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15 Sep, 2016

Two Boys Kissing

/ posted in: Reading Two Boys Kissing Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
on August 27th 2013
Pages: 196
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads

“David Levithan tells the based-on-true-events story of Harry and Craig, two 17-year-olds who are about to take part in a 32-hour marathon of kissing to set a new Guinness World Record—all of which is narrated by a Greek Chorus of the generation of gay men lost to AIDS.”


I’d seen this book around but wasn’t really interested.  Contemporary YA isn’t my thing.  Then I heard last week that it was narrated by the spirits of men who died of AIDS and I had to read it.

I devoured this book in one afternoon.  When the husband came home that night I told him that a book made me cry – twice.  He was as surprised as I was that a book melted my ice-cold heart.

This is the story of three couples and of a single teenager.  Craig and Harry are exes who are looking to set the world record for kissing at over 32 hours.  They were inspired by a homophobic attack on their friend Tariq.  Craig isn’t out to his family.

Peter and Neil have been a couple for over a year.  Neil’s family is still not acknowledging his homosexuality.

Avery and Ryan just met last night.  Avery is trans and is worried about letting Ryan know.

Cooper’s family just found out that he is gay and the resulting argument drove him out of the house.

These aren’t the stories that got to me though.  I think that’s because I’m older than the typical YA demographic.  It was the narration of the dead men watching these boys openly live their lives in ways that the men of the 1980s couldn’t have dreamed of.

“You can’t know what it is like for us now — you will always be one step behind.

Be thankful for that.

You can’t know what it was like for us then — you will always be one step ahead.

Be thankful for that too.”

Those are the opening lines of the book and that’s when I started getting teary.  The passage that made the tears roll down my cheeks is later when Craig and Harry was going into the first night of the kiss.  They have teachers watching as official monitors so the record counts.  The teacher that is taking over the shift is recognized by the narrators.

“He’s Mr. Ballamy to his history students.  But he’s Tom to us.  Tom! It’s so good to see him.  So wonderful to see him.  Tom is one of us.  Tom went through it all with us.  Tom made it through.”

It goes on to tell the story of a man who lost his partner in the first wave of the AIDS epidemic and stayed in the community to nurse others.

“He lost years of his life to us although that’s not the story he’d tell.  He would say he gained.  And he’d say he was lucky, because when he came down with it, when his blood turned against him, it was a little later on and the cocktail was starting to work.  So he lived.  He made it to a different kind of after from the rest of us.  It is still an after.  Every day it feels to him like an after.  But he is here.  He is living…..

…. But this is what losing most of your friends does:  It makes you unafraid.  Whatever anyone threatens, whatever anyone is offended by, it doesn’t matter, because you have already survived much, much worse.  If fact, you are still surviving.  You survive every single, blessed day.”


I would recommend this book to everyone.  Younger people will likely identify with the problems of the teens in the story.  Older readers, especially those of us who remember the 80s, will think of all of those lost to the disease whose stories were never told.

24 Aug, 2016

Painted Hands

/ posted in: Reading Painted Hands Painted Hands: A Novel by Jennifer Zobair
on June 11th 2013
Pages: 336
Genres: Fiction
Published by Thomas Dunne Books
Format: Hardcover
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Massachusetts
Goodreads

“Muslim bad girl Zainab Mir has just landed a job working for a post-feminist, Republican Senate candidate. Her best friend Amra Abbas is about to make partner at a top Boston law firm. Together they’ve thwarted proposal-slinging aunties, cultural expectations, and the occasional bigot to succeed in their careers. What they didn’t count on? Unlikely men and geopolitical firestorms.”


Zainab is getting a lot of attention as the very stylish spokeswoman for a candidate known for speaking her mind without checking with her advisors first.  This makes her a perfect target for a rising star in conservative talk radio.  A Republican’s advisor is Muslim?  Chase Holland doesn’t even have to think hard to turn his audience’s outrage on.  He doesn’t count on liking Zainab when he meets her though.

Amra works long hours to secure her promised partnership at a law firm.  When her family surprises her with a reintroduction to a family friend’s son, she is outraged.  However they hit it off.  She hides her workaholic tendencies from him and this leads to difficulties as the relationship gets serious.

This book also features Hayden, a white woman who converts to Islam and is convinced that the South Asian Muslim women she knows aren’t following the religion correctly.  She is influenced by a very conservative Muslim woman and enters into an arranged marriage with that woman’s son.  The author is a convert too so it is interesting to get that perspective.

An attempted terrorist attack brings these women’s carefully balanced lives to the brink of chaos.  Zainab is feeling the political pressure of being forced to apologize for something she had nothing to do with.  Amra’s conflicted desires for her job and her family lead her to the breaking point.  Hayden realizes that she may have been lead astray by those who she has been modeling her new life on.

4bunny

 

03 Aug, 2016

Locally Laid – Why is a Vegan Reviewing a Chicken Book?

/ posted in: Reading Locally Laid – Why is a Vegan Reviewing a Chicken Book? Locally Laid: How We Built a Plucky, Industry-changing Egg Farm - from Scratch by Lucie B. Amundsen
on March 1st 2016
Pages: 336
Genres: Nonfiction
Published by Avery
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: Minnesota
Goodreads

“When Lucie Amundsen had a rare night out with her husband, she never imagined what he’d tell her over dinner—that his dream was to quit his office job (with benefits!) and start a commercial-scale pasture-raised egg farm. His entire agricultural experience consisted of raising five backyard hens, none of whom had yet laid a single egg.”


I laughed when Lucie Amundsen wrote about finding out that one of her first social media followers was a vegan.  After all, here I am, a vegan wannabe reading and reviewing her book.  To understand why people like me would be interested you have to understand that farm animal welfare is a huge issue.  A lot people become vegan because  of it.

Animal Welfare on Chicken Farms

On conventional farms chickens are kept in battery cages where they don’t have enough room to stretch their wings.  Because of this, a lot of people like to buy eggs that are labeled as cage-free.  However, just because they aren’t in cages doesn’t mean the chickens are living a happy life.  A lot of farms keep thousands of birds in large barns crammed together on the floor.  They aren’t in cages but they may not have much more room either.  They may have access to a concrete outside area.

Pasture-raised birds spend part of the day outside on grass.  This is the type of farm that Locally Laid is.  And no matter how nice of a life the chickens have there comes a time when they are no longer laying.  Chickens don’t get a pension plan.


The Amundsens had no farm experience prior to starting a chicken farm so things that I saw as glaring problems they went blissfully into.  For example, there was no water in their rented barn.  They would be getting water from a garden hose and transporting it to the barn.  In winter.  In northern Minnesota. Oh, honey, no.  I’ve had to do that for a few horses for a few days when there have been barn plumbing issues and it sucks.  I can’t even imagine trying to water 1800 chickens that way.  They soon realized that this was a major issue.

Another issue was that Lucie was not on board with this venture.  The stress on their marriage is covered honestly. Is it fair to ask one spouse to (repeatedly) give up her life and goals for the other spouse’s strange dreams?

The book gets into lots of other hot button food production issues like encouraging local agriculture, the role of mid sized farms, and the difficulties of getting organic certification.  Their successes and failures are told with candor and humor.  If you have read a lot about food issues or watched any of the documentaries on this then this isn’t going to be anything new to you but it is interesting to see how it plays out on one farm.

The husband is reading this book too.  He came running out to me one day and was mock crying with his head on my shoulder.  “I just read chapter five!” I couldn’t remember anything sob worthy.  “The birds came.  Myron’s an asshole!”  Oh, yes, Myron.  There is a big difference in caring for an individual bird and caring for a large flock where deaths are seen as the cost of doing business.  Myron was their supplier of the first flock and he wasn’t as into chicken welfare as they were.

The husband proudly showed me the pasture-raised eggs that he bought at the store too.  See, even vegans reading the book and passing it on can help make a difference.

4flower

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14 Jul, 2016

The Marriage Bureau for Rich People

/ posted in: Reading The Marriage Bureau for Rich People The Marriage Bureau for Rich People by Farahad Zama
on June 11th 2009
Pages: 293
Genres: Fiction
Published by Putnam Adult
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Set in India
Goodreads

It is a universal problem. A man retires and immediately starts driving his wife crazy. What to do? Open a marriage bureau on the front veranda, of course.


Mr. Ali is was a government clerk.  Now he runs a marriage bureau.  He advertises for matches for his clients in the newspaper.  He keeps files with the special requests of people seeking spouses.  Do you need someone from the same caste?  How tall or short?  Will your wife be expected to live with her mother-in-law? Hindu, Muslim, Christian?

A photo posted by @dvmheather on

When the business takes off, he needs an assistant. Mrs. Ali finds a local woman, Aruna, to help out. She’s perfect. She’s unmarried because her family can’t afford a wedding and she is working to help the family finances.

This book is very simple on the surface. It is the stories of the people who come to the marriage bureau and the story of the Ali family. The style of writing reminds me of Alexander McCall Smith’s No.1 Ladies Detective Agency.

This book is very good at providing a look at the attitudes towards arranged marriages in India in different religious groups. What happens if people want to work out their own marriage? How do the Muslim and Hindu neighbors interact?

If you want a book that immerses you in a slice of life in an Indian coastal town, this is a good read.

3flower

08 Jul, 2016

Black Man in a White Coat

/ posted in: Reading Black Man in a White Coat Black Man in a White Coat: A Doctor's Reflections on Race and Medicine by Damon Tweedy
on September 8th 2015
Pages: 294
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Medical, Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Picador
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Set in North Carolina
Goodreads

When Damon Tweedy begins medical school,he envisions a bright future where his segregated, working-class background will become largely irrelevant. Instead, he finds that he has joined a new world where race is front and center.

Black Man in a White Coat examines the complex ways in which both black doctors and patients must navigate the difficult and often contradictory terrain of race and medicine. As Tweedy transforms from student to practicing physician, he discovers how often race influences his encounters with patients. Through their stories, he illustrates the complex social, cultural, and economic factors at the root of many health problems in the black community.


Damon Tweedy was offered a full scholarship to medical school at Duke University in North Carolina in the 1990s.  That was a deal too good to pass up even though it was well known that Duke had a history of being extremely racist.  Early in his time at Duke a professor mistakes him for a maintenance man and when he says that he isn’t there to fix the lights the professor can’t figure out any other reason why he should be in the classroom.  This spurs him to work even harder to prove that he belongs there.

He is frustrated because over and over in lectures he hears that diseases are more common in blacks than whites.  He worries that frustrating interactions with black patients will turn his white coworkers against black people.

He tells stories about what it is like to be both a black doctor and a black patient.

He talks about volunteer work at a clinic for the uninsured and whether or not the Affordable Care Act could help these people.  He had always assumed that people were uninsured because they didn’t work before helping at this clinic.  That’s a pet peeve of mine.  I’ve had this argument with my middle to upper middle class family members who were against universal healthcare and who have always had jobs that offered insurance.  I’m a veterinarian.  Until July 1 of this year when my practice was bought by a large corporation, I’ve never had a job that offered health insurance.  At least I could afford to buy it when I wasn’t married.  Most of my coworkers who make just above minimum wage didn’t have any health insurance.  Most of them still aren’t opting to get the available insurance now because it is very expensive with huge deductables.  /rant

A photo posted by @dvmheather on

He talks about how he was treated as a black man in sweats and a tshirt with a knee injury and how his treatment changed when he revealed that he was a doctor.

Should doctors be discussing sterilization with a drug addicted woman who just miscarried?

How do you deal with patients who don’t want to have a doctor of a different race than them?

How does poverty and cultural attitudes tie into poor health in the black community?


3flower

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07 Jul, 2016

The Mango Season

/ posted in: Reading The Mango Season The Mango Season by Amulya Malladi
on October 26th 2004
Pages: 229
Genres: Fiction
Published by Ballantine Books
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Set in India
Goodreads

Every young Indian leaving the homeland for the United States is given the following orders by their parents: Don’t eat any cow (It’s still sacred!), don’t go out too much, save (and save, and save) your money, and most important, do not marry a foreigner. Priya Rao left India when she was twenty to study in the U.S., and she’s never been back. Now, seven years later, she’s out of excuses. She has to return and give her family the news: She’s engaged to Nick Collins, a kind, loving American man. It’s going to break their hearts.


Priya is horrified to realize that she considers India differently now than when she left. It is too noisy and chaotic.  She is scared to eat food in the market without washing it first.  She also can’t fit easily back into her family.  Now she sees the racism and misogyny that she grew up with and considered normal.

She knows that her family will probably disown her when she admits to loving a foreigner.  She isn’t going to tell them that she’s been living with him for two years.

Things come to a head during a few days at her grandmother’s house to make mango pickle. Her entire extended family is there. She sees how horribly everyone treats her unmarried aunt and the woman of the wrong caste that her uncle married. Her mother and another aunt spend the whole time in a power struggle. When Priya starts speaking her mind she throws her family into an uproar.

This book made me nervous.  I knew that at some point Priya’s family was going to try to arrange a marriage for her.  So I did the unthinkable.  I read the last chapter to see how it ended.

 

I knew if it was up in the air for me that I would rush through the book to find out. This is a book that should be savored more than rushed.

“I looked at all the women in the room and wondered if behind the facade all of us wore for family occasions we were strangers to each other.

I was trying to be the graceful granddaughter visiting from America but my true colors were slipping past the carefully built mockery of myself I was presenting.  Maybe the masks worn by the others were slipping, too.  Maybe by the end of the day I would know the women behind the masks and they would know me.

I tried once again to talk to Ma but she shunned me and I concluded that she didn’t want to look behind the label:  DAUGHTER, and didn’t want me to look behind the label:  MA.  If she wouldn’t show me hers, how could I show her mine?”

When discussing her grandfather:

“The man was a bigot, a racist, a chauvinist, and generally too arrogant for anyone’s liking, yet I loved him.  Family never came in neat little packages with warranty signs on them.”


I saw this video just after I finished the book and it fit the story perfectly. I laughed at loud at the line about chapati.


4flower

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16 Jun, 2016

The Hamiltome for Hamilton Newbies

/ posted in: Reading The Hamiltome for Hamilton Newbies Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jeremy McCarter
on April 12th 2016
Pages: 288
Genres: Nonfiction
Published by Grand Central Publishing
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Set in New York

Winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama
Lin-Manuel Miranda's groundbreaking musical Hamilton is as revolutionary as its subject, the poor kid from the Caribbean who fought the British, defended the Constitution, and helped to found the United States. Fusing hip-hop, pop, R&B, and the best traditions of theater, this once-in-a-generation show broadens the sound of Broadway, reveals the storytelling power of rap, and claims our country's origins for a diverse new generation.
HAMILTON: THE REVOLUTION gives readers an unprecedented view of both revolutions, from the only two writers able to provide it. Miranda, along with Jeremy McCarter, a cultural critic and theater artist who was involved in the project from its earliest stages--"since before this was even a show," according to Miranda--traces its development from an improbable perfor­mance at the White House to its landmark opening night on Broadway six years later. In addition, Miranda has written more than 200 funny, revealing footnotes for his award-winning libretto, the full text of which is published here.
Their account features photos by the renowned Frank Ockenfels and veteran Broadway photographer, Joan Marcus; exclusive looks at notebooks and emails; interviews with Questlove, Stephen Sond­heim, leading political commentators, and more than 50 people involved with the production; and multiple appearances by Presi­dent Obama himself. The book does more than tell the surprising story of how a Broadway musical became a national phenomenon: It demonstrates that America has always been renewed by the brash upstarts and brilliant outsiders, the men and women who don't throw away their shot.

Goodreads

I probably would have never even heard of Hamilton if not for the rabid fangirls on Twitter.

I tried to listen to the soundtrack on Spotify once just to see what the excitement was about.  It was ok but I wasn’t overwhelmed. I never made it all the way through. I did like the official website though that had historical notes along with the lyrics.

When the book came out I decided to try again.  I was interested in hearing the story of how the idea came about and how that idea was transformed into a hit musical.

The book covers the history of the show. It starts from an idea that Lin-Manuel Miranda had while reading a biography of Alexander Hamilton on vacation during a time when there was a lot of discussion in the theater world about the possibilities of using hip hop in musicals. It covers the next six years of writing songs and trying them out in front of different audiences and workshopping the show. Interspersed are the songs with the stories of their inspiration and the historical background to each one.

The people involved in the show are profiled. It isn’t just the actors. Choreography, directing, set design, and costumes are discussed.

via GIPHY

I listened to each song on Spotify as I came to it in the book. I finally made it the whole way through the show.

Am I a lyric quoting fan girl now? I’m not nearly as obsessed as the people who introduced me to this show on Twitter but the songs do get stuck in your head.* I appreciate it a whole lot more now that I know more about the creation and musical influences and history. If you aren’t sure what all the fuss is about, I’d recommend reading this book to get you up to speed.

*Ok, full disclosure, since I wrote this post:

  • I’ve had songs stuck in my head at all times
  • I bought the soundtrack
  • I was drawing blood on a cat and heard an announcement on the radio that the tour is coming to town in 2017.  I immediately started making plans to get tickets up to and including buying a season pass to be guaranteed a seat.
30 May, 2016

67 Shots

/ posted in: Reading 67 Shots 67 Shots: Kent State and the End of American Innocence by Howard Means
on April 12th 2016
Pages: 288
Genres: 20th Century, History, Nonfiction
Published by Da Capo Press
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Set in Ohio

At midday on May 4, 1970, after three days of protests, several thousand students and the Ohio National Guard faced off at opposite ends of the grassy campus Commons at Kent State University. At noon, the Guard moved out. Twenty-four minutes later, Guardsmen launched a 13-second, 67-shot barrage that left four students dead and nine wounded, one paralyzed for life. The story doesn't end there, though. A horror of far greater proportions was narrowly averted minutes later when the Guard and students reassembled on the Commons.
The Kent State shootings were both unavoidable and preventable: unavoidable in that all the discordant forces of a turbulent decade flowed together on May 4, 1970, on one Ohio campus; preventable in that every party to the tragedy made the wrong choices at the wrong time in the wrong place.
Using the university's recently available oral-history collection supplemented by extensive new interviewing, Means tells the story of this iconic American moment through the eyes and memories of those who were there, and skillfully situates it in the context of a tumultuous era.

Goodreads

When I moved here four years ago the words Kent State only brought to mind the historical event of the shooting in 1970.  Suddenly I was working with several people who went to school there and didn’t cringe every time they said the words like they were invoking a horrific event.  It was weird for me.  Now instead of a scene of carnage it was just that place down the street.

I was interested in reading 67 Shots to find out more about what happened on that day when 4 students were killed by the National Guard.

This book made me furious – but not in the way that I expected

I’m a liberal politically.  I’m fine with protesting.  I’m anti-war.  I’m generally anti-violence but reading this book made me want to slap people.  I’m glad that right now I don’t have any Kent State students in the office or else I’d have to go symbolically slap them for their predecessors’ stupidity.

How stupid were they?  These people (believe me I ran through a list of other words before deciding on the neutral “people”) were rioting for days in town and on campus.  They torched a military building.  They hacked at the firemen’s hoses when they tried to fight the fire.  They repeatedly threatened and threw human waste at the military.  They refused orders to disperse.  Why?  Because they thought that the National Guard didn’t have live ammunition.  They thought they were untouchable.

I was thinking as I was reading that this couldn’t happen like this again because everyone knows now that the police or military will shoot you.  Then I came across this paragraph and footnote that summed it up.

“Until the moment of the shooting, an implicit social contract had prevailed at Kent State.  White, middle-class Americans could scream and shout at each other; they could give each other the finger and throw tear-gas canisters back and forth, and shout ‘Fuck!” as loud as they wanted to.  They could even chase each other with bayonets and helicopters, throw bricks and cement and bags full of shit, but as bitter and divisive as the times were, they didn’t shoot each other, and especially didn’t shoot each other dead.  The sixty-seven shots fired across thirteen seconds at 12:24 p.m. on May 4, 1970, changed that bargain, and Guardsmen seemed as surprised as students that whatever unspoken truce existed had fallen apart for good.*”

“*Black Americans had a different history.  At Kent State, they avoided the weekend demonstrations like the plague.

Emphasis mine.

Yep.  That’s it.  That’s the problem.  Spoiled little white brats thinking that they were invincible.  Reading their interviews decades after the event, a lot of them still don’t seem to think that they did anything that could be considered out of line.  You were throwing bags of urine and feces.  Sure, you weren’t shooting at people but you have crossed far over the line of basic human decency.  By the time you get out of kindergarten, let alone started college, you should have learned to keep your human waste to yourself.


I went to the site of the shooting at Kent State and visited the May 4 memorial and museum.  Being there gave me a better perspective on where the shooting happened.  Because there are hills and buildings that everyone was moving around, being there let me understand it better than just looking at it on a map.

The demonstration was in a large field around a Victory Bell monument (seen in the header photo). This is bowl shaped area with a building at the top. The National Guard marched up the hill and to the right of the building that you see in the background of the picture as they were trying to disperse the crowd. The shooting actually took place there. The people that were shot were in a parking lot behind the building.

The places where they were standing have memorials now.

You don’t seem to get a very complete picture in the museum. There is a gallery about the political climate of the 1960s. Then you watch a movie about the shooting. Then you move to a gallery about the political aftermath.

Things not mentioned in the museum:

  • The rioting for days before the shooting
  • Why the National Guard was on campus

Seriously? That’s a big omission.  If I knew nothing about this I would wonder why the National Guard was there or maybe assume that they were stationed there or something.  There was a line at the very beginning of the movie that says that the National Guard came in after the building burned.  It is very quick.  I might have missed it if I hadn’t specifically been listening for some explanation of the background events.

The museum gives the impression that students were peacefully gathering to sing Kumbaya and the evil National Guard swooped down out of nowhere and shot them for no reason.

What I Think Now

  • Yes, the protest at that point on May 4th was peaceful
  • Yes, shooting at the students was unwarranted
  • Yes, they shot at students who had left the area of the protest and that is why people who weren’t involved at all were killed or injured.  That is all bad.
  • No, I don’t want to say that the students had it coming but I’m almost to that point.  When the National Guard is called away from guarding people crossing the picket lines at a Teamsters’ Union strike and they say they felt safer there than on the Kent State campus, that’s saying something about the level of tension.
  • This is a story of privilege run amok.  I feel sorry for the bystanders caught up in it and for members of the Guard but I don’t feel sorry for anyone else.
06 May, 2016

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu

/ posted in: Reading The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts by Joshua Hammer
on April 19th 2016
Pages: 288
Genres: Nonfiction
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Set in Mali

To save precious centuries-old Arabic texts from Al Qaeda, a band of librarians in Timbuktu pulls off a brazen heist worthy of Ocean’s Eleven.
In the 1980s, a young adventurer and collector for a government library, Abdel Kader Haidara, journeyed across the Sahara Desert and along the Niger River, tracking down and salvaging tens of thousands of ancient Islamic and secular manuscripts that had fallen into obscurity. The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu tells the incredible story of how Haidara, a mild-mannered archivist and historian from the legendary city of Timbuktu, later became one of the world’s greatest and most brazen smugglers.
In 2012, thousands of Al Qaeda militants from northwest Africa seized control of most of Mali, including Timbuktu. They imposed Sharia law, chopped off the hands of accused thieves, stoned to death unmarried couples, and threatened to destroy the great manuscripts. As the militants tightened their control over Timbuktu, Haidara organized a dangerous operation to sneak all 350,000 volumes out of the city to the safety of southern Mali.

Goodreads

Since the 1300s Timbuktu in central Mali has been a center of learning. The city sits at the southern edge of the Sahara Desert and on the banks of the Niger River.

This made it popular crossroads for people from many cultures to meet. There were many universities here and intellectual debate was popular. The city became known for its Islamic scholarship. Thousands of manuscripts were written and studied here. Some of them were elaborately decorated.

But there have been periods of invasion and anti-intellectualism too. During these times the manuscripts were hidden around the region. By the time of the European invasions, the existence of the manuscripts was not known to outsiders. That led to quotes like these:

“Perhaps in the future, there will be some African history to teach. But at present there is none. There is only the history of Europeans in Africa. The rest is darkness.”

— British historian Hugh Trevor-Roper 1963

After Mali won its independence efforts were made to start collecting the manuscripts in Timbuktu again.  Abdel Kader Haidara’s father spent his life collecting manuscripts.  In his will he chose Abdel to carry on his work but he wasn’t interested.  Ten years passed before a library in Timbuktu convinced him to start buying manuscripts again.  He was so successful that by the early 21st century there were 45 libraries in Timbuktu with manuscript collections.  Then Al Qaeda came.

The librarians knew that the manuscripts would be a target.  After all, they were written in a very progressive Islamic area.  There were manuscripts with sexual advice and rulings on how to treat women fairly.  They decided that it was time for the manuscripts to hide again.

It was a big job.  There were around 350,000 fragile manuscripts in city in 2012.  How do you get them somewhere safe when travel is restricted?


I really enjoyed the part of this book that was about the manuscripts. About half of it though was about the history of the Islamist uprising in Mali. That drug for me. There was kidnapping and crime and torture but I wanted to know about the manuscripts.

This book shows the importance of honoring the history of the a place. I like reading about Henry Louis Gates’ trip to Mali and his reaction to seeing the manuscripts. He had always been told that black people didn’t have a historical culture or anything to be proud of in their past. Seeing these works of scholarship and art made by black people touched him deeply.

A photo posted by @dvmheather on

26 Apr, 2016

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Sophia?

/ posted in: Reading How Do You Solve a Problem Like Sophia? Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary by Anita Anand
on January 13th 2015
Pages: 416
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Great Britain, History, Nonfiction
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Set in England and India

In 1876 Sophia Duleep Singh was born into Indian royalty. Her father, Maharajah Duleep Singh, was heir to the Kingdom of the Sikhs, one of the greatest empires of the Indian subcontinent, a realm that stretched from the lush Kashmir Valley to the craggy foothills of the Khyber Pass and included the mighty cities of Lahore and Peshawar. It was a territory irresistible to the British, who plundered everything, including the fabled Koh-I-Noor diamond.
Exiled to England, the dispossessed Maharajah transformed his estate at Elveden in Suffolk into a Moghul palace, its grounds stocked with leopards, monkeys and exotic birds. Sophia, god-daughter of Queen Victoria, was raised a genteel aristocratic Englishwoman: presented at court, afforded grace and favor lodgings at Hampton Court Palace and photographed wearing the latest fashions for the society pages. But when, in secret defiance of the British government, she travelled to India, she returned a revolutionary.
Sophia transcended her heritage to devote herself to battling injustice and inequality, a far cry from the life to which she was born. Her causes were the struggle for Indian Independence, the fate of the lascars, the welfare of Indian soldiers in the First World War – and, above all, the fight for female suffrage.

Goodreads

Ranjit Singh was the last ruling emperor of the Punjab.

Mahraja-Ranjeet-Singh

After his death, the British used the confusion surrounding his heirs’ succession to move into the area. Most of the adult heirs died suspiciously. When it was over, the ruler of this prosperous area was an 1o year old boy, Duleep. His mother was very politically astute so the British had her exiled from the country and then forced the child-king to sign over his lands and the symbol of his rule, the Kor-i-Noor diamond.

Maharaja Duleep Singh, c 1860s

Duleep Singh was then raised by British people until Queen Victoria decided that he was really cute and wanted him to go to England. She lavished attention on him and considered herself to be his best friend. He was not reunited with his mother until he was an adult.

Eventually Duleep married a woman from Egypt and had six children. The children were known as Princes and Princesses. Princess Sophia was his youngest surviving child from this marriage. Arrangements were made with the India office to provide for the family because they did not want them going back to India and stirring up trouble.


Sophia grew up in luxury until her father’s debts became too much.  He then tried to return to India with the family but was taken off the ship at the Suez Canal.  The family was sent back to England but Duleep Singh did not go with them.  Instead he publicly disowned them and started another family while trying to get back to India.  He never did.

Sophia and her sisters were able to get to India as adults. The experience of meeting people fighting for Indian independence awoke the political consciousness of Sophia. She returned to England and threw herself into the fight of Women’s Suffrage in the 1910s.

Princess Sophia Duleep Singh selling Sufragette subscriptions in 1913

I love this picture. Sophia lived across the street from the gates of Hampton Court Palace in a grace-and-favor house. That meant that she was allowed to live there as a favor from the monarch. She protested in front of the tourists coming to Hampton Court and sold suffragette newspapers to them. Despite being involved in many of the major protests of the era and even attacking politicians, she was never sent to prison like her fellow suffragettes.  She even refused to pay any taxes in an attempt to get arrested.  The spectacle of putting a Princess in prison was too much for law enforcement.

World War I curtailed the suffragette movement.  She became a nurse for Indian soldiers brought back to England for rest.


While I was reading this book, the Indian solicitor-general came out and said that India should not try to get the Kor-i-Noor diamond back and said it was “neither stolen nor forcibly taken”. It was a present.  Yeah, because a 10 year old with no friendly adult counsel can make those kinds of gifts.
AlexandraKohinoor

The Kor-i-noor is the diamond in the center of the front cross on this crown.  This is what reading nonfiction gets you.  It gets you yelling at the news in an very angry, yet informed, way.


The part of the book I found the most touching was a memory of the daughter of the elderly Princess’ housekeeper.

“We’d be walking, and she’d be telling me about the world and elections and how important they were.  And then she would kneel down in front of me, looking me right in the eye and say ‘I want a solemn promise from you’ even though I don’t think I knew what a solemn promise was at that stage.  She would say ‘You are never, ever not to vote.  You must promise me.  When you are allowed to vote you are never, ever to fail to do so.  You don’t realise how far we’ve come.  Promise me.’ For the next three years, Sophia made Drovna promise again and again.”

Drovna has kept her promise to the woman who fought hard to win the right for English women to vote.

14 Apr, 2016

Shadowshaper

/ posted in: Reading Shadowshaper Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older
on June 30, 2015
Pages: 304
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy & Magic
Format: Hardcover
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Set in New York

Sierra Santiago was looking forward to a fun summer of making art, hanging out with her friends, and skating around Brooklyn. But then a weird zombie guy crashes the first party of the season. Sierra's near-comatose abuelo begins to say "Lo siento" over and over. And when the graffiti murals in Bed-Stuy start to weep . . . Well, something stranger than the usual New York mayhem is going on.

Goodreads

Sierra is an amazing artist.  She has been asked to paint a mural on an abandoned building in her neighborhood.  There is a lot of street art around her but lately she’s been noticing that they are starting to fade.  Then one day she sees a mural change in front of her and start to weep.

Her grandfather had a stroke soon after her grandmother died but now he is agitated and wants Sierra to know that he is sorry for… something.  Her mother seems to know what he means but shuts Sierra down every time she asks.  Some of her grandfather’s friends point her towards another artist at her school for answers before they start to disappear themselves.

The writing in this book was amazing.  Contemporary Brooklyn is a character as much as a setting of this book.  Older shows the joys of living in this neighborhood with dance clubs and vibrant art as well as the problems of street harassment of teenage girls and the specter of police brutality.  I’ve never been impressed by New York City at all but this book almost made me feel like it would be an interesting place to be.  Seriously, salsa thrash metal?  Yes, please.

The cast of characters was inclusive without it coming across as forced for the sake of inclusiveness.  There is a lesbian couple.  Most of the cast are Latina(o).  There are both male and female characters who are important parts of the story and the significant secondary characters range in age from teenagers to elderly.

There are discussions about racism in the community.  Sierra remembers a time when she surprised herself by apologizing for her dark skin.  Her aunt is tells her that she shouldn’t date a Haitian because you don’t want a boyfriend whose skin is darker than the bottom of your foot.

If this was a contemporary novel it would be nearly 5 stars.  But, this is a fantasy story and that aspect was not as strong for me.  The idea of being able to make your art come alive when necessary is good but the stakes of the conflict never felt high.  It felt like something bad was going to happen but it wasn’t clear what that was supposed to be.

If you like the idea of art featuring in urban YA fantasy you can also check out these titles.

The Summer PrinceThe Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson

“The lush city of Palmares Tres shimmers with tech and tradition, with screaming gossip casters and practiced politicians. In the midst of this vibrant metropolis, June Costa creates art that’s sure to make her legendary. But her dreams of fame become something more when she meets Enki, the bold new Summer King. The whole city falls in love with him (including June’s best friend, Gil). But June sees more to Enki than amber eyes and a lethal samba. She sees a fellow artist.

Together, June and Enki will stage explosive, dramatic projects that Palmares Tres will never forget. They will add fuel to a growing rebellion against the government’s strict limits on new tech. And June will fall deeply, unfortunately in love with Enki. Because like all Summer Kings before him, Enki is destined to die.”

Ink (Paper Gods, #1)Ink by Amanda Sun

“On the heels of a family tragedy, the last thing Katie Greene wants to do is move halfway across the world. Stuck with her aunt in Shizuoka, Japan, Katie feels lost. Alone. Then there’s gorgeous but aloof Tomohiro, star of the school’s kendo team. How did he really get the scar on his arm? Katie isn’t prepared for the answer. But when she sees the things he draws start moving, there’s no denying the truth: Tomo has a connection to the ancient gods of Japan, and being near Katie is causing his abilities to spiral out of control. If the wrong people notice, they’ll both be targets.”

Truthfully, this one was a little too “He’s SO DREAMY!!!!!” with no actual explanation of why so I DNFed it.

 

I received this book as a gift from my OTSP Secret Sister as part of my Easter box.  The cover is gorgeous.  I’m going to read more by this author because I love his writing.

My Easter box from my #otspsecretsister. I was just thinking about this book last night.

A photo posted by @dvmheather on

About Daniel José Older

“Daniel José Older is the author of the Bone Street Rumba urban fantasy series from Penguin’s Roc Books and the Young Adult novel Shadowshaper (Scholastic’s Arthur A. Levine Books, 2015). Publishers Weekly hailed him as a “rising star of the genre” after the publication of his debut ghost noir collection, Salsa NocturnaHe co-edited the anthology Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History. His short stories and essays have appeared in the Guardian, NPR, Tor.comSalonBuzzFeed, Fireside Fiction, the New Haven Review, PANK, Apex and Strange Horizons and the anthologies Subversion and Mothership: Tales Of Afrofuturism And Beyond. Daniel’s band Ghost Star gigs around New York and he teaches workshops on storytelling from an anti-oppressive power analysis.” – from his website

13 Apr, 2016

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

/ posted in: Reading The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald
on January 19th 2016
Pages: 400
Genres: Fiction, Literary
Format: Hardcover
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Set in Iowa

Once you let a book into your life, the most unexpected things can happen…Broken Wheel, Iowa, has never seen anyone like Sara, who traveled all the way from Sweden just to meet her pen pal, Amy. When she arrives, however, she finds that Amy's funeral has just ended. Luckily, the townspeople are happy to look after their bewildered tourist—even if they don't understand her peculiar need for books. Marooned in a farm town that's almost beyond repair, Sara starts a bookstore in honor of her friend's memory. All she wants is to share the books she loves with the citizens of Broken Wheel and to convince them that reading is one of the great joys of life. But she makes some unconventional choices that could force a lot of secrets into the open and change things for everyone in town.

Goodreads

This book is a love letter to books and authors.

Amy and Sara write to each other about their love of books.  They share favorite books from their respective countries – The United States and Sweden.  Sara plans a 2 month visit to Amy in Iowa but Amy dies while Sara is en route.  Unsure what to do now, she ends up opening a temporary book shop in an open store front in town to share Amy’s vast book collection.

The beginning of this book was amazing.  It was easily on track to be my first five star read of the year.

  • Reaching strangers in a dying town by pairing them with books that they would have never picked up on their own?  Yes, please.
  • A heroine who worried about only bringing 13 books on her trip because of the weight limit on her baggage?  Totally understandable.

But then the book took an unfortunate turn.  A silly romantic plot was attached to it between characters that had zero chemistry and a lot of the talk about books fell away.  I had a hard time finishing it because at that point I just didn’t care any more.  I dropped it down to 4 stars because of the silliness and only my love for the first half kept me from dropping it further.

So let’s pretend that part never happened and go back to the books.  I was interested in seeing how many books and authors were talked about which turned into a quiz.  There are about 65 authors discussed.  It is an overwhelming white list, I was disappointed to see, but it covers a lot of fiction genres.

*Update* Well the poll is being hateful and the vote button doesn’t work so tell me how many you have read in the comments. Stupid free internet poll makers…mutter mutter mutter . I got 21.


What books and authors have you read from The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend?

Louisa May Alcott0%
Harper Lee0%
Steig Larsson0%
Terry Pratchett0%
Ulla-Carin Lindqvist0%
Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery0%
J.K. Rowling0%
Dan Brown0%
Camilla Lackberg0%
Kathryn Stockett (The Help)0%
Helen Fielding0%
Fannie Flagg0%
Annie Proulx0%
Jens Lapidus0%
Harriet Beecher Stowe0%
Jilly Cooper0%
Judith Krantz0%
Jane Austen0%
The Bronte Sisters0%
Paul Auster0%
Joyce Carol Oates0%
Toni Morrison0%
Oscar Wilde0%
Charles Dickens0%
Philip Roth0%
F. Scott Fitzgerald0%
John Grisham0%
Lee Child0%
Christopher Paolini0%
Mark Twain0%
Ernest Hemingway0%
Agatha Christie0%
Andre Maurois0%
Douglas Coupland0%
Henry David Thoreau0%
John Steinbeck0%
Erich Maria Remarque0%
Lauren Oliver0%
Louis de Bernieres0%
Jodi Picoult0%
Nicholas Sparks0%
Michael Connelly0%
Elizabeth Young0%
Marian Keyes0%
Dick Francis0%
Georgette Heyer0%
Marcel Proust0%
Sophie Kinsella0%
Nelson DeMille0%
Giovannino Guareschi0%
Dylan Thomas0%
Fyodor Dostoevsky0%
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe0%
Gabriel Garcia Marquez0%
Moa Martinson0%
Harry Martinson0%
James Joyce0%
Barbara Cartland0%
Gertrude Stein0%
Iris Murdoch0%
Helene Hanff0%
Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society)0%
Vicki Myron (Dewey the Library Cat)0%
Robert Waller (Bridges of Madison County)0%
Marion Ross and Sue Collier (The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing)0%


30 Mar, 2016

Banished – A Westboro Memoir

/ posted in: Reading Banished – A Westboro Memoir Banished by Lauren Drain
on March 5th 2013
Pages: 304
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Religious, Religion, Cults
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Set in Kansas

You've likely heard of the Westboro Baptist Church. Perhaps you've seen their pickets on the news protesting at events such as the funerals of soldiers, the 9-year old victim of the recent Tucson shooting, and Elizabeth Edwards, all in front of their grieving families. The WBC is fervently anti-gay, anti-Semitic, and anti- practically everything and everyone. And they aren't going anywhere: in March, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the WBC's right to picket funerals.
Since no organized religion will claim affiliation with the WBC, it's perhaps more accurate to think of them as a cult. Lauren Drain was thrust into that cult at the age of 15, and then spat back out again seven years later. BANISHED is the first look inside the organization, as well as a fascinating story of adaptation and perseverance.

Goodreads

Lauren Drain’s atheist father set out to make a documentary about the Westboro Baptist Church and its habit of picketing any event that will give them attention.  Over the course of the next few years he was drawn into the group.  He was influenced by their beliefs and started to pay a lot of attention to policing young teenage Lauren’s life.  He became convinced that she was a slut and a whore.  He pulled her out of school and cut off all contact with people outside of her penpals from the Westboro church.

Eventually he moved the family from Florida to Kansas to live on the same block as the church members in an attempt to control his wayward daughter.  The fact that Lauren was a well behaved teenage girl with no sexual experience did not change his conviction that she was on the road to hell. They were the only family not related to the pastor Fred Phelps in the church.

Lauren was glad to move.  By this point in her life the teenage members of Westboro were the only friends she was allowed to have.  She enthusiastically joined into pickets.  Pickets are a way of life.  Westboro members picket something every day.

Members of the Westboro Baptist Church demonstrate at the Virginia Holocaust Museum on March 2, 2010. by JCWilmore

The Phelps cousins and Lauren would picket outside their school at lunchtime. They picketed their own graduations. They traveled around the country to picket funerals. The whole time paranoia ran rampant in the church. Any hint of wrongdoing or wrong thinking was discussed in group emails. Humiliation was common.

Lauren was taught that what they were doing was right. The fact that people got upset was proof that the church was right and people felt guilty about having their sins pointed out to them. The church prides itself on being very smart. Most of the Phelps family consists of lawyers. All of the younger generation are required to be at the top of their classes in school. They are trained to react to people who question them with intellectual rigor. It seems like the best thing to do at a Westboro protest would be to totally ignore it. They would consider that a failure.

Eventually Lauren’s online friendship with a male church supporter is used as proof of her sexual immorality even though they have never met. She is banished from her church and family. Over the last few years she has learned to live on her own. She realizes that the church is destructive. She isn’t a gay rights supporter by any means but so far she has progressed to live and let live.

It was so sad to read about how she was scapegoated in her family because of her sexuality. She was constantly told that she was a slut and a whore.

It is the typical fear that if you don’t control women from a young age that you will lose all power over them. Then you can make them complicit in their own humiliation.

There are a lot of documentaries on Westboro because they feel that helping with documentaries helps spread their message. This one claims to have footage of the Drains.

10 Mar, 2016

Thug Kitchen Party Grub

/ posted in: FoodReading Thug Kitchen Party Grub Thug Kitchen Party Grub Guide by Thug Kitchen, LLC
on October 13th 2015
Pages: 240
Genres: Cooking, Vegetarian & Vegan
Format: Hardcover
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)

From the duo behind New York Times bestseller, Thug Kitchen, comes the next installment of kick-ass recipes with a side of attitude. Thug Kitchen Party Grub Guide answers the question that Matt and Michelle have heard most from their fans: How the hell are you supposed to eat healthy when you hang around with a bunch of a**holes who don't care what they put in their pie holes? The answer: You make a bomb-ass plant-based dish from Thug Kitchen. Featuring over 100 recipes to attend or host parties of any kind, Party Grub Guide combines exciting, healthy, vegan food with easy-to-follow directions and damn entertaining commentary. From passed appetizers like Deviled Chickpea Bites to main events like Mexican Lasagna, Thug Kitchen Party Grub Guide is here to make sure you are equipped with dishes to bring the flavor without the side of fat, calories, and guilt. Also included are cocktail recipes, because sometimes these parties need a pick-me-up of the liquid variety.


 

I love my Thug Kitchen cookbook so I was really excited to see that they had a second cookbook out.  I got it from the library first and then bought my own copy.  My husband was concerned about this.  He rightly pointed out that I am not in fact a “social mother-f*cker”.  I told him that I liked to make the recipes for myself and maybe I’d share with him.  He went off muttering about me being the exact opposite of what the book was for.

I keep pushing back posting this review because I keep making more recipes from this book that I love!

I’ve made the Butternut Squash Queso-ish Dip.  No one is going to actually think this is cheese based but it is a nice creamy sauce that I like to put on pasta along with some salsa.  Good way to sneak some extra squash into your diet too!

I’m excited about the Artichoke Dip and the Rosemary Caramel Corn.  The dip was slightly disturbing to look at but tasted great, especially mixed with some salsa.  The caramel for the caramel corn didn’t melt for me as nicely as it was supposed to but it still tasted pretty good.

The Meatball Subs made with kidney beans and lentils were a hit with the omnivorous husband.  Definitely making those again.

The Creamy White Bean sandwich spread is good for a vegan who wants something on a sandwich but can’t have hummus because of food allergy concerns.

Everything I’ve made out of these cookbooks have been great so far.  If you have any interest in food made with healthy ingredients even if you aren’t normally eating a vegan diet, you should check these out.  The emphasis is on people who don’t cook often so the basics are explained.

26 Feb, 2016

The Japanese Lover

/ posted in: Reading The Japanese Lover The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende
on November 3rd 2015
Pages: 336
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Translated from Spanish

In 1939, as Poland falls under the shadow of the Nazis, young Alma Belasco’s parents send her away to live in safety with an aunt and uncle in their opulent mansion in San Francisco. There, as the rest of the world goes to war, she encounters Ichimei Fukuda, the quiet and gentle son of the family’s Japanese gardener. Unnoticed by those around them, a tender love affair begins to blossom. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the two are cruelly pulled apart as Ichimei and his family—like thousands of other Japanese Americans—are declared enemies and forcibly relocated to internment camps run by the United States government. Throughout their lifetimes, Alma and Ichimei reunite again and again, but theirs is a love that they are forever forced to hide from the world.
Decades later, Alma is nearing the end of her long and eventful life. Irina Bazili, a care worker struggling to come to terms with her own troubled past, meets the elderly woman and her grandson, Seth, at San Francisco’s charmingly eccentric Lark House nursing home. As Irina and Seth forge a friendship, they become intrigued by a series of mysterious gifts and letters sent to Alma, eventually learning about Ichimei and this extraordinary secret passion that has endured for nearly seventy years.

Goodreads

I always hear about Allende as a magical realism author but the two books I’ve read by her  (Ines of My Soul, The Japanese Lover) have both been historical fiction.

Alma has lead a life of privilege so it is surprising when she suddenly gives it all up and moves into an assisted living community.  She hires a popular employee, Irina, to work after hours for her as a personal assistant.  Both women have secrets that they are keeping from the world that gradually come to light as their lives become intertwined.

This book covers the interment of Japanese people following Pearl Harbor and how it affected the people who were forced into the camps.  Each member of the Fukada family responds in a different way.  Some are broken and some find strength that they didn’t know they had.

I found it interesting to see how Alma and Ichimei’s lives intersected at different points.  I don’t think that you get a strong read on either of them as people.  This isn’t a book that makes you really like any of the characters but the slowly unfolding mysteries are intriguing.

I could have done without Irina’s story.  It seemed very superficial to me.  It either needed to be gotten into more deeply or left out.

22 Feb, 2016

Where the Dead Pause, and the Japanese Say Goodbye

/ posted in: Reading Where the Dead Pause, and the Japanese Say Goodbye Where the Dead Pause, and the Japanese Say Goodbye: A Journey by Marie Mutsuki Mockett
on January 19th 2015
Pages: 352
Genres: Personal Memoirs
Published by W. W. Norton & Company
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)

Marie Mutsuki Mockett's family owns a Buddhist temple 25 miles from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. In March 2011, after the earthquake and tsunami, radiation levels prohibited the burial of her Japanese grandfather's bones. As Japan mourned thousands of people lost in the disaster, Mockett also grieved for her American father, who had died unexpectedly.
Seeking consolation, Mockett is guided by a colorful cast of Zen priests and ordinary Japanese who perform rituals that disturb, haunt, and finally uplift her. Her journey leads her into the radiation zone in an intricate white hazmat suit; to Eiheiji, a school for Zen Buddhist monks; on a visit to a Crab Lady and Fuzzy-Headed Priest’s temple on Mount Doom; and into the "thick dark" of the subterranean labyrinth under Kiyomizu temple, among other twists and turns. From the ecstasy of a cherry blossom festival in the radiation zone to the ghosts inhabiting chopsticks, Mockett writes of both the earthly and the sublime with extraordinary sensitivity.

Goodreads

When Marie Mutsuki Mockett is able to contact her relatives at their temple after the nuclear meltdown, she urges them to evacuate.  She can’t understand why they won’t go to a safe area.  Over the course of the next two years she travels to Japan and learns how the Buddhist priests in the area are helping to lead the people through their grief after the disaster.  She combines this with trips around Japan to help her understand the Japanese expression of grief in all forms as she grieves the loss of her father.

She explains the history of Shinto in Japan and how Buddhism came to Japan.  She talks about how elements of both religions are combined so that the animism of Shinto is still celebrated by Buddhists.

“The love of things, the belief that the world is alive, is in part what informs modern Japanese design, where things are sleekly, cleverly shaped, almost as though they are repositories for a soul.”

She meets with priests from different sects of Buddhism and meditates with each of them to understand the difference.  She consults with female seers and participates in rituals meant to lessen grief.

Although she is half Japanese and is fluent in the language and has been visiting Japan regularly since she was a child, she is frequently made aware of her status as a foreigner.  People are reluctant to speak to her openly because they say that she can’t understand Japanese ways.  Only hearing that she has family with a temple can make some people open to communicating with her.

I didn’t know a lot of the history of Buddhism specifically in Japan and how the different sects operate.  I didn’t realize that the priesthood was usually a family business passed down from father to son.  I learned about many Japanese celebrations meant to keep your ancestors happy.

This is a beautifully written book.  It keeps you engaged even if you feel like sometimes you are missing part of the story.  She doesn’t talk much about what is happening in her life in between trips to Japan.  I had more questions like, “How are you flying over to Japan so often?  How can you afford this?  Wait, you are in a documentary now?  When did that happen?  What is it called?”  I guess I’m just nosy.

29 Jan, 2016

Strange Gods

/ posted in: Reading Strange Gods Strange Gods by Annamaria Alfieri
on June 24th 2014
Pages: 288
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Format: Hardcover
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Set in Kenya

In early 20th century British East Africa, there are rules for the British and different ones for the Africans. Vera McIntosh, the daughter of Scottish missionaries, doesn't feel she belongs to either group; having grown up in Africa, she is not interested in being the well-bred Scottish woman her mother would like her to be. More than anything she dreams of seeing again the handsome police officer she's danced with. But more grisly circumstances bring Justin Tolliver to her family's home.

Goodreads

Vera’s uncle is the doctor at the Scottish mission where Vera lives.  His body is found with a Masaai spear in his back.  The colonial government wants a suspect in custody rapidly and seizes upon a local witch doctor who has been highly critical of the white doctor.  The African people know that he would never have done this in this manner.  A cursory investigation points at several English suspects but this is not acceptable to the local authorities.

Vera, Justin Tolliver an English policeman, and Kwai Libazo, a half Masaai/half Kikuyu policeman are left to investigate on their own if they want to get the real killer before an innocent man is executed.

This book captures an era where British landowners were running roughshod over the local tribes in Kenya.  There were African police employed by the British but they were not allowed to be seen having any authority over Europeans.  They weren’t allowed to speak in meetings about cases.  Police investigations did not bother to interview Kikuyu people who may have information about crimes.  The goal was to show that this was a safe place for British people and to keep Africans subjugated.

Vera was born in Africa to Scottish parents.  She was raised by her Kikuyu “second mother”.  She understands the unfairness of British rule and the resentments of the African people but can’t do anything about it because of her sheltered status as an unmarried European woman.

Justin has come to love Africa.  He is the second son of an Earl but his local status fell sharply when he joined the police.  Now he is ostracized from society in Nairobi.

Kwai wants to learn about how the British investigate crimes but is seen as a traitor because he works for the occupiers.  He has never fit in anywhere because of being half Masaai.  He has never been fully accepted by either tribe.

There is a casual racism throughout this book that was probably typical of the time.  Even characters who are supposed to be enlightened are dismissive of most Africans.  Attempts are made to include the Kikuyu point of view but I’m not sure how effective it is.  They seem a bit too passive for everything that is happening to them. This may be because we are only hearing the stories of Africans who have chosen to work closely with the British.

21 Jan, 2016

The Last Midwife

/ posted in: Reading The Last Midwife The Last Midwife by Sandra Dallas
on September 29th 2015
Pages: 352
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)

It is 1880 and Gracy Brookens is the only midwife in a small Colorado mining town where she has delivered hundreds, maybe thousands, of babies in her lifetime. The women of Swandyke trust and depend on Gracy, and most couldn't imagine getting through pregnancy and labor without her by their sides.

But everything changes when a baby is found dead...and the evidence points to Gracy as the murderer.

Goodreads

For someone who hates babies as much as I do, I sure do like reading books about midwives.

Maybe it is because at one time it was the only opportunity available for women interested in health care.  Maybe it is because midwives aren’t taking any lip from anyone.  I don’t know.

This story takes place in an isolated Colorado mining town high up in the mountains.  The men here are miners, looking for the claim that is going to make them rich.  They head out into the mountains in the summer for months at a time leaving the women to fend for themselves.  Gracy Brookens is a midwife with a reputation for helping in difficult cases.  Her reputation is put to the test when the owner of one of the local mines accuses her of strangling a baby.

This isn’t really a mystery story.  You know right off that Gracy didn’t do it.  This book uses the framework of the accusation and trial to discuss what life was like for people in the mountains.

  • What is it like to know that this pregnancy may kill you?
  • Does a midwife have a responsibility to help you if you don’t want a pregnancy?
  • Who raises the children if a woman dies?
  • What happens to two men who have lived together for a long time when one finds a wife?
  • How do women cope if they can’t have children or if their husbands are having affairs?

 


If you are interested in another book like this one, check out:

The Birth HouseThe Birth House by Ami McKay

“The Birth House is the story of Dora Rare, the first daughter to be born in five generations of the Rare family. As a child in an isolated village in Nova Scotia, she is drawn to Miss Babineau, an outspoken Acadian midwife with a gift for healing and a kitchen filled with herbs and folk remedies. During the turbulent years of World War I, Dora becomes the midwife’s apprentice. Together, they help the women of Scots Bay through infertility, difficult labors, breech births, unwanted pregnancies and even unfulfilling sex lives.

When Gilbert Thomas, a brash medical doctor, comes to Scots Bay with promises of fast, painless childbirth, some of the women begin to question Miss Babineau’s methods – and after Miss Babineau’s death, Dora is left to carry on alone. In the face of fierce opposition, she must summon all of her strength to protect the birthing traditions and wisdom that have been passed down to her.”

18 Jan, 2016

My Accidental Jihad

/ posted in: Reading My Accidental Jihad My Accidental Jihad by Krista Bremer
on June 25th 2014
Pages: 361
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Personal Memoirs
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Set in North Carolina and Libya

Fifteen years ago, Krista Bremer would not have been able to imagine her life today: married to a Libyan-born Muslim, raising two children with Arabic names in the American South. Nor could she have imagined the prejudice she would encounter or the profound ways her marriage would change her perception of the world.But on a running trail in North Carolina, she met Ismail.

Goodreads

This book defines jihad as:

An individual’s striving for spiritual and intellectual growth

 

This is the story of the author’s personal growth during the last 15 years.  I’ve seen many reviews that complain that the story is all about her.  That’s sort of the point.  How has she adapted to a life that she never meant to have?

She was in journalism school when she met Ismail.  An unintentional pregnancy early in their relationship accelerated their plans.

Ismail was entirely different than Krista.  He was fifteen years older than her, an immigrant from a poor background in Libya, and a Muslim.  She was a California girl from a middle class background with vaguely Buddhist tendencies.    He gets crankier than she thinks he should during Ramadan and she can’t understand why he doesn’t understand Christmas.  She is horrified that Ismail insists on haggling in the mall, especially when it was for her wedding ring**.  Like all relationships, they need to find a way to blend together their differences to make their own unique life.

When their daughter is young and she is three months pregnant with their second child, they travel to Libya to meet his family.  She has visions of adventure but is faced instead of the realities of life for a poor family under Gaddafi.  She doesn’t speak Arabic so can’t understand the women who she with all day long.  She hates the oppressiveness that the political situation has over the whole country and it makes her bitter about being there.  She needs to work hard to find any beauty in the situation.

Back in North Carolina, the openness she thinks she has is challenged when her now preteen daughter decides to wear a hijab.  How should she react when a new neighbor says that they love the neighborhood because of the diversity?  All the neighbors are white so she doesn’t know what they mean until she realizes that they are referring to her family.

The writing in this book is lyric and vivid.  She is very open about her own faults in the way that she approaches her relationship.  This is a story that I think could be written about any marriage.  Some of the complaints and insights seem familiar even if you come from the same culture.

 

**I feel her pain.  The husband likes to negotiate.  It is so embarrassing.  I also was given an engagement ring with the following declaration of love – “I got you this.  I got a really good deal on it.”  This Christmas I got earrings with the price sticker peeled off but the 50% off sticker left on so I’d be proud.  My husband and Ismail together would be a force to be reckoned with.

08 Jan, 2016

City of Veils – a mystery set in Saudi Arabia

/ posted in: Reading City of Veils – a mystery set in Saudi Arabia City of Veils on August 9th 2010
Pages: 400
Genres: Fiction
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Set in Saudi Arabia

Women in Saudi Arabia are expected to lead quiet lives circumscribed by Islamic law and tradition. But Katya, one of the few women in the medical examiner's office, is determined to make her work mean something.
When the body of a brutally beaten woman is found on the beach in Jeddah, the city's detectives are ready to dismiss the case as another unsolvable murder-chillingly common in a city where the veils of conservative Islam keep women as anonymous in life as the victim is in death. If this is another housemaid killed by her employer, finding the culprit will be all but impossible.

Goodreads

  • An American woman living in Saudi Arabia for a year with her husband isn’t met at the airport when she returns from a month in the U.S.  After her husband finally arrives to get her out of the Unclaimed Women* room, he takes her home and runs out to get dinner.  He puts the food on the table and then disappears.
  • The body of a woman is found on the beach.  She is not easily identified because her face and hands have been burned beyond recognition.

Katya Hijazi is a laboratory technician in the forensic lab in Jeddah.  She would like to do more but her opportunities are limited.  Her break comes when one of the few female police officers who goes on murder investigations is fired because she lied about being married.  Katya is lying too.  Unmarried women aren’t allowed to work for the police in Saudi Arabia.

Nayir Sharqi is a desert guide with nothing to do during the hottest time of the year when no one wants to go to the desert.  It has been eight months since he last talked to Katya, who he met while working with the investigation in Finding Nouf. He was considering marriage when she suddenly stopped communicating with him.  Now his uncle wants him to ask her about a friend of his who died.  This opens up lines of communication again.  When Katya finds out that the dead girl was involved in making documentaries about the origins of the Qu’ran, she enlists Nayir to read through the documents she’s found because of his knowledge of the scriptures.  What he reads shakes the underpinnings of his faith – as does his involvement with Katya and a police officer who has his own code of justice that uses logic and mercy but doesn’t always conform with the letter of the law.

This is the second book in the series set in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.  When I think of Saudi Arabia, I don’t often think of the beach.  Jeddah is a coastal town and the water plays as much of a part in the lives of the people there as the desert.

This is a very nuanced look at life in Saudi Arabia and the women who live in virtual seclusion there. The author is a white woman who lived in Saudi Arabia with her husband’s family. That informs her description of Miriam, the American woman who has been left stranded when her husband disappears.  She also has small insights into life in Saudi Arabia.  How do men who have to pick up women to drive them home from work pick out the right person from a group of burka-clad women?  Look at the purse and then hope she recognizes you.

She writes compassionately about men struggling to adapt to a world where women are being granted rights that they think conflicts with their faith. She explains the frustrations of the women who want to do more with their lives than be sheltered.

 

She explains the complications of a murder investigation in a world where men can deny police interviews with female relatives. How do you recreate the life of a victim who has lived her life mostly hidden?

This is a great series and I’m looking forward to reading the last book soon.

 

*Seriously, Unclaimed Women?  Like baggage?  That’s just rude. Women aren’t allowed to enter the country without a man to be in charge of them.

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.

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