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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
25 Jan, 2017

Battle Hill Bolero

/ posted in: Reading Battle Hill Bolero Battle Hill Bolero by Daniel José Older
Series: Bone Street Rumba #3
on January 3, 2017
Genres: Fantasy & Magic
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: New York
Also in this series: Half-Resurrection Blues (Bone Street Rumba, #1), Midnight Taxi Tango (Bone Street Rumba, #2)

“Trouble is brewing between the Council of the Dead and the ghostly, half-dead, spiritual, and supernatural community they claim to represent. One too many shady deals have gone down in New York City’s streets, and those caught in the crossfire have had enough. It’s time for the Council to be brought down—this time for good. Carlos Delacruz is used to being caught in the middle of things: both as an inbetweener, trapped somewhere between life and death, and as a double agent for the Council. But as his friends begin preparing for an unnatural war against the ghouls in charge, he realizes that more is on the line than ever before—not only for the people he cares about, but for every single soul in Brooklyn, alive or otherwise…”


This is the third and final book in the Bone Street Rumba series.

It started with:

 

I love the world that Older created.  This is a diverse and exciting Brooklyn.  There are people of all different races and sexual orientations.  There are American Santeria priests working alongside Haitian doctors.  The women in these books are amazing.  They defy stereotypes and each is a distinct individual.

I’m not a person who tends to drool over book covers but seriously, look at this cover.  That is amazing. I want it on a T shirt.

Unfortunately, Older creates all these wonderful characters and then doesn’t seem to fully know what to do with them.  I’ve had this complaint about a lot of his books.  The plots are forgettable.  He writes a better sense of danger here than in Shadowshaper but it is still ultimately disappointing.  I would be interested to see if that is the case if this were read back to back instead of waiting months in between.

I think this might be a series that is best binge-read.  I found myself losing details of what happened before.  Minor characters that I barely remembered become important as the series progresses.  There is a list of characters in the front of the book but reminders of who they were weren’t worked into the story.  I prefer being reminded in the text instead of having to refer to a glossary of characters.

I would recommend this book to anyone who loves Urban Fantasy and great characterizations.

About Daniel José Older

“Daniel José Older is the author of the Bone Street Rumba urban fantasy series from Penguin’s Roc Books and the Young Adult novel Shadowshaper (Scholastic’s Arthur A. Levine Books, 2015). Publishers Weekly hailed him as a “rising star of the genre” after the publication of his debut ghost noir collection, Salsa NocturnaHe co-edited the anthology Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History. His short stories and essays have appeared in the Guardian, NPR, Tor.comSalonBuzzFeed, Fireside Fiction, the New Haven Review, PANK, Apex and Strange Horizons and the anthologies Subversion and Mothership: Tales Of Afrofuturism And Beyond. Daniel’s band Ghost Star gigs around New York and he teaches workshops on storytelling from an anti-oppressive power analysis.” – from his website

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • LBGTQ authors/characters
  • POC authors
24 Jan, 2017

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

/ posted in: Reading Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers on February 21st 2012
Genres: Young Adult
Pages: 359
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible, Owned
Goodreads
Setting: Texas

Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

Aristotle and Dante is a book that I have been hearing about for a long time but just finally listened to. This is a coming of age story of two Mexican-American boys set in El Paso Texas in the 1980s.

Ari is a loner with many questions about his family. He has a much older brother who went to jail when Ari was four. He doesn’t know why and his family refuses to talk about it. Ari’s father is a Vietnam veteran struggling with PTSD who is having difficulty communicating with his family.

Dante is the extroverted only child of expressive and loving parents. He loves poetry. He offers to teach Ari to swim when they meet at a public pool. Over the summer they become friends and then very gradually start to realize that they may be falling in love.

This is the story of Ari and Dante’s lives through one summer, the school year, and the next summer. There are everyday milestones like getting a driver’s license and having your first job in addition to larger issues.

  • How do you stand up to your parents so they start to see you as an adult?
  • How do you deal with unrequited love?
  • How do you most effectively face homophobia, including violence?
  • How do you learn to let yourself learn to feel and act on your emotions?
  • How do you deal with being too American for your Mexican relatives and too Mexican for other Americans?

Lin-Manuel Miranda reads the audiobook and does a very good job.  (There is a nice moment when Ari complains about learning about Alexander Hamilton that gets a bit meta when you hear Lin-Manuel Miranda read it.) This book is a bit slow on audio for my tastes.  In fact I set it aside for a few months after about the first hour.  I’m glad I came back to it because the story picked up but this is one that might be better in print form if you like a lot of action in your audiobooks.

In whatever format you decide this is a great book for everyone to read.

About Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Benjamin Alire Sáenz (born 16 August 1954) is an award-winning American poet, novelist and writer of children’s books.

He was born at Old Picacho, New Mexico, the fourth of seven children, and was raised on a small farm near Mesilla, New Mexico. He graduated from Las Cruces High School in 1972. That fall, he entered St. Thomas Seminary in Denver, Colorado where he received a B.A. degree in Humanities and Philosophy in 1977. He studied Theology at the University of Louvain in Leuven, Belgium from 1977 to 1981. He was a priest for a few years in El Paso, Texas before leaving the order.

In 1985, he returned to school, and studied English and Creative Writing at the University of Texas at El Paso where he earned an M.A. degree in Creative Writing. He then spent a year at the University of Iowa as a PhD student in American Literature.

He continues to teach in the Creative Writing Department at the University of Texas at El Paso.

from his website

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Backlist Books
  • LBGTQ authors/characters
  • POC authors
19 Jan, 2017

Labyrinth Lost

/ posted in: Reading Labyrinth Lost Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova
Series: Brooklyn Brujas #1
Published by Sourcebooks Fire on September 6th 2016
Genres: Fantasy & Magic
Pages: 336
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible, Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: New York

“Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives.
Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange markings on his skin.
The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland…”


I heard about this book through the #DSFFBookClub (Diverse Sci Fi/Fantasy) on Twitter a few months ago.  From the description somehow I got the impression that this took place in Mexico and perhaps was set in the past.  That isn’t true at all.

Alex is part of a family of witches in Brooklyn in the present day.  Their numbers are dwindling.  Alex has been hiding the fact that her powers have appeared because they are very strong and they scare her.  She also thinks that magic has been responsible for a lot of the problems in her family.  She doesn’t want anything to do with it.

She accidentally reveals her powers at school while defending her friend Rishi from a bully.  Now her family is planning her Death Day, a traditional celebration of a young bruja’s power.  Alex doesn’t want anything to do with it.  She decides to try to relinquish her powers during the ceremony but her attempt to use a canto goes wrong.  Her family (living and dead) is banished to another realm and now Alex has to try to get them back.

I liked the depiction of a family for whom magic is a normal and expected part of everyday life.  The next book in the series is going to focus on her sister Lula who is a healer.

This book uses a lot of YA Fantasy tropes but twists them in small ways so they weren’t totally annoying.

There was a love triangle in this book which I absolutely hate but instead of a perfect girl trying to decide between two guys who love her here she is deciding between a girl and a guy.  (I’m still waiting for my dream book where the two objects of affection decide they don’t need the perfect one and go off together.)

Alex is, of course, the Chosen One who can fix everything.  She’s the most powerful witch in generations.  Only she can defeat the bad guy.  At the end though she had to accept help from others.  She does also acknowledge that part of her wants to take all the power and be a despot too.

There is a point where a person who has hurt Alex tries to explain that it was all ok because this person loves Alex so much.  She ultimately rejects that but it teetered on the brink.  It was a little too close to “stalking is ok because this person loves you SO MUCH” for my liking.

Overall, I enjoyed this book and am interested to read the rest of the series when it comes out.

 

 

About Zoraida Córdova

“Zoraida Córdova was born in Ecuador and raised in Queens, New York. She is the author of The Vicious Deep trilogy, the On the Verge series, and Labyrinth Lost. She loves black coffee, snark, and still believes in magic. Send her a tweet @Zlikeinzorro” – from her website

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • LBGTQ authors/characters
  • POC authors
18 Jan, 2017

Every Heart a Doorway

/ posted in: Reading Every Heart a Doorway Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
Series: Wayward Children #1
Published by Tor.com on April 5th 2016
Genres: Fantasy & Magic
Pages: 173
Format: Hardcover
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children

No Solicitations

No Visitors

No Guests
Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else.
But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.
Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.
But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.
No matter the cost.”


What happens to kids who go on adventures to fantasy lands when they return home?  Obviously, they tell people what happened to them and then they are treated as mentally ill or as the survivors of such horrific abuse that they made up stories to get themselves through their kidnappings.  When they don’t recant the stories they may end up in a boarding school for their own protection.

Eleanor West takes in these children.  She was one of them too.  She takes the children who are desperately looking for a way to return to their lands.

I loved this book so much I read it twice.  The first time I read it myself and the second time I read it out loud to my husband.  I thought he’d enjoy it and so to force the issue I declared that it would be story time on the way to and from my parents’ on Christmas.  That’s about 4 hours round trip and we were able to finish it.  He did take the long way in order to get more reading time in though.  Yes, I could have gotten the audio but he gets distracted and wants to chit chat when listening to audio.  He pays attention when I’m reading.

I loved the characters.  Each had been to a different land with different rules.  They have a whole system for categorizing the world that you visited.  It reminds me of this cartoon.

dorothy-alice-in-wonderland-ive-seen-some-weird-shit

 

How do you come back from that?

As soon as Nancy arrives and starts to get acclimated to the strange people around her, there is a murder.  Since she came from the Halls of the Dead, she’s a suspect.  When murders keep happening it is up to the students and staff to find out what is going on before the authorities find out and shut down their school.

Read this one for the wonderful language and characters.  The students are diverse racially and in their gender expressions.  The only thing they have in common is wanting to go back home to the magical worlds they miss.

This is listed as first in a series.  I would love to read more in this world.

About Seanan McGuire

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

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

  • from Goodreads

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • LBGTQ authors/characters
16 Jan, 2017

A Closed and Common Orbit

/ posted in: Reading A Closed and Common Orbit A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers
Series: Wayfarers #2
Published by Hodder & Stoughton on October 20th 2016
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 365
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Goodreads
Setting: Outer Space

“Lovelace was once merely a ship’s artificial intelligence. When she wakes up in an new body, following a total system shut-down and reboot, she has no memory of what came before. As Lovelace learns to negotiate the universe and discover who she is, she makes friends with Pepper, an excitable engineer, who’s determined to help her learn and grow.”


This is the sequel to The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet.  If you haven’t read that book this review might be a little spoilery.

At the end of the book, the Artificial Intelligence, Lovelace, that runs the spaceship is put into a body kit to be transferred off of the ship.  For Lovelace this is a huge adjustment.  She is used to monitoring the vastness of space.  She is used to having cameras in all the rooms of the ship.  She is used to having a constant flow of information from the data stream that she is hooked into.  Now she sees only through her eyes.  She doesn’t know the answer to any question that she is asked.  She feels fragile and vulnerable.

It reminds me of the Genie in Aladdin.

IMG_0677

She is taken in by Pepper, an engineer that helped with her transfer.  Pepper takes her to her home and tries to teach her how to respond to the world.  They have to make her look natural.  Putting an A.I. in a body kit is illegal.

The themes of this book are identity and belonging.  How do you go about making your own identity?  How do you decide where you belong?

I did not like this book as much as the first one.  I think that is because Long Way was one of my best books of 2016 and this one had a lot to live up too.  I missed the larger cast of all types of species in that book.  This novel is much smaller in scope.  It focuses on Lovelace’s life with Pepper and Pepper’s past as an escaped slave child being raised by an A.I.   I would still recommend this book.  It is not strictly necessary to have read the first one but it is recommended.  So much world building was done in the first book that this book assumes that you already know.

I would still recommend this to anyone who loves sci fi and enjoyed the first book.

 

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • LBGTQ authors/characters
10 Jan, 2017

Murder in the Generative Kitchen

/ posted in: Reading Murder in the Generative Kitchen Murder in the Generative Kitchen by Meg Pontecorvo
on September 2016
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 102
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Goodreads
Setting: Chicago/Acapulco

“With the Vacation Jury Duty system, jurors can lounge on a comfortable beach while watching the trial via virtual reality. Julio is loving the beach, as well as the views of a curvy fellow juror with a rainbow-lacquered skin modification who seems to be the exact opposite of his recent ex-girlfriend back in Chicago. Because of jury sequestration rules, they can’t talk to each other at all, or else they’ll have to pay full price for this Acapulco vacation. Still, Julio is desperate to catch her attention. But while he struts and tries to catch her eye, he also becomes fascinated by the trial at hand.
At first it seemed a foregone conclusion that the woman on trial used a high-tech generative kitchen to feed her husband a poisonous meal, but the more evidence mounts, the more Julio starts to suspect the kitchen may have made the decision on its own.”


condo-1483194_640

I think this is an amazing idea. It is 2060. Sequestered juries are sent on an all expense paid trip to a resort.  People try to get on juries now instead of getting out of it.  This jury out of Chicago is in Acapulco. They watch the trial on headsets. The headsets can show the trial superimposed on the real world so you can walk around the resort while you watch.

The Rules:

  1.  You have to watch 8 hours of the trial a day but you can do it on your own schedule.
  2.  You have to finish your viewing for the day before you can be served any alcohol.
  3.  You can’t talk to any of the other people in the resort.

If you break the rules, you are sent home with a bill for your vacation.

The Trial:

The defendant has a generative kitchen.  It monitors the health of the people in the home and changes the food to meet their individual needs.  Sick?  It will add nutrients.  Depressed?  Get mood boosters in your food.  There is no question that it increased the cyanide levels in the trout almondine but did the defendant request it or did it do it on its own?

I loved the two original ideas in this novella – the generative kitchen and the vacationing jurors.  The main character is Julio, a juror.  I hated him from the beginning.  He has a wonderful girlfriend at home.  He is planning on breaking up with her because she isn’t very feminine looking and she won’t change her look to please him.  Well good for her!  He starts to get obsessed and stalkerish over another juror at the resort.  She has an ultrafeminine look due to extensive body modification.  He can’t talk to her due to the jury rules but he tries to get as close as possible within the rules.  He imagines a life with her based entirely on how she looks since he has no idea what she is actually like and it never occurs to him to care.

When the jury heads back to Chicago to deliberate he finally gets to talk to this woman of his dreams and finds out that his fantasy and her reality don’t line up.  It is sort of like every internet troll who suddenly has to deal with a woman who has the nerve to be different from what he thought she should be.

I’m not usually a fan of books with unlikeable characters but it served this story well.  No one is on their best behavior but characters learn when confronted with it.  There is a lot packed into a novella.

  • The effects of aging on women and how other people (especially other women) judge them
  • Perception vs reality when dealing with strangers
  • How much power over your life should you give artificial intelligence

At the end of it all I still want a generative kitchen and a chance to go on one of these sequestered juries.  A few weeks at a resort with orders not to talk to anyone?  Heaven.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Foodies Read 2017
07 Dec, 2016

The Chocolate Apothecary

/ posted in: Reading The Chocolate Apothecary The Chocolate Apothecary by Josephine Moon
on June 24, 2015
Genres: Fiction
Format: Paperback
Source: Owned
Goodreads
Setting: Australia

“Christmas Livingstone has formulated 10 top rules for happiness by which she tries very hard to live. Nurturing the senses every day, doing what you love, sharing joy with others are some of the rules but the most important for her is no. 10 – absolutely no romantic relationships!
Her life is good now. Creating her enchantingly seductive shop, The Chocolate Apothecary, and exploring the potential medicinal uses of chocolate makes her happy; her friends surround her; and her role as a fairy godmother to her community allows her to share her joy. She doesn’t need a handsome botany ace who knows everything about cacao to walk into her life. One who has the nicest grandmother – Book Club Captain at Green Hills Aged Care Facility and intent on interfering – a gorgeous rescue dog, and who wants her help to write a book. She really doesn’t need any of that at all.
Or does she?”


I hardly ever find any Australian books to read.  I’m not sure why.  I was so excited when this turned out to be set in Tasmania!  I don’t know that I’ve ever read a book set there.

Christmas owns a chocolate store that reminds me a lot of the one in Chocolat, without the magical realism.  Her goal is to combine chocolate and medicine.  She started to store after a heartbreak on the mainland.  Now she is content in her life.  There are two big opportunities for her coming up.  She has a chance to go to an eccentric chocolate making week-long course in France and she is asked to co-write a book on chocolate with a botanist.  Both of these are exciting on their own, but her friends and family are interfering.  They think she should look up her long lost father in France and they think that she should see the botanist as a romantic opportunity.  Christmas is fine without either complication, thank you very much.

This book is mainly about the characters.  Christmas and her family are all unique personalities as are the residents at the Aged Care Facility who decide to work as matchmakers.  That distracts them from the cut throat competition to be in charge of the book club.  There isn’t a lot that happens in the story but getting to know the people is the real joy of this book.

 

foodiesreadsmall

Linking up with Foodies Read and I will have a copy of this book available as a prize for people linking up with us.

 

02 Dec, 2016

Flygirl

/ posted in: Reading Flygirl Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers on January 22nd 2009
Genres: Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 288
Format: Paperback
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: Louisiana and Texas

“Ida Mae Jones dreams of flight. Her daddy was a pilot and being black didn’t stop him from fulfilling his dreams. But her daddy’s gone now, and being a woman, and being black, are two strikes against her.
 When America enters the war with Germany and Japan, the Army creates the WASP, the Women Airforce Service Pilots – and Ida suddenly sees a way to fly as well as do something significant to help her brother stationed in the Pacific. But even the WASP won’t accept her as a black woman, forcing Ida Mae to make a difficult choice of “passing,” of pretending to be white to be accepted into the program. Hiding one’s racial heritage, denying one’s family, denying one’s self is a heavy burden. And while Ida Mae chases her dream, she must also decide who it is she really wants to be.”


I loved this book so much.  From the very first pages, I believed that we were in Louisiana in the 1940s.  Ida Mae and her best friend feel like real people who grow apart over time because of the differences in their abilities to advance in the world. This book addresses not only racism but also the colorism in the African American community.

Ida Mae’s father taught her to fly for their crop dusting business.  She hasn’t been able to get her license because the instructor wouldn’t approve a license for a woman. When women are started to be hired to ferry planes between bases to free up male pilots for combat, Ida Mae wants to join.  She is very light skinned so she lets the recruiter assume that she is a white woman.  This makes a divide between Ida Mae and her darker skinned mother, family, and friends.  A big question in the story is can she come back from this?  Once she starts living the life of a white woman, will she be willing to be seen as a black woman again?

I read about this topic in A Chosen Exile:  A History of Racial Passing in America but I haven’t seen it addressed in historical fiction often.

If you are interested in reading more fiction about the WASP, check out The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion.

Flygirl is YA so it is a quick read.  I would recommend it to anyone who likes women-centered historical fiction.

 

 

04 Nov, 2016

Becoming Naomi Leon

/ posted in: Reading Becoming Naomi Leon Becoming Naomi Leon by Pam Muñoz Ryan
Published by Scholastic Press on September 1st 2004
Genres: Regional & Ethnic
Pages: 246
Format: Hardcover
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads

“Naomi Soledad León Outlaw has had a lot to contend with in her young life, her name for one. Then there are her clothes (sewn in polyester by Gram), her difficulty speaking up, her status at school as “nobody special.” But according to Gram’s self-prophecies, most problems can be overcome with positive thinking. Luckily, Naomi also has her carving to strengthen her spirit. And life with Gram and her little brother, Owen, is happy and peaceful. That is, until their mother reappears after 7 years of being gone, stirring up all sorts of questions and challenging Naomi to discover who she really is.”


Naomi and Owen were left with their great-grandmother in Southern California when their mother decided that she didn’t want the responsibility of caring for them anymore.  Owen was born with physical disabilities and this was too much for their mother to handle.  Now, seven years and several surgeries later, Owen is thriving but he still has some obvious disabilities.  Naomi is happy at home in the trailer with Owen and Gran and their close community of neighbors.  Then their mother reappears with a new name, Skyla, and a new boyfriend. She wants to take Naomi to live with her.  Just Naomi.

Naomi and Owen are half Mexican but they have no connection to the Mexican side of their family since their mother refused to let their father see them after they divorced.  He has sent money to Gran to help out though. Now, to help bolster support for Gran to be able to keep the kids they head to Mexico to try to find him.  They know that he always attends the Oaxaca Radish carving competitions around Christmas so they head there.  (Yes, that is a real thing.)

This story highlights the world of a young girl who doesn’t realize how much her family turmoil has affected her until it is time for her to stand up for herself and her brother.  Her world is widened by meeting her Mexican relatives and by finding out more about her parents.  Kids whose parents have left them imagine all kinds of scenarios about them returning.  When it doesn’t work out in the way they expect, it can be devastating.  Gran has tried to shield them from the truth but it is coming out now and they have to deal with the consequences.  Gran has always been their rock and now they see her scared and unsure of what to do.  Naomi and Owen react differently which accurately represents their ages and personalities.

This is a middle grade book.  I’d recommend it for any kid who doesn’t know quite where they fit in the world.  Also, seriously, radish carving –  that is a weirdly interesting competition.

 

28 Oct, 2016

Juliet Takes a Breath

/ posted in: Reading Juliet Takes a Breath Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera
on January 1st 1970
Genres: Fiction
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible, Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: Oregon

“Juliet Milagros Palante is leaving the Bronx and headed to Portland, Oregon. She just came out to her family and isn’t sure if her mom will ever speak to her again. But Juliet has a plan, sort of, one that’s going to help her figure out this whole “Puerto Rican lesbian” thing. She’s interning with the author of her favorite book: Harlowe Brisbane, the ultimate authority on feminism, women’s bodies, and other gay-sounding stuff.
Will Juliet be able to figure out her life over the course of one magical summer? Is that even possible? Or is she running away from all the problems that seem too big to handle?
With more questions than answers, Juliet takes on Portland, Harlowe, and most importantly, herself. “


Everyone needs to read Juliet Takes a Breath

Ok, that was easy.  Review over.

Seriously though, this book has something to say to everyone.

Juliet is nineteen and has her first girlfriend.  Her family doesn’t know and that bothers her.  They are very close and keeping something this important from them feels wrong to her.  She tells them right before she leaves for the summer to do an internship in Portland with her favorite author.  The reception is not what she hoped for.

Portland isn’t what she expected either.  It is so overwhelmingly white but the white people are weirder than any white people she’s met before.  If she’s come to her favorite lesbian author’s house, why is there a naked man in the kitchen?  Why doesn’t she understand what anyone is talking about?

There is no right way to be

Juliet had idolized Harlowe as a lesbian author who seemed to have the answers to everything.  But as Juliet gets more involved in Harlowe’s world she sees that some of the ideas that Harlowe has might not be right for her.  Part of her growing up and owning her own story is finding out how she needs to branch out and be different.  Learning what to keep and what to reject is hard.  She needs to see a variety of ways of being a lesbian so she realizes that there are options out there.

Likewise, Harlowe can’t mold Juliet to fit into her preferred narrative.  This causes conflict in the book as they try to find neutral ground to speak to each other.

Not everyone speaks your language

Juliet doesn’t have the background in the language of the LGBT movement to be able to understand everything that people in Portland are talking about.  Preferred pronouns?  Polyamory?  As readers follow Juliet’s stories they are exposed to concepts that they may also have not known about.  It is also a reminder not to denigrate people who may not know the “correct” terminology but to educate.

This is a book for anyone who has ever felt out of place but who wants to belong.  Juliet is charming and you root for her the whole way through the book.

I listened to the audio version of this book.  The narration was amazing.  Her accents were well done and the Spanish in the book flowed naturally in the story.

Do yourself a favor.  Pick up this book and fall in love with Juliet.

 

24 Oct, 2016

Paris in Love

/ posted in: Reading Paris in Love Paris in Love by Eloisa James
Published by Random House on April 3rd 2012
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Pages: 272
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: France

“In 2009, New York Times bestselling author Eloisa James took a leap that many people dream about: she sold her house, took a sabbatical from her job as a Shakespeare professor, and moved her family to Paris.  With no classes to teach, no committee meetings to attend, no lawn to mow or cars to park, Eloisa revels in the ordinary pleasures of life—discovering corner museums that tourists overlook, chronicling Frenchwomen’s sartorial triumphs, walking from one end of Paris to another. She copes with her Italian husband’s notions of quality time; her two hilarious children, ages eleven and fifteen, as they navigate schools—not to mention puberty—in a foreign language; and her mother-in-law Marina’s raised eyebrow in the kitchen (even as Marina overfeeds Milo, the family dog). “


I picked up this ebook on a day it was free and then it sat on my iPad until I read a post on Felicia’s blog with recommendations for romance books.  Eloisa James was recommended.  When I went looking for her books I realized that I already owned one.

This is her memoir about her family’s year in Paris.  It was developed from her Facebook posts so it contains mainly short snippets of information about her days interspersed with longer essays.

She is an American who is married to an Italian man.  They live in New Jersey and have 2 kids.  They move to Paris and enroll the kids in an Italian language school because they are fluent.  Her son is taking classes like architectural drawing that he isn’t interested in so he doesn’t do the work.  Her daughter is now a child who is well acquainted with principals’ offices on two continents.  Eloisa walks around the city sampling the food and getting mad that her husband is losing weight as fast as she is gaining it.

“I asked if Alessandro would pick up some of the spectacular chocolate mousse made by a patisserie on the nearby rue Richer.  His response:  “I thought you were on a diet.”  These seven words rank among the more imprudent things he has said to me in the long years of our marriage.”


The Saga of Milo

Background – They had a Chihuahua named Milo.  He used to fly back and forth from the U.S. to Italy with them when they visited her husband’s family.  But Milo got fat.  He got stranded in Italy because he was too heavy to fly back to the U.S. in the cabin.  So Milo has been staying with Italian Grandma until he loses weight.  Yeah, it’s not happening.  Occasionally she reports in on Milo’s vet visits with Grandma.

“Apparently the vet has suggested vegetables, so for dinner Milo is having lightly steamed broccoli tossed in just a touch of butter, and some diet dog food steeped in homemade chicken broth.”

I have these clients.

“Milo has been back to the vet for a follow-up visit. To Marina’s dismay, her Florentine vet labeled Milo obese, even after she protested that ‘he never eats.’ Apparently the vet’s gaze rest thoughtfully on Milo’s seal-like physique, and then he said, ‘He may be telling you that, but we can all see he’s fibbing.'”

I have never been that brave.

“Marina said today the first thing she plans to do back in Florence is find a new vet.  That nasty vet who told her Milo is obese, she said, is too young and doesn’t understand Milo’s emotional problems.”

I read a lot of the Milo sections to my coworkers.  They thought they were hysterical.  Yes, this is our life.

18 Oct, 2016

The Girls of Atomic City

/ posted in: Reading The Girls of Atomic City The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan
Published by Touchstone/Simon & Schuster on March 5th 2013
Genres: 20th Century, History, Nonfiction
Pages: 373
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible, Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads
Setting: Tennessee

“The incredible story of the young women of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, who unwittingly played a crucial role in one of the most significant moments in U.S. history.
The Tennessee town of Oak Ridge was created from scratch in 1942. One of the Manhattan Project’s secret cities, it didn’t appear on any maps until 1949, and yet at the height of World War II it was using more electricity than New York City and was home to more than 75,000 people, many of them young women recruited from small towns across the South. Their jobs were shrouded in mystery, but they were buoyed by a sense of shared purpose, close friendships—and a surplus of handsome scientists and Army men!
But against this vibrant wartime backdrop, a darker story was unfolding. The penalty for talking about their work—even the most innocuous details—was job loss and eviction. One woman was recruited to spy on her coworkers. They all knew something big was happening at Oak Ridge, but few could piece together the true nature of their work until the bomb “Little Boy” was dropped over Hiroshima, Japan, and the secret was out. The shocking revelation: the residents of Oak Ridge were enriching uranium for the atomic bomb.”


Oak Ridge was a temporary city in the middle of nowhere, hidden by topography, and never meant to see the light of day.  It had one purpose — to enrich uranium to feed the development of the nuclear bomb.  A lot of people were required to build and then run the huge plants.  How do you get a lot of people to agree to do a job that they aren’t allowed to know about or talk about?  Pay high wages and tell them it is for the war effort.

People left other jobs without knowing where they would be going or for how long.  Many were told to go to a train station and they would be met.  They had no idea where they were heading.

I can’t believe that people agreed to do this.  I’m too nosy.  If you gave me a job and told me to spend eight to twelve hours a day manipulating dials so that the readout always read the correct number, I couldn’t do it.  I certainly couldn’t do it for years without needing to know what I was doing.  I would have been fired and escorted out of there so fast.  How was the secret kept for so long?

Coming out of the Depression though, any job was a good job.  These jobs were hiring women and African Americans at wages they wouldn’t see elsewhere.  Of course, there was discrimination and segregation.  Housing for African Americans was poor and they were not allowed to live together if they were married.  When someone started wondering, “What happens if we inject this uranium into a person?” you know they picked a black man who just happened to have a broken leg to experiment on.  He did manage to escape eventually but not before they had done a lot of damage to him.

This book tells the stories of women in several different jobs – secretarial staff, Calutron operators, cleaning staff, and scientists.  They made a life in a town that wasn’t supposed to last long.  The audiobook was compelling listening.  The story sounds like a novel.

I went to vet school in Knoxville, which is 20 miles away from Oak Ridge.  I had friends who were from there and friends whose families had been forcibly removed from the area in order to build Oak Ridge.  It was interesting to hear what went on behind the scenes.

I would be interested in pairing this with this book:

Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear WarNagasaki: Life After Nuclear War by Susan Southard

“On August 9, 1945, three days after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, the United States dropped a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, a small port city on Japan’s southernmost island. An estimated 74,000 people died within the first five months, and another 75,000 were injured.

Published on the seventieth anniversary of the bombing, Nagasaki takes readers from the morning of the bombing to the city today, telling the first-hand experiences of five survivors, all of whom were teenagers at the time of the devastation.”

The Girls of Atomic City does discuss the reactions of the citizens of Oak Ridge when they found out what they had been doing.  It discusses the guilt that some people still have for their part in making the bomb.


You know what I kept thinking about while listening to this?  This scene from Clerks.

Randal: There was something else going on in Jedi. I ever noticed it till today. They build another Death Star, right?

Dante: Yeah.

Randal: Now, the first one was completed and fully operational before the Rebel’s destroyed it.

Dante: Luke blew it up. Give credit where credit is due.

Randal: And the second one was still being built when the blew it up.

Dante: Compliments to Lando Calrissian.

Randal: Something just never sat right with me that second time around. I could never put my finger on it, but something just wasn’t right.

Dante: And you figured it out?

Randal: The first Death Star was manned by the Imperial Army. The only people on board were stormtroppers, dignitaries, Imperials.

Dante: Basically.

Randal: So, when the blew it up, no problem. Evil’s punished.

Dante: And the second time around?

Randal: The second time around, it wasn’t even done being built yet. It was still under construction.

Dante: So?

Randal: So, construction job of that magnitude would require a helluva lot more manpower than the Imperial army had to offer. I’ll bet there were independent contractors working on that thing: plumbers, aluminum siders, roofers.

Dante: Not just Imperials, is what you’re getting at?

Randal: Exactly. In order to get it built quickly and quietly they’d hire anybody who could do the job. Do you think the average storm trooper knows how to install a toilet main? All they know is killing and white uniforms.

Dante: All right, so they bring in independent contractors. Why are you so upset with its destruction?

Randal: All those innocent contractors hired to do a job were killed! Casualties of a war they had nothing to do with. All right, look, you’re a roofer, and some juicy government contract comes your way; you got the wife and kids and the two-story in suburbia – this is a government contract, which means all sorts of benefits. All of a sudden these left-wing militants blast you with lasers and wipe out everyone within a three-mile radius. You didn’t ask for that. You have no personal politics. You’re just trying to scrape out a living.

____________

This book is basically the point of view of the people building the second Death Star.

 

 

17 Oct, 2016

The Sweet Life in Paris

/ posted in: Reading The Sweet Life in Paris The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World's Most Glorious - and Perplexing - City by David Lebovitz
Published by Broadway Books on May 5th 2009
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Pages: 282
Format: Paperback
Source: Owned
Goodreads
Setting: France

“Like so many others, David Lebovitz dreamed about living in Paris ever since he first visited the city in the 1980s. Finally, after a nearly two-decade career as a pastry chef and cookbook author, he moved to Paris to start a new life. Having crammed all his worldly belongings into three suitcases, he arrived, hopes high, at his new apartment in the lively Bastille neighborhood.
But he soon discovered it’s a different world en France.
From learning the ironclad rules of social conduct to the mysteries of men’s footwear, from shopkeepers who work so hard not to sell you anything to the etiquette of working the right way around the cheese plate, here is David’s story of how he came to fall in love with—and even understand—this glorious, yet sometimes maddening, city.”


This is the book the husband would have written if he lived in France.  He is the person who said halfway through our trip to France that it would be a wonderful country if there were no people in it.  His favorite French vacation story is the time we watched an older French woman beat a disabled British tourist with an umbrella because he didn’t give his seat up to her. He learned that parapluie is umbrella from that incident.

We once had a black, female, French neighbor to whom the husband had to explain several times that while the people in our small town might in fact be both racist and sexist, what was getting her in trouble was being French.  No, it wasn’t ok to park in the fire lane and then cut in line at WalMart because she was parked in the fire lane, for example.

David Lebovitz had this same frustration with French people when he moved to Paris.  Why are they always cutting in line?  Why won’t they help you in a store?  Why does it take so long to accomplish everyday tasks?

This book is hysterically funny.  He is a cookbook author whose new French apartment had a tiny kitchen and suspect plumbing.

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Eventually he learned to adapt and thrive in his new city. He learned to cut in line with the best of them. He started dressing up to take out the garbage. That’s when he knew he was home.


 

There are lots of recipes in this book.  I even made one.  I know!  I’m shocked too.  I almost never make recipes in books.  I made the fig and olive tapenade though and it was scrumptious.  I even took a picture of it as proof but it looks like a glob of clumpy black stuff on some bread.  Yummy food photography is not a skill I have.

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