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12 Dec, 2017

The Promise Kitchen

/ posted in: Reading The Promise Kitchen The Promise Kitchen by Peggy Lampman
on August 16th 2016
Pages: 380
Genres: Fiction
Published by Lake Union Publishing
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: Georgia

Shelby Preston, a young single mother, is at a crossroads. She feels suffocated by her hardscrabble life in rural Georgia and dreams of becoming a professional chef. Lord knows her family could use a pot of something good.
In Atlanta, Mallory Lakes is reeling from a bad breakup. The newspaper food columnist is also bracing for major changes at work that could put her job at risk. Determined to find the perfect recipe for how to reinvent herself, she gets involved in the growing farm-to-table movement. But an emotional setback threatens to derail everything she’s worked for. Shelby and Mallory couldn’t be more different. But through their shared passion for food, they form an unlikely friendship—a bond that just might be their salvation.

Goodreads

This book has been sitting on my ereader for a long time.  Now I’m upset that I didn’t read it sooner.

Shelby is a young single mother who follows food blogger Mallory and loves to make her recipes.  She wants to be a chef but that would require her to leave her daughter with her mother in southern Georgia and move to Atlanta to work and go to school.

The newspaper Mallory writes for has just moved totally online and she has thrown herself into creating a new, indispensable, digital persona.

Shelby and Mallory cross paths at the grocery where Shelby gets a job.  Their lives start to intersect more and more until the day when they are bound together by an accident.

The writing in this book was very beautifully done and pulled me in immediately.  I loved the contrast between the poor, rural Shelby who dreams of a better life and urban Mallory.  One of the themes in the book that haven’t seen written about much in foodie fiction was the accessibility of foodie culture.  Shelby decides which of the meals that she will make based on what is available and affordable at her local grocery store.  She talks about how she understands that Mallory feels that all the produce needs to be organic but that isn’t possible for her.  When Shelby tries to get a job in a deli at the grocery store, she wears her best clothes for the interview but realizes that they are shabby compared to the affluent people she sees there.  The grocery store in question just rebranded as an upscale store, losing some neighborhood clients in the process.

Overall, I wasn’t as invested in the story by the end as I was in the beginning.  I wasn’t a fan of the romance angle for Mallory or of the accident plot that seemed like it wasn’t necessary.  However, I think that the well done characterizations of Shelby and the secondary characters is still enough to recommend this book.


There are recipes in the back of this book like there are in a lot of books that feature food.  But guys, I actually made one of the recipes.  I know, shocking, right.  I think that reading all the people who link up at the Foodies Read pages is getting to me.

There was a recipe for Pimento Cheese.  I eat 99% vegan at home but back in time I really did love some pimento cheese.  I decided to try to veganize it.  I used vegan mayo and Daiya cheddar shreds.  I love Just Mayo’s vegan mayo but I actually hate Daiya fake cheese.  I think they taste like wax.  There wasn’t another cheddar selection in the store though so I gave it a try.

It was amazing!  Totally had the right taste and texture.  I can’t take attractive food pictures to save my life and I contend that there is nothing that can make pimento cheese photogenic anyway, but here it is.

IMG_0038.JPG

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in North America
  • Foodies Read 2017
10 Nov, 2017

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope by William Kamkwamba, Bryan Mealer
on September 29, 2009
Pages: 292
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by HarperCollins
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: Malawi

William Kamkwamba was born in Malawi, Africa, a country plagued by AIDS and poverty. Like most people in his village, his family subsisted on the meager crops they could grow, living without the luxuries—consider necessities in the West—of electricity or running water. Already living on the edge, the situation became dire when, in 2002, Malawi experienced the worst famine in 50 years. Struggling to survive, 14-year-old William was forced to drop out of school because his family could not afford the $80-a-year tuition.Though he was not in a classroom, William continued to think, learn—and dream. Armed with curiosity, determination, and a library book he discovered in a nearby library, he embarked on a daring plan—to build a windmill that could bring his family the electricity only two percent of Malawians could afford. Using scrap metal, tractor parts, and blue-gum trees, William forged a crude yet working windmill, an unlikely hand-built contraption that would successfully power four light bulbs and two radios in his family’s compound. Soon, news of his invention spread, attracting interest and offers of help from around the world. Not only did William return to school but he and was offered the opportunity to visit wind farms in the United States, much like the ones he hopes to build across Africa.

Goodreads

This story started slow for me.  I’m not a fan of detailed description of childhood in memoirs unless you were doing something very interesting as a child.  Most people aren’t.

The main point of this story started with a drought and subsequent famine that hit Malawi in the early 2000s.  It was devastating.  The author’s family was no longer able to afford his school fees so he had to drop out.  He wanted to continue his education so he went to a library and started to read the books there.  He applied what he learned in a basic physics book to build a windmill from spare parts.  This allowed his family to have lights in their house for the first time.  He went on to build other windmills to pump water for irrigation and personal use, freeing up hours a day that were otherwise spent going to and from wells. He even made cell phone charging stations.

The dynamo had given me a small taste of electricity, and that made me want to figure out how to create my own. Only 2 percent of Malawians have electricity, and this is a huge problem. Having no electricity meant no lights, which meant I could never do anything at night, such as study or finish my radio repairs, much less see the roaches, mice, and spiders that crawled the walls and floors in the dark. Once the sun goes down, and if there’s no moon, everyone stops what they’re doing, brushes their teeth, and just goes to sleep. Not at 10:00 P.M., or even nine o’clock—but seven in the evening! Who goes to bed at seven in the evening? Well, I can tell you, most of Africa.

 

This part of the story was interesting.  He was dedicated to the idea of building his windmill but scavenging the parts took a long time.  It showed a lot of ingenuity.

Screen Shot 2017-11-09 at 8.29.59 PM

One strange section was about witchcraft.  He reports it as fact.

The previous famine had led to reports in the southern region that the government was banding with packs of vampires to steal people’s blood, then selling it to international aid groups.

 

Following the strange beast of Dowa, many people across Malawi reported having their private parts stolen in the night, many of them waking up in the morning with their sheets bloody. Men who’d been drinking in bars were the easiest targets. As they stumbled home in the darkness, an evil creature—perhaps a gang of witch children—would pull them behind a tree and remove their parts with a knife. It was later revealed that most of the victims had been virgins, and their parts had been sold to witches, Satan worshippers, and business tycoons.

 

This often happens while we sleep—the witch children can take our heads and return them before morning, all without us knowing. It’s a serious problem.

 

He was accused of witchcraft for making electricity from the wind.  A bad storm came and the windmill was spinning rapidly.  People accused him of causing storms. 

This book was published in 2009. Since then William has graduated from college. He has an NGO to support community based projects around his hometown. On his webpage you can even donate to the library where he found his physics book.

This is a great story of innovation and survival.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in Africa
  • POC authors
08 Nov, 2017

Made for Me

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Made for Me Made for Me by Kathryn R. Biel
on October 4th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Love & Romance
Published by Kathryn R. Biel
Format: eBook
Source: Owned

Michele's lack of focus in life hasn't bothered her, until the day she finds herself with mounting credit card debt, unable to afford her rent, and without a job. While her meddling family questions how she can end up in this predicament, at the age of 29, and single to boot, Michele doesn't want to admit the truth. All she wants to do is sew.
Faced with the prospect of moving back into her parents' house, Michele throws a Hail Mary pass and applies for a TV design contest, Made for Me. In order to win the contest, Michele will have to compete with nine other contestants to design the new wardrobe for Duchess Maryn Medrovovich, who's about to marry Prince Stephan of the United Republic of Montabago.
While in the seclusion of the show, Michele starts to realize where her focus in life should be, and what's truly important to her. However, a dashing competitor might just cause her to lose her focus once and for all. Can Michele keep her eye on the prize while being true to herself?

Goodreads

I’ve mostly been reviewing very serious books lately so I decided to throw in some lighter fare to prove that I haven’t lost my love of pink books.

Made for Me starts this series of related books.  Each one features a secondary character from the previous books. 

This book was pure fun.  It is set on a Project Runway knock-off reality show called Made for Me.  (The contestants aren’t allowed to mention Project Runway by name.)  Every challenge is to make a look for a commoner who is about to marry into the royal family of an European country.  The winner will win a job as her designer for a year.

The fun of this book is mixing in the competition aspect of the reality show with the chick lit standards of finding yourself and maybe finding love. 

What I didn’t like was the attitude that the main character had about a bisexual contestant.  She voiced a lot of stereotypical thoughts about him.  She assumed that he would be unfaithful in an monogamous relationship purely because he was bisexual.  That’s a stereotype that I thought we were all moving past but it still lives here.  It is challenged lightly. 

Besides that, this one was cute and fun.  I’d recommend it.


Made for Me New Attitude by Kathryn R. Biel
on March 14th 2017
Published by Kathryn R. Biel

As if it's not bad enough that I didn't win the reality design TV show I was on, try coming home to a one word note indicating that my ten-year marriage is over. So here I am, a suddenly single mother in my mid-thirties, doing what everyone advises me to do—have a fling. Except it doesn't go as planned, so I do the next best thing, which is sit on the couch and mope. But having to provide for a five-year-old doesn't let me stay home for too long. Before I know it, I'm back to dying my hair wild colors and trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life.
Except Tony, the fling that wasn't, keeps popping up in the most unlikely places and won't leave me alone. I'd like to be strong—I'm way too old for him—but he's cute and funny and sexy and oh, my ex is getting married to a girl named Bambi. All I know is the way I'm doing things isn't working. If I want to be happy again, I'm going to need to get a new attitude.

Goodreads


This book follows another contestant from Made for Me when she goes home after the show.  Her husband has left her and she needs to decide what to do with her life.

Starting out I liked this book more than the first one.  Kira is older and has a child.  She has to get herself together and act like a grown up.  I appreciate that in a book. 

I wasn’t thrilled about the end of this book.  It took the plot to a place I’m not fond of.  The book also seemed to treat the main character of Made for Me as more flightly and unprofessional than she was made out to be in the first book.


Made for Me Once in a Lifetime by Kathryn R. Biel

Ten years ago, the Sassy Cats were at the top of the charts until Callie Smalls walked away to pursue her career in fashion and television. The other four members—Angie, Tabitha, Mandy, and Daphne—were left to fend for themselves and continue on with their lives.That is, until the day when Callie decides to book a gig for the group at a major music festival, without talking to her former band mates. Scattered across the country, at different points in life, can they rekindle the magic in the music?A soccer mom who's husband doesn't know about her past. A fading star, sacrificing all to stay in the spotlight just one second more. A party girl, challenged with her most important role yet. A tiger mom, fighting for her son. A desperate woman, unhappy and alone. A lot can change in the course of a decade. Will it be harmony or hatred for the Sassy Cats?

Goodreads


This book looks at the life of the host from the Made for Me TV show.  This was a more difficult book for me to get into because of the completely unlikeable main character.  

I also wasn’t a fan of some of the romance here.  It seemed very forced.  The relationship was argumentative and somehow that was supposed to clue us all in that they loved each other.  Not a story line that I’m very fond of. 

The relationship that I did like was the mother of the autistic child.  She had to let go of her attempts to control the situation and accept help from her husband.  That felt very realistic to me. 

Overall, I’d say read Made for Me and maybe skip the other two.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
24 Oct, 2017

Little Soldiers

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Little Soldiers Little Soldiers: An American Boy, a Chinese School, and the Global Race to Achieve by Lenora Chu
on September 19th 2017
Pages: 368
Length: 11:30
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Harper
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible
Setting: China

When American mom Lenora Chu moved to China with her little boy, she faced a tough decision. China produced some of the world’s top academic achievers, and just down the street from her home in Shanghai was THE school, as far as elite Chinese were concerned. Should Lenora entrust her rambunctious young son to the system?
So began Rainey’s immersion in one of the most radical school systems on the planet. Almost immediately, the three-year-old began to develop surprising powers of concentration, became proficient in early math, and learned to obey his teachers’ every command. Yet Lenora also noticed disturbing new behaviors: Where he used to scribble and explore, Rainey grew obsessed with staying inside the lines. He became fearful of authority figures, and also developed a habit of obeisance outside of school. “If you want me to do it, I’ll do it,” he told a stranger who’d asked whether he liked to sing.
What was happening behind closed classroom doors? Driven by parental anxiety, Lenora embarked on a journalistic mission to discover: What price do the Chinese pay to produce their “smart” kids? How hard should the rest of us work to stay ahead of the global curve? And, ultimately, is China’s school system one the West should emulate?
She pulls the curtain back on a military-like education system, in which even the youngest kids submit to high-stakes tests, and parents are crippled by the pressure to compete (and sometimes to pay bribes). Yet, as mother-and-son reach new milestones, Lenora uncovers surprising nuggets of wisdom, such as the upside of student shame, how competition can motivate achievement, and why a cultural belief in hard work over innate talent gives the Chinese an advantage.
Lively and intimate, beautifully written and reported, Little Soldiers challenges our assumptions and asks us to reconsider the true value and purpose of education.

Goodreads

The author is the first generation American daughter of Chinese immigrants.  She had a hard time reconciling her parents’ attitude toward education with her American school experiences.  Now she and her American husband moved to Shanghai just in time for their oldest child to join the Chinese school system at age 3.  Should he go to the state school or should they send him to an international school?

The book follows the first few years of Rainey’s Chinese education.  It both affirms and challenges what the author thought she knew about Chinese education.  From the first days when the children are continually threatened by the teachers with arrest or not being allowed to see their parents again if they don’t sit still to the teenage years and the national obsession with the college entrance test, she examines the effect of authoritarian teaching.  The results surprised her.

I come from a family of teachers.  What I learned from this book is that being a teacher in China is way better than being a teacher in the U.S.

  • Teachers are to be highly respected.  The proper response to a request by a teacher to a parent is, “Yes, teacher.  You work so hard, teacher.”
  • Bribery and gift gifting to teachers are both expected and illegal.  These aren’t little gifts either.  Vacations, gift cards with a month’s salary on it, and luxury goods are considered appropriate.

She talks about the other downsides of Chinese teaching, besides the threats.

  • Force feeding children
  • Public shaming
  • No help for special needs kids
  • Crushing amounts of homework and additional classes with tutors that start as young as age 3
  • Indoctrination in Chinese nationalism and communism
  • Rote rule following and stifling of creatively

On the plus side, there is:

  • Well behaved children who respect their elders
  • Fluency in written and spoken Mandarin and English before high school age
  • Advanced math skills

She talks to migrant parents who have left children at home in the rural areas of China in order to be able to afford their education.  She talks to teenagers who are preparing for the college entrance exams and have differing takes on how to get ahead. 

Ultimately she decides to leave Rainey in Chinese school up until 6th grade if he is still doing well.  He will learn Mandarin almost fully by then and be strong in math.  He will escape the pressures of the high school and college entrance exams that can crush students.  They will continue to preach thinking for himself at home.

I did enjoy this look at education across China.  I’d recommend it for anyone interested in educational theory.  The narration was very well done in both Chinese and English. 

 

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Books Set in Asia
  • POC authors
11 Oct, 2017

Oakland Arcana: Awakening

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Oakland Arcana:  Awakening Oakland Arcana: Awakening by Renae Jones
on October 2, 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Format: eBook
Source: Owned

The world is complicated. Power is currency, lives are cheap.   Hephzibah Euphrasia Joséphine d'Albret hates her name. She hates the life she comes from, the fourth daughter of a legendary family—and, perilously, the one with negligible magical potential. And that suits her fine. Fleeing the Authority allows her to choose her own path: software engineer and startup founder. Finally, Zizi’s found a life she loves. One that doesn’t care about the magic she doesn’t have. Unfortunately for her, Zizi is all Oakland has. With misfit allies and lethal enemies around every corner, an encyclopedic understanding of magic theory, and serious amounts of snark, can this Sorceress possibly survive the summer?

Goodreads

Zizi is used to being considered a failure.  She’s the powerless youngest daughter of a powerful Sorceress.  Sorceresses bond with cities and use their power to protect them.  Zizi was trained for the role since birth just like her sisters.  But she never was able to do much magic and she left that world behind.  At least she did until that night a year ago with too much tequila when she bonded with the city of Oakland.

I heard about this book on Twitter.  I was in as soon as I heard the author’s description of Oakland (and all the cities) as distinct sentient beings.

This book was great.  Zizi hasn’t told anyone that she is bonded to Oakland.  She knows that is going to bring down all kinds of bureaucratic nightmares down on her.  No one suspects it because Oakland as been unbonded for thirty years.  But now there are all kinds of weird things going on in Oakland and Zizi needs help.  She needs an Arcana.

Arcanas are the groups of magical helpers that surround Sorceresses.  Zizi doesn’t want one.  Most Sorceresses use their power to bond their Arcana to them.  They can compel their people to do what they want.  The main way they do this is through Earth magic and sex.  Zizi wants nothing to do with this and starts to assemble a team that wants out of the old ways of doing things too.

The characters in this book are fresh takes on many of the common types seen in urban fantasy books.  The vampires are truly vicious but also do a lot of their business at Taco Tuesday/Cowboy Karaoke Night.  (“Don’t do Dolly if you can’t stick the landing” might now be my favorite mixed metaphor ever.)  There is a kraken in a lake raising an orphaned capricorn even though the baby is a vegetarian and the kraken is disturbed by that.  There is a weretiger pack in Chinatown.

The book starts with Zizi having been the secret Sorceress for a year.  Sometimes it can feel like maybe you missed a previous book when she refers to events in the past but this is the first one.  I loved the combination of sassiness and smarts that Zizi has.  She’s very smart and took her magical training seriously growing up so she has the theoretical knowledge she needs even if she doesn’t have the power that would help get everything done.  She’s very funny.  I found myself highlighting a lot of lines in the e-book.  I liked the idea of a sex-positive bisexual heroine who is adamant that she is not going to use sex to get things done.

I’m looking forward to seeing where this series goes in the future.

My only criticism is that there are a few typos, grammatical errors, and misspelled words in the book but I loved this book so much that I’m forgiving that.

About Renae Jones

Renae Jones is driven by an epic, multipart goal

  1. Invent the most fascinating characters she can.
  2. Put those characters in awe-inspiring science fiction or fantasy setting.
  3. Fit those characters together like we’re playing personality Tetris.
  4. And follow them through a complicated adventure of near-death experiences and self-discovery.

Bonus points if those characters are quirky, weird, cranky, neurotic, sassy or have anger management issues. 

Beyond writing, she also loves her dog, over-ambitious home improvement projects, painting, doing weird things to her hair, and data analytics.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
  • LBGTQ authors/characters
03 Oct, 2017

The Blood of Patriots

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Blood of Patriots The Blood of Patriots: How I Took Down an Anti-Government Militia with Beer, Bounty Hunting, and Badassery by Bill Fulton, Jeanne Devon
on September 19th 2017
Pages: 300
Narrator: Bill Fulton
Length: 9:20
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by BenBella Books
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Alaska

For Bill Fulton, being a soldier was his identity. He was called to protect and serve. So when the Army wanted to send him to Alaska, he went—they had never steered him wrong, after all.
After an involuntary medical discharge, Fulton was adrift until he started a military surplus store in Anchorage, where he also took on fugitive recovery missions. He was back on his feet, working with other badasses and misfits he considered brothers. He took pride in his business, with a wife and daughters at home. His life was happy and full.
But when a customer revealed he planned to attack a military recruiting station, Fulton had to make a choice: turn a blind eye and hope for the best or risk his safety, his reputation, and his business by establishing contact with his customers’ arch nemesis: the FBI.
He chose the latter, and his life changed forever.

Goodreads

The beginning of this book sounded familiar to me – like really, really familiar.  Like the author, all my husband ever wanted to do was be a soldier until he was physically unable to do it any more.  He was also in Alaska for a while.  Their stories were so similar that I made him start listening to the audiobook too.  He totally identified. 

After the Army is where their paths diverged.  The author opened a bouncing service that grew into a military surplus store and then a bounty hunting group while giving jobs to veterans who were having a hard time readjusting to civilian life.  All of it came crashing down after he decided to help the FBI expose a militia in Fairbanks that had a plan to kill judges and their families.  No good deed goes unpunished.

This book alternates between being really funny and being extremely horrifying. 

It helps you get into the mindset of people who are convinced that the government is coming after them.  There are people who think that hit squads have been sent after them so they have booby trapped their houses.  None of them tend to be important enough for anyone to take notice of until they lay out their plans to “defend themselves” in paramilitary style.  Even worse are those who are going to strike first before the government comes for them.

One of the most frustrating parts for me to read was when the author was being vilified by the left-leaning journalists he admired because of a run-in with an unidentified journalist while he was working security.  Later when it became known that he was an FBI informant the media got his story all wrong again.  He couldn’t defend himself either time.  It has to be frustrating to be being talked about on TV when people have the basic facts and motivations for your actions wrong and make no attempt to talk to you and find out the facts.  Hopefully, this book helps set the record straight.

Things I had confirmed while reading this book:

  • Living in Alaska isn’t for me
  • There are some really paranoid people out there and they have guns
  • Veterans need a welcoming, nonjudgmental space like his store became
  • Make sure you have your facts right before condemning people

This is a book that I would recommend for everyone.  The topics discussed are important and aren’t covered enough. 

Bill Fulton narrates his own story.  He does a good job for an author-narrator. 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

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

Map, or Holy Cow I Like a Poetry Book!

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

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

Goodreads

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

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

Unbroken Line of the Moon – Women in Translation Month

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Unbroken Line of the Moon – Women in Translation Month The Unbroken Line of the Moon by Johanne Hildebrandt, Tara F. Chace
on October 1, 2016
Pages: 464
Series: Sagan om Valhalla #4
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: Sweden

In this grand saga of love, war, and magic set in the tenth century, young Sigrid is destined to be the mother of the king of the Nordic lands that would become Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and England.
A devout believer in the old Nordic gods, Sigrid is visited regularly in her dreams by the goddess Freya, who whispers to her of the future. Though Sigrid is beautiful, rich, arrogant, and matchlessly clever, her uncanny ability to foresee the future and manipulate the present guides her through dangerous politics as a bloody war between Vikings and Christians rages on.
Sigrid’s father wants her to marry Erik, a local king, to secure the peace between the Goths and the Swedes. Thinking she is doing Freya’s will, she accepts the marriage offer, only to find that her destiny lies not with Erik but with Sweyn, a warrior who dreams of dethroning Harald Bluetooth, the legendary ruler of Denmark. Will Sigrid sacrifice her will for the greatest Viking kingdom of all time, or will she follow her heart at the risk of losing everything?

Goodreads

I got this book for free through the Kindle First program for Amazon Prime members.  That’s a great way to try out some translated books since usually at least one of the selections are translated.

This book 4 of a series published in Sweden but it is the first book available in English.  The next book the series is going to be translated later in 2017.  I’m not sure what the first few books cover but I didn’t feel like I was missing anything by starting the story at this point.

This book is set during the time of the Vikings and everyone knows that they were awful.  That aspect of Viking life is not sugar coated here.  There is a lot of violence.  There are graphic descriptions of multiple gang rapes.

Despite that, I did enjoy this story.  I haven’t read much set during this time in Scandinavia when there was conflict between traditional Nordic beliefs and Christianity.    True believers on both sides are coming across people who will switch religions for personal or political gain.

If you like Game of Thrones style fantasy or historical fiction you will probably enjoy this book.

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in Europe
04 Aug, 2017

The Cost of Sugar – Women in Translation Month

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Cost of Sugar – Women in Translation Month The Cost of Sugar by Cynthia McLeod
on January 7th 2011
Pages: 296
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Published by HopeRoad
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: Surinam

The Cost of Sugar is an intriguing history of those rabid times in Dutch Surinam between 1765-1779 when sugar was king.Told through the eyes of two Jewish step sisters, Eliza and Sarith, descendants of the settlers of 'New Jerusalem of the River' know today as Jodensvanne. The Cost of Sugar is a frank expose of the tragic toll on the lives of colonists and slaves alike.

Goodreads

This is the second novel that I have read by Cynthia McLeod.  She is a hard author for me to review.  On one hand I love the stories that she tells.  She gives you a look into life in colonial Suriname, on the northeast coast of South America.  She tells stories that I haven’t heard from any other author.  The previous book I read of hers, The Free Negress Elisabeth, is a story that has stayed in my mind because it is the type of women’s history that is so often overlooked.  I want to put her books in everyone’s hands and tell them they have to hear about this.

On the other hand though, the writing in the books just isn’t very good.  Clunky is the word that keeps coming to mind.  I’m reading an English translation from the Dutch but I don’t think that is the whole issue.  She is so careful to have so much documented historical fact in the books that she info-dumps continuously.  That doesn’t usually bother me in a story but these passages aren’t blended into the fictional story that she is telling well.  She even has footnotes.  I’m not sure what the footnotes were about because many of them weren’t translated.  The untranslated ones appeared to be quotes.

I’ve had this book for a long time before reading it.  I tried to start it a few times but the writing style made me stop after a few pages.  I decided to knuckle down and read it for Women in Translation Month.  Once I decided to power through, I read it in less than a day.  The story carries you through.

One early wave of settlers to Suriname were Portuguese Jews who migrated from Brazil.  They set up large plantations and did well for themselves.  Subsequent waves of settlers from Holland though were anti-Semitic and over time the Jewish families found themselves not at the top of society anymore.  This is the story of two half-sisters, one had two Jewish parents and one had only a Jewish father so was not considered Jewish herself. The story shows how their lives diverge as Suriname begins to deal with the effects of people living too far in debt for them to maintain. 

White people in Suriname did nothing for themselves.  There were so many more enslaved people than white people that whites gave all responsibilities for running their lives to the slaves.  With nothing to do, they entertained themselves with lavish parties that lasted for weeks.  Gossip was rampant.  There wasn’t a single rich white person that I didn’t want to slap at some point in this book.

The Cost of Sugar refers to all the lives wasted in the plantation system – the enslaved people, the white landowners, the Dutch soldiers brought into protect the plantations, the escaped and free blacks living in the jungle.  It was a system that hurt everyone.

It now occurred to Elza that her family was in fact a model for all Suriname society. Wasn’t everyone and everything totally dependent on the slaves? Just as she felt so completely lost without Maisa, so the colony would be totally lost without its slaves. They did everything and knew everything, and the whites knew nothing and were incapable of anything. The whites needed the negroes, but the negroes didn’t need a single white person”

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in Latin America
  • POC authors
25 Jul, 2017

The Dreamhealers Series by MCA Hogarth

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Dreamhealers Series by MCA Hogarth Mindtouch by M.C.A. Hogarth
on June 15, 2013
Pages: 426
Series: Dreamhealers #1
Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction
Published by Studio MCAH
Format: eBook
Source: Owned, Playster

Seersana University is worlds-renowned for its xenopsychology program, producing the Alliance's finest therapists, psychiatric nurses and alien researchers. When Jahir, one of the rare and reclusive Eldritch espers, arrives on campus, he's unprepared for the challenges of a vast and multicultural society... but fortunately, second-year student Vasiht'h is willing to take him under his wing. Will the two win past their troubles and doubts and see the potential for a once-in-a-lifetime partnership?

Goodreads

M.C.A. Hogarth’s Pelted Universe is a place where humans genetically engineered human/animal hybrids.  These “pelted people” eventually fled from the humans on Earth out into space.  They set up a peaceful multicultural society across planets as life on Earth regressed.  Once humans started exploring space again, they found the species that they created had developed a rich society.

That is the premise for several series that she has written in this universe.  I read the series that starts with Earthrise last year so I was familiar with the world.  That series has a lot more action than this one.  I’m glad I started there to get a sense of the universe.  This series is very different.  It is a very quiet and sweet story two members of empathic species that form a deep bond.

The Eldrich are a mysterious humanoid species.  They have chosen to self-isolate on their planet.  They can read a person’s mind if they touch them so accidental touch is avoided at all cost.  They are also very long lived.  Their society is one of court intrigue and careful deception.  Few leave the planet and those that do are forbidden to talk about the society.

Jahir is an Eldrich who is studying for a xenopsychology degree.  He finds an unexpected roommate in Vasiht’h, a small centaur-like Galeash.  The Galeash speak mostly mind to mind.  They are aromantic and asexual-spectrum.  Vasiht’h takes Jahir under his wing to show him around the university.  They start to develop a bond that Vasiht’h has only heard about in stories – a mindline.  It is a very deep platonic bond between two soul mate empaths.  What will this mean for their lives?  Should they let this form if Jahir is going to live for centuries after Vasiht’h dies?

This book reads like a sweet romance novel without the romance.  Not much actually happens.  They make friends, go to school, volunteer, bake cookies, and eat ice cream.  I loved it though.  I’ve never read a book that celebrates aromantic relationships.  They are deciding if they are going to be life partners.


The Dreamhealers Series by MCA Hogarth Mindline by M.C.A. Hogarth
on December 14, 2013
Pages: 316
Series: Dreamhealers #2
Published by Studio MCAH

At the advice of Vasiht'h, his first and truest friend, Jahir Seni Galare has accepted one of the most coveted residencies in xenotherapy, even though doing so has severed him from all the relationships he's fostered since leaving his cloistered homeworld. But not all the simulations at school have prepared him for the reality of being an esper in a hospital large enough to serve the winter capital of the entire Alliance, and it's not long before he's questioning the wisdom of having left the university for the tumult of one of the largest port cities in the known worlds.

When Vasiht'h follows Jahir to Selnor, he's not sure whether his plan is to help his friend survive his residency, or to drag him back to Seersana University and into a less strenuous program. But a storm is coming to Heliocentrus, one they're uniquely positioned to address, and their nascent mental link is about to receive its first test in the crucible that will either forge their lifelong partnership—or kill them both.

Goodreads

This is the most action packed of the books.  They have started to get an idea of what they can do to help mental health while working with dreaming patients.  Now there is a series of comatose patients who present to the emergency department where Jahir is working.  No medical intervention is helping and they all die.  He is determined to help them but touching them when they are dying is draining the life from Jahir.

This book does a good job of addressing the need for self-care in healing professions. He is sick and working with these patients is harming him but what is his responsibility?


The Dreamhealers Series by MCA Hogarth Dreamhearth by M.C.A. Hogarth
on July 7, 2017
Series: Dreamhealers #3
Published by Studio MCAH

Jahir and Vasiht’h have earned their licenses as xenotherapists at last, and they have their hearts set on starting their practice in one of the Alliance’s most exciting and cosmopolitan destinations: a sector starbase. But dream therapy is a revolutionary treatment modality, and as esper practictioners they will have to work hard to win the trust of their community. Not only that, but they have a deadline: if they can’t prove themselves an asset to the starbase within six months, they’ll have to leave!

Goodreads

I hadn’t noticed until I wrote this review that this book was just published.  I guess I picked the right time to binge read the series!

One cute touch in this book is a novel that Vasiht’h‘s sisters give him to read.  It is supposedly a romance story between an Eldrich woman and a Pelted man.  They make fun of it through the novel for being poorly written.  The story was actually one of the first stories the author wrote as a teenager when she was imaging this universe.  It was never published because of the all the huge problems that the characters make fun of.  It was a funny touch.

More ice cream in this book and now there are scones in different flavors every day! 

This is still a quiet series where not a lot happens but it is fun to just learn about these characters and the people who they help. 

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
  • LBGTQ authors/characters
  • POC authors
29 Jun, 2017

Believe Me – The Wildest Audiobook Ever

/ posted in: Reading Believe Me – The Wildest Audiobook Ever Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens by Eddie Izzard
on June 13th 2017
Pages: 15
Length: 14:30
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Penguin Audio
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible, Owned

Critically acclaimed, award-winning British comedian and actor Eddie Izzard details his childhood, his first performances on the streets of London, his ascent to worldwide success on stage and screen, and his comedy shows which have won over audiences around the world.
Over the course of a thirty-year career, Eddie Izzard has proved himself to be a creative chameleon, inhabiting the stage and film and television screen with an unbelievable fervor. Born in Yemen and raised in Northern Ireland, Wales, and England, he lost his mother at the age of six—a devastating event that affected the rest of his life. In his teens, he dropped out of university and took to the streets of London as part of a comedy double act. When his partner went on vacation, Izzard kept busy by inventing a one-man escape act, and thus a solo career was ignited. As a stand-up comedian, Izzard has captivated audiences with his surreal, stream-of-consciousness comedy— lines such as “Cake or Death?” “Death Star Canteen,” and “Do You Have a Flag?” have the status of great rock lyrics. As a self-proclaimed “action transvestite,” Izzard broke a mold performing in makeup and heels, and has become as famous for his “total clothing” rights as he has for his art. In Believe Me, he recounts the dizzying rise he made from the streets of London to West End theaters, to Wembley Arena, Madison Square Garden, and the Hollywood Bowl.

Goodreads

I’m a huge Eddie Izzard fan.  That’s a requirement for listening to this audiobook.  If you think he is slightly funny or if you aren’t really sure if you know who he is, read the book but don’t listen to the audio yet.  I’ve never experienced an audiobook quite like this.  I think it is an audiobook that only could have been made by Eddie Izzard.

He is reading his book but he keeps getting distracted.  The tape just keeps rolling as he goes off on tangents – things that he remembers about what he was talking about in the book but didn’t write down; new things that have happened since he wrote the book; or just things that have popped into his head that are more interesting right now than the printed words of the book.  These include asking questions of the audio engineers and getting out his cell phone to Google the answer to questions he has. When he realizes how far afield he’s gone, he signals that he’s heading back to the text by saying, “End…Of…Footnote.”  I’m going to use that phrase from now on to close any rambling monologue I have.

Even as a fan I was bored by the beginning of the book.  His mother died when he was six and he was sent off to boarding school.  This is important but all the details of his childhood were not necessary.  I wanted to hear about how he got started performing and his later life.  Once he got to these sections, I was much more interested.

One thing I was curious about when picking up his book was hearing how he discusses his gender identity.  He’s famous for his “Executive Transvestite” routine.  I always think of this when people on Twitter get angry about the use of the term transvestite.  Eddie came out publicly in 1985.  He still uses the terms transvestite and transgender interchangeably when referring to himself.  I think of him as a person out living his life openly in public while others are fighting over terminology that he doesn’t care about.  I think if he was coming out now he would most likely be identified by others as genderfluid based on his descriptions of his life.

He’s an amazing person who has performed standup all over the world in several different languages, has raised millions for charity by running insane amounts of marathons back to back, and has had many serious dramatic roles in TV shows and movies.  He still thinks that he is a boring person who has made a choice to try to make himself more interesting by getting out and doing things.  You could do worse.

 

Rating Report
Story
Narration
Overall:

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Books Set in Europe
  • LBGTQ authors/characters
27 May, 2017

River of Teeth

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

Goodreads

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.

A post shared by Heather (@dvmheather) on


 

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
on October 25th 2016
Pages: 313
Genres: Fiction, Romance, Contemporary, LGBT
Published by Courtney Milan
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
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…

Goodreads

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
on August 19th 2014
Pages: 133
Genres: Fiction, Romance, Historical, General, Victorian
Published by Courtney Milan
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.

Goodreads


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
on November 1st 2016
Pages: 474
Series: Malayan #1
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Published by AmazonCrossing
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Also in this series: When the Future Comes Too Soon

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.

Goodreads

 

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
on May 24th 2016
Pages: 391
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Format: Hardcover
Source: Owned
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?

Goodreads


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
on April 4th 2017
Pages: 368
Length: 11:24
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Howard Books
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible, Owned

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.

Goodreads

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
on November 24th 2015
Pages: 304
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Published by Kensington
Format: Paperback
Source: Owned
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.

Goodreads

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
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.

Goodreads

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
Pages: 347
Genres: Fiction
Format: eBook
Source: Owned

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.

Goodreads

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
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?

Goodreads

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
on March 21st 2017
Pages: 304
Length: 7:12
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Dey Street Books
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible
Setting: Egypt

"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.

Goodreads

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
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