Showing Posts From: Book Review

20 Mar, 2018

The Best Boomerville Hotel

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Best Boomerville Hotel The Best Boomerville Hotel by Caroline James
on March 13th 2018
Genres: Fiction
Published by Ruby Fiction
Format: eARC
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Setting: England

Let the shenanigans begin at the Best Boomerville Hotel …
Jo Docherty and Hattie Contaldo have a vision – a holiday retreat in the heart of the Lake District exclusively for guests of ‘a certain age’ wishing to stimulate both mind and body with new creative experiences. One hotel refurbishment later and the Best Boomerville Hotel is open for business!
Perhaps not surprisingly Boomerville attracts more than its fair share of eccentric clientele: there’s fun-loving Sir Henry Mulberry and his brother Hugo; Lucinda Brown, an impoverished artist with more ego than talent; Andy Mack, a charming Porsche-driving James Bond lookalike, as well as Kate Simmons, a woman who made her fortune from an internet dating agency but still hasn’t found ‘the One’ herself.
With such an array of colourful individuals there’s bound to be laughs aplenty, but could there be tears and heartbreak too and will the residents get more than they bargained for at Boomerville?

Goodreads

This book wants to be a fun romp in the country with an eclectic group of people.  That’s a fun premise for a book.  I’m always on the look out for books with middle-aged or older protagonists. 

I got a bit thrown off right at the beginning of the book with her definition of Boomers.  She defines them as 50-69 which is a tad young for a book published this year.  She then makes her main character 50.  So this is supposed to be a book celebrating Baby Boomers yet she makes the lead as young as she possibly can.  Then there are several comments throughout the book about how they don’t want “elderly people” at the hotel.  Older women at the hotel are described as “ageing” in a disparaging way.  That all seemed odd for a book that is supposed to be celebrating Baby Boomers.

There is a party that is held at one point in the book.  They decide to have Indian food.  That’s fine.  Then they decide to make it a costume party where all these upper class white British people will be wearing saris, turbans, and other Indian styles of dress.  That’s pushing pretty far towards creepy and inappropriate.  Then they decide to make it a party celebrating the British Raj.  Yeah.  That’s pretty out of touch.

Then there is the Shaman.  He doesn’t have a name.  He isn’t seen often.  He has both a “gypsy caravan” and a teepee.  He does sessions of some kind in there.  They appear to involve getting people high.  Then he starts showing up and making mysterious pronouncements of doom while also healing people with a touch before disappearing from sight.  One time he turns up to do a Shamanistic wedding ceremony and the guest indulge it as “a cabaret with a difference.” 

So the guests are all rich white people who can take off for weeks at a time to stay at a hotel and putter about.  The entertainment is a mish mash of other people’s cultures for fun.  The “romances” in the book are pure insta-love.  Our main character had two men fall for her on the first day she was there.  They were just overtaken by her beauty.  Once people decide to look at each other as a potential romantic interest, that’s it they are getting ready to get married.  This is explained as people being old and not having much time left. I get not dawdling but this felt more like, “You’re breathing.  You’ll do.”

I’d love to see this idea with maybe fewer characters so each could be well developed as a person instead of a stereotype – flighty artist, dirty old man, etc. 

 

17 Mar, 2018

Ecstasy

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Ecstasy Ecstasy by Mary Sharratt
on April 10th 2018
Pages: 400
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Format: eARC
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher

In the glittering hotbed of turn-of-the-twentieth-century Vienna, one woman’s life would define and defy an era
Gustav Klimt gave Alma her first kiss. Gustav Mahler fell in love with her at first sight and proposed only a few weeks later. Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius abandoned all reason to pursue her. Poet and novelist Franz Werfel described her as “one of the very few magical women that exist.” But who was this woman who brought these most eminent of men to their knees? In Ecstasy, Mary Sharratt finally gives one of the most controversial and complex women of her time the center stage.
Coming of age in the midst of a creative and cultural whirlwind, young, beautiful Alma Schindler yearns to make her mark as a composer. A brand-new era of possibility for women is dawning and she is determined to make the most of it. But Alma loses her heart to the great composer Gustav Mahler, nearly twenty years her senior. He demands that she give up her music as a condition for their marriage. Torn by her love and in awe of his genius, how will she remain true to herself and her artistic passion?
Part cautionary tale, part triumph of the feminist spirit, Ecstasy reveals the true Alma Mahler: composer, author, daughter, sister, mother, wife, lover, and muse.

Goodreads

I received this book from Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.

Alma Mahler was a very interesting woman. She was ambitious in a time and place that did not reward that in upper class white women.  She wanted to be a composer but was told that she couldn’t if she wanted to marry the man she wanted.

This book does a good job of highlighting the mental cost of requiring a woman to be a wife and mother if that is not their desire. Her depression and their martial troubles in the face of his refusal to see her as a creative human being was well written.

I wish this book had pulled me deeper into the story emotionally.  Great historical fiction should immerse you in the time and place.  It should take a little effort to get your focus out of that world when you put the book aside. This reading experience felt very surface level which is a shame. Early 20th century Vienna and the artistic world there could be a very lush setting for a novel.

I enjoyed learning about this woman that I had not previous been aware of.

08 Mar, 2018

American Panda

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading American Panda American Panda by Gloria Chao
on February 6th 2018
Pages: 311
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Simon Pulse
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

An incisive, laugh-out-loud contemporary debut about a Taiwanese-American teen whose parents want her to be a doctor and marry a Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer despite her squeamishness with germs and crush on a Japanese classmate.
At seventeen, Mei should be in high school, but skipping fourth grade was part of her parents' master plan. Now a freshman at MIT, she is on track to fulfill the rest of this predetermined future: become a doctor, marry a preapproved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer, produce a litter of babies.
With everything her parents have sacrificed to make her cushy life a reality, Mei can't bring herself to tell them the truth--that she (1) hates germs, (2) falls asleep in biology lectures, and (3) has a crush on her classmate Darren Takahashi, who is decidedly not Taiwanese.
But when Mei reconnects with her brother, Xing, who is estranged from the family for dating the wrong woman, Mei starts to wonder if all the secrets are truly worth it. Can she find a way to be herself, whoever that is, before her web of lies unravels?

Goodreads

This book is so good!  

Conflict between immigrant Asian parents and their American-born kids is a staple in a lot of books.  What I appreciated about this book is that it took a deeper look at the people involved to figure out their motivations.  Mei is trying to be the perfect daughter because she has seen real world consequences of disobedience.  Her brother was cut out of the family years earlier for dating a woman with some health issues that may impact her fertility.  His parents would not accept a potential daughter in law who might not produce grandchildren.  Mei is raised on stories of a local Taiwanese-American woman who was cast out of her family and the horrible things had (supposedly) happened to her.  From an outsider’s perspective it is easy to wonder “Why doesn’t she stand up for herself?”  This book does a great job of showing where she gets the idea that she has no other options.

The book features other characters who have been in these situations and examines the results of their decisions.  There is:

  • A woman who became a doctor because her family decided she would be
  • A female relative whose life is taken up by caring for her mother
  • Mei’s boyfriend, who is from a Japanese-American family that has been living in the United States for several generations
  • Mei’s mother 

Mei’s mother’s story was amazing.  At the beginning she is portrayed as an overbearing, neurotic mother who has Mei’s schedule memorized and panics if she doesn’t answer her phone when she knows she should be out of class.  Her phone messages are played for laughs.  As the story deepens though we start to see her conflicts.  She’s the daughter-in-law of a very traditional family in an arranged marriage where her role is very sharply defined.  As she sees Mei start to branch out, she opens up a little about her life and you develop a lot of compassion for a character who very easily could have descended into a caricature.  

It’s great.  I would recommend this one to everyone.  Go get it and read it and pass it on.

07 Mar, 2018

Hippie Food

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Hippie Food Hippie Food: How Back-to-the-Landers, Longhairs, and Revolutionaries Changed the Way We Eat by Jonathan Kauffman
on January 23rd 2018
Pages: 352
Length: 9:13
Genres: Nonfiction
Published by William Morrow
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library

An enlightening narrative history—an entertaining fusion of Tom Wolfe and Michael Pollan—that traces the colorful origins of once unconventional foods and the diverse fringe movements, charismatic gurus, and counterculture elements that brought them to the mainstream and created a distinctly American cuisine.
Food writer Jonathan Kauffman journeys back more than half a century—to the 1960s and 1970s—to tell the story of how a coterie of unusual men and women embraced an alternative lifestyle that would ultimately change how modern Americans eat. Impeccably researched, Hippie Food chronicles how the longhairs, revolutionaries, and back-to-the-landers rejected the square establishment of President Richard Nixon’s America and turned to a more idealistic and wholesome communal way of life and food.
From the mystical rock-and-roll cult known as the Source Family and its legendary vegetarian restaurant in Hollywood to the Diggers’ brown bread in the Summer of Love to the rise of the co-op and the origins of the organic food craze, Kauffman reveals how today’s quotidian whole-foods staples—including sprouts, tofu, yogurt, brown rice, and whole-grain bread—were introduced and eventually became part of our diets. From coast to coast, through Oregon, Texas, Tennessee, Minnesota, Michigan, Massachusetts, and Vermont, Kauffman tracks hippie food’s journey from niche oddity to a cuisine that hit every corner of this country.
A slick mix of gonzo playfulness, evocative detail, skillful pacing, and elegant writing, Hippie Food is a lively, engaging, and informative read that deepens our understanding of our culture and our lives today.

Goodreads

Obviously I had to listen to this book.  They should have just titled it “A Book for Heather.”

This is a history of the health food and vegetarian food movements in the U.S.  It starts with briefly talking about health food people like the Kelloggs and Dr. Graham at the end of the 19th century and early 20th century.  It then segues into the macrobiotic movement which came to the U.S. from Japan.  The bulk of the book focuses on the post-WW II push back to the marketing of processed convenience food.

What I really learned from this book:

White Folks Can’t Cook

 

The hippie/back-to-the-land movement was overwhelmingly white.  That’s briefly addressed but not explored deeply.  A lot of these people seemed to come from a background where they didn’t learn to cook without convenience foods.  So when they tried to cook whole food ingredients, they pretty much failed.  Spices?  What are they?

That’s how vegetarian food got a reputation for being bland and boring.  It only started to get good when they started stealing ideas from other cultures.  Japanese influences came in through macrobiotics.  This gets linked to politics because of the 1965 immigration reform that allowed more immigrants from non-European countries. Those people opened restaurants and suddenly people realized that you don’t need to eat food with the texture and taste of tree bark.  If the movement was inclusive from the start, hippie food might not have had such a bad reputation.

I loved hearing about how all sorts of foods that we consider staples now came to the United States.  Again this is presented from a white, middle class perspective.  It talks about starting tofu production in the States but I’m sure there were people in Asian communities who were doing this before white people adopted it and started mass production.  The same can go for different spices and/or vegetables that I’m sure were in use in black or Latinx communities.  That’s my major criticism of this book.

I would get excited whenever some of my favorites where mentioned.  Diet for a Small Planet!  (Yes, her made up theory of the necessity of “complete proteins” has been repeatedly debunked.  Can we let that die now? Please? Asking for all vegetarians who get asked about it ALL THE TIME.)  The Moosewood Cookbooks!  Those were some of the first I read.

Read this one if you love food history as it relates to personal ethics and politics.

 

 

 

06 Mar, 2018

Love Unleashed

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Love Unleashed Love Unleashed: Tales of Inspiration and the Life-Changing Power of Dogs by Rebecca Ascher-Walsh
on March 6th 2018
Pages: 160
Genres: Nonfiction
Published by National Geographic Society
Format: Hardcover
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher


A book for dog lovers everywhere. Celebrating the amazing relationships shared with our four-legged friends, each story recounts the love of dogs and the powerful ways dogs impact our lives.

In this heartwarming collection of stories, readers meet 38 incredible dogs who have gone above and beyond the job description of best friend. Each uplifting story provides an inspiring look at the animals who change our lives. Meet rescue dogs who learn to serve others, working dogs who go beyond the call of duty, and underdogs who surmount extraordinary challenges on the road to finding their forever home. This treasury of man's best friend features photographs and personal anecdotes from those who have been touched by the selfless love of a beloved pet.
Readers will be inspired by...* Extraordinary reunions: A dog is rescued from Aleppo, Syria, and reunited with his family in Canada, where they had relocated in 2015 after a missile destroyed their home.* Friendships meant to be: When a prosthetics clinic scheduled appointments for 9-year-old Avery and shelter puppy Hattie Mae on the same day, a fateful encounter leads to a lifelong friendship built on combatting disability. * Heroic acts: Shaya, a crime-fighting dog trained to track illegal poachers, hurt his leg chasing an injured rhino. The leg had to be amputated, but Shaya goes right back to work protecting animals.* True devotion: As he was participating in China's Four Deserts Gobi March, a six-day foot race, Dion Leonard met a dedicated pup who accompanied him for about 120 miles. Afterward, he decides to adopt the dog.

Goodreads

 


Of course I loved this book.  How could you not? This is a book filled with beautiful pictures of dogs as you’d expect from National Geographic. 

Each dog has a story that is 2-3 pages long. It describes how the dog was taken out of a shelter and found a job that they love to do.  There are therapy dogs, security dogs, actors, medical dogs, and anything else you could think of. There are probably dogs doing jobs that you’ve never even thought of before.

I’ll be taking this book to my office for people to look at in the waiting room.

24 Feb, 2018

A Spell in the Country

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading A Spell in the Country A Spell in the Country by Heide Goody, Iain Grant
on February 23rd 2018
Pages: 446
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Fiction
Format: eARC
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Setting: England

Dee is a Good Witch but she wonders if she could be a better witch.
She wonders if there’s more to life than Disney movie marathons, eating a whole box of chocolates for dinner and brewing up potions in her bathtub. So when she’s offered a chance to go on a personal development course in the English countryside, she packs her bags, says goodbye to the Shelter for Unloved Animals charity shop and sets a course for self-improvement.

Caroline isn’t just a Good Witch, she’s a fricking awesome witch.
She likes to find the easy path through life: what her good looks can’t get for her, a few magic charms can. But she’s bored of being a waitress and needs something different in her life. So when a one night stand offers her a place on an all-expenses-paid residential course in a big old country house, she figures she’s got nothing to lose.

Jenny is a Wicked Witch. She just wishes she wasn’t.
On her fifteenth birthday, she got her first wart, her own imp and a Celine Dion CD. She still has the imp. She also has a barely controllable urge to eat human children which is socially awkward to say the least and not made any easier when a teenager on the run turns to her for help. With gangsters and bent cops on their trail, Jenny needs to find a place outside the city where they can lay low for a while.

For very different reasons, three very different witches end up on the same training course and land in a whole lot of trouble when they discover that there’s a reason why their free country break sounds too good to be true. Foul-mouthed imps, wererats, naked gardeners, tree monsters, ghosts and stampeding donkeys abound in a tale about discovering your inner witch.

Goodreads

This book was absolutely ridiculous and I loved it.  I actually, honestly, literally laughed out loud a few times.  From surveys where the only right answer is commenting about the survey taker’s flaming hat to absolutely perverse imps to flying landscaping equipment, it took every stereotype about witches and twisted them delightfully. 

This is a book that you don’t try to hard to make perfect sense.  It is a madcap romp and you should just go along for the ride.  There are witches of all ages and abilities.  Some use herbs.  Some use whatever is laying around.  Others have a complete set of every type of mystical craft available in occult stores. 

My only complaint is that with all the action the characterization took a back seat.  Sometimes it was hard to keep track of which witch was which.  But that is a minor quibble.  Pick this one up for a light, silly story.

22 Feb, 2018

The Belles

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Belles The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton
on February 6th 2018
Pages: 448
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Disney-Hyperion
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.
But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie—that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.
With the future of Orléans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide—save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles—or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.

Goodreads

I wanted to love this book so much more than I did.  I’ve been hearing about it for so long and have heard such glowing praise of it that when I finished it and felt a bit blah towards it, I was disappointed.

The Hype

This book has been super hyped because of the use of a black model in a gown on the cover.  It was celebrated as a great step forward for representation in books and it is.  But because of that I thought that race would play a bigger part in this book than it does.  Skin color in this world is decided on a whim.  There is no change in status/power/importance placed on the skin color that you have.  It is a fashion accessory.  It just seemed like it went from “Yay for Black Girls” on the cover and in the promotions to “But actually, this doesn’t have anything to do with you specifically” in the story.  If I didn’t know anything about how this book was promoted, it probably wouldn’t have felt strange to me.

Worldbuilding

The author does a great job in the opening of setting up the world.  It is imaginative and vivid.  After that though the world building just seems to stop.  This is a long novel at 448 pages.  In most fantasy books that size you’d know about countries around the area, the basis of the economy, how people of different classes live, what is their technology based on, etc.  The main character is very sheltered but that isn’t unusual in fantasy.  Usually they find out more about their surroundings that she does in this book though.  At least they show some interest in what is going on around them.  Camillia really doesn’t.

Wishy Washy Heroine

Events happen to the characters in this book.  They do not direct the action.  I think this is the key to my dissatisfaction with this book. 

Every time she is asked to make a decision, she puts it off for days. Eventually she makes a decision but it is usually irrelevant by then because events have moved on.  When deciding between what is right/hard and what is easy/cruel, she always chooses easy/cruel if forced to make a choice in the moment.  She seems like she is supposed to be a nice person – she remembers servants’ names! – but she is so very weak.  Only after witnessing and participating in abuse after abuse does she start to think that something might be wrong.  I would be much more interested in reading a story about the one of her fellow Belles who threw a fit about what she was being made to do almost from the beginning.  

Series vs Stand alone book

It is fine to have a book designed to be part of a series but I hate it when there is no resolution at the end of a book.  Even just wrapping up some side storylines is more satisfying than a totally open-ended book.  In a way this feels like the story is just starting and the pages run out.  That’s fine if you can move right on to the next book but it is annoying here.  At the end I kept thinking of questions that weren’t answered and thinking, “Maybe that’s in the next book” instead of enjoying what was in this one.  

Overall

I think the idea was good.  There are some very creative details in the world building like teacup elephants and mail being delivered by small balloons.  It may turn out to be the beginning of a good series.  But it doesn’t stand alone well as a single book.  

14 Feb, 2018

A Mother’s Reckoning

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading A Mother’s Reckoning A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold
on February 15, 2016
Pages: 336
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Format: Audiobook, eBook
Setting: Colorado

On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked into Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Over the course of minutes, they would kill twelve students and a teacher and wound twenty-four others before taking their own lives.   For the last sixteen years, Sue Klebold, Dylan’s mother, has lived with the indescribable grief and shame of that day. How could her child, the promising young man she had loved and raised, be responsible for such horror? And how, as his mother, had she not known something was wrong? Were there subtle signs she had missed? What, if anything, could she have done differently?   These are questions that Klebold has grappled with every day since the Columbine tragedy. In A Mother’s Reckoning, she chronicles with unflinching honesty her journey as a mother trying to come to terms with the incomprehensible. In the hope that the insights and understanding she has gained may help other families recognize when a child is in distress, she tells her story in full, drawing upon her personal journals, the videos and writings that Dylan left behind, and on countless interviews with mental health experts.

Goodreads

As soon as I heard about this book I knew that it was a book I needed to read.  I turn into a tower of rage whenever I hear “Where were their parents?” in response to a teenager committing a crime.  I feel this because I know that someday this accusation is going to leveled at me concerning my stepdaughter.

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t read this book to get into the mind of a mass murderer.  I wanted tips about what to do after a child commits a crime.  Knowing that I wanted this felt awkward so while reading this book I broached the subject with my husband.

Me:  “So…… I’m reading Sue Klebold’s book about the aftermath of Columbine.  I sort of wanted to know what you do after a crime.”

Him:  “Yeah.  (long pause)   So what did you find out?”

Me:  “Lawyer up and grab the pets and go into hiding with relatives who don’t share your unusual last name.”

Him:  Looks concerned at me while we contemplate our very unusual last name.  We’re screwed.

The Klebolds had a very different experience than parents of mentally ill children do.  She addresses this at one point.

“I have heard many terrible stories of good people struggling to parent seriously ill, violent kids. I have nothing but compassion for them, and feel we must rehabilitate a health care system that too often leaves them out in the cold. If you want to feel sick to your stomach, listen to a mom tell you about the day her volatile ten-year-old narrowly missed stabbing her with the kitchen shears, and how it felt to call the police on him because she was worried the lock on his younger sister’s bedroom door wouldn’t hold against his rage. Too often, parents of seriously disturbed kids are forced to get the criminal justice system involved—even though it is drastically ill-equipped to manage brain illness—simply because there is nowhere else to turn.”

 

One thing I was surprisingly shocked to read was how many lawsuits were filed against the families of the shooters.  It wasn’t like they helped their kids stockpile weapons and then drove them to the school.  How were they at fault?  I think it is a sad commentary on our society feeling like someone has to take the blame for anything that happens and if the people responsible are dead, then the victim’s families just wanted someone else to blame.  There are excerpts of letters written to her by parents of the victims years later blaming her for not talking publicly so people could see if she was showing enough remorse.  They talk about wanting to know if she has learned anything.  This hounding from the victims’ families is part of the reason she wrote this book.  The proceeds are all being donated to mental health research.

I found Sue Klebold’s descriptions of herself and her parenting to be an example of the type of parent that drives me to exasperation.  It is the overinvolved yet absolutely clueless type.  These are the perky women who tell you that they have a great family and will fight to the death to uphold their belief that their precious little munchkin would never do anything wrong while you know that their child is the local drug dealer.  I’ve known a few of these types of mothers. They are exhausting.  I switched halfway through the book from audio to ebook because listening to her talk about the time before the shooting was irritating.  I understand it though.  The parents’ letters ask if she ever hugged her child or had a sit down meal with him.  People want to think that if they do everything “right” then their child will never commit a crime.  She admits that she thought like this too until her son went on a rampage.

Few of these parents ever have their illusions shattered as horrifically as this author did.  But she admits that she was able to shield herself from hearing anything about the crime for months so she was able to persist in her denial that her child did anything wrong.  She convinced herself that he was drugged or kidnapped or really a victim or was being threatened with danger to his family.  She was willing to believe anything except that he was a killer.  She persisted in this belief until the police laid out their whole case for them about 4 months after the murders.  Here is a horrible example of how she tried to justify her thinking.

This wasn’t the drug-riddled inner city, or some supposedly godless corridor like New York or Los Angeles.

 

Her solutions are jarring.  They are based in the idea that parents should know everything about their children.  She is obviously an extrovert who says that she loves to talk about issues.  If only you could force your children to tell you everything, you could prevent problems.  I can feel my poor little introvert soul shrinking when she talks about this. 

I’ve even imagined barricading myself in his room, refusing to leave until he tells me what he’s thinking.

 

She advocates searching rooms to find hidden journals or papers.  She says this knowing that her son hid weapons and bombs from her while she was actively searching his room.  They hid things so well that the police didn’t even find some of the hiding spots until they watched videos Dylan and Eric had left behind explaining how they had hid everything.  If a kid doesn’t want you to know something, you aren’t going to know it.

She brushes over the practical aftermath of the shootings for her family in one paragraph.  Basically, they were sued over and over and over and lost their house and went bankrupt for a crime they didn’t commit.  They also eventually divorced after 43 years of marriage because she is active in suicide prevention and he wanted to leave all of this in the past. 

I think she dismisses the bullying that Dylan and Eric had at school too much.  She doesn’t talk about it much at all.  Other sources have talked about how toxic Columbine High School was.  I did appreciate this statement in the book.

Larkin also points to proselytizing and intimidation by evangelical Christian students, a self-appointed moral elite who perceived the kids who dressed differently as evil and targeted them.

 

So much was made after Columbine in evangelical circles about the targeting of Christian kids.  It was used as proof that the shooters were evil.  Maybe the Christian community also needed to look at the behavior of their kids.

That’s ultimately the point of this story.  Everyone wants to demonize the parents of murderous kids because if you find the thing they did wrong, then it won’t happen to your family.  No one wants to admit that that isn’t the case.  Until society admits that it could happen to anyone, real help won’t happen.

 

 

 

09 Feb, 2018

Ninety Percent of Everything

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Ninety Percent of Everything Ninety Percent of Everything: Inside Shipping, the Invisible Industry That Puts Clothes on Your Back, Gas in Your Car, and Food on Your Plate by Rose George
on August 13th 2013
Pages: 304
Length: 9:33
Genres: Nonfiction
Published by Henry Holt
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible, Owned

On ship-tracking websites, the waters are black with dots. Each dot is a ship; each ship is laden with boxes; each box is laden with goods. In postindustrial economies, we no longer produce but buy. We buy, so we must ship. Without shipping there would be no clothes, food, paper, or fuel. Without all those dots, the world would not work.
Freight shipping has been no less revolutionary than the printing press or the Internet, yet it is all but invisible. Away from public scrutiny, shipping revels in suspect practices, dubious operators, and a shady system of "flags of convenience." Infesting our waters, poisoning our air, and a prime culprit of acoustic pollution, shipping is environmentally indefensible. And then there are the pirates.
Rose George, acclaimed chronicler of what we would rather ignore, sails from Rotterdam to Suez to Singapore on ships the length of football fields and the height of Niagara Falls; she patrols the Indian Ocean with an anti-piracy task force; she joins seafaring chaplains, and investigates the harm that ships inflict on endangered whales.

Goodreads

I’ve been intrigued by shipping ever since I heard a statistic in Moby Duck that said that 2 ships are lost weekly.  I never knew whether I should believe that or not.  That seemed like a lot of ships to lose without it being something everyone knows.  This book didn’t tell me if that was true but it did say that over 2000 people a year die at sea.  

This book follows a container ship journey from England to Singapore with side trips to investigate issues like piracy.  You learn about shipwrecks and human smuggling.  My favorite fact was that a container of broccoli will set off the radiation detectors at the shipyards.  (I knew broccoli was bad for you.)

I was surprised by how horrible life as a sailor is.  I knew it wasn’t a cushy job but the companies seem to go out of their way to make it worse.  The amount allotted per day for meals keeps dropping.  There is no internet even on ships built in the last few years.  Fast turnaround at docks means that shore leave is pretty much a thing of the past.  Some sailors she talks to haven’t been off the ship in 6 months.  If your ship gets captured by pirates, you are pretty much on your own for a while.  There is a set time that negotiations generally take.  If your company tries to speed it up so it doesn’t take months, the pirates get suspicious and keep you longer.  

I was interested to hear how the dockside churches are stepping up for sailors.  Because they can’t leave the ships, chaplins come onto the boats to help them get things they need.  They also try to help fix some of the horrible conditions by finding the right authorities for sailors to report complaints to.  

Read this one to find out everything about an industry that is so pervasive but no one knows about.

I loved the narrator of this audiobook.  She doesn’t sound like a typical nonfiction book narrator.  She’s very posh and British.  I looked up what else she has narrated because I was going to listen to them all.  It turns out that she is mostly a narrator of Regency Romances.  She sounds like she should be reading those.  I want her to read more nonfiction because that’s mainly what I listen to on audio.  Pearl Hewitt for narrator of every book!

08 Feb, 2018

Waking the Spirit

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Waking the Spirit Waking the Spirit: A Musician's Journey Healing Body, Mind, and Soul by Andrew Schulman
on August 2nd 2016
Pages: 304
Genres: Medical, Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs, Science
Published by Picador
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: New York

Andrew Schulman, a fifty-seven-year-old professional guitarist, had a close brush with death on the night of July 16, 2009. Against the odds—with the help of music—he survived: A medical miracle.
Once fully recovered, Andrew resolved to dedicate his life to bringing music to critically ill patients at Mount Sinai Beth Israel’s ICU. In Waking the Spirit, you’ll learn the astonishing stories of the people he’s met along the way—both patients and doctors—and see the incredible role music can play in a modern hospital setting.
In his new work as a medical musician, Andrew has met with experts in music, neuroscience, and medicine. In this book, he shares with readers an overview of the cutting-edge science and medical theories that illuminate this exciting field.
This book explores the power of music to heal the body and awaken the spirit.

Goodreads

Andrew Schulman was a professional classical guitarist.  He went into the hospital to have a biopsy but an allergic reaction to medication while in surgery led to him spending time in a coma in the surgical ICU.  He was nonresponsive to anything until his wife started playing his favorite playlist of music for him.  After his recovery, he started to research the links between music and healing.  He also returned to the surgical ICU three days a week to play for an hour.

I’ve been lurking on some music therapy harp groups on Facebook.  I like the types of music that these musicians seem to play and I was actually looking for good sources of music for relaxing harp pieces. I know a lot of it is improv.  In this book, Andrew Schulman does some improv but finds himself mostly playing three types of music – Bach, Gershwin, and The Beatles.

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There are a lot of stories in the book that show how small of a world the New York music world must be.  He meets family members of composers, Gershwin scholars, and people who performed on his favorite recordings.  Along the way he is shocked to find that he starts to heal the brain damage that his time in a coma caused.

I liked the incorporation of the science along with the stories.  He will talk about seeing music calm pain responses and then will get a scientific opinion on why that works.

You’ll finish this book believing that Bach should be playing in every recovery unit in the hospital.  Even if you don’t play an instrument, this is an uplifting story about how the body can heal itself and how not every medical intervention needs to be using drugs.

07 Feb, 2018

Sugar and Spice and All Those Lies

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Sugar and Spice and All Those Lies Sugar and Spice and All Those Lies by Evy Journey
on November 29, 2017
Pages: 181
Genres: Fiction
Format: eARC
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher

Cooking a wonderful meal is an art. An act of love. An act of grace. A gift that affirms and gives life—not only does it nurture those who partake of the meal; it also feeds the soul of the creator. These are lessons Gina learns from her mother, daughter of an unfortunate French chef.

Gina is a young woman born to poor parents, a nobody keen to taste life outside the world she was born into. A world that exposes her to fascinating people gripped by dark motives. Her passion for cooking is all she has to help her navigate it.

She gets lucky when she’s chosen to cook at a Michelin-starred restaurant in the San Francisco Bay Area where customers belong to a privileged class with money to spare for a dinner of inventive dishes costing hundreds of dollars. In this heady, scintillating atmosphere, she meets new friends and new challenges—pastry chef Marcia, filthy rich client Leon, and Brent, a brooding homicide detective. This new world, it turns out, is also one of unexpected danger.

Goodreads

 

The main character is working at a restaurant.  She has a chance to serve one of the dishes she created to a favored client.  He is there on a date with her childhood best friend.  He immediately, like while sitting in front of his date, starts talking about his interest in the main character.  That’s super creepy behavior.  Then he starts to stalk her in spite of her repeated requests for him to stop.

Apparently every time her friend’s boyfriends meet our main character they immediately fall for her without her doing anything at all to encourage them.

 

 

 
I actually checked several times to confirm that this was written by a woman. You usually don’t see the ‘vapid heroine who doesn’t do anything to attract men but they fall all over her just for existing storyline’ in books written by women. You especially don’t see it to the point where other women are physically attacking her – repeatedly. This book also doesn’t really seem to consider stalking to be a bad thing. It is just proof he loves you. If he won’t stop, you just haven’t said no hard enough and why are you wanting to say no anyway?

I thought our stalking dude was obviously the bad guy of the story but I was wrong.  Our MC decides to move in with her stalker because he’s rich and she wants to live that lifestyle until he gets tired of her and kicks her out.  That’s her plan. When her mother tells her that it is a completely stupid idea she is presented as out of touch.

I didn’t care about anyone in this story except maybe Christi, the main character’s childhood best friend.  Everyone else was only out for themselves and didn’t give you any reason to root for them.  I’m not a fan of books with amoral characters.  Books where everyone is just using each other with no concern about the right or wrong of their actions don’t usually work for me.  That’s definitely the case here.


Evy Journey, writer, wannabe artist, and flâneuse (feminine of flâneur), wishes she lives in Paris where people have perfected the art of aimless roaming. Armed with a Ph.D., she used to research and help develop mental health programs.

She’s a writer because beautiful prose seduces her and existential angst continues to plague her despite such preoccupations having gone out of fashion. She takes occasional refuge by invoking the spirit of Jane Austen to spin tales of love, loss, and finding one’s way—stories into which she weaves mystery or intrigue.

Connect with the author: Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Pinterest  

I received a copy of the book from IRead Book Tours.

06 Feb, 2018

Deborah Calling

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Deborah Calling Deborah Calling by Avraham Azrieli
on July 25, 2017
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Format: eARC
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Setting: Jordan/Israel

Deborah’s father dreamed that, one day, she would become a prophet—a seemingly impossible dream for a woman in a patriarchal society. To see her father’s dream come true, Deborah made the cunning decision to become a man and sought out a mysterious elixirist who can turn women into men.
Under the elixirist Kassite’s tutelage and training, Deborah learns the essential traits of masculinity and steadily grows stronger, building muscle and willpower. But Kassite requests something in return: he needs Deborah's help to escape the tannery and return to his homeland. It is the beginning of another thrilling adventure through the desert—a cat and mouse chase between Deborah and her violent fiancé who still hunts her, a chance meeting with an ancient healer with a prophetic message, and a revelatory spiritual experience in an abandoned cave.
As she continues on the path God has laid before her, Deborah witnesses the darkness that can take hold in the hearts and souls of men—evil that causes her to reflect on the wisdom, insight, and inspiration she has gained from the women in her life. Will becoming a man truly help her become a prophetess, or might there be another path? Visionary dreams, a mysterious eagle, and an extraordinary band of ex-slaves will help Deborah find the answer . . . and ultimately her calling.

Goodreads

I haven’t read the first book in this series that imagines the life of Deborah from the biblical book of Judges.  I received this book as part of a blog tour but it was not difficult to understand what had come before.  We know in the bible Deborah is leading the tribes of Israel but how did a woman get to this position of authority?  This story posits that her father had a dream that said that she would be a prophet.  She can not imagine how this could happen as a woman so she decides to take a potion that would turn her into a man.  Obviously, hormone therapy wasn’t available then so she is getting scammed by the people who are supposedly helping her.

She has a lot of internalized misogyny.  This isn’t surprising given the thoughts about women in her time.  But the men who are supposedly helping her keep drilling it into her head.  Women are stupid and emotional.  Men are in all ways superior.  I started highlighting these comments as they came up in the book.

“Girls aren’t stupid.” “It is not a matter of stupidity, but of destiny. Women exist to keep the home—make food, sew clothes, bear children, care for infants. That is why the gods made women fit for domesticated submission—passive, temperamental, small-minded, and anxious.


Deborah’s face flushed with shame. The mere sight of someone resembling Zariz had caused her to cast off all masculine strength and posture, instantly regressing to the foolish girl she had once been.


Kassite might view it as yet another manifestation of feminine weakness.

 

There are more but that is the general idea.  They keep telling her that she needs to search inside herself to get the final inspiration to complete her transformation to a man.  I was hoping that this led to her realizing her strength as a woman and deciding that she didn’t need to change herself externally in order to be able to be a prophet.  The book could have easily had that be the outcome.  I thought that was what it was leading to.  Instead she decides to embrace her life as a woman because she has a magical dream where she sees herself dispensing justice as a woman.  What?

When she declares this to her “mentors”, they dismiss her ideas and no longer accord her the same respect as when she was trying to be masculine.

“I am disappointed,” Kassite said. “You still think like a girl.”

Obviously the constraints of the time and place restrict how “Smash the Patriarchy” the story can go but I wanted more realization of feminine strength than was seen in this book.

This is part of a continuing series.  You don’t know at the end how she rises in power.  This is a story that I would love to hear but I’m not sure that I will be satisfied with this author’s imagining of the story. This book works fine as an adventurous historical fiction tale but it was worrisome to read this much internalized misogyny that isn’t disputed in the text from a male author.

There are also some anachronisms in the story especially in regard to the horses.  I’m a horse history nerd so that might not bother anybody else.

 

02 Feb, 2018

When They Call You A Terrorist

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading When They Call You A Terrorist When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors, Asha Bandele
on January 16th 2018
Pages: 272
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by St. Martin's Press
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: California

From one of the co-founders of the Black Lives Matter movement comes a poetic memoir and reflection on humanity. Necessary and timely, Patrisse Cullors' story asks us to remember that protest in the interest of the most vulnerable comes from love. Leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement have been called terrorists, a threat to America. But in truth, they are loving women whose life experiences have led them to seek justice for those victimized by the powerful. In this meaningful, empowering account of survival, strength, and resilience, Patrisse Cullors and asha bandele seek to change the culture that declares innocent black life expendable.

Goodreads

The phrase “When They Call You A Terrorist” refers to two episodes in the author’s life:

  1. When Black Lives Matter is referred to as a terrorist group by people who oppose them
  2. When her mentally ill older brother was charged with terrorism for yelling at a person during a traffic accident

This memoir focuses more on her life leading up to the founding of Black Lives Matter than the aftermath.  It tells the story of living in a community that is very heavily policed.  When her brother starts showing signs of mental illness his interactions with the police increase.  He is taken away and no one is able to find out where he is for months despite constant searching.  He isn’t treated but just medicated to keep him quiet.  He is repeatedly beaten by the police.

I immediately compare this to police treatment of my mentally ill step daughter.  She’s 14.  She has been repeatedly restrained by the police both at schools and at home because of her violence.  She has sent adults to the hospital. She has destroyed property.  The police will not ALLOW her to be charged with a crime despite multiple requests because “she has a diagnosis.”  Wanna guess the other differences between her and the author’s brother besides access to healthcare to get a diagnosis?  Yeah, she’s white and lives in an affluent suburb. 

I’m not sure how so many white people can continue to think that unequal policing doesn’t exist. Even if you aren’t involved in a situation that highlights it, so many videos exist.  It has to be just willful ignorance to deny the evidence.

The author helped organize a bus trip into Ferguson after Mike Brown’s death.  A church was offered as a staging place for the 600 people coming in.  I thought about that for a while.  My brother works at a church that would be perfect for that sort of thing.  It is right off the interstate.  It has a huge parking lot that could hold a lot of buses.  There is a school attached so maybe there are locker rooms so people could shower.  Then I laughed and laughed.  I can’t imagine a white majority church EVER opening their doors to a protest group.  They’d have to fight about it in committee and through the church gossip networks for months before they could even begin to make a highly contested decision.  Then the pastor would be fired. 

My mental tangents aside, this book is ultimately about the power of love and what it looks like to try to live out that love in the real world.  It is a short, lyrical book that can help open people’s eyes to the needs in communities that have adversarial relationships with police.

23 Jan, 2018

Heroine Complex

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Heroine Complex Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn
on July 5th 2016
Pages: 378
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Published by DAW
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: California

Being a superheroine is hard. Working for one is even harder.
Evie Tanaka is the put-upon personal assistant to Aveda Jupiter, her childhood best friend and San Francisco's most beloved superheroine. She's great at her job—blending into the background, handling her boss's epic diva tantrums, and getting demon blood out of leather pants.
Unfortunately, she's not nearly as together when it comes to running her own life, standing up for herself, or raising her tempestuous teenage sister, Bea.
But everything changes when Evie's forced to pose as her glamorous boss for one night, and her darkest comes out: she has powers, too. Now it's up to her to contend with murderous cupcakes, nosy gossip bloggers, and supernatural karaoke battles—all while juggling unexpected romance and Aveda's increasingly outrageous demands. And when a larger threat emerges, Evie must finally take charge and become a superheroine in her own right... or see her city fall to a full-on demonic invasion.

Goodreads

Annie and Evie have been friends since Annie first stood up for Evie against some bullies in elementary school.  Now as adults, Evie is Annie’s personal assistant.  Annie is San Francisco’s only superhero Aveda Jupiter.  She’s all about the glory.  She dumps everything else on Evie who takes it because she feels like she owes Annie.

Annie/Aveda is truly abusive to Evie.  Everyone sees it but her.  When Evie is forced out of the shadows she needs to rely on her own powers to save the city and find a life for herself outside of Aveda Jupiter’s orbit.

Good things about this book:

  • Asian female superheroes – Annie is Chinese and Evie is half-Japanese
  • The menace is fairly lighthearted and fun.  It starts with demons taking the form of cupcakes that bite and ends with demonic minions who complain about everything the boss demon does.  I could imagine this whole book as a technicolor comic strip.
  • Evie learning to stand up for herself is wonderful.

Annoying things:

  • Evie has been suppressing her emotions in order to keep her powers under control.  When she starts to get in touch with her feelings, the first one that she notices is lust.  She refers to her lack of lustful feelings as the Dead Inside-o-meter.  The idea that she hasn’t had sex in three years is considered proof of emotional problems.  I’m not a fan of stories that consider either asexuality or celibacy as the weirdest thing that ever happened.
  • Evie’s teenage sister is the worst person ever.  Well, maybe second worse next to Aveda.  It is hard to tell but then they start hanging out together and amplify each other’s behavior and it is everything horrible.  They are selfish and childish but Evie is supposed to be seen as no fun for objecting to it all.
  • I didn’t like the romances in this book.  They just seemed added because you have to have a sexual partner (see complaint 1).  Suddenly, she has feelings for a person who annoys her all the time?  The fact that someone annoys you is actually stated as proof that you probably deep down want to sleep with them.  No, maybe they are just annoying and you have the good sense to stay away from them.

 

18 Jan, 2018

Son of a Trickster

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Son of a Trickster Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson
on February 7th 2017
Pages: 336
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Knopf Canada
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: British Columbia

Everyone knows a guy like Jared: the burnout kid in high school who sells weed cookies and has a scary mom who's often wasted and wielding some kind of weapon. Jared does smoke and drink too much, and he does make the best cookies in town, and his mom is a mess, but he's also a kid who has an immense capacity for compassion and an impulse to watch over people more than twice his age, and he can't rely on anyone for consistent love and support, except for his flatulent pit bull, Baby Killer (he calls her Baby)--and now she's dead.
Jared can't count on his mom to stay sober and stick around to take care of him. He can't rely on his dad to pay the bills and support his new wife and step-daughter. Jared is only sixteen but feels like he is the one who must stabilize his family's life, even look out for his elderly neighbours. But he struggles to keep everything afloat...and sometimes he blacks out. And he puzzles over why his maternal grandmother has never liked him, why she says he's the son of a trickster, that he isn't human. Mind you, ravens speak to him--even when he's not stoned.
You think you know Jared, but you don't.

Goodreads

This is not the book that I expected from the blurb.  I expected urban fantasy with Jared finding out he’s supernatural in the beginning of the book and then he has adventures.  That doesn’t happen.  Instead this is a hard look at the life of a First Nations teenager who lives with his unreliable and violent drug dealer mother and her boyfriend.  This book takes you up close and personal into a life of poverty and crime.  There is almost no magic happening for the first 2/3 of the book.  

It even has two of my automatic DNF plots.  His dog dies of heartworm at the beginning of the book (with a very odd veterinary clinic scene that isn’t anything that would happen for real).  There is also a scene of his mother killing a dog with her truck on purpose.  Animal abuse is a DNF.

I also absolutely hate stories of teenagers who do nothing but drink and take drugs.  I hate it in real life and I hate wasting my time on that type of plot in books.

So, knowing all that, why did I finish this book and think it was great?

The writing pulled me in and kept me engaged with the story.  Jared looks like he has nothing going for him.  His mother is an addict and dealer.  He is doing some low-level dealing.  But he is trying to keep his mother’s bills paid while also trying to keep his father and his new wife’s rent up to date.  He even helps his elderly neighbors with their chores.  None of the adult relatives in Jared’s life are responsible so he feels that he needs to be.  The only person he feels like he may be able to rely on is his paternal grandmother but his mother has forbidden him to talk to her.  He does anyway and he really wants to go live with her in order to finish school but he feels that it would be a betrayal of his mother, even when she is continuously betraying him.  By the end you want to protect him from yet another person who lets him down.

As Jared starts to see manifestations of his traditional beliefs appearing before him, he decides that he has been doing too many drugs and decides to get clean.  I love that that was his response to an invisible bear in the living room and cavemen in his bedroom.  But the magic is real and has always been there even if it is just starting to get through to him.

The author did a good job depicting the charm vs the dangerous irresponsibility of a drug-involved parent.  Jared’s mom obviously loves him and dotes on him but she also exposes him to men who hurt him and she will disappear without warning.  She relies on him to get her through bad trips and lavishes presents on him when she is manic.  She’s horrible but draws you into her self-absorbed world. 

Jared’s friends feel real.  They are a mix of popular and unpopular kids.  Native and non-Native also.  Each is well fleshed out and are unique characters.  

Of course this book really started to pick up for me when the magic became more apparent.  And then it was over.  I feel like there wasn’t a resolution.  This is part one of a series so I know that there will be more to the story but I would have liked to see more of an ending than this.  

 

17 Jan, 2018

Binti Trilogy

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Binti Trilogy Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
on September 22nd 2015
Pages: 96
Published by Tor.com

Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.
Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti's stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.
If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself - but first she has to make it there, alive.

Goodreads

I decided not to read any of this trilogy until they were all released.  I think that was a good decision.  I bought the first two novellas and preordered the third right after Christmas.  In the years since Binti came out I had heard a lot about it but somehow did not entirely understand what it was about.  I knew that she was a girl from Africa who was going to university on another planet.  I thought this was going to be the story of her schooling.  It isn’t.

Binti takes place almost entirely on the ship on her way to the university.  Binti comes from a insular culture.  Family and tradition are of the highest importance.  At the same time they are very technologically advanced and make advanced devices for everyone.  Binti is most comfortable working with mathematical formulas.  They help her focus and relax.  She can manipulate electrical current through formulas.  Sheis a harmonizer who can bring disparate things together.  She’s supposed to take over the family business.  Instead she runs in the middle of the night to go off planet.  This is an ultimate betrayal of her family and culture.

Every time I read a Nnedi Okorafor book what stays with me is the imagination in the fine details more than the plot.  It starts with Binti’s faulty hover technology that she uses to move her suitcases.  It extends to the interstellar ships that are actually live animals that look like shrimp.  They like to travel and are fine with taking passengers along.

This whole series is an exploration of what it means to be uniquely “you”.  Does Binti lose her identity when she leaves her family or is she changing into an expanded version of herself?  Is it right or wrong to change in that way?  The women of Binti’s tribe wear a mixture of clay and oils on their skin to protect it from the desert.  It marks her as an outsider from other cultures on Earth but it saves her when the ship is attacked.  She is the only survivor and has to learn to use her gift for harmonizing to help stop a war.


Binti Trilogy Home by Nnedi Okorafor
on January 31st 2017
Pages: 176
Published by Tor.com

It’s been a year since Binti and Okwu enrolled at Oomza University. A year since Binti was declared a hero for uniting two warring planets. A year since she abandoned her family in the dawn of a new day.
And now she must return home to her people, with her friend Okwu by her side, to face her family and face her elders.
But Okwu will be the first of his race to set foot on Earth in over a hundred years, and the first ever to come in peace.
After generations of conflict can human and Meduse ever learn to truly live in harmony?

Goodreads


The events of the first novella were very traumatic for Binti.  She is still learning how to handle her nightmares in addition to the changes in her body after some Meduse DNA was placed in her.  Is she still Himba with the addition of alien DNA?  Will her family ever be able to accept her if she goes home?  She decides that she has to go back to Earth to see.  Her goal is to take part in a pilgrimage that will earn her place as an adult woman of the Himba.  Okwa, her Meduse friend, decides to go with her.  He will be the first Meduse to ever come to Earth peacefully.

Friends and family members turn their back on her.  Then she is prevented from going on the pilgrimage by the arrival of members of a desert people who the Himba have always looked down on.  They take her into the desert to explain their history to her.  Her father is one of the them but he turned his back on them to become Himba.  Again we get into questions of identity.  Binti was raised to stay in her own community.  Her world keeps expanding against her will.

While she is in the desert, her family and Okwa are attacked.  Now she has to try to make her way back to see if anyone survived.

This was my favorite of the series.  Binti is pushing through the boundaries that have been set for a woman of her age and tribe.  As she grows, there is a ripple effect in her community.


Binti Trilogy The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor
on January 16th 2018
Pages: 160
Published by Tor.com

Binti has returned to her home planet, believing that the violence of the Meduse has been left behind. Unfortunately, although her people are peaceful on the whole, the same cannot be said for the Khoush, who fan the flames of their ancient rivalry with the Meduse.
Far from her village when the conflicts start, Binti hurries home, but anger and resentment has already claimed the lives of many close to her.
Once again it is up to Binti, and her intriguing new friend Mwinyi, to intervene--though the elders of her people do not entirely trust her motives--and try to prevent a war that could wipe out her people, once and for all.

Goodreads


I’m glad I read these almost back to back.  This story picks up immediately where the last one left off.  Binti is getting back to her village that has been attacked while she was gone.  She tries to rally the survivors but meets opposition from people who believe that their nature requires them to stay neutral and out of harm’s way while other more powerful groups fight.  Binti wants to use the power of her culture to bring peace.  She is ignored because after all she is just a girl and a very poor example of a Himba, in the elders’ eyes.   Binti is becoming a bit more used to her expanded world view though.  She can see how to bring people together even though it is going to cost her everything to do this alone.

These books do a very good job of combining traditional Himba culture, other West African beliefs such as the importance of Masquerades, advanced technology, and alien civilizations without making it feel like one is automatically better than any of the others.  Binti learns to incorporate all these aspects of herself into her idea of who she is even if she really doesn’t want to.

“I have always liked myself, Dr. Tuka.” I looked up at her.  “I like who I am.  I love my family. I wasn’t running away from home.  I don’t want to change, to grow!  Nothing … everything … I don’t want all this … this weirdness! It’s too heavy!  I just want to be.”

 

I would recommend this series for anyone who enjoys science fiction that is very personal instead of a vast epic.  It is for anyone who ever felt like they didn’t fix exactly in the space that they were born to occupy even if they really want to fit there perfectly.

12 Jan, 2018

Family Tree

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Family Tree Family Tree by Susan Wiggs
on January 9th 2018
Pages: 400
Genres: Fiction
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks
Format: Paperback
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Setting: Vermont

Sometimes the greatest dream starts with the smallest element. A single cell, joining with another. And then dividing. And just like that, the world changes. Annie Harlow knows how lucky she is. The producer of a popular television cooking show, she loves her handsome husband and the beautiful Los Angeles home they share. And now, she’s pregnant with their first child. But in an instant, her life is shattered. And when Annie awakes from a yearlong coma, she discovers that time isn’t the only thing she’s lost.
Grieving and wounded, Annie retreats to her old family home in Switchback, Vermont, a maple farm generations old. There, surrounded by her free-spirited brother, their divorced mother, and four young nieces and nephews, Annie slowly emerges into a world she left behind years ago: the town where she grew up, the people she knew before, the high-school boyfriend turned judge. And with the discovery of a cookbook her grandmother wrote in the distant past, Annie unearths an age-old mystery that might prove the salvation of the family farm.

Goodreads

I chose to read this book because of the mystery surrounding her grandmother’s old cookbook. I wanted to see how it saved the family farm. You know, “living well is the best revenge” and all that.

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This book is told in alternating time lines. In the present timeline, Annie has had an accident that put her in a coma. She’s been moved to back to her hometown in Vermont. She wakes up not remembering much about her previous life.

In the flashbacks, you get the story of her growing up on the farm and falling in love with the new kid in town. Then you find out how she became the producer of a hit TV cooking show and met her husband.

I found myself getting bored with the flashbacks. I was much more interested in her current situation than with how she got here. I was glad when the storylines converged and it was all in the present.

 

How was the foodie content?

  • You get the basics of how maple syrup is made
  • You get a brief look at distilling whisky
  • She did run a successful cooking show
  • She really likes to cook

But what about the mysterious cookbook that saves the farm?  That gets into spoiler territory so I recorded some spoiler-full observations about the book if you are interested.

 

I would recommend this book to people who like romances with former partners. If you are most interested in the food portions of the book you might be a bit disappointed because it doesn’t play as major of a role as I would have thought.

10 Jan, 2018

Heart in the Right Place

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Heart in the Right Place Heart in the Right Place by Carolyn Jourdan
on June 15th 2007
Pages: 304
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Algonquin Books
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: Tennessee

Carolyn Jourdan had it all: the Mercedes Benz, the fancy soirees, the best clothes. She moved in the most exclusive circles in Washington, D.C., rubbed elbows with big politicians, and worked on Capitol Hill. As far as she was concerned, she was changing the world.
And then her mother had a heart attack. Carolyn came home to help her father with his rural medical practice in the Tennessee mountains. She'd fill in for a few days as the receptionist until her mother could return to work. Or so she thought. But days turned into weeks.
Her job now included following hazmat regulations for cleaning up bodily fluids; maintaining composure when confronted with a splinter the size of a steak knife; distinguishing between a "pain," a "strain," and a "sprain" on indecipherable Medicare forms; and tending to the loquacious Miss Hiawatha, whose daily doctor visits were never billed.

Goodreads

At first glance this is a funny memoir of life in a small town medical office.  Stories of men who try to operate on themselves or get injured doing ill advised things abound.  There are also heart breaking stories of the deaths of beloved patients and friends.  If you like stories full of small town characters, this would be a great read for you.

On a deeper level though, I found it quite disturbing.  The author’s father is a doctor.  He has a practice with one nurse and his wife is the receptionist/office manager.  His wife is unpaid for this more than full time job.  She also has a doctorate but has spent her life doing unpaid work to support her husband’s job.  When she gets sick her daughter comes home to take over her job.  Her daughter is a lawyer working for a Senator and is an expert on U.S. nuclear policy.  She gives up that job to become her father’s unpaid helper.  The reason they can’t hire anyone else is that the practice doesn’t make enough money to support a paid receptionist.  So now you have two highly educated women who have given up their careers to support this practice and you are denying a job to a person in the community who could be a fine receptionist if the job was paid.

The reason the practice isn’t making any money is because the patients are too poor to pay for healthcare.  Now we get into the failures of the U.S. health care system.  Unfortunately, that isn’t what people tend to take from memoirs like this.  They see a fine doctor who cares enough not to charge for services if people can’t pay.  That’s admirable but not sustainable.  If you can’t pay to keep the electric on, then the community loses its only health provider. 

(This is a touchy subject for me.  I work in a low cost, walk in veterinary clinic in a poor area.  I am basically living this doctor’s life in the veterinary world but with better staffing and hours.  People come in and regale us with tales of TV shows they’ve seen where the vet cares so much about animals that they don’t charge people.  The implication being that if we do charge, then we don’t care.  We just nod because no one wants an economics lesson or to hear about my massive pay cut to work here or the fact that the owner isn’t getting paid yet because the clinic just opened…)

The answer for communities like this is to find a better way for people to afford health care, not to emulate this model.  It isn’t possible moving forward.  Student debt is too high for newer doctors to be able to afford to live on what a practice like this makes.  I looked at buying a practice like this once.  The vet was making about $100,000 a year being on call 24/7.  I wasn’t willing to do that because that type of stress will kill you and once you figured in paying back a loan to buy the practice and doing some way past due maintenance to the building, I would have almost been paying to work there.  I had been out of school long enough not to have any student loans left.  If I had had the debt of today’s graduates, I could never have even considered it.

So, yeah, the book is cute and funny and sweet as long as you don’t look too closely at why a practice like this is needed. 

 

 

03 Jan, 2018

That Inevitable Victorian Thing

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading That Inevitable Victorian Thing That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E.K. Johnston
on October 3rd 2017
Pages: 330
Genres: Alternative History, Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Dutton Books for Young Readers
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: Ontario, Canada

Victoria-Margaret is the crown princess of the empire, a direct descendant of Victoria I, the queen who changed the course of history two centuries earlier. The imperial practice of genetically arranged matchmaking will soon guide Margaret into a politically advantageous marriage like her mother before her, but before she does her duty, she'll have one summer incognito in a far corner of empire. In Toronto, she meets Helena Marcus, daughter of one of the empire's greatest placement geneticists, and August Callaghan, the heir apparent to a powerful shipping firm currently besieged by American pirates. In a summer of high-society debutante balls, politically charged tea parties, and romantic country dances, Margaret, Helena, and August discover they share an unusual bond and maybe a one in a million chance to have what they want and to change the world in the process —just like the first Queen Victoria.

Goodreads

This is a YA alternative history book that imagines that the British Empire is still alive and well.  The decision that made the difference was that Queen Victoria named her eldest daughter heir and then married off all her other children to people in the Empire instead of other European royal families.  Now, the Empire is predominately made up of mixed race people.  Canada has a high percentage of people originally from Hong Kong.  The Church of England consists mostly of a DNA database that chooses the best DNA match for people.

The Crown Princess Victoria-Margaret wants one summer away.  She decides to make her debut in Canada while passing herself off as a cousin to one of the leading families there.  She makes other friends though who aren’t in on her secret and this leads to romantic entanglements that aren’t what she expected.

I thought the world building was interesting in this book.  It was intriguing to think about what might have happened if the British had treated their subjects as people worthy of respect.  If you pick too much at the assumptions made in the book though it might all fall apart.  My recommendation is just to enjoy it and go along for the ride. 

At the end of the book the main characters are hatching a plot.  It doesn’t seem very well thought out to me so I will be interested to see what happens in upcoming books. 

 

20 Dec, 2017

Sins of the Cities series

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Sins of the Cities series An Unseen Attraction by K.J. Charles, Matthew Lloyd Davies
on February 21, 2017
Pages: 247
Series: Sins of the Cities #1
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Format: eBook
Source: Owned

Lodging-house keeper Clem Talleyfer prefers a quiet life. He’s happy with his hobbies, his work—and especially with his lodger Rowley Green, who becomes a friend over their long fireside evenings together. If only neat, precise, irresistible Mr. Green were interested in more than friendship...
Rowley just wants to be left alone—at least until he meets Clem, with his odd, charming ways and his glorious eyes. Two quiet men, lodging in the same house, coming to an understanding... it could be perfect. Then the brutally murdered corpse of another lodger is dumped on their doorstep and their peaceful life is shattered.
Now Clem and Rowley find themselves caught up in a mystery, threatened on all sides by violent men, with a deadly London fog closing in on them. If they’re to see their way through, the pair must learn to share their secrets—and their hearts.

Goodreads

This is all Joce @squibblesreads’ fault.  She had a video comparing this book to The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue.  I had recently read a m/m historical romance and found it pretty disappointing.  She said that Rowley and Clem were her favorite couple.  I decided to give this one a try.

This book was so good.  Clem runs a boarding house that his half brother owns.  He was born after an Earl raped an Indian nanny who accompanied his brother’s family home to England.   Clem is seen as an embarrassment to his snobbish family and this is a way of keeping him out of sight.  The only condition of his employment is that he has to keep a drunken ex-vicar in the house no matter what.  Clem is a methodical person who needs to do one thing at a time.  Other people think that he is slow and clumsy because he gets flustered with too much stimuli.

Rowley is a taxidermist who takes lodgings at the house after setting up shop next door.  He prefers to be alone and can’t handle other people’s anger well after surviving an abusive childhood.  His quietness settles Clem.  The two of them gradually find enjoyment in each other’s company.  They have a nightly cup of tea together.  They are just starting to acknowledge feelings for each other when there is a robbery attempt and then a murder.

This is when homosexuality was still banned in England.   There is a pub called the Jack and Knave that Clem frequents.  It is open only to approved people brought by known clients.  Inside the Jack, gay men and women are free to socialize openly.  Many of the characters in this series are regulars there.

This book does a very good job on the romance portion of the book.  There is sexual activity but it is loving and in context of a relationship.  A mystery is introduced in this book but is not fully resolved until the series is over.   It involves Clem’s half-brother and then inheritance of the earldom.


Sins of the Cities series An Unnatural Vice (Sins of the Cities, #2) by K.J. Charles
Pages: 250

In the sordid streets of Victorian London, unwanted desire flares between two bitter enemies brought together by a deadly secret.
Crusading journalist Nathaniel Roy is determined to expose spiritualists who exploit the grief of bereaved and vulnerable people. First on his list is the so-called Seer of London, Justin Lazarus. Nathaniel expects him to be a cheap, heartless fraud. He doesn’t expect to meet a man with a sinful smile and the eyes of a fallen angel—or that a shameless swindler will spark his desires for the first time in years.
Justin feels no remorse for the lies he spins during his séances. His gullible clients simply bore him. Hostile, disbelieving, utterly irresistible Nathaniel is a fascinating challenge. And as their battle of wills and wits heats up, Justin finds he can’t stop thinking about the man who’s determined to ruin him.
But Justin and Nathaniel are linked by more than their fast-growing obsession with one another. They are both caught up in an aristocratic family’s secrets, and Justin holds information that could be lethal. As killers, fanatics, and fog close in, Nathaniel is the only man Justin can trust—and, perhaps, the only man he could love.

Goodreads

Nathaniel is a regular at the Jack and Knave who is still grieving his partner’s death five years ago.  He is a journalist and is assigned to debunk a medium.  He starts his investigation with Justin Lazarus and finds himself intrigued.  Nathaniel is surprised when investigating Clem’s mystery also leads him back to Justin who met one of the players in the saga one year ago.  This is not a slow burn romance like the first book.  This is hate/lust leading to sex leading to regret/embarrassment.  Then they are forced back together and over time a relationship builds.

Justin had a rough upbringing and has major trust issues.  He doesn’t feel bad at all about fleecing the rich and gullible.  Nathaniel is firmly on the side of living a moral life and not hurting anyone.  He has a hard time accepting the good in anyone in a dishonest profession.  Nathaniel is also uncomfortable moving on and feeling attracted to another man for the first time.  He especially doesn’t want to fall for someone so unlike his beloved partner.  The book talks about how difficult it was grieve when no one in the outside world knew of the love between the men.

The mystery continues to be resolved.  In each book a little bit is solved so it doesn’t feel like you are missing a conclusion even if you don’t have the whole picture yet.


SPOILERS

Sins of the Cities series An Unsuitable Heir by K.J. Charles
on October 3, 2017
Pages: 246
Series: Sins of the Cities #3

On the trail of an aristocrat’s secret son, enquiry agent Mark Braglewicz finds his quarry in a music hall, performing as a trapeze artist with his twin sister. Graceful, beautiful, elusive, and strong, Pen Starling is like nobody Mark’s ever met—and everything he’s ever wanted. But the long-haired acrobat has an earldom and a fortune to claim.
Pen doesn’t want to live as any sort of man, least of all a nobleman. The thought of being wealthy, titled, and always in the public eye is horrifying. He likes his life now—his days on the trapeze, his nights with Mark. And he won’t be pushed into taking a title that would destroy his soul.
But there’s a killer stalking London’s foggy streets, and more lives than just Pen’s are at risk. Mark decides he must force the reluctant heir from music hall to manor house, to save Pen’s neck. Betrayed by the one man he thought he could trust, Pen never wants to see his lover again. But when the killer comes after him, Pen must find a way to forgive—or he might not live long enough for Mark to make amends.

Goodreads

In this final book of the series, detective Mark finds the lost heir to the Earldom.  He is a trapeze artist performing with his twin sister.  Most people would jump at the chance to go from music hall performer to aristocrat but Pen Starling wants nothing to do with it.  He is genderfluid and comfortable living in a world where he is able to dress in a costume that fits how he feels on each day.  If he becomes an Earl, he would be forced to live as a man full time.  As he says, if he had been raised to be an Earl he might have been able to pass himself off as an eccentric recluse but as a former commoner he would be watched.  Information is given about court cases of the time regarding transgender people.

Mark is a Polish immigrant.  He was born with one arm.  He makes his way confidently through a world that makes no accommodations for people with disabilities.  He is pansexual and has previously had relationships with both men and women.  He embraces Pen’s genderfluidity as a wonderful aspect of him.  

This is my favorite of the books.  I loved Mark and Pen’s relationship.  The resolution of the mystery was unexpected and very satisfying to all parties involved.  I will definitely read this author again.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in Europe
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