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27 Jun, 2017

Kiss Carlo

/ posted in: Reading Kiss Carlo Kiss Carlo by Adriana Trigiani
Published by HarperCollins on June 20th 2017
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Format: ARC
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Goodreads

It’s 1949 and South Philadelphia bursts with opportunity during the post-war boom. The Palazzini Cab Company & Western Union Telegraph Office, owned and operated by Dominic Palazzini and his three sons, is flourishing: business is good, they’re surrounded by sympathetic wives and daughters-in-law, with grandchildren on the way. But a decades-long feud that split Dominic and his brother Mike and their once-close families sets the stage for a re-match.
Amidst the hoopla, the arrival of an urgent telegram from Italy upends the life of Nicky Castone (Dominic and his wife’s orphaned nephew) who lives and works with his Uncle Dom and his family. Nicky decides, at 30, that he wants more—more than just a job driving Car #4 and more than his longtime fiancée Peachy DePino, a bookkeeper, can offer. When he admits to his fiancée that he’s been secretly moonlighting at the local Shakespeare theater company, Nicky finds himself drawn to the stage, its colorful players and to the determined Calla Borelli, who inherited the enterprise from her father, Nicky must choose between the conventional life his family expects of him or chart a new course and risk losing everything he cherishes.


Kiss Carlo is a meandering family story that takes place over a few years in post WWII Philadelphia.  The Palazzini family lives together in a large house containing Uncle Dom and Aunt Jo, their three sons and their wives, and a cousin, Nicky.  The men all work together also in the family cab company.

What no one knows is that Nicky has been moonlighting at a struggling Shakespeare theater.  He’s a stagehand but an emergency forces him onstage mid-play and makes him realize that he wants to act.  He also has a man die in his cab which forces the realization that he isn’t doing exactly what he wants with his life.  His actions shake up the whole Palazzini family when Nicky breaks off his engagement and moves out of the house.

The book is full of distinct and interesting characters.  With such a large cast it could have been hard to keep the characters separate, but the author did a very good job of writing each one as a individual with their own backstory, personality traits, and motivations.  There are no “generic sisters-in-law” here.

Hortense is the African-American dispatcher and telegraph operator at the cab company.  She’s no nonsense and proudly self-educated.  Her husband doesn’t appreciate her and demeans her.  She forges a friendship with a housebound Italian widow over a weekend who shares part of her way of making marinara sauce.  This leads to a business opportunity for Hortense because she’s savvy enough to see how a simple sauce fits into the need for convenience for the modern house wife.  Adding this character gives an outsider’s view of the Italian families and neighborhood of Philadelphia.

This is a long book that doesn’t have one distinct through story.  It is a book that you just need to settle into and let it take you along for the ride instead of trying to imagine where the journey is going to take you.

Purchase Links

HarperCollins
| Amazon | Barnes
& Noble

About Adriana Trigiani

Adriana Trigiani is the bestselling author of 17 books, which have been published in 36 countries around the world. She is a playwright, television writer/producer and filmmaker. She wrote and directed the film version of her novel Big Stone Gap, which was shot entirely on location in her Virginia hometown. She is co-founder of the Origin Project, an in-school writing program that serves more than a thousand students in Appalachia. She lives in Greenwich Village with her family.

Visit Adriana at her website: www.adrianatrigiani.com, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
  • Foodies Read 2017
19 Jun, 2017

Sweet Tea Tuesdays

/ posted in: Reading Sweet Tea Tuesdays Sweet Tea Tuesday by Ashley Farley
on February 22nd 2017
Genres: Fiction
Format: eARC
Source: From author/publisher
Goodreads
Setting: South Carolina

Three best friends met every Tuesday for twenty-six years. And then they stopped.
From the author of the bestselling Sweeney Sisters Series comes a novel of friendship, family, and hope.
When new next-door neighbors Georgia, Midge, and Lula first assembled on Georgia's porch in Charleston for sweet tea, they couldn't have known their gathering was the beginning of a treasured tradition. For twenty-six years they have met on Tuesdays at four o'clock, watching the seasons change and their children grow up, supporting each other in good times and in bad. With their ambitions as different as their personalities, these best friends anticipate many more years of tea time. And then, one Tuesday, Georgia shares news that brings their long-standing social hour to an abrupt halt. And that's only the beginning as unraveling secrets threaten to alter their friendship forever.


This book was not what I was anticipating.  I expected a book about friendship.  This isn’t really about that.  The book starts with the friendship of the three women unraveling because one woman gets a job and asks to change their meeting time.  That seems like a reasonable request but it causes a major meltdown in Lulu who then refuses to speak to them anymore. 

We come to find out that Lulu is actually a horrible angry woman who hides it behind a mask of gentility.  She is thrilled to find out that her favorite daughter who lives in California is coming back for a visit. 

We find out that:

  • She went to California for college
  • She doesn’t visit
  • She cut her hair short

It is like the Holy Trinity of Lesbian Foreshadowing.  /sarcasm

When the prodigal daughter tells her mother that she is gay, the mother starts in on homophobic rants that are absolutely vicious.  I certainly didn’t expect this level of hatred spilling out of a book that appears to be marketed as a light read.  People may attempt to explain this character’s hatred away by saying that she is sick and not in her right frame of mind.  She may not really mean that.  I think that is negated by the fact that the older daughter had stayed away for years because she knew her mother would react poorly to finding out that she was a lesbian. 

She’s also racist.  When she is imaging that her daughter’s friend that is coming home with her is a man, she starts to worry about what will happen if she doesn’t like him.  In her list of concerns is, “What if he was a foreigner or a hog farmer?”  Excuse me, what?  She also reacts negatively to finding out that the name of the home care nurse she has been recommended is Gladys Guzman. 

It is ok to have a horrible character in a book.  But this book doesn’t limit the tone-deaf narrative to that character.  There is repeated use of the phrase “chosen lifestyle” to describe lesbianism from different characters.  Lula’s younger daughter has just graduated from college and lives in downtown Charleston.  Somehow she also doesn’t know anything about gay people?  “She asked herself if she approved of her sister’s chosen lifestyle and was surprised her answer was yes.”  Well, thank you for bestowing your seal of approval.

She also feels bad about thinking that her mother was bigot.  Nope, honey, your mother is a bigot.  Go with your gut on this one. 

Even though towards the end there is magical reconciliation in the family, you don’t see if she changes her mind about gay people or “foreigners”.  The people around her don’t call her out on it much.  If fact they use these phrases to describe her:

  • “Her faith is so strong.”
  • “She was ornery and set in her ways, but she had the kindest heart of them all.”

No.  This is a woman who told a doctor who called her out on her homophobia that she didn’t want to be treated by any LGBT doctors or nurses.  She did not have a kind heart. 

There are two other women in this story but their narratives took a back seat to Lulu’s.  They weren’t as hateful as she was which is good.  I actually liked Georgia who has spent her life as a doctor’s wife only to find out that he’s been cheating on her for years.  She doesn’t take his crap (much) when he tries to blame it all on her.  Midge is in a new relationship with a man that everyone assures her is rotten.  She doesn’t listen to her friends or her instincts and yet somehow it is all ok? 

I’ve never been a big proponent of trigger warnings but this book might change my mind.  The anti-homosexual hatred in this book is so intense and there is no mention of any discussion of homosexuality in the blurb so people would be unaware of it coming.  A mention in the description of conflict between a mother and her lesbian daughter might help people not be blindsided. 

 

 

About Ashley Farley

Ashley Farley writes books about women for women. Her characters are mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives facing real-life issues. Her goal is to keep you turning the pages until the wee hours of the morning. If her story stays with you long after you’ve read the last word, then she’s done her job.

After her brother died in 1999 of an accidental overdose, she turned to writing as a way of releasing her pent-up emotions. She wrote SAVING BEN in honor of Neal, the boy she worshipped, the man she could not save.

Ashley is a wife and mother of two young adult children. While she’s lived in Richmond, Virginia for the past 21 years, part of her heart remains in the salty marshes of the South Carolina Lowcountry where she grew up. Through the eyes of her characters, she’s able to experience the moss-draped trees, delectable cuisine, and kind-hearted folks with lazy drawls that make the area so unique.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
  • LBGTQ authors/characters
29 May, 2017

A House Without Windows

/ posted in: Reading A House Without Windows A House Without Windows by Nadia Hashimi
Published by William Morrow on August 16th 2016
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 415
Format: Paperback
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Goodreads
Setting: Afghanistan

For two decades, Zeba was a loving wife, a patient mother, and a peaceful villager. But her quiet life is shattered when her husband, Kamal, is found brutally murdered with a hatchet in the courtyard of their home. Nearly catatonic with shock, Zeba is unable to account for her whereabouts at the time of his death. Her children swear their mother could not have committed such a heinous act. Kamal’s family is sure she did, and demands justice. Barely escaping a vengeful mob, Zeba is arrested and jailed.
Awaiting trial, she meets a group of women whose own misfortunes have led them to these bleak cells: eighteen-year-old Nafisa, imprisoned to protect her from an “honor killing”; twenty-five-year-old Latifa, a teen runaway who stays because it is safe shelter; twenty-year-old Mezghan, pregnant and unmarried, waiting for a court order to force her lover’s hand. Is Zeba a cold-blooded killer, these young women wonder, or has she been imprisoned, like them, for breaking some social rule? For these women, the prison is both a haven and a punishment; removed from the harsh and unforgiving world outside, they form a lively and indelible sisterhood.
Into this closed world comes Yusuf, Zeba’s Afghan-born, American-raised lawyer whose commitment to human rights and desire to help his homeland have brought him back. With the fate this seemingly ordinary housewife in his hands, Yusuf discovers that, like the Afghanistan itself, his client may not be at all what he imagines.


“My full height, my beloved husband never did see

Because the fool dared turn his back on me.”

This is a heartbreaking story about women’s lives in Afghanistan.  In this book women feel more free and open in prison than they did at home.  Zeba meets many women after the murder of her husband.  Most of them are in prison for zina – sex outside of marriage.  That can mean anything from a premarital sex to an affair to rape to just being rumored to be alone with a man.  This book depicts a society that places so much value on a man’s honor but it measures that honor entirely by the behavior of woman instead of behavior of the man.

Everyone knows that Zeba’s husband was not a good man.  However, now that he is dead, his honor (that he did not uphold in life) is of the most importance.  The fact that Zeba was arrested when she is found sitting by his dead body and not murdered by her neighbors is seen as a very merciful act.  No attempts are made to collect evidence.  She was there so obviously she did it.

Yusef, an Afghani-born American-raised lawyer, has just come back to Afghanistan to work on cases like Zina’s.  She drives him crazy by refusing to participate in her own defense.

The prison life in this story reminded me a lot of the South Korean prison that Sun in is in Sense8, if you’ve seen that show.  The women come from backgrounds so dominated by men that many of them are finding life better in jail.

This book does drag a little in the middle while the mystery of Zeba’s husband’s death is being investigated and Yusef is trying a bunch of strategies to get Zeba free. I liked the inclusion of her mother who is considered to be able to do magic.  Zeba uses what she learned from her mother to gain status in prison even though she is conflicted about it.

About Nadia Hashimi

Nadia Hashimi was born and raised in New York and New Jersey. Both her parents
were born in Afghanistan and left in the early 1970s, before the Soviet
invasion. In 2002, Nadia made her first trip to Afghanistan with her parents.
She is a pediatrician and lives with her family in the Washington, DC, suburbs.

Find out more about Nadia at her website,
connect with her on Facebook, and follow her
on Twitter.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in Asia
  • POC authors
18 May, 2017

The View from the Cheap Seats

/ posted in: Reading The View from the Cheap Seats The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction by Neil Gaiman
Published by William Morrow on May 31st 2016
Genres: Nonfiction
Pages: 522
Format: Paperback
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Goodreads

An enthralling collection of nonfiction essays on myriad topics—from art and artists to dreams, myths, and memories—observed in Neil Gaiman’s probing, amusing, and distinctive style.
An inquisitive observer, thoughtful commentator, and assiduous craftsman, Neil Gaiman has long been celebrated for the sharp intellect and startling imagination that informs his bestselling fiction. Now, The View from the Cheap Seats brings together for the first time ever more than sixty pieces of his outstanding nonfiction. Analytical yet playful, erudite yet accessible, this cornucopia explores a broad range of interests and topics, including (but not limited to): authors past and present; music; storytelling; comics; bookshops; travel; fairy tales; America; inspiration; libraries; ghosts; and the title piece, at turns touching and self-deprecating, which recounts the author’s experiences at the 2010 Academy Awards in Hollywood.
Insightful, incisive, witty, and wise, The View from the Cheap Seats explores the issues and subjects that matter most to Neil Gaiman—offering a glimpse into the head and heart of one of the most acclaimed, beloved, and influential artists of our time.

Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble


I learned two things from reading this collection of speeches and essays.

  1. Neil Gaiman knows everyone.  Seriously, if you can work him into your 6 Degrees of Separation list you can link to anyone.
  2. He is the speaker that you want giving the keynote address at any event.

 

I loved this collection of his nonfiction writing from the very first essay.

“I believe that people and books and newspapers are containers for ideas, but that burning the people who hold the ideas will be as unsuccessful as firebombing the newspaper archives.  It is already too late.  It is always too late.  The ideas are already out, hiding behind people’s eyes, waiting in their thoughts.”

 

He writes about the importance of libraries and about how not censoring what children read leads to children who love to read.  He talks about how being too enthusiastic about supporting your child’s reading habits can turn her off Stephen King forever.  (Oops).  He writes about Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett and the importance of Doctor Who.  Is it any wonder that I’m a Neil Gaiman fan?

These essays and speeches were written over many years.  It is fun to read him talking about his next novel that has a working title of American Gods but he doesn’t know what it will be called when it is published at the same time that I’m watching the TV adaptation.  A few of the authors that he discusses I haven’t read but he makes me want to pick them up. 

This is a book that isn’t made to be read straight through but instead to be picked up and read a piece at a time in order to savor the words and ideas.  I’d recommend this for any Neil Gaiman fan but also for people who love discussing literacy and the need for the arts in society. 

 

 

About Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels Neverwhere, Stardust, American Gods, Coraline, Anansi Boys, The Graveyard Book, Good Omens (with Terry Pratchett), The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains; the Sandman series of graphic novels; and the story collections Smoke and Mirrors, Fragile Things, and Trigger Warning. He is the winner of numerous literary honors, including the Hugo, Bram Stoker, and World Fantasy awards, and the Newbery and Carnegie Medals. Originally from England, he now lives in the United States. He is Professor in the Arts at Bard College.

Find out more about Neil at his†website, find all his books at his†online bookstore, and follow him on†Facebook,†tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, and his†blog.

11 Apr, 2017

Epic Measures

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
06 Mar, 2017

A Great Reckoning

/ posted in: Reading A Great Reckoning A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny
Published by Minotaur Books on August 30th 2016
Genres: Crime & Mystery, Fiction
Pages: 389
Format: ARC
Source: From author/publisher
Goodreads

When an intricate old map is found stuffed into the walls of the bistro in Three Pines, it at first seems no more than a curiosity. But the closer the villagers look, the stranger it becomes.
Given to Armand Gamache as a gift the first day of his new job, the map eventually leads him to shattering secrets. To an old friend and older adversary. It leads the former Chief of Homicide for the Sûreté du Québec to places even he is afraid to go but must.
And there he finds four young cadets in the Sûreté academy, and a dead professor. And, with the body, a copy of the old, odd map.


I had never heard of this detective series until BEA 2016 when Louise Penny was one of the speakers at the adult breakfast.  This is the twelfth book in the series.  Normally I would never start a series in the middle but I had a copy of the book so I decided to try it.

This seems like a good place for new readers to start.  From what I gathered from the text, the detective at the heart of the story had investigated police corruption.  After this investigation, a lot of high ranking people were arrested.  The detective retired from the police.  Now he is taking an interim job as the director of the police academy.  He knows that a lot of students are coming out of the school predisposed to brutal conduct.  He wants to change the culture of the training.

You don’t need to know much about what happened before to enjoy this book.  What you need is explained in the text.  The detective lives in a small town that is not on any maps.  An old map of his town is found in a wall in a local shop.  It has a lot of strange pictures on it.  As an exercise, he gives a few cadets copies of the map and asks them to figure out the mystery behind it.  Then his major suspect for teaching police misconduct is murdered and a copy of the map is in his nightstand.  The detective thinks someone is trying to frame one of the students – a girl whom he admitted to the school after she was previously turned away.

There are several mysteries explored in this book. Who killed the professor? Why did the new director admit this girl to the school? Why isn’t the town of Three Pines on any official maps?  Who made the one map it is on?

This book is set in Quebec City and the surrounding countryside.  I haven’t read many books set in Quebec.  The author lives there and her love for the community and culture comes through.

I’d recommend this book for anyone who like police stories and mysteries.  It was interesting enough that I will pick up future books.  I probably won’t go backwards because reading this one does tell you what happened in the previous books.

 

About Louise Penny

She lives with her husband, Michael, and a golden retriever named Trudy, in a small village south of Montreal.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
16 Feb, 2017

Lights Out

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

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

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

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

I need a generator and solar panels.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
10 Feb, 2017

The Littlest Bigfoot

/ posted in: Reading The Littlest Bigfoot The Littlest Bigfoot by Jennifer Weiner
Published by Aladdin on September 13th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 304
Format: ARC
Source: From author/publisher
Goodreads
Setting: New York

Alice Mayfair, twelve years old, slips through the world unseen and unnoticed. Ignored by her family and shipped off to her eighth boarding school, Alice would like a friend. And when she rescues Millie Maximus from drowning in a lake one day, she finds one.
But Millie is a Bigfoot, part of a clan who dwells deep in the woods. Most Bigfoots believe that people—NoFurs, as they call them—are dangerous, yet Millie is fascinated with the No-Fur world. She is convinced that humans will appreciate all the things about her that her Bigfoot tribe does not: her fearless nature, her lovely singing voice, and her desire to be a star.
Alice swears to protect Millie’s secret. But a league of Bigfoot hunters is on their trail, led by a lonely kid named Jeremy. And in order to survive, Alice and Millie have to put their trust in each other—and have faith in themselves—above all else.

I picked up this book at BEA last year because I like Jennifer Weiner’s adult fiction.  I don’t read a lot of middle grade so I would have missed this one otherwise.

Alice is the neglected child of wealthy New Yorkers who don’t know what to do with her. She doesn’t fit into their vision of what a child of theirs should be.  She’s messy and clumsy and too big.  For some reason she never fits into the schools she’s attended.  Now she is being shipped off to boarding school in upstate New York.  The school is populated by other misfits who Alice keeps her distance from.  She knows they will eventually reject her too.

Millie is a Yare.  They are known as Bigfoot to No-Furs.  They are quiet and meek.  Millie is not.  She wants to meet a No-Fur so much.  Eventually Millie and Alice meet which brings the Yare tribe into danger from the local humans.

After I read this I thought that my stepdaughter would enjoy it.  She refused to even look at it so we read it out loud during a road trip.  She got mad and put her ear buds in so she didn’t have to hear a stupid story.  We did notice her listening every so often though.

Alice believes that she is fat and ugly and that her hair is a disaster.  She judges herself and everyone around her very harshly.  These judgements are presented as facts in the book.  She mocks people in her mind over any difference.  She learns to bully people to gain acceptance.

Eventually this all backfires on her and she is an outcast again.  She learns to accept people for their differences by the end of the book. But I can see people being uncomfortable with the mocking and harsh judging of other characters and viewpoints before this point.

Not all of the issues are resolved at the end so I hope this means that we will be reading more of Alice and Millie.

23 Dec, 2016

Hidden Figures

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

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


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

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

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

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

Among the women’s contributions were:

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

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

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

Purchase Links

HarperCollins
| Amazon
| Barnes & Noble

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About Margot Lee Shetterly

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

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

18 Nov, 2016

Brave New Weed

/ posted in: Reading Brave New Weed Brave New Weed: Adventures into the Uncharted World of Cannabis by Joe Dolce
Published by Harper Wave on October 4th 2016
Genres: Nonfiction
Pages: 288
Format: Hardcover
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads

“The former editor-in-chief of Details and Star adventures into the fascinating “brave new world” of cannabis, tracing its history and possible future as he investigates the social, medical, legal, and cultural ramifications of this surprisingly versatile plant.
Pot. Weed. Grass. Mary Jane. We all think we know what cannabis is and what we use it for. But do we? Our collective understanding of this surprising plant has been muddled by politics and morality; what we think we know isn’t the real story.
A war on cannabis has been waged in the United States since the early years of the twentieth century, yet in the past decade, society has undergone a massive shift in perspective that has allowed us to reconsider our beliefs. In Brave New Weed, Joe Dolce travels the globe to “tear down the cannabis closet” and de-mystify this new frontier, seeking answers to the questions we didn’t know we should ask.
Dolce heads to a host of places, including Amsterdam, Israel, California, and Colorado, where he skillfully unfolds the odd, shocking, and wildly funny history of this complex plant. From the outlandish stories of murder trials where defendants claimed “insanity due to marijuana consumption” to the groundbreaking success stories about the plant’s impressive medicinal benefits, Dolce paints a fresh and much-needed portrait of cannabis, our changing attitudes toward it, and the brave new direction science and cultural acceptance are leading us.
Enlightening, entertaining, and thought-provoking, Brave New Weed is a compelling read that will surprise and educate proponents on both sides of the cannabis debate.”


I knew nothing about marijuana.  I’ve never smoked or eaten an edible.  I wouldn’t have the first clue how to get any marijuana if I was interested.  However, I am interested in the medical aspects of marijuana use.  This is what I found most fascinating about this story.

The author had smoked in college but hadn’t used any in years.  He wanted to investigate the claims on both the pro-legalization side and the prohibition side.  He worked in medical dispensaries in states where it is legal.  Different strains of marijuana have been bred to work better for different diseases.  Some get rid of nausea.  Other work better for pain.  Others help calm anxiety.  Some don’t produce a much of a high but help physical illnesses.  A well trained dispensary staff can help patients determine what strains are best for them based on the chemical profiles of the particular plant and determine the best delivery mechanism for each patient – smoke, vaporize, eat, oils?

How did a plant that appears to have many benefits get to be so reviled?  It doesn’t have a history of recorded deaths, like alcohol and tobacco.  However it is a schedule I drug which means that it is considered to have no medicinal value.  That puts it in the same class as heroin.

He covers the history of marijuana and the racial inequality that led to it being so problematic in the United States.  He investigated what happened when other countries decriminalized possession.  He talked to scientists to learn about the latest research in medical marijuana.

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I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the history of the drug wars in the United States and the potential benefits of legalization.

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03 Nov, 2016

Can You Afford Your Life? The Invoice

/ posted in: Reading Can You Afford Your Life?  The Invoice The Invoice by Jonas Karlsson
Published by Hogarth on July 12th 2016
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 204
Format: Hardcover
Source: From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: Sweden

“A passionate film buff, our hero’s life revolves around his part-time job at a video store, the company of a few precious friends, and a daily routine that more often than not concludes with pizza and movie in his treasured small space in Stockholm. When he receives an astronomical invoice from a random national bureaucratic agency, everything will tumble into madness as he calls the hotline night and day to find out why he is the recipient of the largest bill in the entire country.”


Our hero lives a small life.  He doesn’t pay much attention to the outside world.  He works part time at a video store that specializes in obscure foreign films that no one wants to rent.  He had a girlfriend once but she left him to go marry the man her family chose.  He has one friend.

When the bill comes it is a shock.  Why would he owe 500,000 kronor (about $55,000)?  Who does he owe it to?  He calls the number on the bill and finds out.

Everyone in the world is being charged a fee for the happiness in their lives.

He has the largest bill in Sweden.  He’s sure there has to be a mistake.  He is allowed to appeal and this starts an investigation about whether he truly is the happiest man in Sweden.


I related to the man in this story.  He doesn’t have a life that anyone would objectively describe as great from the outside but he is satisfied with his situation.  As much as I come across as sarcastic and cynical at first glance, I’m actually a happy person.  It pains me to say it.  I don’t want to be an optimist but it seems to be a fact.  I was told this in no uncertain terms by my ex-husband.  In fact, he listed it as one of my major flaws.  “You’re happy in whatever situation you’re in,” he spat at me in true anger.  He took that to be a character flaw that led to my lack of desire for social climbing.  Recently, I had lunch with a former coworker.  At one point she said to me, “You don’t like to seem like it, but you’re nice” in a tone usually reserved for statements like, “You are a horrible racist pig.”

Another thing that raised the hero’s bill was his ability to see the best in situations and to learn from them.  I’m afraid that in both of the above situations I was thinking as they happened that each was going to make a wonderful story.  When my husband complains about the time in St. Thomas when I almost had us fall off a cliff into the ocean at night I always respond, “We had an adventure!”  Oh, I am so screwed when my happiness bill comes due.

This is a great short story about finding out what is truly valuable in life.

What do you think that your happiness bill would be?

 

 

02 Nov, 2016

The Whole Town’s Talking

/ posted in: Reading The Whole Town’s Talking The Whole Town's Talking by Fannie Flagg
Published by Random House on November 29th 2016
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Fiction
Pages: 224
Format: eARC
Source: From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: Missouri

“Elmwood Springs, Missouri, is a small town like any other, but something strange is happening out at the cemetery. “Still Meadows,” as it’s called, is anything but still.”


I love Fannie Flagg’s books.  You know what you are going to get with them.  They will be funny and heartfelt stories of small towns.

This is the story of the founding of Elmwood Springs, Missouri.  It is settled by Swedish farmers who decide that they need to carve out a town to support their farms.  The first white settler in the area was named Lordor Nordstrom.  Eventually the women of the surrounding farms decide that he needs a wife.  He advertises for a bride and finds a nice Swedish woman in Chicago.  Their romance is sweet and charming.

The town grows through the years and eventually the founding settlers begin to die.  This is where the story takes a turn.  In Elmwood Springs the residents of the cemetery are still involved in town life.  They keep up on the local gossip from interviewing new arrivals and from listening to what visitors to the cemetery say.

I liked the beginning of the book but most of the cemetery section was less interesting for me.  The action skipped over years at a time.  It was hard to keep track of the family trees as time passed.  The epilogue of the book redeemed it for me though.  It ties together what appeared to be major plot holes in the story in a satisfying way.

This was a quick read. I read it in one setting.  This is a great book for a cozy night of comfort reading when you don’t want anything too challenging.

 

Book received from NetGalley in exchange for a review
03 Oct, 2016

Born A Crime

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

“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.

 

29 Sep, 2016

Seducing the Marquess

/ posted in: Reading Seducing the Marquess Seducing the Marquess by Callie Hutton
on October 17th 2016
Genres: Regency, Romance
Format: eARC
Source: From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: England

“Richard, Marquess of Devon is satisfied with his ton marriage. His wife of five months, Lady Eugenia Devon, thought she was, too, until she found the book. Their marriage is one of respect and affection, with no messy entanglements such as love. Devon’s upbringing impressed upon him that gentlemen slake their baser needs on a mistress, not their gently bred wives. However, once married, he was no longer comfortable bedding a woman other Eugenia. When she stumbles onto a naughty book, she begins a campaign to change the rules.”


This book started with an interesting twist.  Instead of being all about the courtship like most Regency romances, this story starts after the couple has been married for five months.  Eugenia hears the news that her husband’s mistress has died in an accident and decides to take this opportunity to convince him to not find another one.  At the same time she comes across a sex manual in a book store.  (Let’s just set aside the unlikeliness of a sex manual in a Regency bookstore in a place where a lady could come across it, ok?)

Up until now their physical relationship has consisted of scheduled three nights a week sex mostly clothed in the dark in order to produce an heir.  She was told by her mother that she should just lie still and think about redecorating and it would be over soon.  He was told that you do you duty with your wife and keep a mistress on the side for any of your desires other than procreation.  All this advice has resulted in some people with some very mixed up ideas and hang ups about sex.

Eugenia’s attempt to spice up their marriage does not go well.  Her husband is horrified.  He starts to avoid her.  No more scheduled times.  Now she has to try to seduce him to get him back.  He is convinced that she has taken a lover because of her new found knowledge.  It is all an object lesson about why people should talk to each other when they are married instead of making assumptions.

I did enjoy this twist on a historical romance.  This book would be good for Regency fans who don’t mind a little bit of explicit sexual talk and activity.

 

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for a review.

 

26 Sep, 2016

Dancers After Dark

/ posted in: Reading Dancers After Dark Dancers After Dark by Jordan Matter
Published by Workman Publishing on September 28th 2016
Genres: Photography, Subjects & Themes, Sports
Pages: 256
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
Published by Clarkson Potter on June 7th 2016
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Pages: 272
Format: Hardcover
Source: From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
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Setting: New York

“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.

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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
Published by Cleis Press on April 12th 2016
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Pages: 320
Format: ARC
Source: From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: California

“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.

 

29 Aug, 2016

Murder at the House of Rooster Happiness

/ posted in: Reading Murder at the House of Rooster Happiness Murder at the House of Rooster Happiness (Ethical Chiang Mai Detective Agency #1) by David Casarett
Published by Redhook on September 13th 2016
Genres: Crime & Mystery
Pages: 368
Format: ARC
Source: From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: Thailand

“Two nights ago, a young woman brought her husband into the emergency room of the Sriphat Hospital in Thailand, where he passed away. A guard thinks she remembers her coming in before, but with a different husband – one who also died.
 Ladarat Patalung, for one, would have been happier without a serial murderer-if there is one — loose in her hospital. Then again, she never expected to be a detective in the first place.
 And now, Ladarat has no choice but to investigate…”


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Ladarat Patalung is a nurse ethicist at a hospital in Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand. When a police detective asks for her help in searching records to see if this woman has brought other men to the hospital, she finds herself falling in love with the idea of being a detective.

Her life has been stagnant. She was widowed twelve years ago after just a few years of marriage. Her life revolves around her job and her cat. Now she is being proactive and getting involved in the lives of people around her.

It becomes obvious very quickly that this book is written by a Western man for an intended audience who is not familiar with Thai culture. Terms that would be easily recognized by a Thai audience are painstakingly defined. The author has spent a lot of time in Thailand and has done a lot of research but it does distance the reader from the story. He works all this detail in by having Ladarat contemplate everything around her very deeply. It makes her come off as a very cerebral and unemotional character who is always partially removed from the people and circumstances around her.

I love the premise of the main mystery. Why does a woman bring in a second dead husband a few months after her last one died? That’s what made me interested in the book. I also haven’t read many books set in Thailand. However, there are several other plots in this book and sometimes that mystery gets forgotten for a while. There is the story of an American man who is injured while on his honeymoon. This serves to set up discussions on American versus Thai responses to health care and crises. There is also a mystery man hanging out in the waiting room who never speaks to anyone. Ladarat is charged with getting rid of him because there is an inspection of her hospital in a few days and the administration doesn’t want homeless people hanging around.

I did learn about Thai culture and attitudes while reading this book.  I’d recommend this for people who like deliberately paced stories with plenty of slice of life details about places that they aren’t familiar with.  Another book that does this well is The Marriage Bureau for Rich People.

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18 Aug, 2016

The Other Einstein

/ posted in: Reading The Other Einstein The Other Einstein: A Novel by Marie Benedict
Published by Sourcebooks Landmark on October 18th 2016
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: Switzerland and Serbia

“What secrets may have lurked in the shadows of Albert Einstein’s fame? His first wife, Mileva “Mitza” Marić, was more than the devoted mother of their three children—she was also a brilliant physicist in her own right, and her contributions to the special theory of relativity have been hotly debated for more than a century.
In 1896, the extraordinarily gifted Mileva is the only woman studying physics at an elite school in Zürich. There, she falls for charismatic fellow student Albert Einstein, who promises to treat her as an equal in both love and science. But as Albert’s fame grows, so too does Mileva’s worry that her light will be lost in her husband’s shadow forever.”


Albert Einstein and his wife Mileva Maric

This was one of the books that I was most excited about after BEA. It is a book that seems designed just for me.

  • Historical fiction ✔️
  • About women’s history ✔️
  • Science ✔️

So why did I delay reading this until now?

Every time I picked it up I couldn’t quite bring myself to read it.  I knew what it was going to be.  It is yet another story of a woman who was forced to give up her own ambitions to fit in with the mores of her time.  Honestly, the thought exhausted me.

The book is a well written story of the life of Mileva Maric.  She was a Serbian woman who attended university in Zurich in physics.  She was Einstein’s classmate.  She finished her coursework but failed her degree.  She had a child with Einstein before they married.  That child either died young or was given up for adoption.  Nothing is known for sure.  After their marriage they had two sons.  They divorced when he was having an affair.  His mother didn’t like her because Mileva was an inferior dark-skinned Slavic person.  (I don’t know.  She looks pretty pale to me but I’m Slavic too so Mama Einstein probably wouldn’t have cared for my opinion either.)

It isn’t known if she helped him with his scientific work.  There are some letters from him to her where he refers to “our work” but it is earlier in the relationship.  This book imagines that she had the idea for relativity and worked on the math.

What follows is a story of erasure.  Her name isn’t on the paper because it wouldn’t look good that he needed the help of a woman.  He stops asking her for advice.  She feels like he sees her as just a housewife.  He spends more and more time away and blames her for being selfish if she questions him.  He tries to impose a bizarre contract on her in order to keep the marriage together for the sake of the children.

“CONDITIONS

A. You will make sure:

1. that my clothes and laundry are kept in good order;
2. that I will receive my three meals regularly in my room;
3. that my bedroom and study are kept neat, and especially that my desk is left for my use only.

B. You will renounce all personal relations with me insofar as they are not completely necessary for social reasons. Specifically, You will forego:

1. my sitting at home with you;
2. my going out or travelling with you.

C. You will obey the following points in your relations with me:

1. you will not expect any intimacy from me, nor will you reproach me in any way;
2. you will stop talking to me if I request it;
3. you will leave my bedroom or study immediately without protest if I request it.

D. You will undertake not to belittle me in front of our children, either through words or behavior.”  Source

This is the part that was hard to read.  I wish I was more surprised by it but my feeling as I was reading this was, “Yeah, same ol’ same ol'”  This is the story of ambitious women from the beginning of time.

I was thrilled when she was awarded the proceeds of any future Nobel Prize in the divorce settlement.  You go girl!  She got it too.  That’s actual historical fact.  Actually she got to live on the interest from it which she invested in rental properties.


I’d recommend this book to any historical fiction fans.

4flower

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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
Published by Hachette Books on February 7th 2017
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Pages: 304
Format: ARC
Source: From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: New York

“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

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