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24 Feb, 2017

The Magnolia Story

/ posted in: Reading The Magnolia Story The Magnolia Story Published by HarperCollins Christian Publishing on October 18th 2016
Genres: Biography & Autobiography
Pages: 208
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads
Setting: Texas

Are you ready to see your fixer upper?
These famous words are now synonymous with the dynamic husband-and-wife team Chip and Joanna Gaines, stars of HGTV’s Fixer Upper.

The Magnolia Story is the first book from Chip and Joanna, offering their fans a detailed look at their life together. From the very first renovation project they ever tackled together, to the project that nearly cost them everything; from the childhood memories that shaped them, to the twists and turns that led them to the life they share on the farm today.

 


Chip and Joanna Gaines first met when he stopped by her father’s tire store.  Then he was 45 minutes late for their first date with no explanation.  He didn’t have a plan for what to do either.  This should have made her lose interest in him but he talked to her about his plans for buying and renovating small houses.  She was intrigued.

I’ve always been interested in that too.  In fact we are working on that ourselves now too.  But there is one huge difference.  As Chip got more and more houses and started eyeing bigger projects, he started taking on large amounts of debt.  As an advocate of trying to be debt-free, that made me cringe.  It seemed like he had either no idea of the financial risks that he was taking or he just didn’t care.  He talks at one point about Joanna thinking they were broke when they had $1000.  He didn’t think they were broke until there was no money left at all.  Seriously, this would stressful to read if you didn’t know the ending.  I feel like the message here could be interpreted as, “Go wild.  Go crazy in debt.  It’ll be ok.  Someone will come along and fix it for you like magic.”

Don’t do that.

Sure, they bumped along for a while in small houses that they would fix up and then rent out.  They did a lot of work to build up their various businesses.  But a lot of the original capital came from family money and they got bailed out by rich friends after they messed up their credit.  So while I think that this is supposed to read like a rags to riches tale of entrepreneurship, there is always the reminder that there were fairly well off parents in the background who weren’t going to let them crash and burn completely.

I did enjoy the story of their multi-day audition for HGTV that was horrible until they got into a fight over Chip buying a houseboat that didn’t float.

This was a quick read that gives you a glimpse of the back story of a popular TV show.  It fleshes out the people involved a little more.  I think that Chip comes across as more self-centered and irresponsible than he does on TV.  He makes a lot of reckless decisions without consulting his wife that he then expects her to deal with.  She goes along eventually and makes it sound like it is all fine with her but there is a bit of a brittle edge to her story telling sometimes.  I just want to ask her, “Girl, you have an emergency fund in your name only for you and all those babies, right?  Because this man is going to do something catastrophic sometime.”

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • POC authors
23 Feb, 2017

Celebrity Memoir Edition

/ posted in: Reading Celebrity Memoir Edition Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick
Published by Touchstone on November 15th 2016
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Pages: 271
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Goodreads

Even before she made a name for herself on the silver screen starring in films like Pitch Perfect, Up in the Air, Twilight, and Into the Woods, Anna Kendrick was unusually small, weird, and “10 percent defiant.”
At the ripe age of thirteen, she had already resolved to “keep the crazy inside my head where it belonged. Forever. But here’s the thing about crazy: It. Wants. Out.” In Scrappy Little Nobody, she invites readers inside her brain, sharing extraordinary and charmingly ordinary stories with candor and winningly wry observations.
With her razor-sharp wit, Anna recounts the absurdities she’s experienced on her way to and from the heart of pop culture as only she can—from her unusual path to the performing arts (Vanilla Ice and baggy neon pants may have played a role) to her double life as a middle-school student who also starred on Broadway to her initial “dating experiments” (including only liking boys who didn’t like her back) to reviewing a binder full of butt doubles to her struggle to live like an adult woman instead of a perpetual “man-child.”

 


I’m not a big fan of celebrity memoirs.  I’m also not a big fan of memoirs written by people in their 20s.  So why would I listen to this audiobook?

I took a chance on it because I figured that Anna Kendrick’s public persona is funny so maybe the book would be too.  I was right.

This isn’t a straight biography.  Her life isn’t told in strict chronological order.  This is more a series of stories that illustrates different points in her life.  I hadn’t realized that she was in a Broadway musical as a kid.  She talks about her life in California before she could get a job.  You find out what changes when you get famous and what doesn’t.  You find out how Twilight films pay for your life while you are doing press for the film that got you an Oscar nomination but didn’t pay much.

I recommend this one on audio to hear her read it.  This book also has the best book group discussion questions ever.

If you want a fun, short book about the ups and downs of show business with a large dose of anxiety thrown in, this is the book for you.


Celebrity Memoir Edition Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls, and Everything in Between by Lauren Graham
Published by Ballantine Books on November 29th 2016
Pages: 224
Goodreads

In this collection of personal essays, the beloved star of Gilmore Girls and Parenthood reveals stories about life, love, and working as a woman in Hollywood—along with behind-the-scenes dispatches from the set of the new Gilmore Girls, where she plays the fast-talking Lorelai Gilmore once again.
In Talking as Fast as I Can, Lauren Graham hits pause for a moment and looks back on her life, sharing laugh-out-loud stories about growing up, starting out as an actress, and, years later, sitting in her trailer on the Parenthood set and asking herself, “Did you, um, make it?” She opens up about the challenges of being single in Hollywood (“Strangers were worried about me; that’s how long I was single!”), the time she was asked to audition her butt for a role, and her experience being a judge on Project Runway.

Despite my protestations that I don’t like celebrity memoirs, I listened to another one.

I never realized that they talked fast on Gilmore Girls until I read a review of the series. I figured that’s just how people talked. (Likewise, I found out that they speak in Chinese on Firefly long after I watched the whole series.  I’m slow on the uptake.)

But when I started this audiobook on my standard 1.5 times the speed setting on my iPod, it was quick.  I learned to listen fast enough for it though after a minute or so.  If you thought the show was quick, you may want to slow this audiobook down.

Like Anna Kendrick, I didn’t know anything about Lauren Graham outside her roles.  This is also not a straight chronological memoir but a series of thoughts on different points in her life.  She talks about being on shows with younger cast members led her to feeling old and giving advice that isn’t always appreciated.  For example, are you sure that’s a body part you want to pierce and/or post a picture of on the internet?

She talks about moving into writing from acting.  This part can sound a little too much like an advertisement to buy her novel.

I wish for the audiobook they had described the photos that she is referring to in the book instead of just saying, “See photo 16 for how I looked that day.”  Not helpful.

Overall, this was a fast (4 hour) listen and fun if you are a fan.  If you haven’t watched Gilmore Girls, skip it because you’ll get confused.  There is a lot of talking about a scene here or there and if you haven’t got a basic familiarity with the show, it would be boring.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
22 Feb, 2017

Being Mortal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

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

Her Nightly Embrace – Fun but oh so problematic

/ posted in: Reading Her Nightly Embrace – Fun but oh so problematic Her Nightly Embrace (Ravi PI #1) by Adi Tantimedh
Series: Ravi PI #1
Published by Atria/Leopoldo & Co. on November 1st 2016
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 320
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Goodreads
Setting: England

Ravi Chandra Singh is the last guy you’d expect to become a private detective. A failed religious scholar, he now works for Golden Sentinels, an upmarket London private investigations agency. His colleagues are a band of gleefully amoral and brilliant screw-ups: Ken and Clive, a pair of brutal ex-cops who are also a gay couple; Mark Chapman, a burned-out stoner hiding a great mind; Marcie Holder, a cheerful former publicist; Benjamin Lee, a techie prankster from South London; David Okri, an ambitious lawyer from a well-connected Nigerian immigrant family; and Olivia Wong, an upper-class Hong Kong financial analyst hiding her true skills as one of the most dangerous hackers in the world—all under the watchful eye of Roger Golden, wheeler-dealer extraordinaire, and his mysterious office manager, Cheryl Hughes.
Thrust into a world where the rich, famous, and powerful hire him to solve their problems and wash their dirty laundry, Ravi finds himself in over his head with increasingly gonzo and complex cases – and the recent visions that he’s been having of Hindu gods aren’t helping. As Ravi struggles to stay ahead of danger, he wonders if the things he’s seeing are a delusion – or if he might, in fact, be an unrecognized shaman of the modern world...


I loved this story of a private eye handling high profile cases while the Hindu gods watch him and text on their phones.  There are several cases discussed here and they were well done.  I want to read more in this series to see what happens with the gods.

BUT….

The first case in the book is super problematic.  It only covers maybe the first 1/3 of the book so discussing it isn’t going to going spoil the whole thing but here’s your warning.

A politician comes to the agency because he says that his dead girlfriend is having sex with him at night.  It turns out that the politician takes a lot of sleeping pills at night so he isn’t fully aware of what is going on.  His former girlfriend was a transwoman and he didn’t know.  She was mid-transition when she got sick and then met him.  Instead of talking to him about, you know, her life or anything, she would have her twin sister switch places with her at night.  Her sister had sex with him.  Then the girlfriend died of her illness and the sister kept sneaking into the house and having sex with the drugged guy because she was a sex addict.

(Go ahead and pick all the nonsense out of that paragraph at your leisure.)

Ok, so no matter how you dress that up, that’s a rape case.  But, the word rape is never uttered.  I think the closest they get is saying assault.  I believe you are meant to feel bad for the woman who might get prosecuted if the politician decides to go public.  I didn’t.

But then ….. wait for it…..

The woman who should be in jail for rape not only starts dating the main character but she gets a job in the agency.

via GIPHY
I kept listening in hope that something was going to happen to get them to all see that this was wrong. They don’t. The rest of the book is so much better than this.  This story could easily have been gotten rid of and not affect the rest of the book.  I would love to think that when they adapt this for TV that they will live this case out but these things never work out the way I’d like.

About Adi Tantimedh

Adi Tantimedh has a BA in English Literature from Bennington College and an MFA in Film and Television Production from New York University. He is of Chinese-Thai descent and came of age in Singapore and London. He has written radio plays and television scripts for the BBC and screenplays for various Hollywood companies, as well as graphic novels for DC Comics and Big Head Press, and a weekly column about pop culture for BleedingCool.com. He wrote “Zinky Boys Go Underground,” the first post-Cold War Russian gangster thriller, which won the BAFTA for Best Short Film in 1995.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Books Set in Europe
  • POC authors
08 Feb, 2017

On The Noodle Road

/ posted in: Reading On The Noodle Road On the Noodle Road: From Beijing to Rome, with Love and Pasta by Jen Lin-Liu
Published by Riverhead Books on July 25th 2013
Genres: Cooking, Nonfiction
Pages: 388
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads
Setting: China, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kzyrgystan, Iran, Turkey, Greece, Italy

Feasting her way through an Italian honeymoon, Jen Lin-Liu was struck by culinary echoes of the delicacies she ate and cooked back in China, where she’d lived for more than a decade. Who really invented the noodle? she wondered, like many before her. But also: How had food and culture moved along the Silk Road, the ancient trade route linking Asia to Europe—and what could still be felt of those long-ago migrations?
The journey takes Lin-Liu into the private kitchens where the headscarves come off and women not only knead and simmer but also confess and confide. The thin rounds of dough stuffed with meat that are dumplings in Beijing evolve into manti in Turkey—their tiny size the measure of a bride’s worth—and end as tortellini in Italy. And as she stirs and samples, listening to the women talk about their lives and longings, Lin-Liu gains a new appreciation of her own marriage, learning to savor the sweetness of love freely chosen.


A travel book about noodles?  I had to read this book as soon as I heard of it.  Add in the fact that in 2017 I’m trying to read more Asian authors and books set in Central Asia and this book was perfect for me.  It took me forever to read it though.  I think I found this book so soothing that I would fall asleep after a few pages.  It wasn’t boring.  It just relaxed me.

The author is a Chinese-American journalist who lives in Beijing with her white American husband.  She owns a cooking school.  While most people in the west think of rice when they think of staple dishes of China, noodles are more common in the cuisine of northern China.  She decides to follow the path of the Silk Road to see how noodles spread between China and Italy.  Who invented them?

First of all, the old story about Marco Polo discovering noodles in Asia and bringing them to Italy is not true.  The true history of noodles turns out to be very difficult to figure out.  The author travels from China through central Asia and into Iran and Turkey interviewing chefs and home cooks.  She is taught to cook dishes that amaze her and dishes that she learns to dread like plov, a central Asian rice dish that she was fed at every meal.  I thought plov sounded really good if you left out all the dead animal parts that she kept being served.  For a book that was supposed to be about noodles, it was very heavy on the meat.  She had sheep killed in her honor and a lot of time was spent sourcing and waxing poetic over pork in Muslim countries.

There is also a lot of discussion about relationships and the role of women in society.  At the time she started this trip, the author was recently married and was considering whether or not to have children.  She is very conflicted about what her role should be in her marriage.  Both she and her husband travel for work.  Can they keep doing that?  Should they stay in China?  Does being married automatically mean giving up her independence?  She spends part of the trip traveling alone and part of it with her husband.  She talks to women as they cook about what their relationships are like. She realizes that her love of homemade noodles means that someone has to spend all that time making them. Younger women with jobs outside the house tend not to learn those skills.

I-was-beginning-to

This book does have many recipes if you would like to try making different types of noodles and dishes featuring noodles. It even has recipes for plov. It won’t give you the answer though to where the noodle originated. That answer is lost in time.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in Asia
  • Foodies Read 2017
  • POC authors
07 Feb, 2017

I Almost Forgot About You

/ posted in: Reading I Almost Forgot About You I Almost Forgot About You by Terry McMillan
Published by Crown on June 7th 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Fiction, Love & Romance
Pages: 368
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Goodreads
Setting: California

In I Almost Forgot About You, Dr. Georgia Young's wonderful life--great friends, family, and successful career--aren't enough to keep her from feeling stuck and restless. When she decides to make some major changes in her life, quitting her job as an optometrist, and moving house, she finds herself on a wild journey that may or may not include a second chance at love.

Georgia’s life is turned around when she finds out that a person she loved in college has died.  She decides to get in touch with the men she has loved to tell them that she appreciated them.

I decided to download this book on a whim before a long road trip.  It was fun and laugh at loud funny in parts.  Georgia is trying to decide what to do with her life.  Her children are grown.  Her job is boring her.  She wants to make a change but isn’t sure what that will look like.  In the meantime, she is dealing with her mother’s remarriage, her daughters’ marriages and pregnancies, and her friends deciding that they too will be making big changes.  Facing the men from her past feels like too much at times.

The first thing Georgia wants to do in her new life is to take a solo train trip from San Francisco to Vancouver and then across Canada.  That’s something I’ve always wanted to do too.  I’d love to just look at the scenery and read for a week.  It sounds like the perfect introvert trip.

The women  in her life are very against her traveling solo.  They even imply that she shouldn’t go on her trip unless she can take a man with her, even though Georgia isn’t in a relationship and hasn’t dated in years.  That annoyed me.

Bad rep alert:

There is a minor storyline about a man leaving his wife for his boyfriend.  This is discussed as the man being gay now. Bisexuality is never discussed.  That’s a missed opportunity.  The wife doesn’t want him to discuss this with their children until they are older.  It seems to imply that homosexuality/bisexuality has to remain an adults-only conversation.  This is refuted later when the kids talk about it very matter of factly. They obviously aren’t traumatized at all.

There is a man in Georgia’s life who seems to me to be very smug.  He routinely overrides what Georgia says she wants.  This is portrayed in the book as romantic and him knowing Georgia better than she knows herself.  I found it a bit creepy.


Despite its issues, I really enjoyed this book.  The depictions of female friendships are very well done.  I love her friend Wanda and her outlook on Georgia’s life.  This is a great light read when you want a book that will make you laugh.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • POC authors
06 Feb, 2017

Beneath The Surface

/ posted in: Enviromentalist Wacko PostsReading Beneath The Surface Beneath the Surface: Killer Whales, SeaWorld, and the Truth Beyond Blackfish by John Hargrove, Howard Chua-Eoan
Published by St. Martin's Press on March 24th 2015
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs, Science
Pages: 264
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Goodreads
Setting: United States

Over the course of two decades, John Hargrove worked with 20 different whales on two continents and at two of SeaWorld's U.S. facilities. For Hargrove, becoming an orca trainer fulfilled a childhood dream. However, as his experience with the whales deepened, Hargrove came to doubt that their needs could ever be met in captivity. When two fellow trainers were killed by orcas in marine parks, Hargrove decided that SeaWorld's wildly popular programs were both detrimental to the whales and ultimately unsafe for trainers.
After leaving SeaWorld, Hargrove became one of the stars of the controversial documentary Blackfish. The outcry over the treatment of SeaWorld's orca has now expanded beyond the outlines sketched by the award-winning documentary, with Hargrove contributing his expertise to an advocacy movement that is convincing both federal and state governments to act.

As I listened to this book written by a former orca trainer at Sea World, the analogy that kept coming to mind was alien abduction.  Humans have taken orcas out of their natural environment by force.  They are made to live in cells with others of their species with whom they do not share a language.  Several died before the exact requirements for keeping them were figured out.  Humans control when they eat, when they play, and when they are bred.  Humans separate them from their offspring even though we know orcas have complex matriarchal families.

This is a fitting analogy because eventually the author discusses it too.  Seen in this light, it is impossible to justify the practice of using whales and dolphins for entertainment.

The author started as a true believer in Sea World.  From the age of 6 he dedicated his life to becoming an orca trainer.  He loved the whales.  He believed that some of the whales cared for him too.  But he came to realize that no matter how close the relationship between whale and trainer was, at the end of the day he was still their prison guard.  It is only natural that an intelligent creature kept under these conditions will try to fight back.

The book opens with the detailed account of his attack by a whale.  He is clear that the whale chose to let him live.  His break with Sea World came after the 2009 and 2010 deaths of trainers.  In each instance Sea World’s public statements blamed the trainers for making mistakes.  After studying the incidents it was clear to him that they did not and that Sea World was lying to hide the fact that this aggression was a result of psychological stress to the whales.

He discusses many types of aggression and health problems that result from captivity.  One telling story concerns the baby whales.  They swim nonstop for several months after birth.  This is because in the wild orcas never stop moving.  They have to learn to stop and float still in the tiny Sea World pools.

Since the animals are not able to released, he discusses options for how to care for the current whales in a more humane way.

Even if you’ve seen Blackfish, I’d recommend this book to get a better idea about the lives of the whales from someone who has lived on both sides of the issue.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Backlist Books
  • LBGTQ authors/characters
27 Jan, 2017

Graphic Novels

/ posted in: Reading Graphic Novels Lady Killer (Lady Killer, #1) by Joëlle Jones, Jamie S. Rich, Chelsea Cain
Published by Dark Horse Books on September 15th 2015
Pages: 138
Format: Graphic
Source: Library, Owned
Goodreads

Betty Draper meets Hannibal!
Josie Schuller is a picture-perfect homemaker, wife, and mother—but she’s also a ruthless, efficient killer for hire! A brand-new original comedy series that combines the wholesome imagery of early 1960s domestic bliss with a tightening web of murder, paranoia, and cold-blooded survival.
* New original series by Joëlle Jones!
* Dark comedy, gritty action, and killer laughs!

I’m not a huge graphic novel fan because they are over too quickly.  I don’t like a book that is done in 20 minutes. Occasionally though I pick some up because I love the look of the art.

How can you not love the cover of Lady Killer?  Each book ends with a fake advertisement aimed at 1960s housewives who are also assassins.  Think of this book as Mr and Mrs Smith set in the 60s if Mr Smith wasn’t a spy.


Graphic Novels Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening (Collected Editions) by Marjorie M. Liu, Sana Takeda, Rus Wooton
Published by Image Comics on July 19th 2016
Pages: 202
Goodreads

Set in an alternate matriarchal 1900's Asia, in a richly imagined world of art deco-inflected steam punk, MONSTRESS tells the story of a teenage girl who is struggling to survive the trauma of war, and who shares a mysterious psychic link with a monster of tremendous power, a connection that will transform them both and make them the target of both human and otherworldly powers.

The art in Monstress is beautiful.  I wasn’t that big of a fan of the story.  I’m definitely in the minority with that opinion.  Every other review I read is raving about this book.

I did like the two tailed cats who are obviously the smartest beings around – as cats should be.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • POC authors
26 Jan, 2017

The Reader by Traci Chee

/ posted in: Reading The Reader by Traci Chee The Reader (Sea of Ink and Gold, #1) by Traci Chee
Published by Putnam on September 13th 2016
Genres: Fantasy & Magic
Pages: 442
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads

Once there was, and one day there will be. This is the beginning of every story.
Sefia lives her life on the run. After her father is viciously murdered, she flees to the forest with her aunt Nin, the only person left she can trust. They survive in the wilderness together, hunting and stealing what they need, forever looking over their shoulders for new threats. But when Nin is kidnapped, Sefia is suddenly on her own, with no way to know who’s taken Nin or where she is. Her only clue is a strange rectangular object that once belonged to her father, something she comes to realize is a book.
Though reading is unheard of in Sefia’s world, she slowly learns, unearthing the book’s closely guarded secrets, which may be the key to Nin’s disappearance and discovering what really happened the day her father was killed.

Looking at reviews of this book it seems like this is either a book you adore or one that you don’t understand at all.  I’m in the don’t understand category.

The premise seems good.  A girl’s family is killed and she goes on the run with the thing that they were guarding – a book.  No one reads in this time so she doesn’t know why the book is important.

Ok, that seems like a good start.  But it starts to break down quickly.

RiverSongSpoilers

She vaguely remembers her mother playing with blocks with letters on them with her until her father tells them that it is too dangerous.  From that vague memory of a few letters, she somehow teaches herself to read.  Not buying it.  She starts reading a story in the book about pirates.  Then she rescues a boy who is being held to fight other boys to the death.  They chase after people who captured him and took her aunt away.  Eventually, the pirates from the book show up in real life.  Yeah.   But then she can’t find the story about the pirates in the book anymore.  Is the book gigantic or does it change or what?  Suddenly, it supposedly contains the stories of everyone but the only story that we see from it is the pirates.  Then there are people chasing the girl because she has magic but it isn’t clear whether they want her or the book or what.  Then they get captured but they run away.  The end.

What we don’t know:

  • Why is she magic?
  • Why do some people have magic of various kinds and others don’t?
  • Why are books outlawed?
  • What or who made this book so powerful?
  • Is Archer (the guy she rescued) the embodiment of a prophecy or just some guy?

I kept reading this book because I was certain it had to go somewhere and have everything tie together eventually.  I was wrong.  It wasted a great premise.  This is supposedly the first book in a series so maybe it will all make sense eventually but I don’t want to slog through more books to find out.

About Traci Chee

“Traci Chee is an author of speculative fiction for teens. An all-around word geek, she loves book arts and art books, poetry and paper crafts, though she also dabbles at piano playing, egg painting, and hosting potluck game nights for family and friends. She studied literature and creative writing at UC Santa Cruz and earned a master of arts degree from San Francisco State University. Traci grew up in a small town with more cows than people, and now feels most at home in the mountains, scaling switchbacks and happening upon hidden highland lakes. She lives in California with her fast-fast dog.”

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • POC authors
12 Jan, 2017

Kingdom of Strangers

/ posted in: Reading Kingdom of Strangers Kingdom of Strangers Series: Nayir Sharqi & Katya Hijazi #3
on June 5th 2012
Genres: Mystery & Detective
Pages: 375
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads
Setting: Saudi Arabia

“A secret grave in the desert is unearthed revealing the mutilated bodies of nineteen women and the shocking truth that a serial killer has been operating undetected in Jeddah for more than a decade.
However, lead inspector Ibrahim Zahrani, is distracted by a mystery closer to home. His mistress has suddenly disappeared, but he cannot report her missing, since adultery is punishable by death. With nowhere to turn, Ibrahim brings the case to Katya, one of the few women on the force. Drawn into both investigations, she must be increasingly careful to hide a secret of her own.”


This is the third book in this wonderful mystery series that features a woman trying to advance in the man’s world of Saudi Arabia.  Katya is officially a forensics tech.  She wants to be a detective but that is not allowed.  There is push back now about even allowing women to work in the police department at all.  Some people only want women to do things men absolutely can’t like search female suspects and handle female corpses.

Katya has set out to make herself necessary.  Now a gravesite with nineteen women has been found and she wants to help with the case.  When an expert on serial killers is brought in to help with the case and she turns out to be female, Katya is excited but worried about the hostility this brings up in her male coworkers.

She is also worried about her secret getting out.  Only married women are allowed to work for the police.  She isn’t married but has been pretending that she is.  Now she is actually getting married and her father wants to invite everyone.  She is also having concerns about the marriage.  Nayir, her fiance who she met in the first book, is much more conservative than she is.  She can tell that he is uneasy about her working with men.  Will he try to control her once they marry even if he claims that he won’t now?

The author lived in Saudi Arabia and that shows in the small details of her writing.  The story seems to have a strong sense of place in Jeddah.  There are many issues brought up in this book.

The mistreatment of Asian women

Many Asian women are brought to Saudi Arabia to work as maids.  Abuse is rampant.  The women are charged fees to get jobs.  They can’t always pay back the fees and end up in virtual slavery.  Some are repeatedly raped.  The mystery in this book focuses on the difficulty of solving crimes involving these women because so many run away from the abuse and are not reported missing.

Morality as a weapon

Enforcement of morality is a theme in several parts of this book.  The investigation is dragging on because the head coroner won’t let men handle the bodies of the murdered women to preserve their modesty in death.  But, there aren’t enough women to process the bodies quickly because they don’t like to hire women.

Old case files have the pictures of female victims removed because of modesty making it hard to compare them to new cases.

A missing woman can’t be reported missing because the only person who knows that she is gone is her married lover.  If it is found out that they were together, she will be charged with prostitution and he will be charged with adultery.

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Even if you aren’t a big mystery fan, I’d recommend this series for the details of life in modern day Saudi Arabia.

About Zoe Ferraris

Zoë Ferraris moved to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of the first Gulf War. She lived in a conservative Muslim community with her then-husband and his family, a group of Saudi-Palestinians.

In 2006, she completed her MFA in Fiction at Columbia University.

She currently lives in San Francisco.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in the Middle East
09 Jan, 2017

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf

/ posted in: Reading The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf (The Tribe #1) by Ambelin Kwaymullina
Published by Walker Books Australia on July 2012
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Young Adult
Pages: 395
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: Australia

“There will come a day when a thousand Illegals descend on your detention centres. Boomers will breach the walls. Skychangers will send lightning to strike you all down from above, and Rumblers will open the earth to swallow you up from below. . . . And when that day comes, Justin Connor, think of me.”
Ashala Wolf has been captured by Chief Administrator Neville Rose. A man who is intent on destroying Ashala’s Tribe — the runaway Illegals hiding in the Firstwood. Injured and vulnerable and with her Sleepwalker ability blocked, Ashala is forced to succumb to the machine that will pull secrets from her mind.
And right beside her is Justin Connor, her betrayer, watching her every move.
Will the Tribe survive the interrogation of Ashala Wolf?


I hadn’t heard of this book until it was selected for the Diverse SciFi and Fantasy book club on Twitter.  The author is an Indigenous Australian woman.

Several hundred years ago the Reckoning happened.  It isn’t explained exactly what occurred.  Now there are humans with special abilities.  They are killed or imprisoned when their abilities start to manifest in order to maintain the status quo of the new world.  Several of these kids have escaped into the wilderness and are living together.  They live close to a compound specially built to jail captured Illegals.

The humans haven’t decided this just because of fear of the Illegals.  They decided in response to the Reckoning that they will live in harmony with nature.  They will keep their technology simple so as not to cause another ecological disaster.  I like that the conflict between the types of Humans isn’t just based in fear.  I’d like to see the authorities’ thoughts about how keeping illegals subdued helps lessen human impact on the environment explored more.  I hear that these are explored more in the next book.

When Ashala is betrayed and captured, she is terrified that she will lead authorities to the rest of her Tribe.  They are probably protected because they have made a deal with a species of large lizards who live in the wilds between the detention center and the Tribe.  The Tribe can live in the forest if they promise not to eat any meat.  Vegetarians for the win!  But if the authorities can get past the Saurs the kids don’t have great defenses.

Something feels off about her capture and interrogation.  Ashala isn’t sure what it is.  She’s going to have to figure it out quickly because it is distracting her and distraction may make her betray her people.  She’s also grieving because of some tough decisions that she had to make for the safety of the Tribe.

I can’t talk much more about the plot without spoilers. Ashala needs to trust herself and her own mind in order to survive her interrogation and possibly find a way to escape.

The abilities of Ashala’s tribe are based in Aboriginal folklore.  I haven’t read a book before that uses that as a basis for a magical/supernatural system.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • POC authors
05 Jan, 2017

Envy of Angels by Matt Wallace

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

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


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

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

It’s a foodie urban fantasy book!

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

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

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

 

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Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Foodies Read 2017
04 Jan, 2017

Wandering Star by Romina Russell

/ posted in: Reading Wandering Star by Romina Russell Wandering Star (Zodiac, #2) by Romina Russell
Published by Razorbill on December 8th 2015
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 303
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads
Setting: Outer Space

“Orphaned, disgraced, and stripped of her title, Rho is ready to live life quietly, as an aid worker in the Cancrian refugee camp on House Capricorn.
But news has spread that the Marad–an unbalanced terrorist group determined to overturn harmony in the Galaxy–could strike any House at any moment.
Then, unwelcome nightmare that he is, Ochus appears to Rho, bearing a cryptic message that leaves her with no choice but to fight.
Now Rho must embark on a high-stakes journey through an all-new set of Houses, where she discovers that there’s much more to her Galaxy–and to herself–than she could have ever imagined.”


I decided to make my first two books I read in 2017 be the sequels to the first two books I read in 2016.  That makes me sound really organized but mostly it was me knowing what those two books were because that was where I stopped scrolling every time I was using my Goodreads list to count up last year’s reading stats.  Every time I’d think, “I never did read the next books in those series….”  So I requested them from the library and they showed up at the right time and now I look like a good planner.

Wandering Star is the sequel to Zodiac, a YA science fiction novel. I particularly fell in love with the world building of this series.

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Each world is based on an astrological sign. The inhabitants of that world all embody the characteristics of that sign. The main character is Cancerian. Her home world is based around the water. Their houses are built of sand and shells. Their personal computing devices are called Waves. Their society is built around strong familial bonds.

Romina Russell has built a detailed world and population for each of the 12 signs of the Zodiac. It is fun to travel around and see the different home worlds for each type of person, especially since in this book we visited the home for Sagittarius. I loved the fact that there are meandering paths if you want to go for a walk and think but otherwise everything is designed to get you to your destination in the shortest possible distance. You can even get shot out of a cannon to your destination. That made me laugh. My husband likes to take the longest possible way to get anywhere and it irritates me to no end. I thought that was because I was a normal person but I guess that just my sign.

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I’m less thrilled about the love triangle in this book. It is described as Rho, the Cancerian, not being able to let go of a love she once had. Ok, I appreciate it trying to be tied to her personality but really it is just annoying.

This is a fun series for when you want some quick light sci-fi with a diverse cast of characters and worlds.

About Romina Russell

Romina Russell (aka Romina Garber) is a Los Angeles based author who originally hails from Buenos Aires, Argentina. As a teen, Romina landed her first writing gig—College She Wrote, a weekly Sunday column for the Miami Herald that was later picked up for national syndication—and she hasn’t stopped writing since. When she’s not working on ZODIAC, Romina can be found producing movie trailers, taking photographs, or daydreaming about buying a new drum set. She is a graduate of Harvard College and a Virgo to the core.

03 Jan, 2017

What the #$^$ Happened to Heartless?

/ posted in: Reading What the #$^$ Happened to Heartless? Heartless by Marissa Meyer
Published by Feiwel & Friends on November 8th 2016
Genres: Young Adult
Pages: 449
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads

“Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland and a favorite of the unmarried King, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, she wants to open a shop and create delectable pastries. But for her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for a woman who could be a queen.
At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the King’s marriage proposal, she meets handsome and mysterious Jest. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the King and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into a secret courtship.
Cath is determined to choose her own destiny. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.”


I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read this book or not.

On one hand it is Alice in Wonderland which is my favorite fantasy world ever.  I liked this author’s Lunar Chronicles.

On the other hand, it is Alice in Wonderland which will make me extra mad if it gets all screwed up.

For the first 75% of this book, it was glorious.

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Catherine is a privileged daughter in Wonderland. Her only allowable aspiration is to make a good marriage. She has a different goal though. She wants to open a bakery and make tarts with her maid as her marketing guru and business advisor. Unfortunately, Catherine’s cooking has attracted the eye of the ineffectual King of Hearts. Now that a courtship is on the horizon, her mother devotes herself entirely to making sure that Catherine becomes Queen.

There was word play and appearances by most of the beloved Wonderland characters with just the right amounts of whimsy.  I was rooting for Catherine to find the nerve to stand up to her mother and say that she wasn’t going to be Queen.  Obviously, that doesn’t happen since this is the backstory to the Queen of Hearts, but a plausible explanation is built up to see how she could become Queen and still not have it go in exactly the direction that you thought it would.

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And then it happened.  (Obviously, spoilers ahead).  Catherine is given a glimpse of two futures.  One where she continues with her rebel plans and one where she doesn’t.  What happens if she rebels isn’t clear but it is very clear that if she turns back, everyone with her will either die or suffer terribly.  Almost immediately, she decides to turn back.  What?  It isn’t even 5 minutes after the ominous warnings from spooky little seer girls and already you choose the stupid route?

Ok, ok, she turns back to help her maid.  I could make a case for the needs of the many not always outweighing the need for a single person if I absolutely had to.  I still think it is overwhelmingly stupid and I had to set the book aside for a few days to let my hot white burning rage simmer down but I eventually pushed on.  Guess what happened next?

Everything the little freaky seers said about everyone will suffer and die was true!  Who saw that coming?

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Yeah. They literally just said it a few pages ago. I mean, I read those pages a few days earlier and yet I still managed to remember. It was way less time than that for Catherine but she was surprised. Seriously, if a trio of mystical fortunetellers shows you the deaths of people standing next to you and you choose to ignore them, you don’t get to go off all crazy like someone tricked you.  You don’t get to feel like you are entitled to righteous indignation because of the consequences of your misguided actions.  You really shouldn’t expect people to feel all sorry for you when you immediately decide to abandon all your ethics and previously deeply held principles.  Yes, immediately our previously tart-loving, nonqueenly Catherine decides that the only thing to do is to seize control of the throne by marrying the King and turning into a tyrant.  Because…. trauma, maybe?  She’s suffering so everyone else must suffer too?  I don’t really know.  It didn’t make much sense in the book either.  It was like it suddenly decided to say, “Yep, and now she’s evil.  Ta da!”  It was completely out of her character.

The ending wouldn’t have made me so mad if the beginning hadn’t had so much promise.  Has anyone else read this one?  Am I the only person who it turned into a boiling ball of rage?

21 Dec, 2016

Climbing the Stairs

/ posted in: Reading Climbing the Stairs Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman
on May 1, 2008
Genres: Young Adult
Pages: 256
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: India

“During World War II and the last days of British occupation in India, fifteen-year-old Vidya dreams of attending college. But when her forward-thinking father is beaten senseless by the British police, she is forced to live with her grandfather’s large traditional family, where the women live apart from the men and are meant to be married off as soon as possible.
Vidya’s only refuge becomes her grandfather’s upstairs library, which is forbidden to women. There she meets Raman, a young man also living in the house who relishes her intellectual curiosity. But when Vidya’s brother decides to fight with the hated British against the Nazis, and when Raman proposes marriage too soon, Vidya must question all she has believed in.”


I’ve been a big fan of this author’s verse novel A Time To DanceClimbing the Stairs is a bit different.  This is a historical fiction book set in World War II.  Vidya’s father is a doctor who aids nonviolent protestors who are injured by British soldiers.  Vidya’s brother is concerned about the strategic value of India leading to a Japanese invasion.  He wants to enlist in the Army.  The rest of the family is horrified.  They are Brahmin and that caste does not traditionally join the military.  They especially do not join the British Army.

Vidya’s father believes in her dream to go to college instead of being married at a young age.  When he is injured and they have to move to his father’s home, all her dreams are forgotten.  Her family is treated as a burden.  Vidya and her mother are used as servants for the rest of the family.  Vidya gets permission to read in her grandfather’s library while she watches her newborn cousin.  Here she is able to help enhance her education while her world crumbles around her.

I really enjoyed this book.  It is a short book but sets the time and place well.  There is a true conflict between appreciating and supporting the British defense of India against the Japanese while still fighting against the British subjugation of Indians.  There is conflict between traditional ideas of a woman’s place in Indian society and the desire to have a different life.

Important Spoiler about the Dog

Vidya has a dog at the beginning.  It is known that her uncle hates dogs.  I had to put the book aside for a bit because I just knew something bad was going to happen to the dog when they had to move in with the uncle and grandfather.  I can’t handle something bad happening to dogs.  Nothing does though.  He gets a good home.  They even visit him later and he is doing well.  The dog is fine.  Carry on reading.

 

About Padma Venkatraman

Padma Venkatraman was born in Chennai India and currently lives in the United States. She has a doctorate in oceanography. Her debut novel was published in 2008.

16 Dec, 2016

Marching Powder

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

14 Dec, 2016

Nujeen: One Girl’s Incredible Journey from War-torn Syria in a Wheelchair

/ posted in: Reading Nujeen: One Girl’s Incredible Journey from War-torn Syria in a Wheelchair Nujeen: One Girl's Incredible Journey from War-torn Syria in a Wheelchair by Nujeen Mustafa, Christina Lamb
Published by Harper Wave on October 11th 2016
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Pages: 304
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: Syria

“Prize-winning journalist and the co-author of smash New York Times bestseller I Am Malala, Christina Lamb, now tells the inspiring true story of another remarkable young hero: Nujeen Mustafa, a teenager born with cerebral palsy, whose harrowing journey from war-ravaged Syria to Germany in a wheelchair is a breathtaking tale of fortitude, grit, and hope that lends a face to the greatest humanitarian issue of our time, the Syrian refugee crisis.
For millions around the globe, sixteen-year-old Nujeen Mustafa embodies the best of the human spirit. Confined to a wheelchair because of her cerebral palsy and denied formal schooling in Syria because of her illness, Nujeen taught herself English by watching American soap operas. When her small town became the epicenter of the brutal fight between ISIS militants and US-backed Kurdish troops in 2014, she and her family were forced to flee.”


I finished this audiobook a few days ago just as the news was coming out about the Syrian government retaking Aleppo.  If you don’t have a good understanding of the causes of the conflict in Syria or the history of the Kurds, read this book.

Nujeen’s family was well off.  Her siblings are all older than she is.  One is a director living in Germany.  The rest were university students or graduates.  She was unable to go to school because of her cerebral palsy.  They lived in a fifth floor apartment with no elevator so she almost never left the house.  She learned by watching TV.  She is very smart.  She taught herself English by watching Days of Our Lives.

When the rebellion against Assad started, life didn’t change too much for her family.  They didn’t think it would because they lived in such a safe city – Aleppo.  Her sister joined in the protests at her university until the regime’s response became too violent.  Eventually they moved to their other house in Manbij.

They got used to the hardships.  When her brother visited from Germany, he was horrified at their living conditions and what they were now accepting as normal.  They started to make plans to leave.

Her insistence that live didn’t change that much for them and that no one thought that anything bad could happen in a city as safe as Aleppo was upsetting.  I kept thinking that someday we’ll be telling this story about the U.S.  I had to sit this audiobook aside for a bit because it was making me really depressed.  I listened to it on the way to work one morning and was on the verge of tears all day.  I finished it by listening to it in large sections on the way to and from large family gatherings so I didn’t have time to dwell as soon as I finished listening.

“We will just be numbers while the tyrant is engraved in history.”  Nujeen wondering why history only remembers the names of the dictators and not their victims.

 

The family first left for Turkey and then the children headed on to Europe.  I would love to hear this story from her sister Nasreen’s perspective.  Nujeen was a teenager who had never left the house.  Nasreen was in charge of her.  It sounds like she drove poor Nasreen to distraction with her excitement about being out in the world.  Nasreen was trying to get them through hostile countries and Nujeen was bubbling over with how exciting it all was.  She did realize that there were times that Nasreen just wanted her to shut up.

They went through Turkey and then took an inflatable boat illegally to Greece.  Whether or not to take her wheelchair on the boat was a major point of contention.  They made the trip on the same day as three-year-old Aylan Kurdi drowned trying the trip from farther down the coast.  From there they moved country to country to Germany to meet their brother just as the countries in Europe were starting to close their borders to refugees.

Nujeen talks about how her status as an English speaking refugee in a wheelchair led to a lot of interviews.  One of them made its way into this John Oliver piece.

I enjoyed Nujeen’s story because she is a very smart and very sassy teenager.  That comes through in the writing.  She’s funny.  I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to put a human face on the humanitarian crisis.

12 Dec, 2016

Becoming Nicole

/ posted in: Reading Becoming Nicole Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family by Amy Ellis Nutt
Published by Random House on October 20th 2015
Pages: 279
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: Maine

“The inspiring true story of a transgender girl, her identical twin brother, and an ordinary American family’s extraordinary journey to understand, nurture, and celebrate the uniqueness in us all, from the Pulitzer Prize–winning science reporter for The Washington Post.”


Wayne and Kelly Maines adopted identical twin boys at birth.  They were named Jonas and Wyatt.  Starting around age 2, Wyatt started showing a strong preference for stereotypically female toys, clothes, and activities.  He started asking about why people thought he was a boy.

I did enjoy the discussion of prenatal development that attempt to explain how identical twins can turn out so differently.  Different positioning in utero can influence the availability of hormones to each twin, for example.

Mrs. Maines accepted what Wyatt was trying to tell her at an early age but Mr. Maines did not.

This section of the book was frustrating for me to listen to because there seemed to be so much misogyny involved.  It seemed like the reason that Mr. Maines fought this for so long and so hard is that he had a hard time with a son of his preferring female things over male things.  The book talks about how he wanted to play sports and hunt with his sons.  Well, a girl child could do those things also.  That was never mentioned.  It was either there was going to be a rough-and-tumble boy or a sweet little princess girl.  For a book about trans issues, the discussion of gender roles seemed very inflexible.

Wyatt’s classmates didn’t have a problem with any of this through elementary school.  When it came time for middle school, the decision was made after talking to teachers, doctors, and counselors to have a legal name change to Nicole and to let her wear feminine clothing to school.  This more public acknowledgement of Nicole’s transgender identity started to become controversial.

A Maine anti-LGBT group got involved in protesting against her.  A grandfather of another student in the school told his grandson that if he ever saw Nicole go into the girls’ bathroom, he was to follow her in there because he had every right to be in there too.

It always comes down to the bathrooms.  Why is that?

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It makes me wonder if I’ve been using public restrooms wrong this whole time.  Are we supposed to be getting naked and cavorting around the stalls?  What do people imagine is going on?

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Amazingly, the “logic” always seems to go like this:

  1. Letting transgender people use the bathroom they identify with is the same as letting any random person choose any bathroom they feel like going into on any given day.
  2. So, cis heterosexual men will take advantage of this opportunity to go into women’s restroom where (we must presume) they are imagining naked women lining up for their perusal.
  3.  This will lead to rape.

So, if I’m following the logic correctly, all we can fix all this and still let transgender people go to the bathroom in peace.  All we need to do is:

  1. Make cis heterosexual psychosexually disturbed men use a private restroom of their own — and —-
  2. Teach these same men not to rape people

Problem solved!  Notice that nowhere in here are transgender people a public hazard AT ALL.

Anyway, instead of using my logic, the school district banned Nicole from the girl’s restroom and made her be monitored by an adult at all times.  This was supposed to be for her safety to keep the other student who was harassing her away but it punished her instead of dealing with his harassment.  After trying to work out a solution, the Maines moved and filed suit against the district.

The lawsuit worked its way up to the Maine Supreme Court where they finally won a ruling that kids in school in Maine are allowed to use a restroom that conforms to their gender identity.


I finished this audiobook a few days before HBO released The Trans List, which includes an interview with Nicole.  In this trailer, she is youngest woman who is talking about bathrooms.  I watched the documentary.  It is very good.  It is only an hour long so if you have access to it you should definitely watch.

 

05 Dec, 2016

Fatima’s Good Fortune

/ posted in: Reading Fatima’s Good Fortune Fatima's Good Fortune: A Novel by Joanne Dryansky, Gerry Dryansky
Published by Miramax Books on June 22nd 2005
Genres: Europe, Fiction
Pages: 336
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: France

“Freshly arrived from a beautiful Tunisian island to work for the exacting Countess Poulais du Roc, Fatima finds herself in a city where even the most mundane tasks like walking the dog and buying the groceries prove baffling. But her natural compassion ensures her survival, and-unexpectedly-brings good fortune to those around her.”


Fatima’s younger sister, Rachida, moved from the Tunisian island of Djerba to Paris to make a better life for herself.  She was working as a maid for the Countess when she was killed in an accident.  The Countess remembers that Rachida had a sister and imperiously sends for her to take her sister’s place.  She considers this a mission of charity but doesn’t think about the impact on Fatima’s life.  That is the major character flaw of the Countess.  She is so self-centered that she doesn’t think about the needs of anyone other than herself and her dog, Emma.  She moves through other people’s lives like a battering ram oblivious to the damage that she is causing.  She takes credit for good deeds that others have done and never gets called out on her casual racism.

She is shocked to find out that Fatima is nothing like her sister.  Fatima went to work in a resort as a cleaner as a child.  This income allowed Rachida to go to school.  Fatima is illiterate.  She is not as worldly as Rachida.  Life in France is overwhelming to her.

Fatima enlists the help of others in her building to help her learn the skills that she needs to survive in France.  She has a warmth that draws others to her and makes them want to help her.  The reader sees this slice of Paris through the eyes of a North African immigrant who isn’t always welcomed.

The ending is mostly an immigrant fairy tale.  Everything works out wonderfully and not that realistically.  This book tries to make a light and fun tale out of some serious subjects – immigration, class inequality, the death of a family member – so even as you root for the characters it feels jarring like no one is taking this as seriously as is merited.

I have really mixed feelings about this one.  While reading it, I wanted to know what was going to happen in the story but wasn’t sure about the tone.  Was the racist and classist representation of the Countess meant to point out the bad behavior of French people?  With everyone around her not commenting on it I wasn’t sure if it was that or if the book was somehow trying to condone it – “Oh, that’s just how rich old ladies are.”  All the Africans are wonderful, amazing people who improve the lives of everyone they interact with.  There is no nuance.  It made me thing of the magical negro trope.

29 Nov, 2016

The Piano Shop on the Left Bank

/ posted in: Reading The Piano Shop on the Left Bank The Piano Shop on the Left Bank: Discovering a Forgotten Passion in a Paris Atelier by Thad Carhart
Published by Random House Trade Paperbacks on March 12th 2002
Genres: History, Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Pages: 268
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: France

“Walking his two young children to school every morning, Thad Carhart passes an unassuming little storefront in his Paris neighborhood. Intrigued by its simple sign — Desforges Pianos — he enters, only to have his way barred by the shop’s imperious owner. Unable to stifle his curiosity, he finally lands the proper introduction, and a world previously hidden is brought into view. Luc, the atelier’s master, proves an indispensable guide to the history and art of the piano. Intertwined with the story of a musical friendship are reflections on how pianos work, their glorious history, and stories of the people who care for them, from amateur pianists to the craftsmen who make the mechanism sing.”


This book starts out with a mystery.  How does a small shop that repairs pianos survive in a neighborhood that isn’t around any other music stores?  The author is an American living in France, is fluent in French, and played the piano as a child.  He uses the excuse of asking if they know of any place to find a used piano to get into the store.  He is turned away for weeks with the excuse that they will let him know if they hear of any used pianos. Finally, a new worker, Luc, lets him know that he needs an introduction from a current customer to be allowed in the store.  Once he gains that password he is let into the back of the store where they keep an ever rotating collection of used pianos.  Luc takes on the task of finding the perfect used piano for the author’s family.

In between the story of learning how to be accepted in a very French establishment, the author tells the history of the piano.  We hear about trying to pick up the piano again as an adult.  He introduces us to people trying to make the most perfect piano possible.  He compares learning the piano as a child in France with the lessons that he continued to take when his family moved back to America.  He also discovers all the musicians that inhabit the world around him.

This is a quiet book that had a fascinating amount of history in it.  I learned more about how pianos work here than in years of music lessons.

 

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