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06 Feb, 2017

Beneath The Surface

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

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

Goodreads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

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

Graphic Novels

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

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

Goodreads

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

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


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

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

Goodreads

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

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

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • POC authors
26 Jan, 2017

The Reader by Traci Chee

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

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

Goodreads

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

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

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

RiverSongSpoilers

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

What we don’t know:

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

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

About Traci Chee

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

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • POC authors
12 Jan, 2017

Kingdom of Strangers

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

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


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

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

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

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

The mistreatment of Asian women

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

Morality as a weapon

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

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

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

devils

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

About Zoe Ferraris

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

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

She currently lives in San Francisco.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in the Middle East
09 Jan, 2017

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • POC authors
05 Jan, 2017

Envy of Angels by Matt Wallace

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

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


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

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

It’s a foodie urban fantasy book!

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

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

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

 

foodies2017300

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Foodies Read 2017
04 Jan, 2017

Wandering Star by Romina Russell

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

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


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

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

zodiac-1647169_640

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

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

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

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

About Romina Russell

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

03 Jan, 2017

What the #$^$ Happened to Heartless?

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

RiverSongSpoilers

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

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

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

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

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

21 Dec, 2016

Climbing the Stairs

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

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


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

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

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

Important Spoiler about the Dog

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

 

About Padma Venkatraman

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

16 Dec, 2016

Marching Powder

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

14 Dec, 2016

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

12 Dec, 2016

Becoming Nicole

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

05 Dec, 2016

Fatima’s Good Fortune

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

29 Nov, 2016

The Piano Shop on the Left Bank

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

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


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

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

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

 

25 Nov, 2016

The Wonder Trail

/ posted in: Reading The Wonder Trail The Wonder Trail: True Stories from Los Angeles to the End of the World by Steve Hely
on June 14th 2016
Pages: 336
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs, Travel
Published by DUTTON
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads

“Steve Hely, writer for The Office and American Dad!, and recipient of the Thurber Prize for American Humor, presents a travel book about his journey through Central and South America. Part travel book, part pop history, part comic memoir, Hely’s writing will make readers want to reach for their backpack and hiking boots.The Wonder Trail is the story of Steve’s trip from Los Angeles to the bottom of South America, presented in 102 short chapters.  The trip was ambitious – Steve traveled through Mexico City, ancient Mayan ruins, the jungles and coffee plantations and remote beaches of Central America, across the Panama Canal, by sea to Colombia, to the wild Easter celebration of Popayán, to the Amazon rainforest, the Inca sites of Cuzco and Machu Picchu, to the Galápagos Islands, the Atacama Desert of Chile, and down to the jagged and wind-worn land of Patagonia at the very end of the Western Hemisphere.
Steve’s plan was to discover the weird, wonderful, and absurd in Central and South America, to seek and find the incredible, delightful people and experiences that came his way. And the book that resulted is just as fun. A blend of travel writing, history, and comic memoir, The Wonder Trail will inspire, inform, and delight.”


I loved this book.  I listened to the audio and the author’s enthusiasm for his trip was infectious.  He was so excited that he got to spend time fishing in the Panama Canal, for example.  He set off on this trip with no set plan other than a few dates where he would be meeting up with friends at a specific spot.  I’m never brave (or crazy) enough to travel like that.   He’s the kind of traveler who always finds interesting people to talk to in bars.  They tell the best stories.

The other thing I loved about this book is that it led me to other books.  The author read a lot of books set in and about South America.  He listed many of them.  Since I was listening to the audio it was hard to remember a lot of them but I did mutter some names over and over until I got to a place where I could write them down.  In fact, I’ve already read one of his recommendations and it was as exciting as he promised it would be.

If you are looking to read more books set in South America, this is a great place to start.

23 Nov, 2016

Kiss and Spell

/ posted in: Reading Kiss and Spell Kiss and Spell (Enchanted, Inc., #7) by Shanna Swendson
on May 17th 2013
Pages: 284
Genres: Fantasy & Magic
Published by NLA Digital Liaison Platform LLC
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: New York
Goodreads

“With great power comes great danger…
When a freak accident leaves Katie Chandler with magical powers, it seems like a wish come true for the former magical immune. But it also means she’s vulnerable to magic, just when the dangerous Elf Lord is cooking up another scheme in his bid for power. Anyone who gets in his way disappears–including Katie and her wizard boyfriend, Owen Palmer.
Now Katie’s under a spell that obscures her true identity, living a life right out of a romantic comedy movie in a Hollywood set version of New York. Will she be able to find her true Mr. Right in time to break the spell with a kiss and warn everyone, or will she be trapped forever, unaware of the doom facing her world?”


This is the seventh and last book in this series from Shanna Swendson.  Katie Chandler is from Texas.  She decided to move to New York City even though everyone told her things were weird there.  So when she got there and started noticing some very odd people, she wasn’t surprised.  It turned out that Katie was immune to magic so she saw through the spells that magical people used in New York to keep themselves hidden.  Eventually she got a job at a magical company because she could tell if people were trying to use magic to steal trade secrets.

At the end of book six an accident gave her some magical powers.  She loves this but it allows her to get caught up in a magical trap when she is investigating some bad guys.  People are disappearing and they are all in a fantasy New York in the elven lands.  You know the New York.  It is the one from the movies were people dance in the rain on rooftops and meet in perfect coffee shops and book stores.  As Katie’s magical powers drain she starts to see through the illusion and recognize people from her real life now living in her fantasy world.  It up to her to wake them up and get them back to the real world.

This is a really cute series.  The descriptions of how magic works (or fails to work) on people are original.  There is a slow burn romance through the series.  The characters are fun.  I’d recommend this for anyone who wants a magical escape from their non-magical day to day life.

About Shanna Swendson

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

16 Nov, 2016

Brazillionaires

/ posted in: Reading Brazillionaires Brazillionaires: Chasing Dreams of Wealth in an American Country by Alex Cuadros
on July 12th 2016
Pages: 352
Genres: History, Nonfiction
Published by Spiegel & Grau
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Brazil
Goodreads

“When Bloomberg News invited the young American journalist Alex Cuadros to report on Brazil’s emerging class of billionaires at the height of the historic Brazilian boom, he was poised to cover two of the biggest business stories of our time: how the giants of the developing world were triumphantly taking their place at the center of global capitalism, and how wealth inequality was changing societies everywhere.  Eike Batista, a flamboyant and charismatic evangelist for the country’s new gospel of wealth, epitomized much of this rarefied sphere: In 2012, Batista ranked as the eighth-richest person in the world, was famous for his marriage to a beauty queen, and was a fixture in the Brazilian press. His constantly repeated ambition was to become the world’s richest man and to bring Brazil along with him to the top.  But by 2015, Batista was bankrupt, his son Thor had been indicted for manslaughter, and Brazil its president facing impeachment, its provinces combating an epidemic, and its business and political class torn apart by scandal had become a cautionary tale of a country run aground by its elites, a tale with ominous echoes around the world.”


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This is a book that I would not have picked up if I wasn’t consciously trying to read more books set in South America. I’m glad I read it.

Alex Cuadros was selected for an unusual job.  He was to monitor the billionaires of Brazil.  He needed to maintain an up to date list of the net worth of the richest people in Brazil.  In trying to find out who these people were, he started to look at the world around him.  Who owns the company that makes your soap or the roads you drive on? There may be a hidden billionaire behind it.  Some billionaires weren’t so hard to find.  Eike Batista was one of these.  He flaunted his wealth.  He bragged on Twitter whenever he moved up in the rankings of richest people.  Then suddenly he lost it all.

The rise and fall of Eike Batista is told along with the stories of other Brazilian billionaires.  Some are in construction or broadcasting.  There is even a billionaire pastor.  Cuadros brings up the question — Is is possible to amass this amount of money in an ethical way in a country with such rampant poverty?  Is corruption endemic in a country founded on a system where slaves do all the work and higher classes live off of others?

I didn’t know anything about Brazilian history or politics.  This was a great introduction in an engaging story.  I enjoyed listening to the author narrate the book so I could hear the proper pronunciations of places and names in Portuguese.

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I’d recommend this book to anyone who wants to combine the voyeurism of watching how the super rich live with an education in the culture and politics of Brazil.

10 Nov, 2016

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet

/ posted in: Reading The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Wayfarers, #1) by Becky Chambers
on August 18, 2015
Pages: 519
Genres: Science Fiction
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Space
Goodreads

“When Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer, she isn’t expecting much. The patched-up ship has seen better days, but it offers her everything she could possibly want: a spot to call home, a chance to explore the far-off corners of the galaxy, and some distance from her past.
And nothing could be further from what she’s known than the crew of the Wayfarer.
From Sissix, the exotic reptilian pilot, to Kizzy and Jenks, the chatty engineers who keep the ship running, to the noble captain Ashby, life aboard is chaotic and crazy—exactly what Rosemary wants. That is until the crew is offered the job of a lifetime tunneling wormholes through space to a distant planet. Sure, they’ll earn enough money to live comfortably for years, but risking her life wasn’t part of the job description.”


The overwhelming sentiment that I gathered from reviews of this book is that nothing much happens but it is amazing and you have to read it.  I totally agree.

Rosemary is a human from Mars who is on the run from her life there.  She is hired to be a secretary.  She has skills with languages too that may come in handy.  She’s never been on a long haul ship before.  The crew of the Wayfarer is different than any group she’s been around before.

Captain Ashby is human.  He’s been looking for a way to make the Wayfarer more profitable.  Now he’s been selected for a huge job.  They will open a wormhole between a newly settled planet in a war zone and their home galaxy.  It will take over a year to get there.

Sissix is reptilian but don’t say that out loud because it is rude.  Her race is very affectionate.  They form different families at different times in their lives.  Their sexual freedom makes many humans uncomfortable.

Kizzy is human.  She loves machinery and keeps the Wayfarer running with help from Jenks.  She reminded me of Kaylee from Firefly.

Jenks is human.  He works mostly with the AI system on the ship.  During his time on the ship, he has fallen in love with her.  They are considering getting her a body so she can leave the ship.

Lovey is the AI system.  Her name is short for Lovelace. She controls everything on board.

Dr. Chef is both the doctor and the chef.  He’s in the male phase of his life right now.

Ohan is a Sianat pair.  He carries an alien parasite inside him that allows him to see in multiple dimensions and wavelengths.  He understands the workings of the universe.  It allows him to navigate when they are making wormholes.  The pairing drastically shortens his life expectancy and he is starting to show signs of physical deterioration.

Corbin is the ship’s algae specialist.  The ship runs off of algae most of the time.  He’s grumpy and a loner but good at his job so everyone puts up with him.


The story mainly involves putting these diverse species in a ship for a long period of time and watching what happens.  There are a few close escapes but mostly it is a story about making a family – the good and the bad.

Just go read this one if you haven’t yet.  You won’t regret it.

20 Oct, 2016

Karen Memory

/ posted in: Reading Karen Memory Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear
on February 3rd 2015
Pages: 350
Genres: Science Fiction, Steampunk
Published by Tor Books
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Washington
Goodreads

“Set in the late 19th century—when the city we now call Seattle Underground was the whole town (and still on the surface), when airships plied the trade routes, would-be gold miners were heading to the gold fields of Alaska, and steam-powered mechanicals stalked the waterfront, Karen is a young woman on her own, is making the best of her orphaned state by working in Madame Damnable’s high-quality bordello. Through Karen’s eyes we get to know the other girls in the house—a resourceful group—and the poor and the powerful of the town. Trouble erupts one night when a badly injured girl arrives at their door, begging sanctuary, followed by the man who holds her indenture, and who has a machine that can take over anyone’s mind and control their actions. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the next night brings a body dumped in their rubbish heap—a streetwalker who has been brutally murdered.”


Oh my God, I loved this book.  Loved it as in I started it Tuesday at 8 PM, finished it Wednesday at 3:30 PM, and am posting this review on Thursday.

It grabbed me from the first page where it explains that prostitutes are taxed as seamstresses. They even have sewing machines — a regular one and one that you get inside and use your body to control.  I don’t understand how that would work but I want it!

The story is told from Karen’s point of view. She has a great voice.  She is an uneducated sixteen year old who grew up with her father training horses.  After his death she ended up working as a “seamstress” in an upscale house.  The girls of the house are a family and protect and love each other in spite of their differences.  They are from many different races.  There is a trans woman. There are disabled women.  Some are lesbians who only serve male clients because it’s their job.  Karen accepts this all but sometimes still falls into the casual prejudices of white women in that time.  Sometimes she gets called out on it.  Sometimes she needs to learn her lessons a harder way.

The women of Karen’s house protect a prostitute escaping from a more disreputable house.  This fans the flames of a simmering rivalry into out and out war.  Karen gets grabbed by a thug at the market.

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Don’t worry though.  She hits him the face with a bag of onions.  She holds her own until the fight is stopped by the appearance of a U.S. Marshal.  He’s chasing a murderer who was in Indian Territory previously.  When dead prostitutes start showing up, the Marshal enlists Karen and her friends to help his Comanche deputy and him find the bad guy.

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This is a great read for any one who likes a fast moving adventure tale full of steam punk technology and daring ladies.  Karen is a great lesbian heroine who sees the world in her own unique way.

07 Oct, 2016

Mighty Be Our Powers

/ posted in: Reading Mighty Be Our Powers Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War by Leymah Gbowee, Carol Mithers
on September 13th 2011
Pages: 256
Genres: History, Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Beast Books
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Liberia
Goodreads

“In a time of death and terror, Leymah Gbowee brought Liberia’s women together–and together they led a nation to peace. As a young woman, Gbowee was broken by the Liberian civil war, a brutal conflict that tore apart her life and claimed the lives of countless relatives and friends. As a young mother trapped in a nightmare of domestic abuse, she found the courage to turn her bitterness into action, propelled by her realization that it is women who suffer most during conflicts–and that the power of women working together can create an unstoppable force. In 2003, the passionate and charismatic Gbowee helped organize and then led the Liberian Mass Action for Peace, a coalition of Christian and Muslim women who sat in public protest, confronting Liberia’s ruthless president and rebel warlords, and even held a sex strike. With an army of women, Gbowee helped lead her nation to peace.”


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War came over Liberia in waves. First Charles Taylor took power and then a group of rebels fought him. Each group terrorized the citizens. The soldiers were boys with guns who were told to take what they needed as they moved through the country. They murdered and stole and raped their way across the country.

Leymah Gbowee had just graduated from high school when the fighting started. She had a bright future ahead of her and it all collapsed. Suddenly, getting food and water and a safe place to sleep was the only priorities. She went from being an aspiring doctor to being a mother of four children trapped in an abusive relationship in a few years. She got a job working with trauma counselors during a time of relative peace. She loved the work and was able to move into working with women who were the most impacted by the fighting.

When the war started again she mobilized the women in the capital and in the refugee camps to stage sit ins to protest for peace. She claims that her story shows how God worked in Liberia through the women’s prayer. I say that it shows the exact opposite. The mass protests (and prayers) were not effective until they were paired with direct political action. They would protest for weeks and then she’d get mad because nothing was happening. At this point they would get in the faces of the men who were obstructing the peace and cause change to happen.

To give all the credit for this to God erases the power and bravery of the women who stepped up and said, “Enough!”

This isn’t a fairy tale about bringing peace.  Their world was cruel and heartbreaking.  Leymah sacrificed her family over and over.  She is open about drinking to cope with what her life had become.  This book was published in 2011 just before she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work.

A documentary about her work called Pray the Devil Back To Hell was made.  You can watch it for free on Amazon. It puts faces to the women who she writes about.

I’d recommend this for anyone who loves women’s history and the power of women to demand change in the world.

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