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19 Apr, 2017

Revolution for Dummies

/ posted in: Reading Revolution for Dummies Revolution for Dummies: Laughing through the Arab Spring by Bassem Youssef
Published by Dey Street Books on March 21st 2017
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Pages: 304
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible
Goodreads
Setting: Egypt
Length: 7:12

"The Jon Stewart of the Arabic World"—the creator of The Program, the most popular television show in Egypt’s history—chronicles his transformation from heart surgeon to political satirist, and offers crucial insight into the Arab Spring, the Egyptian Revolution, and the turmoil roiling the modern Middle East, all of which inspired the documentary about his life, Tickling Giants.
Bassem Youssef’s incendiary satirical news program, Al-Bernameg (The Program), chronicled the events of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, the fall of President Hosni Mubarak, and the rise of Mubarak’s successor, Mohamed Morsi. Youssef not only captured his nation’s dissent but stamped it with his own brand of humorous political criticism, in which the Egyptian government became the prime laughing stock.


Bassem Youssef was an Egyptian cardiac surgeon trying to find a way to move out of Egypt in 2011.  He was not politically active until the Arab Spring protests.  A friend wanted to have a YouTube series discussing politics and he convinced Bassem to star in it mostly because he wouldn’t have to pay him.  Suddenly, the series that they filmed in Bassem’s bathroom was an internet hit.   Over the next few years they moved to TV and then to larger networks.  The show was a hit.  However, making fun of politicians in Egypt isn’t the safest life choice.

In a few years he rose from obscurity to being the most famous entertainer in Egypt to being forced to flee the country.

I loved this audiobook.  I had never heard of Bassem Youssef before although he had been on The Daily Show and other U.S. TV shows. He says that he isn’t able to explain Egyptian or Islamic politics well but then explains them in an easy to understand manner.  Now I understand who most of the players are and a little bit about what their goals are.  His goal was to make fun of them all.

This is a scary book to read because you see so many parallels between Egypt and the path that the United States is on now.  In fact, he came to the U.S. just in time to document the rise of Trump.  Like Trevor Noah, he points out that Trump follows the same line of thinking as the African dictators.  He talks about how people can convince themselves that everything is fine when everything is falling apart around them.

He shows how media can be manipulated to show whatever ‘truth’ the government wants you to believe.

Speaking satirical truth to power cost him his relationship with his family and his ability to go back to his country.  His wife stayed with him but he isn’t really sure why.  After all, she married a surgeon who a few months later decided that he was going to be a comedian in the country where it is illegal to make fun of the president and it went downhill from there.

There is a new documentary on the festival circuit called Tickling Giants about his life.  I want to see it to be able to see many of the sketches that he describes in the audio book.

He is a huge fan of Jon Stewart.  They ended up meeting and collaborating.  (Or as it was charged in Egypt, he was recruited by Jon Stewart to work for the CIA.)  Here’s Jon Stewart’s take on things the first time Bassem got in trouble.

If you want to understand more about the Arab Spring and the aftermath, this is a great book. If you want to know what resistance can look like, listen to this book.  He narrates it himself and does a great job telling his story.

About Bassem Youssef

Bassem Raafat Muhammad Youssef is an Egyptian comedian, writer, producer, physician, media critic, and television host. He hosted Al-Bernameg, a satirical news program, from 2011 to 2014.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Books Set in the Middle East
  • POC authors
24 Jan, 2017

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

/ posted in: Reading Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers on February 21st 2012
Genres: Young Adult
Pages: 359
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible, Owned
Goodreads
Setting: Texas

Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

Aristotle and Dante is a book that I have been hearing about for a long time but just finally listened to. This is a coming of age story of two Mexican-American boys set in El Paso Texas in the 1980s.

Ari is a loner with many questions about his family. He has a much older brother who went to jail when Ari was four. He doesn’t know why and his family refuses to talk about it. Ari’s father is a Vietnam veteran struggling with PTSD who is having difficulty communicating with his family.

Dante is the extroverted only child of expressive and loving parents. He loves poetry. He offers to teach Ari to swim when they meet at a public pool. Over the summer they become friends and then very gradually start to realize that they may be falling in love.

This is the story of Ari and Dante’s lives through one summer, the school year, and the next summer. There are everyday milestones like getting a driver’s license and having your first job in addition to larger issues.

  • How do you stand up to your parents so they start to see you as an adult?
  • How do you deal with unrequited love?
  • How do you most effectively face homophobia, including violence?
  • How do you learn to let yourself learn to feel and act on your emotions?
  • How do you deal with being too American for your Mexican relatives and too Mexican for other Americans?

Lin-Manuel Miranda reads the audiobook and does a very good job.  (There is a nice moment when Ari complains about learning about Alexander Hamilton that gets a bit meta when you hear Lin-Manuel Miranda read it.) This book is a bit slow on audio for my tastes.  In fact I set it aside for a few months after about the first hour.  I’m glad I came back to it because the story picked up but this is one that might be better in print form if you like a lot of action in your audiobooks.

In whatever format you decide this is a great book for everyone to read.

About Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Benjamin Alire Sáenz (born 16 August 1954) is an award-winning American poet, novelist and writer of children’s books.

He was born at Old Picacho, New Mexico, the fourth of seven children, and was raised on a small farm near Mesilla, New Mexico. He graduated from Las Cruces High School in 1972. That fall, he entered St. Thomas Seminary in Denver, Colorado where he received a B.A. degree in Humanities and Philosophy in 1977. He studied Theology at the University of Louvain in Leuven, Belgium from 1977 to 1981. He was a priest for a few years in El Paso, Texas before leaving the order.

In 1985, he returned to school, and studied English and Creative Writing at the University of Texas at El Paso where he earned an M.A. degree in Creative Writing. He then spent a year at the University of Iowa as a PhD student in American Literature.

He continues to teach in the Creative Writing Department at the University of Texas at El Paso.

from his website

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Backlist Books
  • LBGTQ authors/characters
  • POC authors
19 Jan, 2017

Labyrinth Lost

/ posted in: Reading Labyrinth Lost Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova
Series: Brooklyn Brujas #1
Published by Sourcebooks Fire on September 6th 2016
Genres: Fantasy & Magic
Pages: 336
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible, Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: New York

“Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives.
Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange markings on his skin.
The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland…”


I heard about this book through the #DSFFBookClub (Diverse Sci Fi/Fantasy) on Twitter a few months ago.  From the description somehow I got the impression that this took place in Mexico and perhaps was set in the past.  That isn’t true at all.

Alex is part of a family of witches in Brooklyn in the present day.  Their numbers are dwindling.  Alex has been hiding the fact that her powers have appeared because they are very strong and they scare her.  She also thinks that magic has been responsible for a lot of the problems in her family.  She doesn’t want anything to do with it.

She accidentally reveals her powers at school while defending her friend Rishi from a bully.  Now her family is planning her Death Day, a traditional celebration of a young bruja’s power.  Alex doesn’t want anything to do with it.  She decides to try to relinquish her powers during the ceremony but her attempt to use a canto goes wrong.  Her family (living and dead) is banished to another realm and now Alex has to try to get them back.

I liked the depiction of a family for whom magic is a normal and expected part of everyday life.  The next book in the series is going to focus on her sister Lula who is a healer.

This book uses a lot of YA Fantasy tropes but twists them in small ways so they weren’t totally annoying.

There was a love triangle in this book which I absolutely hate but instead of a perfect girl trying to decide between two guys who love her here she is deciding between a girl and a guy.  (I’m still waiting for my dream book where the two objects of affection decide they don’t need the perfect one and go off together.)

Alex is, of course, the Chosen One who can fix everything.  She’s the most powerful witch in generations.  Only she can defeat the bad guy.  At the end though she had to accept help from others.  She does also acknowledge that part of her wants to take all the power and be a despot too.

There is a point where a person who has hurt Alex tries to explain that it was all ok because this person loves Alex so much.  She ultimately rejects that but it teetered on the brink.  It was a little too close to “stalking is ok because this person loves you SO MUCH” for my liking.

Overall, I enjoyed this book and am interested to read the rest of the series when it comes out.

 

 

About Zoraida Córdova

“Zoraida Córdova was born in Ecuador and raised in Queens, New York. She is the author of The Vicious Deep trilogy, the On the Verge series, and Labyrinth Lost. She loves black coffee, snark, and still believes in magic. Send her a tweet @Zlikeinzorro” – from her website

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • LBGTQ authors/characters
  • POC authors
28 Oct, 2016

Juliet Takes a Breath

/ posted in: Reading Juliet Takes a Breath Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera
on January 1st 1970
Genres: Fiction
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible, Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: Oregon

“Juliet Milagros Palante is leaving the Bronx and headed to Portland, Oregon. She just came out to her family and isn’t sure if her mom will ever speak to her again. But Juliet has a plan, sort of, one that’s going to help her figure out this whole “Puerto Rican lesbian” thing. She’s interning with the author of her favorite book: Harlowe Brisbane, the ultimate authority on feminism, women’s bodies, and other gay-sounding stuff.
Will Juliet be able to figure out her life over the course of one magical summer? Is that even possible? Or is she running away from all the problems that seem too big to handle?
With more questions than answers, Juliet takes on Portland, Harlowe, and most importantly, herself. “


Everyone needs to read Juliet Takes a Breath

Ok, that was easy.  Review over.

Seriously though, this book has something to say to everyone.

Juliet is nineteen and has her first girlfriend.  Her family doesn’t know and that bothers her.  They are very close and keeping something this important from them feels wrong to her.  She tells them right before she leaves for the summer to do an internship in Portland with her favorite author.  The reception is not what she hoped for.

Portland isn’t what she expected either.  It is so overwhelmingly white but the white people are weirder than any white people she’s met before.  If she’s come to her favorite lesbian author’s house, why is there a naked man in the kitchen?  Why doesn’t she understand what anyone is talking about?

There is no right way to be

Juliet had idolized Harlowe as a lesbian author who seemed to have the answers to everything.  But as Juliet gets more involved in Harlowe’s world she sees that some of the ideas that Harlowe has might not be right for her.  Part of her growing up and owning her own story is finding out how she needs to branch out and be different.  Learning what to keep and what to reject is hard.  She needs to see a variety of ways of being a lesbian so she realizes that there are options out there.

Likewise, Harlowe can’t mold Juliet to fit into her preferred narrative.  This causes conflict in the book as they try to find neutral ground to speak to each other.

Not everyone speaks your language

Juliet doesn’t have the background in the language of the LGBT movement to be able to understand everything that people in Portland are talking about.  Preferred pronouns?  Polyamory?  As readers follow Juliet’s stories they are exposed to concepts that they may also have not known about.  It is also a reminder not to denigrate people who may not know the “correct” terminology but to educate.

This is a book for anyone who has ever felt out of place but who wants to belong.  Juliet is charming and you root for her the whole way through the book.

I listened to the audio version of this book.  The narration was amazing.  Her accents were well done and the Spanish in the book flowed naturally in the story.

Do yourself a favor.  Pick up this book and fall in love with Juliet.

 

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
Published by Touchstone/Simon & Schuster on March 5th 2013
Genres: 20th Century, History, Nonfiction
Pages: 373
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible, Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: Tennessee

“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.

 

 

11 Oct, 2016

Troublemaker

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

“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.

 

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
Published by Henry Holt and Co. on March 8th 2016
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Pages: 338
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: Texas, New York, California, Berlin

“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
Published by Grove Press on May 3rd 2016
Genres: Nonfiction
Pages: 288
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: United States

“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

P1040009

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.

 

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
Genres: Civil Rights, Nonfiction, Political Science
Pages: 336
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible, Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Set in Alabama five-stars

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.


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

 

five-stars
11 Apr, 2016

Fire Touched

/ posted in: Reading Fire Touched Fire Touched by Patricia Briggs
Series: Mercy Thompson #9
on March 8th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy, Urban
Pages: 352
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible, Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Set in Washington three-stars

Tensions between the fae and humans are coming to a head and when coyote shapeshifter Mercy and her Alpha werewolf mate, Adam, are called upon to stop a rampaging troll, they find themselves with something that could be used to make the fae back down and forestall out-and-out war: a human child stolen long ago by the fae.   Defying the most powerful werewolf in the country, the humans, and the fae, Mercy, Adam, and their pack choose to protect the boy no matter what the cost. But who will protect them from a boy who is fire touched?


 

Can I just say how much I hate the covers of these books?  Look at that picture.  Mercy in the books has a Native American father.  I appreciate the fact that they aren’t whitewashing the cover but come on.  Long feather earrings and two braids?  On a mechanic?  And what is with the clothes?  She never, ever is described as dressing in shirts tied into improvised halter tops.  She doesn’t show skin at all.  She also is described as having one small coyote print tattoo but look at her arms.  Impressive collection of tattoos but way off the mark.

Anyway, in this book Mercy is still trying to make some members of the pack accept her as their Alpha’s mate.  That gives her status over them.  It hasn’t been going well.  She isn’t a werewolf and she keeps getting them into trouble.  Now she has made a proclamation that the pack with protect any supernaturals in their territory from the Fae.

I don’t know.  I just wasn’t a huge fan of this one.  I like the series but this one felt flat to me.  I’ve read several reviews that said that the readers felt like this was a big leap forward in the relationship between Mercy and Adam but I don’t get it.  He did stand up for her in the pack but their interactions together sounded distant and strained.  Maybe it is because I’ve gotten used to the warmth of the relationships in Briggs’ Alpha and Omega series that the more subdued relationship here seems odd.

Nothing really happened in the plot either.  It sounds like there is going to be a war.  The beginning with a fight with a troll is action packed but after that it is all political maneuvering and sitting around waiting for things to happen until the end.  This definitely didn’t have a “can’t put down” quality in the middle.  The ending did have an unexpectedly sad moment though.

One highlight of this book for me was Baba Yaga.

Bilibin. Baba Yaga

I love her. She is an old witch in Russian folklore who makes an appearance here to help in the fight with the Fae whether anyone wants her help or not. The book picked up whenever she appeared.

Bottom line:

This is a weak entry in a great series but it still worth reading or listening to if you have enjoyed the rest of the books.

 

three-stars

About Patricia Briggs

“Patricia Briggs, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Mercy Thompson series, lives in Washington State with her husband, children, and a small herd of horses. She has written 17 novels to date. Briggs began her career writing traditional fantasy novels, the first of which was published by Ace Books in 1993, and shifted gears in 2006 to write urban fantasy. ” from her website

25 Mar, 2016

Marked in Flesh

/ posted in: Reading Marked in Flesh Marked in Flesh by Anne Bishop
Published by Penguin Publishing Group on March 8th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 416
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible, Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
four-stars
Also in this series: Written in Red, Murder of Crows

For centuries, the Others and humans have lived side by side in uneasy peace. But when humankind oversteps its bounds, the Others will have to decide how much humanity they're willing to tolerate--both within themselves and within their community... Since the Others allied themselves with the cassandra sangue, the fragile yet powerful human blood prophets who were being exploited by their own kind, the delicate dynamic between humans and Others changed. Some, like Simon Wolfgard, wolf shifter and leader of the Lakeside Courtyard, and blood prophet Meg Corbyn, see the new, closer companionship as beneficial--both personally and practically.   But not everyone is convinced. A group of radical humans is seeking to usurp land through a series of violent attacks on the Others. What they don't realize is that there are older and more dangerous forces than shifters and vampires protecting the land that belongs to the Others--and those forces are willing to do whatever is necessary to protect what is theirs...


The Humans First and Last movement is gaining strength. Members believe that they will be able win territory from the terra indigenes who control most of the land mass of the world. They aim their attacks at the wolves. Bad idea.

Now the powers who humans have never seen that rule the world have a decision to make.

How Much Human Do They Want To Keep?

I love this series. The books have moved from the cozy feeling of the first one to encompass the whole of the continent. The blood prophets are developing a system of warning each other when they see visions. The shifters are cooperating to keep the prophets safe.

This is a series that will make you ashamed to be human. The humans are definitely the bad guys here. It is frustrating because the humans are so short sighted. There were a few times when I had to remind myself that I wasn’t listening to the news because I would swear out loud in the car when the humans would do something evil.

I miss the grumpy ponies. The ponies control the weather and have names like Hurricane and Whirlpool based on what they cause. When they aren’t being totally bad ass, they appear as grumpy little ponies who deliver the mail in their spare time as long as the treats on offer are good enough. They are in the book in their elemental form but not the begging pony form. There are not enough books with begging ponies!

If you haven’t started this series yet, what are you waiting for? It is amazing. There is great world building. You’ll love the characters. Go out and read these now or do what I do and get the audiobooks so you can savor the experience of being in this world longer.

four-stars

About Anne Bishop

“New York Times bestselling author Anne Bishop is the winner of the RT Book Reviews 2013 Career Achievement Award in Sci-Fi/Fantasy. She is also the winner of the William L. Crawford Memorial Fantasy Award for the Black Jewels Trilogy. Her most recent novel is Vision in Silver, the third book in Anne’s urban fantasy series set in a re-imagined Earth. When she’s not communing with the Others, Anne enjoys gardening, reading, and music. ” from her website

25 Feb, 2016

The Road to Little Dribbling

/ posted in: Reading The Road to Little Dribbling The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson
on October 8th 2015
Genres: Travel, Europe, Great Britain
Pages: 400
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Set in England three-half-stars

Twenty years ago, Bill Bryson went on a trip around Britain to celebrate the green and kindly island that had become his adopted country. The hilarious book that resulted, Notes from a Small Island, was taken to the nation’s heart and became the bestselling travel book ever, and was also voted in a BBC poll the book that best represents Britain.Now, to mark the twentieth anniversary of that modern classic, Bryson makes a brand-new journey round Britain to see what has changed.
Following (but not too closely) a route he dubs the Bryson Line, from Bognor Regis to Cape Wrath, by way of places that many people never get to at all, Bryson sets out to rediscover the wondrously beautiful, magnificently eccentric, endearingly unique country that he thought he knew but doesn’t altogether recognize any more.


Bill Bryson is really grumpy in this book.  I’m a big Bryson fan.  I think I’ve read everything he’s written.  He’s never veered far from curmudgeonly but he’s downright peevish in this book.  He’s telling people to fuck off repeatedly.  Fair warning if that kind of thing bothers you.

To start this journey he drew a line on a map connecting the farthest points he could find on a map of the United Kingdom.

 

He started his trip from Bognor Regis in the south and meandered his way north in the general direction of this line.  This made me spend some quality time with Google maps.  I thought I had in my head a general idea of where he was going.  Then suddenly he was in Wales.  I didn’t know which one of us was not understanding geography.  I did find that I didn’t have a very good grasp on English geography – although I was spot on about Wales.  I would have sworn the Lake District was northeast of London along with Stratford-upon- Avon and the Cotswolds.  Turns out none of these things are true.

He alternates taking lovely walks with complaining about British customer service and the tendency of British people to litter.  He does have a strange nostalgia for museums full of taxidermy which I personally hate.  He can’t stand shops selling pieces of wood with pithy sayings on them.  He seems to get a bit tipsy more than is probably healthy or wise.

There was more in this book about his life outside of writing than there has been in other books.  He talks about doing speeches to politicians and filming TV shows.

I was disappointed that he didn’t narrate the audiobook.  That’s one of the joys of listening to his books on audio.  The narrator did a good job but it took me several hours to get over the fact that he wasn’t Bill Bryson and to stop hearing a phantom version of Bill Bryson’s voice in my head reading along with the narrator.

Bottom line – Listen to this one if you are a fan but don’t let this be a first or third Bryson book.

 

three-half-stars
26 Dec, 2015

Winter Journey

/ posted in: FamilyReading Winter Journey Winter Journey by Diane Armstrong
on 2005
Genres: Historical
Pages: 483
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Set in Australia and Poland five-stars
Length: 14:33

Halina Shore is a forensic dentist working in Sydney. She is invited to return to Poland to examine bodies in a mass grave to shed light on whether this was a German or a Polish war crime.


 

Helina Shore is a forensic dentist.  She was born in Poland and moved to Australia when she was nine.  Finding herself at loose ends after the death of her taciturn mother, she accepts an invitation to help exhume a mass grave in Poland.  The Jews of the town were burned to death in this barn in 1941.  Local lore says that the Nazis did it but rumors persist that it was the Polish people who committed the crime.  The investigation is supposed to find out the truth but is running against public opinion in this very conservative and nationalistic part of Poland.

To Sum Up

This book is amazing.  Go get it and read it or listen to the audio – whatever, just go do it.

The Longer Answer

I am always looking for historical fiction books set in Poland.  Generally, I want ones that aren’t about World War II.  This book is set in the early 2000s and in 1941.  The reason I’m interested in Poland is that my grandmother’s family comes from there.  She never told us much.  She didn’t like to be reminded that she was Polish.

In this book, Helina’s mother never told her anything about Poland.  It all sounded very familiar.  Every time Helina found out that her mother had lied about something I laughed.  It sounds like my family.  They never met an official form that they filled in truthfully.

In the course of listening to this audio, I got back on ancestry.com and got in contact with my second cousin.  We’ve been sharing documents about the family.  So far I found out about three more children that were siblings of my grandmother who all died young.  No one in my family had heard of them.  That’s not a surprise considering no one had heard of the adult brother that was murdered either.  Grandma didn’t talk about the past.

This book tries to discover what could make neighbors commit atrocities against their neighbors.  She has the viewpoints of Jewish survivors and of the people who burnt the barn.  She sets this against a picture of Polish nationalism that still exists today and leaves readers wondering how easily it could all happen again.  The rationalizations of the perpetrators are chilling.

There is a lot of discussion about identity.  This annoyed me a little.  I don’t have much tolerance for the plot device of finding out that your parents lied to you about some part of your background and then the character falls apart crying about how they don’t know who they are anymore.  You’re the same person you were two minutes ago.  Quit yer whinin’!

This can be a hard book to listen to because of the descriptions of what happened to the Jews of Nowa Kalwaria.  The author draws you into the story in both times leaving you wanting to find out who was involved and to see if the town can move past it into a brighter future.

This author has written other books about Poland and European immigration into Australia – both historical fiction and nonfiction.  I’m looking forward to reading more of her books.

 

 

five-stars
11 Dec, 2015

Winter

/ posted in: Reading Winter Winter by Marissa Meyer
on November 10th 2015
Genres: Young Adult, Science Fiction
Pages: 800
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
three-stars
Length: 23:00

Princess Winter is admired by the Lunar people for her grace and kindness, and despite the scars that mar her face, her beauty is said to be even more breathtaking than that of her stepmother, Queen Levana.
Winter despises her stepmother, and knows Levana won't approve of her feelings for her childhood friend--the handsome palace guard, Jacin. But Winter isn't as weak as Levana believes her to be and she's been undermining her stepmother's wishes for years. Together with the cyborg mechanic, Cinder, and her allies, Winter might even have the power to launch a revolution and win a war that's been raging for far too long.
Can Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter defeat Levana and find their happily ever afters? Fans will not want to miss this thrilling conclusion to Marissa Meyer's national bestelling Lunar Chronicles series.


I loved the rest of the books in this series – a science fiction retelling of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Snow White.  The books have been smart and inventive in reimagining the stories in a world where Earth is vulnerable to Lunar people who are able to control minds.  That’s why I’m ultimately disappointed in this last book in the series featuring the story of Snow White.

Winter is the step-daughter of the Lunar Queen, Levana.  Levana was the sister of the former Queen.  When her sister died she attempted to kill her sister’s child, the rightful heir to the throne.  Unbeknownst to Levana, the child was smuggled to Earth and healed by making her a cyborg.  Now Linh Cinder is leading a rebellion to take back her throne from the cruel Levana.

Winter is known for her stunning beauty and her refusal to use her ability to manipulate minds.  Refusing to do so is driving her insane.  She hallucinates a lot and rambles incoherently.  She is such a vapid heroine that she drove me crazy.  Maybe the problem was that I was listening to this on audio.  I sped it up to 1.5 times normal speed just so her ramblings didn’t take so long.  All she does the entire time is be a hinderance to everyone else in the book.  She has no agency.  She doesn’t make many decisions at all.  The whole story just washes over her.  Her one decision to try to go recruit some soldiers to the rebel cause is based entirely on, “I’m pretty and nice so of course they will follow me.”  Read that in the breathiest voice ever and you’ll get the idea of the audio.

I know that the story of Snow White and the evil Queen is based entirely on looks but I was really hoping that there was going to be more to this story than that.  Levana has enslaved her people and engineered and released a plaque on Earth and killed anyone who upset her but the plan is to show people that she isn’t a legitimate ruler because she is actually ugly under her glamour?  Come on.  I was hoping for something with more substance.

And the ending?  Let’s just say there is a lot of “Why don’t you let go of all your goals and marry me instead?”

The rest of the books are great and maybe this one wouldn’t have been so bad if I had read it instead of listening to it so I didn’t have so much time to dwell on the inconsistencies.

 

 

 

three-stars
24 Nov, 2015

Andy and Don

/ posted in: Reading Andy and Don Andy and Don: The Making of a Friendship and a Classic American TV Show by Daniel de Visé
on November 3rd 2015
Genres: Nonfiction
Pages: 320
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Set in North Carolina and California four-stars
Length: 9:29

A lively and revealing biography of Andy Griffith and Don Knotts, celebrating the powerful real-life friendship behind one of America's most iconic television programs.
Andy Griffith and Don Knotts met on Broadway in the 1950s. When Andy went to Hollywood to film a TV pilot about a small-town sheriff, Don called to ask if the sheriff could use a deputy. The comedic synergy between Sheriff Andy Taylor and Deputy Barney Fife ignited The Andy Griffith Show, elevating a folksy sitcom into a timeless study of human friendship, as potent off the screen as on. Andy and Don -- fellow Southerners born into poverty and raised among scofflaws, bullies, and drunks -- captured the hearts of Americans across the country as they rocked lazily on the front porch, meditating about the simple pleasure of a bottle of pop.
But behind this sleepy, small-town charm, de Vise's exclusive reporting reveals explosions of violent temper, bouts of crippling neurosis, and all-too-human struggles with the temptations of fame. Andy and Don chronicles unspoken rivalries, passionate affairs, unrequited loves, and friendships lost and regained. Although Andy and Don ended their Mayberry partnership in 1965, they remained best friends for the next half-century, with Andy visiting Don at his death bed.


 

Andy Griffith and Don Knotts are icons of American television.  They met while on Broadway and then reteamed in the 1960s on The Andy Griffith Show playing a small town sheriff and his deputy.  They both went on to have careers in individual projects – Don in Three’s Company and a variety of movies and stage productions and Andy in Matlock and many TV movies – but they were always best together.

This book is a story of their lives and friendship.  Both were awkward kids from the south who tried to make in it show business and failed.  They tried again and became stars.  Their friendship survived three marriages each, alcoholism, drug addiction, and affairs.

Andy was groomed to be the star but he recognized Don’s brilliance and let him shine.  He won 5 Emmys and Andy never won any acting awards.  He was always proud of Don.  Unfortunately, he wasn’t as nice to the women in his life.  This book glosses over his domestic violence in an era when it wasn’t taken all that seriously.  He was brutal to people who he felt had betrayed him and he held grudges that went on for years.

Don seems like the nicer guy.  He was a lifelong hypochondriac with symptoms that got worse whenever he had to perform live.  He was addicted to sleeping pills to help control his anxiety.  Women loved him.  This book was written by an investigative reporter who was his brother-in-law in his third marriage.

If you are a fan of any of the TV shows that they were on, you will probably enjoy this book.  Just be prepared for the parts of their lives that don’t bear any resemblance to the clean cut characters that they played on TV.

four-stars
03 Oct, 2015

Sisters in Law

/ posted in: Reading Sisters in Law Sisters in Law by Linda Hirshman
on September 1st 2015
Genres: History
Pages: 416
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
four-stars
Length: 13:29

The relationship between Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg—Republican and Democrat, Christian and Jew, western rancher's daughter and Brooklyn girl—transcends party, religion, region, and culture. Strengthened by each other's presence, these groundbreaking judges, the first and second women to serve on the highest court in the land, have transformed the Constitution and America itself, making it a more equal place for all women.
Linda Hirshman's dual biography includes revealing stories of how these trailblazers fought for recognition in a male-dominated profession—battles that would ultimately benefit every American woman. Hirshman also makes clear how these two justices have shaped the legal framework of modern feminism, setting precedent in cases dealing with employment discrimination, abortion, affirmative action, sexual harassment, and many other issues crucial to women's lives.
Sisters in Law combines legal detail with warm personal anecdotes, bringing these very different women into focus as never before. Meticulously researched and compellingly told, it is an authoritative account of our changing law and culture, and a moving story of a remarkable friendship.


I went into this book having read Sandra Day O’Conner’s book but I didn’t know much about Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

O’Conner is from Arizona. She grew up on a ranch. She went to Stanford Law School where she didn’t experience much discrimination for being a woman because Stanford was a fairly new school that just needed bodies. However, when she graduated near the top of her class, the only job she was offered was as a legal secretary. She became a Republican state senator and eventually a judge.

Ginsburg is from Brooklyn. She went to Harvard Law which was much more set in its discriminatory ways. The women in her class were invited to attend a dinner where they were forced to explain how they justified taking a seat in law school that should belong to a man. She went on to argue six major cases in front of the Supreme Court that helped establish legal equality for women in the 1970s. She then became a federal judge.

What I noticed over and over in this book was that even though they were discriminated against as women they had extraordinary privilege otherwise. Each of them had connections with several prominent politicians and/or political advisors who they lobbied to advance their careers. They have stories that prove that success is based a lot on who you know.

Of the two stories I found Ginsburg’s life more interesting. It is good to remember what rights we take for granted now that were so controversial in my lifetime. The importance of diversity on the court becomes apparent in discussions when male justices reveal that they think the lives of most women are similar to the lives of their wealthy wives and daughters. Later they were unable to sympathize with a 13 year old girl strip searched at school.

This author did a good job of making fine points of case law accessible and understandable for non lawyers.

four-stars
08 Aug, 2015

Armada

/ posted in: Reading Armada Armada by Ernest Cline
on July 14th 2015
Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction
Pages: 368
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible, Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
four-half-stars
Length: 11:58:00

Zack Lightman has spent his life dreaming. Dreaming that the real world could be a little more like the countless science-fiction books, movies, and videogames he's spent his life consuming. Dreaming that one day, some fantastic, world-altering event will shatter the monotony of his humdrum existence and whisk him off on some grand space-faring adventure. But hey, there's nothing wrong with a little escapism, right? After all, Zack tells himself, he knows the difference between fantasy and reality. He knows that here in the real world, aimless teenage gamers with anger issues don t get chosen to save the universe. And then he sees the flying saucer.


When Zack sees the spaceship during math class he is excited until he realizes that it is a Glaive fighter.  Glaive fighters are enemy ships in his favorite video game, Armada.  Now he knows he is going insane.  This isn’t the first time he’s thought about his mental health.  Zack’s father died when he was 19 and Zack was 1.  Zack has spent his whole life watching his father’s VHS tapes and listening to his music.  He has also read his notebooks, one of which contains a paranoid theory that he was formulating before his death.  Zack’s father thought that the increase in alien invasion stories in movies and video games since the 1970s was part of a government conspiracy to prepare the Earth for an encounter with hostile aliens.  It sounded like the rantings of an unstable mind to Zack and he’s worried that he might have inherited the same tendencies.

Now that he’s hallucinating Glaive fighters, he’s sure of it.


This author’s previous book Ready Player One is my all time favorite audio book.  I was so excited when I heard that this one was coming out and that Wil Wheaton was doing the narration again.  I had a few day delay between the publishing date and when I could start it.  In that time I started seeing twitter messages pop up about people who loved Ready Player One abandoning this book.  They said it was too geeky for them and they couldn’t get into it.  I got scared.

I loved this book!  It is a very different book from Ready Player One.  Where that book delved deep into 80s pop culture, this one focuses on science fiction movies and video games.   I know way more about the 80s than I do about video games but I was able to follow along with Armada just fine.

There is a long section in the beginning that serves to explain the game play of the game Armada and its companion game Terra Firma.  This is a little slow if you aren’t a gamer but it is necessary information to understand the rest of the book.

Things I Loved

  • The story isn’t going where you thought it was.  This isn’t a typical alien invasion story.  Does the fact that you probably know what I mean by that indicate that Zac’s dad’s theory was right?
  • The characters are complex.  No one is completely good or bad.  People are capable of change and nuance.
  • The Raid The Arcade mix tape.  Am I the only person who wants to make a copy of this playlist?  The songs are listed at the end with the Bonus Track – Snoopy versus the Red Baron.  That bonus track is not optional.
  • I absolutely LOVED the inscription on the headstone at the end.  (There is a war.  Lots of people die.  I’m not saying whose headstone it is.)  It is PERFECT and made me laugh and then have all the feels.
  • Wil Wheaton did a great job with the narration.  In this book there are references to several famous voices and he did a very good job with them as well as the whole book.  I think he adds a whole other dimension to the story so I’d recommend this one on audio over any other format.

The ending leaves open the possibility but not the necessity of a sequel.  I’d love to hear what happens next.

 

four-half-stars

About Ernest Cline

ERNEST CLINE is a novelist, screenwriter, father, and full-time geek. His first novel, Ready Player One, was a New York Times and USA Today bestseller, appeared on numerous “best of the year” lists, and is set to be adapted into a motion picture by Warner Bros. and director Steven Spielberg. Ernie lives in Austin, Texas, with his family, a time-traveling DeLorean, and a large collection of classic video games.

02 Jul, 2015

Shifting Shadows

/ posted in: Reading Shifting Shadows Shifting Shadows by Patricia Briggs
on September 2nd 2014
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 450
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible, Owned
Goodreads
four-stars
Length: 16 hours

"Shapeshifter Mercy Thompson has friends in high places--and in low, dark, scary ones. And in this must-have collection of stories, you'll meet new faces and catch up with old acquaintances--in all their forms... In a time of fresh starts, Mercy is asked to use an old talent--ghost hunting--in the all-new story "Hollow." You'll learn what happens when an ancient werewolf on his last legs befriends a vulnerable adolescent ("Roses in Winter") and how Mercy's friend Samuel Cornick became a werewolf ("Silver"). The werewolf Ben finds "Redemption," and Moira, a blind witch, assists on a search in "Seeing Eye." From Butte, Montana, the copper-mining town that vampire Thomas Hao calls home ("Fairy Gifts"), to Chicago, where the vampire Elyna buys and renovates the apartment she lived in while human ("Gray"), you'll travel the roads that originated with Mercy Thompson and the fertile imagination of Patricia Briggs. Roads that will lead you to places you've never been before..."--Provided by publisher.

I’d seen this book around at the library and was waiting to read it when I ran out of the Mercy Thompson series and the Alpha and Omega series.

I finally decided to listen to it when I realized that it has “Alpha and Omega” in it. That is the story that starts the series and isn’t included in the books.  I’m not usually a big short story fan but I really like this world.

Some of the stories aren’t directly related to the book series.  Some look at the world from the viewpoint of minor characters.

“Seeing Eye” tells the story of how Seattle’s white witch Moira meets Tom, the werewolf who will become her mate.

“Silver” tells the story of how Bran and Samuel became werewolves and how they met Arianna, the fae woman they were made to torture and finally rescue.

“Gray” is the story of a vampire who buys and renovates the apartment she was living in when she was turned and has to confront the ghost that lives there.

“In Red, with Pearls” is a story about Warren, a werewolf who has become a private investigator for his boyfriends law firm.  He has to investigate why a zombie was sent after his boyfriend.

“Redemption” is from Ben’s point of view.  He’s a British werewolf who was sent to the U.S. because he was in trouble with the law.  He hates women so he doesn’t understand why he feels like he has to help protect a secretary at his office.

There are also a couple of outtakes – deleted scenes from some of the published novels.

This is a great book to read if you’ve read all of the other novels.  The only exception to that is maybe reading Alpha and Omega before starting that series.

four-stars

About Patricia Briggs

“Patricia Briggs, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Mercy Thompson series, lives in Washington State with her husband, children, and a small herd of horses. She has written 17 novels to date. Briggs began her career writing traditional fantasy novels, the first of which was published by Ace Books in 1993, and shifted gears in 2006 to write urban fantasy. ” from her website

10 Jun, 2015

Soulless, or Why I Can’t Show My Face Around Audible

/ posted in: Reading Soulless, or Why I Can’t Show My Face Around Audible Soulless by Gail Carriger
on February 9th 2010
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Pages: 400
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible, Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
three-stars
Length: 10:52

Alexia Tarabotti is labouring under a great many social tribulations. First, she has no soul. Second, she's a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquette. Where to go from there? From bad to worse apparently, for Alexia accidentally kills the vampire - and then the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate. With unexpected vampires appearing and expected vampires disappearing, everyone seems to believe Alexia responsible. Can she figure out what is actually happening to London's high society? Or will her soulless ability to negate supernatural powers prove useful or just plain embarrassing? Finally, who is the real enemy, and do they have treacle tart? SOULLESS is a comedy of manners set in Victorian London: full of werewolves, vampires, dirigibles, and tea-drinking.


Somehow I missed that this was about werewolves.

Yeah, I know, it is prominent in the description and it is on the cover.  In my defense, I hadn’t really read the description because I had just heard that the series was good (Joy, I blame you. LOL) and I had downloaded the audio from Audible and didn’t really see the cover.

I started listening to this right after binging on Written In Red and Murder of Crows.  I was deep in that world with very particular rules about shifters.  Any other book was going to suffer by comparison but trying to go right into another werewolf world that is so different was a disaster.  So, I did something that I had only done once before.  I returned the book to Audible.

Did you know you could do that?  If you hate the book you can return it and get your credit back.  That’s pretty cool.

I moved on with my life and listened to a few totally different werewolf-free audiobooks – A Path Appears and Top of the Morning: Inside the Cutthroat World of Morning TV.  When I finished the last one, I was driving around and I hadn’t deleted Soulless from my ipod yet and … I listened to it.

I liked it. 

Now I feel like a horrible human.  Probably the only recourse is to rebuy it from Audible because I sort of want to listen to more of them.  I feel like the Audible police will come to my house if I buy the second book after returning the first.

three-stars

About Gail Carriger

Bestselling author Gail Carriger writes to cope with being raised in obscurity by an expatriate Brit and an incurable curmudgeon. She escaped small town life and inadvertently acquired several degrees in Higher Learning. Ms. Carriger then traveled the historic cities of Europe, subsisting entirely on biscuits secreted in her handbag. She resides in the Colonies, surrounded by fantastic shoes, where she insists on tea imported from London. – from her website

22 Apr, 2015

A Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop

/ posted in: Reading A Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop
Series: The Others #2
on March 4th 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Pages: 448
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible, Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
four-stars
Also in this series: Written in Red, Marked in Flesh
Length: 14:13

Return to New York Times bestselling author Anne Bishop’s “phenomenal” (Urban Fantasy Investigations) world of the Others—where supernatural entities and humans struggle to co-exist, and one woman has begun to change all the rules…After winning the trust of the terra indigene residing in the Lakeside Courtyard, Meg Corbyn has had trouble figuring out what it means to live among them. As a human, Meg should be barely tolerated prey, but her abilities as a cassandra sangue make her something more. The appearance of two addictive drugs has sparked violence between the humans and the Others, resulting in the murder of both species in nearby cities. So when Meg has a dream about blood and black feathers in the snow, Simon Wolfgard—Lakeside’s shape-shifting leader—wonders if their blood prophet dreamed of a past attack or a future threat. As the urge to speak prophecies strikes Meg more frequently, trouble finds its way inside the Courtyard. Now, the Others and the handful of humans residing there must work together to stop the man bent on reclaiming their blood prophet—and stop the danger that threatens to destroy them all.

I loved listening to the audiobook of Written in Red so I immediately started listening to A Murder of Crows.  The world building in this series is amazing!  When humans started to expand from their origin points around the Mediterranean, they met the Terra Indigene – shapeshifters who are the dominant species on the planet.  The Terra Indigene control all the resources of the planet but allow humans to build some cities and use some materials in exchange for technology.  The alliance is very fragile though and now humans are starting to push for more.

Two drugs have appeared.  Gone Over Wolf causes increased aggression and Feel Good causes passivity to the point of not defending yourself if attacked.  Both drugs have been used in attacks against the Terra Indigene.

Meg is a prophet and the visions are coming more often.  She isn’t the only one.  The other blood prophets around the continent are seeing visions of blood and destruction.  War is coming.


The first book in the series was very insular.  It happened in the small community that Meg found herself in.  This book looks at the bigger picture.  At first that was a bit distressing.  I liked the insular story and wanted to know what was going on there.  But, seeing how Meg’s escape from the institution where blood prophets were kept caused ripples that are affecting the whole world was interesting.

We meet the Intuits, a subset of humans who have strong reactions when something bad is about to happen.  We learn how blood prophets are bred and controlled.  We see how the Humans First and Last movement is growing and how some people are taking it to violent extremes.

The Lakeside Courtyard now has a few trusted humans besides Meg working with them.  These people are now being attacked by other humans for being traitors to their kind.  At the same time Terra Indigene leaders from other areas are starting to come to Lakeside just to see how it is possible to deal with humans on an everyday basis.  Maybe there is hope for understanding after all.


I love this series so much that I had to force myself not to get the next book immediately.  There are only three out right now and I want to space them out a bit.  It isn’t fair to the audiobook I’m listening to now because I’m mad at it for not being this series!

four-stars

About Anne Bishop

“New York Times bestselling author Anne Bishop is the winner of the RT Book Reviews 2013 Career Achievement Award in Sci-Fi/Fantasy. She is also the winner of the William L. Crawford Memorial Fantasy Award for the Black Jewels Trilogy. Her most recent novel is Vision in Silver, the third book in Anne’s urban fantasy series set in a re-imagined Earth. When she’s not communing with the Others, Anne enjoys gardening, reading, and music. ” from her website

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