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27 May, 2017

River of Teeth

/ posted in: Reading River of Teeth River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey
Published by Tor.com on May 23rd 2017
Genres: Alternative History, Fiction
Pages: 152
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Goodreads
Setting: Louisiana

In the early 20th Century, the United States government concocted a plan to import hippopotamuses into the marshlands of Louisiana to be bred and slaughtered as an alternative meat source. This is true.
Other true things about hippos: they are savage, they are fast, and their jaws can snap a man in two.
This was a terrible plan.
Contained within this volume is an 1890s America that might have been: a bayou overrun by feral hippos and mercenary hippo wranglers from around the globe. It is the story of Winslow Houndstooth and his crew. It is the story of their fortunes. It is the story of his revenge.


She had me at alternative history novella about feral hippos in the Mississippi River.  I pre-ordered.

I didn’t read it the first day it came out because I wanted to wait until I could read it in one sitting.

I wasn’t disappointed.

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There are feral hippos in a section of the Mississippi. They are penned in by a dam to the north and a large gate to the south. The lake in between in controlled by a criminal who runs the gambling boats. Having large predators in the lake around his establishments is an important natural asset. The government wants the hippos out of the way so they hire a former hippo rancher with a grudge.

Winslow Houndstooth, a pansexual man from England who rides an opinionated black hippo named Ruby, puts together a crew for the job.

  • Hero Shakleby- a nonbinary black person who is a demolition and poisoning expert.  They ride a hippo named Abigail.
  • Regina Archambault (Archie) – a fat French conwoman who rides an albino hippo named Rosa.  Rosa likes to get her teeth brushed and eats pastries even though the vet said she needs to cut back.
  • Cal Hotchkiss – He is a white man who burned down Winslow’s ranch.  Winslow is planning to kill him but it helps to have a white man around to buy explosives.  His hippo is named Betsy
  • Adelia Reyes – A very pregnant assassin with two hippos named Stasia and Zahra.

I loved the world that is created here.  This reads like a wild west story with hippos instead of horses.  Of course, the job doesn’t go as well as planned.  The story is violent as fits the lawlessness of the time and place. 

My only complaint about this story is that I wanted more.  (That and I’m sad about Ruby eating a dog named Petunia.  Bad Ruby!  Note that I am not particularly sad about all the people who get eaten by hippos in this book because I like dogs better than I like most people.)  This is a novella that has a fairly abrupt ending.  I want to know what happens.  When do we get more?

September 12th, it turns out.  I’ve already pre-ordered. 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
  • LBGTQ authors/characters
26 May, 2017

Flirting Through Math – Two Courtney Milan Stories

/ posted in: Reading Flirting Through Math – Two Courtney Milan Stories Hold Me by Courtney Milan
Published by Courtney Milan on October 25th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Romance, Contemporary, LGBT
Pages: 313
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Goodreads
Setting: California

Jay na Thalang is a demanding, driven genius. He doesn’t know how to stop or even slow down. The instant he lays eyes on Maria Lopez, he knows that she is a sexy distraction he can’t afford. He’s done his best to keep her at arm’s length, and he’s succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.
Maria has always been cautious. Now that her once-tiny, apocalypse-centered blog is hitting the mainstream, she’s even more careful about preserving her online anonymity. She hasn’t sent so much as a picture to the commenter she’s interacted with for eighteen months—not even after emails, hour-long chats, and a friendship that is slowly turning into more. Maybe one day, they’ll meet and see what happens.
But unbeknownst to them both, Jay is Maria’s commenter. They’ve already met. They already hate each other. And two determined enemies are about to discover that they’ve been secretly falling in love…


I’m a big fan of Courtney Milan’s historical romances.  I wanted to read another one of her books for AsianLitBingo but they don’t qualify because they don’t have Asian main characters.  I decided to try one of her contemporary romances.  Most contemporary romances don’t work for me.  I like romances PG-13 or less and you don’t generally get that in a contemporary.

I chose this book instead of the first book in the series.  The first book is about a billionaire.  That’s one of my key NOPE words in descriptions.  I don’t want to read about billionaires in romances.  This one is billionaire-free although the said billionaire is lurking around as a secondary character.

Jay is:

  • a professor at a university in California
  • Thai/Chinese
  • bisexual
  • a frequent commenter on a website who moved to being an online friend of the creator of the website

Maria is:

  • an older undergrad at the same university
  • Latina
  • trans
  • a self-proclaimed girly-girl
  • the creator of a blog that examines end-of-the-world scenarios
  • the sister of one of Jay’s friends

Jay takes an immediate dislike to Maria when they meet in person through her brother because he perceives her to be overly interested in shoes and makeup and girl stuff.  He finds her shallow. He can’t even seem to make a connection between a woman he sees in front of him and the woman he has been flirting with through science and mathematics for two years.  They aren’t even the same species in his mind.

I’m not a big fan of books that are all about mistaken identity.  This book ends the mystery about halfway through.  The rest of the book is about them trying to translate a two year online relationship into real life.  Maria has some major abandonment issues that cause her to be very fearful of committing to a relationship.  Jay needs to deal with his dismissals of women who appear very feminine.  He considers himself to be a feminist but still thinks women in dresses and makeup must be dumb.

I thought these issues were handled well in the story.  There was a lot going on.  The author writes flirting very well.  I wasn’t completely swept away with the romance here.  I think that is more an issue of not being a huge fan of contemporaries instead of being completely the fault of the book.  If you like contemporary romances that deal with issues and aren’t purely fluff, I’d recommend this one.


So well then after I read this one I had to go back and read another one of her historical romances, didn’t I?  This one happened to be all about mathematical flirting too.

 
Flirting Through Math – Two Courtney Milan Stories Talk Sweetly to Me by Courtney Milan
Published by Courtney Milan on August 19th 2014
Genres: Fiction, Romance, Historical, General, Victorian
Pages: 133
Goodreads
Setting: England

Nobody knows who Miss Rose Sweetly is, and she prefers it that way. She’s a shy, mathematically-minded shopkeeper’s daughter who dreams of the stars. Women like her only ever come to attention through scandal. She’ll take obscurity, thank you very much.
All of England knows who Stephen Shaughnessy is. He’s an infamous advice columnist and a known rake. When he moves into the house next door to Rose, she discovers that he’s also wickedly funny, devilishly flirtatious, and heart-stoppingly handsome. But when he takes an interest in her mathematical work, she realizes that Mr. Shaughnessy isn’t just a scandal waiting to happen. He’s waiting to happen to her…and if she’s not careful, she’ll give in to certain ruination.


This is a rare historical romance novella set in England that acknowledges that England at that time was not uniformly white.  Rose is black.  She is staying with her pregnant sister who is about to have her baby while her Naval Officer husband is at sea.  They are dealing with the horrible racism of the doctor who is supposed to be helping.  At the same time, a once in a lifetime astronomical event is about to take place.  Because Rose is just a woman who does the calculation in the lab, she isn’t going to be allowed into the prime viewing space to watch it. 

When she finds out that she has a suitor who is white, she is unimpressed by his assertions that everything will work out just fine.  She knows that he has no idea of the prejudice that they will face as an interracial couple. 

This is part of the Brothers Sinister series but it can be read alone.  There is great dialogue between the characters.  I like these stories because they feature women who know their worth (and it is based on something other than their money or their looks) and men who are actually nice and worth caring about.

About Courtney Milan

“C ourtney Milan’s debut novel was published in 2010. Since then, her books have received starred reviews in Publishers Weekly and Booklist. She’s been a New York Times and a USA Today Bestseller, a RITA® finalist and an RT Reviewer’s Choice nominee for Best First Historical Romance. Her second book was chosen as a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2010.

Courtney lives in the Rocky Mountains with her husband, a marginally-trained dog, and an attack cat.

Before she started writing historical romance, Courtney got a graduate degree in theoretical physical chemistry from UC Berkeley. After that, just to shake things up, she went to law school at the University of Michigan and graduated summa cum laude. Then she did a handful of clerkships with some really important people who are way too dignified to be named here. She was a law professor for a while. She now writes full-time.” from her website

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
  • LBGTQ authors/characters
  • POC authors
16 May, 2017

The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds

/ posted in: Reading The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds The Woman Who Breathed Two Worlds by Selina Siak Chin Yoke
Series: Malayan #1
Published by AmazonCrossing on November 1st 2016
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 474
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Goodreads

Facing challenges in an increasingly colonial world, Chye Hoon, a rebellious young girl, must learn to embrace her mixed Malayan-Chinese identity as a Nyonya—and her destiny as a cook, rather than following her first dream of attending school like her brother.
Amidst the smells of chillies and garlic frying, Chye Hoon begins to appreciate the richness of her traditions, eventually marrying Wong Peng Choon, a Chinese man. Together, they have ten children. At last, she can pass on the stories she has heard—magical tales of men from the sea—and her warrior’s courage, along with her wonderful kueh (cakes).
But the cultural shift towards the West has begun. Chye Hoon finds herself afraid of losing the heritage she so prizes as her children move more and more into the modernising Western world.


 

This is an historical fiction novel set between the 1870s and the 1940s in Malaysia.   In this area of Malaysia at the time it was common for people to be of mixed ethnic heritage.  But now the British have started to establish a presence.  Towns and cities are growing.  Chye Hoon’s father decides to learn English and move the family to a larger city to get ahead.  Although she is smart, she is not able to go to school.  She is headstrong and not beautiful so stays unmarried for a long time before becoming a second wife to a Chinese man who left his family behind in China.

This story focuses on the way the world is changing around Chye Hoon.  She is taken to a backwater town after her marriage.  She watches Ipoh grow into a mining center.  She sees her children grow up and learn English as their major language.  Even her daughters are able to be educated.  But her family traditions are very important. She longs to be able to pass on the stories that were told to her and the traditions of the families in her area.  Her children are not interested.

What do we lose in the name of progress?

I had never heard of the Nyonyas and Babas.  It took me a while to understand exactly what those terms meant.  This is from Wikipedia.

Peranakan Chinese or Straits-born Chinese are the descendants of Chinese immigrants who came to the Malay archipelago including British Malaya (now Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore, where they are also referred to as Baba-Nyonya) and Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia; where they’re also referred as Kiau-Seng)[4] between the 15th and 17th centuries.[5]

Members of this community in Malaysia address themselves as “Baba Nyonya”. Nyonya is the term for the women and Baba for the men. It applies especially to the Han populations of the British Straits Settlements of Malaya and the Dutch-controlled island of Java and other locations, who have adopted Nusantara customs — partially or in full — to be somewhat assimilated into the local communities. Many were the elites of Singapore, more loyal to the British than to China. Most have lived for generations along the straits of Malacca. They were usually traders, the middleman of the British and the Chinese, or the Chinese and Malays, or vice versa because they were mostly English educated. Because of this, they almost always had the ability to speak two or more languages.”

 

When you try to investigate Nyonya culture, the first things you see are food.  Food played a big part in this story.  Chye Hoon is widowed and has to make a living.  She decides to sell traditional Nyonya food to the men working in the tin mines of Ipoh.  Her specialties are cakes. Here is a video of a type of Nyonya cake.

I really enjoyed this book. I was immersed in her world that was changing so rapidly that by the time of her death it was unrecognizable. This series will be continuing and picking up with the story of her daughter-in-law in World War II.  That book comes out in the few months.  I’m glad for a bit of a break in between because I feel like a need to mourn a bit for amazing life of Chye Hoon before switching the main character of the story to the daughter-in-law.

 

 

About Selina Siak Chin Yoke

Of Malaysian-Chinese heritage, Selina Siak Chin Yoke (石清玉) grew up listening to family stories and ancient legends. She always knew that one day, she would write. After an eclectic life as a physicist, banker and trader in London, the heavens intervened. In 2009 Chin Yoke was diagnosed with cancer. While recovering, she decided not to delay her dream of writing any longer.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in Asia
  • Foodies Read 2017
  • POC authors
12 May, 2017

Outrun the Moon

/ posted in: Reading Outrun the Moon Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers on May 24th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 391
Format: Hardcover
Source: Owned
Goodreads
Setting: California

San Francisco, 1906: Fifteen-year-old Mercy Wong is determined to break from the poverty in Chinatown, and an education at St. Clare’s School for Girls is her best hope. Although St. Clare’s is off-limits to all but the wealthiest white girls, Mercy gains admittance through a mix of cunning and a little bribery, only to discover that getting in was the easiest part. Not to be undone by a bunch of spoiled heiresses, Mercy stands strong—until disaster strikes.
On April 18, a historic earthquake rocks San Francisco, destroying Mercy’s home and school. With martial law in effect, she is forced to wait with her classmates for their families in a temporary park encampment. Though fires might rage, and the city may be in shambles, Mercy can’t sit by while they wait for the army to bring help—she still has the “bossy” cheeks that mark her as someone who gets things done. But what can one teenage girl do to heal so many suffering in her broken city?


I started reading this book without really knowing what it was about.  I may be one of the few people who enjoyed the story of Mercy’s time at school more than I liked the story after the earthquake.

This book is split into two sections by the earthquake.  Before, Mercy is dealing with discrimination because of her sex, race, and class.  She is a Chinese girl who has finished the limited amount of schooling available to her.  She wants to be able to go to high school.  She has a plan to win a scholarship to an elite private school.  But once there she is disappointed to find it more interested in turning out proper young ladies than in the ladies increasing their knowledge.  She is also put directly into a world of wealth that she has never known before. 

The author does a great job of working in history lessons about treatment of Chinese people in California at the time.  She discusses the exclusion laws that prevented people from coming from China.  She talks about discriminatory housing laws that kept the Chinese population penned into a small area of the city. 

I was really into this book when the earthquake occurs.  Most of the girls at the school are boarding there from out of town so when the school is destroyed they have nowhere to go.  They end up living in a tent city set up in a park.  From here the book is a story of looting and cooking huge meals to try to feed everyone living in the park.  There was limited disaster aid at the time.  What help was available was out fighting the fires caused by the earthquake so survivors were mostly on their own. 

The author notes that group cooking situations like the one in the book were set up in the aftermath of the earthquake.  I’m glad she added that because I wouldn’t have believed it otherwise.  It seemed a little too feel-good for everything that was going on before.  I understand that the point was the discrimination can’t survive if everyone needs to work together when they have lost everything.  But it seemed a little too easy in the book.  No one seemed to really be grappling with the issues of loss and grief.  Maybe they were supposed to be numb and just focusing on survival. 

I’d recommend this book for a great look into life in 1906 San Francisco. 

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

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

The Foundling

/ posted in: Reading The Foundling The Foundling: The True Story of a Kidnapping, a Family Secret, and My Search for the Real Me by Paul Fronczak, Alex Tresniowski
Published by Howard Books on April 4th 2017
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Pages: 368
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible, Owned
Goodreads
Length: 11:24

The Foundling tells the incredible and inspiring true story of Paul Fronczak, a man who recently discovered via a DNA test that he was not who he thought he was—and set out to solve two fifty-year-old mysteries at once. Along the way he upturned the genealogy industry, unearthed his family’s deepest secrets, and broke open the second longest cold-case in US history, all in a desperate bid to find out who he really is.


In 1964, when Paul Fronczak was 1 day old, he was kidnapped from the maternity ward of a hospital in Chicago.  Fourteen months later a child was found abandoned in New Jersey.  Very limited scientific tests were available at the time to determine paternity.  All the FBI could say was that they could not rule out the possibility that the child found in New Jersey was Paul Fronczak.  So they gave this child to the Fronczak family and considered both cases closed.

When he was 10 years old Paul found a box of newspaper clippings about his kidnapping case.  He had never heard about it before.  His parents refused to discuss it with him – ever.  He grew up feeling like he didn’t really fit into his family.  He wasn’t anything like them.

Then in his forties he decided it was time to investigate.  He took a DNA test and convinced his parents to submit samples too.  They later withdrew their consent but he sent their samples in anyway.  This proved that he was not their biological child.  Now he set out to answer two questions.

  1. Who was he?

  2. What happened to the real baby Paul Fronczak?

 

This book is a masterclass in the abilities and limitations of DNA analysis.  It investigates the possibilities opened up by databases on the major genealogical websites to answer long standing family mysteries.  (This happened in my husband’s family.)

What was fascinating to me was the reactions of the people around Paul during his search.  They did not want him to find out the answers to his questions.  I don’t understand that at all.  His parents and brother cut all ties with him.  If your child was kidnapped, wouldn’t you want to know what happened to him?  Wouldn’t you want to know the truth about the child you raised?  I don’t see why it would make any difference in your relationship to each other.

His wife wanted him to stop searching.  I understand that it was taking up a lot of his time but how could you expect someone not to want to follow the clues he was getting?  Maybe I just hate an unsolved mystery so much that I wouldn’t have been able to let it go.  I can’t understand people who are insisting that you walk away from it.

Reading about his birth family may be hard for some people.  A family situation that ends with dumping a toddler outside a department store is not going to be healthy and functional.  There is a lot of abuse described.

He met so many fascinating people along the way.  There were volunteer researchers who worked on his case.  He met distant relatives identified through DNA who dug into their own family histories to try to find a link to him.  He met other abandoned children who hoped that they would turn out to be the missing Fronczak child.

The book is not able to give definitive answers to all the questions that it raises but he does have a pretty good idea of what happened in his life and the life of his parents’ biological child at the end.  I would recommend this book to anyone who loves genealogy and the science of genetic genealogy to see how it works in real life.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Books Set in North America
05 May, 2017

The Witch’s Market

/ posted in: Reading The Witch’s Market The Witch's Market by Mingmei Yip
Published by Kensington on November 24th 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Pages: 304
Format: Paperback
Source: Owned
Goodreads
Setting: Canary Islands

Chinese-American assistant professor Eileen Chen specializes in folk religion at her San Francisco college. Though her grandmother made her living as a shamaness, Eileen publicly dismisses witchcraft as mere superstition. Yet privately, the subject intrigues her.
When a research project takes her to the Canary Islands—long rumored to be home to real witches—Eileen is struck by the lush beauty of Tenerife and its blend of Spanish and Moroccan culture. A stranger invites her to a local market where women sell amulets, charms, and love spells. But as she learns more about the lives of these self-proclaimed witches, Eileen must choose how much trust to place in this new and seductive world, where love, greed, and vengeance can be as powerful, or as destructive, as any magic.


I loved the synopsis of this book.  A religion professor finding out that she is a shamaness in the Chinese tradition and then meeting up with witches from another tradition?  Yes, please.

It starts out delightfully creepy.  She is starting to have visions of the spirit world.  She meets a coven of witches who bring her into a ritual and abandon her naked the next day and she doesn’t remember what happened.  A horse takes her for a ride to meet a mysterious sculptor.

But then it turns into a murder mystery.  Yeah, didn’t see that coming.

I lost a lot of interest at this point.  The weirdness was gone.  She still talks to ghosts but they just want her solve the mystery.  Also, suddenly every man is falling in love with her and wants to marry her the moment they meet her.  This isn’t even based on romance or attraction or anything.  They just suggest getting married.

I wish there had been a better sense of place.  She went to a culture that is unfamiliar to her but she is conveniently fluent in Spanish so she has no communication difficulties.  She doesn’t really explore the islands.  She holes up in a castle and in an abandoned village that could have been set anywhere.  I never read anything that I felt could only have happened in this setting.

Her exploration of her Chinese spiritual heritage was much better but I wish there had been more exploration of the witches she came to find.

About Mingmei Yip

Mingmei Yip was born in China, received her Ph.D. from the University of Paris, Sorbonne, and held faculty appointments at the Chinese University and Baptist University in Hong Kong. She’s published five books in Chinese, written several columns for seven major Hong Kong newspapers, and has appeared on over forty TV and radio programs in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Mainland China, and the U.S. She immigrated to the United States in 1992, where she now lives in New York City.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in Africa
  • POC authors
04 May, 2017

Paper Boats – Indonesian novel for New Adult fans

/ posted in: Reading Paper Boats – Indonesian novel for New Adult fans Paper Boats by Dee Lestari
on May 1, 2017 - translation
Genres: Fiction
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Goodreads
Setting: Indonesia

For as long as she can remember, Kugy has loved to write. Whimsical stories are her passion, along with letters full of secret longings that she folds into paper boats and sets out to sea. Now that she’s older, she dreams of following her heart and becoming a true teller of tales, but she decides to get a “real job” instead and forget all about Keenan, the guy who makes her feel as if she’s living in one of her own fairy tales.


What do you have to sacrifice to be a “grown up”?

In 1999, Keenan and Kugy start university in Indonesia.  Keenan is being forced to go by his father.  Keenan wants to be an artist but his father wants him to take business courses in order to have a real career.  Kugy wants to be a writer.  She’s been writing fairy tales her whole life.

Kugy also writes notes to Neptune on paper boats and sends them out to sea.

Most of the translated fiction that  I’ve read has been fairly serious.  I surprised to find that is this a light hearted and fun book.

There were elements in this story that I generally don’t enjoy but that I didn’t mind here because they were well written.  Keenan and Kugy are attracted to each other but there are always obstacles in the way of their relationship.  Kugy has a boyfriend from home.  Kugy’s friend sets up Keenan with her glamorous cousin who can help him get his paintings shown in a gallery.  There are misunderstandings because people aren’t communicating with each other.  I was even okay with that for a while although it usually has me pulling my hair out in frustration.

I liked the writing of the secondary characters as well.  They are complete characters with their own story arcs who don’t exist just to serve the needs of the main characters.  In fact, it sometimes seems like they are just stopping in this story occasionally when it intersects with their real storylines unlike some books where it seems secondary characters hibernate whenever the main characters aren’t around.

Eventually though the repeated missed opportunities and bungled communication between the main characters started to wear down my enthusiasm.  Eventually someone just has to say what they are thinking.  I wish the story had ended a bit sooner with less “maybe I’ll say what I’m feeling or maybe I’ll just wait until next time” on repeat.

There was also a lot of black and white thinking here.  Either you can live a creative life or you can have a corporate job.  You can’t do both.

This would be a good book for fans of New Adult fiction.  Overall, I liked it and thought it was well written even if it overstayed its welcome for just a little bit.

About Dee Lestari

Dee Lestari, is one of the bestselling and critically acclaimed writers in Indonesia.
Born in January 20, 1976, she began her debut with a serial novel: Supernova in 2001.
Dee also has an extensive music career, producing four albums with her former vocal trio, and two solo albums. She has been writing songs for renowned Indonesian artists.
Perahu Kertas (Paper Boat) was turned into a movie in 2009, marking Dee’s debut as a screenplay writer. The movie became one of the national’s block busters.

About Tiffany Tsao

Tiffany Tsao is a writer, translator, literary critic, editor, and human being.

She was born in San Diego, California, and lived in Singapore and Indonesia through her childhood and young adulthood. A graduate of Wellesley College and the University of California, Berkeley, where she earned a PhD in English, she has taught and researched literature at Berkeley, the Georgia Institute of Technology, and the University of Newcastle, Australia.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in Asia
  • POC authors
21 Apr, 2017

Binge Worthy Foodie Reads

/ posted in: Reading Binge Worthy Foodie Reads Summer at the Comfort Food Cafe by Debbie Johnson
on April 29, 2016
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 347
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Goodreads

The Comfort Food Cafe is perched on a windswept clifftop at what feels like the edge of the world, serving up the most delicious cream teas; beautifully baked breads, and carefully crafted cupcakes. For tourists and locals alike, the ramshackle cafe overlooking the beach is a beacon of laughter, companionship, and security – a place like no other; a place that offers friendship as a daily special, and where a hearty welcome is always on the menu.
For widowed mum-of-two Laura Walker, the decision to uproot her teenaged children and make the trek from Manchester to Dorset for the summer isn’t one she takes lightly, and it’s certainly not winning her any awards from her kids, Nate and Lizzie. Even her own parents think she’s gone mad.
But following the death of her beloved husband David two years earlier, Laura knows that it’s time to move on. To find a way to live without him, instead of just surviving. To find her new place in the world, and to fill the gap that he’s left in all their lives.
Her new job at the cafe, and the hilarious people she meets there, give Laura the chance she needs to make new friends; to learn to be herself again, and – just possibly – to learn to love again as well.

I’m a sucker for light fiction set in English cafes or tea shops or bakeries.  I recently read these two fun romances that are perfect for Foodies Read.

Laura Walker has been a widow for two years and is just starting to emerge from the fog that she has been in.  She needs a job and she wants to give her children a vacation this year.  She combines the two into working for the summer at a cafe near a beach in Dorset.

This isn’t just any cafe.  It stocks the favorite comfort foods of the regulars to make them feel at home.

Laura, her kids, and her dog Jimbo settle into the community.  They are starting to make new good memories for the first time since the accident that took her husband’s life.  This book is full of quirky characters.  It also feels like it is really set in the present.  Lizzie is documenting her summer on Instagram.  Other people use Skype.  So many of these books tend to ignore any technological details so that was a touch of realism that I appreciated.

The love interest’s name was Matt and he is a veterinarian.  Now you know I’m gonna have to comment on this, right?  Ok, two things.  Of course he is described as being muscular and gorgeous.  He has to be.  That’s in the contract for romance book heroes.  But, I know A LOT of vets.  I don’t know any who fit the bill.  (Send pictures if you know one.)  We tend towards the nerdy side.  I particularly don’t know any who are built like that and never work out.  I’m not sure where his muscles come from.  He never lifts a weight.  Number two, he never really seems to go to work either.  He’s always around.  It is mentioned vaguely that he is “at work” a few times but it doesn’t seem like he is missing from the story very often.  I’d like that schedule.

Anyway, this one is fun and sweet and made me a bit teary in one part that I can’t talk about without being spoilery.


Binge Worthy Foodie Reads Little Teashop of Horrors by Jane Lovering
on March 26, 2017
Genres: Fiction
Format: eBook
Goodreads
Setting: England

Amy Knowles has always been the plain sidekick to her pretty best friend Jules. And whilst the tearoom they both work in on the Monkpark Hall estate in Yorkshire is not exactly awash with eligible bachelors, it’s obvious where the male attention is concentrated – and it’s not just on the cakes!
There is one man who notices Amy. Joshua Wilson also works at Monkpark, where he flies his birds of prey for visitor entertainment. He lives a lonely existence but he has reasons for choosing isolation – and, in Amy, he may have found somebody who understands.
Then a management change brings slick and well-spoken Edmund Evershott to Monkpark. He’s interested in Amy too, but for what reason? Josh suspects the new manager is up to no good – but will Amy?

I read this one right after the first one.  This is told in alternating voices of the two main characters.  Amy is the third generation of her family to work in an historic trust building.  She and her grandmother are able to live in the village at reduced rent because a family works at Monkpark.  This wasn’t Amy’s goal in life but she can’t afford to keep her Gran at home any other way.  She’s always been a bit of a doormat for people but figures that is her lot in life.

Josh loves his birds but is very uncomfortable around people.  He doesn’t like to be in enclosed spaces, even inside houses.  He’s never had a relationship with a woman.  He likes Amy though because she seems to see him as a real person and not just that strange guy with the birds.

I liked the story of trying to keep a historic house profitable.  Amy runs the tea shop and Josh does the falconry demonstrations.

This is an unusual romance.  The characters both have back stories that make them think that they are unsuitable for love.  I wish Amy’s had been a little deeper.  I felt like she was written almost as a cliche at times.  I haven’t seen a lot of male romance characters like Josh though.  There was a lot of trauma in his background that made him stay away from people.  Although the term is never used, he felt like a demi romantic/sexual character.  He did not see people as potential love interests at all until he got to know Amy very well.  I’m not sure if that was an innate orientation for him or if it was all secondary to psychological trauma though.  He doesn’t magically overcome his problems just because he meets a love interest either.  He still has issues that drastically affect his life and relationships.  That’s a nice change from books where the hero or heroine’s entire life gets fixed when they get a lover.


I’d recommend both of these for fun reads.  Of the two, the tea shop book is definitely darker.  The Comfort Food Cafe book stays mostly upbeat except for a few emotional parts.  There is a short story sequel to that one that I’ve downloaded already that is set at Christmas.  I’ll report back on it soon.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in Europe
  • Foodies Read 2017
19 Apr, 2017

Revolution for Dummies

/ posted in: Reading Revolution for Dummies Revolution for Dummies: Laughing through the Arab Spring by Bassem Youssef
Published by Dey Street Books on March 21st 2017
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Pages: 304
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible
Goodreads
Setting: Egypt
Length: 7:12

"The Jon Stewart of the Arabic World"—the creator of The Program, the most popular television show in Egypt’s history—chronicles his transformation from heart surgeon to political satirist, and offers crucial insight into the Arab Spring, the Egyptian Revolution, and the turmoil roiling the modern Middle East, all of which inspired the documentary about his life, Tickling Giants.
Bassem Youssef’s incendiary satirical news program, Al-Bernameg (The Program), chronicled the events of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, the fall of President Hosni Mubarak, and the rise of Mubarak’s successor, Mohamed Morsi. Youssef not only captured his nation’s dissent but stamped it with his own brand of humorous political criticism, in which the Egyptian government became the prime laughing stock.


Bassem Youssef was an Egyptian cardiac surgeon trying to find a way to move out of Egypt in 2011.  He was not politically active until the Arab Spring protests.  A friend wanted to have a YouTube series discussing politics and he convinced Bassem to star in it mostly because he wouldn’t have to pay him.  Suddenly, the series that they filmed in Bassem’s bathroom was an internet hit.   Over the next few years they moved to TV and then to larger networks.  The show was a hit.  However, making fun of politicians in Egypt isn’t the safest life choice.

In a few years he rose from obscurity to being the most famous entertainer in Egypt to being forced to flee the country.

I loved this audiobook.  I had never heard of Bassem Youssef before although he had been on The Daily Show and other U.S. TV shows. He says that he isn’t able to explain Egyptian or Islamic politics well but then explains them in an easy to understand manner.  Now I understand who most of the players are and a little bit about what their goals are.  His goal was to make fun of them all.

This is a scary book to read because you see so many parallels between Egypt and the path that the United States is on now.  In fact, he came to the U.S. just in time to document the rise of Trump.  Like Trevor Noah, he points out that Trump follows the same line of thinking as the African dictators.  He talks about how people can convince themselves that everything is fine when everything is falling apart around them.

He shows how media can be manipulated to show whatever ‘truth’ the government wants you to believe.

Speaking satirical truth to power cost him his relationship with his family and his ability to go back to his country.  His wife stayed with him but he isn’t really sure why.  After all, she married a surgeon who a few months later decided that he was going to be a comedian in the country where it is illegal to make fun of the president and it went downhill from there.

There is a new documentary on the festival circuit called Tickling Giants about his life.  I want to see it to be able to see many of the sketches that he describes in the audio book.

He is a huge fan of Jon Stewart.  They ended up meeting and collaborating.  (Or as it was charged in Egypt, he was recruited by Jon Stewart to work for the CIA.)  Here’s Jon Stewart’s take on things the first time Bassem got in trouble.

If you want to understand more about the Arab Spring and the aftermath, this is a great book. If you want to know what resistance can look like, listen to this book.  He narrates it himself and does a great job telling his story.

About Bassem Youssef

Bassem Raafat Muhammad Youssef is an Egyptian comedian, writer, producer, physician, media critic, and television host. He hosted Al-Bernameg, a satirical news program, from 2011 to 2014.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Books Set in the Middle East
  • POC authors
16 Mar, 2017

The Her Instruments Series

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Warning – there is an attempted rape scene


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

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


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

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

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

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

About M.C.A. Hogarth

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

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • POC authors
08 Mar, 2017

The Unintentional Time Traveler

/ posted in: General The Unintentional Time Traveler The Unintentional Time Traveler by Everett Maroon
Published by Booktrope Editions on February 24th 2014
Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 248
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Goodreads
Setting: Kentucky

Fifteen-year-old Jack Bishop has mad skills with cars and engines, but knows he’ll never get a driver’s license because of his epilepsy. Agreeing to participate in an experimental clinical trial to find new treatments for his disease, he finds himself in a completely different body—that of a girl his age, Jacqueline, who defies the expectations of her era.


Jack starts to travel back in time during his seizures.  It takes a few times before he realizes what is going on.  Each time he is in the past for a longer period.  He gets dropped into a body of a girl in the 1920s named Jacqueline.  It is very Quantum Leap.

The town Jacqueline lives in is being terrorized by a local minister.  Jack is being dropped into different points in time to try to save the town.  But everything he does changes the timeline.

I enjoyed this book but it frustrated me.  It left me with several questions.  Years will pass while Jack is in the past but he is not in a coma.  He is going on with his life in the present day.  How?  Does anyone notice that he is not quite himself?  The same things happen with Jacqueline in the past.  Who is in their bodies when Jack/Jacqueline isn’t?  Is Jacqueline in Jack?  Are they just switching places?  Hopefully this will be addressed in future installments of the story.  This is book one of a series.

The author is transgender.  Had I not known that going into the book, I might have missed the exploration of gender and sexuality that happens in the story.  When Jack first finds himself in a female body he is very uncomfortable.  Over time he no longer has an issue with it.  Jacqueline is not considered to be a conventionally feminine woman of her time but she is still a more feminine person than Jack is in the future. Jacqueline has a relationship with a man named Lucas that starts when Jack is in her body.  When he jumps back into his own body he misses Lucas and worries about him.  That relationship fuels his desire to learn to master time travel to get back and help Jacqueline.  The author never comes out and says what gender or sexual orientation anyone is considered.  They just are who they are and love who they love.  It is so matter of fact that that is the reason why I might have missed the complexity if I wasn’t specifically looking at the gender dynamics.

This is a fun time travel mystery.  Read it if you like historical fiction with some suspense.

 

About Everett Maroon

Everett Maroon is a memoirist, pop culture commentator, and speculative fiction writer. He has a B.A. in English from Syracuse University and went through an English literature master’s program there. He is a member of the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association; Bumbling into Body Hair was a finalist in their 2010 literary contest for memoir. Everett writes about writing and living in the Northwest at trans/plant/portation.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

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

Asian Short Fiction

/ posted in: Reading Asian Short Fiction The Terracotta Bride by Zen Cho
Published by Book Smugglers Publishing on March 10, 2016
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Fiction
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Goodreads
Setting: Hell

In the tenth court of hell, spirits wealthy enough to bribe the bureaucrats of the underworld can avoid both the torments of hell and the irreversible change of reincarnation.

It's a comfortable undeath … even for Siew Tsin. She didn't choose to be married to the richest man in hell, but she's reconciled. Until her husband brings home a new bride.


I loved Zen Cho’s novel Sorcerer to the Crown so I was excited to read some of her shorter fiction.

This story takes place in Hell. In the Chinese version you can advance through levels.  If you have descendants who burn paper offerings for you regularly, you can make a pretty nice life for yourself in the Tenth Court of Hell.  If you don’t have the money to live well or bribe the officials, you will have to reincarnate and start all over.

In this story a girl is taken as a second wife of a well off man.  The first wife is estranged. Everything is going fine until he brings home a third wife.  This wife is made of animated terra cotta. These terra cotta people are designed to be perfect servants but it doesn’t go the way he planned.

Asian Short Fiction Hunting Monsters (Hunting Monsters #1) by S.L. Huang
Published by Book Smugglers Publishing on October 7th 2014
Pages: 50
Goodreads

“Happy birthday, child. Careful not to shoot any grundwirgen.”
Ever since she was a small girl, she has learned to be careful on the hunt, to recognize the signs that separate regular animals from human-cursed grundwirgen. To harm a grundwirgen is a crime punishable by death by the King's decree - a fatal mistake that her Auntie Rosa and mother have carefully prepared her to avoid.
On her fifteenth birthday, when her mother is arrested and made to stand trial for grundwirgen murder, everything she thought she knew about her family and her past comes crashing down.
Auntie Rosa has always warned her about monsters. Now, she must find and confront them to save her mother, no matter the cost.

I didn’t realize that this was a fairy tale retelling or a short story when I started reading it.  A girl has been trained to hunt since she was small.  There are people who turn into animals and animals with higher consciousness around so you have to be careful not to hunt them.  Her mother is arrested for a long ago murder of someone and all the secrets of her mother and her mother’s lover come out.

I don’t want to say a lot more about it because I think seeing it unfold without preconceived ideas of what would happen was part of the fun.  Read this one if you like updated fairy tales with twists.


Both of these are excellent short fiction pieces that can introduce you to these authors.  They each feature lesbian characters and Asian or multiracial leads.  Pick them up.

About S.L. Huang

SL Huang justifies her MIT degree by using it to write eccentric mathematical superhero fiction. She is the author of the Amazon-bestselling Russell’s Attic series, and her short fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons, Daily Science Fiction, and The Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy 2016. She is also a Hollywood stuntwoman and firearms expert, where she’s appeared on shows such as “Battlestar Galactica” and “Raising Hope” and worked with actors such as Sean Patrick Flanery, Jason Momoa, and Danny Glover. She currently lives in Tokyo. Online, she is cheerfully opinionated at www.slhuang.com and on Twitter as @sl_huang.

About Zen Cho

“I’m a London-based Malaysian author of speculative fiction and romance. My debut novel, Sorcerer to the Crown, is the first in a historical fantasy trilogy published by Ace/Roc (US) and Pan Macmillan (UK and Commonwealth). ” from her website

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in Asia
  • LBGTQ authors/characters
  • POC authors
03 Mar, 2017

The Hate U Give

/ posted in: Reading The Hate U Give The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
on February 28, 2017
Genres: Young Adult
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Goodreads

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.
But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.


This was one of the most anticipated books of the year.  I preordered it and started reading as soon as it downloaded.  It is worth all the hype.

I think a large part of the effectiveness of this novel is the complexity of the characters.  No one is a stock character with only one relevant character attribute or motivation.  This allows a lot of discussion among the characters on a huge range of topics.

Starr – She is 16 and lives in a neighborhood that she thinks of as the ghetto but she doesn’t want anyone else to call it that.  She witness her best friend Natasha get killed in a drive by shooting when they were 10.  After that her mother sent her to a private school in a safer neighborhood.  She feels like she is living a double life at home and at school.  She’s not sure she fits into either place.  She has a white boyfriend that she’s too afraid to tell her father about.

Khalil – He grew up with Starr but they don’t talk much any more.  His mother is a drug addict.  After he is killed, he is described as a drug dealer and a gang member but the truth is harder to come by.

Maverick – He’s Starr’s father.  He was a gang member but is out of it now.  He was in jail for three years when Starr was young.  He owns a grocery store in the neighborhood.  He is adamant that they are not going to move to a safer neighborhood because they need to help remake the one they live in.  He’s drilled Black Panther quotes into his children to teach them to survive.

Uncle Carlos – He is a policeman who grew up in the neighborhood.  He helped raise Maverick’s kids when he was in jail and there is still some tension between them.

Add in Starr’s mom and her brothers and the rest of the extended family in addition to the friends from the neighborhood and her school and this is a rich cast of characters with multiple points of view.


Khalil is driving Starr home from a party when they are pulled over.  He is pulled out of the car and then shot while standing beside the car.  The police and the officer’s family describe it as a shooting of a thug who was going for a gun.  Starr knows there was no gun.  Khalil looked into the car to ask if she was ok.  Now she’s dealing with the grief and trauma of witnessing his murder.

At first no one knows that she was the witness.  She wasn’t named because she is a minor.  She is unable to talk about it to her friends at school even though it is a major news story.  There is even a walkout supposedly in protest of his killing but mostly was just as an excuse to get out of class.  As she sees people around her react to the story of Khalil’s death she is forced to face racism in her friends that she had been ignoring before.

Should she break her silence and talk about what happened?  She talks to the grand jury but should she go public?  What will the repercussions be for her family and her neighborhood?  Talking publicly will bring up issues like gang violence that no one talks about for fear of retaliation.

This is a vibrant and layered story about life in a poor community in an inner city.  It shows an intact African-American family with open love and affection between the parents.  That’s rare to find in books.  I’ll leave all the analysis of black representation to others but I thought it was amazing.

I would love to hand this book to any white person who has ever thought All Lives Matter was an appropriate response to Black Lives Matter or who thought that a police killing was justified because the person was probably up to no good.  I doubt they would read it but this book needs to be out in the world being read by everyone.

The title comes from Tupac.  This clip was referenced in the book.  He explains what THUG LIFE means to him.

 

About Angie Thomas

“Angie Thomas was born, raised, and still resides in Jackson, Mississippi as indicated by her accent. She is a former teen rapper whose greatest accomplishment was an article about her in Right-On Magazine with a picture included. She holds a BFA in Creative Writing from Belhaven University and an unofficial degree in Hip Hop. She can also still rap if needed. She is an inaugural winner of the Walter Dean Meyers Grant 2015, awarded by We Need Diverse Books. Her debut novel, The Hate U Give, was acquired by Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins in a 13-house auction and will be published in spring 2017. Film rights have been optioned by Fox 2000 with George Tillman attached to direct and Hunger Games actress Amandla Stenberg set to star.”   from Goodreads

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • POC authors
27 Feb, 2017

A Criminal Magic

/ posted in: Reading A Criminal Magic A Criminal Magic by Lee Kelly
Published by Saga Press on February 2nd 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Pages: 422
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Goodreads

Magic is powerful, dangerous and addictive - and after passage of the 18th Amendment, it is finally illegal.
Joan Kendrick, a young sorcerer from Norfolk County, Virginia accepts an offer to work for DC's most notorious crime syndicate, the Shaw Gang, when her family's home is repossessed. Alex Danfrey, a first-year Federal Prohibition Unit trainee with a complicated past and talents of his own, becomes tapped to go undercover and infiltrate the Shaws.
Through different paths, Joan and Alex tread deep into the violent, dangerous world of criminal magic.


Prohibition in the 1920s recast as a ban on magic instead of alcohol?  Yes, please.

Magic has been driven underground.  After a person does magic they are able to focus their energy into liquid to make a magical brew called shine.  The more complicated the magic, the stronger the shine.  Speakeasies pop up where people can watch an illegal magic show and then buy the shine that the sorcerers make after the performance.  Shine can’t be bottled.  It doesn’t keep past a few hours.  The person who learns how to bottle it stands to make a fortune.

A group of powerful sorcerers are brought together to compete for the chance to be part of a high end speakeasy.  As the profits and the magic soars, the sorcerers find themselves kept captive by the criminal bosses that own the club.

This book had so much promise that I don’t feel like it fully lived up to.  It was good but at the end there was a vague feeling that it should have been more.  It might be The Night Circus effect.  Every book that involves setting up magical venues is going to pale a bit in my mind when compared to that book.

Read this book if you are more into 1920s stories with gangsters than urban fantasy.  It much more of a criminal story than a magic-first story.  Magic is the illegal substance that fuels the crime, not an end unto itself.

There are times of great imagination and other times the grand spectacles that the sorcerers are supposed to be making fell a little flat for me.  I mean, I’m sure making a sunset out of thin air would be cool in person but this is fantasy so I’d expect something grander for the highest-end club in Washington, D.C.

 

About Lee Kelly

“Lee Kelly has wanted to write since she was old enough to hold a pencil, but it wasn’t until she began studying for the California Bar Exam that she conveniently started putting pen to paper.

An entertainment lawyer by trade, Lee has practiced law in Los Angeles and New York.

She lives with her husband and son in Millburn, New Jersey, though after a decade in Manhattan, she can’t help but still call herself a New Yorker.”  from Goodreads

22 Feb, 2017

Being Mortal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

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

Every Patient Tells a Story

/ posted in: Reading Every Patient Tells a Story Every Patient Tells a Story by Lisa Sanders
Published by Broadway Books on 2010-09
Genres: Medical, Diagnosis
Pages: 276
Format: Paperback
Source: Owned
Goodreads

Never in human history have doctors had the knowledge, the tools, and the skills that they have today to diagnose illness and disease. And yet mistakes are made, diagnoses missed, symptoms or tests misunderstood. In this high-tech world of modern medicine, Sanders shows us that knowledge, while essential, is not sufficient to unravel the complexities of illness. She presents an unflinching look inside the detective story that marks nearly every illness–the diagnosis–revealing the combination of uncertainty and intrigue that doctors face when confronting patients who are sick or dying. Through dramatic stories of patients with baffling symptoms, Sanders portrays the absolute necessity and surprising difficulties of getting the patient’s story, the challenges of the physical exam, the pitfalls of doctor-to-doctor communication, the vagaries of tests, and the near calamity of diagnostic errors.


It always amazes me whenever I have an encounter with human medicine that they rarely do a physical exam outside of an ER.  I’ve been to primary care appointments that consist of talking about symptoms and then ordering tests.  This book discusses the decline in the role of hands on contact with patients and what doctors are missing because of it.

As a veterinarian, physical exam is sometimes all we have.  I’d love to run all the tests that human doctors do in order to get the information that they have but that isn’t always financially feasible.  On the other hand I get phone calls from people who have an over-inflated confidence in my clairvoyance.  “Doctor, my dog isn’t eating.  What’s wrong with him?”

The answer in my head every time – “How the $%#@ should I know?  Put him on the phone and let me ask him.”

What I actually say – “That can be a sign of a lot of different illnesses.  I really need to see him to start to figure out what is wrong.”

There is also a lot of information here about taking a good history.  This can be hard because people are ashamed to tell the truth or they misinterpret things and present them as facts that aren’t actually true.  I had a person in last week who seemed very confident in his knowledge about his dog until you actually listened to what he was saying.  Every sentence was complete and utter medical nonsense but it was presented with such conviction that I found myself thinking momentarily that maybe I was wrong and you can see bacteria with the naked eye.  The opposite of this is the person (very common) who waits to tell you the key piece of information that will unlock the puzzle until you have put your stethoscope in your ears.  I have all my assistants trained to tell me everything anyone says while I’m listening to a heart as soon as I take the stethoscope out.  It is always important.

In addition to the author’s discussions about not interrupting patients while getting a history, I will add my favorite history taking advice.  Ask the children.  They see things and they love to have information that adults don’t.  They aren’t shy about sharing it either.

Me, looking at a vomiting dog:  “Did he eat anything unusual that you know of?”

Mom:  “No, he doesn’t do that.”

Kid:  “He ate my Barbie’s arm off yesterday and Daddy’s has been feeding him Slim Jims every day.  We aren’t supposed to tell.”

I don’t know how many domestic disputes have been started by kids coming clean in the vet’s office.

If you aren’t a medical person, this book is still interesting because it contains a lot of medical mysteries.  The author was a consultant for the T.V. show House and writes a column about medical mysteries so she has lots of stories to tell.  I was particularly proud that I knew the answer to the first one in the book.  It had been drilled into me in vet school.  I’ve never seen it in real life but I always think of it.  I’m glad I finally found a use for that piece of knowledge.

 

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
20 Feb, 2017

Sworn to Raise

/ posted in: Reading Sworn to Raise Sworn to Raise by Terah Edun
Published by All Night Reads on April 8th 2013
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Young Adult
Pages: 275
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Goodreads

Seventeen-year-old Ciardis Vane grew up in a small village on the edge of the realm. Beautiful, destitute, and desperate she is looking to get out anyway she can. She has worked her whole live as a laundress with no hope of escaping her fate anytime soon.

But then her life changes when a strange woman appears with the key to Ciardis' escape. With an offer to take her to the capital and a life she'd never dreamed of, it's hard to resist. There's only one catch.

She wants Ciardis to become a companion: she'll be required to wear expensive dresses, learn to conduct suitable magic, educate herself oncourt proclivities, and - in the end - chain herself to the highestbidder. A Patron for life.


This is a book that I loved until I didn’t.

The beginning of the story drew me in quickly.  I loved the writing and the story of a girl who is discovered in the laundry and trained to be a courtesan.

She is the last of a family of powerful mages.  She has the ability to amplify the magic of anyone else.  This is very attractive in a companion.  Companions are chosen for life.  The Patron may go through multiple marriages but companions stay by their side as business partners and sometimes as romantic partners.  Ciardis peaks the interest of both men and women interested in her powers.

Then, about halfway through the story, it started to lag.  It started slipping into too many tropes for my liking.  The Prince is in disguise!  Ciardis doesn’t realize how powerful she is!  There are evil people advising the King!  Any of these could be worked into a good story but this book didn’t seem to go deep enough.  It was like it was hitting the highlights of what should be in a fantasy book.

I did like the fact that there was no romance in this book.  That is a nice change of pace.  I have a feeling that it will change in future books but it was nice for now.

I am still intrigued enough in the overall story to give the next book a try.  The reviews on Goodreads suggest that it is better than the first one.  So far there are nine books in this series.  I can’t imagine where this could be going that requires that many but I’m willing to be surprised.

About Terah Edun

Terah’s work has taken her from communities in Morocco to refugee centers in South Sudan. She is both an international development worker and a New York Times bestselling author of young adult novels. Hailing from Atlanta, GA and currently living in Washington, D.C. her favorite place to be is in front of the computer communicating the stories of underprivileged individuals around the world – both fictional and representative.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • POC authors
15 Feb, 2017

3 by Hannah Moskowitz

/ posted in: Reading 3 by Hannah Moskowitz 3 by Hannah Moskowitz
on October 31st 2016
Genres: Young Adult
Pages: 261
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Goodreads
Setting: Florida

Taylor Cipriano had everything figured out, back when she lived with her single mother in Miami. Now, she's moved upstate for her junior year to live with her mom's boyfriend and her soon-to-be-stepsister and is trying to figure out who she is out of the shadow of her best friend. When she meets Theo—quirky, cute, sensitive Theo—he seems like a great match...except he has a girlfriend. Josey, icy and oh-so-intimidating.
But Theo and Josey aren't like anyone Taylor's met before; Josey grew up in a polyamorous family, and the two of them have a history of letting a third person in to their relationship. It's nothing Taylor's ever considered before...but she really likes Theo.
Her feelings for Josey, though?
That's where it really gets complicated.


I have a few things that I consider to be true about my reading life.

  1. YA books generally annoy me.
  2. I especially don’t like YA contemporary books.
  3. I hate, hate, hate love triangles.

I hate to have to rethink long held beliefs about myself.  I’m going to have to though.  I’ve been enjoying some YA contemporary books lately.

I loved this book.  I loved it even though this is an actual love triangle.  Maybe I don’t hate it because no one is choosing who to love and is just agreeing to love everyone.  It isn’t a competition.

Taylor is a junior when she moves to a new town.  She meets Theo and Josey.  She is warned that they are weird but she likes Theo a lot.  When they explain to her that they are polyamorous, she doesn’t know what that means.  In their relationship that means that they are open to other partners.

Other people misunderstand the intent behind the relationship.  They feel that it is unfair for Theo to have two girls that he is using.  They think that it means that Taylor is open to sleeping with any one.  Taylor is nervous that her involvement will feed into stereotypes of Latinas being The Other Women.

What I found most interesting about this book is that I believed it.  I wasn’t mocking the author’s attempts to make it seem like this was a real relationship that wasn’t exploiting anyone because it felt real.  I could see how this relationship could work.  It worked better than a lot of two person relationships I’ve read about in books.  There were no major misunderstandings that could be resolved just by talking to each other.  There was no game playing to make someone else jealous or insecure.  It felt age appropriate.

My only complaint about this book was Josey’s obsession with vet school that didn’t make any sense at all.  I ranted about that all in this post.

 

About Hannah Moskowitz

Hannah Moskowitz wrote her first story, about a kitten named Lilly on the run from cat hunters, for a contest when she was seven years old. She was disqualified for violence. Her first book, BREAK, was on the ALA’s 2010 list of Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults, and her book GONE, GONE, GONE won a Stonewall Honor in 2013. She lives in Maryland.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • LBGTQ authors/characters
02 Feb, 2017

Black Titan – The Story of A.G. Gaston

/ posted in: Reading Black Titan – The Story of A.G. Gaston Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins, Elizabeth Gardner Hines
on December 2003
Genres: 20th Century, Biography & Autobiography, Civil Rights, History, Nonfiction
Pages: 330
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Goodreads
Setting: Alabama

The grandson of slaves, born into poverty in 1892 in the Deep South, A. G. Gaston died more than a century later with a fortune worth well over $130 million and a business empire spanning communications, real estate, and insurance. Gaston was, by any measure, a heroic figure whose wealth and influence bore comparison to J. P. Morgan and Andrew Carnegie. Here, for the first time, is the story of the life of this extraordinary pioneer, told by his niece and grandniece, the award-winning television journalist Carol Jenkins and her daughter Elizabeth Gardner Hines.


I had never heard of A.G. Gaston before this book showed up on Book Bub last year.  I’m glad I found out about him.  He had a remarkable life.

A.G. Gaston’s grandparents were slaves.  His grandfather worked with horses and his grandmother was an accomplished cook.  These were considered “privileged” positions.  When slavery ended they stayed on working for the family that previously owned them.  His grandmother taught his mother to cook and she also earned a living working for wealthy white families as a live-in cook and as a sought after caterer.  This put A.G. in contact with wealth at a young age.

When he was young there were two broad schools of thought about black advancement.  Booker T. Washington believed that black people should stay where they were and work hard to advance economically before looking for social equality.  W.E.B. DuBois believed in fighting for social equality and letting the “talented tenth” of black elites raise up the rest of the community.  A.G. Gaston spent his life firmly in Booker T. Washington’s camp.

After serving in WWI, he returned to Alabama and couldn’t find a good job.  He had to take work in the mines.  He saw widows begging for money to pay for their miner husbands’ funerals.  He started a burial insurance business.  From there he bought funeral homes.  Eventually he started a bank for black people and a business training school.

He was in his seventies and wealthy when the civil rights movement game to Birmingham.  He owned the only black hotel so Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference set up shop there.  I got the impression that he thought they were young radical whippersnappers.  He argued for moderation.  He wanted to negotiate instead of marching.  But, he was the person that repeatedly bailed them out of jail – whether they wanted bailed out or not.  He also argued vehemently against involving children in the marches and then secured the bond for the release of all the children jailed.  People spoke of him as being too deferential to the white businessmen, especially if they didn’t know that he was bankrolling a lot of the protests.

His hotel was bombed.   His house was bombed.  (He said he couldn’t be sure if it was white or black people who wanted to bomb his house.)  Bombs were set at other of his properties but were found before they went off.  He let the marchers on the way to Selma camp on one of farms one night.  He was even kidnapped.

After the protests moved away from Birmingham, he stayed and continued to serve the community.  He was a philanthropist.  Eventually he sold his business empire to his employees for a tenth of its worth to maintain local black control.

A.G. Gaston died at the age of 103.  His story is amazing.  He should definitely be better known.
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Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • POC authors
27 Jan, 2017

Graphic Novels

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • POC authors
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