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23 Jun, 2017

InCryptid Series – Books 1 – 4

/ posted in: Reading InCryptid Series – Books 1 – 4 Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire
Published by DAW on March 6th 2012
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Pages: 352
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Goodreads

Ghoulies. Ghosties. Long-legged beasties. Things that go bump in the night... The Price family has spent generations studying the monsters of the world, working to protect them from humanity—and humanity from them. Enter Verity Price. Despite being trained from birth as a cryptozoologist, she'd rather dance a tango than tangle with a demon, and is spending a year in Manhattan while she pursues her career in professional ballroom dance. Sounds pretty simple, right? It would be, if it weren't for the talking mice, the telepathic mathematicians, the asbestos supermodels, and the trained monster-hunter sent by the Price family's old enemies, the Covenant of St. George. When a Price girl meets a Covenant boy, high stakes, high heels, and a lot of collateral damage are almost guaranteed. To complicate matters further, local cryptids are disappearing, strange lizard-men are appearing in the sewers, and someone's spreading rumors about a dragon sleeping underneath the city...


I’m loving this urban fantasy series!  The Price family fled to North America several generations ago after they broke away from the monster-hunting Covenant.  The Covenant thinks the family died out.  The Prices have worked hard to make it seem like they did.

Verity Price isn’t sure she wants to spend her life as a cryptozoologist.  She has trained to be a professional ballroom dancer.  Now she has one year in New York to try to make a living dancing as long as she uses her spare time to survey the local cryptid community.  But her side job is taking up more time than her dancing.

There is so much great world building here.  There are ultrareligious mice colonies that live with the Prices.  There are telepathic cuckoos that can make humans give them things and not notice they did it.  There are boogeymen who know all the secrets.  Dragon princesses live to make money and gorgons have a hard time keeping their snakes happy under their wigs.

Verity comes face to face with a Covenant member.  He was sent to see if New York needs to be purged of cryptids.  Verity isn’t going to let that happen to her friends.


InCryptid Series – Books 1 – 4 Midnight Blue-Light Special by Seanan McGuire
Series: InCryptid #2
Published by DAW on March 5th 2013
Pages: 338
Goodreads

Cryptid, noun:1. Any creature whose existence has been suggested but not proven scientifically. Term officially coined by cryptozoologist John E. Wall in 1983.2. That thing that's getting ready to eat your head.3. See also: "monster."
Enter Verity Price. Despite being trained from birth as a cryptozoologist, she'd rather dance a tango than tangle with a demon, and when her work with the cryptid community took her to Manhattan, she thought she would finally be free to pursue competition-level dance in earnest. It didn't quite work out that way...
But now, with the snake cult that was killing virgins all over Manhattan finally taken care of, Verity is ready to settle down for some serious ballroom dancing—until her on-again, off-again, semi-boyfriend Dominic De Luca, a member of the monster-hunting Covenant of St. George, informs her that the Covenant is on their way to assess the city's readiness for a cryptid purge. With everything and everyone she loves on the line, there's no way Verity can take that lying down.
Alliances will be tested, allies will be questioned, lives will be lost, and the talking mice in Verity's apartment will immortalize everything as holy writ--assuming there's anyone left standing when all is said and done.

This is book two with Verity. Now the Covenant is coming. Dominic has to decide where his loyalities lie and Verity has to decide if she can trust anything he is saying to her.
This book does a good job of picking up where the last one left off without feeling like a filler book that you see so often with second novels in a series.

 


InCryptid Series – Books 1 – 4 Half-Off Ragnarok by Seanan McGuire
Published by DAW on March 4th 2014
Pages: 356
Goodreads

When Alex Price agreed to go to Ohio to oversee a basilisk breeding program and assist in the recovery of his psychic cousin, he didn't expect people to start dropping dead. But bodies are cropping up at the zoo where he works, and his girlfriend—Shelby Tanner, an Australian zoologist with a fondness for big cats—is starting to get suspicious.
Worse yet, the bodies have all been turned partially to stone...
The third book in the InCryptid series takes us to a new location and a new member of the family, as Alex tries to balance life, work, and the strong desire not to become a piece of garden statuary. Old friends and new are on the scene, and danger lurks around every corner.
Of course, so do the talking mice.

It can be a hard transition in a series to leave the previous main character behind and start with a new one. I’m always a little bit leery of these transitions but this was done well.
Alex is Verity’s older brother. He doesn’t work with large cryptids like she does. He works more with cryptid wildlife. He’s identifying ecological problems that are increasing the likelihood of someone realizing that there are feathered frogs in Ohio.
If that wasn’t enough, someone turned one of his assistants to stone and seems to targeting him.
I thought this book was really well done. I wasn’t crazy about the girlfriend. Her name was also Shelby Tanner. That seemed really familiar to me. Then I realized that I knew a person with dogs named Shelby and Tanner and then I couldn’t unsee that.

 


InCryptid Series – Books 1 – 4 Pocket Apocalypse by Seanan McGuire
Series: InCryptid #4
Published by DAW on March 3rd 2015
Pages: 352
Goodreads

Alexander Price has survived gorgons, basilisks, and his own family—no small feat, considering that his family includes two telepaths, a reanimated corpse, and a colony of talking, pantheistic mice. Still, he’s starting to feel like he’s got the hang of things…at least until his girlfriend, Shelby Tanner, shows up asking pointed questions about werewolves and the state of his passport. From there, it’s just a hop, skip, and a jump to Australia, a continent filled with new challenges, new dangers, and yes, rival cryptozoologists who don’t like their “visiting expert” very much.

This book moves the action to Australia. It is nice to see how the author imagines a different ecosystem and what cryptids evolved there.
There was a lot of “Daddy threatens the boyfriend for sleeping with the daughter” trope which I absolutely hate. The characters try to diffuse it but it doesn’t work. I could have done without all that.
I did miss the rest of the Price family in this one. Hopefully they come back in the next books.

 


A few complaints about the series:

  • The names of the books have absolutely nothing to do with the books.  You could call any one of them “Your Aunty Jane’s Peach Cobbler” and it would not change anything.  The word Ragnarok does not appear in Half-Off Ragnarok for example.  I don’t understand how they are named.
  • There are roughly a gazillion short stories in this universe.  I’m sticking with only reading the integers – books #1, #2, etc. – for now.

About Seanan McGuire

“Hi! I’m Seanan McGuire, author of the Toby Daye series (Rosemary and Rue, A Local Habitation, An Artificial Night, Late Eclipses), as well as a lot of other things. I’m also Mira Grant (www.miragrant.com), author of Feed and Deadline.

Born and raised in Northern California, I fear weather and am remarkably laid-back about rattlesnakes. I watch too many horror movies, read too many comic books, and share my house with two monsters in feline form, Lilly and Alice (Siamese and Maine Coon).”

  • from Goodreads

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in North America
  • Books Set in the Rest of the World
14 Jun, 2017

How Dare the Sun Rise

/ posted in: Reading How Dare the Sun Rise How Dare the Sun Rise: Memoirs of a War Child by Sandra Uwiringiyimana, Abigail Pesta
Published by Katherine Tegen Books on May 16th 2017
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs, Young Adult
Pages: 304
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads
Setting: Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, U.S.

This profoundly moving memoir is the remarkable and inspiring true story of Sandra Uwiringyimana, a girl from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who tells the tale of how she survived a massacre, immigrated to America, and overcame her trauma through art and activism.


Sandra and her family are part of the Banyamulenge tribe.  Originally the tribe lived in Rwanda but migrated to the Congo.  They are not considered citizens of any nation and they are persecuted in the Congo.

War was a constant backdrop in her life.  Her family often had to flee because of an outbreak of fighting wherever they were living.  It got worse when her oldest brother was kidnapped along with 200 other boys and taken to be used as a child solider.  Her father dedicated himself to rescuing her brother.

Sandra was 10 when fighting forced them to flee the Congo and cross the border into Burundi.

Screen Shot 2017-06-12 at 9.20.08 AM

They were in a refugee camp in Gatumba on August 13, 2004 when armed men singing Christian praise songs came into the camp and started killing people.  Tents were set on fire to force people into the open where they were shot.  Most of the people in her tent including her aunt and cousins were killed.  Her mother was holding her six year old sister when she was shot repeatedly at point blank range.  Sandra had a gun held to her head but her captor let her go.

In the morning she found out that her mother had survived because she was tossed into a pile of corpses and managed to crawl away before they were burned.  Her little sister was dead.  Her brother was severely injured.

The family eventually moved to Rwanda and then was resettled in the United States.  They thought their lives would be fine then.  They didn’t realize the problems of being a refugee in the United States.  They had lived a comfortable life in the Congo.  Now they were living in poverty.  People asked her what it was like to learn to wear shoes assuming she had never done that in Africa.  Although she was fluent in three languages, people ridiculed her poor English.  The family survived numerous setbacks in America.  Sandra emerged as a spokesman for her tribe.  She educated groups at the UN about the massacre and the hardships of being a refugee.

Then when she was in college, it all came crashing down on her.  The feelings she and her family had supressed for so long were too much.  She describes her problems with survivor’s guilt, depression, and PTSD.  How do you get help for this when you are ashamed to speak of it especially to your family?  Her mother had endured so much and seemed fine.  Sandra was ashamed for not being as strong as her mother.   Opening up a dialogue with her family about what happened was the hardest part of her mental health journey.

This book is written very simply.  It is very matter of fact without a lot of embellishment.  It is geared towards YA readers.

I hadn’t heard of the Banyamulenge or the Gatumba massacre.  The man who claimed responsibility for it has since run for President of Burundi.  No charges have ever been brought against anyone for the murder of 166 people.

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in Africa
  • POC authors
13 Jun, 2017

Book Versus Movie – How to Survive A Plague

/ posted in: Reading Book Versus Movie – How to Survive A Plague How to Survive a Plague: The Inside Story of How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS by David France
Published by Knopf on November 29th 2016
Genres: History, Nonfiction
Pages: 640
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads
Setting: New York

A riveting, powerful telling of the story of the grassroots movement of activists, many of them in a life-or-death struggle, who seized upon scientific research to help develop the drugs that turned HIV from a mostly fatal infection to a manageable disease. Ignored by public officials, religious leaders, and the nation at large, and confronted with shame and hatred, this small group of men and women chose to fight for their right to live by educating themselves and demanding to become full partners in the race for effective treatments. Around the globe, 16 million people are alive today thanks to their efforts.
In dramatic fashion, we witness the founding of ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group), and the rise of an underground drug market in opposition to the prohibitively expensive (and sometimes toxic) AZT. We watch as these activists learn to become their own researchers, lobbyists, drug smugglers, and clinicians, establishing their own newspapers, research journals, and laboratories, and as they go on to force reform in the nation s disease-fighting agencies.
With his unparalleled access to this community David France illuminates the lives of extraordinary characters, including the closeted Wall Street trader-turned-activist, the high school dropout who found purpose battling pharmaceutical giants in New York, the South African physician who helped establish the first officially recognized buyers club at the height of the epidemic, and the public relations executive fighting to save his own life for the sake of his young daughter.
Expansive yet richly detailed, this is an insider's account of a pivotal moment in the history of American civil rights. Powerful, heart-wrenching, and finally exhilarating, How to Survive a Plague is destined to become an essential part of the literature of AIDS.


Think back to a time not that long ago when:

  • The New York Times banned the use of the words gay and lesbian in the newspaper
  • Hospitals and funeral homes turned away people they suspected were infected with AIDS
  • Weekly meetings of gay activists included a list of names of people who had been at the last meeting and who had died since

This book tells the story of ACT UP.  This was a group founded to pressure scientists, politicians, and drug companies to increase the number of drugs being investigated for possible treatment for AIDS.

One of the main problems in the beginning, besides a lack of funding, was government scientists’ insistence on doing double-blind controlled studies.  They weren’t wrong from a science perspective.  These trials have patients in two groups.  One group gets the treatment and the other gets a placebo.  Neither the patient or the doctor knows who is in each group.  The problem was that people with AIDS were dying so quickly that being in a placebo group for a few months, especially if you were required to go off all other medication, was basically a death sentence.  There are stories of trials in this book where all the placebo group died in the course of the trial.

Without these studies to cover them from liability no one was willing to go on record and recommend using drugs off label.  Doctors in the field, especially if they didn’t handle many AIDS cases, then didn’t know that giving a common antibiotic decreased the chances of patients dying of opportunistic pneumonia, for example.  This was the leading cause of death in AIDS patients.  It was almost entirely preventable and no one would officially say so.  ACT UP worked to streamline and humanize the drug trials.

They were able to:

  • Stop people having to go off all other medications (like antibiotics to prevent pneumonia) to be in the trial
  • Allow drugs to be tested on women and people of color
  • Allow a parallel track where sick people who couldn’t wait for formal drug approval could try the drugs in the trial at their own risk and data could be collected about their experiences
  • Get drug companies to stop increasing prices of the drugs as demand went up. 

I don’t remember hearing anything good about ACT UP at the time.  I only knew of them from news coverage that was always negative because of their dramatic demonstrations.  The first time I ever heard of ACT UP in a positive light was when I started watching Gay USA on TV.  One of the hosts talked about being in ACT UP.  Her name is Ann Northrup and she is in the movie a lot more than in the book.  The associate producer of Gay USA is named Bill Bahlman.  I know that because he does the intro to the podcast that I listen to now.  What I didn’t know is what all he did during the early days of the AIDS epidemic to reach lawmakers.

This book is a long, slow read.  It is very densely packed with names and actions and committee meetings.  The author was a young, gay journalist reporting on AIDS in New York at the time.  It is very focused on New York.  Occasionally it talks about San Francisco but you could get the sense that except for occasional mentions of Africa, that AIDS was only a New York/California problem.  It is also focused primarily on white gay men.  This was one of the criticisms of the drug trials.  They wouldn’t enroll women, people of color, or drug users.  Although ACT UP seemed to give equal representation to women, those women aren’t discussed much in the book with a few exceptions.

When I was almost finished with the book I watched the documentary that the book came out of.  It is also called How To Survive a Plague and is available on Netflix.

 

How-to-Survive-a-Plague

I don’t think that I would have understood the documentary as much if I didn’t already know what they were talking about from the book. Especially at the beginning of the documentary, there wasn’t a lot of context given for the video being shown. I understood where they were and what they were protesting from reading the book. It was interesting for me to see what I had read about but I don’t think the documentary did a good job of really explaining all the issues that they were fighting for.

This book is a must read for anyone interested in the history of medicine or the gay rights movement in the United States.  It is heartbreaking and inspirational.  This is civil action on so many levels.  It is interesting to look back now and see how far the United States has come in just the last 30 years – even when we feel like there is so much that needs to be better.

Other books that I like on this subject are And The Band Played On and My Own Country.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
  • LBGTQ authors/characters
07 Jun, 2017

Ghost Summer – Lyrical, Heartbreaking, Creepy Short Stories

/ posted in: Reading Ghost Summer – Lyrical, Heartbreaking, Creepy Short Stories Ghost Summer: Stories by Tananarive Due
Published by Prime Books on September 8th 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Pages: 335
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Goodreads

Whether weaving family life and history into dark fiction or writing speculative Afrofuturism, American Book Award winner and Essence bestselling author Tananarive Due’s work is both riveting and enlightening.
Due takes us to Gracetown, a small Florida town that has both literal and figurative ghost; into future scenarios that seem all too real; and provides empathetic portraits of those whose lives are touched by Otherness. Featuring an award-winning novella and fifteen stories—one of which has never been published before—Ghost Summer: Stories is sure to both haunt and delight.


Tananarive Due is an amazing writer.  She puts her stories together so beautifully and smoothly that you get sucked into her world even knowing that she is a horror writer who is going to pull the rug out from under you soon.

This is a collection of short stories grouped by subject matter.  It starts with stories set in a small Florida town where the local legends are something to be believed and feared.  It starts with a story from the point of view of a monster and moves into the origins of a town full of ghost stories.

There is a group of five stories set after the onset of a plague.  Several follow one woman at different points in her life as she lives in a world that has been destroyed.

What makes this collection different from other paranormal stories out there is that many of the heartbreaking moments are from real life playing out while there are monsters in the background.  Just because the world is falling apart doesn’t mean that you can abandon your grandmother who is dying of cancer.  The excitement of visiting your grandparents’ haunted town dims when you realize that you are there because your parents are splitting up.  She does an excellent job of keeping the supernatural grounded in the real which makes these stories even creepier.

I particularly appreciated the notes after each story that tells a little bit about the origins of the story.  I know authors always complain about being asked where they get their ideas but I find it fascinating to see what random thought developed into a story.

Even if scary stories aren’t what you normally read, consider picking up this book for the lyrical writing that isn’t always seen in this genre.

About Tananarive Due

“Due has a B.S. in journalism from Northwestern University and an M.A. in English literature from the University of Leeds, England, where she specialized in Nigerian literature as a Rotary Foundation Scholar. In addition to VONA, Due has taught at the Hurston-Wright Foundation’s Writers’ Week and the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop. As a screenwriter, she is a member of the Writers’ Guild of America (WGA).” – from her website

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in North America
  • POC authors
06 Jun, 2017

Allegedly – An Emotional Rollercoaster

/ posted in: Reading Allegedly – An Emotional Rollercoaster Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson
Published by Katherine Tegen Books on January 24th 2017
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 387
Format: Audiobook, Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads
Setting: New York

Mary B. Addison killed a baby.
Allegedly.
She didn’t say much in that first interview with detectives, and the media filled in the only blanks that mattered: A white baby had died while under the care of a churchgoing black woman and her nine-year-old daughter. The public convicted Mary and the jury made it official. But did she do it? She wouldn’t say.
Mary survived six years in baby jail before being dumped in a group home. The house isn’t really “home”—no place where you fear for your life can be considered a home. Home is Ted, who she meets on assignment at a nursing home.
There wasn’t a point to setting the record straight before, but now she’s got Ted—and their unborn child—to think about. When the state threatens to take her baby, Mary must find the voice to fight her past. And her fate lies in the hands of the one person she distrusts the most: her Momma. No one knows the real Momma. But who really knows the real Mary?


This book…wow.  Go get it and read it.  Seriously. 

I started out listening to this on audio.  The narration by Bahni Turpin was incredible.  She really brought the characters to life.  I’m glad I had those voices in my head to help keep the characters straight.  She made the adults in books seem even more vile than they were on the page.  But about 1/3 of the way through I had to go to the library and get a hard copy.  It was just too stressful to listen to the audiobook.  There was such a sense of foreboding that I needed to know what happened at the end in order to be able to concentrate on what was going on in the middle.

I’m not even ashamed of grabbing the book and reading the last few chapters to settle my poor nerves. 

Then I went back and read the rest of the book straight through from where I left off on the audio.

Mary’s life is absolutely tragic.  She has been in jail since she was nine years old.  Not juvenile detention.  She was in adult prison.  She couldn’t be with the general population so she was kept mostly in solitary confinement for years.  Now she is on parole in a group home full of viscous teenage girls who hate her for the notoriety of her alleged crime. 

No one is on Mary’s side in life.  The story is told in part through transcripts from interviews and passages from books written about what a monster she is.  There is always the racial subtext of a black girl killing a white baby.  She’s had death threats from people who seem to think that the correct penalty for killing a child is killing yet another child.   

Her mother is horrible.  Oooh, I hated that woman.  She needs to be the center of attention at all times.  It isn’t surprising that Mary feels that it was her role in life to do whatever would be necessary to take care of her mother.  It would have been nice if her mother felt the same way about her.

All the adults in her life judge her as a murderer and they seem to think it is worse than any other murder because she killed a baby.  She is physically, mentally, and sexually abused in jail and/or the group home.  No one cares except for her boyfriend, Ted. 

Through all this you see her trying to better herself, especially now that she is pregnant.  You root for her all through the book.  She needs to learn to stand up for herself.  That’s hard when you have never had any control of anything in your life. 

This book will leave you emotionally wrung out over the way Mary was treated.  I’m a huge fan of books that have just one more twist than you were expecting right at the end.  I’ve seen a lot of reviews that absolutely hate that but it is one part of this book that made me think this is a masterpiece.  I just had to sit a while and let everything sink in. 

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
  • POC authors
25 May, 2017

One Hundred Names

/ posted in: Reading One Hundred Names One Hundred Names by Cecelia Ahern
on May 6, 2014
Genres: Fiction
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Goodreads
Length: 10:56

Scandal has derailed Journalist Kitty Logan's career, a setback that is soon compounded by an even more devastating loss. Constance, the woman who taught Kitty everything she knew, is dying. At her mentor's bedside, Kitty asks her—what is the one story she always wanted to write?
The answer lies in a single sheet of paper buried in Constance's office—a list of 100 names—with no notes or explanation. But before Kitty can talk to her friend, it is too late.
Determined to unlock the mystery and rebuild her own shaky confidence, Kitty throws herself into the investigation, using her skills and savvy to track down each of the names on the list and uncover their connection. Meeting these ordinary people and learning their stories, Kitty begins to piece together an unexpected portrait of Constance's life. . . and starts to understand her own.


I was intrigued by the premise of a mysterious list of names that the protagonist has to find a connection between.  I do love a mystery.  Actually, that is a lie.  I hate a mystery.  I need to know the answer.  That’s what kept me going through this story.  I had to know the connection between the names.

Kitty Logan, a young journalist, is a horrible human.  She’s the worst kind of horrible person.  She thinks that there is nothing wrong with her at all.  Other people call her out sometimes on her callousness but she gets mad at them for being mean to her.

Kitty falsely accused a man of fathering a child with a teenage student.  He lost a lot of his friends and his marriage.  She is being sued for libel.  Don’t you know how hard this is in her life?  Her overwhelming urge is to get him to forgive her.  She centers herself in everything.

She is so clueless that she applies for a job teaching college level journalism soon after her libel trial.  She’s hurt when they tell her that they are adding her case to the curriculum but don’t want to hire her.

Kitty doesn’t like sick people.  She has avoided going to see her friend who is dying of cancer.  Later she can’t even bring herself to look at a woman with cancer who is getting her hair done for her wedding.

It would be one thing if she was a bad character who Learns a Life Lesson but that is not what is going here.  There is a character with a birthmark across her face who hides in her house cutting out pictures of models and putting them on her wall.  That isn’t Kitty’s POV. That’s the author’s description of the character.  There are racist/fetishizing comments made to a Chinese woman by a white man.  Other Chinese people only speak in stereotypically broken English. There is a young man who repeatedly publicly proposes to a friend of his in order to scam venues into giving them free drinks even though she is embarrassed and repeatedly asks him to stop.  There is also a casual anti-trans comment.  None of this is challenged.  I mentally subtitled this book White Folk Behaving Badly.

It is too bad.  The overall message of the book is a good one. I guessed the answer to the mystery but it still was a satisfying conclusion.  I just wish there hadn’t been so much tone deaf behavior written for the characters before you get to the pay off.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in Europe
24 May, 2017

Noteworthy – Acapella with a Twist

/ posted in: Reading Noteworthy – Acapella with a Twist Noteworthy by Riley Redgate
Published by Amulet Books on May 2nd 2017
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 400
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads

Jordan Sun is embarking on her junior year at the Kensington-Blaine Boarding School for the Performing Arts, hopeful that this will be her time: the year she finally gets cast in the school musical. But when her low Alto 2 voice gets her shut out for the third straight year—threatening her future at Kensington-Blaine and jeopardizing her college applications—she’s forced to consider nontraditional options.
In Jordan’s case, really nontraditional. A spot has opened up in the Sharpshooters, Kensington’s elite a cappella octet. Worshipped…revered…all male. Desperate to prove herself, Jordan auditions in her most convincing drag, and it turns out that Jordan Sun, Tenor 1, is exactly what the Sharps are looking for.


Reading this book was so stressful for me.  I’m not a fan of books that depend on misunderstanding or lies as a plot device.  I’m always wondering when the other shoe is going to drop.  That isn’t the fault of this book.  It is one of the few books that I felt did a good job with this type of story line.

There is a lot going on in this novel.  Jordan is a Chinese-American girl from a poor family in San Francisco.  Her father is disabled and her mother is having a hard time keeping a job while caring for him.  Jordan has a scholarship to this boarding school on the East coast but it doesn’t cover all her expenses.  This is a hardship for her family.  It also sets her apart from the other students who tend to be wealthy.

This story takes place at a high school.  I had a hard time remembering that since it is a boarding school.  It seems more like a college story until they discuss not being able to drive.

Jordan starts to live a double life – a girl during the day and Julian, the newest male member of the Sharps at night.  This leads to a lot of thoughts on gender and sexuality. She gets a lot of advice on how to pass for male from websites for transgender people.  She is uncomfortable with this.  Is she using other people’s real lives for her own selfish gain? Later, members of the Sharps decide that she must be a gay man.  She lets them think that instead of having them find out the truth.  Again she has to think about what it means to appropriating another group’s identity.

I wasn’t a fan of the romance aspect of this book.  It didn’t feel like it needed to be there.  It seemed like since she had spent a lot of time with a group of guys than obviously she had to fall for one of them.  I would have liked this more if it hadn’t happened.

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
  • POC authors
19 May, 2017

Who Thought This Was A Good Idea?

/ posted in: Reading Who Thought This Was A Good Idea? Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?: And Other Questions You Should Have Answers to When You Work in the White House by Alyssa Mastromonaco, Lauren Oyler
on March 30, 2017
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads
Setting: Washington, D.C.

Alyssa Mastromonaco worked for Barack Obama for almost a decade, long before his run for president. From the then-senator's early days in Congress to his years in the Oval Office, she made Hope and Change happen through blood, sweat, tears, and lots of briefing binders.
But for every historic occasion-meeting the queen at Buckingham Palace, bursting in on secret climate talks, or nailing a campaign speech in a hailstorm-there were dozens of less-than-perfect moments when it was up to Alyssa to save the day. Like the time she learned the hard way that there aren't nearly enough bathrooms at the Vatican.
Full of hilarious, never-before-told stories, WHO THOUGHT THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA? is an intimate portrait of a president, a book about how to get stuff done, and the story of how one woman challenged, again and again, what a "White House official" is supposed to look like. Here Alyssa shares the strategies that made her successful in politics and beyond, including the importance of confidence, the value of not being a jerk, and why ultimately everything comes down to hard work (and always carrying a spare tampon).


This isn’t a run of the mill political memoir.   This is the story of what can and will go wrong.  It is the story of friendships forged in stress and sleep deprivation.  It is finding out how to stand up for yourself and your ideas when you are young and female in a job that has always been dominated by older men.

I loved a story that she discussed early in the book.  She was in charge of scheduling Barack Obama’s time.  During the 2008 campaign there was bad weather forecasted.  She decided to have him go ahead with a live outdoor event in spite of the weather.  It ended up being worse than expected and he was getting hit in the face with sleet through the whole speech.

We watched (in horror) as the event drew to a close, and Obama reached his hand to Reggie.  As we were turning off the TV, my phone rang.

“Alyssa, it’s Obama.”

“Hi!” I said, with my head down on the desk, girding myself for the inevitable and deserved.  “The event looked AWESOME! You heard John McCain canceled all of his events, right?  He looked like a total old man!”

“Alyssa, where are you right now?”

I was not sure where he was going with this, but I knew it was somewhere bad.  “My desk,” I replied cautiously.

“Must be nice.”

Click

 

She doesn’t shy away from discussing the very personal aspects of the job.  One of her proudest moments was getting tampon dispensers in the bathrooms of the White House.  Most of the people working there had been men and post-menopausal women so it hadn’t been thought a priority.  She also discusses her IBS and the problems that causes in a job where there is a lot of stress and questionable food choices.

She talks about the questions she gets about not having children.  She was working all the time during her twenties and thirties.  She didn’t marry until she was 37.  People ask her now if she is sorry that she didn’t have children.  I love that she is unapologetic about not being sorry.  She proudly proclaims her status as child-free and having cats instead.

Her job encompassed everything from setting up the schedule for the President to coordinating federal emergency response to Hurricane Sandy and the Haitian earthquake.  Where do you go from there?  She talks about how hard it is to leave the White House and decide what to do with your life.

One of the hardest parts of reading this book was remembering what it was like once upon a time.  You know, back when the U.S. Presidency wasn’t a total embarrassment.  I liked hearing about the personal side of Obama.  He introduced her to Mindy Kaling at an event because he knew she had been reading her book.  He got Bruce Springsteen to call her from a campaign event because she had to stay at the White House after setting up the concert and she was a huge fan.  He called her a year after she quit working at the White House because he heard her cat died that day.  (Everyone knew her cat.  He was famous.  She had a conversation about his health problems with George W. Bush on the way to Nelson Mandela’s funeral.)

This is a short book and a quick read.  I read it in one sitting.  I’d recommend this book to everyone who wants to know what it is really like to work in the White House.

I just have two criticisms.  First, she uses a lot of nicknames for people.  It can be a bit hard to remember who these people actually are when she is using nicknames long after introducing them by their full names.  Second, I feel like she underplays her accomplishments a bit.  She talks about women being conditioned to not stand up and present their ideas and it seems like she is still doing that some here.  If a man wrote a book about doing this job, I feel like it would be a lot more about “Look at me!  I was awesome!”  I wouldn’t necessarily like that book as much as I liked this one but what she did was pretty amazing and sometimes that gets lost. 

 

 

About Alyssa Mastromonaco

Alyssa Mende Mastromonaco is the Chief Operating Officer of Vice Media. She is also a contributing editor at Marie Claire magazine. She previously served as White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations in the administration of President Barack Obama from 2011 to 2014.She was the youngest woman to hold that position. Mastromonaco had worked for Obama since 2005 when he was on the United States Senate as his Director of Scheduling.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
03 May, 2017

The Wicked + The Divine

/ posted in: Reading The Wicked + The Divine The Wicked + The Divine, Vol. 1: The Faust Act by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson, Clayton Cowles
Published by Image Comics on November 12th 2014
Genres: Comics & Graphic Novels
Pages: 144
Format: Graphic
Source: Library
Goodreads
Setting: England

Every ninety years, twelve gods incarnate as humans. They are loved. They are hated. In two years, they are dead. The team behind critical tongue-attractors like Young Avengers and PHONOGRAM reunite to create a world where gods are the ultimate pop stars and pop stars are the ultimate gods. But remember: just because you’re immortal, doesn’t mean you’re going to live forever. Collects THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #1-5


I’m not a big graphic novel reader but I was intrigued by this story.

Every 90 years twelve gods take over the bodies of people. This is a well known phenomenon. People study it. For two years these gods are superstars. People flock to them. By the time two years are finished, they are all dead.

The art in the books is beautiful.

luci

This is Luci. She is the incarnation of Lucifer. You see the story through the eyes of Laura, a mixed race English girl who goes to all the gods’ concerts against her parents’ will. She ends up befriending Luci and that brings her in contact with the all schemes of the gods.

The first book was my favorite. You are drawn into Luci’s world. You see the glamor and the pain of knowing that you are going to die soon.

SPOILERS in the next descriptions


The Wicked + The Divine The Wicked + The Divine, Vol. 2: Fandemonium by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson, Clayton Cowles
Published by Image Comics on July 1st 2015
Pages: 168
Goodreads

The second volume of the award-winning urban fantasy series where gods are the ultimate pop stars and pop stars are the ultimate gods. Following the tragic and unjust death of Lucifer, it takes a revelation from Inanna to draw Laura back into the worlds of Gods and Superstardom to try and discover the truth behind a conspiracy to subvert divinity. Includes issues 6-11 of the series, plus supplementary material.

Laura starts to investigate why Luci was framed for murder and then killed.  It draws her deeper and deeper into the world of gods.  Not all of the gods are friendly.


The Wicked + The Divine The Wicked + The Divine, Vol. 3: Commercial Suicide by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie
Published by Image Comics on February 9th 2016
Pages: 200
Goodreads

After the detonation of FANDEMONIUM the gods-as-pop-stars of THE WICKED + THE DIVINE try living in the long dark shadow.
Team WicDiv are joined by a stellar cast of guest artists to put the spotlight on each of the gods. The multiple Eisner Award nominated series continues in the only way it knows how: darker, weirder, faster. Don't worry. It's going to be okay.
Collects THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #12-17

There were guest artists for this book and I wasn’t a huge fan.  I did like seeing more back story on some of the gods that have been bit players up to now.

I must admit that I’m a bit lost on the overall story right now.  I thought it was me but then I started looking at other reviews and I’m not alone in feeling this way.  It seems like the story is starting to lag.


The Wicked + The Divine The Wicked + The Divine, Vol. 4: Rising Action by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson
Published by Image Comics on October 5th 2016
Pages: 144
Goodreads

Every ninety years, twelve gods are reincarnated as young people. They are loved. They are hated. And sometimes - just sometimes - they fall into open Superstar wars. The fourth volume of the award-winning, best selling series from acclaimed creators KIERON GILLEN, JAMIE McKELVIE and MATT WILSON is the most explosive yet.
Collects THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #18-22

This book was back to the amazing art.  That’s good.  Now all the gods are fighting against their mentor/controller/I don’t know what she is.  I feel like the story is murky at best but I kept flipping through for the art.

 

AMATERSU

This is the incarnation of Amatersu, the Japanese sun goddess in the first book.  She is one of the few that is mostly trying to do good with her new body and powers.

Bottom line – Look at it for the art and maybe read the first two volumes.  Then wonder why the covers are so blah when the art inside is so colorful.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in Europe
02 May, 2017

Colour Bar

/ posted in: Reading Colour Bar Colour Bar: The Triumph of Seretse Khama and His Nation by Susan Williams
on 2007
Genres: 20th Century, Biography & Autobiography, Nonfiction
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Goodreads

London, 1947. He was the heir to an African kingdom. She was a white English insurance clerk. When they met and fell in love, it would change the world.
This is the inspiring true story of Seretse Khama and Ruth Williams, whose marriage sent shockwaves through the establishment, defied an empire - and, finally, triumphed over the prejudices of their age.


I had never heard of Seretse and Ruth Khama until I saw an advertisement for the movie adaptation of Colour Bar.  It was only playing for one night here and I wasn’t able to go.  The story sounded interesting so as soon as I realized that it was based on a book, I got it from interlibrary loan.

Seretse Khama became the kgosi (chief) of his tribe at the age of four.  His uncle was installed as his regent.  They lived in Bechuanaland which is present day Botswana.  At the time this was under the control of England.  His uncle made sure that he was well educated by sending him to schools in South Africa and then sending him for a law degree in England.  There he fell in love with Ruth Williams, a white woman.

When he announced their intention to marry in 1949, opposition came from all sides.  They married anyway.  Eventually, he was able to convince his tribe that this marriage was acceptable.  He was not able to convince white people though.

The main objection came from South Africa.  They were in the process of codifying apartheid law.  They did not want the leader of a country on their border to be in an interracial marriage.  Since this was an hereditary position, the next leader would be mixed race.  If Bechuanaland was successful, it would make of mockery of the South African laws.  South Africa was an important part of the British Empire.  They fought to make sure that Seretse Khama was unable to lead his people.

Screen Shot 2017-05-01 at 8.35.30 AM

What followed was years of exile from Africa and abuse at the hands of British officials. This book is exhaustively researched. It quotes from many, many letters and official documents to let the English racism speak for itself. It is brutal. There is also a lot of discussion about what type of woman Ruth must be to be willing to marry a black man.

This book was fascinating but it is a slow read. It is very dense with details of meetings. It focuses on the political aspects of the story, not the human ones. You don’t get much of a sense of Seretse and Ruth’s personalities except for in a few of their reactions to what is being said. It doesn’t delve much into what is going on in their minds or the true stresses on their relationship while all this is going on.

I wasn’t surprised by the racism that they encountered but there times when I had to take a minute to digest the absolute depth of the hatred and ignorance in the writings and public statements of British officials. They were so willing to appease the hatred of whites living in southern Africa that they would go to ridiculous lengths. There was always a problem of getting the Khamas to and from Bechuanaland from England. They had to land in Rhodesia which was strictly segregated. You’d think they were negotiating a nuclear treaty the way they had to deal to allow planes to land with them onboard or to let Ruth and the children stay in a hotel overnight. (They basically had to promise that the children would not be seen so they didn’t offend delicate white sensibilities.)

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in Africa
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
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