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11 Apr, 2017

Epic Measures

/ posted in: Reading Epic Measures Epic Measures: One Doctor. Seven Billion Patients. by Jeremy N. Smith
Published by Harper Wave on April 7th 2015
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Nonfiction
Pages: 352
Format: Paperback
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Goodreads

Moneyball meets medicine in this remarkable chronicle of one of the greatest scientific quests of our time—the groundbreaking program to answer the most essential question for humanity: how do we live and die?—and the visionary mastermind behind it.
Medical doctor and economist Christopher Murray began the Global Burden of Disease studies to gain a truer understanding of how we live and how we die. While it is one of the largest scientific projects ever attempted—as breathtaking as the first moon landing or the Human Genome Project—the questions it answers are meaningful for every one of us: What are the world’s health problems? Who do they hurt? How much? Where? Why?
Murray argues that the ideal existence isn’t simply the longest but the one lived well and with the least illness. Until we can accurately measure how people live and die, we cannot understand what makes us sick or do much to improve it. Challenging the accepted wisdom of the WHO and the UN, the charismatic and controversial health maverick has made enemies—and some influential friends, including Bill Gates who gave Murray a $100 million grant.
In Epic Measures, journalist Jeremy N. Smith offers an intimate look at Murray and his groundbreaking work. From ranking countries’ healthcare systems (the U.S. is 37th) to unearthing the shocking reality that world governments are funding developing countries at only 30% of the potential maximum efficiency when it comes to health, Epic Measures introduces a visionary leader whose unwavering determination to improve global health standards has already changed the way the world addresses issues of health and wellness, sets policy, and distributes funding.


Christopher Murray is originally from New Zealand but he grew up around the world.  His parents ran a clinic in west Africa for a year.  The clinic was so understaffed when they got there that Chris and his older siblings had to do a lot of the care.  During their time there the family noticed that malnourished people who were fed got sick from malaria.  They found out that the virus requires iron to thrive.  When people are starving they don’t have the iron stores for their bodies to support the virus.  When they are refed, they are again good hosts for the disease.  The family published their findings in Lancet.  This led to Chris’ lifelong interest in scientific research – especially research into whether or not conventional wisdom is correct.

At the World Health Organization, he found that a lot of the health data used to make policy decisions was based on numbers that were made up.  He worked with another researcher to develop a formula that figured out the true cost of disease in each country.  He also took into consideration not just the deaths from that disease but the damage done from a disease causing less than optimal health in the population.  I also appreciated his focus on adult health statistics and not just childhood disease.

Using this data lets countries and NGOs decide where the most effective places to put their money are.  Does it help more people to treat malaria or diarrhea?  If you can only vaccinate for one is it better to give polio vaccine or measles?  Measles kills more people but if you survive it you are fine.  Polio doesn’t kill as many people but survivors have more disability.  These are the kinds of questions that they try to answer.

I found the subject matter interesting but the book got bogged down in a lot of interdepartmental politics in the middle.  It picks up again at the end with ideas for living a better life based on the findings of the Global Burden of Disease study.  If you are interested in the real life applications of science and mathematics, this is a great book for you.

Tuesday, March 28th: Lit and Life
Thursday, March 30th: bookchickdi
Tuesday, April 4th: Sapphire Ng
Wednesday, April 5th: Readaholic Zone
Thursday, April 6th: Man of La Book
Monday, April 10th: Doing Dewey
Tuesday, April 11th: Based on a True Story
Wednesday, April 12th: Kissin Blue Karen
Friday, April 14th: Read Till Dawn
Friday, April 14th: Jathan & Heather

Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
04 Apr, 2017

My Own Country

/ posted in: Reading My Own Country My Own Country: A Doctor's Story by Abraham Verghese
on April 25, 1995
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Pages: 432
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Goodreads
Setting: Tennessee

Nestled in the Smoky Mountains of eastern Tennessee, the town of Johnson City saw its first AIDS patient in August 1985. Working in Johnson City was Abraham Verghese, a young Indian doctor specializing in infectious diseases who became, by necessity, the local AIDS expert. Out of his experience comes a startling, ultimately uplifting portrait of the American heartland.


I have been coming across books in the most roundabout ways recently.  For March’s 6 Degrees of Separation post I needed a book set in Ethiopia.  I thought of Cutting for Stone which I’ve never read so I wasn’t absolutely sure that’s where it was set.  I looked it up on Goodreads and saw that the author wrote this book about his life in Tennessee.  Was I actually mixing up Ethiopia and Tennessee in my mind?  Not exactly.  He was in rural east Tennessee at about the same time I was in school there.  That intrigued me.

In the late 1980s he finished his residency as an infectious disease specialist in Boston.  He decided to take a job in Tennessee for the slower pace and better quality of life.  He planned to split his time between a VA nursing home/hospital and a small public hospital.

At the same time he moved to Tennessee, the first AIDS cases were appearing in the area.  He had seen AIDS patients in Boston.  His experience in infectious disease made him the logical doctor for people to refer patients to in the area.  At this point there was no real treatment.  All he could do was monitor their blood counts and support them through their secondary diseases.  At first the community of AIDS patients was small and he spent a lot of time going into their homes and getting to know them and their families.

The initial patients he saw were gay men who had moved away from the area in order to lead more open lives in big cities.  Now they were sick and were coming home for help from their families.  There was a huge stigma.  AIDS was a curse handed down for sinful behavior in a lot of the minds of the people of the area.  Even the local gay community didn’t think it was in their local group.  Many nurses refused to work with the patients.  Some protested even offering them treatment in the hospital at all since it was ultimately futile.

Dr. Verghese had to confront his own bigotry.  He was uncomfortable at first with gay men.  He later concerned that he was showing preferential treatment to an elderly couple who had been infected by the husband’s blood transfusion.  Was he falling into the “innocent victim” mentality towards AIDS?  How did he feel about the man with AIDS-related dementia who had infected both his wife and her sister?

Even though this book was written in 1995, I would recommend it for anyone interested in medical history.  This is an account of the front lines of an AIDS epidemic as it moved into an area.  He is a very empathetic and compassionate writer who gave so much of himself to the patients that he ended up destroying his own marriage.

 

About Abraham Verghese

Born of Indian parents who were teachers in Ethiopia, he grew up near Addis Ababa and began his medical training there. When Emperor Haile Selassie was deposed, he completed his training at Madras Medical College and went to the United States for his residency as one of many foreign medical graduates.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in North America
  • POC authors
30 Mar, 2017

The 228 Legacy

/ posted in: Reading The 228 Legacy The 228 Legacy by Jennifer J. Chow
Published by Martin Sisters Publishing on July 25th 2013
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 320
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Goodreads
Setting: Taiwan

Three generations in an all-female Taiwanese family living near Los Angeles in 1980 are each guarding personal secrets. Grandmother Silk finds out that she has breast cancer, as daughter Lisa loses her job, while pre-teen granddaughter Abbey struggles with a school bully. When Silk’s mysterious past comes out—revealing a shocking historical event that left her widowed—the truth forces the family to reconnect emotionally and battle their problems together. A novel of cultural identity and long-standing secrets, The 228 Legacy weaves together multigenerational viewpoints, showing how heritage and history can influence individual behavior and family bonds.


I didn’t know anything about Taiwanese history until I read this post from Shenwei about the 228 Massacre.  After World War II Japan ceded control of Taiwan to China.  The government that was put in place on the island was hated for corruption.  There were protests on February 28, 1947 that led to a violent crackdown from the government.  Thousands of people died.  It was not officially acknowledged or discussed until 1995.

Shenwei gave a list of books in her post that touch on the massacre.  I decided to read The 228 Legacy.

This book is about three generations of Taiwanese-American women living in LA in the 1980s.  The grandmother, Silk, came to the U.S. as a pregnant widow.  She has never talked much about her life in Taiwan other than trying to pass on the language.  Her daughter, Lisa, knows nothing about her father.  She is struggling with keeping dead end jobs while caring for her mother and daughter.  The granddaughter, Abbey, is trying to make friends with the popular people at school but this has disastrous consequences.

The heart of the story is Jack, a Chinese man who recently lost his wife.  He lived at the nursing home that Lisa worked at.  He recently ran away.  Lisa gets involved in his life but when Silk meets him she reacts violently to having a Chinese man in her house.  This is the beginning of finding out about Silk’s memories of the massacre.

I wish this book went deeper.  There are several good storylines here but I didn’t feel like it did more than scratch the surface of each.  There should have been more emotion in both Silk and Abbey’s stories.  Both are traumatic but they feel like they are recounted matter of factly.

I liked Lisa’s story the best because it showed her growth as she discovers a career that she actually enjoys.

I may look into some other books on Shenwei’s list to learn more about Taiwanese history than I learned from this book.

About Jennifer J. Chow

Jennifer J. Chow, an Asian-American writer, holds a Bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and a Master’s in Social Welfare from UCLA. Her geriatric work experience has informed her stories. She lives in Los Angeles, California.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in Asia
  • POC authors
20 Mar, 2017

Invisible Lives

/ posted in: General Invisible Lives Invisible Lives by Anjali Banerjee
Published by Downtown Press on September 1st 2006
Genres: Fiction, Magical Realism
Pages: 280
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Goodreads
Setting: Washington

Lakshmi Sen was born with a magical ability to perceive the secret longings in others. Putting aside her own dreams to help run her widowed mother's struggling Seattle sari shop, Mystic Elegance, Lakshmi knows exactly how to bring happiness to customers -- from lonely immigrants to starry-eyed young brides. And to honor her father's dying wish, she has agreed to marry a respectable Indian doctor who will uphold her family's traditions. But when a famous Indian actress chooses Mystic Elegance to provide her wedding trousseau, Lakshmi finds herself falling for the actress's sexy chauffeur -- all-American Nick Dunbar -- and her powers seem to desert her just as she needs them most. As Nick draws Lakshmi into his world, however, new dreams awaken in her, and she begins to uncover deeper, startling longings in her mother, her friends, her fiance, and even herself.


I was so excited to hear about this author.  I love light and fluffy books with magical realism.  A book set in a sari shop by an ownvoices author sounded wonderful.

Lakshmi Sen is visited by the goddess Lakshmi in utero and given a gift of being able to know what people want.  She is also made incredibly beautiful but is warned to hide that beauty for reasons that aren’t clear.  It is never really discussed after the first part of the story either.

She co-owns a sari shop with her mother.  She can tell what customers truly need when they come in.  She’s developing a reputation for it.  That draws a Bollywood actress to the store for her wedding outfits.  But Lakshmi’s gift disappears when she enters the store with her driver.

This is the where the book started to lose me.  The driver, Nick, is the guy we are supposed to root for in the story.  But he doesn’t seem to offer anything good to Lakshmi.  Just his presence is harming her.  She loses customers when he is around because she is unable to do her job.

There is colorism in this book.  An elderly customer comes in to the store and starts talking about how she uses skin lightening cream.   It could almost be dismissed as the fancy of a woman who is a ridiculous character but it isn’t pointed out as such.  Then later a woman is being described as ugly and part of the description is how her skin is so dark.  Later, the elderly woman from the shop is complimented and she says that the skin lightening cream is working.

Nick makes several casually racist comments to Lakshmi that aren’t commented on.  He invites her to meet his family.  He says that his sister would love to try on saris because she likes “ethnic clothes.”  I was like, “Excuse me?” but nothing is mentioned about it in the story.  Then when he gets there his mother “compliments” Lakshmi by telling her that she looks so exotic.  Yeah.  Then he all but orders her to forget about her trip to India to meet the man her mother wants her to marry.  On the basis of what?  They barely know each other and she’s supposed to give up all previous plans for him?  This guy seems like a control freak that she should get away from quickly.

The book never redeemed Nick for me.  It tried but he is still interfering with her work even though the book tried to spin it more positively.

Let’s count this one as an ‘I read it so you don’t have to’ book.

 

About Anjali Banerjee

I was born in India, raised in Canada and California, and I now live in the Pacific Northwest, in a cottage in the woods, with my husband and five rescued cats.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in North America
  • POC authors
22 Feb, 2017

Being Mortal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

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

Every Patient Tells a Story

/ posted in: Reading Every Patient Tells a Story Every Patient Tells a Story by Lisa Sanders
Published by Broadway Books on 2010-09
Genres: Medical, Diagnosis
Pages: 276
Format: Paperback
Source: Owned
Goodreads

Never in human history have doctors had the knowledge, the tools, and the skills that they have today to diagnose illness and disease. And yet mistakes are made, diagnoses missed, symptoms or tests misunderstood. In this high-tech world of modern medicine, Sanders shows us that knowledge, while essential, is not sufficient to unravel the complexities of illness. She presents an unflinching look inside the detective story that marks nearly every illness–the diagnosis–revealing the combination of uncertainty and intrigue that doctors face when confronting patients who are sick or dying. Through dramatic stories of patients with baffling symptoms, Sanders portrays the absolute necessity and surprising difficulties of getting the patient’s story, the challenges of the physical exam, the pitfalls of doctor-to-doctor communication, the vagaries of tests, and the near calamity of diagnostic errors.


It always amazes me whenever I have an encounter with human medicine that they rarely do a physical exam outside of an ER.  I’ve been to primary care appointments that consist of talking about symptoms and then ordering tests.  This book discusses the decline in the role of hands on contact with patients and what doctors are missing because of it.

As a veterinarian, physical exam is sometimes all we have.  I’d love to run all the tests that human doctors do in order to get the information that they have but that isn’t always financially feasible.  On the other hand I get phone calls from people who have an over-inflated confidence in my clairvoyance.  “Doctor, my dog isn’t eating.  What’s wrong with him?”

The answer in my head every time – “How the $%#@ should I know?  Put him on the phone and let me ask him.”

What I actually say – “That can be a sign of a lot of different illnesses.  I really need to see him to start to figure out what is wrong.”

There is also a lot of information here about taking a good history.  This can be hard because people are ashamed to tell the truth or they misinterpret things and present them as facts that aren’t actually true.  I had a person in last week who seemed very confident in his knowledge about his dog until you actually listened to what he was saying.  Every sentence was complete and utter medical nonsense but it was presented with such conviction that I found myself thinking momentarily that maybe I was wrong and you can see bacteria with the naked eye.  The opposite of this is the person (very common) who waits to tell you the key piece of information that will unlock the puzzle until you have put your stethoscope in your ears.  I have all my assistants trained to tell me everything anyone says while I’m listening to a heart as soon as I take the stethoscope out.  It is always important.

In addition to the author’s discussions about not interrupting patients while getting a history, I will add my favorite history taking advice.  Ask the children.  They see things and they love to have information that adults don’t.  They aren’t shy about sharing it either.

Me, looking at a vomiting dog:  “Did he eat anything unusual that you know of?”

Mom:  “No, he doesn’t do that.”

Kid:  “He ate my Barbie’s arm off yesterday and Daddy’s has been feeding him Slim Jims every day.  We aren’t supposed to tell.”

I don’t know how many domestic disputes have been started by kids coming clean in the vet’s office.

If you aren’t a medical person, this book is still interesting because it contains a lot of medical mysteries.  The author was a consultant for the T.V. show House and writes a column about medical mysteries so she has lots of stories to tell.  I was particularly proud that I knew the answer to the first one in the book.  It had been drilled into me in vet school.  I’ve never seen it in real life but I always think of it.  I’m glad I finally found a use for that piece of knowledge.

 

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
16 Feb, 2017

Lights Out

/ posted in: Reading Lights Out Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath by Ted Koppel
Published by Crown on October 27th 2015
Genres: Nonfiction
Pages: 279
Format: Paperback
Source: From author/publisher
Goodreads

Imagine a blackout lasting not days, but weeks or months. Tens of millions of people over several states are affected. For those without access to a generator, there is no running water, no sewage, no refrigeration or light. Food and medical supplies are dwindling. Devices we rely on have gone dark. Banks no longer function, looting is widespread, and law and order are being tested as never before.
It isn’t just a scenario. A well-designed attack on just one of the nation’s three electric power grids could cripple much of our infrastructure—and in the age of cyberwarfare, a laptop has become the only necessary weapon. Several nations hostile to the United States could launch such an assault at any time. In fact, as a former chief scientist of the NSA reveals, China and Russia have already penetrated the grid. And a cybersecurity advisor to President Obama believes that independent actors—from “hacktivists” to terrorists—have the capability as well. “It’s not a question of if,” says Centcom Commander General Lloyd Austin, “it’s a question of when.”

I was excited to order Lights Out, a book about the possible aftermath of a catastrophic attack on the U.S. power grid, but once it arrived I was reluctant to read it.  Why?  Possibly for the same reasons as many officials have for not addressing this threat.  I want to pretend it can’t happen.
I was pretty sure that if I read this book that I would turn into some type of disaster prepper.  I already asked for a generator for Christmas (I didn’t get it).  The idea of having electricity fail permanently seems like a horror movie for me.  It would be a horror movie for everyone.
The book outlines ways that the grid is vulnerable and ways that it has already been attacked.  It also has interviews with several people and groups who are preparing for disasters in varying ways.  No one seems to be totally prepared though and the book ends with the acknowledgement that we will never be ready.
I will be rereading the preparation chapters again with some notes about things I can start to do to prepare myself for even minor emergencies like power loss due to blizzards.  My goal of off the grid living is far away but this book made me even more serious about wanting to live that way.

I used to live in rural areas where losing power for up to a few days wasn’t an abnormal occurrence.  Now I live in the city where it very rarely happens.  It happened this week.  It was almost bedtime anyway so I just went to bed but as I was lying there I had a few minutes of panic.  What if this was it?  What if this was the time it was never going to come back on?  Would I look back on my thoughts while laying in bed like a movie voiceover – “These were the last few hours of living in the world they knew….”  Should I get up and check the internet on my phone to see if there was a catastrophe?  Should I save the power on my phone instead?  I knew reading this book would mess with my head.  (It came back on in less than 2 hours.)

I need a generator and solar panels.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
05 Jan, 2017

Envy of Angels by Matt Wallace

/ posted in: Reading Envy of Angels by Matt Wallace Envy of Angels (Sin du Jour, #1) by Matt Wallace
Series: Sin du Jour #1
Published by Tor.com on October 20th 2015
Genres: Fantasy & Magic
Pages: 225
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Goodreads
Setting: New York

“In New York, eating out can be hell.
Everyone loves a well-catered event, and the supernatural community is no different, but where do demons go to satisfy their culinary cravings?
Welcome to Sin du Jour – where devils on horseback are the clients, not the dish.”


Darren and Lena are chefs who have been blacklisted from working in New York.  The rent is due.  They suddenly get a call from a former celebrity chef who they heard was dead (He got better) about needing them to work the line at his catering business for a week.  It is step down for them but it is work and the rent is still due.

Sin du Jour is housed in a nondescript building with a high tech interior.  Something seems off about the whole set up.  Darren and Lena notice that before they find out who the clients for the catering business are and what they are expected to serve for dinner.

It’s a foodie urban fantasy book!

You can probably imagine how excited I was to find this series.  There was flailing.

Darren and Lena find out that Sin du Jour is catering a banquet to celebrate the brokering of a peace deal between two clans of demons.  Then the representatives arrive with the main course.  It is an angel that they expect to be butchered and served.  The humans are unnerved by the idea of killing an angel so set about trying to figure out how to fake an angel dinner.  But can you really double cross demons and live?

This is a short book.  I read it in one sitting.  It is totally absurd and that is very high praise.  I can’t wait to read more.

 

foodies2017300

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Foodies Read 2017
23 Dec, 2016

Hidden Figures

/ posted in: Reading Hidden Figures Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on December 6th 2016
Genres: 20th Century, Biography & Autobiography, Civil Rights, History, Nonfiction
Pages: 368
Format: Paperback
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Goodreads

“Set against the backdrop of the Jim Crow South and the civil rights movement, the never-before-told true story of NASA’s African-American female mathematicians who played a crucial role in America’s space program—and whose contributions have been unheralded, until now.
Before John Glenn orbited the Earth or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of professionals worked as “Human Computers,” calculating the flight paths that would enable these historic achievements. Among these were a coterie of bright, talented African-American women. Segregated from their white counterparts by Jim Crow laws, these “colored computers,” as they were known, used slide rules, adding machines, and pencil and paper to support America’s fledgling aeronautics industry, and helped write the equations that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space.
Drawing on the oral histories of scores of these “computers,” personal recollections, interviews with NASA executives and engineers, archival documents, correspondence, and reporting from the era, Hidden Figures recalls America’s greatest adventure and NASA’s groundbreaking successes through the experiences of five spunky, courageous, intelligent, determined, and patriotic women: Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, Christine Darden, and Gloria Champine.
Moving from World War II through NASA’s golden age, touching on the civil rights era, the Space Race, the Cold War, and the women’s rights movement, Hidden Figures interweaves a rich history of scientific achievement and technological innovation with the intimate stories of five women whose work forever changed the world—and whose lives show how out of one of America’s most painful histories came one of its proudest moments.”


In the 1940s airplanes were being studied in Virginia. Wind tunnels were built to evaluate minute changes in plane design in an effort to help win WWII. Large amounts of data were being collected. In order to process the numbers female mathematicians called computers where hired do crunch the numbers. Because Virginia was a segregated state, the women were kept in two areas. The East Computers were white and the West Computers were black.

A job as a computer was a step up for women with advanced degrees whose only hope for a job before this was teaching. This book covers the years from World War II to the beginning of the space age when Langley’s operations moved to Houston.

The author’s father had worked at Langley. The author grew up knowing several of the women but did not realize what they had done for space research. Most of the women were uncredited although several managed to get papers published over the years.

Eventually, women were absorbed into the labs that they had been supporting and the East and West Computer sections shut down. As machines became able to calculate faster than they could, they had to adapt to survive. Some moved more into research. Others became computer programmers to teach the machines the jobs that they previously did.

Among the women’s contributions were:

  • Calculating the time and location for a rocket to take off in order to have the capsule splash down near the Navy ships waiting to rescue the astronaut.
  • Calculating all the variables involved in getting the lunar landing module off the moon and able to meet up with the orbiting ship for the return to Earth.
  • Imagining the need for and then designing response scenarios for a systems malfunction like what happened on Apollo 13.

The scientific achievements of the black women profiled in this book were set against the backdrop of segregation and discrimination that they faced when they weren’t at work.  A good companion book to this would be Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County about the shut down of all schools by a county that did not want to integrate them. Many of these very educated women were from this area and/or had families affected by the shut down of the schools.

I enjoyed this book.  I’m looking forward to seeing the movie also even though it appears that it will be focusing mostly on the John Glenn orbital flight.  Read the book to find out the whole story.

Purchase Links

HarperCollins
| Amazon
| Barnes & Noble

tlc_logo

 

About Margot Lee Shetterly

margot-lee-shetterly-ap-photo-by-aran-shetterly Margot Lee Shetterly grew up in Hampton, Virginia, where she knew many of the
women in Hidden Figures. She is an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellow and the
recipient of a Virginia Foundation for the Humanities grant for her research on
women in computing. She lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Find out more about Margot at her website and connect with her on Twitter.

16 Dec, 2016

Marching Powder

/ posted in: Reading Marching Powder Marching Powder: A True Story of Friendship, Cocaine, and South America's Strangest Jail by Rusty Young, Thomas McFadden
Published by St. Martin's Griffin on May 1st 2004
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Pages: 400
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: Bolivia

“Rusty Young was backpacking in South America when he heard about Thomas McFadden, a convicted English drug trafficker who ran tours inside Bolivia’s notorious San Pedro prison. Intrigued, the young Australian journalist went to La Paz and joined one of Thomas’s illegal tours. They formed an instant friendship and then became partners in an attempt to record Thomas’s experiences in the jail. Rusty bribed the guards to allow him to stay and for the next three months he lived inside the prison, sharing a cell with Thomas and recording one of the strangest and most compelling prison stories of all time.”


Thomas McFadden was a cocaine smuggler.   When he was double crossed by the Bolivian officials that he had bribed for safe passage, he ended up in San Pedro.  San Pedro was an unusual prison.  You needed to pay an entrance fee to be allowed inside.  Thomas had had all his money taken by the police so he was already in trouble.  He also needed to prove that a black native English speaker was British and not an American spy.

Once inside no services were provided.  You weren’t assigned a cell or given meals.  Cells needed to be purchased. Meals were bought in restaurants run out of cells or prisoners cooked in their own kitchens.  Ingredients were bought from women who ran stores out of their husbands’ cells.

Women and children lived in the prison with their husbands and fathers.  They were free to leave every day to go to work or school.

There were five neighborhoods in the prison.  The most exclusive had an entrance outside the main prison gates.  That was were the politicians and drug lords lived.  Thomas couldn’t afford that.  By getting money wired from friends he was able to eventually buy a cell in one of the two nicer neighborhoods inside.  These had gates that closed at 9 PM to keep the bad people out.  When you buy a cell, there was a real estate transfer that was recorded in the neighborhood logs.  You got a deed.  It could be mortgaged if needed.  Some people were speculators who bought several cells.  They rented them out or used extra cells to run businesses.  Thomas’ business was giving tours.  He was the best tour guide and word of mouth in the back packing community made him famous.

Cocaine production was a major industry in the prison.  The best cocaine in Bolivia was made there.  That was what a lot of the tourists came for.  Some stayed for months.

I had never imagined that a prison would be run like this.  Thomas was here for several years in the 1990s.  His story of learning to adapt and thrive in this environment is intriguing.  His attempts to move through the Bolivian legal system are frustrating.  This is a story that you haven’t read before.

07 Dec, 2016

The Chocolate Apothecary

/ posted in: Reading The Chocolate Apothecary The Chocolate Apothecary by Josephine Moon
on June 24, 2015
Genres: Fiction
Format: Paperback
Source: Owned
Goodreads
Setting: Australia

“Christmas Livingstone has formulated 10 top rules for happiness by which she tries very hard to live. Nurturing the senses every day, doing what you love, sharing joy with others are some of the rules but the most important for her is no. 10 – absolutely no romantic relationships!
Her life is good now. Creating her enchantingly seductive shop, The Chocolate Apothecary, and exploring the potential medicinal uses of chocolate makes her happy; her friends surround her; and her role as a fairy godmother to her community allows her to share her joy. She doesn’t need a handsome botany ace who knows everything about cacao to walk into her life. One who has the nicest grandmother – Book Club Captain at Green Hills Aged Care Facility and intent on interfering – a gorgeous rescue dog, and who wants her help to write a book. She really doesn’t need any of that at all.
Or does she?”


I hardly ever find any Australian books to read.  I’m not sure why.  I was so excited when this turned out to be set in Tasmania!  I don’t know that I’ve ever read a book set there.

Christmas owns a chocolate store that reminds me a lot of the one in Chocolat, without the magical realism.  Her goal is to combine chocolate and medicine.  She started to store after a heartbreak on the mainland.  Now she is content in her life.  There are two big opportunities for her coming up.  She has a chance to go to an eccentric chocolate making week-long course in France and she is asked to co-write a book on chocolate with a botanist.  Both of these are exciting on their own, but her friends and family are interfering.  They think she should look up her long lost father in France and they think that she should see the botanist as a romantic opportunity.  Christmas is fine without either complication, thank you very much.

This book is mainly about the characters.  Christmas and her family are all unique personalities as are the residents at the Aged Care Facility who decide to work as matchmakers.  That distracts them from the cut throat competition to be in charge of the book club.  There isn’t a lot that happens in the story but getting to know the people is the real joy of this book.

 

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Linking up with Foodies Read and I will have a copy of this book available as a prize for people linking up with us.

 

02 Dec, 2016

Flygirl

/ posted in: Reading Flygirl Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers on January 22nd 2009
Genres: Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 288
Format: Paperback
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: Louisiana and Texas

“Ida Mae Jones dreams of flight. Her daddy was a pilot and being black didn’t stop him from fulfilling his dreams. But her daddy’s gone now, and being a woman, and being black, are two strikes against her.
 When America enters the war with Germany and Japan, the Army creates the WASP, the Women Airforce Service Pilots – and Ida suddenly sees a way to fly as well as do something significant to help her brother stationed in the Pacific. But even the WASP won’t accept her as a black woman, forcing Ida Mae to make a difficult choice of “passing,” of pretending to be white to be accepted into the program. Hiding one’s racial heritage, denying one’s family, denying one’s self is a heavy burden. And while Ida Mae chases her dream, she must also decide who it is she really wants to be.”


I loved this book so much.  From the very first pages, I believed that we were in Louisiana in the 1940s.  Ida Mae and her best friend feel like real people who grow apart over time because of the differences in their abilities to advance in the world. This book addresses not only racism but also the colorism in the African American community.

Ida Mae’s father taught her to fly for their crop dusting business.  She hasn’t been able to get her license because the instructor wouldn’t approve a license for a woman. When women are started to be hired to ferry planes between bases to free up male pilots for combat, Ida Mae wants to join.  She is very light skinned so she lets the recruiter assume that she is a white woman.  This makes a divide between Ida Mae and her darker skinned mother, family, and friends.  A big question in the story is can she come back from this?  Once she starts living the life of a white woman, will she be willing to be seen as a black woman again?

I read about this topic in A Chosen Exile:  A History of Racial Passing in America but I haven’t seen it addressed in historical fiction often.

If you are interested in reading more fiction about the WASP, check out The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion.

Flygirl is YA so it is a quick read.  I would recommend it to anyone who likes women-centered historical fiction.

 

 

23 Nov, 2016

Kiss and Spell

/ posted in: Reading Kiss and Spell Kiss and Spell (Enchanted, Inc., #7) by Shanna Swendson
Published by NLA Digital Liaison Platform LLC on May 17th 2013
Genres: Fantasy & Magic
Pages: 284
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: New York

“With great power comes great danger…
When a freak accident leaves Katie Chandler with magical powers, it seems like a wish come true for the former magical immune. But it also means she’s vulnerable to magic, just when the dangerous Elf Lord is cooking up another scheme in his bid for power. Anyone who gets in his way disappears–including Katie and her wizard boyfriend, Owen Palmer.
Now Katie’s under a spell that obscures her true identity, living a life right out of a romantic comedy movie in a Hollywood set version of New York. Will she be able to find her true Mr. Right in time to break the spell with a kiss and warn everyone, or will she be trapped forever, unaware of the doom facing her world?”


This is the seventh and last book in this series from Shanna Swendson.  Katie Chandler is from Texas.  She decided to move to New York City even though everyone told her things were weird there.  So when she got there and started noticing some very odd people, she wasn’t surprised.  It turned out that Katie was immune to magic so she saw through the spells that magical people used in New York to keep themselves hidden.  Eventually she got a job at a magical company because she could tell if people were trying to use magic to steal trade secrets.

At the end of book six an accident gave her some magical powers.  She loves this but it allows her to get caught up in a magical trap when she is investigating some bad guys.  People are disappearing and they are all in a fantasy New York in the elven lands.  You know the New York.  It is the one from the movies were people dance in the rain on rooftops and meet in perfect coffee shops and book stores.  As Katie’s magical powers drain she starts to see through the illusion and recognize people from her real life now living in her fantasy world.  It up to her to wake them up and get them back to the real world.

This is a really cute series.  The descriptions of how magic works (or fails to work) on people are original.  There is a slow burn romance through the series.  The characters are fun.  I’d recommend this for anyone who wants a magical escape from their non-magical day to day life.

About Shanna Swendson

Shanna Swendson is the author of the Enchanted, Inc. series, the Fairy Tale series, and Rebel Mechanics.

10 Nov, 2016

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet

/ posted in: Reading The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Wayfarers, #1) by Becky Chambers
on August 18, 2015
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 519
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: Space

“When Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer, she isn’t expecting much. The patched-up ship has seen better days, but it offers her everything she could possibly want: a spot to call home, a chance to explore the far-off corners of the galaxy, and some distance from her past.
And nothing could be further from what she’s known than the crew of the Wayfarer.
From Sissix, the exotic reptilian pilot, to Kizzy and Jenks, the chatty engineers who keep the ship running, to the noble captain Ashby, life aboard is chaotic and crazy—exactly what Rosemary wants. That is until the crew is offered the job of a lifetime tunneling wormholes through space to a distant planet. Sure, they’ll earn enough money to live comfortably for years, but risking her life wasn’t part of the job description.”


The overwhelming sentiment that I gathered from reviews of this book is that nothing much happens but it is amazing and you have to read it.  I totally agree.

Rosemary is a human from Mars who is on the run from her life there.  She is hired to be a secretary.  She has skills with languages too that may come in handy.  She’s never been on a long haul ship before.  The crew of the Wayfarer is different than any group she’s been around before.

Captain Ashby is human.  He’s been looking for a way to make the Wayfarer more profitable.  Now he’s been selected for a huge job.  They will open a wormhole between a newly settled planet in a war zone and their home galaxy.  It will take over a year to get there.

Sissix is reptilian but don’t say that out loud because it is rude.  Her race is very affectionate.  They form different families at different times in their lives.  Their sexual freedom makes many humans uncomfortable.

Kizzy is human.  She loves machinery and keeps the Wayfarer running with help from Jenks.  She reminded me of Kaylee from Firefly.

Jenks is human.  He works mostly with the AI system on the ship.  During his time on the ship, he has fallen in love with her.  They are considering getting her a body so she can leave the ship.

Lovey is the AI system.  Her name is short for Lovelace. She controls everything on board.

Dr. Chef is both the doctor and the chef.  He’s in the male phase of his life right now.

Ohan is a Sianat pair.  He carries an alien parasite inside him that allows him to see in multiple dimensions and wavelengths.  He understands the workings of the universe.  It allows him to navigate when they are making wormholes.  The pairing drastically shortens his life expectancy and he is starting to show signs of physical deterioration.

Corbin is the ship’s algae specialist.  The ship runs off of algae most of the time.  He’s grumpy and a loner but good at his job so everyone puts up with him.


The story mainly involves putting these diverse species in a ship for a long period of time and watching what happens.  There are a few close escapes but mostly it is a story about making a family – the good and the bad.

Just go read this one if you haven’t yet.  You won’t regret it.

17 Oct, 2016

The Sweet Life in Paris

/ posted in: Reading The Sweet Life in Paris The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World's Most Glorious - and Perplexing - City by David Lebovitz
Published by Broadway Books on May 5th 2009
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Pages: 282
Format: Paperback
Source: Owned
Goodreads
Setting: France

“Like so many others, David Lebovitz dreamed about living in Paris ever since he first visited the city in the 1980s. Finally, after a nearly two-decade career as a pastry chef and cookbook author, he moved to Paris to start a new life. Having crammed all his worldly belongings into three suitcases, he arrived, hopes high, at his new apartment in the lively Bastille neighborhood.
But he soon discovered it’s a different world en France.
From learning the ironclad rules of social conduct to the mysteries of men’s footwear, from shopkeepers who work so hard not to sell you anything to the etiquette of working the right way around the cheese plate, here is David’s story of how he came to fall in love with—and even understand—this glorious, yet sometimes maddening, city.”


This is the book the husband would have written if he lived in France.  He is the person who said halfway through our trip to France that it would be a wonderful country if there were no people in it.  His favorite French vacation story is the time we watched an older French woman beat a disabled British tourist with an umbrella because he didn’t give his seat up to her. He learned that parapluie is umbrella from that incident.

We once had a black, female, French neighbor to whom the husband had to explain several times that while the people in our small town might in fact be both racist and sexist, what was getting her in trouble was being French.  No, it wasn’t ok to park in the fire lane and then cut in line at WalMart because she was parked in the fire lane, for example.

David Lebovitz had this same frustration with French people when he moved to Paris.  Why are they always cutting in line?  Why won’t they help you in a store?  Why does it take so long to accomplish everyday tasks?

This book is hysterically funny.  He is a cookbook author whose new French apartment had a tiny kitchen and suspect plumbing.

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Eventually he learned to adapt and thrive in his new city. He learned to cut in line with the best of them. He started dressing up to take out the garbage. That’s when he knew he was home.


 

There are lots of recipes in this book.  I even made one.  I know!  I’m shocked too.  I almost never make recipes in books.  I made the fig and olive tapenade though and it was scrumptious.  I even took a picture of it as proof but it looks like a glob of clumpy black stuff on some bread.  Yummy food photography is not a skill I have.

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10 Oct, 2016

Radio Girls

/ posted in: Reading Radio Girls Radio Girls by Sarah-Jane Stratford
Published by NAL on June 14th 2016
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 384
Format: Paperback
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: England

“London, 1926. American-raised Maisie Musgrave is thrilled to land a job as a secretary at the upstart British Broadcasting Corporation, whose use of radio—still new, strange, and electrifying—is captivating the nation. But the hectic pace, smart young staff, and intimidating bosses only add to Maisie’s insecurity.
Soon, she is seduced by the work—gaining confidence as she arranges broadcasts by the most famous writers, scientists, and politicians in Britain. She is also caught up in a growing conflict between her two bosses, John Reith, the formidable Director-General of the BBC, and Hilda Matheson, the extraordinary director of the hugely popular Talks programming, who each have very different visions of what radio should be. Under Hilda’s tutelage, Maisie discovers her talent, passion, and ambition. But when she unearths a shocking conspiracy, she and Hilda join forces to make their voices heard both on and off the air…and then face the dangerous consequences of telling the truth for a living.”


I love historical fiction and especially British historical fiction.  I was thrilled to receive this book from my OTSP Secret Sister and had to read it immediately.

BBC radio was only allowed to broadcast during set hours and was not allowed to cover news.  One of their most popular departments was Talks, headed by Hilda Matheson.  It was unusual for a woman to be allowed to head a department.  The head of the BBC, John Reith, was a very conservative man who asked all (male) applicants for executive positions two questions – Are you a Christian? and Do you have any character flaws?

He thought that Miss Matheson was too liberal in topics she wanted to cover.  She also kept bringing in homosexuals to present topics.  He did not approve but did seem strangely up to date on who had rumors circulating around about their sexuality.  Their conflict was real and this novel examines their issues through the voice of Maisie, a secretary that they share.  Reith warns her about being too ambitious and being exposed to the wrong kinds of people while working in the Talks department.  Matheson encourages her to speak up and promote ideas for new shows.  Eventually Maisie is enlisted by Matheson to spy on some new backers of the BBC who have ties to an increasingly unstable Germany.

Hilda Matheson was a fascinating woman who I’d never heard of before.  She was a political secretary for Lady Astor, the first female Member of Parliament.  Then she went to the BBC and after that she worked on the Africa Survey.  She also became a radio critic and wrote a textbook on broadcasting. She was a lesbian who had relationships with several high society women in England.  A book on her alone would have been fascinating.

There is spying, burgeoning feminism, the evolution of new technology, and arguments about censorship.  What more could you want from one book?

22 Sep, 2016

Unicorn Tracks

/ posted in: Reading Unicorn Tracks Unicorn Tracks by Julia Ember
Published by Harmony Ink Press on April 21st 2016
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Young Adult
Pages: 180
Format: Paperback
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads

“After a savage attack drives her from her home, sixteen-year-old Mnemba finds a place in her cousin Tumelo’s successful safari business, where she quickly excels as a guide. Surrounding herself with nature and the mystical animals inhabiting the savannah not only allows Mnemba’s tracking skills to shine, it helps her to hide from the terrible memories that haunt her.
Mnemba is employed to guide Mr. Harving and his daughter, Kara, through the wilderness as they study unicorns. The young women are drawn to each other, despite that fact that Kara is betrothed. During their research, they discover a conspiracy by a group of poachers to capture the Unicorns and exploit their supernatural strength to build a railway. Together, they must find a way to protect the creatures Kara adores while resisting the love they know they can never indulge.”


I loved the world building in this story!

A safari guide who lives surrounded by mythical creatures including unicorns?  Yes, please!

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People come to Tumelo’s safari camp to get close to the magical creatures. Mnemba is one of his best guides in addition to being his cousin.  She’s been working for Tumelo ever since she left her village.  She was raped by a popular solider and many people in the town were hostile to her after her rapist was arrested.

She has to go back to her village in the story.  I thought this was well done.  She has to confront her father, the leader of the village, who she feels didn’t support her enough in the aftermath of the attack and arrest.


I didn’t buy into the relationship between Mnemba and Kara though.  It was too insta-love for my tastes.  Kara seemed too predatory in her approaches to Mnemba, almost like she thought sleeping with Mnemba was a perk of the safari.  There didn’t seem to be any type of relationship building.  They didn’t know each other at all or have any conversations before they decided that they were in love.

Kara was also a poster child for poor decision making.  If you have a top safari guide who you also claim to be madly in love with and she is telling you to get out of an area right now because it isn’t safe, you should do that.  You shouldn’t stand in place and pout and complain that she is trying to boss you around.  Bossing you is her job.  I was rooting for Kara to get eaten by the carnivorous mermaids.  (Carnivorous mermaids!  Seriously great world building.) Over and over again she blows off wiser people’s advice and it always goes poorly for her.  I don’t have much tolerance for that personality type.

Just so we are clear – Kara is white.  Mnemba is black.  Let’s revisit that cover.

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Yeah.  Totally whitewashed.  This is an interracial lesbian love story with unicorns but you wouldn’t guess from the cover.

Bottom line

I loved the world.  I loved Mnemba.  She could do better than Kara.

 

 

 

 

 

06 Sep, 2016

Leftovers

/ posted in: Reading Leftovers Leftovers by Stella Newman
Published by Avon on April 25th 2013
Genres: Fiction, Great Britain
Pages: 400
Format: Paperback
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: England

“According to a magazine, Susie is a ‘Leftover’ – a post Bridget-Jones 30 something who has neither her dream man, job, nor home. She doesn’t even own six matching dinner plates.
According to her friend Rebecca, Susie needs to get over her ex, Jake, start online dating – or at least stop being so rude to every guy who tries to chat her up.
But Susie’s got a plan. If she can just make it the 307 days till her promotion and bonus, she can finally quit and pursue her dream career in food, then surely everything else will fall into place.”


Susie is a girl after my own heart.  She has a theory that every type of emotional turmoil can be cured by the application of just the right type of pasta.

She spends her days writing advertising copy for a company that doesn’t appreciate her.  She’s counting the days until her promised promotion is here.  With the bonus money she makes, she is leaving that job and going into food full time.  In the meantime she is muddling through and obsessively watching her ex’s new girlfriend’s Instagram feed.

This is chick lit at its finest.  The cover is even pink.  I love books that combine food and a hint of romance.

The ending is one that any blogger will find themselves laughing out loud over (because it is so delightfully improbable but fun to imagine.)

There are also recipes for lots of types of pasta to full any need in your life.

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05 Sep, 2016

The Polish Boxer

/ posted in: Reading The Polish Boxer The Polish Boxer by Eduardo Halfon
Published by Bellevue Literary Press on October 2nd 2012
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 188
Format: Paperback
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: Guatemala and Serbia

Translated by Thomas Bunstead, Lisa Dillman, Daniel Hahn, Anne McLean, and Ollie Brock

“The Polish Boxer covers a vast landscape of human experience while enfolding a search for origins: a grandson tries to make sense of his Polish grandfather’s past and the story behind his numbered tattoo; a Serbian classical pianist longs for his forbidden heritage; a Mayan poet is torn between his studies and filial obligations; a striking young Israeli woman seeks answers in Central America; a university professor yearns for knowledge that he can’t find in books and discovers something unexpected at a Mark Twain conference. Drawn to what lies beyond the range of reason, they all reach for the beautiful and fleeting, whether through humor, music, poetry, or unspoken words. Across his encounters with each of them, the narrator—a Guatemalan literature professor and writer named Eduardo Halfon—pursues his most enigmatic subject: himself.”


I look for books from different countries of origin and every year I find that I’m lacking in Latin American books.  I also am always on the lookout for books about Poland.  I was thrilled and intrigued when I found a book by a Guatemalan author that referenced Poland.

This books is a series of interconnected stories.  Like all short story collections, I felt like there was something that I was missing as I was reading this book.  Short stories feel like there is a level of symbolism or intent just under the surface that leaves the reader feeling like they missed something important.

Distant

A college professor in Guatemala starts his introductory literature class on short stories.  He doesn’t like his students because they don’t care about literature.  Then he realizes that there is one student who does care.  When that student drops out a few weeks later, he travels to his home in the country to find out why.

This story has little aside in it when a student named Ligia asks why all the writers were male.

“There are also no black writers, Ligia, or Asian writers, or midget writers, and as far as I’m aware, there’s only one gay writer.  I told her that my courses were politically incorrect, thank God.  In other words, Ligia, they’re honest.  Just like art.  Great short story writers, period.”

So, in other words, my habit of specifically looking for books outside of my English-speaking American existence which led me to find this book, is stupid.

Twaining

He goes to a seminar on Mark Twain where a real Mark Twain scholar makes fun of them all for overthinking.

Epistrophy

He meets a Serbian pianist performing in Guatemala.  The pianist is part Gypsy and admits that he’d rather be playing Gypsy music.

White Smoke

He meets an Israeli tourist in a bar.  He admits that he is Jewish.

The Polish Boxer

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How did his grandfather survive the camps?

Postcards

He gets postcards from around the world from the Serbian pianist explaining Gypsy music until he suddenly disappears.

Ghosts

He decides to go hunting for the pianist.

The Pirouette

He is in Serbia hunting for the pianist and trying to find out what does it mean when a Gypsy does a pirouette?

A Speech at Povoa

He needs to write a speech on literature tearing reality.

Sunsets

His grandfather dies and he finds out that maybe everything he thought he knew was a lie.


Did I like this book?  I’m not sure.  The writing was beautiful and could draw you in.  The stories had some interesting moments.  I liked The Polish Boxer and Postcards best.  The Pirouette bored me out of my mind.

This book would be good for people interested in Latin American literature who enjoy lyrical writing.

15 Aug, 2016

African Monsters

/ posted in: Reading African Monsters African Monsters (Fox Spirit Books of Monsters, #2) by Margrét Helgadóttir, Jo Thomas, Nnedi Okorafor, Dilman Dila, Tade Thompson, Joe Vaz, Vianne Venter, Chikodili Emelumadu, Nerine Dorman, Toby Bennett, Joan De La Haye, Jayne Bauling, Sarah Lotz, Dave-Brendon de Burgh, Tendai Huchu, Su Opperman, James Bennett, Nick Wood
Published by Fox Spirit Books on December 15th 2015
Genres: Fairy Tales, Folk Tales, Legends & Mythology, Fantasy
Pages: 198
Format: Paperback
Source: From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: Africa

Speculative fiction, art and graphic stories from African authors, based on African folklore, myths and legends about monsters. African Monsters is the second in a coffee table book series with dark fiction and art about monsters from around the world. 


Monsters should be scary

African Monsters is a collection of stories where the monsters aren’t misunderstood or easily turned to the side of good. These are the stories of monsters from sub-Saharan Africa who prey on humans.

The locations of some of the stories in this collection.

Reviewing a collection can be difficult because not every story resonates with every reader. Here are few of my favorites.

On the Road by Nnedi Okorafor – An American policewoman returns to Nigeria and her grandmother but is confronted with a mystery surrounding an injured child.

Severed by Jayne Bauling – A camping trip to a remote lake goes horribly wrong

That Woman by S Lotz – A policeman investigates reports of witches dispensing punishments in the countryside.

After the Rain by Joe Vaz –  A man who left South Africa as a child returns and finds himself trapped in a bar in his old neighborhood by werewolves.

Taraab and Terror in Zanzibar by Dave-Brandon de Burgh – A man is brought from South Africa to Zanzibar to clean up a monster problem that he thought he had handled before.

A Whisper in the Reeds by Nerine Dorman – Water spirits tempt a man

Acid Test by Vianne Venter – After Johannesburg is evacuated due to an environmental catastrophe a team returns to monitor the recovery.

Thandiwe’s Tokoloshe by Nick Wood – A girl is put in a fairy tale and refuses to be satisfied with the typical endings.


 

A photo posted by @dvmheather on

This is a wonderful chance to familiarize yourself with some African authors.  I’m already a huge Nnedi Okorafor fan but I’ve added some of Nerine Dorman’s books to my TBR list too because they sound amazing.

 

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