runaway Illegals hiding in the Firstwood. Injured and vulnerable and with her Sleepwalker ability blocked, Ashala is forced to succumb to the machine that will pull secrets from her mind.
And right beside her is Justin Connor, her betrayer, watching her every move.
Will the Tribe survive the interrogation of Ashala Wolf?


I hadn’t heard of this book until it was selected for the Diverse SciFi and Fantasy book club on Twitter.  The author is an Indigenous Australian woman.

Several hundred years ago the Reckoning happened.  It isn’t explained exactly what occurred.  Now there are humans with special abilities.  They are killed or imprisoned when their abilities start to manifest in order to maintain the status quo of the new world.  Several of these kids have escaped into the wilderness and are living together.  They live close to a compound specially built to jail captured Illegals.

The humans haven’t decided this just because of fear of the Illegals.  They decided in response to the Reckoning that they will live in harmony with nature.  They will keep their technology simple so as not to cause another ecological disaster.  I like that the conflict between the types of Humans isn’t just based in fear.  I’d like to see the authorities’ thoughts about how keeping illegals subdued helps lessen human impact on the environment explored more.  I hear that these are explored more in the next book.

When Ashala is betrayed and captured, she is terrified that she will lead authorities to the rest of her Tribe.  They are probably protected because they have made a deal with a species of large lizards who live in the wilds between the detention center and the Tribe.  The Tribe can live in the forest if they promise not to eat any meat.  Vegetarians for the win!  But if the authorities can get past the Saurs the kids don’t have great defenses.

Something feels off about her capture and interrogation.  Ashala isn’t sure what it is.  She’s going to have to figure it out quickly because it is distracting her and distraction may make her betray her people.  She’s also grieving because of some tough decisions that she had to make for the safety of the Tribe.

I can’t talk much more about the plot without spoilers. Ashala needs to trust herself and her own mind in order to survive her interrogation and possibly find a way to escape.

The abilities of Ashala’s tribe are based in Aboriginal folklore.  I haven’t read a book before that uses that as a basis for a magical/supernatural system.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • POC authors
04 Jan, 2017

Wandering Star by Romina Russell

/ posted in: Reading Wandering Star by Romina Russell Wandering Star (Zodiac, #2) by Romina Russell
Published by Razorbill on December 8th 2015
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 303
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads
Setting: Outer Space

“Orphaned, disgraced, and stripped of her title, Rho is ready to live life quietly, as an aid worker in the Cancrian refugee camp on House Capricorn.
But news has spread that the Marad–an unbalanced terrorist group determined to overturn harmony in the Galaxy–could strike any House at any moment.
Then, unwelcome nightmare that he is, Ochus appears to Rho, bearing a cryptic message that leaves her with no choice but to fight.
Now Rho must embark on a high-stakes journey through an all-new set of Houses, where she discovers that there’s much more to her Galaxy–and to herself–than she could have ever imagined.”


I decided to make my first two books I read in 2017 be the sequels to the first two books I read in 2016.  That makes me sound really organized but mostly it was me knowing what those two books were because that was where I stopped scrolling every time I was using my Goodreads list to count up last year’s reading stats.  Every time I’d think, “I never did read the next books in those series….”  So I requested them from the library and they showed up at the right time and now I look like a good planner.

Wandering Star is the sequel to Zodiac, a YA science fiction novel. I particularly fell in love with the world building of this series.

zodiac-1647169_640

Each world is based on an astrological sign. The inhabitants of that world all embody the characteristics of that sign. The main character is Cancerian. Her home world is based around the water. Their houses are built of sand and shells. Their personal computing devices are called Waves. Their society is built around strong familial bonds.

Romina Russell has built a detailed world and population for each of the 12 signs of the Zodiac. It is fun to travel around and see the different home worlds for each type of person, especially since in this book we visited the home for Sagittarius. I loved the fact that there are meandering paths if you want to go for a walk and think but otherwise everything is designed to get you to your destination in the shortest possible distance. You can even get shot out of a cannon to your destination. That made me laugh. My husband likes to take the longest possible way to get anywhere and it irritates me to no end. I thought that was because I was a normal person but I guess that just my sign.

horoscope-641919_640

I’m less thrilled about the love triangle in this book. It is described as Rho, the Cancerian, not being able to let go of a love she once had. Ok, I appreciate it trying to be tied to her personality but really it is just annoying.

This is a fun series for when you want some quick light sci-fi with a diverse cast of characters and worlds.

About Romina Russell

Romina Russell (aka Romina Garber) is a Los Angeles based author who originally hails from Buenos Aires, Argentina. As a teen, Romina landed her first writing gig—College She Wrote, a weekly Sunday column for the Miami Herald that was later picked up for national syndication—and she hasn’t stopped writing since. When she’s not working on ZODIAC, Romina can be found producing movie trailers, taking photographs, or daydreaming about buying a new drum set. She is a graduate of Harvard College and a Virgo to the core.

03 Jan, 2017

What the #$^$ Happened to Heartless?

/ posted in: Reading What the #$^$ Happened to Heartless? Heartless by Marissa Meyer
Published by Feiwel & Friends on November 8th 2016
Genres: Young Adult
Pages: 449
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads

“Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland and a favorite of the unmarried King, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, she wants to open a shop and create delectable pastries. But for her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for a woman who could be a queen.
At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the King’s marriage proposal, she meets handsome and mysterious Jest. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the King and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into a secret courtship.
Cath is determined to choose her own destiny. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.”


I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read this book or not.

On one hand it is Alice in Wonderland which is my favorite fantasy world ever.  I liked this author’s Lunar Chronicles.

On the other hand, it is Alice in Wonderland which will make me extra mad if it gets all screwed up.

For the first 75% of this book, it was glorious.

tart-1442275_640

Catherine is a privileged daughter in Wonderland. Her only allowable aspiration is to make a good marriage. She has a different goal though. She wants to open a bakery and make tarts with her maid as her marketing guru and business advisor. Unfortunately, Catherine’s cooking has attracted the eye of the ineffectual King of Hearts. Now that a courtship is on the horizon, her mother devotes herself entirely to making sure that Catherine becomes Queen.

There was word play and appearances by most of the beloved Wonderland characters with just the right amounts of whimsy.  I was rooting for Catherine to find the nerve to stand up to her mother and say that she wasn’t going to be Queen.  Obviously, that doesn’t happen since this is the backstory to the Queen of Hearts, but a plausible explanation is built up to see how she could become Queen and still not have it go in exactly the direction that you thought it would.

RiverSongSpoilers

And then it happened.  (Obviously, spoilers ahead).  Catherine is given a glimpse of two futures.  One where she continues with her rebel plans and one where she doesn’t.  What happens if she rebels isn’t clear but it is very clear that if she turns back, everyone with her will either die or suffer terribly.  Almost immediately, she decides to turn back.  What?  It isn’t even 5 minutes after the ominous warnings from spooky little seer girls and already you choose the stupid route?

Ok, ok, she turns back to help her maid.  I could make a case for the needs of the many not always outweighing the need for a single person if I absolutely had to.  I still think it is overwhelmingly stupid and I had to set the book aside for a few days to let my hot white burning rage simmer down but I eventually pushed on.  Guess what happened next?

Everything the little freaky seers said about everyone will suffer and die was true!  Who saw that coming?

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Yeah. They literally just said it a few pages ago. I mean, I read those pages a few days earlier and yet I still managed to remember. It was way less time than that for Catherine but she was surprised. Seriously, if a trio of mystical fortunetellers shows you the deaths of people standing next to you and you choose to ignore them, you don’t get to go off all crazy like someone tricked you.  You don’t get to feel like you are entitled to righteous indignation because of the consequences of your misguided actions.  You really shouldn’t expect people to feel all sorry for you when you immediately decide to abandon all your ethics and previously deeply held principles.  Yes, immediately our previously tart-loving, nonqueenly Catherine decides that the only thing to do is to seize control of the throne by marrying the King and turning into a tyrant.  Because…. trauma, maybe?  She’s suffering so everyone else must suffer too?  I don’t really know.  It didn’t make much sense in the book either.  It was like it suddenly decided to say, “Yep, and now she’s evil.  Ta da!”  It was completely out of her character.

The ending wouldn’t have made me so mad if the beginning hadn’t had so much promise.  Has anyone else read this one?  Am I the only person who it turned into a boiling ball of rage?

21 Dec, 2016

Climbing the Stairs

/ posted in: Reading Climbing the Stairs Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman
on May 1, 2008
Genres: Young Adult
Pages: 256
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: India

“During World War II and the last days of British occupation in India, fifteen-year-old Vidya dreams of attending college. But when her forward-thinking father is beaten senseless by the British police, she is forced to live with her grandfather’s large traditional family, where the women live apart from the men and are meant to be married off as soon as possible.
Vidya’s only refuge becomes her grandfather’s upstairs library, which is forbidden to women. There she meets Raman, a young man also living in the house who relishes her intellectual curiosity. But when Vidya’s brother decides to fight with the hated British against the Nazis, and when Raman proposes marriage too soon, Vidya must question all she has believed in.”


I’ve been a big fan of this author’s verse novel A Time To DanceClimbing the Stairs is a bit different.  This is a historical fiction book set in World War II.  Vidya’s father is a doctor who aids nonviolent protestors who are injured by British soldiers.  Vidya’s brother is concerned about the strategic value of India leading to a Japanese invasion.  He wants to enlist in the Army.  The rest of the family is horrified.  They are Brahmin and that caste does not traditionally join the military.  They especially do not join the British Army.

Vidya’s father believes in her dream to go to college instead of being married at a young age.  When he is injured and they have to move to his father’s home, all her dreams are forgotten.  Her family is treated as a burden.  Vidya and her mother are used as servants for the rest of the family.  Vidya gets permission to read in her grandfather’s library while she watches her newborn cousin.  Here she is able to help enhance her education while her world crumbles around her.

I really enjoyed this book.  It is a short book but sets the time and place well.  There is a true conflict between appreciating and supporting the British defense of India against the Japanese while still fighting against the British subjugation of Indians.  There is conflict between traditional ideas of a woman’s place in Indian society and the desire to have a different life.

Important Spoiler about the Dog

Vidya has a dog at the beginning.  It is known that her uncle hates dogs.  I had to put the book aside for a bit because I just knew something bad was going to happen to the dog when they had to move in with the uncle and grandfather.  I can’t handle something bad happening to dogs.  Nothing does though.  He gets a good home.  They even visit him later and he is doing well.  The dog is fine.  Carry on reading.

 

About Padma Venkatraman

Padma Venkatraman was born in Chennai India and currently lives in the United States. She has a doctorate in oceanography. Her debut novel was published in 2008.

05 Dec, 2016

Fatima’s Good Fortune

/ posted in: Reading Fatima’s Good Fortune Fatima's Good Fortune: A Novel by Joanne Dryansky, Gerry Dryansky
Published by Miramax Books on June 22nd 2005
Genres: Europe, Fiction
Pages: 336
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: France

“Freshly arrived from a beautiful Tunisian island to work for the exacting Countess Poulais du Roc, Fatima finds herself in a city where even the most mundane tasks like walking the dog and buying the groceries prove baffling. But her natural compassion ensures her survival, and-unexpectedly-brings good fortune to those around her.”


Fatima’s younger sister, Rachida, moved from the Tunisian island of Djerba to Paris to make a better life for herself.  She was working as a maid for the Countess when she was killed in an accident.  The Countess remembers that Rachida had a sister and imperiously sends for her to take her sister’s place.  She considers this a mission of charity but doesn’t think about the impact on Fatima’s life.  That is the major character flaw of the Countess.  She is so self-centered that she doesn’t think about the needs of anyone other than herself and her dog, Emma.  She moves through other people’s lives like a battering ram oblivious to the damage that she is causing.  She takes credit for good deeds that others have done and never gets called out on her casual racism.

She is shocked to find out that Fatima is nothing like her sister.  Fatima went to work in a resort as a cleaner as a child.  This income allowed Rachida to go to school.  Fatima is illiterate.  She is not as worldly as Rachida.  Life in France is overwhelming to her.

Fatima enlists the help of others in her building to help her learn the skills that she needs to survive in France.  She has a warmth that draws others to her and makes them want to help her.  The reader sees this slice of Paris through the eyes of a North African immigrant who isn’t always welcomed.

The ending is mostly an immigrant fairy tale.  Everything works out wonderfully and not that realistically.  This book tries to make a light and fun tale out of some serious subjects – immigration, class inequality, the death of a family member – so even as you root for the characters it feels jarring like no one is taking this as seriously as is merited.

I have really mixed feelings about this one.  While reading it, I wanted to know what was going to happen in the story but wasn’t sure about the tone.  Was the racist and classist representation of the Countess meant to point out the bad behavior of French people?  With everyone around her not commenting on it I wasn’t sure if it was that or if the book was somehow trying to condone it – “Oh, that’s just how rich old ladies are.”  All the Africans are wonderful, amazing people who improve the lives of everyone they interact with.  There is no nuance.  It made me thing of the magical negro trope.

18 Nov, 2016

Brave New Weed

/ posted in: Reading Brave New Weed Brave New Weed: Adventures into the Uncharted World of Cannabis by Joe Dolce
Published by Harper Wave on October 4th 2016
Genres: Nonfiction
Pages: 288
Format: Hardcover
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads

“The former editor-in-chief of Details and Star adventures into the fascinating “brave new world” of cannabis, tracing its history and possible future as he investigates the social, medical, legal, and cultural ramifications of this surprisingly versatile plant.
Pot. Weed. Grass. Mary Jane. We all think we know what cannabis is and what we use it for. But do we? Our collective understanding of this surprising plant has been muddled by politics and morality; what we think we know isn’t the real story.
A war on cannabis has been waged in the United States since the early years of the twentieth century, yet in the past decade, society has undergone a massive shift in perspective that has allowed us to reconsider our beliefs. In Brave New Weed, Joe Dolce travels the globe to “tear down the cannabis closet” and de-mystify this new frontier, seeking answers to the questions we didn’t know we should ask.
Dolce heads to a host of places, including Amsterdam, Israel, California, and Colorado, where he skillfully unfolds the odd, shocking, and wildly funny history of this complex plant. From the outlandish stories of murder trials where defendants claimed “insanity due to marijuana consumption” to the groundbreaking success stories about the plant’s impressive medicinal benefits, Dolce paints a fresh and much-needed portrait of cannabis, our changing attitudes toward it, and the brave new direction science and cultural acceptance are leading us.
Enlightening, entertaining, and thought-provoking, Brave New Weed is a compelling read that will surprise and educate proponents on both sides of the cannabis debate.”


I knew nothing about marijuana.  I’ve never smoked or eaten an edible.  I wouldn’t have the first clue how to get any marijuana if I was interested.  However, I am interested in the medical aspects of marijuana use.  This is what I found most fascinating about this story.

The author had smoked in college but hadn’t used any in years.  He wanted to investigate the claims on both the pro-legalization side and the prohibition side.  He worked in medical dispensaries in states where it is legal.  Different strains of marijuana have been bred to work better for different diseases.  Some get rid of nausea.  Other work better for pain.  Others help calm anxiety.  Some don’t produce a much of a high but help physical illnesses.  A well trained dispensary staff can help patients determine what strains are best for them based on the chemical profiles of the particular plant and determine the best delivery mechanism for each patient – smoke, vaporize, eat, oils?

How did a plant that appears to have many benefits get to be so reviled?  It doesn’t have a history of recorded deaths, like alcohol and tobacco.  However it is a schedule I drug which means that it is considered to have no medicinal value.  That puts it in the same class as heroin.

He covers the history of marijuana and the racial inequality that led to it being so problematic in the United States.  He investigated what happened when other countries decriminalized possession.  He talked to scientists to learn about the latest research in medical marijuana.

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I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the history of the drug wars in the United States and the potential benefits of legalization.

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04 Nov, 2016

Becoming Naomi Leon

/ posted in: Reading Becoming Naomi Leon Becoming Naomi Leon by Pam Muñoz Ryan
Published by Scholastic Press on September 1st 2004
Genres: Regional & Ethnic
Pages: 246
Format: Hardcover
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads

“Naomi Soledad León Outlaw has had a lot to contend with in her young life, her name for one. Then there are her clothes (sewn in polyester by Gram), her difficulty speaking up, her status at school as “nobody special.” But according to Gram’s self-prophecies, most problems can be overcome with positive thinking. Luckily, Naomi also has her carving to strengthen her spirit. And life with Gram and her little brother, Owen, is happy and peaceful. That is, until their mother reappears after 7 years of being gone, stirring up all sorts of questions and challenging Naomi to discover who she really is.”


Naomi and Owen were left with their great-grandmother in Southern California when their mother decided that she didn’t want the responsibility of caring for them anymore.  Owen was born with physical disabilities and this was too much for their mother to handle.  Now, seven years and several surgeries later, Owen is thriving but he still has some obvious disabilities.  Naomi is happy at home in the trailer with Owen and Gran and their close community of neighbors.  Then their mother reappears with a new name, Skyla, and a new boyfriend. She wants to take Naomi to live with her.  Just Naomi.

Naomi and Owen are half Mexican but they have no connection to the Mexican side of their family since their mother refused to let their father see them after they divorced.  He has sent money to Gran to help out though. Now, to help bolster support for Gran to be able to keep the kids they head to Mexico to try to find him.  They know that he always attends the Oaxaca Radish carving competitions around Christmas so they head there.  (Yes, that is a real thing.)

This story highlights the world of a young girl who doesn’t realize how much her family turmoil has affected her until it is time for her to stand up for herself and her brother.  Her world is widened by meeting her Mexican relatives and by finding out more about her parents.  Kids whose parents have left them imagine all kinds of scenarios about them returning.  When it doesn’t work out in the way they expect, it can be devastating.  Gran has tried to shield them from the truth but it is coming out now and they have to deal with the consequences.  Gran has always been their rock and now they see her scared and unsure of what to do.  Naomi and Owen react differently which accurately represents their ages and personalities.

This is a middle grade book.  I’d recommend it for any kid who doesn’t know quite where they fit in the world.  Also, seriously, radish carving –  that is a weirdly interesting competition.

 

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