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26 Apr, 2017

The Third Son

/ posted in: Reading The Third Son The Third Son by Julie Wu
on April 30, 2013
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 320
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads
Setting: Taiwan

It's 1943. As air-raid sirens blare in Japanese-occupiedTaiwan, eight-year-old Saburo walks through the peach forests of Taoyuan. The least favored son of a Taiwanese politician, Saburo is in no hurry to get home to the taunting and abuse he suffers at the hands of his parents and older brother. In the forest he meets Yoshiko, whose descriptions of her loving family are to Saburo like a glimpse of paradise. Meeting her is a moment he will remember forever, and for years he will try to find her again. When he finally does, she is by the side of his oldest brother and greatest rival.Set in a tumultuous and violent period of Taiwanese history — as the Chinese Nationalist Army lays claim to the island and one autocracy replaces another—The Third Son tells the story of lives governed by the inheritance of family and the legacy of culture, and of a young man determined to free himself from both.

 


This synopsis sort of made me cringe. I’ve read the whole “my brother is marrying the girl I want” story so many times. I’m over it. This isn’t that though. There was a delightful change.


Saburo gets the girl. Actually, even better, the girl makes up her own mind and chooses him over his brother. Yes, a female main character with agency. I love her. She’s tough and independent minded. She’s chafing under the demands of her time and place. She’s determined to change her life and basically pushes him to get them where they need to be. That isn’t the whole point of the book either.  That happens partway through and the rest of the book is about their life.  

This is the second book I read because of Shenwei’s post about the 228 Massacre in Taiwan. This first one was The 228 Legacy. I enjoyed The Third Son a lot more.  I actually read it in one sitting.  

I’d recommend this one to any historical fiction fans especially if they are looking for settings you don’t often see.  I hadn’t read anything about Taiwan prior to these books.  This is set during a period of a lot of unrest in Taiwan and did a great job explaining the history.  

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in Asia
  • POC authors
12 Apr, 2017

Borderline

/ posted in: Reading Borderline Borderline by Mishell Baker
Series: The Arcadia Project #1
Published by Saga Press on March 1st 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads
Setting: California

A year ago, Millie lost her legs and her filmmaking career in a failed suicide attempt. Just when she's sure the credits have rolled on her life story, she gets a second chance with the Arcadia Project: a secret organization that polices the traffic to and from a parallel reality filled with creatures straight out of myth and fairy tales.
For her first assignment, Millie is tasked with tracking down a missing movie star who also happens to be a nobleman of the Seelie Court. To find him, she'll have to smooth-talk Hollywood power players and uncover the surreal and sometimes terrifying truth behind the glamour of Tinseltown. But stronger forces than just her inner demons are sabotaging her progress, and if she fails to unravel the conspiracy behind the noble's disappearance, not only will she be out on the streets, but the shattering of a centuries-old peace could spark an all-out war between worlds.
No pressure.


Millie was a grad student in filmmaking at UCLA when a failed relationship led her to a suicide attempt.  She survived but lost her legs.  She has spent the last six months in an inpatient psychiatric facility learning to handle her borderline personality disorder.

“The symptoms of borderline personality disorder include: a recurring pattern of instability in relationships, efforts to avoid abandonment, identity disturbance, impulsivity, emotional instability, and chronic feelings of emptiness, among other symptoms.

The main feature of borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a pervasive pattern of instability in interpersonal relationships, self-image and emotions. People with borderline personality disorder are also usually very impulsive, oftentimes demonstrating self-injurious behaviors.”  – Steven Bressert Ph.D

 

That describes Millie.  She is working with a therapist but she doesn’t think that it is going well.  Then she is recruited for a job.

The Arcadia project manages human-fey interactions.  The branch in Los Angeles works with the fey in Hollywood.  The project is staffed by people who all have mental health issues.  During her probationary period she just needs to live in a group house and find one missing fey.  How hard can that be?


This is a fairly standard urban fantasy plot with a missing person that leads to a larger problem.  It is the characters in the Arcadia Project that make it stand out.  How many books have a disabled, mentally ill, bisexual main character who gets to be the hero?

Millie’s mental illness and her new life as a double amputee are huge factors in this book.  Her mobility challenges are taken into account whenever she needs to go out.  Even seemingly simple decisions like whether or not to take a shower have to be carefully considered.  If she gets her legs wet then she can’t use the prostheses for several hours.  If she needs to run she needs to get the hydraulics in her knee on the right setting and sometimes she messes that up.  Even small things like should she take her wheelchair up to her second floor room (no elevator) or leave it downstairs in the living room where it will be in everyone’s way are considered.  Trying to get to the house was hard by herself with a wheelchair, a cane, and all her bags.

Mental illness is a large part of this story.  Millie feels like she hasn’t made any progress in therapy.  Once she is out on her own though we see that she has learned how to help herself.  She uses several different techniques that she was taught to help her deal with rage and insecurity.  She isn’t perfect though.  She still lashes out at people.  She also clings to anyone who shows her kindness and feels incredibly insecure if she feels like they are pulling away.

Millie’s boss, Caryl, has been through extensive emotional trauma.  She is a wizard and she is coping by splitting her rational and emotional mind.  She keeps her emotional mind in an invisible dragon construct so she can be entirely rational while she is working.  This is working for her but Millie comes to see that it isn’t healthy in the long term.

The author has spoken about being mentally ill.  These are from her AMA on Reddit.

“I didn’t expect Borderline to get published. Honestly. It was the story I wrote because I needed to write a novel or I’d explode, and it was the only novel I could write at that point in my life. So I wrote it, and when it was finished I did what I did with the first four novels I’d written, and shopped it around. I was shocked when my first choice of agent offered to represent it. Slightly less shocked when he landed it with a big publisher (because that’s why he was my first choice agent). Extremely shocked when it got starred reviews, and the Nebula nomination just about broke my brain.

This is not false modesty. I actually spent a week in a psychiatric hospital for suicidal ideation in 2013, and a huge part of it was that I was 38 and had pretty much decided that I’d failed as a writer and was never going to make it, that I’d wasted my life. BORDERLINE was already out there. My agent was already reading it. That’s how little faith I had in it.”

“I was in a psych ward on October 1, 2013 because I thought my life was over.

I heard back from my agent with an offer of representation twenty-nine days later.

In a sense, the entire Arcadia Project series has become ABOUT this. About how we inevitably pick the stupidest, stupidest times to think our lives are “over.” What might we live on to do and accomplish if we give ourselves a second chance?”

 

I’ve already requested the sequel from the library.  I’m looking forward to seeing where this series goes.

About Mishell Baker

When Mishell isn’t convention-hopping or going on wild research adventures, she lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two changelings.  When her offspring are older, she will probably remember what her hobbies are.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in North America
05 Apr, 2017

People of the Songtrail

/ posted in: Reading People of the Songtrail People of the Songtrail by W. Michael Gear, Kathleen O'Neal Gear
Published by Tor Books on May 26th 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Historical
Pages: 352
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads

On the shores of what is now northeastern Canada, a small group of intrepid settlers have landed, seeking freedom to worship and prosper far from the religious strife and political upheaval that plague a war-ridden Europe . . .
500 years before Columbus set sail.
While it has long been known that Viking ships explored the American coast, recent archaeological evidence suggests a far more vast and permanent settlement. It is from this evidence that archaeologists and early American history experts Kathy and Michael Gear weave their extraordinary tale.


I never know quite how to characterize the Gear books.  Historical fiction with magic?  Magical realism?  Historical fantasy?

The authors are archeologists.  They start with the archeological details of pre-Columbian American sites and build adventure stories from there.  This book is set on the east coast of Canada during the time of the Vikings.  A group of boats has sailed together from Greenland but were separated in a storm.  They make landfall up and down the coast.  The different groups have different experiences of contact with the Native Americans.

There have been Viking raids previously.  The Native Americans are rightly hostile to any landing on the shore.  Children have previously been taken as slaves.  These slaves have taught a few Vikings the language so they have translators.  One group talks to the Native Americans.  Another sets off a massacre of a village.

Now one boat with a judge on board tries to convince the Native Americans to trust him to deliver justice to them for the crimes committed against them.  Yeah, I wouldn’t have believed him either.

This isn’t my favorite of their books.  There is so much going on that it is hard to focus on a main plot.  There are political dealings in Scandinavia and England.  There is a Danish witch and a Native American spirit worker getting together to fight the bad guys.  There is fighting among the Vikings.

I think I would have liked this one more with a little more historical detail and less magic.  Those aren’t words that I say very often.  I was interested in how these groups of people interacted.  With all the magic flying around I knew that it didn’t go like that in real life.  No one was resurrecting people by riding into the afterlife on eight legged horses.

Read this one if you are in the mood for a historical fantasy that compares and contrasts Native American and Scandinavian spirituality and mythology. Look elsewhere if you want to know what really happened.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in North America
04 Apr, 2017

My Own Country

/ posted in: Reading My Own Country My Own Country: A Doctor's Story by Abraham Verghese
on April 25, 1995
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Pages: 432
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Goodreads
Setting: Tennessee

Nestled in the Smoky Mountains of eastern Tennessee, the town of Johnson City saw its first AIDS patient in August 1985. Working in Johnson City was Abraham Verghese, a young Indian doctor specializing in infectious diseases who became, by necessity, the local AIDS expert. Out of his experience comes a startling, ultimately uplifting portrait of the American heartland.


I have been coming across books in the most roundabout ways recently.  For March’s 6 Degrees of Separation post I needed a book set in Ethiopia.  I thought of Cutting for Stone which I’ve never read so I wasn’t absolutely sure that’s where it was set.  I looked it up on Goodreads and saw that the author wrote this book about his life in Tennessee.  Was I actually mixing up Ethiopia and Tennessee in my mind?  Not exactly.  He was in rural east Tennessee at about the same time I was in school there.  That intrigued me.

In the late 1980s he finished his residency as an infectious disease specialist in Boston.  He decided to take a job in Tennessee for the slower pace and better quality of life.  He planned to split his time between a VA nursing home/hospital and a small public hospital.

At the same time he moved to Tennessee, the first AIDS cases were appearing in the area.  He had seen AIDS patients in Boston.  His experience in infectious disease made him the logical doctor for people to refer patients to in the area.  At this point there was no real treatment.  All he could do was monitor their blood counts and support them through their secondary diseases.  At first the community of AIDS patients was small and he spent a lot of time going into their homes and getting to know them and their families.

The initial patients he saw were gay men who had moved away from the area in order to lead more open lives in big cities.  Now they were sick and were coming home for help from their families.  There was a huge stigma.  AIDS was a curse handed down for sinful behavior in a lot of the minds of the people of the area.  Even the local gay community didn’t think it was in their local group.  Many nurses refused to work with the patients.  Some protested even offering them treatment in the hospital at all since it was ultimately futile.

Dr. Verghese had to confront his own bigotry.  He was uncomfortable at first with gay men.  He later concerned that he was showing preferential treatment to an elderly couple who had been infected by the husband’s blood transfusion.  Was he falling into the “innocent victim” mentality towards AIDS?  How did he feel about the man with AIDS-related dementia who had infected both his wife and her sister?

Even though this book was written in 1995, I would recommend it for anyone interested in medical history.  This is an account of the front lines of an AIDS epidemic as it moved into an area.  He is a very empathetic and compassionate writer who gave so much of himself to the patients that he ended up destroying his own marriage.

 

About Abraham Verghese

Born of Indian parents who were teachers in Ethiopia, he grew up near Addis Ababa and began his medical training there. When Emperor Haile Selassie was deposed, he completed his training at Madras Medical College and went to the United States for his residency as one of many foreign medical graduates.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in North America
  • POC authors
30 Mar, 2017

The 228 Legacy

/ posted in: Reading The 228 Legacy The 228 Legacy by Jennifer J. Chow
Published by Martin Sisters Publishing on July 25th 2013
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 320
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Goodreads
Setting: Taiwan

Three generations in an all-female Taiwanese family living near Los Angeles in 1980 are each guarding personal secrets. Grandmother Silk finds out that she has breast cancer, as daughter Lisa loses her job, while pre-teen granddaughter Abbey struggles with a school bully. When Silk’s mysterious past comes out—revealing a shocking historical event that left her widowed—the truth forces the family to reconnect emotionally and battle their problems together. A novel of cultural identity and long-standing secrets, The 228 Legacy weaves together multigenerational viewpoints, showing how heritage and history can influence individual behavior and family bonds.


I didn’t know anything about Taiwanese history until I read this post from Shenwei about the 228 Massacre.  After World War II Japan ceded control of Taiwan to China.  The government that was put in place on the island was hated for corruption.  There were protests on February 28, 1947 that led to a violent crackdown from the government.  Thousands of people died.  It was not officially acknowledged or discussed until 1995.

Shenwei gave a list of books in her post that touch on the massacre.  I decided to read The 228 Legacy.

This book is about three generations of Taiwanese-American women living in LA in the 1980s.  The grandmother, Silk, came to the U.S. as a pregnant widow.  She has never talked much about her life in Taiwan other than trying to pass on the language.  Her daughter, Lisa, knows nothing about her father.  She is struggling with keeping dead end jobs while caring for her mother and daughter.  The granddaughter, Abbey, is trying to make friends with the popular people at school but this has disastrous consequences.

The heart of the story is Jack, a Chinese man who recently lost his wife.  He lived at the nursing home that Lisa worked at.  He recently ran away.  Lisa gets involved in his life but when Silk meets him she reacts violently to having a Chinese man in her house.  This is the beginning of finding out about Silk’s memories of the massacre.

I wish this book went deeper.  There are several good storylines here but I didn’t feel like it did more than scratch the surface of each.  There should have been more emotion in both Silk and Abbey’s stories.  Both are traumatic but they feel like they are recounted matter of factly.

I liked Lisa’s story the best because it showed her growth as she discovers a career that she actually enjoys.

I may look into some other books on Shenwei’s list to learn more about Taiwanese history than I learned from this book.

About Jennifer J. Chow

Jennifer J. Chow, an Asian-American writer, holds a Bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and a Master’s in Social Welfare from UCLA. Her geriatric work experience has informed her stories. She lives in Los Angeles, California.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in Asia
  • POC authors
28 Mar, 2017

Life’s That Way

/ posted in: EntertainmentReading Life’s That Way Life's That Way: A Memoir by Jim Beaver
on April 16, 2009
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Pages: 303
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads
Setting: California

In August 2003, Jim Beaver, a character actor, and his wife Cecily learned what they thought was the worst news possible- their daughter Maddie was autistic. Then six weeks later the roof fell in-Cecily was diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer.

Jim immediately began writing a nightly e-mail as a way to keep more than one hundred family and friends up to date about Cecily's condition. Soon four thousand people a day, from all around the world, were receiving them. Initially a cathartic exercise for Jim, the prose turned into an unforgettable journey for his readers.


I came to this book in a roundabout way.  In Lauren Graham’s memoir she talks about a friend of hers writing a book.  I looked that book up on goodreads.  I scrolled down to the comments to see if anyone else liked it.  One of the first comments mentioned that he was also friends with the author.  I looked over at the icon and saw Jim Beaver’s picture.

jimbeaver

My first thought was, “Bobby Fisher wrote a book?”  I know that he is not the character that he played on Supernatural but the idea was intriguing. I wanted to read it.

Towards the end of 2003, Beaver and his wife Cecily Adams’s 2 year old daughter Maddie had stopped talking and was having melt downs.  She was diagnosed as autistic.  They were also in the process of building their dream house.  They had moved out of their current house and into a rental until their house was finished.  His father was slowly slipping into advanced dementia.  Then Cecily was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.

A few days after the diagnosis, he sat down and wrote a group email to family and friends explaining what was going on with Cecily.  He started writing nightly updates to the group.  People started forwarding his emails to other people who didn’t even know him.  I didn’t understand why until I read the book.

The book is a sampling of the emails.  They don’t cover every day of the time he wrote from the day of her diagnosis until 1 year later.  The emails themselves haven’t been edited though.  This is a day by day account of what it is like to watch your spouse die of cancer and what grieving looks like in real time.

That may sound incredibly depressing to read but it isn’t.  It is sad but not depressing.  He notes the many kindnesses that their friends showed them.  He especially talks about the people involved with That 70s Show, where Cecily was working as a casting director.  They came over and decorated the house for Christmas for them.  One woman who Cecily just knew hated her cleaned their house for them.  He talks about what was helpful and what wasn’t.  This is a great book for anyone who ever wanted to help someone but didn’t know what to do.

He’s an amazing writer.  He was incredibly open about what he was feeling each day.  He talks about his fears – of losing his wife, of having to go away to jobs to earn money while his wife was sick, of dealing with a child who was already in crisis.  He talks of the joys along the way.  He talks about grief hitting you unaware just when you thought you were starting to function again.  He remembers his life with his wife –both the good and the bad.

This is a hopeful book about what you can endure if you have to even if you don’t want to.  It helps to have a great support structure of friends and family around you like he did.  I kept thinking that he must be a great guy to have friends like these.

About Jim Beaver

im Beaver is an actor, playwright, and film historian. Best known as Ellsworth on HBO’s Emmy-award winning series Deadwood and as Bobby Singer on Supernatural, he has also starred in such series as Harper’s Island, John from Cincinnati, and Thunder Alley and appeared in nearly forty motion pictures. He lives with his daughter Madeline in Los Angeles.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in North America
27 Mar, 2017

Hillbilly Elegy

/ posted in: Reading Hillbilly Elegy Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
Published by Harper on June 28th 2016
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Pages: 272
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads
Setting: Ohio

Vance’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love.” They got married and moved north from Kentucky to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. Their grandchild (the author) graduated from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving upward mobility for their family. But Vance cautions that is only the short version.
At times funny, disturbing, and deeply moving, this is a family history that is also a troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large portion of this country.


Wow.  I read this book in one sitting.  I spent the whole time nodding my head.  I got out of bed to start writing this to make of the thoughts flying around my brain.  Before reading the book I had heard that it was controversial.  After reading it I have no idea why.

This is the story of most of the people I know.

I’ve often summed up my husband and I like this:

  • My husband is what happens when you educate a hillbilly.
  • I’m what happens when two educated hillbillies breed.

In my life I’ve lived in Western Pennsylvania, East Tennessee, Central Ohio, and Northeast Ohio.  I don’t wander far from Appalachia.  Most white people I know have roots somewhere deeper in Appalachia.  I had never considered that the reason for this was a migration north of people from coal mining country to the industrial centers farther north in the 40s and 50s even though that fits part of my family history.

“It was not simply that the Appalachian migrants, as rural strangers ‘out of place’ in the city, were upsetting to Midwestern, urban whites.  Rather, these migrants disrupted a broad set of assumptions held by northern whites about how white people appeared, spoke, and behaved…the disturbing aspect of hillbillies was their racialness.  Ostensibly, there were of the same racial order (whites) as those who dominated economic, political, and social power in local and national arenas.  But hillbillies shared many regional characteristics with the southern blacks arriving in Detroit.”

 

One of the author’s central points is that one of the major problems facing people in these areas is a lack of imagination.  I may be an overly educated person but all my coworkers are not.  Most are high school graduates who never imagined going on to do any college or ever leaving their hometowns.  If no one you know ever leaves, how can someone even imagine that it is an option?  There needs to be people to model what healthy relationships look like or what steps you take to go to college in order for someone to aspire to that.  The author talks a lot about the very small worldview people have.  I keep threatening to buy a world map and teach geography lessons to my coworkers between appointments at work because not only can they not identify some cities as belonging in certain states, they can’t identify certain names as belonging to real states.  They’ve never been there so why would they care?  They just shrug.

“It’s not like parents and teachers never mention hard work.  Nor do they walk around loudly proclaiming that they expect their children to turn out poorly.  These attitudes lurk below the surface, less in what people say than in how they act.  One of our neighbors was a lifetime welfare recipient, but in between asking my grandmother to borrow her car or offering to trade food stamps for cash at a premium, she’d blather on about the importance of industriousness.  ‘So many people abuse the system, it’s impossible for the hardworking people to get the help they need,’ she’d say.  This was the construct she’d built in her head:  Most of the beneficiaries of the system were extravagant moochers, but she–despite never having worked a day in her life–was an obvious exception.”

 

Oh yes.  I love that one.  I know people who have used every government program out there who expound at length about immigrants coming here and getting benefits that “hard working” Americans don’t get.  I also found the discussion in the book about how people overestimate how many hours they work because they think they are more industrious than they are fascinating.  If they are working so hard (in their minds) and aren’t getting ahead, obviously someone is out to get them.  I think this is a big part of the reason why I hate the terms ‘working class’ and ‘working man’.  It is like the rest of us magically make a living by waving our hands and the money rains down from on high.

The author’s story is rough. His mother was a drug addict with a never ending stream of boyfriends.  He found stability in his Memaw.  That wasn’t a given because she was an incredibly unstable person who didn’t model healthy living to her daughter.  She got herself together in her later years and was able to help her grandson.

I understood his story completely.  Everything that happens to him has happened to someone I know.  It hasn’t all happened to the same person but there was nothing in his story that I haven’t heard at least once from someone in casual conversation.  I kept pointing out parallels to my husband’s life to him.  There is a passage at the end where he talks about his non-hillbilly wife being shocked that he had several bank accounts spread out in different banks.  He attributes that to a childhood habit of spreading out his money in several hiding places so no one in his house could steal it all at once.  I just handed the book over to the husband at that point.  One of the ‘in case of death’ paperwork things I keep meaning to do is to get him to write down all the banks he has accounts in.  I’m not talking multiple accounts in a few local banks.  I’m talking about small accounts in multiple states that he can’t bring himself to close.

Some of the major criticisms of this book is the idea that the author hates poor people.  They accuse him of saying that he worked hard and got out so everyone should be able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and do it too.  I feel like this a lot too.  I look at people and think, “You have all the opportunities in the world available to you.  You have people who are begging to help you and you just don’t care.”  Maybe that isn’t the case in other poor communities but it is true here.  Kids graduate having never given a thought to what they want to do with their lives.  It isn’t because no one ever asked.  It is just pessimism and lethargy.  I don’t know how else to explain it.  They are smart and capable of doing more than scraping to survive in dead end jobs but it never seems to occur to them that there is more possible in life.

You see this dynamic in the author’s life.  He acknowledges that he had good schools with caring teachers who couldn’t help him learn because he was too preoccupied with the chaos of his home life.  His high school was poorly rated but he considered that to be at least partially due to a lack of student caring.  He talks about good teachers there too.  He talks about the programs that are available to help kids go to school but the pessimism of people may make them assume that there is no help available so they don’t look for them.  The insularity of the group means that no one talks about family problems (until they are over) so people aren’t getting help.  People are suspicious of outsiders so they don’t believe anything an outsider tells them.  Change and hope need to come from inside the community.   

It seems like a lot of people wanted this book to explain Trump voters to them.  It has been touted as the book to read to understand “those people.”  They are criticizing it for not explaining them.  It doesn’t try to.  This is his story.  It doesn’t have a political bent to it.  It was written before the current election.  People need to stop projecting what they want this book to be and see it for what it is.

 

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
22 Mar, 2017

Writings on the Wall

/ posted in: Reading Writings on the Wall Writings on the Wall: Searching for a New Equality Beyond Black and White by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Raymond Obstfeld
Published by Time on August 23rd 2016
Genres: Nonfiction
Pages: 256
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads

Since retiring from professional basketball as the NBA's all-time leading scorer, six-time MVP, and Hall of Fame inductee, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has become a lauded observer of culture and society, a New York Times bestselling author, and a regular contributor to The Washington Post, TIME magazine and TIME.com.
He now brings that keen insight to the fore in Writings on the Wall: Searching for a New Equality Beyond Black and White, his most incisive and important work of non-fiction in years. He uses his unique blend of erudition, street smarts and authentic experience in essays on the country's seemingly irreconcilable partisan divide - both racial and political, parenthood, and his own experiences as an athlete, African-American, and a Muslim. The book is not just a collection of expositions; he also offers keen assessments of and solutions to problems such as racism in sports while speaking candidly about his experiences on the court and off.


This is the first book by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar that I have read.  I didn’t even know that he was an author until last year at BEA when he was there.  I didn’t try to get a ticket to his signing but I was working my way through a crowd at one point and ended up standing right beside him.  The crowd was actually his line.  I now know that I’m the same height as Kareem when he is sitting in a chair.

“One thing all that history has taught me is the dangers of the uninformed, quickly formed and ill-informed opinion.  Passionate defense of bad logic is the main cause of most of the world’s misery.”

 

That is the main theme of this book.  Don’t be lazy.  Learn about issues.  Look at all the sides before coming to a conclusion.  Be willing to change your mind as you learn more.

Politics

“When I was a child, I remember adults complaining that voting often came down to selecting the lesser of two evils.  I still hear that today.  But while it feels cathartic to blame elected officials and demonize them for their many failings, the sad truth is that we voters are the real villains in this story.  Our profound laziness and unyielding arrogance as voters have allowed our system to become polluted by hucksters, egomaniacs, dimwits and mack-daddy pimps willing to rent out their stable of votes.”

I started out wanting to underline everything in this book.  Kareem has a strong point of view on many issues.  He explains them well, often using pop culture references to get his point across.  I think the broad scope of the book wore me down by the end.  It started to feel like, “And another thing I’m mad about is…”  I think this book would be better read by dipping in and out of chapters over a longer period of time instead of reading it straight through in order to get it back to the library.  That being said, I think this is a book that is very worth reading.  He ties in his own life experience as a person who has lived most of his life in the public eye, including during his conversion to Islam.  I will look into some of his other books also after reading this one.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
  • POC authors
21 Mar, 2017

Symptoms of Being Human

/ posted in: General Symptoms of Being Human Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin
Published by Balzer + Bray on February 2nd 2016
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 352
Format: eBook
Source: Library
Goodreads
Setting: California

The first thing you’re going to want to know about me is: Am I a boy, or am I a girl?
Riley Cavanaugh is many things: Punk rock. Snarky. Rebellious. And gender fluid. Some days Riley identifies as a boy, and others as a girl. The thing is…Riley isn’t exactly out yet. And between starting a new school and having a congressman father running for reelection in uber-conservative Orange County, the pressure—media and otherwise—is building up in Riley’s so-called “normal” life.
On the advice of a therapist, Riley starts an anonymous blog to vent those pent-up feelings and tell the truth of what it’s REALLY like to be a gender fluid teenager. But just as Riley’s starting to settle in at school—even developing feelings for a mysterious outcast—the blog goes viral, and an unnamed commenter discovers Riley’s real identity, threatening exposure. Riley must make a choice: walk away from what the blog has created—a lifeline, new friends, a cause to believe in—or stand up, come out, and risk everything.


Riley is a congressman’s child in a conservative part of California.  The congressman is pushing for educational reform so Riley is taken out of private school and put in a public one for the first time.  First day jitters are worse because Riley is gender fluid and is unsure of how to present on the first day of school.  Within minutes of arriving at school, Riley overhears people guessing, “Is that a boy or a girl?” and one person decides to use “It” instead of any pronoun.

As part of Riley’s therapy after a suicide attempt, the psychologist recommends starting a blog.  The second post goes viral.  (Yeah, right.)  Riley becomes an online star and eventually is outed publicly.  It is a huge problem because Riley’s parents didn’t know.

An interesting aspect of the book is that the gender that Riley was assigned at birth is never stated.  The author never uses any pronouns to refer to Riley.  I’m extra impressed by this because it was hard to write this review without pronouns, let alone a whole book.  (Some reviews I’ve read have taken issue with this because pronouns are a difficult part of life for some people.)

This is a very character driven novel.  Riley and friends are the focus more than the plot.  Bec is a new friend at school.  She’s a social outcast and she’s in a band.  She befriends Riley and becomes a potential love interest.  Solo is a former outcast turned athlete who befriends Riley.  This causes tension with his friends on the football team.

There is a lot of violence and abuse hurled at Riley in the book.  Several characters have either committed suicide or have attempted.

Symptoms of Being Human does a great job of introducing gender fluidity to an audience who may not be familiar with the term.  The author is not gender fluid but obviously did a lot of research into the subject.  I’ve only seen one review by a person who identified as being gender fluid on Goodreads and that was a positive review for the book.  The feel of this book reminds me a lot of None of the Above.  The intent of the book is to educate on the subject.  Large information dumps don’t bother me at all but some people get annoyed by it.

I think this book is a good one for people to read especially if they aren’t familiar with gender fluidity.  Riley has a unique voice and perspective on the world.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in North America
  • LBGTQ authors/characters
20 Mar, 2017

Invisible Lives

/ posted in: General Invisible Lives Invisible Lives by Anjali Banerjee
Published by Downtown Press on September 1st 2006
Genres: Fiction, Magical Realism
Pages: 280
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Goodreads
Setting: Washington

Lakshmi Sen was born with a magical ability to perceive the secret longings in others. Putting aside her own dreams to help run her widowed mother's struggling Seattle sari shop, Mystic Elegance, Lakshmi knows exactly how to bring happiness to customers -- from lonely immigrants to starry-eyed young brides. And to honor her father's dying wish, she has agreed to marry a respectable Indian doctor who will uphold her family's traditions. But when a famous Indian actress chooses Mystic Elegance to provide her wedding trousseau, Lakshmi finds herself falling for the actress's sexy chauffeur -- all-American Nick Dunbar -- and her powers seem to desert her just as she needs them most. As Nick draws Lakshmi into his world, however, new dreams awaken in her, and she begins to uncover deeper, startling longings in her mother, her friends, her fiance, and even herself.


I was so excited to hear about this author.  I love light and fluffy books with magical realism.  A book set in a sari shop by an ownvoices author sounded wonderful.

Lakshmi Sen is visited by the goddess Lakshmi in utero and given a gift of being able to know what people want.  She is also made incredibly beautiful but is warned to hide that beauty for reasons that aren’t clear.  It is never really discussed after the first part of the story either.

She co-owns a sari shop with her mother.  She can tell what customers truly need when they come in.  She’s developing a reputation for it.  That draws a Bollywood actress to the store for her wedding outfits.  But Lakshmi’s gift disappears when she enters the store with her driver.

This is the where the book started to lose me.  The driver, Nick, is the guy we are supposed to root for in the story.  But he doesn’t seem to offer anything good to Lakshmi.  Just his presence is harming her.  She loses customers when he is around because she is unable to do her job.

There is colorism in this book.  An elderly customer comes in to the store and starts talking about how she uses skin lightening cream.   It could almost be dismissed as the fancy of a woman who is a ridiculous character but it isn’t pointed out as such.  Then later a woman is being described as ugly and part of the description is how her skin is so dark.  Later, the elderly woman from the shop is complimented and she says that the skin lightening cream is working.

Nick makes several casually racist comments to Lakshmi that aren’t commented on.  He invites her to meet his family.  He says that his sister would love to try on saris because she likes “ethnic clothes.”  I was like, “Excuse me?” but nothing is mentioned about it in the story.  Then when he gets there his mother “compliments” Lakshmi by telling her that she looks so exotic.  Yeah.  Then he all but orders her to forget about her trip to India to meet the man her mother wants her to marry.  On the basis of what?  They barely know each other and she’s supposed to give up all previous plans for him?  This guy seems like a control freak that she should get away from quickly.

The book never redeemed Nick for me.  It tried but he is still interfering with her work even though the book tried to spin it more positively.

Let’s count this one as an ‘I read it so you don’t have to’ book.

 

About Anjali Banerjee

I was born in India, raised in Canada and California, and I now live in the Pacific Northwest, in a cottage in the woods, with my husband and five rescued cats.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in North America
  • POC authors
17 Mar, 2017

Rebel Magisters

/ posted in: Reading Rebel Magisters Rebel Magisters by Shanna Swendson
Series: Rebel Mechanics #2
Published by NLA Digital on July 12th 2016
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Fiction
Pages: 238
Format: eBook
Source: Library
Goodreads
Setting: New York

Tea, Love ... and Revolution!
The Rebel Mechanics aren’t the only group plotting revolution against the magical British Empire. There are rebel magisters, as well, and Verity Newton and her magister employer, Lord Henry, know that the only way for the revolution to succeed is if both groups work together. A diplomatic mission seems like the perfect opportunity for them to meet with rebels in other colonies and gather support—right under the governor’s nose.


The premise of this series is that the Americans lost the Revolution because upper class British people have magic.  Now it is the 1880s and steampunk technology has advanced enough to level the battlefield.

Verity is a governess for a British family in New York.  She was recruited to spy for the rebels.  It turns out that her employer wants a revolution also.  He is working towards it covertly with his British peers.  Now it is time to bring both camps together.

I love the multiple levels of espionage in this book.  Trying to get various rebel groups to work together without one or the other trying to get all the credit was a bit like herding cats.  Some of the children Verity watches are maturing from spoiled brats to budding activists too.

There is a slow romance through this series and a potential new romance in this book.  This ends in upheaval so I hope the next book in the series comes out soon.

 

About Shanna Swendson

Shanna Swendson is the author of the Enchanted, Inc. series, the Fairy Tale series, and Rebel Mechanics.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
16 Mar, 2017

The Her Instruments Series

/ posted in: General The Her Instruments Series Earthrise by M.C.A. Hogarth, Julie Dillon
Published by Createspace Independent Publishing Platform on June 5th 2013
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Fiction, Science
Pages: 422
Format: eBook
Source: Library, Owned
Goodreads

Reese Eddings has enough to do just keeping her rattletrap merchant vessel, the TMS Earthrise, profitable enough to pay food for herself and her micro-crew. So when a mysterious benefactor from her past shows up demanding she rescue a man from slavers, her first reaction is to say "NO!" And then to remember that she sort of promised to repay the loan. But she doesn't remember signing up to tangle with pirates and slavers over a space elf prince...


I love the universe that M.C.A. Hogarth has created for her books.  In the future, humans create human/animal hybrids called the Pelted who then leave the galaxy.  They spread out onto new worlds and form an Alliance.  They totally leave their human creators behind.

Human still live in this galaxy except for a few adventurous ones who venture out into Alliance space. Reese was born on Mars.  Now she has fled from the life that was planned for her there and is trying to make a living as a trader.  It isn’t going well.  She was bailed out once.  She’s almost broke again.

Now she has to go rescue an Eldritch who fell into the hands of slavers.  The Eldritch are a reclusive race.  They don’t leave their planets much because they are highly empathetic.  Too many beings makes it hard for them.  Everything Reese knows about them comes from the romance novels she gets monthly that feature Eldritch as mysterious heroes.  It turns out that Eldritch are much more annoying than in the books.

Reese is prickly.  She doesn’t open herself up emotionally easily.  This is an area of conflict between her and the feline crew members who respond to everyone emotionally and sexually.  As a Mars native who was born under a dome and who now lives on a ship, she gets agoraphobia whenever she has to be on a planet with an endless horizon.

If you liked the interactions of the crew in The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet you might like this book too.

I liked it so much that I read the rest of the books in the series too.

 


The Her Instruments Series Rose Point by M.C.A. Hogarth
on October 7, 2013
Goodreads

Reese is only just getting used to running the Earthrise in the black—and with an Eldritch in her crew—when a trip to a colony world gives rise to a whole new problem: Hirianthial is showing powers that even the Eldritch rarely have, and that only in legend. He badly needs training, support and advice, and the only place he can find them is... at home.

To see the world of the Eldritch is a once in a lifetime opportunity, a thing of fantasies and rumor. And to finally meet the Eldritch Queen, the author of so many of Reese's windfalls! You'd have to twist her arm to get her to admit it, but Reese can't wait to go. But a court out of fantasy and a breathtaking land aren't enough compensation when they come packaged with a rabidly xenophobic species whose world is falling apart. The last thing they want any part of is some mortal interloper.

Is Reese ready for the Eldritch world? Better to ask: are they ready for her?


Not going to lie.  I didn’t expect a space opera series to end up focusing so much on horses.  I’m not complaining.  I like horses.

After trying to open up a new trade route, Reese and the crew fall into the hands of slavers again.  Hirianthial, the Eldritch crew member fights back.  He realizes that his psychic powers are getting more powerful.  In fact, the only person he’s ever heard of with these powers went insane and killed a lot of people on the Eldritch planet.

The Eldritch have kept the planet closed off forever.  Bringing a crew of non-Eldritch in is going to be a problem.

The slow romance between Reese and Hirianthial continues.  I enjoyed the idea of Reese trying to build a relationship based on what she read in romance books.  She gets a bit annoyed when he doesn’t act like the heroes she reads about.  

This is a very different book than the first one.  There are a lot more politics than space travel.  I love the diverse crew, especially Alacazam.  He’s an alien that looks like a fuzzy basketball.  He communicates through thoughts and helps cheer everyone else.

Warning – there is an attempted rape scene


The Her Instruments Series Laisrathera (Her Instruments, #3) by M.C.A. Hogarth
Published by Studio MCAH on May 12th 2014
Pages: 343
Goodreads

The Queen of the Eldritch has offered Reese Eddings a life out of a fairy tale, one beyond the imagination of a poor girl from Mars who’d expected to spend her life eking out a living with a rattletrap merchant vessel. Unfortunately, the day Reese reached out to accept Liolesa’s offer, Hirianthial’s enemies betrayed him--and his entire planet--to a race of sociopathic shapeshifters with dreams of conquest. Now the only thing between Reese and a castle of her very own is a maniacal alien despot, his native quisling and all the Eldritch dead-set on preventing the incursion of aliens at any cost, including the ousting of their current usurper, who happens to be an alien himself...
Reese, Hirianthial and the crew of the Earthrise have been battling these pirates since Hirianthial’s capture inspired their fateful meeting, but to beat them Reese will have to own the power she’s always denied herself, and Hirianthial must make peace with his bloody past and uncertain future.


Right as everything is coming together for Reese and her crew, a coup throws the planet into chaos.  Now Reese is hiding refugees and political prisoners.  Hirianthial is off planet with the deposed Queen getting medical treatment for his injuries he got during the attack.  The only way back together is to get the rightful Queen back on the throne.

This book is about making a new civilization from the remains of an old one.  How do they want to live? What does it take to rule?  Liolesa, the deposed queen has been shoring up her people with off-World goods for years without their knowledge. What happens when the isolationists who take over have to face the truth?

There is the repeated rape of a female prisoner in this story.  It happens off the page but it isn’t graphically described.  However, her reactions to this repeated trauma are described.

This is a good ending to the story.  There is a short story that takes place between books two and three that I haven’t read yet.  This author has other series set in the same universe to that I’m looking forward to reading.

About M.C.A. Hogarth

Daughter of two Cuban political exiles, M.C.A. Hogarth was born a foreigner in the American melting pot and has had a fascination for the gaps in cultures and the bridges that span them ever since. She has been many things—-web database architect, product manager, technical writer and massage therapist—-but is currently a full-time parent, artist, writer and anthropologist to aliens, both human and otherwise.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • POC authors
15 Mar, 2017

Why I Left, Why I Stayed

/ posted in: General Why I Left, Why I Stayed Why I Left, Why I Stayed: Conversations on Christianity Between an Evangelical Father and His Humanist Son by Tony Campolo, Bart Campolo
Published by HarperOne on February 21st 2017
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Pages: 176
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads

Bestselling Christian author, activist, and scholar Tony Campolo and his son Bart, an avowed Humanist, debate their spiritual differences and explore similarities involving faith, belief, and hope that they share.
Over a Thanksgiving dinner, fifty-year-old Bart Campolo announced to his Evangelical pastor father, Tony Campolo, that after a lifetime immersed in the Christian faith, he no longer believed in God. The revelation shook the Campolo family dynamic and forced father and son to each reconsider his own personal journey of faith—dual spiritual investigations into theology, faith, and Humanism that eventually led Bart and Tony back to one another.


The last time I read a book by Tony Campolo I ended up in a police manhunt so I was a little concerned about picking up this one.  I had heard about Bart Campolo leaving Christianity and working as a Humanist chaplain.  It was big news in the Christian community.  Either it was seen as proof that you can escape your upbringing or it was seen as proof that the Campolos had always been too liberal anyway so obviously they are going to go astray.

This book comes from the discussions that they had after Bart came out as not believing in God.  The book is written in alternating chapters with each man expressing their point of view on a particular topic.

The first thing that surprised me was a preface chapter written by Peggy Campolo, Tony’s wife and Bart’s mom.  She talks about how she didn’t identify with Christianity during the early years of the Tony’s ministry while her kids were growing up.  She has since become a believer and seems to feel a lot of guilt.  She thinks that if she was a Christian while Bart was growing up then he wouldn’t have left as an adult.  This is typical of the baggage that gets put on parents if the children leave a religion.

I was frustrated while reading Tony’s chapters.  Because Bart has now lived on both sides of the debate, he is able to discuss options openly.  Tony freely states that he has never known a life where he wasn’t certain of the presence of God in his life.  It is obvious that he sees Bart as a wandering child who he hopes gets back to the right path.  In the meantime he not really listening to what he has to say.  He just seems to be patting him on the head as he speaks and then saying, “Oh, you don’t mean that.”

“For the Christian parents of positive secular humanists like Bart, however, I have some advice:  Take every opportunity to affirm and encourage your children whenever they say or do something that reflects your Kingdom values, and let them know that you see a direct connection between their behavior and the love of God, even if they don’t.  Doing so demonstrates that you notice and appreciate your kids’ goodness while maintaining your own understanding of its ultimate source, and also opens up opportunities for you to talk about what gets lost when God drops out of the picture.”

 

Obviously he is still hung up on the idea that you can’t be a good person if you don’t have a God dictating what is right and what is wrong.  Bart does a good job discussing why this isn’t true.  Too bad his father wasn’t listening.

Tony also talks a lot about guilt.  He doesn’t understand how people without God handle all their guilt.  He says he lies awake at night feeling guilty about all the harm he does until he is able to let God take the guilt away from him.  I don’t think most people have those kinds of guilty feelings.  Has he ever considered that maybe the guilt comes from following a religion that teaches that you are a horrible person?

The idea behind this book was to help families have conversations about some members leaving Christianity.  I don’t think this book fosters productive conversation because it felt to me like the humanist was explaining over and over and the Christian was just waiting for him to see things the “right” way again.  This might be better for people who need to talk to Christians.  Bart gives answers to a lot of the questions that he’s been asked.  It could help to have some well thought out answers on hand for the common questions.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
02 Mar, 2017

My Favorite Magical Land

/ posted in: Reading My Favorite Magical Land Unquiet Land by Sharon Shinn
Series: Elemental Blessings #4
on November 1st 2016
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 400
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads

Leah Frothen has returned home. But she can scarcely catch her breath before she is summoned by regent Darien Serlast, the man who made her a spy. Leah is reluctant to take on a new assignment, but Darien has dangled the perfect lure to draw her in…
Leah finds she enjoys the challenges of opening a shop catering to foreign visitors, especially since it affords her the opportunity to get to know Mally, the child she abandoned five years ago.
But when the regent asks her to spy on ambassadors from a visiting nation, Leah soon learns that everyone—her regent, her lover, and even her daughter—have secrets that could save the nation, but might very well break her heart.


Years ago Leah left Welce under mysterious circumstances.  She fled to a neighboring country where she was recruited to spy for Welce.  In this series we first meet her in book three.  Now, because of the events in that book she is going home, but she isn’t able to escape spying as easily as she thought.

Each of the countries in this world have specific religions and magical systems.  I love the Welce system.  It is based on elemental affiliation.  If I had to pick one magical land from any book I’ve ever read to live in, it would be Welce.  It is fairly calm and peaceful and I love the magical system.

The Karkans are on a diplomatic mission to try to find an ally in Welce.  They have a very strict system of morality.  They believe that they need to atone for any wrongdoing.  However, they believe that if they atone properly and even in advance, there are no consequences to any behavior.  This leads to huge acts of charity that they feel allows them to do anything evil they want.  The ruler of Welce thinks that they are up to no good when huge anonymous donations start to show up in temples.  Leah is in charge of finding out what they are doing to do.

If you are interested in the series don’t start with this book.  This is a series that you should read in order from the beginning in order to properly understand the world and all the people in it.

If you could pick any magical place to live, where would it be?

About Sharon Shinn

“I mostly write my fiction in the evenings and on weekends. It requires a pretty obsessive-compulsive personality to be as prolific as I’ve been in the past ten years and hold down a full-time job. But I do manage to tear myself away from the computer now and then to do something fun. I read as often as I can, across all genres, though I’m most often holding a book that’s fantasy or romance, with the occasional western thrown in.” from her website

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
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