Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville—derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.
But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.
When the bodies of the dead come back and attack people, the fighting in the Civil War stops. What doesn’t stop is the racism that was inherent in the United States. Now, 20 years after the shamblers first appeared, black children are taken and trained for combat duty.
The system replicates the hierarchy of slavery. “Better” girls are trained in elite schools to be bodyguards to wealthy white women. They guard them from shamblers and serve as chaperones as the white ladies socialize. Other girls end up working in the fields clearing shamblers as they approach towns. Those people don’t have a long life span.
For me the story got most interesting when Jane and some companions are sent west to a planned community run by a pastor and his son, the sheriff. Everything is set up for the safety and protection of white families but it is all run on the forced labor of black people. The white overseers are so terrified of their black charges that they deliberately undermine their ability to fight shamblers by not giving them adequate weapons thus weakening the defenses of the whole town. They won’t listen to the advice and expertise of black women until it is literally life or death.
This book didn’t interest me as a zombie/horror story. It was at its best when showing off the absurdities of racism. From phrenology to tell who is white and who is black to medical experimentation on unwilling black people to unequal distribution of assets this book highlights many aspects of systemic racism by placing them in a fantasy setting where people should be more interested in working together for survival than upholding an arbitrary hierarchy.
his is the story of two young people from completely different worlds: Kennedy Odede from Kibera, the largest slum in Africa, and Jessica Posner from Denver, Colorado. Kennedy foraged for food, lived on the street, and taught himself to read with old newspapers. When an American volunteer gave him the work of Mandela, Garvey, and King, teenaged Kennedy decided he was going to change his life and his community. He bought a soccer ball and started a youth empowerment group he called Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO). Then in 2007, Wesleyan undergraduate Jessica Posner spent a semester abroad in Kenya working with SHOFCO. Breaking all convention, she decided to live in Kibera with Kennedy, and they fell in love.Their connection persisted, and Jessica helped Kennedy to escape political violence and fulfill his lifelong dream of an education, at Wesleyan University.
The alchemy of their remarkable union has drawn the support of community members and celebrities alike—The Clintons, Mia Farrow, and Nicholas Kristof are among their fans—and their work has changed the lives of many of Kibera’s most vulnerable population: its girls. Jess and Kennedy founded Kibera’s first tuition-free school for girls, a large, bright blue building, which stands as a bastion of hope in what once felt like a hopeless place. But Jessica and Kennedy are just getting started—they have expanded their model to connect essential services like health care, clean water, and economic empowerment programs. They’ve opened an identical project in Mathare, Kenya’s second largest slum, and intend to expand their remarkably successful program for change.
I had first heard of SHOFCO in the wonderful book A Path Appears. It is also featured in the documentary made from that book. Since reading that, I’ve been contributing monthly to the program.
I had heard that they had written their own book. I’m glad that I decided to read it even though I was aware of the basic premise of their story. This book goes much deeper into Kennedy’s childhood than the previous book did. It is a brutally honest book. Content warnings for rape, abuse, genocide.
Kennedy experienced every kind of abuse that a child could. The book goes into detail about his life with an abusive step-father. He left home at a young age to escape him and lived with a group of homeless kids who lived through crime. He tried to get out by appealing to the church only to be sexually abused there. It is amazing that he grew up to try to do something positive for the community. He wanted something besides crime in people’s lives. It all started with a 20 cent soccer ball and organized soccer games. That led to a theater group that tried to teach people how to live better lives. That’s how he met Jessica. She was a rich, white American college student who wanted to help with the theater. She does just about everything that you’d expect an American to do. She’s pushy. She makes many faux pas. She doesn’t understand the community. But eventually she learned to fit in and learned to love Kibera and Kennedy.
She went back to college and Kennedy was forced to flee Kenya because of violence. Jessica was able to get him into college in the U.S. for his own safety. The book does a good job detailing how difficult it was for him to move back and forth from Ohio to Kenya and function in both places.
It was the epidemic of child rapes around him that led him to decide to open a school for girls to prove that they are valuable. The school is the center of a whole-life program in Kibera. There is clean water provided and meals. There are safe houses if the girls are being sexually or physically abused at home.
This is an important story and an even more important program to know about. It shows how grass roots community organizing in places in need can help lift up everyone involved.
What thirteen-year-old Abby wants most is to meet her father. She just never imagined he would be a huge film star--in Bollywood! Now she's traveling to Mumbai to get to know her famous father. Abby is overwhelmed by the culture clash, the pressures of being the daughter of India's most famous celebrity, and the burden of keeping her identity a secret. But as she learns to navigate her new surroundings, she just might discover where she really belongs.
This book was so cute! I don’t read a lot of middle grade but I loved the sound of this one.
Abby’s mother found out she was pregnant after her college boyfriend moved back to India. She was able to contact his family but he never returned her calls. Now thirteen, Abby develops an allergy that starts her asking more questions than ever before about her father’s side of the family.
Her father changed his name and became a famous actor after he returned to India. Attempts to contact him for his medical history are finally successful. Now he wants to get to know her but it all needs to be carefully controlled because he is a huge star and he needs to control his image.
Abby’s a biracial child who has never had any contact with the Indian part of identity. There is tension between her parents because of her father being absent for all of her life. Her father is used to calling the shots in his life and her mother is not about to just go along with his ideas now that he’s back in the picture. Abby’s also finding out that her wealthy father’s life in India is not typical for the country.
The book does a good job of making each of the characters multidimensional. All of them have well developed concerns and personalities. I really hoped that there was a sequel to see what came next in their lives because there is so much to explore but there isn’t a second book. That made me sad. I didn’t want to leave these characters behind.
An incisive, laugh-out-loud contemporary debut about a Taiwanese-American teen whose parents want her to be a doctor and marry a Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer despite her squeamishness with germs and crush on a Japanese classmate.
At seventeen, Mei should be in high school, but skipping fourth grade was part of her parents' master plan. Now a freshman at MIT, she is on track to fulfill the rest of this predetermined future: become a doctor, marry a preapproved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer, produce a litter of babies.
With everything her parents have sacrificed to make her cushy life a reality, Mei can't bring herself to tell them the truth--that she (1) hates germs, (2) falls asleep in biology lectures, and (3) has a crush on her classmate Darren Takahashi, who is decidedly not Taiwanese.
But when Mei reconnects with her brother, Xing, who is estranged from the family for dating the wrong woman, Mei starts to wonder if all the secrets are truly worth it. Can she find a way to be herself, whoever that is, before her web of lies unravels?
This book is so good!
Conflict between immigrant Asian parents and their American-born kids is a staple in a lot of books. What I appreciated about this book is that it took a deeper look at the people involved to figure out their motivations. Mei is trying to be the perfect daughter because she has seen real world consequences of disobedience. Her brother was cut out of the family years earlier for dating a woman with some health issues that may impact her fertility. His parents would not accept a potential daughter in law who might not produce grandchildren. Mei is raised on stories of a local Taiwanese-American woman who was cast out of her family and the horrible things had (supposedly) happened to her. From an outsider’s perspective it is easy to wonder “Why doesn’t she stand up for herself?” This book does a great job of showing where she gets the idea that she has no other options.
The book features other characters who have been in these situations and examines the results of their decisions. There is:
A woman who became a doctor because her family decided she would be
A female relative whose life is taken up by caring for her mother
Mei’s boyfriend, who is from a Japanese-American family that has been living in the United States for several generations
Mei’s mother’s story was amazing. At the beginning she is portrayed as an overbearing, neurotic mother who has Mei’s schedule memorized and panics if she doesn’t answer her phone when she knows she should be out of class. Her phone messages are played for laughs. As the story deepens though we start to see her conflicts. She’s the daughter-in-law of a very traditional family in an arranged marriage where her role is very sharply defined. As she sees Mei start to branch out, she opens up a little about her life and you develop a lot of compassion for a character who very easily could have descended into a caricature.
It’s great. I would recommend this one to everyone. Go get it and read it and pass it on.
A book for dog lovers everywhere. Celebrating the amazing relationships shared with our four-legged friends, each story recounts the love of dogs and the powerful ways dogs impact our lives.
In this heartwarming collection of stories, readers meet 38 incredible dogs who have gone above and beyond the job description of best friend. Each uplifting story provides an inspiring look at the animals who change our lives. Meet rescue dogs who learn to serve others, working dogs who go beyond the call of duty, and underdogs who surmount extraordinary challenges on the road to finding their forever home. This treasury of man's best friend features photographs and personal anecdotes from those who have been touched by the selfless love of a beloved pet.
Readers will be inspired by...* Extraordinary reunions: A dog is rescued from Aleppo, Syria, and reunited with his family in Canada, where they had relocated in 2015 after a missile destroyed their home.* Friendships meant to be: When a prosthetics clinic scheduled appointments for 9-year-old Avery and shelter puppy Hattie Mae on the same day, a fateful encounter leads to a lifelong friendship built on combatting disability. * Heroic acts: Shaya, a crime-fighting dog trained to track illegal poachers, hurt his leg chasing an injured rhino. The leg had to be amputated, but Shaya goes right back to work protecting animals.* True devotion: As he was participating in China's Four Deserts Gobi March, a six-day foot race, Dion Leonard met a dedicated pup who accompanied him for about 120 miles. Afterward, he decides to adopt the dog.
Of course I loved this book. How could you not? This is a book filled with beautiful pictures of dogs as you’d expect from National Geographic.
Each dog has a story that is 2-3 pages long. It describes how the dog was taken out of a shelter and found a job that they love to do. There are therapy dogs, security dogs, actors, medical dogs, and anything else you could think of. There are probably dogs doing jobs that you’ve never even thought of before.
I’ll be taking this book to my office for people to look at in the waiting room.
Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.
But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie—that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.
With the future of Orléans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide—save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles—or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.
I wanted to love this book so much more than I did. I’ve been hearing about it for so long and have heard such glowing praise of it that when I finished it and felt a bit blah towards it, I was disappointed.
This book has been super hyped because of the use of a black model in a gown on the cover. It was celebrated as a great step forward for representation in books and it is. But because of that I thought that race would play a bigger part in this book than it does. Skin color in this world is decided on a whim. There is no change in status/power/importance placed on the skin color that you have. It is a fashion accessory. It just seemed like it went from “Yay for Black Girls” on the cover and in the promotions to “But actually, this doesn’t have anything to do with you specifically” in the story. If I didn’t know anything about how this book was promoted, it probably wouldn’t have felt strange to me.
The author does a great job in the opening of setting up the world. It is imaginative and vivid. After that though the world building just seems to stop. This is a long novel at 448 pages. In most fantasy books that size you’d know about countries around the area, the basis of the economy, how people of different classes live, what is their technology based on, etc. The main character is very sheltered but that isn’t unusual in fantasy. Usually they find out more about their surroundings that she does in this book though. At least they show some interest in what is going on around them. Camillia really doesn’t.
Wishy Washy Heroine
Events happen to the characters in this book. They do not direct the action. I think this is the key to my dissatisfaction with this book.
Every time she is asked to make a decision, she puts it off for days. Eventually she makes a decision but it is usually irrelevant by then because events have moved on. When deciding between what is right/hard and what is easy/cruel, she always chooses easy/cruel if forced to make a choice in the moment. She seems like she is supposed to be a nice person – she remembers servants’ names! – but she is so very weak. Only after witnessing and participating in abuse after abuse does she start to think that something might be wrong. I would be much more interested in reading a story about the one of her fellow Belles who threw a fit about what she was being made to do almost from the beginning.
Series vs Stand alone book
It is fine to have a book designed to be part of a series but I hate it when there is no resolution at the end of a book. Even just wrapping up some side storylines is more satisfying than a totally open-ended book. In a way this feels like the story is just starting and the pages run out. That’s fine if you can move right on to the next book but it is annoying here. At the end I kept thinking of questions that weren’t answered and thinking, “Maybe that’s in the next book” instead of enjoying what was in this one.
I think the idea was good. There are some very creative details in the world building like teacup elephants and mail being delivered by small balloons. It may turn out to be the beginning of a good series. But it doesn’t stand alone well as a single book.
Andrew Schulman, a fifty-seven-year-old professional guitarist, had a close brush with death on the night of July 16, 2009. Against the odds—with the help of music—he survived: A medical miracle.
Once fully recovered, Andrew resolved to dedicate his life to bringing music to critically ill patients at Mount Sinai Beth Israel’s ICU. In Waking the Spirit, you’ll learn the astonishing stories of the people he’s met along the way—both patients and doctors—and see the incredible role music can play in a modern hospital setting.
In his new work as a medical musician, Andrew has met with experts in music, neuroscience, and medicine. In this book, he shares with readers an overview of the cutting-edge science and medical theories that illuminate this exciting field.
This book explores the power of music to heal the body and awaken the spirit.
Andrew Schulman was a professional classical guitarist. He went into the hospital to have a biopsy but an allergic reaction to medication while in surgery led to him spending time in a coma in the surgical ICU. He was nonresponsive to anything until his wife started playing his favorite playlist of music for him. After his recovery, he started to research the links between music and healing. He also returned to the surgical ICU three days a week to play for an hour.
I’ve been lurking on some music therapy harp groups on Facebook. I like the types of music that these musicians seem to play and I was actually looking for good sources of music for relaxing harp pieces. I know a lot of it is improv. In this book, Andrew Schulman does some improv but finds himself mostly playing three types of music – Bach, Gershwin, and The Beatles.
There are a lot of stories in the book that show how small of a world the New York music world must be. He meets family members of composers, Gershwin scholars, and people who performed on his favorite recordings. Along the way he is shocked to find that he starts to heal the brain damage that his time in a coma caused.
I liked the incorporation of the science along with the stories. He will talk about seeing music calm pain responses and then will get a scientific opinion on why that works.
You’ll finish this book believing that Bach should be playing in every recovery unit in the hospital. Even if you don’t play an instrument, this is an uplifting story about how the body can heal itself and how not every medical intervention needs to be using drugs.
From one of the co-founders of the Black Lives Matter movement comes a poetic memoir and reflection on humanity. Necessary and timely, Patrisse Cullors' story asks us to remember that protest in the interest of the most vulnerable comes from love. Leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement have been called terrorists, a threat to America. But in truth, they are loving women whose life experiences have led them to seek justice for those victimized by the powerful. In this meaningful, empowering account of survival, strength, and resilience, Patrisse Cullors and asha bandele seek to change the culture that declares innocent black life expendable.
The phrase “When They Call You A Terrorist” refers to two episodes in the author’s life:
When Black Lives Matter is referred to as a terrorist group by people who oppose them
When her mentally ill older brother was charged with terrorism for yelling at a person during a traffic accident
This memoir focuses more on her life leading up to the founding of Black Lives Matter than the aftermath. It tells the story of living in a community that is very heavily policed. When her brother starts showing signs of mental illness his interactions with the police increase. He is taken away and no one is able to find out where he is for months despite constant searching. He isn’t treated but just medicated to keep him quiet. He is repeatedly beaten by the police.
I immediately compare this to police treatment of my mentally ill step daughter. She’s 14. She has been repeatedly restrained by the police both at schools and at home because of her violence. She has sent adults to the hospital. She has destroyed property. The police will not ALLOW her to be charged with a crime despite multiple requests because “she has a diagnosis.” Wanna guess the other differences between her and the author’s brother besides access to healthcare to get a diagnosis? Yeah, she’s white and lives in an affluent suburb.
I’m not sure how so many white people can continue to think that unequal policing doesn’t exist. Even if you aren’t involved in a situation that highlights it, so many videos exist. It has to be just willful ignorance to deny the evidence.
The author helped organize a bus trip into Ferguson after Mike Brown’s death. A church was offered as a staging place for the 600 people coming in. I thought about that for a while. My brother works at a church that would be perfect for that sort of thing. It is right off the interstate. It has a huge parking lot that could hold a lot of buses. There is a school attached so maybe there are locker rooms so people could shower. Then I laughed and laughed. I can’t imagine a white majority church EVER opening their doors to a protest group. They’d have to fight about it in committee and through the church gossip networks for months before they could even begin to make a highly contested decision. Then the pastor would be fired.
My mental tangents aside, this book is ultimately about the power of love and what it looks like to try to live out that love in the real world. It is a short, lyrical book that can help open people’s eyes to the needs in communities that have adversarial relationships with police.
Everyone knows a guy like Jared: the burnout kid in high school who sells weed cookies and has a scary mom who's often wasted and wielding some kind of weapon. Jared does smoke and drink too much, and he does make the best cookies in town, and his mom is a mess, but he's also a kid who has an immense capacity for compassion and an impulse to watch over people more than twice his age, and he can't rely on anyone for consistent love and support, except for his flatulent pit bull, Baby Killer (he calls her Baby)--and now she's dead.
Jared can't count on his mom to stay sober and stick around to take care of him. He can't rely on his dad to pay the bills and support his new wife and step-daughter. Jared is only sixteen but feels like he is the one who must stabilize his family's life, even look out for his elderly neighbours. But he struggles to keep everything afloat...and sometimes he blacks out. And he puzzles over why his maternal grandmother has never liked him, why she says he's the son of a trickster, that he isn't human. Mind you, ravens speak to him--even when he's not stoned.
You think you know Jared, but you don't.
This is not the book that I expected from the blurb. I expected urban fantasy with Jared finding out he’s supernatural in the beginning of the book and then he has adventures. That doesn’t happen. Instead this is a hard look at the life of a First Nations teenager who lives with his unreliable and violent drug dealer mother and her boyfriend. This book takes you up close and personal into a life of poverty and crime. There is almost no magic happening for the first 2/3 of the book.
It even has two of my automatic DNF plots. His dog dies of heartworm at the beginning of the book (with a very odd veterinary clinic scene that isn’t anything that would happen for real). There is also a scene of his mother killing a dog with her truck on purpose. Animal abuse is a DNF.
I also absolutely hate stories of teenagers who do nothing but drink and take drugs. I hate it in real life and I hate wasting my time on that type of plot in books.
So, knowing all that, why did I finish this book and think it was great?
The writing pulled me in and kept me engaged with the story. Jared looks like he has nothing going for him. His mother is an addict and dealer. He is doing some low-level dealing. But he is trying to keep his mother’s bills paid while also trying to keep his father and his new wife’s rent up to date. He even helps his elderly neighbors with their chores. None of the adult relatives in Jared’s life are responsible so he feels that he needs to be. The only person he feels like he may be able to rely on is his paternal grandmother but his mother has forbidden him to talk to her. He does anyway and he really wants to go live with her in order to finish school but he feels that it would be a betrayal of his mother, even when she is continuously betraying him. By the end you want to protect him from yet another person who lets him down.
As Jared starts to see manifestations of his traditional beliefs appearing before him, he decides that he has been doing too many drugs and decides to get clean. I love that that was his response to an invisible bear in the living room and cavemen in his bedroom. But the magic is real and has always been there even if it is just starting to get through to him.
The author did a good job depicting the charm vs the dangerous irresponsibility of a drug-involved parent. Jared’s mom obviously loves him and dotes on him but she also exposes him to men who hurt him and she will disappear without warning. She relies on him to get her through bad trips and lavishes presents on him when she is manic. She’s horrible but draws you into her self-absorbed world.
Jared’s friends feel real. They are a mix of popular and unpopular kids. Native and non-Native also. Each is well fleshed out and are unique characters.
Of course this book really started to pick up for me when the magic became more apparent. And then it was over. I feel like there wasn’t a resolution. This is part one of a series so I know that there will be more to the story but I would have liked to see more of an ending than this.
Carolyn Jourdan had it all: the Mercedes Benz, the fancy soirees, the best clothes. She moved in the most exclusive circles in Washington, D.C., rubbed elbows with big politicians, and worked on Capitol Hill. As far as she was concerned, she was changing the world.
And then her mother had a heart attack. Carolyn came home to help her father with his rural medical practice in the Tennessee mountains. She'd fill in for a few days as the receptionist until her mother could return to work. Or so she thought. But days turned into weeks.
Her job now included following hazmat regulations for cleaning up bodily fluids; maintaining composure when confronted with a splinter the size of a steak knife; distinguishing between a "pain," a "strain," and a "sprain" on indecipherable Medicare forms; and tending to the loquacious Miss Hiawatha, whose daily doctor visits were never billed.
At first glance this is a funny memoir of life in a small town medical office. Stories of men who try to operate on themselves or get injured doing ill advised things abound. There are also heart breaking stories of the deaths of beloved patients and friends. If you like stories full of small town characters, this would be a great read for you.
On a deeper level though, I found it quite disturbing. The author’s father is a doctor. He has a practice with one nurse and his wife is the receptionist/office manager. His wife is unpaid for this more than full time job. She also has a doctorate but has spent her life doing unpaid work to support her husband’s job. When she gets sick her daughter comes home to take over her job. Her daughter is a lawyer working for a Senator and is an expert on U.S. nuclear policy. She gives up that job to become her father’s unpaid helper. The reason they can’t hire anyone else is that the practice doesn’t make enough money to support a paid receptionist. So now you have two highly educated women who have given up their careers to support this practice and you are denying a job to a person in the community who could be a fine receptionist if the job was paid.
The reason the practice isn’t making any money is because the patients are too poor to pay for healthcare. Now we get into the failures of the U.S. health care system. Unfortunately, that isn’t what people tend to take from memoirs like this. They see a fine doctor who cares enough not to charge for services if people can’t pay. That’s admirable but not sustainable. If you can’t pay to keep the electric on, then the community loses its only health provider.
(This is a touchy subject for me. I work in a low cost, walk in veterinary clinic in a poor area. I am basically living this doctor’s life in the veterinary world but with better staffing and hours. People come in and regale us with tales of TV shows they’ve seen where the vet cares so much about animals that they don’t charge people. The implication being that if we do charge, then we don’t care. We just nod because no one wants an economics lesson or to hear about my massive pay cut to work here or the fact that the owner isn’t getting paid yet because the clinic just opened…)
The answer for communities like this is to find a better way for people to afford health care, not to emulate this model. It isn’t possible moving forward. Student debt is too high for newer doctors to be able to afford to live on what a practice like this makes. I looked at buying a practice like this once. The vet was making about $100,000 a year being on call 24/7. I wasn’t willing to do that because that type of stress will kill you and once you figured in paying back a loan to buy the practice and doing some way past due maintenance to the building, I would have almost been paying to work there. I had been out of school long enough not to have any student loans left. If I had had the debt of today’s graduates, I could never have even considered it.
So, yeah, the book is cute and funny and sweet as long as you don’t look too closely at why a practice like this is needed.
Victoria-Margaret is the crown princess of the empire, a direct descendant of Victoria I, the queen who changed the course of history two centuries earlier. The imperial practice of genetically arranged matchmaking will soon guide Margaret into a politically advantageous marriage like her mother before her, but before she does her duty, she'll have one summer incognito in a far corner of empire. In Toronto, she meets Helena Marcus, daughter of one of the empire's greatest placement geneticists, and August Callaghan, the heir apparent to a powerful shipping firm currently besieged by American pirates. In a summer of high-society debutante balls, politically charged tea parties, and romantic country dances, Margaret, Helena, and August discover they share an unusual bond and maybe a one in a million chance to have what they want and to change the world in the process —just like the first Queen Victoria.
This is a YA alternative history book that imagines that the British Empire is still alive and well. The decision that made the difference was that Queen Victoria named her eldest daughter heir and then married off all her other children to people in the Empire instead of other European royal families. Now, the Empire is predominately made up of mixed race people. Canada has a high percentage of people originally from Hong Kong. The Church of England consists mostly of a DNA database that chooses the best DNA match for people.
The Crown Princess Victoria-Margaret wants one summer away. She decides to make her debut in Canada while passing herself off as a cousin to one of the leading families there. She makes other friends though who aren’t in on her secret and this leads to romantic entanglements that aren’t what she expected.
I thought the world building was interesting in this book. It was intriguing to think about what might have happened if the British had treated their subjects as people worthy of respect. If you pick too much at the assumptions made in the book though it might all fall apart. My recommendation is just to enjoy it and go along for the ride.
At the end of the book the main characters are hatching a plot. It doesn’t seem very well thought out to me so I will be interested to see what happens in upcoming books.
In this imaginative novel rooted in the rich soil of early-nineteenth-century German Romanticism, beloved New York Times bestselling author Gregory Maguire twins an origin legend of the famous Nutcracker with the life of Drosselmeier, the toymaker who carves him.
Gregory Maguire’s novels have been called "bewitching," "remarkable," "extraordinary," "engrossing," "amazing," and "delicious." Having brought his legions of devoted readers to Oz in Wicked, Wonderland in After Alice and Dickensian London in Lost, Maguire now takes us to the Black Forest of Bavaria and Munich of the Brothers Grimm and E. T. A. Hoffman. Hiddensee recreates the backstory of the Nutcracker, reimaging how this entrancing creature came to be carved and how it magically guided an ailing little girl named Klara through a dreamy paradise on a snowy Christmas Eve. It also brings to life the mysterious godfather Drosselmeier—the ominous, canny, one-eyed toymaker made immortal by Petipa and Tchaikovsky’s ballet—who presents the once and future Nutcracker to Klara, his goddaughter.
But Hiddensee is not just a retelling of a classic story. Maguire discovers in the flowering of German Romanticism a migrating strain of a Hellenic mystery-cult, and ponders a profound question: how a person who is abused by life, short-changed and challenged, can access secrets that benefit the disadvantaged and powerless. Ultimately, Hiddensee, offers a message of hope. If the compromised Godfather Drosselmeier can bring an enchanted Nutcracker to a young girl in distress, perhaps everyone, however lonely or marginalized on the eve of a winter holiday, has something precious to share.
I came at this book with no idea of the story of The Nutcracker. I’ve never seen it. I know there are mice and some soldiers. That’s all I know. I didn’t even know that there was a grandfather who made a nutcracker.
If you aren’t like me (several hundred years out of date with your pop culture), you may see more allusions to the story you know. For me this was just a series of vignettes in the life of a boy named Dirk. He was a foundling who seems to move randomly in and out of different people’s lives in Germany. My favorite part was the subtle, dry humor that is slid into the narrative.
For me this book didn’t stand up to the love that I have for Wicked. I keep waiting for a book from this author to reach those heights for me. Hoping for this level of love did decrease my enjoyment of this book somewhat. It is harder to let this book try to stand on its own without the expectations placed on it.
This would be a good book for fans of The Nutcracker who want to delve more deeply into the world.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
We may not often think of our clothes as having a function beyond covering our naked bodies and keeping us a little safer from the elements. But to discount the enormous influence of clothing on anything from economic cycles to the future of water scarcity is to ignore the greater meaning of the garments we put on our backs. Disrobed vividly considers the role that clothing plays in everything from natural disasters to climate change to terrorism to geopolitics to agribusiness. Chapter by chapter, Tang takes the reader on an unusual journey, telling stories and asking questions that most consumers have never considered about their clothing. Why do banker's wives sell off their clothes and how does that presage a recession? How is clothing linked to ethanol and starvation on the African continent? Could RFID in clothing save the lives of millions of people in earthquakes around the world?
This book takes an everyday item and considers it in a way that readers may not have previously thought possible. It tackles topics relevant to today, everything from fakes in the museums to farm-to-table eating, and answers questions about how we can anticipate and change our world in areas as far-reaching as the environment, politics, and the clash of civilizations occurring between countries. Much like other pop economics books have done before, the stories are easily retold in water-cooler style, allowing them to be thoughtfully considered, argued, and discussed.
This is a pop-economics book examining the impact of clothing on various aspects of life now and in the future. The author is a futurist who uses clothing to help predict future trends.
How does that work? For example, the rate of rich women reselling designer clothing goes up as they start to have financial concerns. This shows up before some other indicators of impending recessions. Likewise, the number of bankers wearing their “lucky clothing” increases with financial instability.
I thought this book was strongest in its first few chapters. These discuss superstitious clothing trends, how museums fall for buying fakes, and predictors of recession. In the later chapters on environmental impacts of clothing I felt that the ideas needed more development. Yes, there are major problems with disposable clothing and its impact on water and agriculture. But this book just seemed to rush to skim over the surface of many ideas instead of taking the time to develop a few ideas fully. The ideas are intriguing but the discussion felt half-hearted and left me wanting more details and nuance.
This book would be best for people who have never considered these issues before. It can serve as an introduction to the topics surrounding clothing and the economy and environment. It may spur deeper research into the subject and a search for books that dive deeper into the cause and effect of the topics presented here.
About Syl Tang
Syl Tang is CEO and founder of the 19-year old HipGuide Inc. A futurist, her focus is how and why we consume, with an eye towards world events such as natural disasters, geo-political clashes, and pandemics. She has written hundreds of articles on the confluence of world events and soft goods for the Financial Times, predicting and documenting trends such as the Apple watch and other smart wearables, lab-made diamonds, the Department of Defense’s funding of Afghan jewelry companies, the effects of global warming on South Sea pearls, and the unsolved murder of tanzanite speculator Campbell Bridges.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
Barber explores the evolution of American food from the 'first plate,' or industrially-produced, meat-heavy dishes, to the 'second plate' of grass-fed meat and organic greens, and says that both of these approaches are ultimately neither sustainable nor healthy. Instead, Barber proposes Americans should move to the 'third plate,' a cuisine rooted in seasonal productivity, natural livestock rhythms, whole-grains, and small portions of free-range meat
This is the kind of book that I absolutely love. It is a detailed look at ways of growing food with environmental sustainability in mind. It gave me warm fuzzies every time I picked it up.
The author runs a restaurant on a farm in New York. You would think that would be great for the environment but he starts to realize that they plant want he wants to use instead of him using what it is best for the farm to grow. For example, there are cover crops that are ground to help fix nitrogen or add other nutrients to the soil that are just plowed under because they don’t have a commercial use. Why shouldn’t he try to use those crops because it is part of what his farm needs to grow to survive instead of forcing the farm to grow the few things that he wants?
He visits a community of organic farmers in a small town in New York. They are doing extensive work on their soils by using crop rotation. They grew from one family doing this work who spread the word around the town. I loved this part. There is something about reading about building healthy soil that thrills me every time. I accept that I might be weird.
Then he visits the area of Spain famous for jamon iberico. This is a ham made from free-range pigs that ate a lot of acorns. There is a farmer here who is trying to do the same thing with geese to make fois gras without force feeding his ducks. Also in Spain he visits a fish farm next to a national park that is helping to rebuild an estuary to house their fish. Birds use the area as a stop over in migration. The fish farmers consider losing fish to avian predation a sign of a healthy farm ecosystem.
These were stories were interesting to me but I kept thinking about how unnecessary they are. If you really want to get into environmentally healthy eating, why eat meat at all?
At the end the book went back to plants and I was so happy. It discusses heirloom vegetable raising versus breeding for better varieties. So much of the plant breeding going on is for durability. Flavor isn’t considered. This section covers some people who are trying to fix that.
This book reminded me a lot of Omnivore’s Dilemma, especially the section on Joel Saladin. If you loved that book, you’ll love this one.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
I’ve been reading. I’ve been reading a lot. But, I haven’t been writing reviews. Honestly, I got a bit bored with them and I know they aren’t favorites. It is especially hard when the book is entertaining but nothing mind-blowing. How many ways can you can up with to say, “It was good. I enjoyed it enough to read the whole thing. That is all.”
The thing is that I did enjoy these books. Most of them I haven’t heard much about so they need to get some exposure. I should stop slacking and write up some reviews.
So here are some books that I haven’t told you about from August. Seriously, August, people. Slacking.
Meet Greta Helsing, doctor to the undead.
After inheriting a highly specialised, and highly peculiar, medical practice, Dr Helsing spends her days treating London's undead for a host of ills: vocal strain in banshees, arthritis in barrow-wights and entropy in mummies. Although barely making ends meet, this is just the quiet, supernatural-adjacent life Greta's dreamed of since childhood.
But when a sect of murderous monks emerges, killing human undead and alike, Greta must use all her unusual skills to keep her supernatural clients - and the rest of London - safe.
This is a great idea. A lot of the monsters from old horror stories are here. Dr. Helsing is trying to keep a practice afloat while having to keep her patients a secret.
I had a hard time remembering at points that this is a contemporary story. It kept feeling like it was a Victorian to me and then there would be modern technology.
It was well done. There are sequels planned and I will definitely read them.
In 90 A.D., following the Saturninus revolt in Germany, the Emperor Domitian has become more paranoid about traitors and dissenters around him. This leads to several senators and even provincial governors facing charges and being executed for supposed crimes of conspiracy and insulting the emperor. Wanting to root out all the supports of Saturninus from the Senate, one of Domitian’s men offers to hire Flavia Alba to do some intelligence work.
Flavia Alba, daughter and chip off the old block of Marcus Didius Falco, would rather avoid any and all court intrigue, thank you very much. But she’s in a bit of a bind. Her wedding is fast approaching, her fiancé is still recovering―slowly―from being hit by a lightning bolt, and she’s the sole support of their household. So with more than a few reservations, she agrees to “investigate.”
I’ve loved everything I’ve read by this author, which is over 20 books now. This one seemed to have a lot of historical backstory that needed to be explained in order to understand the significance of The Third (Fake) Nero. It wasn’t as well woven into the story as she usually does. It felt like a bit of slog to get through all that in order to get to the story.
That said, I continue to love this series and its take on everyday life in Ancient Rome.
“Top notch crime fiction.”
—Boston Globe American readers first met Icelandic lawyer and investigator Thóra Gudmundsdóttir in Last Rituals. In My Soul to Take, internationally acclaimed author Yrsa Sigurdardóttir plunges her intrepid heroine into even graver peril, in a riveting thriller set against the harsh landscape of Smila’s Sense of Snow territory. A darkly witty and continually surprising suspense tale that places Yrsa Sigurdardóttir firmly in the ranks of Sue Grafton, Tess Gerritsen, Faye Kellerman and other top mystery writers, My Soul to Take is ingenious Scandinavian noir on a par with the works of Henning Mankell and Arnaldur Indridason. Stieg Larsson (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) fans should also take note.
The heroine of this book is a lawyer who did a land purchase deal for a client who wanted to build a spa. Now he is claiming that the place is haunted and wants to sue the sellers. The lawyer heads to the spa for a weekend to try to calm him down and gets mixed up in the mystery of what happened on the land years before.
This book was good. It was the first Icelandic noir book I’ve read. I read it for Women in Translation month. I enjoyed the historical aspects of the story more than the present. The lawyer was a bit too much of the pushy, “let’s hide things from the police” kind of mystery heroine for my liking.
Dana attends a school of magic with only one other student. She has a great love only she can see. And only she can unravel these mysteries and become mistress of the Valley of the Wolves.
Ever since Dana was a little girl, Kai has been her best friend and constant companion--even though she's the only one who can see him. Then the mysterious Maestro comes to her farm and offers her the opportunity of a lifetime: the chance to study sorcery in the Valley of the Wolves. And Dana knows she must go, for the Maestro can see Kai too....
This was another Women in Translation month read for me. This book reads like a fairy tale. There is a boy that only the girl can see. Is he real or not?
A magician comes and takes her away because he says that she will be a great magic user someday. He trains her in his castle that is surrounded by vicious wolves who come out at night. After years of training she realizes that she may not be able to leave if she doesn’t figure out the secrets of the castle and the valley.
This book is all about growing up and seeing your life and the people in it for what they really are. It is a quick read with lots of fun fantasy and magical elements.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
A new collected volume from the Nobel Prize–winning poet that includes, for the first time in English, all of the poems from her last Polish collection
One of Europe’s greatest recent poets is also its wisest, wittiest, and most accessible. Nobel Prize–winner Wislawa Szymborska draws us in with her unexpected, unassuming humor. Her elegant, precise poems pose questions we never thought to ask. “If you want the world in a nutshell,” a Polish critic remarks, “try Szymborska.” But the world held in these lapidary poems is larger than the one we thought we knew.
Carefully edited by her longtime, award-winning translator, Clare Cavanagh, the poems in Map trace Szymborska’s work until her death in 2012. Of the approximately two hundred and fifty poems included here, nearly forty are newly translated; thirteen represent the entirety of the poet’s last Polish collection, Enough, never before published in English.Map is the first English publication of Szymborska’s work since the acclaimed Here, and it offers her devoted readers a welcome return to her “ironic elegance” (The New Yorker).
I am not a fan of poetry. I think that is mostly because I am not a person who is in touch with my feelings or who wishes to have other people spilling their feelings all over me. I read poetry and if I understand it at all I end up mostly thinking, “Ugh, no one cares about your feelings.” I am Scrooge.
So why did I request this book of poetry? It was Women in Translation month. I heard about this collection somewhere on Twitter. I’m always on the lookout for books from or about Poland that aren’t mired in World War II. I’m 1/4 Polish and I want to learn more about it but it is hard to find anything that isn’t miserable. Granted they’ve had more than their fair share of trouble but there has to be some literature that isn’t just depressing, doesn’t there? Also, my library happened to have this book which I thought was a bit odd for some reason.
This collection starts in the 1940s and continues to the 2000s. I’m not going to pretend that I understand every poem but I do get most of them. A lot of them are about things that I haven’t seen written about in poetry before. They span a range of emotion from happy to sad.
One of my favorites is about talking to an uppity French woman who is dismissive of Poland as just a place where it is cold. The author spins a crazy fairy tale in her mind about freezing writers struggling against the elements while herding walruses but then realizes that she doesn’t have the French vocabulary to be insultingly sarcastic back to this woman so has to just say “Pas de tout (Not at all).”
This is a huge collection. I’ve renewed the book once but I’m not getting through it fast enough. To let you know how much I’m enjoying it I’ll say, I ordered a copy of myself. Yes, I bought a poetry book. I even thought about buying the hardcover because it seemed like it needed that kind of respect. Then my cheap side of my brain reasserted itself and I got the paperback.
I want the husband to read this too. He likes poetry. He’s into feelings. I’ll impress him by pretending to be classy and reading poetry. We’ll sneak the walrus herders up on him.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
Octopuses have varied personalities and intelligence they show in myriad ways: endless trickery to escape enclosures and get food; jetting water playfully to bounce objects like balls; and evading caretakers by using a scoop net as a trampoline and running around the floor on eight arms. But with a beak like a parrot, venom like a snake, and a tongue covered with teeth, how can such a being know anything? And what sort of thoughts could it think?
The intelligence of dogs, birds, and chimpanzees was only recently accepted by scientists, who now are establishing the intelligence of the octopus, watching them solve problems and deciphering the meaning of their color-changing camouflage techniques. Montgomery chronicles this growing appreciation of the octopus, but also tells a love story. By turns funny, entertaining, touching, and profound, The Soul of an Octopus reveals what octopuses can teach us about consciousness and the meeting of two very different minds.
I love octopuses. I think they are fascinating. I’ve never had the chance to meet one though like this author did. She got to know three octopuses over the course of a few years. It was amazing to hear about the ways their physiology lets them interact with the world. They can taste with their skin, camouflage even though they are color blind, and work through complex puzzles.
She also lets you get to know the people working behind the scenes in the aquarium who love these animals.
This book is wonderful for anyone who is interested in finding out more about these animals. I am looking forward to reading more from this author.
Junk Raft: An Ocean Voyage and a Rising Tide of Activism to Fight Plastic Pollutionby Marcus Eriksen on July 4th 2017 Pages: 216 Length: 8:05 Published byBeacon Press Setting: Pacific Ocean
News media brought the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch"--the famous swirling gyre of plastic pollution in the ocean--into the public consciousness. But when Marcus Eriksen cofounded the 5 Gyres Institute with his wife, Anna Cummins, and set out to study the world's oceans with hundreds of volunteers, they discovered a "plastic smog" of microscopic debris that permeates our oceans globally, defying simple clean-up efforts. What's more, these microplastics and their toxic chemistry have seeped into the food chain, threatening marine life and humans alike.
Far from being a gloomy treatise on an environmental catastrophe, though, Junk Raft tells the exciting story of Eriksen and his team's fight to solve the problem of plastic pollution. A scientist, activist, and inveterate adventurer, Eriksen is drawn to the sea by a desire to right an environmental injustice. Against long odds and common sense, he and his co-navigator, Joel Paschal, construct a "junk raft" made of plastic trash and set themselves adrift from Los Angeles to Hawaii, with no motor or support vessel, confronting perilous cyclones, food shortages, and a fast decaying raft.
Plastic pollution in the ocean is a huge problem but it doesn’t manifest in exactly the ways that it has been portrayed in the press. Most of the ocean is polluted with microparticles of plastic that make any clean up operation almost impossible. The author’s goal is to require companies to take on more of the burden for reusing or recycling plastics they produce. Now they are freed from responsibility by requiring consumers to recycle if they don’t want the plastic going into a landfill.
This book used the framework of the several month journey on Junk to tell the story of the Earth’s plastic pollution problem. It is full of ideas for making the problem better but there needs to be buy in from a lot of people to make it happen.
The stories in the book are scary. So much damage is being done through human carelessness. Getting the word out about what needs to be done is important.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
Good Friday on the Rez introduces readers to places and people that author, writer, and entrepreneur David Bunnell encounters during his one day, 280-mile road trip from his boyhood Nebraska hometown to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to visit his longtime friend, Vernell White Thunder, a full-blooded Oglala Lakota, descendant of a long line of prominent chiefs and medicine men.
This captivating narrative is part memoir and part history. Bunnell shares treasured memories of his time living on and teaching at the reservation. Sometimes raw and sometimes uplifting, Bunnell looks back to expose the difficult life and experiences faced by the descendants of Crazy Horse, Red Cloud, and Sitting Bull while also illuminating their courageous resiliency.
The first thing that needs to be made clear is that this is not written by a Native American author. I didn’t realize that until I started reading the book.
The author is a white man who has lived on or near the Pine Ridge Lakota reservation off and on through his life. He is going to visit a man who he met when the author was teaching school on the reservation. Vernell White Thunder was one of his students in the 1970s.
The road trip is used as a narrative device to comment on events from history and current events that affect life on the reservation. As the author passes towns where events occurred, he discusses them. This is a good introduction to the history of United States military treatment of the Native people. He also touches on:
systemic and institutional racism faced by the tribe
the effects of alcoholism
the importance of Wounded Knee (both the massacre in the 1800s and the uprising in the 1970s)
As he gets closer to the reservation, he gives more information about Vernell. He is looking for Perrier and Dinty Moore beef stew to take to Vernell. He tells some jokes that Vernell tells that are very self-deprecating. I have seen reviews that tear this book apart because of this. In every case, the reviewer stopped reading the book at this point because they felt that the author was negatively portraying a native man. I thought that was interesting. I think it is more of a statement of the inherent expectations of the reviewer than the author. They seem to assume that Vernell is going to be a poor man living on the reservation who needs beef stew as charity and that this author is exploiting him.
When you meet Vernell, you find out that he is:
a mentor to local teens
the owner of a resort that gets guests from all over the world
a successful rancher raising buffalo and horses
a large landowner on several reservations
the son of a respected chief who was was taking over more of his father’s duties as his father’s health declined
Vernell White Thunder is so cool that he’s almost a rock star.
The author discusses the changes that he has seen in younger Native generations. He hopes that today’s young people are the Seventh Generation since the military suppression of the tribes that were foretold as the generation who will live up the tribes again. He is hopeful because of the resurgence of tribal language speakers and young people proud of their history.
The author died before publication of the book so it was bittersweet to read about the wonderful things that he wanted to live to see this generation accomplish. Although it discusses a lot of dark history, at the end this is a hopeful book. It is a testament to the people of Pine Ridge and one enduring friendship that started there.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
This profoundly moving memoir is the remarkable and inspiring true story of Sandra Uwiringyimana, a girl from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who tells the tale of how she survived a massacre, immigrated to America, and overcame her trauma through art and activism.
Sandra and her family are part of the Banyamulenge tribe. Originally the tribe lived in Rwanda but migrated to the Congo. They are not considered citizens of any nation and they are persecuted in the Congo.
War was a constant backdrop in her life. Her family often had to flee because of an outbreak of fighting wherever they were living. It got worse when her oldest brother was kidnapped along with 200 other boys and taken to be used as a child solider. Her father dedicated himself to rescuing her brother.
Sandra was 10 when fighting forced them to flee the Congo and cross the border into Burundi.
They were in a refugee camp in Gatumba on August 13, 2004 when armed men singing Christian praise songs came into the camp and started killing people. Tents were set on fire to force people into the open where they were shot. Most of the people in her tent including her aunt and cousins were killed. Her mother was holding her six year old sister when she was shot repeatedly at point blank range. Sandra had a gun held to her head but her captor let her go.
In the morning she found out that her mother had survived because she was tossed into a pile of corpses and managed to crawl away before they were burned. Her little sister was dead. Her brother was severely injured.
The family eventually moved to Rwanda and then was resettled in the United States. They thought their lives would be fine then. They didn’t realize the problems of being a refugee in the United States. They had lived a comfortable life in the Congo. Now they were living in poverty. People asked her what it was like to learn to wear shoes assuming she had never done that in Africa. Although she was fluent in three languages, people ridiculed her poor English. The family survived numerous setbacks in America. Sandra emerged as a spokesman for her tribe. She educated groups at the UN about the massacre and the hardships of being a refugee.
Then when she was in college, it all came crashing down on her. The feelings she and her family had supressed for so long were too much. She describes her problems with survivor’s guilt, depression, and PTSD. How do you get help for this when you are ashamed to speak of it especially to your family? Her mother had endured so much and seemed fine. Sandra was ashamed for not being as strong as her mother. Opening up a dialogue with her family about what happened was the hardest part of her mental health journey.
This book is written very simply. It is very matter of fact without a lot of embellishment. It is geared towards YA readers.
I hadn’t heard of the Banyamulenge or the Gatumba massacre. The man who claimed responsibility for it has since run for President of Burundi. No charges have ever been brought against anyone for the murder of 166 people.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
A riveting, powerful telling of the story of the grassroots movement of activists, many of them in a life-or-death struggle, who seized upon scientific research to help develop the drugs that turned HIV from a mostly fatal infection to a manageable disease. Ignored by public officials, religious leaders, and the nation at large, and confronted with shame and hatred, this small group of men and women chose to fight for their right to live by educating themselves and demanding to become full partners in the race for effective treatments. Around the globe, 16 million people are alive today thanks to their efforts.
In dramatic fashion, we witness the founding of ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group), and the rise of an underground drug market in opposition to the prohibitively expensive (and sometimes toxic) AZT. We watch as these activists learn to become their own researchers, lobbyists, drug smugglers, and clinicians, establishing their own newspapers, research journals, and laboratories, and as they go on to force reform in the nation s disease-fighting agencies.
With his unparalleled access to this community David France illuminates the lives of extraordinary characters, including the closeted Wall Street trader-turned-activist, the high school dropout who found purpose battling pharmaceutical giants in New York, the South African physician who helped establish the first officially recognized buyers club at the height of the epidemic, and the public relations executive fighting to save his own life for the sake of his young daughter.
Expansive yet richly detailed, this is an insider's account of a pivotal moment in the history of American civil rights. Powerful, heart-wrenching, and finally exhilarating, How to Survive a Plague is destined to become an essential part of the literature of AIDS.
Think back to a time not that long ago when:
The New York Times banned the use of the words gay and lesbian in the newspaper
Hospitals and funeral homes turned away people they suspected were infected with AIDS
Weekly meetings of gay activists included a list of names of people who had been at the last meeting and who had died since
This book tells the story of ACT UP. This was a group founded to pressure scientists, politicians, and drug companies to increase the number of drugs being investigated for possible treatment for AIDS.
One of the main problems in the beginning, besides a lack of funding, was government scientists’ insistence on doing double-blind controlled studies. They weren’t wrong from a science perspective. These trials have patients in two groups. One group gets the treatment and the other gets a placebo. Neither the patient or the doctor knows who is in each group. The problem was that people with AIDS were dying so quickly that being in a placebo group for a few months, especially if you were required to go off all other medication, was basically a death sentence. There are stories of trials in this book where all the placebo group died in the course of the trial.
Without these studies to cover them from liability no one was willing to go on record and recommend using drugs off label. Doctors in the field, especially if they didn’t handle many AIDS cases, then didn’t know that giving a common antibiotic decreased the chances of patients dying of opportunistic pneumonia, for example. This was the leading cause of death in AIDS patients. It was almost entirely preventable and no one would officially say so. ACT UP worked to streamline and humanize the drug trials.
They were able to:
Stop people having to go off all other medications (like antibiotics to prevent pneumonia) to be in the trial
Allow drugs to be tested on women and people of color
Allow a parallel track where sick people who couldn’t wait for formal drug approval could try the drugs in the trial at their own risk and data could be collected about their experiences
Get drug companies to stop increasing prices of the drugs as demand went up.
I don’t remember hearing anything good about ACT UP at the time. I only knew of them from news coverage that was always negative because of their dramatic demonstrations. The first time I ever heard of ACT UP in a positive light was when I started watching Gay USA on TV. One of the hosts talked about being in ACT UP. Her name is Ann Northrup and she is in the movie a lot more than in the book. The associate producer of Gay USA is named Bill Bahlman. I know that because he does the intro to the podcast that I listen to now. What I didn’t know is what all he did during the early days of the AIDS epidemic to reach lawmakers.
This book is a long, slow read. It is very densely packed with names and actions and committee meetings. The author was a young, gay journalist reporting on AIDS in New York at the time. It is very focused on New York. Occasionally it talks about San Francisco but you could get the sense that except for occasional mentions of Africa, that AIDS was only a New York/California problem. It is also focused primarily on white gay men. This was one of the criticisms of the drug trials. They wouldn’t enroll women, people of color, or drug users. Although ACT UP seemed to give equal representation to women, those women aren’t discussed much in the book with a few exceptions.
When I was almost finished with the book I watched the documentary that the book came out of. It is also called How To Survive a Plague and is available on Netflix.
I don’t think that I would have understood the documentary as much if I didn’t already know what they were talking about from the book. Especially at the beginning of the documentary, there wasn’t a lot of context given for the video being shown. I understood where they were and what they were protesting from reading the book. It was interesting for me to see what I had read about but I don’t think the documentary did a good job of really explaining all the issues that they were fighting for.
This book is a must read for anyone interested in the history of medicine or the gay rights movement in the United States. It is heartbreaking and inspirational. This is civil action on so many levels. It is interesting to look back now and see how far the United States has come in just the last 30 years – even when we feel like there is so much that needs to be better.