Fred Rogers (1928–2003) was an enormously influential figure in the history of television and in the lives of tens of millions of children. As the creator and star of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, he was a champion of compassion, equality, and kindness. Rogers was fiercely devoted to children and to taking their fears, concerns, and questions about the world seriously. The Good Neighbor, the first full-length biography of Fred Rogers, tells the story of this utterly unique and enduring American icon. Drawing on original interviews, oral histories, and archival documents, Maxwell King traces Rogers’s personal, professional, and artistic life through decades of work, including a surprising decision to walk away from the show to make television for adults, only to return to the neighborhood with increasingly sophisticated episodes, written in collaboration with experts on childhood development. An engaging story, rich in detail, The Good Neighbor is the definitive portrait of a beloved figure, cherished by multiple generations.
This is the most perfect combination of narrator and subject. What could possibly be more soothing than listening to LeVar Burton reading about Fred Rogers? It was so perfect that I listened to this at 1x speed and did not speed it up even at points when the story started to drag.
This is a very in depth look at the life of Fred Rogers. I was fascinated by stories from his childhood. I didn’t know that he was born into a very wealthy family. He became a very accomplished pianist and composer before finding out about this new fangled thing called television and deciding almost on a whim to try it out. (It didn’t hurt that he was the son of some of the major stockholders of RCA which owned NBC at the time.) Later he split his time between working at a TV station and going to seminary to become a minister. These are all detours he couldn’t have taken if he had to worry about how to put food on the table for his family.
His mother instilled a sense of purpose in him. She was a philanthropist but not the kind that gets their name on flashy buildings. She found people in need and did what she could to support them.
One thing that was never addressed was Why Children? Everyone agrees that he had a child-like sense of wonder and that he related to kids more than adults but no one asked why. He had a very lonely childhood. He was bullied. I would think that would make him want to leave childhood far behind. He just always seemed to know that his purpose was to work with kids. I would have liked to see that addressed more.
This book is so detailed that it gets repetitive at times. That’s my only complaint. His life was fascinating. Anyone looking for a scandal in his life isn’t going to find it. Everyone agrees that the man you saw on TV was the real person.
From the ingenious comic performer, founding member of Monty Python, and creator of Spamalot, comes an absurdly funny memoir of unparalleled wit and heartfelt candor We know him best for his unforgettable roles on Monty Python--from the Flying Circus to The Meaning of Life. Now, Eric Idle reflects on the meaning of his own life in this entertaining memoir that takes us on an unforgettable journey from his childhood in an austere boarding school through his successful career in comedy, television, theater, and film. Coming of age as a writer and comedian during the Sixties and Seventies, Eric stumbled into the crossroads of the cultural revolution and found himself rubbing shoulders with the likes of George Harrison, David Bowie, and Robin Williams, all of whom became dear lifelong friends. With anecdotes sprinkled throughout involving other close friends and luminaries such as Mike Nichols, Mick Jagger, Steve Martin, Paul Simon, Lorne Michaels, and many more, as well as the Pythons themselves, Eric captures a time of tremendous creative output with equal parts hilarity and heart. In Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, named for the song he wrote for Life of Brian (the film which he originally gave the irreverent title Jesus Christ: Lust for Glory) and that has since become the number one song played at funerals in the UK, he shares the highlights of his life and career with the kind of offbeat humor that has delighted audiences for five decades. The year 2019 marks the fiftieth anniversary of The Pythons, and Eric is marking the occasion with this hilarious memoir chock full of behind-the-scenes stories from a high-flying life featuring everyone from Princess Leia to Queen Elizabeth.
Eric Idle has always been my favorite member of Monty Python so I absolutely had to listen to this book. I can’t imagine just reading this book. Listening to him read this made the book.
This book was so much fun. He is an unapologetic famous person. He talks a lot about all of his famous friends. He points out that he has non-famous friends but that no one in interested in reading about them. He hung out with Beatles and Rolling Stones and all the other famous comedians in the 1970s so the stories are as wild as you’d expect. One of my favorite stories was when Graham Chapman had a party at his house for his parents. His parents were ready to go to bed at 10 PM but first they politely kicked the Rolling Stones out of the house. I can see how some people would think of these stories as name dropping or bragging but he is full of so much love for his friends and joy for his life that I loved hearing about it. What can you expect from a man who gave a toast at David Bowie’s wedding to Iman and once got mistaken for a Beatle while standing next to George Harrison (who was pushed aside unrecognized)?
He weaves the story of Always Look on the Bright Side of Life through the book. He wrote it to have a happy ending in his movie that actually ended with the main character being crucified. Since then it has taken on a life of its own. It started being sung during British military disasters and then at funerals. He’s sung it for the Queen and during the Olympics. He’s sung it in drag and in a tutu, as one does.
If you are a Monty Python fan who has watched the many documentaries about the history of the Pythons you’ll love this book. You’ll have already gotten a good grasp of the official history from those shows. This book will fill in what fun was happening behind the scenes and in the time since.
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.
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!
When American mom Lenora Chu moved to China with her little boy, she faced a tough decision. China produced some of the world’s top academic achievers, and just down the street from her home in Shanghai was THE school, as far as elite Chinese were concerned. Should Lenora entrust her rambunctious young son to the system?
So began Rainey’s immersion in one of the most radical school systems on the planet. Almost immediately, the three-year-old began to develop surprising powers of concentration, became proficient in early math, and learned to obey his teachers’ every command. Yet Lenora also noticed disturbing new behaviors: Where he used to scribble and explore, Rainey grew obsessed with staying inside the lines. He became fearful of authority figures, and also developed a habit of obeisance outside of school. “If you want me to do it, I’ll do it,” he told a stranger who’d asked whether he liked to sing.
What was happening behind closed classroom doors? Driven by parental anxiety, Lenora embarked on a journalistic mission to discover: What price do the Chinese pay to produce their “smart” kids? How hard should the rest of us work to stay ahead of the global curve? And, ultimately, is China’s school system one the West should emulate?
She pulls the curtain back on a military-like education system, in which even the youngest kids submit to high-stakes tests, and parents are crippled by the pressure to compete (and sometimes to pay bribes). Yet, as mother-and-son reach new milestones, Lenora uncovers surprising nuggets of wisdom, such as the upside of student shame, how competition can motivate achievement, and why a cultural belief in hard work over innate talent gives the Chinese an advantage.
Lively and intimate, beautifully written and reported, Little Soldiers challenges our assumptions and asks us to reconsider the true value and purpose of education.
The author is the first generation American daughter of Chinese immigrants. She had a hard time reconciling her parents’ attitude toward education with her American school experiences. Now she and her American husband moved to Shanghai just in time for their oldest child to join the Chinese school system at age 3. Should he go to the state school or should they send him to an international school?
The book follows the first few years of Rainey’s Chinese education. It both affirms and challenges what the author thought she knew about Chinese education. From the first days when the children are continually threatened by the teachers with arrest or not being allowed to see their parents again if they don’t sit still to the teenage years and the national obsession with the college entrance test, she examines the effect of authoritarian teaching. The results surprised her.
I come from a family of teachers. What I learned from this book is that being a teacher in China is way better than being a teacher in the U.S.
Teachers are to be highly respected. The proper response to a request by a teacher to a parent is, “Yes, teacher. You work so hard, teacher.”
Bribery and gift gifting to teachers are both expected and illegal. These aren’t little gifts either. Vacations, gift cards with a month’s salary on it, and luxury goods are considered appropriate.
She talks about the other downsides of Chinese teaching, besides the threats.
Force feeding children
No help for special needs kids
Crushing amounts of homework and additional classes with tutors that start as young as age 3
Indoctrination in Chinese nationalism and communism
Rote rule following and stifling of creatively
On the plus side, there is:
Well behaved children who respect their elders
Fluency in written and spoken Mandarin and English before high school age
Advanced math skills
She talks to migrant parents who have left children at home in the rural areas of China in order to be able to afford their education. She talks to teenagers who are preparing for the college entrance exams and have differing takes on how to get ahead.
Ultimately she decides to leave Rainey in Chinese school up until 6th grade if he is still doing well. He will learn Mandarin almost fully by then and be strong in math. He will escape the pressures of the high school and college entrance exams that can crush students. They will continue to preach thinking for himself at home.
I did enjoy this look at education across China. I’d recommend it for anyone interested in educational theory. The narration was very well done in both Chinese and English.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
For Bill Fulton, being a soldier was his identity. He was called to protect and serve. So when the Army wanted to send him to Alaska, he went—they had never steered him wrong, after all.
After an involuntary medical discharge, Fulton was adrift until he started a military surplus store in Anchorage, where he also took on fugitive recovery missions. He was back on his feet, working with other badasses and misfits he considered brothers. He took pride in his business, with a wife and daughters at home. His life was happy and full.
But when a customer revealed he planned to attack a military recruiting station, Fulton had to make a choice: turn a blind eye and hope for the best or risk his safety, his reputation, and his business by establishing contact with his customers’ arch nemesis: the FBI.
He chose the latter, and his life changed forever.
The beginning of this book sounded familiar to me – like really, really familiar. Like the author, all my husband ever wanted to do was be a soldier until he was physically unable to do it any more. He was also in Alaska for a while. Their stories were so similar that I made him start listening to the audiobook too. He totally identified.
After the Army is where their paths diverged. The author opened a bouncing service that grew into a military surplus store and then a bounty hunting group while giving jobs to veterans who were having a hard time readjusting to civilian life. All of it came crashing down after he decided to help the FBI expose a militia in Fairbanks that had a plan to kill judges and their families. No good deed goes unpunished.
This book alternates between being really funny and being extremely horrifying.
It helps you get into the mindset of people who are convinced that the government is coming after them. There are people who think that hit squads have been sent after them so they have booby trapped their houses. None of them tend to be important enough for anyone to take notice of until they lay out their plans to “defend themselves” in paramilitary style. Even worse are those who are going to strike first before the government comes for them.
One of the most frustrating parts for me to read was when the author was being vilified by the left-leaning journalists he admired because of a run-in with an unidentified journalist while he was working security. Later when it became known that he was an FBI informant the media got his story all wrong again. He couldn’t defend himself either time. It has to be frustrating to be being talked about on TV when people have the basic facts and motivations for your actions wrong and make no attempt to talk to you and find out the facts. Hopefully, this book helps set the record straight.
Things I had confirmed while reading this book:
Living in Alaska isn’t for me
There are some really paranoid people out there and they have guns
Veterans need a welcoming, nonjudgmental space like his store became
Make sure you have your facts right before condemning people
This is a book that I would recommend for everyone. The topics discussed are important and aren’t covered enough.
Bill Fulton narrates his own story. He does a good job for an author-narrator.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
Critically acclaimed, award-winning British comedian and actor Eddie Izzard details his childhood, his first performances on the streets of London, his ascent to worldwide success on stage and screen, and his comedy shows which have won over audiences around the world.
Over the course of a thirty-year career, Eddie Izzard has proved himself to be a creative chameleon, inhabiting the stage and film and television screen with an unbelievable fervor. Born in Yemen and raised in Northern Ireland, Wales, and England, he lost his mother at the age of six—a devastating event that affected the rest of his life. In his teens, he dropped out of university and took to the streets of London as part of a comedy double act. When his partner went on vacation, Izzard kept busy by inventing a one-man escape act, and thus a solo career was ignited. As a stand-up comedian, Izzard has captivated audiences with his surreal, stream-of-consciousness comedy— lines such as “Cake or Death?” “Death Star Canteen,” and “Do You Have a Flag?” have the status of great rock lyrics. As a self-proclaimed “action transvestite,” Izzard broke a mold performing in makeup and heels, and has become as famous for his “total clothing” rights as he has for his art. In Believe Me, he recounts the dizzying rise he made from the streets of London to West End theaters, to Wembley Arena, Madison Square Garden, and the Hollywood Bowl.
I’m a huge Eddie Izzard fan. That’s a requirement for listening to this audiobook. If you think he is slightly funny or if you aren’t really sure if you know who he is, read the book but don’t listen to the audio yet. I’ve never experienced an audiobook quite like this. I think it is an audiobook that only could have been made by Eddie Izzard.
He is reading his book but he keeps getting distracted. The tape just keeps rolling as he goes off on tangents – things that he remembers about what he was talking about in the book but didn’t write down; new things that have happened since he wrote the book; or just things that have popped into his head that are more interesting right now than the printed words of the book. These include asking questions of the audio engineers and getting out his cell phone to Google the answer to questions he has. When he realizes how far afield he’s gone, he signals that he’s heading back to the text by saying, “End…Of…Footnote.” I’m going to use that phrase from now on to close any rambling monologue I have.
Even as a fan I was bored by the beginning of the book. His mother died when he was six and he was sent off to boarding school. This is important but all the details of his childhood were not necessary. I wanted to hear about how he got started performing and his later life. Once he got to these sections, I was much more interested.
One thing I was curious about when picking up his book was hearing how he discusses his gender identity. He’s famous for his “Executive Transvestite” routine. I always think of this when people on Twitter get angry about the use of the term transvestite. Eddie came out publicly in 1985. He still uses the terms transvestite and transgender interchangeably when referring to himself. I think of him as a person out living his life openly in public while others are fighting over terminology that he doesn’t care about. I think if he was coming out now he would most likely be identified by others as genderfluid based on his descriptions of his life.
He’s an amazing person who has performed standup all over the world in several different languages, has raised millions for charity by running insane amounts of marathons back to back, and has had many serious dramatic roles in TV shows and movies. He still thinks that he is a boring person who has made a choice to try to make himself more interesting by getting out and doing things. You could do worse.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
The Foundling tells the incredible and inspiring true story of Paul Fronczak, a man who recently discovered via a DNA test that he was not who he thought he was—and set out to solve two fifty-year-old mysteries at once. Along the way he upturned the genealogy industry, unearthed his family’s deepest secrets, and broke open the second longest cold-case in US history, all in a desperate bid to find out who he really is.
In 1964, when Paul Fronczak was 1 day old, he was kidnapped from the maternity ward of a hospital in Chicago. Fourteen months later a child was found abandoned in New Jersey. Very limited scientific tests were available at the time to determine paternity. All the FBI could say was that they could not rule out the possibility that the child found in New Jersey was Paul Fronczak. So they gave this child to the Fronczak family and considered both cases closed.
When he was 10 years old Paul found a box of newspaper clippings about his kidnapping case. He had never heard about it before. His parents refused to discuss it with him – ever. He grew up feeling like he didn’t really fit into his family. He wasn’t anything like them.
Then in his forties he decided it was time to investigate. He took a DNA test and convinced his parents to submit samples too. They later withdrew their consent but he sent their samples in anyway. This proved that he was not their biological child. Now he set out to answer two questions.
Who was he?
What happened to the real baby Paul Fronczak?
This book is a masterclass in the abilities and limitations of DNA analysis. It investigates the possibilities opened up by databases on the major genealogical websites to answer long standing family mysteries. (This happened in my husband’s family.)
What was fascinating to me was the reactions of the people around Paul during his search. They did not want him to find out the answers to his questions. I don’t understand that at all. His parents and brother cut all ties with him. If your child was kidnapped, wouldn’t you want to know what happened to him? Wouldn’t you want to know the truth about the child you raised? I don’t see why it would make any difference in your relationship to each other.
His wife wanted him to stop searching. I understand that it was taking up a lot of his time but how could you expect someone not to want to follow the clues he was getting? Maybe I just hate an unsolved mystery so much that I wouldn’t have been able to let it go. I can’t understand people who are insisting that you walk away from it.
Reading about his birth family may be hard for some people. A family situation that ends with dumping a toddler outside a department store is not going to be healthy and functional. There is a lot of abuse described.
He met so many fascinating people along the way. There were volunteer researchers who worked on his case. He met distant relatives identified through DNA who dug into their own family histories to try to find a link to him. He met other abandoned children who hoped that they would turn out to be the missing Fronczak child.
The book is not able to give definitive answers to all the questions that it raises but he does have a pretty good idea of what happened in his life and the life of his parents’ biological child at the end. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves genealogy and the science of genetic genealogy to see how it works in real life.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
"The Jon Stewart of the Arabic World"—the creator of The Program, the most popular television show in Egypt’s history—chronicles his transformation from heart surgeon to political satirist, and offers crucial insight into the Arab Spring, the Egyptian Revolution, and the turmoil roiling the modern Middle East, all of which inspired the documentary about his life, Tickling Giants.
Bassem Youssef’s incendiary satirical news program, Al-Bernameg (The Program), chronicled the events of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, the fall of President Hosni Mubarak, and the rise of Mubarak’s successor, Mohamed Morsi. Youssef not only captured his nation’s dissent but stamped it with his own brand of humorous political criticism, in which the Egyptian government became the prime laughing stock.
Bassem Youssef was an Egyptian cardiac surgeon trying to find a way to move out of Egypt in 2011. He was not politically active until the Arab Spring protests. A friend wanted to have a YouTube series discussing politics and he convinced Bassem to star in it mostly because he wouldn’t have to pay him. Suddenly, the series that they filmed in Bassem’s bathroom was an internet hit. Over the next few years they moved to TV and then to larger networks. The show was a hit. However, making fun of politicians in Egypt isn’t the safest life choice.
In a few years he rose from obscurity to being the most famous entertainer in Egypt to being forced to flee the country.
I loved this audiobook. I had never heard of Bassem Youssef before although he had been on The Daily Show and other U.S. TV shows. He says that he isn’t able to explain Egyptian or Islamic politics well but then explains them in an easy to understand manner. Now I understand who most of the players are and a little bit about what their goals are. His goal was to make fun of them all.
This is a scary book to read because you see so many parallels between Egypt and the path that the United States is on now. In fact, he came to the U.S. just in time to document the rise of Trump. Like Trevor Noah, he points out that Trump follows the same line of thinking as the African dictators. He talks about how people can convince themselves that everything is fine when everything is falling apart around them.
He shows how media can be manipulated to show whatever ‘truth’ the government wants you to believe.
Speaking satirical truth to power cost him his relationship with his family and his ability to go back to his country. His wife stayed with him but he isn’t really sure why. After all, she married a surgeon who a few months later decided that he was going to be a comedian in the country where it is illegal to make fun of the president and it went downhill from there.
There is a new documentary on the festival circuit called Tickling Giants about his life. I want to see it to be able to see many of the sketches that he describes in the audio book.
He is a huge fan of Jon Stewart. They ended up meeting and collaborating. (Or as it was charged in Egypt, he was recruited by Jon Stewart to work for the CIA.) Here’s Jon Stewart’s take on things the first time Bassem got in trouble.
If you want to understand more about the Arab Spring and the aftermath, this is a great book. If you want to know what resistance can look like, listen to this book. He narrates it himself and does a great job telling his story.
About Bassem Youssef
Bassem Raafat Muhammad Youssef is an Egyptian comedian, writer, producer, physician, media critic, and television host. He hosted Al-Bernameg, a satirical news program, from 2011 to 2014.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
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:
“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:
“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.
“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:
“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?
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.
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.
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.
“Leah Remini has never been the type to hold her tongue. That willingness to speak her mind, stand her ground, and rattle the occasional cage has enabled this tough-talking girl from Brooklyn to forge an enduring and successful career in Hollywood. But being a troublemaker has come at a cost. That was never more evident than in 2013, when Remini loudly and publicly broke with the Church of Scientology. Now, in this frank, funny, poignant memoir, the former King of Queens star opens up about that experience for the first time, revealing the in-depth details of her painful split with the church and its controversial practices.”
Leah Remini is the perfect person to write this tell all book about the inner workings of The Church of Scientology. She was brought into the religion as a child when her mother joined. She was taken out of school and moved to Florida in order to work at retreat center for Scientologists. She progressed through the religion as she started her acting career. As she became more famous, she was given more and more opportunities to promote her faith.
She knew that she was working to clear the planet. She was part of saving the world. If that meant that she needed to go to the center and do her courses for hours a day, she did it. If it meant giving millions of dollars for church activities, she went along. She faced interrogations based on reports that people wrote about her. She was even thrown off a boat once. It didn’t faze her.
Through it all she remained a true believer
Then she was invited to be part of the elite group of Scientologists who grouped around Tom Cruise. That was when she started to see hypocrisy. She saw people how weren’t behaving like the church demanded and nothing was being done about it. She noticed that people were disappearing and no one would talk about it. She decided that she needed to speak up to save her church — and they silenced her. Eventually she was declared to be a Suppressive Person who no Scientologist is allowed to associate with. This is a horrific punishment for a person whose entire life revolved around the church for thirty years and whose entire family are members.
That’s when she decided to speak out publicly.
I listened to the audio version of this book and I think that was a good choice. She reads her own story and you can hear the emotions brought up. There is sadness for her lost life and anger at the people who deceived her. There is love for her family who decided to stand by her.
My only issue with the audio is that got slow in the middle. She spends a lot of time detailing growing up in Scientology. It was necessary information to have to understand what happened later but it didn’t keep my interest. I actually put this audio down for several months and didn’t intend to go back to it. I only listened again because I finished another book and didn’t have anything else with me while in the car. I’m glad I picked it back up. The last third of the book was very compelling.
I’d recommend this book for anyone who wants to learn more about Scientology or anyone who is in the mood for a different look at a celebrity memoir.
“Comedian Zach Anner opens his frank and devilishly funny book, If at Birth You Don’t Succeed, with an admission: he botched his own birth. Two months early, underweight and under-prepared for life, he entered the world with cerebral palsy and an uncertain future. So how did this hairless mole-rat of a boy blossom into a viral internet sensation who’s hosted two travel shows, impressed Oprah, driven the Mars Rover, and inspired a John Mayer song? (It wasn’t “Your Body is a Wonderland.”)”
I have a confession. I hate YouTube. If I am forced to watch a video because of a deep interest in the subject, it better be captioned so I don’t have to turn the sound on my iPad on. It is no wonder that I’d never heard of Zach Anner before reading this book. It is also a testament to my love for his story that I’ve watched several of his YouTube videos and shared them with others.
Zach has cerebral palsy which causes him to have limited fine motor skills and poor balance. He describes his legs as mostly decoration. He has a lazy eye and his eyes don’t track which makes it difficult for him to read. He also has a razor-sharp mind, a wild sense of humor, and the compulsive need to express himself through pop culture references. This leads to a laugh out loud funny memoir about the unexpected turns his life has taken.
The book is not organized chronologically. I appreciated that. How many memoirs have you read where you know something interesting happens in the author’s twenties but first you have to suffer through the minutia of their childhood for many, many chapters? Here we start on a high note. He entered an online competition to win a spot on a reality show on OWN, Oprah’s network. The prize? His own TV show on the network.
His video went viral when it was discovered on Reddit and adopted as the favorite by 4chan purely because of the spelling of his name. He went on to win his own travel show on OWN. From there you can only go downhill through cancellation and strangers asking, “Didn’t you used to be….?” in stores. He describes how he moved to YouTube to make the realistic traveling with disabilities show that he wanted to make.
Along the way we learn about his attempts to find love, his love for music, his time working at Epcot policing other people’s disabilities, and his failures in adaptive P.E. class in 4th grade. Each story is hysterical but ends with a life lesson that manages to be uplifting without being sappy.
This is best experienced by listening to the audiobook. Zach narrates it himself. I can’t imagine this book without his upbeat and charming narration or without listening to himself crack himself up retelling the adventures that he’s had.
One of the first videos Zach talks about making is this one where his friends torture him at a trampoline park. I had to look it up.
It is even funnier when you hear the background story of what went into making it.
I will be recommending this book to EVERYONE! Do yourself a favor and get the audiobook and step into Zach’s world.
“The United States Postal Service is a wondrous American creation. Seven days a week, its army of 300,000 letter carriers delivers 513 million pieces of mail, forty percent of the world’s volume. It is far more efficient than any other mail service—more than twice as efficient as the Japanese and easily outpacing the Germans and British. And the USPS has a storied history. Founded by Benjamin Franklin, it was the information network that bound far-flung Americans together, fostered a common culture, and helped American business to prosper. A first class stamp remains one of the greatest bargains of all time, and yet, the USPS is slowly vanishing. Critics say it is slow and archaic. Mail volume is down. The workforce is shrinking. Post offices are closing.”
I’ve always been fascinated by the workings of the post office.
I’ve never understood how they can sort all that mail and get it to where it is going. If you told me that this was involved, I’d believe you.
That why I was so excited to listen to this book about the workings of the post office. I also had just visited the Smithsonian’s Post Office museum in Washington D.C. when I started the book. In all my visits to D.C. I had never known about this museum. It is right next to the train station.
Did you know?
Many of the major roads of the United States were laid out by mail carriers
Mail used to be delivered up to four times a day in U.S. cities
There have been a few times when mail volume got so high that the system collapsed
It was illegal for anyone other than the U.S. mail to deliver letters
The United States Postal Service is now an independent company that reports to the government instead of a government department
The Post Office is required to deliver everywhere. At times that has required mule trains to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, sled dog teams, and even reindeer. Mandatory rural delivery allowed farmers to get daily newspapers. This kept them informed of the best time to sell crops for the highest profit. It kept everyone in the country informed about events. The United States mail has helped to hold the country together.
I particularly liked learning about the mail trains. Specialist clerks rode these mobile sorting cars, picking up letters at high speed and getting them sorted before the next town. There was one of these mail cars in the museum and a video of former clerks showing their system of sorting. It was amazing. I also learned about Owney, the famous mail dog.
Technological advances have helped the mail be delivered faster and faster. Optical scanners were developed to read printed labels of bulk mailers and now can even read handwriting. After a few passes through the scanners, mail can be sorted into the order in which each carrier will deliver it. I think that’s just magical.
One thing that wasn’t covered at the museum but was well covered in the book was the Comstock Era. This is a time of strict censorship of the mail. Items that were judged to be obscene were not allowed. This included information on contraception. There was a lot of entrapment by postal inspectors who would order an item and then arrest the person who sent it.
Also not covered in the museum but talked about in the book was the wave of violence at post offices in the 1980s and 90s leading to the phrase “Going Postal.”
We all know the Post Office is having problems. First class mail is down as most people send emails instead of letters. The Post Office is not allowed to get involved in electronic forms in the U.S. by law, unlike in other countries. Amazon’s new partnership with them to deliver mail on Sundays is helping as is a renegotiation of the labor contracts of Post Office employees.
Those of us who love getting mail hope that they will find a way to survive and thrive.
I’d recommend this book for anyone who love learning about how everyday things work. The audio narration was very well done. The story moved quickly enough to keep my listening interest.
A powerful true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to fix our broken system of justice—from one of the most brilliant and influential lawyers of our time. Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever. Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.
Just Mercy had been on my radar for a while but I didn’t decide to pick it up until it was the first pick for the social justice book club hosted by Entomology of a Bookworm. I listened to the audiobook. It was narrated by the author and he did a good job of telling his story.
The story begins with the author setting up a branch of the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama. The goal is to help people on death row have legal representation.
The case of Walter McMillan is used to explain to the readers how our justice system can go horribly wrong.
Walter McMillan was convicted of a murder even though he was far away from the murder scene with a large group of people, the person who accused him couldn’t identify him in a room, and the truck he was supposedly driving had its transmission rebuilt that day at the time of the murder.
Other cases are discussed throughout the book. Another focus of the author’s is the plight of children who were tried as adults and received life sentences without the possibility of parole. One of the people featured had been kept in solitary confinement for decades. He was caught in a loop of self harming because he was isolated and every time he self harmed he had more time added in solitary.
Sometimes helping someone is making sure seemingly logical things are done like housing young children away from the adult prison population so they aren’t raped.
The author also does a good job of explaining how entire communities are involved in cases of wrongful convictions. He talks a lot with the family and friends of the accused but I would have also been interested to see how finding out that the person in jail for a family member’s murder was innocent affected the victim’s family. There was just one brief interaction about this.
Aside from any discussion of the ethics of capital punishment there is one thing that I just don’t understand. How is it possible to mess up lethal injection as horribly as seems to be happening? I guess I have an unusual perspective on this because euthanasia is an important part of my job. It is easy to do without causing pain and suffering. Why can’t people figure it out? I guess a large part of the problem is that doctors aren’t allowed to be involved. Changing that would probably solve the issue instead of letting untrained personnel do it. But still, books and articles are published in the veterinary literature all the time. Do some study. Get it right if you are going to do it. /rant
Tensions between the fae and humans are coming to a head and when coyote shapeshifter Mercy and her Alpha werewolf mate, Adam, are called upon to stop a rampaging troll, they find themselves with something that could be used to make the fae back down and forestall out-and-out war: a human child stolen long ago by the fae. Defying the most powerful werewolf in the country, the humans, and the fae, Mercy, Adam, and their pack choose to protect the boy no matter what the cost. But who will protect them from a boy who is fire touched?
Can I just say how much I hate the covers of these books? Look at that picture. Mercy in the books has a Native American father. I appreciate the fact that they aren’t whitewashing the cover but come on. Long feather earrings and two braids? On a mechanic? And what is with the clothes? She never, ever is described as dressing in shirts tied into improvised halter tops. She doesn’t show skin at all. She also is described as having one small coyote print tattoo but look at her arms. Impressive collection of tattoos but way off the mark.
Anyway, in this book Mercy is still trying to make some members of the pack accept her as their Alpha’s mate. That gives her status over them. It hasn’t been going well. She isn’t a werewolf and she keeps getting them into trouble. Now she has made a proclamation that the pack with protect any supernaturals in their territory from the Fae.
I don’t know. I just wasn’t a huge fan of this one. I like the series but this one felt flat to me. I’ve read several reviews that said that the readers felt like this was a big leap forward in the relationship between Mercy and Adam but I don’t get it. He did stand up for her in the pack but their interactions together sounded distant and strained. Maybe it is because I’ve gotten used to the warmth of the relationships in Briggs’ Alpha and Omega series that the more subdued relationship here seems odd.
Nothing really happened in the plot either. It sounds like there is going to be a war. The beginning with a fight with a troll is action packed but after that it is all political maneuvering and sitting around waiting for things to happen until the end. This definitely didn’t have a “can’t put down” quality in the middle. The ending did have an unexpectedly sad moment though.
One highlight of this book for me was Baba Yaga.
I love her. She is an old witch in Russian folklore who makes an appearance here to help in the fight with the Fae whether anyone wants her help or not. The book picked up whenever she appeared.
This is a weak entry in a great series but it still worth reading or listening to if you have enjoyed the rest of the books.
About Patricia Briggs
“Patricia Briggs, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Mercy Thompson series, lives in Washington State with her husband, children, and a small herd of horses. She has written 17 novels to date. Briggs began her career writing traditional fantasy novels, the first of which was published by Ace Books in 1993, and shifted gears in 2006 to write urban fantasy. ” from her website
For centuries, the Others and humans have lived side by side in uneasy peace. But when humankind oversteps its bounds, the Others will have to decide how much humanity they're willing to tolerate--both within themselves and within their community... Since the Others allied themselves with the cassandra sangue, the fragile yet powerful human blood prophets who were being exploited by their own kind, the delicate dynamic between humans and Others changed. Some, like Simon Wolfgard, wolf shifter and leader of the Lakeside Courtyard, and blood prophet Meg Corbyn, see the new, closer companionship as beneficial--both personally and practically. But not everyone is convinced. A group of radical humans is seeking to usurp land through a series of violent attacks on the Others. What they don't realize is that there are older and more dangerous forces than shifters and vampires protecting the land that belongs to the Others--and those forces are willing to do whatever is necessary to protect what is theirs...
The Humans First and Last movement is gaining strength. Members believe that they will be able win territory from the terra indigenes who control most of the land mass of the world. They aim their attacks at the wolves. Bad idea.
Now the powers who humans have never seen that rule the world have a decision to make.
How Much Human Do They Want To Keep?
I love this series. The books have moved from the cozy feeling of the first one to encompass the whole of the continent. The blood prophets are developing a system of warning each other when they see visions. The shifters are cooperating to keep the prophets safe.
This is a series that will make you ashamed to be human. The humans are definitely the bad guys here. It is frustrating because the humans are so short sighted. There were a few times when I had to remind myself that I wasn’t listening to the news because I would swear out loud in the car when the humans would do something evil.
I miss the grumpy ponies. The ponies control the weather and have names like Hurricane and Whirlpool based on what they cause. When they aren’t being totally bad ass, they appear as grumpy little ponies who deliver the mail in their spare time as long as the treats on offer are good enough. They are in the book in their elemental form but not the begging pony form. There are not enough books with begging ponies!
If you haven’t started this series yet, what are you waiting for? It is amazing. There is great world building. You’ll love the characters. Go out and read these now or do what I do and get the audiobooks so you can savor the experience of being in this world longer.
About Anne Bishop
“New York Times bestselling author Anne Bishop is the winner of the RT Book Reviews 2013 Career Achievement Award in Sci-Fi/Fantasy. She is also the winner of the William L. Crawford Memorial Fantasy Award for the Black Jewels Trilogy. Her most recent novel is Vision in Silver, the third book in Anne’s urban fantasy series set in a re-imagined Earth. When she’s not communing with the Others, Anne enjoys gardening, reading, and music. ” from her website
Twenty years ago, Bill Bryson went on a trip around Britain to celebrate the green and kindly island that had become his adopted country. The hilarious book that resulted, Notes from a Small Island, was taken to the nation’s heart and became the bestselling travel book ever, and was also voted in a BBC poll the book that best represents Britain.Now, to mark the twentieth anniversary of that modern classic, Bryson makes a brand-new journey round Britain to see what has changed.
Following (but not too closely) a route he dubs the Bryson Line, from Bognor Regis to Cape Wrath, by way of places that many people never get to at all, Bryson sets out to rediscover the wondrously beautiful, magnificently eccentric, endearingly unique country that he thought he knew but doesn’t altogether recognize any more.
Bill Bryson is really grumpy in this book. I’m a big Bryson fan. I think I’ve read everything he’s written. He’s never veered far from curmudgeonly but he’s downright peevish in this book. He’s telling people to fuck off repeatedly. Fair warning if that kind of thing bothers you.
To start this journey he drew a line on a map connecting the farthest points he could find on a map of the United Kingdom.
He started his trip from Bognor Regis in the south and meandered his way north in the general direction of this line. This made me spend some quality time with Google maps. I thought I had in my head a general idea of where he was going. Then suddenly he was in Wales. I didn’t know which one of us was not understanding geography. I did find that I didn’t have a very good grasp on English geography – although I was spot on about Wales. I would have sworn the Lake District was northeast of London along with Stratford-upon- Avon and the Cotswolds. Turns out none of these things are true.
He alternates taking lovely walks with complaining about British customer service and the tendency of British people to litter. He does have a strange nostalgia for museums full of taxidermy which I personally hate. He can’t stand shops selling pieces of wood with pithy sayings on them. He seems to get a bit tipsy more than is probably healthy or wise.
There was more in this book about his life outside of writing than there has been in other books. He talks about doing speeches to politicians and filming TV shows.
I was disappointed that he didn’t narrate the audiobook. That’s one of the joys of listening to his books on audio. The narrator did a good job but it took me several hours to get over the fact that he wasn’t Bill Bryson and to stop hearing a phantom version of Bill Bryson’s voice in my head reading along with the narrator.
Bottom line – Listen to this one if you are a fan but don’t let this be a first or third Bryson book.
Halina Shore is a forensic dentist working in Sydney. She is invited to return to Poland to examine bodies in a mass grave to shed light on whether this was a German or a Polish war crime.
Helina Shore is a forensic dentist. She was born in Poland and moved to Australia when she was nine. Finding herself at loose ends after the death of her taciturn mother, she accepts an invitation to help exhume a mass grave in Poland. The Jews of the town were burned to death in this barn in 1941. Local lore says that the Nazis did it but rumors persist that it was the Polish people who committed the crime. The investigation is supposed to find out the truth but is running against public opinion in this very conservative and nationalistic part of Poland.
To Sum Up
This book is amazing. Go get it and read it or listen to the audio – whatever, just go do it.
The Longer Answer
I am always looking for historical fiction books set in Poland. Generally, I want ones that aren’t about World War II. This book is set in the early 2000s and in 1941. The reason I’m interested in Poland is that my grandmother’s family comes from there. She never told us much. She didn’t like to be reminded that she was Polish.
In this book, Helina’s mother never told her anything about Poland. It all sounded very familiar. Every time Helina found out that her mother had lied about something I laughed. It sounds like my family. They never met an official form that they filled in truthfully.
In the course of listening to this audio, I got back on ancestry.com and got in contact with my second cousin. We’ve been sharing documents about the family. So far I found out about three more children that were siblings of my grandmother who all died young. No one in my family had heard of them. That’s not a surprise considering no one had heard of the adult brother that was murdered either. Grandma didn’t talk about the past.
This book tries to discover what could make neighbors commit atrocities against their neighbors. She has the viewpoints of Jewish survivors and of the people who burnt the barn. She sets this against a picture of Polish nationalism that still exists today and leaves readers wondering how easily it could all happen again. The rationalizations of the perpetrators are chilling.
There is a lot of discussion about identity. This annoyed me a little. I don’t have much tolerance for the plot device of finding out that your parents lied to you about some part of your background and then the character falls apart crying about how they don’t know who they are anymore. You’re the same person you were two minutes ago. Quit yer whinin’!
This can be a hard book to listen to because of the descriptions of what happened to the Jews of Nowa Kalwaria. The author draws you into the story in both times leaving you wanting to find out who was involved and to see if the town can move past it into a brighter future.
This author has written other books about Poland and European immigration into Australia – both historical fiction and nonfiction. I’m looking forward to reading more of her books.