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18 Oct, 2016

The Girls of Atomic City

/ posted in: Reading The Girls of Atomic City The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan
on March 5th 2013
Pages: 373
Genres: 20th Century, History, Nonfiction
Published by Touchstone/Simon & Schuster
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible, Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Tennessee
Goodreads

“The incredible story of the young women of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, who unwittingly played a crucial role in one of the most significant moments in U.S. history.
The Tennessee town of Oak Ridge was created from scratch in 1942. One of the Manhattan Project’s secret cities, it didn’t appear on any maps until 1949, and yet at the height of World War II it was using more electricity than New York City and was home to more than 75,000 people, many of them young women recruited from small towns across the South. Their jobs were shrouded in mystery, but they were buoyed by a sense of shared purpose, close friendships—and a surplus of handsome scientists and Army men!
But against this vibrant wartime backdrop, a darker story was unfolding. The penalty for talking about their work—even the most innocuous details—was job loss and eviction. One woman was recruited to spy on her coworkers. They all knew something big was happening at Oak Ridge, but few could piece together the true nature of their work until the bomb “Little Boy” was dropped over Hiroshima, Japan, and the secret was out. The shocking revelation: the residents of Oak Ridge were enriching uranium for the atomic bomb.”


Oak Ridge was a temporary city in the middle of nowhere, hidden by topography, and never meant to see the light of day.  It had one purpose — to enrich uranium to feed the development of the nuclear bomb.  A lot of people were required to build and then run the huge plants.  How do you get a lot of people to agree to do a job that they aren’t allowed to know about or talk about?  Pay high wages and tell them it is for the war effort.

People left other jobs without knowing where they would be going or for how long.  Many were told to go to a train station and they would be met.  They had no idea where they were heading.

I can’t believe that people agreed to do this.  I’m too nosy.  If you gave me a job and told me to spend eight to twelve hours a day manipulating dials so that the readout always read the correct number, I couldn’t do it.  I certainly couldn’t do it for years without needing to know what I was doing.  I would have been fired and escorted out of there so fast.  How was the secret kept for so long?

Coming out of the Depression though, any job was a good job.  These jobs were hiring women and African Americans at wages they wouldn’t see elsewhere.  Of course, there was discrimination and segregation.  Housing for African Americans was poor and they were not allowed to live together if they were married.  When someone started wondering, “What happens if we inject this uranium into a person?” you know they picked a black man who just happened to have a broken leg to experiment on.  He did manage to escape eventually but not before they had done a lot of damage to him.

This book tells the stories of women in several different jobs – secretarial staff, Calutron operators, cleaning staff, and scientists.  They made a life in a town that wasn’t supposed to last long.  The audiobook was compelling listening.  The story sounds like a novel.

I went to vet school in Knoxville, which is 20 miles away from Oak Ridge.  I had friends who were from there and friends whose families had been forcibly removed from the area in order to build Oak Ridge.  It was interesting to hear what went on behind the scenes.

I would be interested in pairing this with this book:

Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear WarNagasaki: Life After Nuclear War by Susan Southard

“On August 9, 1945, three days after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, the United States dropped a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, a small port city on Japan’s southernmost island. An estimated 74,000 people died within the first five months, and another 75,000 were injured.

Published on the seventieth anniversary of the bombing, Nagasaki takes readers from the morning of the bombing to the city today, telling the first-hand experiences of five survivors, all of whom were teenagers at the time of the devastation.”

The Girls of Atomic City does discuss the reactions of the citizens of Oak Ridge when they found out what they had been doing.  It discusses the guilt that some people still have for their part in making the bomb.


You know what I kept thinking about while listening to this?  This scene from Clerks.

Randal: There was something else going on in Jedi. I ever noticed it till today. They build another Death Star, right?

Dante: Yeah.

Randal: Now, the first one was completed and fully operational before the Rebel’s destroyed it.

Dante: Luke blew it up. Give credit where credit is due.

Randal: And the second one was still being built when the blew it up.

Dante: Compliments to Lando Calrissian.

Randal: Something just never sat right with me that second time around. I could never put my finger on it, but something just wasn’t right.

Dante: And you figured it out?

Randal: The first Death Star was manned by the Imperial Army. The only people on board were stormtroppers, dignitaries, Imperials.

Dante: Basically.

Randal: So, when the blew it up, no problem. Evil’s punished.

Dante: And the second time around?

Randal: The second time around, it wasn’t even done being built yet. It was still under construction.

Dante: So?

Randal: So, construction job of that magnitude would require a helluva lot more manpower than the Imperial army had to offer. I’ll bet there were independent contractors working on that thing: plumbers, aluminum siders, roofers.

Dante: Not just Imperials, is what you’re getting at?

Randal: Exactly. In order to get it built quickly and quietly they’d hire anybody who could do the job. Do you think the average storm trooper knows how to install a toilet main? All they know is killing and white uniforms.

Dante: All right, so they bring in independent contractors. Why are you so upset with its destruction?

Randal: All those innocent contractors hired to do a job were killed! Casualties of a war they had nothing to do with. All right, look, you’re a roofer, and some juicy government contract comes your way; you got the wife and kids and the two-story in suburbia – this is a government contract, which means all sorts of benefits. All of a sudden these left-wing militants blast you with lasers and wipe out everyone within a three-mile radius. You didn’t ask for that. You have no personal politics. You’re just trying to scrape out a living.

____________

This book is basically the point of view of the people building the second Death Star.

 

 

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
on May 5th 2009
Pages: 282
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Broadway Books
Format: Paperback
Source: Owned
Setting: France
Goodreads

“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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11 Oct, 2016

Troublemaker

/ posted in: Reading Troublemaker Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology by Leah Remini, Rebecca Paley
on November 3rd 2015
Pages: 228
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Ballantine Books
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible, Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: California
Goodreads

“Leah Remini has never been the type to hold her tongue. That willingness to speak her mind, stand her ground, and rattle the occasional cage has enabled this tough-talking girl from Brooklyn to forge an enduring and successful career in Hollywood. But being a troublemaker has come at a cost.
That was never more evident than in 2013, when Remini loudly and publicly broke with the Church of Scientology. Now, in this frank, funny, poignant memoir, the former King of Queens star opens up about that experience for the first time, revealing the in-depth details of her painful split with the church and its controversial practices.”


Leah Remini is the perfect person to write this tell all book about the inner workings of The Church of Scientology.  She was brought into the religion as a child when her mother joined.  She was taken out of school and moved to Florida in order to work at retreat center for Scientologists.  She progressed through the religion as she started her acting career.  As she became more famous, she was given more and more opportunities to promote her faith.

She knew that she was working to clear the planet.  She was part of saving the world.  If that meant that she needed to go to the center and do her courses for hours a day, she did it.  If it meant giving millions of dollars for church activities, she went along.  She faced interrogations based on reports that people wrote about her.  She was even thrown off a boat once.  It didn’t faze her.

Through it all she remained a true believer

Then she was invited to be part of the elite group of Scientologists who grouped around Tom Cruise.  That was when she started to see hypocrisy.  She saw people how weren’t behaving like the church demanded and nothing was being done about it.  She noticed that people were disappearing and no one would talk about it.  She decided that she needed to speak up to save her church — and they silenced her.  Eventually she was declared to be a Suppressive Person who no Scientologist is allowed to associate with.  This is a horrific punishment for a person whose entire life revolved around the church for thirty years and whose entire family are members.

That’s when she decided to speak out publicly.

I listened to the audio version of this book and I think that was a good choice.  She reads her own story and you can hear the emotions brought up.  There is sadness for her lost life and anger at the people who deceived her.  There is love for her family who decided to stand by her.

My only issue with the audio is that got slow in the middle.  She spends a lot of time detailing growing up in Scientology.  It was necessary information to have to understand what happened later but it didn’t keep my interest.  I actually put this audio down for several months and didn’t intend to go back to it.  I only listened again because I finished another book and didn’t have anything else with me while in the car.  I’m glad I picked it back up.  The last third of the book was very compelling.

I’d recommend this book for anyone who wants to learn more about Scientology or anyone who is in the mood for a different look at a celebrity memoir.

 

07 Oct, 2016

Mighty Be Our Powers

/ posted in: Reading Mighty Be Our Powers Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War by Leymah Gbowee, Carol Mithers
on September 13th 2011
Pages: 256
Genres: History, Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Beast Books
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Liberia
Goodreads

“In a time of death and terror, Leymah Gbowee brought Liberia’s women together–and together they led a nation to peace. As a young woman, Gbowee was broken by the Liberian civil war, a brutal conflict that tore apart her life and claimed the lives of countless relatives and friends. As a young mother trapped in a nightmare of domestic abuse, she found the courage to turn her bitterness into action, propelled by her realization that it is women who suffer most during conflicts–and that the power of women working together can create an unstoppable force. In 2003, the passionate and charismatic Gbowee helped organize and then led the Liberian Mass Action for Peace, a coalition of Christian and Muslim women who sat in public protest, confronting Liberia’s ruthless president and rebel warlords, and even held a sex strike. With an army of women, Gbowee helped lead her nation to peace.”


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War came over Liberia in waves. First Charles Taylor took power and then a group of rebels fought him. Each group terrorized the citizens. The soldiers were boys with guns who were told to take what they needed as they moved through the country. They murdered and stole and raped their way across the country.

Leymah Gbowee had just graduated from high school when the fighting started. She had a bright future ahead of her and it all collapsed. Suddenly, getting food and water and a safe place to sleep was the only priorities. She went from being an aspiring doctor to being a mother of four children trapped in an abusive relationship in a few years. She got a job working with trauma counselors during a time of relative peace. She loved the work and was able to move into working with women who were the most impacted by the fighting.

When the war started again she mobilized the women in the capital and in the refugee camps to stage sit ins to protest for peace. She claims that her story shows how God worked in Liberia through the women’s prayer. I say that it shows the exact opposite. The mass protests (and prayers) were not effective until they were paired with direct political action. They would protest for weeks and then she’d get mad because nothing was happening. At this point they would get in the faces of the men who were obstructing the peace and cause change to happen.

To give all the credit for this to God erases the power and bravery of the women who stepped up and said, “Enough!”

This isn’t a fairy tale about bringing peace.  Their world was cruel and heartbreaking.  Leymah sacrificed her family over and over.  She is open about drinking to cope with what her life had become.  This book was published in 2011 just before she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work.

A documentary about her work called Pray the Devil Back To Hell was made.  You can watch it for free on Amazon. It puts faces to the women who she writes about.

I’d recommend this for anyone who loves women’s history and the power of women to demand change in the world.

03 Oct, 2016

Born A Crime

/ posted in: Reading Born A Crime Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
on November 15th 2016
Pages: 224
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Doubleday Canada
Format: eARC
Source: From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: South Africa
Goodreads

“The compelling, inspiring, and comically sublime story of one man’s coming-of-age, set during the twilight of apartheid and the tumultuous days of freedom that followed.  Trevor Noah’s unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show began with a criminal act: his birth. Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents indiscretion, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the earliest years of his life, bound by the extreme and often absurd measures his mother took to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, steal him away. Finally liberated by the end of South Africa’s tyrannical white rule, Trevor and his mother set forth on a grand adventure, living openly and freely and embracing the opportunities won by a centuries-long struggle.”


This book is amazing.  That is all.  Go preorder it.

I was reading this on my Kindle app and was highlighting like crazy.  Trevor Noah has been an outsider all his life.  In South Africa under apartheid there were four racial categories – white, black, colored, and Indian.  Colored people were the descendants of interracial relationships in the past.  There was no category for 50/50 black/white children because it couldn’t legally happen.  He chose to identify as black because that’s what his mother was but he wasn’t accepted there either.

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Growing up both defined by and outside of such a strict racial hierarchy sharpened his insights.

“That is the curse of being black and poor, and it is a curse that follows you from generation to generation.  My mother calls it “the black tax.” Because the generations who came before you have been pillaged, rather than being free to use your skills and education to move forward, you lose everything just trying to bring everyone behind you back up to zero.”

 

“British racism said, “If the monkey can walk like a man and talk like a man, then perhaps he is a man.”  Afrikaner racism said, “Why give a book to a monkey?”

He talks about history when describing why having a friend named Hitler wasn’t considered strange.

“Every country thinks their history is the most important, and that’s especially true in the West. But if black South Africans could go back in time and kill one person, Cecil Rhodes would come up before Hitler.  If people in the Congo could go back in time and kill one person, Belgium’s King Leopold would come way before Hitler.  If Native Americans could go back in time and kill one person, it would probably be Christopher Columbus or Andrew Jackson.”

“Holocaust victims count because Hitler counted them.  Six million people killed.  We can all look at that number and rightly be horrified.  But when you read through the history of atrocities against Africans, there are no numbers, only guesses.  It’s harder to be horrified by a guess.”

This is the story of growing up illegally because his mother fought to make a place for him even before the fall of apartheid.  She was a visionary.  However, even after apartheid there wasn’t a place for him to make a legal living as easily as it was to make an illegal one in the townships.  He talks about the saying about teaching a man to fish vs giving him a fish.  He points out that it doesn’t work if you don’t also help him get a fishing pole.

This isn’t the story of how he became a comedian or how he ended up taking over for Jon Stewart as the host of The Daily Show.  That all comes later.  This is the story of the world that shaped him into the person he is today.  It is funny.  It is horrifying.  It is necessary reading.

I received this book from NetGalley.

 

26 Sep, 2016

Dancers After Dark

/ posted in: Reading Dancers After Dark Dancers After Dark by Jordan Matter
on September 28th 2016
Pages: 256
Genres: Photography, Subjects & Themes, Sports
Published by Workman Publishing
Format: eARC
Source: From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads

“Dancers After Dark” is an amazing celebration of the human body and the human spirit, as dancers, photographed nude and at night, strike poses of fearless beauty. Without a permit or a plan, Jordan Matter led hundreds of the most exciting dancers in the world out of their comfort zones not to mention their clothes to explore the most compelling reaches of beauty and the human form. After all the risk and daring, the result is extraordinary: 300 dancers, 400 locations, more than 150 stunning photographs. And no clothes, no arrests, no regrets. Each image highlights the amazing abilities of these artists and presents a core message to the reader: Say yes rather than no, and embrace the risks and opportunities that life presents. “


It started with an offhand comment from a contortionist.  She’d be available for a photoshoot after her show.  It might be raining.  Maybe they should try nudes.

Jordan Matter had been photographing dancers and circus performers for years but now that work went in a new direction.  This is a book of photos of dancers naked in public at night.  There were no permits.  No closed sets.

The photographs in the book are beautiful.  Several of them I stared at just to try to figure out how they got into those positions.  I love one of a dancer balancing on pointe on top of a wine bottle.  Other times I could only imagine how incredibly cold they must have been. Here’s a behind the scenes video of one of the shots that made me freeze just looking at it.

The cover dancer is Michaela Prince, whose autobiography I reviewed.  Most of the rest are anonymous except for Alan Cumming.  At the end of the book there are some of the stories behind the pictures.  It wasn’t enough.  I wish there had been a story for every picture.  I wanted to know if the participants were ballet dancers or modern dancers.  Did they perform on Broadway or in circuses? Luckily there is video of the process that gives more background on his website.

23 Sep, 2016

In Memory of Bread

/ posted in: Reading In Memory of Bread In Memory of Bread: A Memoir by Paul Graham
on June 7th 2016
Pages: 272
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Clarkson Potter
Format: Hardcover
Source: From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: New York
Goodreads

“When Paul Graham was suddenly diagnosed with a serious wheat allergy at the age of thirty-six, he was forced to say goodbye to traditional pasta, pizza, sandwiches, and more. Gone, too, were some of his favorite hobbies, including brewing beer with a buddy and gorging on his wife’s homemade breads. Struggling to understand why he and so many others had become allergic to wheat, barley, rye, oats, and other dietary staples, Graham researched the production of modern wheat and learned that not only has the grain been altered from ancestral varieties but it’s also commonly added to thousands of processed foods. In writing that is effortless and engaging, Paul explores why incidence of the disease is on the rise while also grappling with an identity crisis—given that all his favorite pastimes involved wheat in some form.”


This is an unflinchingly honest account of what it is like to give up one of the things that you enjoy most in life.  Paul Graham loves to eat.  He loved bread in all its forms.  He loved beer.  Suddenly he found out that those foods were behind a sudden illness that caused him to lose 25 pounds and end up hospitalized.

The honesty of the writing can certain come across as whiny, especially for those of us who have had restrictive diets by choice or necessity for long enough to have moved past the first stages of grief.  He laments what it means now to travel without being able to eat anything and everything on a menu.  Eventually he learns to move past that and see that there is life after allergies.

“But the most sensitive have also come to know something that “normal” eaters do not often have occasion to consider:  to have anyone make food for you is an implicit extension of trust.  The more serious the consequences, the greater the confidence one puts in the cook.”

Yes!  I can be a nervous wreck when we go to new restaurants.  Honestly, I only implicitly trust food that I make myself for the husband because of his allergy.  The author laments people disrupting the orderliness of buffets so he can’t be sure anything is safe for him.  I can relate totally.

He discusses the privilege that he has as a fairly well off person with the skills and time to cook from scratch in order to accommodate his new diet.  He wonders how people how have to survive on prepared food do it.  The answer seems to be – not well according to the research.  He points out the irony that the foods that were once considered only good enough for poor people are now the rare grains and ingredients that cost more than wheat.

I’d recommend this book for any food lover or person interested in knowing what it is like to live with food allergies.

foodiesreadsmall

Book received in exchange for review from BloggingforBooks.com
21 Sep, 2016

Saving Delaney

/ posted in: Reading Saving Delaney Saving Delaney by Andréa Ott-Dahl, Keston Ott-Dahl
on April 12th 2016
Pages: 320
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Cleis Press
Format: ARC
Source: From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: California
Goodreads

“Saving Delaney is the heartwarming true story of a baby who is diagnosed with Down Syndrome and the unconventional family who fought for her right to life. Andrea Ott-Dahl, who with her partner Keston Ott-Dahl has with two other children, agreed to act as a pregnancy surrogate for a wealthy Silicon Valley family. When pre-natal testing revealed the baby would be born with Down Syndrome, Andrea was urged to abort the child. Instead, the Ott-Dahls chose to keep and raise the daughter they would call Delaney, overcoming their fears while navigating legal, medical and emotional challenges.”


I’m not going to lie.  I read this book for the chocolate.

I was at BEA and the authors were signing right next to another author I was in line for.  When I finished they had a short line and the BEA worker said that they were handing out chocolate with the book.  That got my attention.  I hadn’t been interested in the book because I don’t like babies.  I’m also pro-choice and didn’t care to read a pro-life screed.  Turns out I’m really more pro-chocolate than anything.  I went up and got a copy of the book.  Delaney even signed it for me herself.

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Now I’m glad that I read this book.

The book is told from Keston’s viewpoint.  When her mother died when Keston was in her early 40s, she went through a bit of a wild time.  She broke up with her long term partner and decided to just have fun for a while.  She wasn’t planning on meeting a woman in her late 20s with two young children and falling in love.  She certainly wasn’t planning for her new girlfriend to decide that she needed to be a surrogate for another couple.

Keston had always had a phobia about people with disabilities.  This view was formed when she did some community service in a residential care facility.  Since that time she had actively avoided any contact.

Trying to get pregnant as a surrogate wasn’t easy for Andrea.  Tensions rose between the Ott-Dahls, the prospective mothers, and the sperm donors as months passed with no pregnancy.  Right when they were about to give up, Andrea got pregnant.

Routine prenatal testing showed abnormalities early.  Andrea was the biological mother.  An egg donor was not used.  Now the question was, could she be made to abort her biological child if she signed a contract stating that the prospective mothers got to decide about any health concerns to the child?  Should they keep a child with Down’s Syndrome knowing Keston’s issues with disabilities?

This book is the story of growing up and growing together.  It is standing up for your family in the face of pressures from all sides.  It is about learning to overcome your prejudices and convincing others to do the same.

Regardless of your personal opinions on abortion or surrogacy, I’d recommend reading this book.  It gives the perspective of people wrestling with the tough choices that come with assisted reproduction that aren’t usually heard.

 

12 Sep, 2016

If At Birth You Don’t Succeed

/ posted in: Reading If At Birth You Don’t Succeed If at Birth You Don't Succeed: My Adventures with Disaster and Destiny by Zach Anner
on March 8th 2016
Pages: 338
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Henry Holt and Co.
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Texas, New York, California, Berlin
Goodreads

“Comedian Zach Anner opens his frank and devilishly funny book,  If at Birth You Don’t Succeed, with an admission: he botched his own birth. Two months early, underweight and under-prepared for life, he entered the world with cerebral palsy and an uncertain future. So how did this hairless mole-rat of a boy blossom into a viral internet sensation who’s hosted two travel shows, impressed Oprah, driven the Mars Rover, and inspired a John Mayer song? (It wasn’t “Your Body is a Wonderland.”)”


I have a confession.  I hate YouTube.  If I am forced to watch a video because of a deep interest in the subject, it better be captioned so I don’t have to turn the sound on my iPad on.  It is no wonder that I’d never heard of Zach Anner before reading this book.  It is also a testament to my love for his story that I’ve watched several of his YouTube videos and shared them with others.

Zach has cerebral palsy which causes him to have limited fine motor skills and poor balance.  He describes his legs as mostly decoration.  He has a lazy eye and his eyes don’t track which makes it difficult for him to read.  He also has a razor-sharp mind, a wild sense of humor, and the compulsive need to express himself through pop culture references.  This leads to a laugh out loud funny memoir about the unexpected turns his life has taken.

The book is not organized chronologically.  I appreciated that.  How many memoirs have you read where you know something interesting happens in the author’s twenties but first you have to suffer through the minutia of their childhood for many, many chapters?  Here we start on a high note.  He entered an online competition to win a spot on a reality show on OWN, Oprah’s network.  The prize? His own TV show on the network.

His video went viral when it was discovered on Reddit and adopted as the favorite by 4chan purely because of the spelling of his name.  He went on to win his own travel show on OWN.  From there you can only go downhill through cancellation and strangers asking, “Didn’t you used to be….?” in stores.  He describes how he moved to YouTube to make the realistic traveling with disabilities show that he wanted to make.

Along the way we learn about his attempts to find love, his love for music, his time working at Epcot policing other people’s disabilities, and his failures in adaptive P.E. class in 4th grade.  Each story is hysterical but ends with a life lesson that manages to be uplifting without being sappy.

This is best experienced by listening to the audiobook.  Zach narrates it himself.  I can’t imagine this book without his upbeat and charming narration or without listening to himself crack himself up retelling the adventures that he’s had.
One of the first videos Zach talks about making is this one where his friends torture him at a trampoline park. I had to look it up.


It is even funnier when you hear the background story of what went into making it.

I will be recommending this book to EVERYONE! Do yourself a favor and get the audiobook and step into Zach’s world.

02 Sep, 2016

Neither Snow Nor Rain

/ posted in: Readingtravel Neither Snow Nor Rain Neither Snow nor Rain: A History of the United States Postal Service by Devin Leonard
on May 3rd 2016
Pages: 288
Genres: Nonfiction
Published by Grove Press
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: United States
Goodreads

“The United States Postal Service is a wondrous American creation. Seven days a week, its army of 300,000 letter carriers delivers 513 million pieces of mail, forty percent of the world’s volume. It is far more efficient than any other mail service—more than twice as efficient as the Japanese and easily outpacing the Germans and British. And the USPS has a storied history. Founded by Benjamin Franklin, it was the information network that bound far-flung Americans together, fostered a common culture, and helped American business to prosper. A first class stamp remains one of the greatest bargains of all time, and yet, the USPS is slowly vanishing. Critics say it is slow and archaic. Mail volume is down. The workforce is shrinking. Post offices are closing.”


I’ve always been fascinated by the workings of the post office.

I’ve never understood how they can sort all that mail and get it to where it is going.  If you told me that this was involved, I’d believe you.

That why I was so excited to listen to this book about the workings of the post office. I also had just visited the Smithsonian’s Post Office museum in Washington D.C. when I started the book. In all my visits to D.C. I had never known about this museum. It is right next to the train station.

P1040007

Did you know?

  • Many of the major roads of the United States were laid out by mail carriers
  • Mail used to be delivered up to four times a day in U.S. cities
  • There have been a few times when mail volume got so high that the system collapsed
  • It was illegal for anyone other than the U.S. mail to deliver letters
  • The United States Postal Service is now an independent company that reports to the government instead of a government department

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The Post Office is required to deliver everywhere. At times that has required mule trains to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, sled dog teams, and even reindeer.  Mandatory rural delivery allowed farmers to get daily newspapers.  This kept them informed of the best time to sell crops for the highest profit.  It kept everyone in the country informed about events.  The United States mail has helped to hold the country together.

P1040010

I particularly liked learning about the mail trains. Specialist clerks rode these mobile sorting cars, picking up letters at high speed and getting them sorted before the next town. There was one of these mail cars in the museum and a video of former clerks showing their system of sorting. It was amazing. I also learned about Owney, the famous mail dog.

P1040012

Technological advances have helped the mail be delivered faster and faster. Optical scanners were developed to read printed labels of bulk mailers and now can even read handwriting. After a few passes through the scanners, mail can be sorted into the order in which each carrier will deliver it. I think that’s just magical.

One thing that wasn’t covered at the museum but was well covered in the book was the Comstock Era.  This is a time of strict censorship of the mail.  Items that were judged to be obscene were not allowed.  This included information on contraception.  There was a lot of entrapment by postal inspectors who would order an item and then arrest the person who sent it.

Also not covered in the museum but talked about in the book was the wave of violence at post offices in the 1980s and 90s leading to the phrase “Going Postal.”

We all know the Post Office is having problems. First class mail is down as most people send emails instead of letters. The Post Office is not allowed to get involved in electronic forms in the U.S. by law, unlike in other countries. Amazon’s new partnership with them to deliver mail on Sundays is helping as is a renegotiation of the labor contracts of Post Office employees.

Those of us who love getting mail hope that they will find a way to survive and thrive.

I’d recommend this book for anyone who love learning about how everyday things work. The audio narration was very well done. The story moved quickly enough to keep my listening interest.

 

17 Aug, 2016

Truffle Boy

/ posted in: Reading Truffle Boy Truffle Boy: My Unexpected Journey Through the Exotic Food Underground by Ian Purkayastha, Kevin West
on February 7th 2017
Pages: 304
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Hachette Books
Format: ARC
Source: From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: New York
Goodreads

“Ian Purkayastha is New York City’s leading truffle importer and boasts a devoted clientele of top chefs nationwide, including Jean-Georges Vongerichten, David Chang, Sean Brock, and David Bouley. But before he was purveying the world’s most expensive fungus to the country’s most esteemed chefs, Ian was just a food-obsessed teenager in rural Arkansas–a misfit with a peculiar fascination for rare and exotic ingredients.
 The son of an Indian immigrant father and a Texan mother, Ian learned to forage for wild mushrooms from an uncle in the Ozark hills. Thus began a single-track fixation that led him to learn about the prized but elusive truffle, the king of all fungi. His first taste of truffle at age 15 sparked his improbable yet remarkable adventure through the strange–and often corrupt–business of the exotic food trade.”


 This book starts with the admission that it is weird for a 23 year old to be writing a memoir.  It’s good to get that out there early because it is a bit presumptious but you’d be forgiven for forgetting that he’s only 23 while reading this.

While still in high school, Ian Purkayastha started an exotic foods club to make meals with strange ingredients for people in his Arkansas school and raise money for charity.  He used his vacation time to travel to trade shows and meet up with people in the exotic food community.  He set up his own business importing truffles from Italy for chefs in his area. This led to a job after high school graduation importing truffles in New York.  This is where he started to see the problems in the industry.  As he spends the next few years starting his own business, he travels around the world sourcing ingredients and meeting the people who hunt for mushrooms in the United States, Europe, and Asia.

Did you know:

  • A lot of “Italian” truffles come from eastern Europe
  • Truffle oil usually doesn’t have truffles in it
  • U.S. chefs prize the appearance of truffles so much that the vast majority of harvested truffles aren’t sent to the U.S. market because they aren’t the “correct” shape
  • There are attempts being made to raise truffles in specially planted orchards but it will take decades to see if it works

This book tries to dispel some of the snobbery around high end foods.  It shows the work involved in finding and harvesting.  It also points out how markets are kept artificially tight and how some countries become known as the best source of ingredients for reasons that may not be true.

This ARC of Truffle Boy is one of the prizes up for grabs this month for people who link up with Foodies Read.  If you like reading books featuring food, link up your reviews with us!

4flower

12 Aug, 2016

Outcasts United

/ posted in: Reading Outcasts United Outcasts United: A Refugee Team, an American Town by Warren St. John
on April 21st 2009
Pages: 320
Genres: Nonfiction
Published by Spiegel & Grau
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Georgia
Goodreads

“Clarkston, Georgia, was a typical Southern town until it was designated a refugee settlement center in the 1990s, becoming the first American home for scores of families in flight from the world’s war zones—from Liberia and Sudan to Iraq and Afghanistan. Suddenly Clarkston’s streets were filled with women wearing the hijab, the smells of cumin and curry, and kids of all colors playing soccer in any open space they could find. The town also became home to Luma Mufleh, an American-educated Jordanian woman who founded a youth soccer team to unify Clarkston’s refugee children and keep them off the streets. These kids named themselves the Fugees.
Set against the backdrop of an American town that without its consent had become a vast social experiment, Outcasts United follows a pivotal season in the life of the Fugees and their charismatic coach.”


Luma Mufleh came from a wealthy Jordanian family.  She was disowned when she decided to stay in the United States after college.  Several years later, she was coaching a girls’ under 12 soccer team and running a failing business in Decatur GA when a chance trip took her to nearby Clarkston.  She didn’t understand why she saw so many non-white residents.  After investigating, she decided to coach youth soccer teams for refugee boys.

This is the story of the Fugees’ 2006 season.  Luma is very demanding of her players.  They have to adhere to a code of conduct and soccer practice starts with mandatory tutoring sessions.  There are three teams – under 13s, under 15s, and under 17s.  Each has their own unique sets of challenges.

The overarching problem is finding a place to practice.  They are stuck on a dirt and gravel field frequented by drug users.  There is a fenced field in a local park but the mayor has declared that NO soccer will be played there because the field is for use only by Clarkston’s Little League baseball teams.  It doesn’t matter that there are no Little League baseball teams in Clarkston.

The players come from all over the world.  Liberia, Congo, Sudan, Iraq, Kosovo, and many other countries are represented.  Most of the children have seen horrors.  Now they are in a town that isn’t friendly to them and they just want to play soccer.

The book tells the story of the town also.  How did it become a popular place for refugees?  How is the town adapting or failing to adapt to a changing population?


The book was published in 2009 and contains an afterword that discusses what happened after the 2006 season.  One of the things mentioned was that when the author, who was a newspaper reporter, published some articles the Fugees started to get donations.  He mentioned that Luma’s goal was to buy some land so they could have a dedicated place to practice that was safe.  She also said that she dreamed of having good facilities for tutoring times.

I went online to see what had happened since then.  Look at this!

Fugees Family

They don’t just have practice fields.  They started a school!  The middle school serves to teach English as a second language and to get kids whose formal schooling has been interrupted up to speed to go to American schools.  They also have a high school. It is now coed.  They accept donations so the kids don’t have to pay for this private education.

It was great to see that the program prospered after all the abuse they endured.


I’d recommend this book to everyone.  The stories of the families fleeing from war zones around the world are heartbreaking.  They put a personal touch on events that we hear about on the news and then forget about.  Would you be able to survive what they did just to come to a new country where everyone seems to hate you?

4flower

03 Aug, 2016

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

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

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


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

Animal Welfare on Chicken Farms

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

4flower

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08 Jul, 2016

Black Man in a White Coat

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

A photo posted by @dvmheather on

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

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

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

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


3flower

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06 Jul, 2016

Ebony Exodus – Time to Give Up on the Black Church?

/ posted in: Reading Ebony Exodus – Time to Give Up on the Black Church? The Ebony Exodus Project: Why Some Black Women Are Walking Out on Religion--and Others Should Too by Candace R.M. Gorham
on September 1st 2013
Pages: 224
Genres: Nonfiction
Published by Pitchstone Publishing
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)

Goodreads

Black women are the single most religious demographic in the United States, yet they are among the poorest, least educated, and least healthy groups in the nation. Drawing on the author’s own past experience as an evangelical minister and her present work as a secular counselor and researcher, <em>The Ebony Exodus Project</em> makes a direct connection between the church and the plight of black women. 

The 2008 American Religious Identification Survey reported that 86% of black people identified as Christian. Black women make up the majority of most congregations in black churches.

The Ebony Exodus project is a collection of interviews with women who have left the church.  In between the personal interviews, there are discussions of the effect of the black church culture on mental health and physical health.

Several of the women identified the church’s attitude towards homosexuality as a factor in leaving.  Some of them were bisexual or lesbians themselves and others had family or friends who they didn’t want to see denigrated by the church.

The difficulties of leaving an institution that for many people defines the black experience in America is discussed.  Who are you as a woman in the African-American community if you aren’t in church?

Anti-intellectualism rears it head again.  Many women talked about studying their way out of the church (like I did.)  They hate the fact that so many people don’t know anything about the religion that they purport to believe in.

What is the affect of the prosperity gospel teaching on the black community?  What happens when you give the money you had to pay your bills to the church because you are supposed to believe that god will provide for you if you are supporting the church?  Is this helping to keep black women in poverty?

One thing that seemed very different in the black churches described here and the white churches I knew was the idea that you can only speak positive things.  If you say that things are going poorly for you then you are “claiming” that reality.  It is sort of like, “Fake it ’til you make it.”  Women in this book said that it leads to suppression of what is really going on in their lives. No one shares the real problems.  No one admits to be stressed or depressed and may not get the help they need since they are too busy “claiming” their wonderful realities that they want to have. There is also a tendency to blame bad things on a person having demons attached to them.  Nothing is the fault of circumstances that the person can improve on their own.

I’ve never understood why Christianity is so rampant in the African-American community.  It doesn’t seem logical to me.  It is a religion forced on their ancestors by their oppressors as a way of controlling them.  It would seem like people would be in a rush to get rid of it.

 

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16 Jun, 2016

The Hamiltome for Hamilton Newbies

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

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

Goodreads

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

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

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

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

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

via GIPHY

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

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

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

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

My Underground American Dream

/ posted in: Reading My Underground American Dream My (Underground) American Dream: My True Story as an Undocumented Immigrant Who Became a Wall Street Executive by Julissa Arce
on September 13th 2016
Pages: 304
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Center Street
Format: ARC
Source: From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Set in Mexico and Texas

For an undocumented immigrant, what is the true cost of the American Dream? Julissa Arce shares her story in a riveting memoir.
When she was 11 years old Julissa Arce left Mexico and came to the United States on a tourist visa to be reunited with her parents, who dreamed the journey would secure her a better life. When her visa expired at the age of 15, she became an undocumented immigrant. Thus began her underground existence, a decades long game of cat and mouse, tremendous family sacrifice, and fear of exposure. After the Texas Dream Act made a college degree possible, Julissa's top grades and leadership positions landed her an internship at Goldman Sachs, which led to a full time position--one of the most coveted jobs on Wall Street. Soon she was a Vice President, a rare Hispanic woman in a sea of suits and ties, yet still guarding her "underground" secret. In telling her personal story of separation, grief, and ultimate redemption, Arce shifts the immigrant conversation, and changes the perception of what it means to be an undocumented immigrant.

Goodreads

Julissa Arce’s parents were working legally in the United States while she and her older sisters lived with her extended family in Mexico.  Her younger brother was born in the United States.  When Julissa started acting out in school at age 11, her parents brought her to live with them.  She had no idea that it was illegal for her to go to school.  She didn’t know that she had outstayed her visa until her mother explained that she couldn’t go back to Mexico for her quinceanera because she wouldn’t be able to come back into the United States.

She was a star student but was not accepted to any colleges because she didn’t have a social security number.  At this point Texas passed a law that allowed undocumented students to go to college at Texas state schools.  This allowed her to be able to go to school.

I was conflicted when reading this book.  I think people should follow the rules of the country they live in.  I also think that it should be much, much easier for people to come to the United States from Latin America so people aren’t required to sneak into the country.  Julissa also buys fake documents as an adult to be able to get a job.  I can see that she was brought into the country by her parents and she had no intent to do anything wrong at that point, but now she was actively breaking the law because she felt she was entitled to stay here and get a very high paying job.  She talked a little bit about whether or not she should go back to Mexico because she would be able to get a very good job so it wasn’t like she didn’t have options.  She also marries specifically get to a green card.  The more unethical things she does, the less sympathy I retained for her.

This book made me understand the issues around children of undocumented immigrants.  They are stuck as they become adults.  I think there should be a way for these children to be able to be legally documented.

freetogoodhome

First come first served and if you want to throw in a few dollars for shipping that would be great but not required.

10 Jun, 2016

Believing in Magic

/ posted in: Reading Believing in Magic Believing in Magic: My Story of Love, Overcoming Adversity, and Keeping the Faith by Cookie Johnson, Denene Millner
on September 20th 2016
Pages: 272
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Howard Books
Format: ARC
Source: From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Set in Michigan and California

In her new memoir, Cookie Johnson, wife of NBA legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson, shares details of her marriage, motherhood, faith, and how an HIV diagnosis twenty-five years ago changed the course of their lives forever.
On November 7, 1991, basketball icon Earvin “Magic” Johnson stunned the world with the news that he was HIV-positive. For the millions who watched, his announcement became a pivotal moment not only for the nation, but his family and wife. Twenty-five years later, Cookie Johnson shares her story and the emotional journey that started on that day—from life as a pregnant and joyous newlywed to one filled with the fear that her husband would die, she and her baby would be infected with the virus, and their family would be shunned. Believing in Magic is the story of her marriage to Earvin nearly four decades of loving each other, losing their way, and eventually finding a path they never imagined.
November 7, 2016 will mark a quarter-century since the announcement and Cookie’s survival and triumph as a wife, mother, and God-fearing woman.
Cookie has never shared her full account of the reasons that she stayed and her life with Earvin “Magic” Johnson. Believing in Magic is her story.

Goodreads

We all have had that friend.  You know the one.  She’s the one with the loser boyfriend who she insists is just the sweetest and kindest person ever to exist but he just doesn’t show that side of himself in public.  If you just knew him like she does, you’d understand.

 

This is what the first half of this book felt like to me. I felt like I needed to stage an intervention even though it all happened years ago.

While they were dating, Magic:

  • Publicly shunned her and then asked her if she learned her lesson when she didn’t follow his orders
  • Got upset when his friends teased him for calling her on an out of town trip so he broke up with her because she was “too controlling.”
  • Dated other women when they were supposed to be exclusively dating and then had the nerve to get mad at her for calling him out on it
  • Saw her with her new boyfriend during a 2 year breakup and then going out of his way to publicly humiliate the new boyfriend.
  • Repeatedly broke up with her for long periods and returned only when he found out she was dating someone else
  • Let her know that he had impregnated another woman during one of their breakups by bringing the now 3 year old offspring to a family party and introducing them to each other in front of his whole family
  • Proposed and then called off the wedding – TWICE

 

And just like your friend who keeps getting back with her jerk of a boyfriend, she keeps making excuses for him.

Now, I give her credit for not moving to LA with him and living the lifestyle of a basketball girlfriend. He wasn’t going to make a commitment so she stayed in Toledo and worked on her career. Good for her!

Eventually she did move because she felt that she had to prove to him that she could fit into his world.  She kept a job in her field though to maintain her independence.  Soon she had to choose between her career and the NBA finals.  She quit her job to stand by her man and what did he do?  Dumped her again.

This book is advertised as the story of a long and successful marriage in the public eye.  It doesn’t read that way at all.  To me it reads like a woman trying too hard to convince you that everything is ok.

I found the second half of the book more interesting mostly because Magic almost entirely disappears from the story once they got married.  She tells the story of raising her son, who she was pregnant with at the time of Magic’s HIV diagnosis.  She talks of coming to terms with the fact that their son was absolutely not athletic and over time realizing that he was gay.  She talks about the adoption of their daughter and the affect that adoption had on the life of her child.  She touches on the work they do in HIV education.  She does not discuss what it is like to have an HIV positive partner.

This is also advertised as a story of faith.  She talks about getting through the hard times when Magic would run off again by reading the Bible and discovering what God wanted her to do.  Amazingly, God always wanted her to do exactly what she wanted to do.  He would always lead her back to her emotionally abusive boyfriend.  Wow, thanks for looking out for me God!

 

freetogoodhome

First come first served

 

03 Jun, 2016

How To Get Run Over By A Truck

/ posted in: Reading How To Get Run Over By A Truck How to Get Run Over by a Truck by Katie C McKenna
on October 4th 2016
Pages: 294
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Inkshares
Format: ARC
Source: From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Set in New York

People often say, I feel like I've been run over by a truck. Katie actually was. On a sunny morning bike ride in Brooklyn, twenty-four-year-old Katie McKenna was forever changed when she was run over by an eighteen-wheeler. Being crushed under a massive semi wasn't something Katie should have survived. After ten hours of emergency surgery, she woke to find herself in a body and a life that would never be the same. In this brutally honest and surprisingly funny memoir, Katie recalls the pivotal event and the long, confusing road to recovery that followed. Between the unprepared nudity in front of her parents post-surgery, hospital happy hours, and the persistent fear that she would never walk again, Katie details the struggles she's faced navigating her new reality. This inspiring memoir follows Katie's remarkable journey to let go of her old life and fall in love with her new one.

Goodreads

This was the first book I read that I received at BEA.  It was handed to me when I was on my way off the floor one day so it didn’t get packed up with the rest of the books I was shipping home.  (I started it that night in a Jamaican restaurant that served me the most amazing avocado and plantain sandwich.)

 

Katie was riding in Brooklyn in the early morning. She pulled up next to a semi that did not signal that he was turning. When the light turned, the truck pulled into her lane, knocking her over and running over her abdomen with 8 wheels before stopping.

What I find amazing about this is that she never lost consciousness. It probably would have been better. She was able to tell witnesses her name and had them call her parents before the ambulance got there. Because she was talking, her parents didn’t realize the severity of her injuries until they got to the hospital.

In an instant she went from a healthy woman with no major issues in her life to a person completely dependent on other people for her every need. She was taken to a hospital well equipped to deal with major trauma. However, this hospital’s main purpose was treating prisoners so when she is recovered enough to get out of ICU, her quality of care falls dramatically. This is where this book is difficult to deal with at times. As a young white woman who is not in custody, with parents who are able to advocate for her, she is able to get out of this situation. She also causes problems for several doctors who give her straight answers to her questions without coddling her. She seems to only want to hear happy answers about her prognosis and anyone who doesn’t go along with this suddenly is getting the brunt of her family calling their supervisors and demanding that they never get to speak with her again. Several times while reading this I paused to be grateful once again that I don’t work in human medicine.

I would recommend this book for anyone who ever wondered what to say to someone dealing with a life changing diagnosis or injury.

freetogoodhome

ARCs are meant to roam so if anyone would like to read this, leave a comment and I’ll send it to you. If you would like to send a few dollars to help cover shipping that would be appreciated.

02 Jun, 2016

Just Mercy

/ posted in: Reading Just Mercy Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
on October 21st 2014
Pages: 336
Genres: Civil Rights, Nonfiction, Political Science
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible, Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Set in Alabama

A powerful true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to fix our broken system of justice—from one of the most brilliant and influential lawyers of our time.  Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.  Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.

Goodreads

Just Mercy had been on my radar for a while but I didn’t decide to pick it up until it was the first pick for the social justice book club hosted by Entomology of a Bookworm.  I listened to the audiobook.  It was narrated by the author and he did a good job of telling his story.

The story begins with the author setting up a branch of the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama.  The goal is to help people on death row have legal representation.

The case of Walter McMillan is used to explain to the readers how our justice system can go horribly wrong.

Walter McMillan was convicted of a murder even though he was far away from the murder scene with a large group of people, the person who accused him couldn’t identify him in a room, and the truck he was supposedly driving had its transmission rebuilt that day at the time of the murder.

Other cases are discussed throughout the book.  Another focus of the author’s is the plight of children who were tried as adults and received life sentences without the possibility of parole.  One of the people featured had been kept in solitary confinement for decades.  He was caught in a loop of self harming because he was isolated and every time he self harmed he had more time added in solitary.

Sometimes helping someone is making sure seemingly logical things are done like housing young children away from the adult prison population so they aren’t raped.

The author also does a good job of explaining how entire communities are involved in cases of wrongful convictions.  He talks a lot with the family and friends of the accused but I would have also been interested to see how finding out that the person in jail for a family member’s murder was innocent affected the victim’s family.  There was just one brief interaction about this.


Aside from any discussion of the ethics of capital punishment there is one thing that I just don’t understand.  How is it possible to mess up lethal injection as horribly as seems to be happening?  I guess I have an unusual perspective on this because euthanasia is an important part of my job.  It is easy to do without causing pain and suffering.  Why can’t people figure it out?  I guess a large part of the problem is that doctors aren’t allowed to be involved.  Changing that would probably solve the issue instead of letting untrained personnel do it.  But still, books and articles are published in the veterinary literature all the time.  Do some study.  Get it right if you are going to do it.  /rant

 

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