Between grad school and multiple jobs, Naledi Smith doesn’t have time for fairy tales…or patience for the constant e-mails claiming she’s betrothed to an African prince. Sure. Right. Delete! As a former foster kid, she’s learned that the only things she can depend on are herself and the scientific method, and a silly e-mail won’t convince her otherwise.
Prince Thabiso is the sole heir to the throne of Thesolo, shouldering the hopes of his parents and his people. At the top of their list? His marriage. Ever dutiful, he tracks down his missing betrothed. When Naledi mistakes the prince for a pauper, Thabiso can’t resist the chance to experience life—and love—without the burden of his crown.
The chemistry between them is instant and irresistible, and flirty friendship quickly evolves into passionate nights. But when the truth is revealed, can a princess in theory become a princess ever after?
I don’t generally read contemporary romance but people have been raving about this book. I’ve also liked Alyssa Cole’s historical romances so I decided to give it a try. I’m glad I did.
I laughed out loud to see that this story starts with a variation on the Nigerian Prince email scam. Naledi receives an email claiming that she may be the long lost betrothed of a prince of an African country. Now if she’s only send all the necessary information to establish her identity…..
There are many places where this book could have easily gone from entertaining to annoying. The author did a great job with keeping the mystery/suspense up but allowing pieces of the puzzle to be revealed in a natural way instead of dragging out conflicts.
There is a lot going on in this book.
There is the Prince and the Pauper aspect as Thabiso tries to live as a normal person for a week. He gains insights on how he’s been treating all the “little people” in his life.
Naledi is having to deal with white male colleagues who use her for grunt work in their lab. Any time she speaks up for herself she is afraid of being labeled a “difficult black woman.” I like the way another woman in the department was eventually able to stand up for her.
Naledi has a rich friend who overruns any boundaries Naledi tries to set up but who she knows cares about her.
Then there are the mysteries of why her parents ran away from Africa with her and what is the new illness that appearing in Thabiso’s country.
That’s all without adding in the romance aspect.
I’d recommend this book for anyone who likes romance books. It is the start of a series. Somewhere in this series I want a book about what happened with Thabiso’s assistant. She travels with him to the U.S., starts a whirlwind romance with a woman she meets on Tinder, has some sort of bad break up that she refuses to talk about, and then heads back to Africa with Thabiso and Naledi. There’s way more to that story than the teasing bit we saw in this book.
The deeply personal story of how award-winning personal finance blogger Elizabeth Willard Thames abandoned a successful career in the city and embraced frugality to create a more meaningful, purpose-driven life, and retire to a homestead in the Vermont woods at age thirty-two with her husband and daughter.
In 2014, Elizabeth and Nate Thames were conventional 9-5 young urban professionals. But the couple had a dream to become modern-day homesteaders in rural Vermont. Determined to retire as early as possible in order to start living each day—as opposed to wishing time away working for the weekends—they enacted a plan to save an enormous amount of money: well over seventy percent of their joint take home pay. Dubbing themselves the Frugalwoods, Elizabeth began documenting their unconventional frugality and the resulting wholesale lifestyle transformation on their eponymous blog.
In less than three years, Elizabeth and Nate reached their goal. Today, they are financially independent and living out their dream on a sixty-six-acre homestead in the woods of rural Vermont with their young daughter. While frugality makes their lifestyle possible, it’s also what brings them peace and genuine happiness. They don’t stress out about impressing people with their material possessions, buying the latest gadgets, or keeping up with any Joneses. In the process, Elizabeth discovered the self-confidence and liberation that stems from disavowing our culture’s promise that we can buy our way to "the good life." Elizabeth unlocked the freedom of a life no longer beholden to the clarion call to consume ever-more products at ever-higher sums. Meet the Frugalwoods is the intriguing story of how Elizabeth and Nate realized that the mainstream path wasn’t for them, crafted a lifestyle of sustainable frugality, and reached financial independence at age thirty-two. While not everyone wants to live in the woods, or quit their jobs, many of us want to have more control over our time and money and lead more meaningful, simplified lives. Following their advice, you too can live your best life.
Debt-free living is a topic that is very important to me so I jumped at the chance to review this book from TLC Book Tours. (Free book – Look at me being frugal!)
This is a memoir of a couple who used frugality to save enough to retire to the country in their 30s. They have a blog called frugalwoods.com. I hadn’t ever heard of this before so I went into this book with no preconceived notions about what their story was.
I appreciated the fact that the book starts with a discussion of privilege versus systemic causes of poverty in the United States. She realizes that just by being born to married, educated white parents in the suburbs of the Midwest that she got a leg up towards being able to be debt-free in her 30s. She points out that her frugality is elective instead of a requirement to be able to afford her rent.
I wish this was more of a how-to book. It doesn’t really explain how they became debt-free. She says things like she saved $2000 of the $10,000 she was given as an AmeriCorp stipend. She was living in Brooklyn with roommates but how did she manage to do that? I want charts and spreadsheets. She talks later about merging living expenses by moving in with her fiance and living below their means by not trying to keep up with the standard of living of their peers. She says that even before they really committed to saving a lot of money in order to retire early, they were saving 40-50% of their take home pay not including 401K and mortgage principal. This is where I started to feel pretty inadequate reading this book. We’re debt-free but we are not even close to that kind of savings. (I know the problem. I eat out too much. If I cooked every meal at home, I’d be golden. I need to make myself a challenge or something.)
I feel like reader’s reactions to this book will be influenced by where they are on their financial journey. I can see her story of giving up $120 hair cuts seeming flippant to someone who is struggling to buy groceries. At the same time, I can see it being inspirational to people who have the ability to start saving money. I could also see it being frustrating and making people feel like they haven’t been doing enough to secure their financial future. I’d be interested to see how people respond to the message.
For over a century and in scores of countries, patriarchal presumptions and practices have been challenged by women and their male allies. “Sexual harassment” has entered common parlance; police departments are equipped with rape kits; more than half of the national legislators in Bolivia and Rwanda are women; and a woman candidate won the plurality of the popular votes in the 2016 United States presidential election. But have we really reached equality and overthrown a patriarchal point of view? The Big Push exposes how patriarchal ideas and relationships continue to be modernized to this day. Through contemporary cases and reports, renowned political scientist Cynthia Enloe exposes the workings of everyday patriarchy—in how Syrian women civil society activists have been excluded from international peace negotiations; how sexual harassment became institutionally accepted within major news organizations; or in how the UN Secretary General’s post has remained a masculine domain. Enloe then lays out strategies and skills for challenging patriarchal attitudes and operations. Encouraging self-reflection, she guides us in the discomforting curiosity of reviewing our own personal complicity in sustaining patriarchy in order to withdraw our own support for it. Timely and globally conscious, The Big Push is a call for feminist self-reflection and strategic action with a belief that exposure complements resistance.
I heard about this book somewhere on Twitter. I was able to get a copy sent to me through interlibrary loan. Then through the vagaries of mood-reading, I didn’t start to read it. I felt that it was going to be an academic slog through feminist theory. But, I had gone through some effort to get it and it needed to be returned soon so I decided to give it a try.
I was so wrong about this book.
I didn’t expect to get teary-eyed sitting in a restaurant that specializes in feeding huge plates of food to Trump supporters with a country music soundtrack because of the author’s insistence of the importance of the Women’s Marches. The author perfectly recreated the feeling of needing to be in the vast sea of people to voice your opposition to what was going on in the country.
I didn’t expect to have to totally recalibrate my thinking about how I look at world events because I had missed a major plot point. I had read Richard Holbrooke’s book about negotiating the Wright-Patterson Accords to end the Bosnian War. I had read Might Be Our Powers by Leymah Gbowee about women’s protests outside the peace negotiations for Liberia. What I missed in both was these was asking why women were not included in the peace negotiations from the beginning. Ending armed conflict is traditionally seen as requiring just the armed participants to come to an agreement. That can stop the fighting but it is ignoring the majority of the population who need to live in the rebuilt country afterwards. Even now, women are not seen as participants even if they are the people still on the ground providing assistance to civilians. The author gives examples of conflict resolutions that were seen to be enlightened because they would let women draft a statement that would be read into the proceeding by a male delegate. There could only be one women’s statement though so women from all sides of the conflict had to sit down together and draft a consensus statement that might or might not be taken into consideration by the men who hadn’t yet been able to reach a consensus. How would the rebuilding of nations look different if women were included from the beginning?
This book will lead you to see more areas for improvement in our world that you may have been blind to before. I was reading this at the same time as I was reading a book that glamorized a war from a patriarchal perspective. Every comment like that in the other book jumped out at me in a way that it may not have before.
This book gives hope for a world that so far has been beyond most of our imaginings. Hopefully, once people start to see what really could be possible we might be able to approach it.
Sometimes the greatest dream starts with the smallest element. A single cell, joining with another. And then dividing. And just like that, the world changes. Annie Harlow knows how lucky she is. The producer of a popular television cooking show, she loves her handsome husband and the beautiful Los Angeles home they share. And now, she’s pregnant with their first child. But in an instant, her life is shattered. And when Annie awakes from a yearlong coma, she discovers that time isn’t the only thing she’s lost.
Grieving and wounded, Annie retreats to her old family home in Switchback, Vermont, a maple farm generations old. There, surrounded by her free-spirited brother, their divorced mother, and four young nieces and nephews, Annie slowly emerges into a world she left behind years ago: the town where she grew up, the people she knew before, the high-school boyfriend turned judge. And with the discovery of a cookbook her grandmother wrote in the distant past, Annie unearths an age-old mystery that might prove the salvation of the family farm.
I chose to read this book because of the mystery surrounding her grandmother’s old cookbook. I wanted to see how it saved the family farm. You know, “living well is the best revenge” and all that.
This book is told in alternating time lines. In the present timeline, Annie has had an accident that put her in a coma. She’s been moved to back to her hometown in Vermont. She wakes up not remembering much about her previous life.
In the flashbacks, you get the story of her growing up on the farm and falling in love with the new kid in town. Then you find out how she became the producer of a hit TV cooking show and met her husband.
I found myself getting bored with the flashbacks. I was much more interested in her current situation than with how she got here. I was glad when the storylines converged and it was all in the present.
How was the foodie content?
You get the basics of how maple syrup is made
You get a brief look at distilling whisky
She did run a successful cooking show
She really likes to cook
But what about the mysterious cookbook that saves the farm? That gets into spoiler territory so I recorded some spoiler-full observations about the book if you are interested.
I would recommend this book to people who like romances with former partners. If you are most interested in the food portions of the book you might be a bit disappointed because it doesn’t play as major of a role as I would have thought.
Robert Langdon, Harvard professor of symbology and religious iconology, arrives at the ultramodern Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao to attend a major announcement—the unveiling of a discovery that “will change the face of science forever.” The evening’s host is Edmond Kirsch, a forty-year-old billionaire and futurist whose dazzling high-tech inventions and audacious predictions have made him a renowned global figure. Kirsch, who was one of Langdon’s first students at Harvard two decades earlier, is about to reveal an astonishing breakthrough . . . one that will answer two of the fundamental questions of human existence.
I swear Dan Brown is my soul mate. I want the worlds that he describes in his books. That may be concerning to other people. The last few books have been dark and I love it that way.
I actually find his books to be frustrating to read the first time. I just want to know what the point is. I don’t have time for people beating around the bush. Hint – If you are talking to Robert Langdon just tell him what you have to say. If you hint and hem and haw and say that you’ll tell him the important point at a later time, you aren’t making it through the book.
If you haven’t read the book yet, I’ll just say that I appreciated the way this book played with the formulas of his previous books. If you have read it, I have a lot more to say but first we have to give all the spoiler warnings.
Ok, we’re going to be talking about EXACTLY what happens in the book so turn back now if you don’t want to know.
You’ve been warned…….
…….Still here? Ok.
First of all, let’s talk about how he upended the expectations that he built in the previous books.
The art doesn’t mean anything except for Winston’s self portrait.
The church isn’t involved at all at the end.
Seriously, I loved that. What seemed formulaic all through the book – “Here’s another bad priest manipulating a devout follower to kill people” – was all a red herring.
He’s on the run with a beautiful younger woman AND IT ISN’T ROMANTIC AT ALL. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I am overthe idea of young women falling over themselves for the hero of every book.
I do have a question about Ambra’s story though. Her big secret is that she is infertile. Is this a nod to Inferno (in which case it shouldn’t be a surprise at all) or are we living in a universe where the events of Inferno didn’t happen? I loved the ending of Inferno. I actually stood up and cheered. I’m not talking about the ending of the movie version of Inferno which was an absolute abomination. I’m talking about a plague released on the whole world ending of the book. My love of the idea of (SPOILER) that a plague could be released that makes 1/3 of the world infertile leads into my appreciation for the ideas in this book. I’m not a fan of the idea of unlimited human growth nor of the idea that humans have to be the dominant species on Earth. Evolve away!
So, what do we think about the idea of life evolving as a way to control energy? I think it is a cool (no pun intended) idea but I don’t know how viable of an idea it is. As an agnostic/atheist person it doesn’t bother me theologically.
I am a fan of the idea of humans melding with artificial intelligence. Of course, the whole time I was thinking, “And then some fool drops an EMP…” because obviously, I’m a cynic. I would love to live in a utopia of high technology that saves the planet. I’m afraid to see I don’t see it happening though.
I loved him. I don’t even care if you are a murderous rampaging machine. Ok, I sort of care. I don’t mind that he killed his creator. That was probably kind seeing what kind of death he was facing. I’m a veterinarian. Euthanasia is a huge part of my life. I’m not happy about him killing the iman and the rabbi. That was unnecessary. Bad Winston! Somebody is going to have to come up with some laws to control AI that work a bit better than the ones in I, Robot. Maybe add in “humans are free to make their own decisions.” Of course, letting humans make decisions leads to a whole bunch of really bad decisions like Donald Trump. Somebody else needs to take a crack at making laws that don’t get us all locked up.
So what did you think? Do you want this world or not?
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
When Annie Crowe travels from Seattle to a small Irish village to promote a new copper mine, her public relations career is hanging in the balance. Struggling to overcome her troubled past and a failing marriage, Annie is eager for a chance to rebuild her life.
Yet when she arrives on the remote Beara Peninsula, Annie learns that the mine would encroach on the nesting ground of an endangered bird, the Red-billed Chough, and many in the community are fiercely protective of this wild place. Among them is Daniel Savage, a local artist battling demons of his own, who has been recruited to help block the mine.
Despite their differences, Annie and Daniel find themselves drawn toward each other, and, inexplicably, they begin to hear the same voice--a strange, distant whisper of Gaelic, like sorrow blowing in the wind.
Guided by ancient mythology and challenged by modern problems, Annie must confront the half-truths she has been sent to spread and the lies she has been telling herself. Most of all, she must open her heart to the healing power of this rugged land and its people.
Beautifully crafted with environmental themes, a lyrical Irish setting, and a touch of magical realism, The Crows of Beara is a breathtaking novel of how the nature of place encompasses everything that we are.
I was excited to try The Crows of Beara from the description of magical realism and environmental activism but I wasn’t immediately grabbed by the story. I put it aside for a while. Honestly, I probably would have DNFed it if it wasn’t for the fact that this is a book tour book for me and I had to read it. I knuckled down to read it and found myself drawn into the world. I finished it in two sittings. I’m glad that I didn’t pass on this one based on a snap judgement on a day when I wasn’t in the right frame of mind for it.
This is a quiet character-based story. Daniel and Annie are both recovering alcoholics. Daniel has been sober for nine years but Annie is just recently out of rehab. Both are still dealing with the serious repercussions of the issues that drinking caused in their lives.
I appreciated the fact that the author showed them both still struggling. You see this from Annie’s point of view most. She is working hard to find AA meetings to attend while in Ireland. She is trying to avoid pub culture and alcohol during business meetings even though she really wants to drink.
The story of the mine versus the community takes a backseat to the story of two people trying to rebuild their lives after they ruined them while drinking. The story summons the quiet of a rural, mystical part of Ireland. The author does a wonderful job of evoking mist-covered cliffs and coastlines. Read this one on a rainy day while snuggled in a blanket with a mugful of hot chocolate.
About Julie Christine Johnson
Julie Christine Johnson’s short stories and essays have appeared in journals including Emerge Literary Journal; Mud Season Review; Cirque: A Literary Journal of the North Pacific Rim; Cobalt; and River Poets Journal. Her work has also appeared in the print anthologies Stories for Sendai; Up, Do: Flash Fiction by Women Writers; and Three Minus One: Stories of Love and Loss. She holds undergraduate degrees in French and psychology and a master’s in international affairs. Julie leads writing workshops and seminars and offers story/developmental editing and writer coaching services.
Named a standout debut by Library Journal, very highly recommended by Historical Novels Review, and delicate and haunting, romantic and mystical by bestselling author Greer Macallister, Julie’s debut novel In Another Life (Sourcebooks) went into a second printing three days after its February 2016 release. A hiker, yogi, and swimmer, Julie makes her home in northwest Washington state.
A powerful and evocative debut novel about two American military nurses during World War II that illuminates the unsung heroism of women who risked their lives in the fight—a riveting saga of friendship, valor, sacrifice, and survival combining the grit and selflessness of Band of Brothers with the emotional resonance of The Nightingale.
In war-torn France, Jo McMahon, an Italian-Irish girl from the tenements of Brooklyn, tends to six seriously wounded soldiers in a makeshift medical unit. Enemy bombs have destroyed her hospital convoy, and now Jo singlehandedly struggles to keep her patients and herself alive in a cramped and freezing tent close to German troops. There is a growing tenderness between her and one of her patients, a Scottish officer, but Jo’s heart is seared by the pain of all she has lost and seen. Nearing her breaking point, she fights to hold on to joyful memories of the past, to the times she shared with her best friend, Kay, whom she met in nursing school.
Half a world away in the Pacific, Kay is trapped in a squalid Japanese POW camp in Manila, one of thousands of Allied men, women, and children whose fates rest in the hands of a sadistic enemy. Far from the familiar safety of the small Pennsylvania coal town of her childhood, Kay clings to memories of her happy days posted in Hawaii, and the handsome flyer who swept her off her feet in the weeks before Pearl Harbor. Surrounded by cruelty and death, Kay battles to maintain her sanity and save lives as best she can . . . and live to see her beloved friend Jo once more.
When the conflict at last comes to an end, Jo and Kay discover that to achieve their own peace, they must find their place—and the hope of love—in a world that’s forever changed. With rich, superbly researched detail, Teresa Messineo’s thrilling novel brings to life the pain and uncertainty of war and the sustaining power of love and friendship, and illuminates the lives of the women who risked everything to save others during a horrifying time.
The Fire By Night tells the story of Jo and Kay, nurses who met while in training. Kay finished her training first and got the cushy assignment to Hawaii at the little known base of Pearl Harbor. Jo was so jealous.
Now, a few years later, Jo is in a field hospital in Europe. Their position is about to be overrun and they are trying to evacuate. She is left behind with the most difficult to transport patients to wait for the last truck to get to her. Suddenly she finds that they aren’t coming back for her and the Germans are only a few miles away.
Kay is in the Philippines in an underground bunker that is about to fall to the Japanese. After they are taken, the nurses are kept in a prisoner-of-war camp and used as propaganda while enduring starvation and disease.
The author uses these stories to highlight the role of women in wars. They were considered to not be real soldiers because in theory they didn’t get near the front lines. They made difficult choices to stay with wounded soldiers even when it jeopardized their own safety. They were disrespected when they came home because they were “only nurses.”
This book doesn’t hold back on the details of what these women went through. The fear of being left behind and the horrors of being captured are described in detail.
The ending of the book is not as strong as the rest. There is a bit of romance tacked on that I didn’t think fit with the rest of the book.
I would recommend this book for people interested in World War II stories and stories about women’s history.
I’ve been reading. I’ve been reading a lot. But, I haven’t been writing reviews. Honestly, I got a bit bored with them and I know they aren’t favorites. It is especially hard when the book is entertaining but nothing mind-blowing. How many ways can you can up with to say, “It was good. I enjoyed it enough to read the whole thing. That is all.”
The thing is that I did enjoy these books. Most of them I haven’t heard much about so they need to get some exposure. I should stop slacking and write up some reviews.
So here are some books that I haven’t told you about from August. Seriously, August, people. Slacking.
Meet Greta Helsing, doctor to the undead.
After inheriting a highly specialised, and highly peculiar, medical practice, Dr Helsing spends her days treating London's undead for a host of ills: vocal strain in banshees, arthritis in barrow-wights and entropy in mummies. Although barely making ends meet, this is just the quiet, supernatural-adjacent life Greta's dreamed of since childhood.
But when a sect of murderous monks emerges, killing human undead and alike, Greta must use all her unusual skills to keep her supernatural clients - and the rest of London - safe.
This is a great idea. A lot of the monsters from old horror stories are here. Dr. Helsing is trying to keep a practice afloat while having to keep her patients a secret.
I had a hard time remembering at points that this is a contemporary story. It kept feeling like it was a Victorian to me and then there would be modern technology.
It was well done. There are sequels planned and I will definitely read them.
In 90 A.D., following the Saturninus revolt in Germany, the Emperor Domitian has become more paranoid about traitors and dissenters around him. This leads to several senators and even provincial governors facing charges and being executed for supposed crimes of conspiracy and insulting the emperor. Wanting to root out all the supports of Saturninus from the Senate, one of Domitian’s men offers to hire Flavia Alba to do some intelligence work.
Flavia Alba, daughter and chip off the old block of Marcus Didius Falco, would rather avoid any and all court intrigue, thank you very much. But she’s in a bit of a bind. Her wedding is fast approaching, her fiancé is still recovering―slowly―from being hit by a lightning bolt, and she’s the sole support of their household. So with more than a few reservations, she agrees to “investigate.”
I’ve loved everything I’ve read by this author, which is over 20 books now. This one seemed to have a lot of historical backstory that needed to be explained in order to understand the significance of The Third (Fake) Nero. It wasn’t as well woven into the story as she usually does. It felt like a bit of slog to get through all that in order to get to the story.
That said, I continue to love this series and its take on everyday life in Ancient Rome.
“Top notch crime fiction.”
—Boston Globe American readers first met Icelandic lawyer and investigator Thóra Gudmundsdóttir in Last Rituals. In My Soul to Take, internationally acclaimed author Yrsa Sigurdardóttir plunges her intrepid heroine into even graver peril, in a riveting thriller set against the harsh landscape of Smila’s Sense of Snow territory. A darkly witty and continually surprising suspense tale that places Yrsa Sigurdardóttir firmly in the ranks of Sue Grafton, Tess Gerritsen, Faye Kellerman and other top mystery writers, My Soul to Take is ingenious Scandinavian noir on a par with the works of Henning Mankell and Arnaldur Indridason. Stieg Larsson (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) fans should also take note.
The heroine of this book is a lawyer who did a land purchase deal for a client who wanted to build a spa. Now he is claiming that the place is haunted and wants to sue the sellers. The lawyer heads to the spa for a weekend to try to calm him down and gets mixed up in the mystery of what happened on the land years before.
This book was good. It was the first Icelandic noir book I’ve read. I read it for Women in Translation month. I enjoyed the historical aspects of the story more than the present. The lawyer was a bit too much of the pushy, “let’s hide things from the police” kind of mystery heroine for my liking.
Dana attends a school of magic with only one other student. She has a great love only she can see. And only she can unravel these mysteries and become mistress of the Valley of the Wolves.
Ever since Dana was a little girl, Kai has been her best friend and constant companion--even though she's the only one who can see him. Then the mysterious Maestro comes to her farm and offers her the opportunity of a lifetime: the chance to study sorcery in the Valley of the Wolves. And Dana knows she must go, for the Maestro can see Kai too....
This was another Women in Translation month read for me. This book reads like a fairy tale. There is a boy that only the girl can see. Is he real or not?
A magician comes and takes her away because he says that she will be a great magic user someday. He trains her in his castle that is surrounded by vicious wolves who come out at night. After years of training she realizes that she may not be able to leave if she doesn’t figure out the secrets of the castle and the valley.
This book is all about growing up and seeing your life and the people in it for what they really are. It is a quick read with lots of fun fantasy and magical elements.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
Set in Victorian London and an Essex village in the 1890's, and enlivened by the debates on scientific and medical discovery which defined the era, The Essex Serpent has at its heart the story of two extraordinary people who fall for each other, but not in the usual way.
They are Cora Seaborne and Will Ransome. Cora is a well-to-do London widow who moves to the Essex parish of Aldwinter, and Will is the local vicar. They meet as their village is engulfed by rumours that the mythical Essex Serpent, once said to roam the marshes claiming human lives, has returned. Cora, a keen amateur naturalist is enthralled, convinced the beast may be a real undiscovered species. But Will sees his parishioners' agitation as a moral panic, a deviation from true faith. Although they can agree on absolutely nothing, as the seasons turn around them in this quiet corner of England, they find themselves inexorably drawn together and torn apart.
I am a supremely organized book blogger. When I do book tours as soon as I find out the date I am scheduled to post, I put a draft post on my WordPress calendar. That way I don’t get messed up. I’ve known for months that my review of The Essex Serpent was due on July 19. When I went to write this up I looked at the list of other bloggers participating and wanted to see what they thought of the book. I was surprised to find no posts for the people posting before me. I looked at my email. Still didn’t see the issue. Then I saw it. JUNE 19. Oh.
So here is my way-belated book tour review of The Essex Serpent.
I first heard of this book through the enthusiastic promotion of the British release last year by Simon Savidge. When the book became available in the U.S. I decided to read it to see why he was so enthusiastic. We obviously read very different types of books because he considers this to be a very plot driven novel and I think of it as more of a character driven one.
Cora is not a typical Victorian widow. It is implied that her husband was abusive and she certainly is not grieving him. She decides to go with her companion Martha and her young son Francis to Essex because she wants to follow in the footsteps of female amateur naturalists. Hearing rumors of a monster in the estuary thrills her to no end. Her friends urge her to contact the local vicar. She has no interest in that. She doesn’t want to be stuck in company with a stuffy vicar. The vicar and his wife don’t have any interest in her either. They assume she is an elderly lady with a wastrel son but they invite her to dinner to be nice.
This book covers a lot of issues in England at this time. Martha is a socialist who is campaigning for safe housing for the poor in London. At this time to get into good housing you had to prove that you were of good morals. This offends her because the landlords could go out drinking and being irresponsible but the tenets would be evicted if they acted like that. She convinces a young doctor with family money to spare to join in her the cause.
Francis would now be recognized as autistic but in this book he is just seen as a bit odd. He’s mostly left to his own devices because Cora doesn’t know how to interact with him.
Cora has an admirer in Luke Garret, the doctor who treated her husband. He wants to do more and more daring operations and is fighting the medical establishment.
The Ransomes, the family of the vicar, get involved with Cora and her entourage. Will Ransome is the vicar who is interested in science. He knows that rumors of a serpent killing people and livestock are just superstition but he can’t get his parishioners to listen to reason. This talk is tearing his small village apart and then Cora appears and runs roughshod over the town. It is hard to tell what is more damaging – the rumors or the visitor.
The writing is lyrical and mystical. It evokes foggy mornings and salt water breezes. Of course because this is historical fiction and not urban fantasy, there is no magical creature in the river. Seeing how the author resolves all these plot lines and logically explains the serpent is part of the drama.
This is a relatively slow read. It takes time for the writing to sink in. The plot jumps around often so it can be a bit tricky to keep track of who is where at what time. You don’t always know why you should be interested in characters until they start to tie into the larger narrative.
This book is good for people looking to lose themselves in the writing of a slow paced glimpse of life in rural Victorian England with a hint of mystery mixed in.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
Ghoulies. Ghosties. Long-legged beasties. Things that go bump in the night... The Price family has spent generations studying the monsters of the world, working to protect them from humanity—and humanity from them. Enter Verity Price. Despite being trained from birth as a cryptozoologist, she'd rather dance a tango than tangle with a demon, and is spending a year in Manhattan while she pursues her career in professional ballroom dance. Sounds pretty simple, right? It would be, if it weren't for the talking mice, the telepathic mathematicians, the asbestos supermodels, and the trained monster-hunter sent by the Price family's old enemies, the Covenant of St. George. When a Price girl meets a Covenant boy, high stakes, high heels, and a lot of collateral damage are almost guaranteed. To complicate matters further, local cryptids are disappearing, strange lizard-men are appearing in the sewers, and someone's spreading rumors about a dragon sleeping underneath the city...
I’m loving this urban fantasy series! The Price family fled to North America several generations ago after they broke away from the monster-hunting Covenant. The Covenant thinks the family died out. The Prices have worked hard to make it seem like they did.
Verity Price isn’t sure she wants to spend her life as a cryptozoologist. She has trained to be a professional ballroom dancer. Now she has one year in New York to try to make a living dancing as long as she uses her spare time to survey the local cryptid community. But her side job is taking up more time than her dancing.
There is so much great world building here. There are ultrareligious mice colonies that live with the Prices. There are telepathic cuckoos that can make humans give them things and not notice they did it. There are boogeymen who know all the secrets. Dragon princesses live to make money and gorgons have a hard time keeping their snakes happy under their wigs.
Verity comes face to face with a Covenant member. He was sent to see if New York needs to be purged of cryptids. Verity isn’t going to let that happen to her friends.
Cryptid, noun:1. Any creature whose existence has been suggested but not proven scientifically. Term officially coined by cryptozoologist John E. Wall in 1983.2. That thing that's getting ready to eat your head.3. See also: "monster."
Enter Verity Price. Despite being trained from birth as a cryptozoologist, she'd rather dance a tango than tangle with a demon, and when her work with the cryptid community took her to Manhattan, she thought she would finally be free to pursue competition-level dance in earnest. It didn't quite work out that way...
But now, with the snake cult that was killing virgins all over Manhattan finally taken care of, Verity is ready to settle down for some serious ballroom dancing—until her on-again, off-again, semi-boyfriend Dominic De Luca, a member of the monster-hunting Covenant of St. George, informs her that the Covenant is on their way to assess the city's readiness for a cryptid purge. With everything and everyone she loves on the line, there's no way Verity can take that lying down.
Alliances will be tested, allies will be questioned, lives will be lost, and the talking mice in Verity's apartment will immortalize everything as holy writ--assuming there's anyone left standing when all is said and done.
This is book two with Verity. Now the Covenant is coming. Dominic has to decide where his loyalities lie and Verity has to decide if she can trust anything he is saying to her.
This book does a good job of picking up where the last one left off without feeling like a filler book that you see so often with second novels in a series.
When Alex Price agreed to go to Ohio to oversee a basilisk breeding program and assist in the recovery of his psychic cousin, he didn't expect people to start dropping dead. But bodies are cropping up at the zoo where he works, and his girlfriend—Shelby Tanner, an Australian zoologist with a fondness for big cats—is starting to get suspicious.
Worse yet, the bodies have all been turned partially to stone...
The third book in the InCryptid series takes us to a new location and a new member of the family, as Alex tries to balance life, work, and the strong desire not to become a piece of garden statuary. Old friends and new are on the scene, and danger lurks around every corner.
Of course, so do the talking mice.
It can be a hard transition in a series to leave the previous main character behind and start with a new one. I’m always a little bit leery of these transitions but this was done well.
Alex is Verity’s older brother. He doesn’t work with large cryptids like she does. He works more with cryptid wildlife. He’s identifying ecological problems that are increasing the likelihood of someone realizing that there are feathered frogs in Ohio.
If that wasn’t enough, someone turned one of his assistants to stone and seems to targeting him.
I thought this book was really well done. I wasn’t crazy about the girlfriend. Her name was also Shelby Tanner. That seemed really familiar to me. Then I realized that I knew a person with dogs named Shelby and Tanner and then I couldn’t unsee that.
Alexander Price has survived gorgons, basilisks, and his own family—no small feat, considering that his family includes two telepaths, a reanimated corpse, and a colony of talking, pantheistic mice. Still, he’s starting to feel like he’s got the hang of things…at least until his girlfriend, Shelby Tanner, shows up asking pointed questions about werewolves and the state of his passport. From there, it’s just a hop, skip, and a jump to Australia, a continent filled with new challenges, new dangers, and yes, rival cryptozoologists who don’t like their “visiting expert” very much.
This book moves the action to Australia. It is nice to see how the author imagines a different ecosystem and what cryptids evolved there.
There was a lot of “Daddy threatens the boyfriend for sleeping with the daughter” trope which I absolutely hate. The characters try to diffuse it but it doesn’t work. I could have done without all that.
I did miss the rest of the Price family in this one. Hopefully they come back in the next books.
A few complaints about the series:
The names of the books have absolutely nothing to do with the books. You could call any one of them “Your Aunty Jane’s Peach Cobbler” and it would not change anything. The word Ragnarok does not appear in Half-Off Ragnarok for example. I don’t understand how they are named.
There are roughly a gazillion short stories in this universe. I’m sticking with only reading the integers – books #1, #2, etc. – for now.
About Seanan McGuire
“Hi! I’m Seanan McGuire, author of the Toby Daye series (Rosemary and Rue, A Local Habitation, An Artificial Night, Late Eclipses), as well as a lot of other things. I’m also Mira Grant (www.miragrant.com), author of Feed and Deadline.
Born and raised in Northern California, I fear weather and am remarkably laid-back about rattlesnakes. I watch too many horror movies, read too many comic books, and share my house with two monsters in feline form, Lilly and Alice (Siamese and Maine Coon).”
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
Whether weaving family life and history into dark fiction or writing speculative Afrofuturism, American Book Award winner and Essence bestselling author Tananarive Due’s work is both riveting and enlightening.
Due takes us to Gracetown, a small Florida town that has both literal and figurative ghost; into future scenarios that seem all too real; and provides empathetic portraits of those whose lives are touched by Otherness. Featuring an award-winning novella and fifteen stories—one of which has never been published before—Ghost Summer: Stories is sure to both haunt and delight.
Tananarive Due is an amazing writer. She puts her stories together so beautifully and smoothly that you get sucked into her world even knowing that she is a horror writer who is going to pull the rug out from under you soon.
This is a collection of short stories grouped by subject matter. It starts with stories set in a small Florida town where the local legends are something to be believed and feared. It starts with a story from the point of view of a monster and moves into the origins of a town full of ghost stories.
There is a group of five stories set after the onset of a plague. Several follow one woman at different points in her life as she lives in a world that has been destroyed.
What makes this collection different from other paranormal stories out there is that many of the heartbreaking moments are from real life playing out while there are monsters in the background. Just because the world is falling apart doesn’t mean that you can abandon your grandmother who is dying of cancer. The excitement of visiting your grandparents’ haunted town dims when you realize that you are there because your parents are splitting up. She does an excellent job of keeping the supernatural grounded in the real which makes these stories even creepier.
I particularly appreciated the notes after each story that tells a little bit about the origins of the story. I know authors always complain about being asked where they get their ideas but I find it fascinating to see what random thought developed into a story.
Even if scary stories aren’t what you normally read, consider picking up this book for the lyrical writing that isn’t always seen in this genre.
About Tananarive Due
“Due has a B.S. in journalism from Northwestern University and an M.A. in English literature from the University of Leeds, England, where she specialized in Nigerian literature as a Rotary Foundation Scholar. In addition to VONA, Due has taught at the Hurston-Wright Foundation’s Writers’ Week and the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop. As a screenwriter, she is a member of the Writers’ Guild of America (WGA).” – from her website
For two decades, Zeba was a loving wife, a patient mother, and a peaceful villager. But her quiet life is shattered when her husband, Kamal, is found brutally murdered with a hatchet in the courtyard of their home. Nearly catatonic with shock, Zeba is unable to account for her whereabouts at the time of his death. Her children swear their mother could not have committed such a heinous act. Kamal’s family is sure she did, and demands justice. Barely escaping a vengeful mob, Zeba is arrested and jailed.
Awaiting trial, she meets a group of women whose own misfortunes have led them to these bleak cells: eighteen-year-old Nafisa, imprisoned to protect her from an “honor killing”; twenty-five-year-old Latifa, a teen runaway who stays because it is safe shelter; twenty-year-old Mezghan, pregnant and unmarried, waiting for a court order to force her lover’s hand. Is Zeba a cold-blooded killer, these young women wonder, or has she been imprisoned, like them, for breaking some social rule? For these women, the prison is both a haven and a punishment; removed from the harsh and unforgiving world outside, they form a lively and indelible sisterhood.
Into this closed world comes Yusuf, Zeba’s Afghan-born, American-raised lawyer whose commitment to human rights and desire to help his homeland have brought him back. With the fate this seemingly ordinary housewife in his hands, Yusuf discovers that, like the Afghanistan itself, his client may not be at all what he imagines.
“My full height, my beloved husband never did see
Because the fool dared turn his back on me.”
This is a heartbreaking story about women’s lives in Afghanistan. In this book women feel more free and open in prison than they did at home. Zeba meets many women after the murder of her husband. Most of them are in prison for zina – sex outside of marriage. That can mean anything from a premarital sex to an affair to rape to just being rumored to be alone with a man. This book depicts a society that places so much value on a man’s honor but it measures that honor entirely by the behavior of woman instead of behavior of the man.
Everyone knows that Zeba’s husband was not a good man. However, now that he is dead, his honor (that he did not uphold in life) is of the most importance. The fact that Zeba was arrested when she is found sitting by his dead body and not murdered by her neighbors is seen as a very merciful act. No attempts are made to collect evidence. She was there so obviously she did it.
Yusef, an Afghani-born American-raised lawyer, has just come back to Afghanistan to work on cases like Zina’s. She drives him crazy by refusing to participate in her own defense.
The prison life in this story reminded me a lot of the South Korean prison that Sun in is in Sense8, if you’ve seen that show. The women come from backgrounds so dominated by men that many of them are finding life better in jail.
This book does drag a little in the middle while the mystery of Zeba’s husband’s death is being investigated and Yusef is trying a bunch of strategies to get Zeba free. I liked the inclusion of her mother who is considered to be able to do magic. Zeba uses what she learned from her mother to gain status in prison even though she is conflicted about it.
About Nadia Hashimi
Nadia Hashimi was born and raised in New York and New Jersey. Both her parents
were born in Afghanistan and left in the early 1970s, before the Soviet
invasion. In 2002, Nadia made her first trip to Afghanistan with her parents.
She is a pediatrician and lives with her family in the Washington, DC, suburbs.
An enthralling collection of nonfiction essays on myriad topics—from art and artists to dreams, myths, and memories—observed in Neil Gaiman’s probing, amusing, and distinctive style.
An inquisitive observer, thoughtful commentator, and assiduous craftsman, Neil Gaiman has long been celebrated for the sharp intellect and startling imagination that informs his bestselling fiction. Now, The View from the Cheap Seats brings together for the first time ever more than sixty pieces of his outstanding nonfiction. Analytical yet playful, erudite yet accessible, this cornucopia explores a broad range of interests and topics, including (but not limited to): authors past and present; music; storytelling; comics; bookshops; travel; fairy tales; America; inspiration; libraries; ghosts; and the title piece, at turns touching and self-deprecating, which recounts the author’s experiences at the 2010 Academy Awards in Hollywood.
Insightful, incisive, witty, and wise, The View from the Cheap Seats explores the issues and subjects that matter most to Neil Gaiman—offering a glimpse into the head and heart of one of the most acclaimed, beloved, and influential artists of our time.
I learned two things from reading this collection of speeches and essays.
Neil Gaiman knows everyone. Seriously, if you can work him into your 6 Degrees of Separation list you can link to anyone.
He is the speaker that you want giving the keynote address at any event.
I loved this collection of his nonfiction writing from the very first essay.
“I believe that people and books and newspapers are containers for ideas, but that burning the people who hold the ideas will be as unsuccessful as firebombing the newspaper archives. It is already too late. It is always too late. The ideas are already out, hiding behind people’s eyes, waiting in their thoughts.”
He writes about the importance of libraries and about how not censoring what children read leads to children who love to read. He talks about how being too enthusiastic about supporting your child’s reading habits can turn her off Stephen King forever. (Oops). He writes about Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett and the importance of Doctor Who. Is it any wonder that I’m a Neil Gaiman fan?
These essays and speeches were written over many years. It is fun to read him talking about his next novel that has a working title of American Gods but he doesn’t know what it will be called when it is published at the same time that I’m watching the TV adaptation. A few of the authors that he discusses I haven’t read but he makes me want to pick them up.
This is a book that isn’t made to be read straight through but instead to be picked up and read a piece at a time in order to savor the words and ideas. I’d recommend this for any Neil Gaiman fan but also for people who love discussing literacy and the need for the arts in society.
About Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels Neverwhere, Stardust, American Gods, Coraline, Anansi Boys, The Graveyard Book, Good Omens (with Terry Pratchett), The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains; the Sandman series of graphic novels; and the story collections Smoke and Mirrors, Fragile Things, and Trigger Warning. He is the winner of numerous literary honors, including the Hugo, Bram Stoker, and World Fantasy awards, and the Newbery and Carnegie Medals. Originally from England, he now lives in the United States. He is Professor in the Arts at Bard College.
Chinese-American assistant professor Eileen Chen specializes in folk religion at her San Francisco college. Though her grandmother made her living as a shamaness, Eileen publicly dismisses witchcraft as mere superstition. Yet privately, the subject intrigues her.
When a research project takes her to the Canary Islands—long rumored to be home to real witches—Eileen is struck by the lush beauty of Tenerife and its blend of Spanish and Moroccan culture. A stranger invites her to a local market where women sell amulets, charms, and love spells. But as she learns more about the lives of these self-proclaimed witches, Eileen must choose how much trust to place in this new and seductive world, where love, greed, and vengeance can be as powerful, or as destructive, as any magic.
I loved the synopsis of this book. A religion professor finding out that she is a shamaness in the Chinese tradition and then meeting up with witches from another tradition? Yes, please.
It starts out delightfully creepy. She is starting to have visions of the spirit world. She meets a coven of witches who bring her into a ritual and abandon her naked the next day and she doesn’t remember what happened. A horse takes her for a ride to meet a mysterious sculptor.
But then it turns into a murder mystery. Yeah, didn’t see that coming.
I lost a lot of interest at this point. The weirdness was gone. She still talks to ghosts but they just want her solve the mystery. Also, suddenly every man is falling in love with her and wants to marry her the moment they meet her. This isn’t even based on romance or attraction or anything. They just suggest getting married.
I wish there had been a better sense of place. She went to a culture that is unfamiliar to her but she is conveniently fluent in Spanish so she has no communication difficulties. She doesn’t really explore the islands. She holes up in a castle and in an abandoned village that could have been set anywhere. I never read anything that I felt could only have happened in this setting.
Her exploration of her Chinese spiritual heritage was much better but I wish there had been more exploration of the witches she came to find.
About Mingmei Yip
Mingmei Yip was born in China, received her Ph.D. from the University of Paris, Sorbonne, and held faculty appointments at the Chinese University and Baptist University in Hong Kong. She’s published five books in Chinese, written several columns for seven major Hong Kong newspapers, and has appeared on over forty TV and radio programs in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Mainland China, and the U.S. She immigrated to the United States in 1992, where she now lives in New York City.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
London, 1947. He was the heir to an African kingdom. She was a white English insurance clerk. When they met and fell in love, it would change the world.
This is the inspiring true story of Seretse Khama and Ruth Williams, whose marriage sent shockwaves through the establishment, defied an empire - and, finally, triumphed over the prejudices of their age.
I had never heard of Seretse and Ruth Khama until I saw an advertisement for the movie adaptation of Colour Bar. It was only playing for one night here and I wasn’t able to go. The story sounded interesting so as soon as I realized that it was based on a book, I got it from interlibrary loan.
Seretse Khama became the kgosi (chief) of his tribe at the age of four. His uncle was installed as his regent. They lived in Bechuanaland which is present day Botswana. At the time this was under the control of England. His uncle made sure that he was well educated by sending him to schools in South Africa and then sending him for a law degree in England. There he fell in love with Ruth Williams, a white woman.
When he announced their intention to marry in 1949, opposition came from all sides. They married anyway. Eventually, he was able to convince his tribe that this marriage was acceptable. He was not able to convince white people though.
The main objection came from South Africa. They were in the process of codifying apartheid law. They did not want the leader of a country on their border to be in an interracial marriage. Since this was an hereditary position, the next leader would be mixed race. If Bechuanaland was successful, it would make of mockery of the South African laws. South Africa was an important part of the British Empire. They fought to make sure that Seretse Khama was unable to lead his people.
What followed was years of exile from Africa and abuse at the hands of British officials. This book is exhaustively researched. It quotes from many, many letters and official documents to let the English racism speak for itself. It is brutal. There is also a lot of discussion about what type of woman Ruth must be to be willing to marry a black man.
This book was fascinating but it is a slow read. It is very dense with details of meetings. It focuses on the political aspects of the story, not the human ones. You don’t get much of a sense of Seretse and Ruth’s personalities except for in a few of their reactions to what is being said. It doesn’t delve much into what is going on in their minds or the true stresses on their relationship while all this is going on.
I wasn’t surprised by the racism that they encountered but there times when I had to take a minute to digest the absolute depth of the hatred and ignorance in the writings and public statements of British officials. They were so willing to appease the hatred of whites living in southern Africa that they would go to ridiculous lengths. There was always a problem of getting the Khamas to and from Bechuanaland from England. They had to land in Rhodesia which was strictly segregated. You’d think they were negotiating a nuclear treaty the way they had to deal to allow planes to land with them onboard or to let Ruth and the children stay in a hotel overnight. (They basically had to promise that the children would not be seen so they didn’t offend delicate white sensibilities.)
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
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.
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:
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:
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:
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: