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16 May, 2018

Dread Nation

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Dread Nation Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
on April 3rd 2018
Pages: 455
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Balzer + Bray
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville—derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.
But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.

Goodreads

When  the bodies of the dead come back and attack people, the fighting in the Civil War stops. What doesn’t stop is the racism that was inherent in the United States. Now, 20 years after the shamblers first appeared, black children are taken and trained for combat duty.

The system replicates the hierarchy of slavery.  “Better” girls are trained in elite schools to be bodyguards to wealthy white women. They guard them from shamblers and serve as chaperones as the white ladies socialize.  Other girls end up working in the fields clearing shamblers as they approach towns.  Those people don’t have a long life span.

For me the story got most interesting when Jane and some companions are sent west to a planned community run by a pastor and his son, the sheriff.  Everything is set up for the safety and protection of white families but it is all run on the forced labor of black people.  The white overseers are so terrified of their black charges that they deliberately undermine their ability to fight shamblers by not giving them adequate weapons thus weakening the defenses of the whole town.  They won’t listen to the advice and expertise of black women until it is literally life or death.

This book didn’t interest me as a zombie/horror story.  It was at its best when showing off the absurdities of racism.  From phrenology to tell who is white and who is black to medical experimentation on unwilling black people to unequal distribution of assets this book highlights many aspects of systemic racism by placing them in a fantasy setting where people should be more interested in working together for survival than upholding an arbitrary hierarchy.

11 May, 2018

Picture Us in the Light and Mambo in Chinatown

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Picture Us in the Light and Mambo in Chinatown Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert
on April 10th 2018
Pages: 361
Genres: Fiction
Published by Disney-Hyperion
Source: Library
Setting: California

Danny Cheng has always known his parents have secrets. But when he discovers a taped-up box in his father's closet filled with old letters and a file on a powerful Silicon Valley family, he realizes there's much more to his family's past than he ever imagined.
Danny has been an artist for as long as he can remember and it seems his path is set, with a scholarship to RISD and his family's blessing to pursue the career he's always dreamed of. Still, contemplating a future without his best friend, Harry Wong, by his side makes Danny feel a panic he can barely put into words. Harry and Danny's lives are deeply intertwined and as they approach the one-year anniversary of a tragedy that shook their friend group to its core, Danny can't stop asking himself if Harry is truly in love with his girlfriend, Regina Chan.
When Danny digs deeper into his parents' past, he uncovers a secret that disturbs the foundations of his family history and the carefully constructed facade his parents have maintained begins to crumble. With everything he loves in danger of being stripped away, Danny must face the ghosts of the past in order to build a future that belongs to him.

Goodreads

I’ve heard a lot of hype for Picture Us in the Light but I didn’t really know what it was about.  That’s the point, I suppose.  This is a book about mysteries.

For me the main mystery in Danny’s family’s past was obvious from the first few pages of discussion of it.  That contributed to my frustration with this book.  It is hard to listen to people go on and on about how strange it all is and how they can’t figure it out when you, the reader, is sitting there thinking, “Dude, it’s obvious.”

There is another story line about a friend of Danny’s who died of suicide a year before.  There is a lot of good writing about how the different characters deal with survivor’s guilt and their feelings about whether their last interactions with her may have added to her decision to kill herself.

I admit that I was not that interested in this book while I was reading it.  But I had been in a bit of a reading slump where I was only interested in romance and nonfiction.  I was determined to finish something that didn’t fit into those categories.  People like this book.  I was going to finish this book even if I wasted away from boredom in the process.

Then I got to the ending.  I love an unexpected ending.  They make me want to stand up and cheer.  It perked me up and made me pay close attention again.  I loved it.  It made me glad I read the book for the last two chapters.

I would recommend this book to anyone, but especially who don’t tend to get bored to tears reading about teenagers and their angst, just for the ending.



		
		Picture Us in the Light and Mambo in Chinatown
			
			
		
	Mambo in Chinatown by Jean Kwok 
on June 24th 2014
Pages: 384
Published by Riverhead Books
Setting: New York

Twenty-two-year-old Charlie Wong grew up in New York’s Chinatown, the older daughter of a Beijing ballerina and a noodle maker. Though an ABC (America-born Chinese), Charlie’s entire world has been limited to this small area. Now grown, she lives in the same tiny apartment with her widower father and her eleven-year-old sister, and works—miserably—as a dishwasher.
But when she lands a job as a receptionist at a ballroom dance studio, Charlie gains access to a world she hardly knew existed, and everything she once took to be certain turns upside down. Gradually, at the dance studio, awkward Charlie’s natural talents begin to emerge. With them, her perspective, expectations, and sense of self are transformed—something she must take great pains to hide from her father and his suspicion of all things Western. As Charlie blossoms, though, her sister becomes chronically ill. As Pa insists on treating his ailing child exclusively with Eastern practices to no avail, Charlie is forced to try to reconcile her two selves and her two worlds—Eastern and Western, old world and new—to rescue her little sister without sacrificing her newfound confidence and identity.

Goodreads

I’ve had this book on my TBR for a long time. Once I realized that I was going to do AsianLitBingo, I downloaded the ebook from the library.

I loved the main character of this book.  She’s always been told that she isn’t special enough to do anything.  She struggled in school and works as a dishwasher.  She wears hand me down clothes from the old ladies in her neighborhood.  The only skill she has is tai chi.  Her mother was a ballerina in China and she started Charlie in tai chi as a child.  But she doesn’t think of this as a talent.  She just thinks that she was bound to have picked up some skills since she’s been doing it for twenty years.

Her father and uncle tightly control her life.  So when she gets a job as a receptionist at a dance studio outside Chinatown, she keeps it secret.  She wants the extra money to help put her little sister into a private school.

At the school she is thrust into a world where people pay hundreds of dollars a week for dance lessons.  This isn’t a world that she knows.  Her coworkers take her on as a project to find the real person beneath the hand me down clothes and deferential manner.

This book is about branching out beyond what you’ve always been told your limits are.  How far do you go without losing parts of yourself?

09 May, 2018

Find Me Unafraid

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Find Me Unafraid Find Me Unafraid: Love, Loss, and Hope in an African Slum by Kennedy Odede, Jessica Posner
on October 2015
Pages: 272
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: Kenya

his is the story of two young people from completely different worlds: Kennedy Odede from Kibera, the largest slum in Africa, and Jessica Posner from Denver, Colorado. Kennedy foraged for food, lived on the street, and taught himself to read with old newspapers. When an American volunteer gave him the work of Mandela, Garvey, and King, teenaged Kennedy decided he was going to change his life and his community. He bought a soccer ball and started a youth empowerment group he called Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO). Then in 2007, Wesleyan undergraduate Jessica Posner spent a semester abroad in Kenya working with SHOFCO. Breaking all convention, she decided to live in Kibera with Kennedy, and they fell in love.Their connection persisted, and Jessica helped Kennedy to escape political violence and fulfill his lifelong dream of an education, at Wesleyan University.
The alchemy of their remarkable union has drawn the support of community members and celebrities alike—The Clintons, Mia Farrow, and Nicholas Kristof are among their fans—and their work has changed the lives of many of Kibera’s most vulnerable population: its girls. Jess and Kennedy founded Kibera’s first tuition-free school for girls, a large, bright blue building, which stands as a bastion of hope in what once felt like a hopeless place. But Jessica and Kennedy are just getting started—they have expanded their model to connect essential services like health care, clean water, and economic empowerment programs. They’ve opened an identical project in Mathare, Kenya’s second largest slum, and intend to expand their remarkably successful program for change.

Goodreads

I had first heard of SHOFCO in the wonderful book A Path Appears.  It is also featured in the documentary made from that book.  Since reading that, I’ve been contributing monthly to the program. 

I had heard that they had written their own book.  I’m glad that I decided to read it even though I was aware of the basic premise of their story.  This book goes much deeper into Kennedy’s childhood than the previous book did.  It is a brutally honest book.  Content warnings for rape, abuse, genocide.

Kennedy experienced every kind of abuse that a child could. The book goes into detail about his life with an abusive step-father.  He left home at a young age to escape him and lived with a group of homeless kids who lived through crime.  He tried to get out by appealing to the church only to be sexually abused there.  It is amazing that he grew up to try to do something positive for the community.  He wanted something besides crime in people’s lives.  It all started with a 20 cent soccer ball and organized soccer games. That led to a theater group that tried to teach people how to live better lives. That’s how he met Jessica.  She was a rich, white American college student who wanted to help with the theater.  She does just about everything that you’d expect an American to do.  She’s pushy.  She makes many faux pas.  She doesn’t understand the community.  But eventually she learned to fit in and learned to love Kibera and Kennedy.

She went back to college and Kennedy was forced to flee Kenya because of violence.  Jessica was able to get him into college in the U.S. for his own safety.  The book does a good job detailing how difficult it was for him to move back and forth from Ohio to Kenya and function in both places.

It was the epidemic of child rapes around him that led him to decide to open a school for girls to prove that they are valuable.  The school is the center of a whole-life program in Kibera.  There is clean water provided and meals.  There are safe houses if the girls are being sexually or physically abused at home. 

This is an important story and an even more important program to know about.  It shows how grass roots community organizing in places in need can help lift up everyone involved.

08 May, 2018

Abby Spencer Goes To Bollywood

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Abby Spencer Goes To Bollywood Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood by Varsha Bajaj
on March 1st 2014
Pages: 256
Genres: Young Adult
Published by Albert Whitman Company
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: India, United States

What thirteen-year-old Abby wants most is to meet her father. She just never imagined he would be a huge film star--in Bollywood! Now she's traveling to Mumbai to get to know her famous father. Abby is overwhelmed by the culture clash, the pressures of being the daughter of India's most famous celebrity, and the burden of keeping her identity a secret. But as she learns to navigate her new surroundings, she just might discover where she really belongs.

Goodreads

This book was so cute!  I don’t read a lot of middle grade but I loved the sound of this one.

Abby’s mother found out she was pregnant after her college boyfriend moved back to India.  She was able to contact his family but he never returned her calls.  Now thirteen, Abby develops an allergy that starts her asking more questions than ever before about her father’s side of the family.

Her father changed his name and became a famous actor after he returned to India.  Attempts to contact him for his medical history are finally successful.  Now he wants to get to know her but it all needs to be carefully controlled because he is a huge star and he needs to control his image.

 

Abby’s a biracial child who has never had any contact with the Indian part of identity.  There is tension between her parents because of her father being absent for all of her life.  Her father is used to calling the shots in his life and her mother is not about to just go along with his ideas now that he’s back in the picture.  Abby’s also finding out that her wealthy father’s life in India is not typical for the country.

The book does a good job of making each of the characters multidimensional.  All of them have well developed concerns and personalities.  I really hoped that there was a sequel to see what came next in their lives because there is so much to explore but there isn’t a second book. That made me sad.  I didn’t want to leave these characters behind.

28 Mar, 2018

A Princess in Theory

/ posted in: Reading A Princess in Theory A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole
on February 27th 2018
Pages: 360
Genres: Fiction, Romance
Published by Avon
Format: Paperback
Source: Library

Between grad school and multiple jobs, Naledi Smith doesn’t have time for fairy tales…or patience for the constant e-mails claiming she’s betrothed to an African prince. Sure. Right. Delete! As a former foster kid, she’s learned that the only things she can depend on are herself and the scientific method, and a silly e-mail won’t convince her otherwise.
Prince Thabiso is the sole heir to the throne of Thesolo, shouldering the hopes of his parents and his people. At the top of their list? His marriage. Ever dutiful, he tracks down his missing betrothed. When Naledi mistakes the prince for a pauper, Thabiso can’t resist the chance to experience life—and love—without the burden of his crown.
The chemistry between them is instant and irresistible, and flirty friendship quickly evolves into passionate nights. But when the truth is revealed, can a princess in theory become a princess ever after?

Goodreads

I don’t generally read contemporary romance but people have been raving about this book.  I’ve also liked Alyssa Cole’s historical romances so I decided to give it a try.  I’m glad I did.

I laughed out loud to see that this story starts with a variation on the Nigerian Prince email scam.  Naledi receives an email claiming that she may be the long lost betrothed of a prince of an African country.  Now if she’s only send all the necessary information to establish her identity…..

There are many places where this book could have easily gone from entertaining to annoying.  The author did a great job with keeping the mystery/suspense up but allowing pieces of the puzzle to be revealed in a natural way instead of dragging out conflicts. 

There is a lot going on in this book. 

  • There is the Prince and the Pauper aspect as Thabiso tries to live as a normal person for a week.  He gains insights on how he’s been treating all the “little people” in his life. 
  • Naledi is having to deal with white male colleagues who use her for grunt work in their lab.  Any time she speaks up for herself she is afraid of being labeled a “difficult black woman.” I like the way another woman in the department was eventually able to stand up for her.
  • Naledi has a rich friend who overruns any boundaries Naledi tries to set up but who she knows cares about her. 
  • Then there are the mysteries of why her parents ran away from Africa with her and what is the new illness that appearing in Thabiso’s country.

That’s all without adding in the romance aspect. 

I’d recommend this book for anyone who likes romance books.  It is the start of a series.  Somewhere in this series I want a book about what happened with Thabiso’s assistant.  She travels with him to the U.S., starts a whirlwind romance with a woman she meets on Tinder, has some sort of bad break up that she refuses to talk about, and then heads back to Africa with Thabiso and Naledi.  There’s way more to that story than the teasing bit we saw in this book. 

via GIPHY

 

08 Mar, 2018

American Panda

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading American Panda American Panda by Gloria Chao
on February 6th 2018
Pages: 311
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Simon Pulse
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

An incisive, laugh-out-loud contemporary debut about a Taiwanese-American teen whose parents want her to be a doctor and marry a Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer despite her squeamishness with germs and crush on a Japanese classmate.
At seventeen, Mei should be in high school, but skipping fourth grade was part of her parents' master plan. Now a freshman at MIT, she is on track to fulfill the rest of this predetermined future: become a doctor, marry a preapproved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer, produce a litter of babies.
With everything her parents have sacrificed to make her cushy life a reality, Mei can't bring herself to tell them the truth--that she (1) hates germs, (2) falls asleep in biology lectures, and (3) has a crush on her classmate Darren Takahashi, who is decidedly not Taiwanese.
But when Mei reconnects with her brother, Xing, who is estranged from the family for dating the wrong woman, Mei starts to wonder if all the secrets are truly worth it. Can she find a way to be herself, whoever that is, before her web of lies unravels?

Goodreads

This book is so good!  

Conflict between immigrant Asian parents and their American-born kids is a staple in a lot of books.  What I appreciated about this book is that it took a deeper look at the people involved to figure out their motivations.  Mei is trying to be the perfect daughter because she has seen real world consequences of disobedience.  Her brother was cut out of the family years earlier for dating a woman with some health issues that may impact her fertility.  His parents would not accept a potential daughter in law who might not produce grandchildren.  Mei is raised on stories of a local Taiwanese-American woman who was cast out of her family and the horrible things had (supposedly) happened to her.  From an outsider’s perspective it is easy to wonder “Why doesn’t she stand up for herself?”  This book does a great job of showing where she gets the idea that she has no other options.

The book features other characters who have been in these situations and examines the results of their decisions.  There is:

  • A woman who became a doctor because her family decided she would be
  • A female relative whose life is taken up by caring for her mother
  • Mei’s boyfriend, who is from a Japanese-American family that has been living in the United States for several generations
  • Mei’s mother 

Mei’s mother’s story was amazing.  At the beginning she is portrayed as an overbearing, neurotic mother who has Mei’s schedule memorized and panics if she doesn’t answer her phone when she knows she should be out of class.  Her phone messages are played for laughs.  As the story deepens though we start to see her conflicts.  She’s the daughter-in-law of a very traditional family in an arranged marriage where her role is very sharply defined.  As she sees Mei start to branch out, she opens up a little about her life and you develop a lot of compassion for a character who very easily could have descended into a caricature.  

It’s great.  I would recommend this one to everyone.  Go get it and read it and pass it on.

07 Mar, 2018

Hippie Food

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Hippie Food Hippie Food: How Back-to-the-Landers, Longhairs, and Revolutionaries Changed the Way We Eat by Jonathan Kauffman
on January 23rd 2018
Pages: 352
Length: 9:13
Genres: Nonfiction
Published by William Morrow
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library

An enlightening narrative history—an entertaining fusion of Tom Wolfe and Michael Pollan—that traces the colorful origins of once unconventional foods and the diverse fringe movements, charismatic gurus, and counterculture elements that brought them to the mainstream and created a distinctly American cuisine.
Food writer Jonathan Kauffman journeys back more than half a century—to the 1960s and 1970s—to tell the story of how a coterie of unusual men and women embraced an alternative lifestyle that would ultimately change how modern Americans eat. Impeccably researched, Hippie Food chronicles how the longhairs, revolutionaries, and back-to-the-landers rejected the square establishment of President Richard Nixon’s America and turned to a more idealistic and wholesome communal way of life and food.
From the mystical rock-and-roll cult known as the Source Family and its legendary vegetarian restaurant in Hollywood to the Diggers’ brown bread in the Summer of Love to the rise of the co-op and the origins of the organic food craze, Kauffman reveals how today’s quotidian whole-foods staples—including sprouts, tofu, yogurt, brown rice, and whole-grain bread—were introduced and eventually became part of our diets. From coast to coast, through Oregon, Texas, Tennessee, Minnesota, Michigan, Massachusetts, and Vermont, Kauffman tracks hippie food’s journey from niche oddity to a cuisine that hit every corner of this country.
A slick mix of gonzo playfulness, evocative detail, skillful pacing, and elegant writing, Hippie Food is a lively, engaging, and informative read that deepens our understanding of our culture and our lives today.

Goodreads

Obviously I had to listen to this book.  They should have just titled it “A Book for Heather.”

This is a history of the health food and vegetarian food movements in the U.S.  It starts with briefly talking about health food people like the Kelloggs and Dr. Graham at the end of the 19th century and early 20th century.  It then segues into the macrobiotic movement which came to the U.S. from Japan.  The bulk of the book focuses on the post-WW II push back to the marketing of processed convenience food.

What I really learned from this book:

White Folks Can’t Cook

 

The hippie/back-to-the-land movement was overwhelmingly white.  That’s briefly addressed but not explored deeply.  A lot of these people seemed to come from a background where they didn’t learn to cook without convenience foods.  So when they tried to cook whole food ingredients, they pretty much failed.  Spices?  What are they?

That’s how vegetarian food got a reputation for being bland and boring.  It only started to get good when they started stealing ideas from other cultures.  Japanese influences came in through macrobiotics.  This gets linked to politics because of the 1965 immigration reform that allowed more immigrants from non-European countries. Those people opened restaurants and suddenly people realized that you don’t need to eat food with the texture and taste of tree bark.  If the movement was inclusive from the start, hippie food might not have had such a bad reputation.

I loved hearing about how all sorts of foods that we consider staples now came to the United States.  Again this is presented from a white, middle class perspective.  It talks about starting tofu production in the States but I’m sure there were people in Asian communities who were doing this before white people adopted it and started mass production.  The same can go for different spices and/or vegetables that I’m sure were in use in black or Latinx communities.  That’s my major criticism of this book.

I would get excited whenever some of my favorites where mentioned.  Diet for a Small Planet!  (Yes, her made up theory of the necessity of “complete proteins” has been repeatedly debunked.  Can we let that die now? Please? Asking for all vegetarians who get asked about it ALL THE TIME.)  The Moosewood Cookbooks!  Those were some of the first I read.

Read this one if you love food history as it relates to personal ethics and politics.

 

 

 

22 Feb, 2018

The Belles

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Belles The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton
on February 6th 2018
Pages: 448
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Disney-Hyperion
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.
But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie—that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.
With the future of Orléans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide—save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles—or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.

Goodreads

I wanted to love this book so much more than I did.  I’ve been hearing about it for so long and have heard such glowing praise of it that when I finished it and felt a bit blah towards it, I was disappointed.

The Hype

This book has been super hyped because of the use of a black model in a gown on the cover.  It was celebrated as a great step forward for representation in books and it is.  But because of that I thought that race would play a bigger part in this book than it does.  Skin color in this world is decided on a whim.  There is no change in status/power/importance placed on the skin color that you have.  It is a fashion accessory.  It just seemed like it went from “Yay for Black Girls” on the cover and in the promotions to “But actually, this doesn’t have anything to do with you specifically” in the story.  If I didn’t know anything about how this book was promoted, it probably wouldn’t have felt strange to me.

Worldbuilding

The author does a great job in the opening of setting up the world.  It is imaginative and vivid.  After that though the world building just seems to stop.  This is a long novel at 448 pages.  In most fantasy books that size you’d know about countries around the area, the basis of the economy, how people of different classes live, what is their technology based on, etc.  The main character is very sheltered but that isn’t unusual in fantasy.  Usually they find out more about their surroundings that she does in this book though.  At least they show some interest in what is going on around them.  Camillia really doesn’t.

Wishy Washy Heroine

Events happen to the characters in this book.  They do not direct the action.  I think this is the key to my dissatisfaction with this book. 

Every time she is asked to make a decision, she puts it off for days. Eventually she makes a decision but it is usually irrelevant by then because events have moved on.  When deciding between what is right/hard and what is easy/cruel, she always chooses easy/cruel if forced to make a choice in the moment.  She seems like she is supposed to be a nice person – she remembers servants’ names! – but she is so very weak.  Only after witnessing and participating in abuse after abuse does she start to think that something might be wrong.  I would be much more interested in reading a story about the one of her fellow Belles who threw a fit about what she was being made to do almost from the beginning.  

Series vs Stand alone book

It is fine to have a book designed to be part of a series but I hate it when there is no resolution at the end of a book.  Even just wrapping up some side storylines is more satisfying than a totally open-ended book.  In a way this feels like the story is just starting and the pages run out.  That’s fine if you can move right on to the next book but it is annoying here.  At the end I kept thinking of questions that weren’t answered and thinking, “Maybe that’s in the next book” instead of enjoying what was in this one.  

Overall

I think the idea was good.  There are some very creative details in the world building like teacup elephants and mail being delivered by small balloons.  It may turn out to be the beginning of a good series.  But it doesn’t stand alone well as a single book.  

08 Feb, 2018

Waking the Spirit

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Waking the Spirit Waking the Spirit: A Musician's Journey Healing Body, Mind, and Soul by Andrew Schulman
on August 2nd 2016
Pages: 304
Genres: Medical, Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs, Science
Published by Picador
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: New York

Andrew Schulman, a fifty-seven-year-old professional guitarist, had a close brush with death on the night of July 16, 2009. Against the odds—with the help of music—he survived: A medical miracle.
Once fully recovered, Andrew resolved to dedicate his life to bringing music to critically ill patients at Mount Sinai Beth Israel’s ICU. In Waking the Spirit, you’ll learn the astonishing stories of the people he’s met along the way—both patients and doctors—and see the incredible role music can play in a modern hospital setting.
In his new work as a medical musician, Andrew has met with experts in music, neuroscience, and medicine. In this book, he shares with readers an overview of the cutting-edge science and medical theories that illuminate this exciting field.
This book explores the power of music to heal the body and awaken the spirit.

Goodreads

Andrew Schulman was a professional classical guitarist.  He went into the hospital to have a biopsy but an allergic reaction to medication while in surgery led to him spending time in a coma in the surgical ICU.  He was nonresponsive to anything until his wife started playing his favorite playlist of music for him.  After his recovery, he started to research the links between music and healing.  He also returned to the surgical ICU three days a week to play for an hour.

I’ve been lurking on some music therapy harp groups on Facebook.  I like the types of music that these musicians seem to play and I was actually looking for good sources of music for relaxing harp pieces. I know a lot of it is improv.  In this book, Andrew Schulman does some improv but finds himself mostly playing three types of music – Bach, Gershwin, and The Beatles.

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There are a lot of stories in the book that show how small of a world the New York music world must be.  He meets family members of composers, Gershwin scholars, and people who performed on his favorite recordings.  Along the way he is shocked to find that he starts to heal the brain damage that his time in a coma caused.

I liked the incorporation of the science along with the stories.  He will talk about seeing music calm pain responses and then will get a scientific opinion on why that works.

You’ll finish this book believing that Bach should be playing in every recovery unit in the hospital.  Even if you don’t play an instrument, this is an uplifting story about how the body can heal itself and how not every medical intervention needs to be using drugs.

02 Feb, 2018

When They Call You A Terrorist

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading When They Call You A Terrorist When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors, Asha Bandele
on January 16th 2018
Pages: 272
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by St. Martin's Press
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: California

From one of the co-founders of the Black Lives Matter movement comes a poetic memoir and reflection on humanity. Necessary and timely, Patrisse Cullors' story asks us to remember that protest in the interest of the most vulnerable comes from love. Leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement have been called terrorists, a threat to America. But in truth, they are loving women whose life experiences have led them to seek justice for those victimized by the powerful. In this meaningful, empowering account of survival, strength, and resilience, Patrisse Cullors and asha bandele seek to change the culture that declares innocent black life expendable.

Goodreads

The phrase “When They Call You A Terrorist” refers to two episodes in the author’s life:

  1. When Black Lives Matter is referred to as a terrorist group by people who oppose them
  2. When her mentally ill older brother was charged with terrorism for yelling at a person during a traffic accident

This memoir focuses more on her life leading up to the founding of Black Lives Matter than the aftermath.  It tells the story of living in a community that is very heavily policed.  When her brother starts showing signs of mental illness his interactions with the police increase.  He is taken away and no one is able to find out where he is for months despite constant searching.  He isn’t treated but just medicated to keep him quiet.  He is repeatedly beaten by the police.

I immediately compare this to police treatment of my mentally ill step daughter.  She’s 14.  She has been repeatedly restrained by the police both at schools and at home because of her violence.  She has sent adults to the hospital. She has destroyed property.  The police will not ALLOW her to be charged with a crime despite multiple requests because “she has a diagnosis.”  Wanna guess the other differences between her and the author’s brother besides access to healthcare to get a diagnosis?  Yeah, she’s white and lives in an affluent suburb. 

I’m not sure how so many white people can continue to think that unequal policing doesn’t exist. Even if you aren’t involved in a situation that highlights it, so many videos exist.  It has to be just willful ignorance to deny the evidence.

The author helped organize a bus trip into Ferguson after Mike Brown’s death.  A church was offered as a staging place for the 600 people coming in.  I thought about that for a while.  My brother works at a church that would be perfect for that sort of thing.  It is right off the interstate.  It has a huge parking lot that could hold a lot of buses.  There is a school attached so maybe there are locker rooms so people could shower.  Then I laughed and laughed.  I can’t imagine a white majority church EVER opening their doors to a protest group.  They’d have to fight about it in committee and through the church gossip networks for months before they could even begin to make a highly contested decision.  Then the pastor would be fired. 

My mental tangents aside, this book is ultimately about the power of love and what it looks like to try to live out that love in the real world.  It is a short, lyrical book that can help open people’s eyes to the needs in communities that have adversarial relationships with police.

19 Jan, 2018

The Big Push

/ posted in: Reading The Big Push The Big Push: Exposing and Challenging the Persistence of Patriarchy by Cynthia Enloe
on October 26th 2017
Pages: 208
Genres: Nonfiction, Political Science, Social Science, Women's Studies
Published by University of California Press
Format: Paperback
Source: Library

For over a century and in scores of countries, patriarchal presumptions and practices have been challenged by women and their male allies. “Sexual harassment” has entered common parlance; police departments are equipped with rape kits; more than half of the national legislators in Bolivia and Rwanda are women; and a woman candidate won the plurality of the popular votes in the 2016 United States presidential election. But have we really reached equality and overthrown a patriarchal point of view?  
The Big Push exposes how patriarchal ideas and relationships continue to be modernized to this day. Through contemporary cases and reports, renowned political scientist Cynthia Enloe exposes the workings of everyday patriarchy—in how Syrian women civil society activists have been excluded from international peace negotiations; how sexual harassment became institutionally accepted within major news organizations; or in how the UN Secretary General’s post has remained a masculine domain. Enloe then lays out strategies and skills for challenging patriarchal attitudes and operations. Encouraging self-reflection, she guides us in the discomforting curiosity of reviewing our own personal complicity in sustaining patriarchy in order to withdraw our own support for it. Timely and globally conscious, The Big Push is a call for feminist self-reflection and strategic action with a belief that exposure complements resistance.

Goodreads

I heard about this book somewhere on Twitter.  I was able to get a copy sent to me through interlibrary loan.  Then through the vagaries of mood-reading, I didn’t start to read it.  I felt that it was going to be an academic slog through feminist theory.  But, I had gone through some effort to get it and it needed to be returned soon so I decided to give it a try.

I was so wrong about this book.

I didn’t expect to get teary-eyed sitting in a restaurant that specializes in feeding huge plates of food to Trump supporters with a country music soundtrack because of the author’s insistence of the importance of the Women’s Marches.  The author perfectly recreated the feeling of needing to be in the vast sea of people to voice your opposition to what was going on in the country.  

I didn’t expect to have to totally recalibrate my thinking about how I look at world events because I had missed a major plot point.  I had read Richard Holbrooke’s book about negotiating the Wright-Patterson Accords to end the Bosnian War.  I had read Might Be Our Powers by Leymah Gbowee  about women’s protests outside the peace negotiations for Liberia.  What I missed in both was these was asking why women were not included in the peace negotiations from the beginning.  Ending armed conflict is traditionally seen as requiring just the armed participants to come to an agreement.  That can stop the fighting but it is ignoring the majority of the population who need to live in the rebuilt country afterwards.  Even now, women are not seen as participants even if they are the people still on the ground providing assistance to civilians.  The author gives examples of conflict resolutions that were seen to be enlightened because they would let women draft a statement that would be read into the proceeding by a male delegate.  There could only be one women’s statement though so women from all sides of the conflict had to sit down together and draft a consensus statement that might or might not be taken into consideration by the men who hadn’t yet been able to reach a consensus.  How would the rebuilding of nations look different if women were included from the beginning?

This book will lead you to see more areas for improvement in our world that you may have been blind to before.  I was reading this at the same time as I was reading a book that glamorized a war from a patriarchal perspective.  Every comment like that in the other book jumped out at me in a way that it may not have before.  

This book gives hope for a world that so far has been beyond most of our imaginings.  Hopefully, once people start to see what really could be possible we might be able to approach it.

 

18 Jan, 2018

Son of a Trickster

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Son of a Trickster Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson
on February 7th 2017
Pages: 336
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Knopf Canada
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: British Columbia

Everyone knows a guy like Jared: the burnout kid in high school who sells weed cookies and has a scary mom who's often wasted and wielding some kind of weapon. Jared does smoke and drink too much, and he does make the best cookies in town, and his mom is a mess, but he's also a kid who has an immense capacity for compassion and an impulse to watch over people more than twice his age, and he can't rely on anyone for consistent love and support, except for his flatulent pit bull, Baby Killer (he calls her Baby)--and now she's dead.
Jared can't count on his mom to stay sober and stick around to take care of him. He can't rely on his dad to pay the bills and support his new wife and step-daughter. Jared is only sixteen but feels like he is the one who must stabilize his family's life, even look out for his elderly neighbours. But he struggles to keep everything afloat...and sometimes he blacks out. And he puzzles over why his maternal grandmother has never liked him, why she says he's the son of a trickster, that he isn't human. Mind you, ravens speak to him--even when he's not stoned.
You think you know Jared, but you don't.

Goodreads

This is not the book that I expected from the blurb.  I expected urban fantasy with Jared finding out he’s supernatural in the beginning of the book and then he has adventures.  That doesn’t happen.  Instead this is a hard look at the life of a First Nations teenager who lives with his unreliable and violent drug dealer mother and her boyfriend.  This book takes you up close and personal into a life of poverty and crime.  There is almost no magic happening for the first 2/3 of the book.  

It even has two of my automatic DNF plots.  His dog dies of heartworm at the beginning of the book (with a very odd veterinary clinic scene that isn’t anything that would happen for real).  There is also a scene of his mother killing a dog with her truck on purpose.  Animal abuse is a DNF.

I also absolutely hate stories of teenagers who do nothing but drink and take drugs.  I hate it in real life and I hate wasting my time on that type of plot in books.

So, knowing all that, why did I finish this book and think it was great?

The writing pulled me in and kept me engaged with the story.  Jared looks like he has nothing going for him.  His mother is an addict and dealer.  He is doing some low-level dealing.  But he is trying to keep his mother’s bills paid while also trying to keep his father and his new wife’s rent up to date.  He even helps his elderly neighbors with their chores.  None of the adult relatives in Jared’s life are responsible so he feels that he needs to be.  The only person he feels like he may be able to rely on is his paternal grandmother but his mother has forbidden him to talk to her.  He does anyway and he really wants to go live with her in order to finish school but he feels that it would be a betrayal of his mother, even when she is continuously betraying him.  By the end you want to protect him from yet another person who lets him down.

As Jared starts to see manifestations of his traditional beliefs appearing before him, he decides that he has been doing too many drugs and decides to get clean.  I love that that was his response to an invisible bear in the living room and cavemen in his bedroom.  But the magic is real and has always been there even if it is just starting to get through to him.

The author did a good job depicting the charm vs the dangerous irresponsibility of a drug-involved parent.  Jared’s mom obviously loves him and dotes on him but she also exposes him to men who hurt him and she will disappear without warning.  She relies on him to get her through bad trips and lavishes presents on him when she is manic.  She’s horrible but draws you into her self-absorbed world. 

Jared’s friends feel real.  They are a mix of popular and unpopular kids.  Native and non-Native also.  Each is well fleshed out and are unique characters.  

Of course this book really started to pick up for me when the magic became more apparent.  And then it was over.  I feel like there wasn’t a resolution.  This is part one of a series so I know that there will be more to the story but I would have liked to see more of an ending than this.  

 

10 Jan, 2018

Heart in the Right Place

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Heart in the Right Place Heart in the Right Place by Carolyn Jourdan
on June 15th 2007
Pages: 304
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Algonquin Books
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: Tennessee

Carolyn Jourdan had it all: the Mercedes Benz, the fancy soirees, the best clothes. She moved in the most exclusive circles in Washington, D.C., rubbed elbows with big politicians, and worked on Capitol Hill. As far as she was concerned, she was changing the world.
And then her mother had a heart attack. Carolyn came home to help her father with his rural medical practice in the Tennessee mountains. She'd fill in for a few days as the receptionist until her mother could return to work. Or so she thought. But days turned into weeks.
Her job now included following hazmat regulations for cleaning up bodily fluids; maintaining composure when confronted with a splinter the size of a steak knife; distinguishing between a "pain," a "strain," and a "sprain" on indecipherable Medicare forms; and tending to the loquacious Miss Hiawatha, whose daily doctor visits were never billed.

Goodreads

At first glance this is a funny memoir of life in a small town medical office.  Stories of men who try to operate on themselves or get injured doing ill advised things abound.  There are also heart breaking stories of the deaths of beloved patients and friends.  If you like stories full of small town characters, this would be a great read for you.

On a deeper level though, I found it quite disturbing.  The author’s father is a doctor.  He has a practice with one nurse and his wife is the receptionist/office manager.  His wife is unpaid for this more than full time job.  She also has a doctorate but has spent her life doing unpaid work to support her husband’s job.  When she gets sick her daughter comes home to take over her job.  Her daughter is a lawyer working for a Senator and is an expert on U.S. nuclear policy.  She gives up that job to become her father’s unpaid helper.  The reason they can’t hire anyone else is that the practice doesn’t make enough money to support a paid receptionist.  So now you have two highly educated women who have given up their careers to support this practice and you are denying a job to a person in the community who could be a fine receptionist if the job was paid.

The reason the practice isn’t making any money is because the patients are too poor to pay for healthcare.  Now we get into the failures of the U.S. health care system.  Unfortunately, that isn’t what people tend to take from memoirs like this.  They see a fine doctor who cares enough not to charge for services if people can’t pay.  That’s admirable but not sustainable.  If you can’t pay to keep the electric on, then the community loses its only health provider. 

(This is a touchy subject for me.  I work in a low cost, walk in veterinary clinic in a poor area.  I am basically living this doctor’s life in the veterinary world but with better staffing and hours.  People come in and regale us with tales of TV shows they’ve seen where the vet cares so much about animals that they don’t charge people.  The implication being that if we do charge, then we don’t care.  We just nod because no one wants an economics lesson or to hear about my massive pay cut to work here or the fact that the owner isn’t getting paid yet because the clinic just opened…)

The answer for communities like this is to find a better way for people to afford health care, not to emulate this model.  It isn’t possible moving forward.  Student debt is too high for newer doctors to be able to afford to live on what a practice like this makes.  I looked at buying a practice like this once.  The vet was making about $100,000 a year being on call 24/7.  I wasn’t willing to do that because that type of stress will kill you and once you figured in paying back a loan to buy the practice and doing some way past due maintenance to the building, I would have almost been paying to work there.  I had been out of school long enough not to have any student loans left.  If I had had the debt of today’s graduates, I could never have even considered it.

So, yeah, the book is cute and funny and sweet as long as you don’t look too closely at why a practice like this is needed. 

 

 

03 Jan, 2018

That Inevitable Victorian Thing

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading That Inevitable Victorian Thing That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E.K. Johnston
on October 3rd 2017
Pages: 330
Genres: Alternative History, Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Dutton Books for Young Readers
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: Ontario, Canada

Victoria-Margaret is the crown princess of the empire, a direct descendant of Victoria I, the queen who changed the course of history two centuries earlier. The imperial practice of genetically arranged matchmaking will soon guide Margaret into a politically advantageous marriage like her mother before her, but before she does her duty, she'll have one summer incognito in a far corner of empire. In Toronto, she meets Helena Marcus, daughter of one of the empire's greatest placement geneticists, and August Callaghan, the heir apparent to a powerful shipping firm currently besieged by American pirates. In a summer of high-society debutante balls, politically charged tea parties, and romantic country dances, Margaret, Helena, and August discover they share an unusual bond and maybe a one in a million chance to have what they want and to change the world in the process —just like the first Queen Victoria.

Goodreads

This is a YA alternative history book that imagines that the British Empire is still alive and well.  The decision that made the difference was that Queen Victoria named her eldest daughter heir and then married off all her other children to people in the Empire instead of other European royal families.  Now, the Empire is predominately made up of mixed race people.  Canada has a high percentage of people originally from Hong Kong.  The Church of England consists mostly of a DNA database that chooses the best DNA match for people.

The Crown Princess Victoria-Margaret wants one summer away.  She decides to make her debut in Canada while passing herself off as a cousin to one of the leading families there.  She makes other friends though who aren’t in on her secret and this leads to romantic entanglements that aren’t what she expected.

I thought the world building was interesting in this book.  It was intriguing to think about what might have happened if the British had treated their subjects as people worthy of respect.  If you pick too much at the assumptions made in the book though it might all fall apart.  My recommendation is just to enjoy it and go along for the ride. 

At the end of the book the main characters are hatching a plot.  It doesn’t seem very well thought out to me so I will be interested to see what happens in upcoming books. 

 

15 Nov, 2017

A Country Between

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading A Country Between A Country Between: Making a Home Where Both Sides of Jerusalem Collide by Stephanie Saldana
on February 7, 2017
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Format: eBook
Source: Library
Setting: Israel

When American writer Stephanie Saldana finds herself in an empty house at the beginning of Nablus Road, the dividing line between East and West Jerusalem, she is a new wife trying to navigate a fragile terrain, both within her marriage and throughout the country in which she has chosen to live.
Pregnant with her first child, Stephanie struggles to protect her family, their faith, and herself from the cracks of Middle Eastern conflict that threaten to shatter the world around her. But as her due date approaches, she must reconcile herself with her choice to bring a child into a dangerous world. Determined to piece together life from the brokenness, she sets out to uncover small instances of beauty to balance the delicate coexistence between love, motherhood, and a country so often at war.
In an urban valley in Jerusalem, A Country Between captures the fragile ecosystem of the Middle East and the difficult first years of motherhood in the midst of a conflict-torn city. What unfolds is a celebration of faith, language, family, and love that fills the space between what was shattered, leaving us whole once more.

Goodreads

This memoir is the story of an American woman who was considering becoming a nun in a Syrian monastery.  She met a French novice monk there.  Eventually, they left and married. 

Through a series of unplanned events, they found themselves setting up their first household in Jerusalem.  It was near the dividing line between Palestinian and Jewish areas near the Damascus Gate.

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“The sun rose in the east speaking Arabic and set in the west speaking Hebrew, and we tried to find our way in between.”

 

This is the story of trying to make a marriage while dealing with your husband’s deep grief about leaving the monastery.  It is worrying about what might happen every time you leave the house.

“…a great many of the dramas that happen in the Middle East begin with the simple intention of leaving the house to buy vegetables.”

 

This is a very lyrical memoir of their lives in this house.  I think that it started too slowly.  There was too much information about her childhood.  It slowed down the pace of the book.  Now I know that there was a first memoir about meeting her husband and the decision to leave the monastery.  This was also covered here for those of us who didn’t read the first book.

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There is some discussion of the larger political issues that affected their day to day lives but mostly she discusses the affect of policy on her street.  She discusses roadblocks and violence.  She talks about taking her kids to play in touristy areas.  Her neighborhood is a microcosm of all the religions that call Jerusalem home.

It can also be funny.

 

“When the Franciscans came into view in their brown cassocks, Joseph’s face became overcome with wonder. He ran to them and quietly bowed his head. Then he whispered, in solemn greeting, “Heigh-ho. Heigh-ho.””

 

Ultimately I would have liked more politics to understand what was happening but that isn’t the point of this book.  Read this one if you like beautifully written slice of life stories.

“If I can ask you to remember only one thing, then let it be this: keep watch. You have not been born into an easy world. But every now and then, in the midst of our daily lives, a miracle strikes.”

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in the Middle East
26 Oct, 2017

A Spoilerific Review of Origin by Dan Brown

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading A Spoilerific Review of Origin by Dan Brown Origin by Dan Brown
on October 3rd 2017
Pages: 461
Genres: Fiction
Published by Doubleday Books
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Setting: Spain

Robert Langdon, Harvard professor of symbology and religious iconology, arrives at the ultramodern Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao to attend a major announcement—the unveiling of a discovery that “will change the face of science forever.” The evening’s host is Edmond Kirsch, a forty-year-old billionaire and futurist whose dazzling high-tech inventions and audacious predictions have made him a renowned global figure. Kirsch, who was one of Langdon’s first students at Harvard two decades earlier, is about to reveal an astonishing breakthrough . . . one that will answer two of the fundamental questions of human existence.

Goodreads

I swear Dan Brown is my soul mate.  I want the worlds that he describes in his books.  That may be concerning to other people.  The last few books have been dark and I love it that way.

I actually find his books to be frustrating to read the first time.  I just want to know what the point is.  I don’t have time for people beating around the bush.  Hint – If you are talking to Robert Langdon just tell him what you have to say.  If you hint and hem and haw and say that you’ll tell him the important point at a later time, you aren’t making it through the book.

If you haven’t read the book yet, I’ll just say that I appreciated the way this book played with the formulas of his previous books.  If you have read it, I have a lot more to say but first we have to give all the spoiler warnings.

Ok, we’re going to be talking about EXACTLY what happens in the book so turn back now if you don’t want to know.

You’ve been warned…….

…….Still here?  Ok. 

First of all, let’s talk about how he upended the expectations that he built in the previous books.

  • The art doesn’t mean anything except for Winston’s self portrait. 
  • The church isn’t involved at all at the end. 

Seriously, I loved that.  What seemed formulaic all through the book – “Here’s another bad priest manipulating a devout follower to kill people” – was all a red herring. 

  • He’s on the run with a beautiful younger woman AND IT ISN’T ROMANTIC AT ALL.  Thank you, thank you, thank you!  I am over the idea of young women falling over themselves for the hero of every book.

I do have a question about Ambra’s story though.  Her big secret is that she is infertile.  Is this a nod to Inferno (in which case it shouldn’t be a surprise at all) or are we living in a universe where the events of Inferno didn’t happen?  I loved the ending of Inferno.  I actually stood up and cheered.  I’m not talking about the ending of the movie version of Inferno which was an absolute abomination.  I’m talking about a plague released on the whole world ending of the book.  My love of the idea of (SPOILER) that a plague could be released that makes 1/3 of the world infertile leads into my appreciation for the ideas in this book.  I’m not a fan of the idea of unlimited human growth nor of the idea that humans have to be the dominant species on Earth.  Evolve away!

So, what do we think about the idea of life evolving as a way to control energy?  I think it is a cool (no pun intended) idea but I don’t know how viable of an idea it is.  As an agnostic/atheist person it doesn’t bother me theologically. 

I am a fan of the idea of humans melding with artificial intelligence.  Of course, the whole time I was thinking, “And then some fool drops an EMP…” because obviously, I’m a cynic.  I would love to live in a utopia of high technology that saves the planet.  I’m afraid to see I don’t see it happening though.

Winston 

I loved him.  I don’t even care if you are a murderous rampaging machine.  Ok, I sort of care.  I don’t mind that he killed his creator.  That was probably kind seeing what kind of death he was facing.  I’m a veterinarian.  Euthanasia is a huge part of my life.  I’m not happy about him killing the iman and the rabbi.  That was unnecessary.  Bad Winston!  Somebody is going to have to come up with some laws to control AI that work a bit better than the ones in I, Robot.  Maybe add in “humans are free to make their own decisions.”  Of course, letting humans make decisions leads to a whole bunch of really bad decisions like Donald Trump.  Somebody else needs to take a crack at making laws that don’t get us all locked up. 

So what did you think?  Do you want this world or not?

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in Europe
13 Oct, 2017

The Third Plate

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Third Plate The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food by Dan Barber
on May 20th 2014
Pages: 496
Genres: Nonfiction
Published by Penguin Press
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

Barber explores the evolution of American food from the 'first plate,' or industrially-produced, meat-heavy dishes, to the 'second plate' of grass-fed meat and organic greens, and says that both of these approaches are ultimately neither sustainable nor healthy. Instead, Barber proposes Americans should move to the 'third plate,' a cuisine rooted in seasonal productivity, natural livestock rhythms, whole-grains, and small portions of free-range meat

Goodreads

This is the kind of book that I absolutely love.  It is a detailed look at ways of growing food with environmental sustainability in mind.  It gave me warm fuzzies every time I picked it up.

The author runs a restaurant on a farm in New York.  You would think that would be great for the environment but he starts to realize that they plant want he wants to use instead of him using what it is best for the farm to grow.  For example, there are cover crops that are ground to help fix nitrogen or add other nutrients to the soil that are just plowed under because they don’t have a commercial use.  Why shouldn’t he try to use those crops because it is part of what his farm needs to grow to survive instead of forcing the farm to grow the few things that he wants?

He visits a community of organic farmers in a small town in New York.  They are doing extensive work on their soils by using crop rotation.  They grew from one family doing this work who spread the word around the town.  I loved this part.  There is something about reading about building healthy soil that thrills me every time.  I accept that I might be weird.

Then he visits the area of Spain famous for jamon iberico.  This is a ham made from free-range pigs that ate a lot of acorns.  There is a farmer here who is trying to do the same thing with geese to make fois gras without force feeding his ducks.  Also in Spain he visits a fish farm next to a national park that is helping to rebuild an estuary to house their fish.  Birds use the area as a stop over in migration.  The fish farmers consider losing fish to avian predation a sign of a healthy farm ecosystem. 

These were stories were interesting to me but I kept thinking about how unnecessary they are.  If you really want to get into environmentally healthy eating, why eat meat at all?

At the end the book went back to plants and I was so happy.  It discusses heirloom vegetable raising versus breeding for better varieties.  So much of the plant breeding going on is for durability.  Flavor isn’t considered.  This section covers some people who are trying to fix that.

This book reminded me a lot of Omnivore’s Dilemma, especially the section on Joel Saladin.  If you loved that book, you’ll love this one. 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in Europe
  • Books Set in North America
05 Oct, 2017

Some of the Things I Haven’t Told You

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading by Anna Yates, Bernard Scudder, Laura Gallego García, Lindsey Davis, Vivian Shaw, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir
Genres: Contemporary, Fantasy, Fiction
Published by Arthur A. Levine Books, Hachette UK, William Morrow
Format: Hardcover, Paperback
Source: Library

I’ve been reading.  I’ve been reading a lot.  But, I haven’t been writing reviews.  Honestly, I got a bit bored with them and I know they aren’t favorites.  It is especially hard when the book is entertaining but nothing mind-blowing.  How many ways can you can up with to say, “It was good.  I enjoyed it enough to read the whole thing. That is all.”

The thing is that I did enjoy these books.  Most of them I haven’t heard much about so they need to get some exposure.  I should stop slacking and write up some reviews.

So here are some books that I haven’t told you about from August.  Seriously, August, people.  Slacking.


Some of the Things I Haven’t Told You Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw
on July 25th 2017
Pages: 400
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy, Contemporary
Published by Hachette UK

Meet Greta Helsing, doctor to the undead.
After inheriting a highly specialised, and highly peculiar, medical practice, Dr Helsing spends her days treating London's undead for a host of ills: vocal strain in banshees, arthritis in barrow-wights and entropy in mummies. Although barely making ends meet, this is just the quiet, supernatural-adjacent life Greta's dreamed of since childhood.
But when a sect of murderous monks emerges, killing human undead and alike, Greta must use all her unusual skills to keep her supernatural clients - and the rest of London - safe.

Goodreads


This is a great idea.  A lot of the monsters from old horror stories are here.  Dr. Helsing is trying to keep a practice afloat while having to keep her patients a secret.

I had a hard time remembering at points that this is a contemporary story.  It kept feeling like it was a Victorian to me and then there would be modern technology.

It was well done.  There are sequels planned and I will definitely read them.


Some of the Things I Haven’t Told You The Third Nero (Flavia Albia #5) by Lindsey Davis
on July 11, 2017
Pages: 321
Series: Flavia Albia #5
Setting: Italy

In 90 A.D., following the Saturninus revolt in Germany, the Emperor Domitian has become more paranoid about traitors and dissenters around him. This leads to several senators and even provincial governors facing charges and being executed for supposed crimes of conspiracy and insulting the emperor. Wanting to root out all the supports of Saturninus from the Senate, one of Domitian’s men offers to hire Flavia Alba to do some intelligence work.
Flavia Alba, daughter and chip off the old block of Marcus Didius Falco, would rather avoid any and all court intrigue, thank you very much. But she’s in a bit of a bind. Her wedding is fast approaching, her fiancé is still recovering―slowly―from being hit by a lightning bolt, and she’s the sole support of their household. So with more than a few reservations, she agrees to “investigate.”

Goodreads


I’ve loved everything I’ve read by this author, which is over 20 books now.  This one seemed to have a lot of historical backstory that needed to be explained in order to understand the significance of The Third (Fake) Nero.  It wasn’t as well woven into the story as she usually does.  It felt like a bit of slog to get through all that in order to get to the story.

That said, I continue to love this series and its take on everyday life in Ancient Rome.


  Some of the Things I Haven’t Told You My Soul to Take (Þóra Guðmundsdóttir, #2) by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Bernard Scudder, Anna Yates
on April 28th 2009
Pages: 352
Published by William Morrow

“Top notch crime fiction.”
Boston Globe
 
American readers first met Icelandic lawyer and investigator Thóra Gudmundsdóttir in Last Rituals. In My Soul to Take, internationally acclaimed author Yrsa Sigurdardóttir plunges her intrepid heroine into even graver peril, in a riveting thriller set against the harsh landscape of Smila’s Sense of Snow territory. A darkly witty and continually surprising suspense tale that places Yrsa Sigurdardóttir firmly in the ranks of Sue Grafton, Tess Gerritsen, Faye Kellerman and other top mystery writers, My Soul to Take is ingenious Scandinavian noir on a par with the works of Henning Mankell and Arnaldur Indridason. Stieg Larsson (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) fans should also take note.

Goodreads

The heroine of this book is a lawyer who did a land purchase deal for a client who wanted to build a spa.  Now he is claiming that the place is haunted and wants to sue the sellers.  The lawyer heads to the spa for a weekend to try to calm him down and gets mixed up in the mystery of what happened on the land years before.

This book was good.  It was the first Icelandic noir book I’ve read.  I read it for Women in Translation month.  I enjoyed the historical aspects of the story more than the present.  The lawyer was a bit too much of the pushy, “let’s hide things from the police” kind of mystery heroine for my liking.


Some of the Things I Haven’t Told You The Valley of the Wolves (Crónicas de la Torre, #1) by Laura Gallego García
on April 1st 2006
Pages: 336
Published by Arthur A. Levine Books
Setting: Spain

Dana attends a school of magic with only one other student. She has a great love only she can see. And only she can unravel these mysteries and become mistress of the Valley of the Wolves.
Ever since Dana was a little girl, Kai has been her best friend and constant companion--even though she's the only one who can see him. Then the mysterious Maestro comes to her farm and offers her the opportunity of a lifetime: the chance to study sorcery in the Valley of the Wolves. And Dana knows she must go, for the Maestro can see Kai too....

Goodreads


This was another Women in Translation month read for me.  This book reads like a fairy tale.  There is a boy that only the girl can see.  Is he real or not? 

A magician comes and takes her away because he says that she will be a great magic user someday.  He trains her in his castle that is surrounded by vicious wolves who come out at night.  After years of training she realizes that she may not be able to leave if she doesn’t figure out the secrets of the castle and the valley.

This book is all about growing up and seeing your life and the people in it for what they really are.  It is a quick read with lots of fun fantasy and magical elements. 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in Europe
05 Sep, 2017

Map, or Holy Cow I Like a Poetry Book!

/ posted in: Reading Map, or Holy Cow I Like a Poetry Book! Map: Collected and Last Poems by Wisława Szymborska, Clare Cavanagh, Stanisław Barańczak
on April 2015
Genres: Poetry
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library, Owned
Setting: Poland

A new collected volume from the Nobel Prize–winning poet that includes, for the first time in English, all of the poems from her last Polish collection
One of Europe’s greatest recent poets is also its wisest, wittiest, and most accessible. Nobel Prize–winner Wislawa Szymborska draws us in with her unexpected, unassuming humor. Her elegant, precise poems pose questions we never thought to ask. “If you want the world in a nutshell,” a Polish critic remarks, “try Szymborska.” But the world held in these lapidary poems is larger than the one we thought we knew.
Carefully edited by her longtime, award-winning translator, Clare Cavanagh, the poems in Map trace Szymborska’s work until her death in 2012. Of the approximately two hundred and fifty poems included here, nearly forty are newly translated; thirteen represent the entirety of the poet’s last Polish collection, Enough, never before published in English.Map is the first English publication of Szymborska’s work since the acclaimed Here, and it offers her devoted readers a welcome return to her “ironic elegance” (The New Yorker).

Goodreads

I am not a fan of poetry.  I think that is mostly because I am not a person who is in touch with my feelings or who wishes to have other people spilling their feelings all over me.  I read poetry and if I understand it at all I end up mostly thinking, “Ugh, no one cares about your feelings.”  I am Scrooge.

So why did I request this book of poetry?  It was Women in Translation month.  I heard about this collection somewhere on Twitter.  I’m always on the lookout for books from or about Poland that aren’t mired in World War II.  I’m 1/4 Polish and I want to learn more about it but it is hard to find anything that isn’t miserable.  Granted they’ve had more than their fair share of trouble but there has to be some literature that isn’t just depressing, doesn’t there?  Also, my library happened to have this book which I thought was a bit odd for some reason.

This collection starts in the 1940s and continues to the 2000s.  I’m not going to pretend that I understand every poem but I do get most of them.  A lot of them are about things that I haven’t seen written about in poetry before.  They span a range of emotion from happy to sad.

One of my favorites is about talking to an uppity French woman who is dismissive of Poland as just a place where it is cold.  The author spins a crazy fairy tale in her mind about freezing writers struggling against the elements while herding walruses but then realizes that she doesn’t have the French vocabulary to be insultingly sarcastic back to this woman so has to just say “Pas de tout (Not at all).”

This is a huge collection. I’ve renewed the book once but I’m not getting through it fast enough. To let you know how much I’m enjoying it I’ll say, I ordered a copy of myself. Yes, I bought a poetry book. I even thought about buying the hardcover because it seemed like it needed that kind of respect. Then my cheap side of my brain reasserted itself and I got the paperback.

I want the husband to read this too. He likes poetry. He’s into feelings. I’ll impress him by pretending to be classy and reading poetry.  We’ll sneak the walrus herders up on him. 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in Europe
17 Aug, 2017

Ocean Adventures – Junk Raft and The Soul of an Octopus

/ posted in: Reading Ocean Adventures – Junk Raft and The Soul of an Octopus The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery
on May 12th 2015
Pages: 261
Genres: Nonfiction
Published by Atria Books
Format: Audiobook, Hardcover
Source: Library, Playster
Setting: Massachusetts

Octopuses have varied personalities and intelligence they show in myriad ways: endless trickery to escape enclosures and get food; jetting water playfully to bounce objects like balls; and evading caretakers by using a scoop net as a trampoline and running around the floor on eight arms. But with a beak like a parrot, venom like a snake, and a tongue covered with teeth, how can such a being know anything? And what sort of thoughts could it think?
The intelligence of dogs, birds, and chimpanzees was only recently accepted by scientists, who now are establishing the intelligence of the octopus, watching them solve problems and deciphering the meaning of their color-changing camouflage techniques. Montgomery chronicles this growing appreciation of the octopus, but also tells a love story. By turns funny, entertaining, touching, and profound, The Soul of an Octopus reveals what octopuses can teach us about consciousness and the meeting of two very different minds.

Goodreads

I love octopuses.  I think they are fascinating.  I’ve never had the chance to meet one though like this author did.  She got to know three octopuses over the course of a few years.  It was amazing to hear about the ways their physiology lets them interact with the world. They can taste with their skin, camouflage even though they are color blind, and work through complex puzzles.

She also lets you get to know the people working behind the scenes in the aquarium who love these animals.

This book is wonderful for anyone who is interested in finding out more about these animals.  I am looking forward to reading more from this author.


Ocean Adventures – Junk Raft and The Soul of an Octopus Junk Raft: An Ocean Voyage and a Rising Tide of Activism to Fight Plastic Pollution by Marcus Eriksen
on July 4th 2017
Pages: 216
Length: 8:05
Published by Beacon Press
Setting: Pacific Ocean

News media brought the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch"--the famous swirling gyre of plastic pollution in the ocean--into the public consciousness. But when Marcus Eriksen cofounded the 5 Gyres Institute with his wife, Anna Cummins, and set out to study the world's oceans with hundreds of volunteers, they discovered a "plastic smog" of microscopic debris that permeates our oceans globally, defying simple clean-up efforts. What's more, these microplastics and their toxic chemistry have seeped into the food chain, threatening marine life and humans alike.
Far from being a gloomy treatise on an environmental catastrophe, though, Junk Raft tells the exciting story of Eriksen and his team's fight to solve the problem of plastic pollution. A scientist, activist, and inveterate adventurer, Eriksen is drawn to the sea by a desire to right an environmental injustice. Against long odds and common sense, he and his co-navigator, Joel Paschal, construct a "junk raft" made of plastic trash and set themselves adrift from Los Angeles to Hawaii, with no motor or support vessel, confronting perilous cyclones, food shortages, and a fast decaying raft.

Goodreads


Plastic pollution in the ocean is a huge problem but it doesn’t manifest in exactly the ways that it has been portrayed in the press.  Most of the ocean is polluted with microparticles of plastic that make any clean up operation almost impossible.  The author’s goal is to require companies to take on more of the burden for reusing or recycling plastics they produce.  Now they are freed from responsibility by requiring consumers to recycle if they don’t want the plastic going into a landfill.

This book used the framework of the several month journey on Junk to tell the story of the Earth’s plastic pollution problem.  It is full of ideas for making the problem better but there needs to be buy in from a lot of people to make it happen.

The stories in the book are scary.  So much damage is being done through human carelessness.  Getting the word out about what needs to be done is important.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
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