07 Dec, 2018

Rising Out of Hatred

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Rising Out of Hatred Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist by Eli Saslow
on September 18, 2018
Pages: 304
Length: 9:02
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Doubleday
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library


From a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, the powerful story of how a prominent white supremacist changed his heart and mind

Derek Black grew up at the epicenter of white nationalism. His father founded Stormfront, the largest racist community on the Internet. His godfather, David Duke, was a KKK Grand Wizard. By the time Derek turned nineteen, he had become an elected politician with his own daily radio show – already regarded as the “the leading light” of the burgeoning white nationalist movement. “We can infiltrate,” Derek once told a crowd of white nationalists. “We can take the country back.” Then he went to college. Derek had been home-schooled by his parents, steeped in the culture of white supremacy, and he had rarely encountered diverse perspectives or direct outrage against his beliefs. At New College of Florida, he continued to broadcast his radio show in secret each morning, living a double life until a classmate uncovered his identity and sent an email to the entire school. “Derek Black…white supremacist, radio host…New College student???” The ensuing uproar overtook one of the most liberal colleges in the country. Some students protested Derek’s presence on campus, forcing him to reconcile for the first time with the ugliness his beliefs. Other students found the courage to reach out to him, including an Orthodox Jew who invited Derek to attend weekly Shabbat dinners. It was because of those dinners–and the wide-ranging relationships formed at that table–that Derek started to question the science, history and prejudices behind his worldview. As white nationalism infiltrated the political mainstream, Derek decided to confront the damage he had done. Rising Out of Hatred tells the story of how white-supremacist ideas migrated from the far-right fringe to the White House through the intensely personal saga of one man who eventually disavowed everything he was taught to believe, at tremendous personal cost. With great empathy and narrative verve, Eli Saslow asks what Derek’s story can tell us about America’s increasingly divided nature. This is a book to help us understand the American moment and to help us better understand one another.

Goodreads

It was interesting to listen to this book shortly after listening to Educated.  Both books describe children who were indoctrinated into an extreme worldview and the way that their exposure to the larger world in college helped them break free of it.  (Of course, I kept muttering “Well, that’s why you got to keep them locked up and not let them go to them heathen colleges” like a proper zealot the whole time I was listening.)

I found the responses of his classmates intriguing.  There were basically two responses – shun him with the goal of making it so uncomfortable for him at school that he would leave, or befriend him in hopes of talking to him about his views.  I’m not sure where I would have fallen if I was in that situation.  Both approaches worked on him in different ways.  He had never had a lot sustained pushback about his beliefs before.  Arguments were just intellectual exercises for him.  Now he was facing people he knew who were being affected by the policies that he had helped popularize.  The people who befriended him took the risk of being thought guilty by association.  They were able to work on him in different ways.  His non-white friends could publicly be seen with him without people thinking they were white nationalists.  They put faces to categories of “immigrant” and “Jew” in his rhetoric.  His white friend was able to talk to him about his beliefs more openly because he didn’t automatically feel judgement from her based on her race but she was in danger of being assimilated by him or being thought to be a sympathizer.  

I was uncomfortable with a lot of the decisions that his white girlfriend made.  It worked out in the end but:

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She was so naive and he had spent his life converting people to the white nationalist cause.  She went to a nationalist conference with him.  One picture of her there on the internet could have ruined her future.  I wanted to slap some sense into her. 

I thought the book dwelled a little too long on their developing relationship.  Yeah, yeah, I get it.  They are maybe-maybe not dating.  I don’t need a play by play of their personal lives.  I’m here for the bigger picture.

The book’s description of their reaction to the rise of Trump should put to rest any ideas that he isn’t playing directly to white nationalists.  They point out all their talking points that he adopted.  They discuss the proposals that they always wanted that he is trying to enact.  

30 Oct, 2018

Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners by Gretchen Anthony
on October 16th 2018
Pages: 368
Genres: Fiction
Published by Park Row
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: Minnesota

A formidable matriarch learns the hard way that no family is perfect in this witty, sparkling debut novel

Dearest loved ones, far and near--evergreen tidings from the Baumgartners!

Violet Baumgartner has opened her annual holiday letter the same way for the past three decades. And this year she's going to throw her husband, Ed, a truly perfect retirement party, one worthy of memorializing in her upcoming letter. But the event becomes a disaster when, in front of two hundred guests, Violet learns her daughter Cerise has been keeping a shocking secret from her, shattering Violet's carefully constructed world.

In an epic battle of wills, Violet goes to increasing lengths to wrest back control of her family, infuriating Cerise and snaring their family and friends in a very un-Midwestern, un-Baumgartner gyre of dramatics. And there will be no explaining away the consequences in this year's Baumgartner holiday letter...

Full of humor, emotion and surprises at every turn, Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners brings to life a remarkable cast of quirky, deeply human characters who must learn to adapt to the unconventional, or else risk losing one another. This is the story of a family falling to pieces--and the unexpected way they put it all back together.

Goodreads

I loved this book because I know Violet, or rather I know several Violets.  These are women who will always tell you how their family is doing ever so well.  They have a story for each member of the family to illustrate their points.  If you know their offspring, you generally know that they are the local drug dealer and you are left wondering if their mother has ever met them at all.  The other side of Violet is the control freak.  She has the idea of her perfect family in her mind and you are NOT going to deviate from it.  I might be descended from a person like this but I know better than to say that out loud because I’ve been well trained.  She would vehemently deny being a control freak.  She just knows what she wants and will passive-aggressively move everyone around until she gets everyone where she wants them.  She can deny the existence of anything that mars this perfection.  (There is a week in my life that my Violet refuses to acknowledge.)  Yes, I know Violet and found even her most outrageous plans to be familiar.  It was fun to laugh at it happening to someone else. 

There are three mysteries in this book.  Violet is obsessed with finding out who is the father of her grandchild.  I found that mystery fairly easy to unravel.  There is also the mystery of some political sculptures appearing around town and a mystery of what Violet’s friend’s husband is doing when he disappears for days.  Those I didn’t figure out.  

I tend not to read a lot of literary type fiction but this one was funny enough to me to keep my interest.  Maybe you have to be Midwestern and know people like this to find it this funny.  If you don’t you might think it is pretty over the top.  

 

24 Oct, 2018

Searching for Sunday

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Searching for Sunday Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans
on April 14th 2015
Pages: 268
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Thomas Nelson
Format: Paperback
Source: Library

From New York Times bestselling author Rachel Held Evans comes a book that is both a heartfelt ode to the past and hopeful gaze into the future of what it means to be a part of the Church.Like millions of her millennial peers, Rachel Held Evans didn't want to go to church anymore. The hypocrisy, the politics, the gargantuan building budgets, the scandals--church culture seemed so far removed from Jesus. Yet, despite her cynicism and misgivings, something kept drawing her back to Church. And so she set out on a journey to understand Church and to find her place in it.

Centered around seven sacraments, Evans' quest takes readers through a liturgical year with stories about baptism, communion, confirmation, confession, marriage, vocation, and death that are funny, heartbreaking, and sharply honest.

A memoir about making do and taking risks, about the messiness of community and the power of grace, Searching for Sunday is about overcoming cynicism to find hope and, somewhere in between, Church.

Goodreads

I’m always interested in books that describe themselves as stories of people leaving evangelicalism. I want to know what was the last straw for them. How did leaving affect their lives?

I identified a lot with some of the things she talks about in this book. I could really feel her fear of leaving the community of the church. She was afraid of what would happen if they got sick or had a baby. Who would bring them casseroles? It’s a funny thing to think but there is no easy secular equivalent to that kind of community help in a functional church. I think that is what keeps a lot of people in the pews even if they disagree with what is being said.

I also didn’t like it when she talked about going to new churches and just waiting for them to do something that you disagreed with for theological reasons so you’d have something to complain about. That hit a little close to home.

Ultimately, I left the church and she is fighting hard to find reasons to stay. Me being me, I was thinking, “Why are you trying this hard? Just leave already.” But I guess she still feels connected to the god that she grew up believing in and wants to make a go of it.

This is a book where a lot of quotes jumped out at me.

I’ve gotten so spoiled reading ebooks that I’m not sure what to do with paperbooks that I want to quote. There’s no easy way to mark the quote in a library book. If I had them marked then I’d have to type the quote out instead of copy/paste? So much work. LOL.

Welcome to the laziest book review ever.

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Yes, yes, yes.  I would get so mad when I was in vet school and going to church because there were college age groups and married people groups and a dismal single people group that everyone felt sorry for.  Being a doctoral student defined my status much more than being single.  Likewise, I always hated the Women’s Bibles that would have commentary about husbands and children like that was what defined what a woman was.  

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Bouncers and Border Patrol Christianity are perfect descriptions.  

22 Oct, 2018

Castle Hangnail

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Castle Hangnail Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon
on April 21st 2015
Pages: 384
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade
Published by Dial Books
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

From the creator of Dragonbreath comes a tale of witches, minions, and one fantastic castle, just right for fans of Roald Dahl and Tom Angleberger.

When Molly shows up on Castle Hangnail's doorstep to fill the vacancy for a wicked witch, the castle's minions are understandably dubious. After all, she is twelve years old, barely five feet tall, and quite polite. (The minions are used to tall, demanding evil sorceresses with razor-sharp cheekbones.) But the castle desperately needs a master or else the Board of Magic will decommission it, leaving all the minions without the home they love. So when Molly assures them she is quite wicked indeed (So wicked! REALLY wicked!) and begins completing the tasks required by the Board of Magic for approval, everyone feels hopeful. Unfortunately, it turns out that Molly has quite a few secrets, including the biggest one of all: that she isn't who she says she is.

This quirky, richly illustrated novel is filled with humor, magic, and an unforgettable all-star cast of castle characters.

Goodreads

This book has everything I absolutely love about fantasy books.  It is chock full of imagination and whimsy.  There are also dragons.  You must have dragons.

Molly knows that she is going to be a Wicked Witch.  She can do some magic.  She has an over-the-top Good Twin.  So she steals an invitation to apply for the job of Master of Castle Hangnail.  Who cares that she is only 12?

The Guardian of the castle cares, for a start.  He knows the castle is in danger of being decommissioned if a new master isn’t found who can complete all the tasks assigned.  There needs to be proper blighting and smiting and defending of the castle and capturing the hearts of the villagers (probably literally if the new master is an Evil Sorceress or a Vampire).  Can a cheery 12 year old manage that?

I love the staff of the castle. 

  • The Guardian has served under many truly evil masters and knows how minions should be properly treated.  He isn’t prepared to be given an actual name and thanked for things.  It just isn’t right. 
  • Pins is a stuffed doll who can sew anything, including waterproof sweaters for his goldfish
  • The goldfish is a hypochondriac
  • Cook is a Minotaur who is very angry about the letter Q
  • Angus is Cook’s son and general helper
  • Edward is an enchanted suit of armor with rusty knees
  • There is a woman made of steam.  This happens when a djinn mates with a human woman who didn’t know she had mermaid ancestry.
  • There are clockwork bees and all kinds of bats including one insomniac bat who stays awake during the day and sleeps at night.

Molly is going to be Wicked but not Evil.  Wicked will punish a person to make them think about what they did.  Evil will hurt people for fun.  So she blights weeds and asks around to see who is being mean and is in need of a good smiting.  When she finds someone who is mean to his donkey, she uses a spell to turn the donkey temporarily into a dragon to scare the mean man.  After that all the animals want to take a turn being a dragon, of course!  

This book was absolutely delightful from beginning to end.  I read it in a day.  I was hoping that there was going to be a follow up to see what happens next at Castle Hangnail but so far, no luck.  

15 Oct, 2018

Hot For Food Vegan Comfort Classics

/ posted in: Book ReviewFoodies ReadReading Hot For Food Vegan Comfort Classics Hot for Food Vegan Comfort Classics: 101 Recipes to Feed Your Face by Lauren Toyota
on February 27th 2018
Pages: 240
Genres: Cooking
Published by Penguin Books Canada
Format: Paperback
Source: Library


A fun and irreverent take on vegan comfort food that's saucy, sweet, sassy, and most definitely deep-fried, from YouTube sensation Lauren Toyota of Hot for Food.

In this bold collection of more than 100 recipes, the world of comfort food and vegan cooking collide as Lauren Toyota shares her favorite recipes and creative ways to make Philly cheesesteak, fried chicken, and mac 'n' cheese, all with simple vegan ingredients. Never one to hold back, Lauren piles plates high with cheese sauce, ranch, bacon, and barbecue sauce, all while sharing personal stories and tips in her engaging and hilarious voice. The result is indulgent, craveworthy food - like Southern Fried Cauliflower, The Best Vegan Ramen, and Raspberry Funfetti Pop Tarts - made for sharing with friends at weeknight dinners, weekend brunches, and beyond.

Goodreads

This would be a great cookbook for people who want to move to a vegetarian or vegan diet but are hung up on all the foods that they won’t be able to have anymore if they give up meat.  The book starts with several pages of recipes devoted to making substitutes for bacon from several different vegetables.  It moves onto using cauliflower as a base for vegan fried chicken.  A lot of the book concentrates on making vegan versions of meat-based favorites.

I don’t really have any comfort foods that contained meat.  I don’t like fried foods.  A lot of the recipes in this book don’t appeal to me for those reasons.  Others are familiar to people who have been vegetarian for a long time.

What did appeal to me as a long time vegetarian was her section on sauces.  She has a very simple vegan mayo recipe (Why does prepared vegan mayo cost a fortune?) and then uses it as a base for several dressings, including my favorite, Thousand Island.  I’m definitely going to try that when my current bottle of dressing runs out.  She also has basic recipes for cake and frosting and then shows multiple flavor variations.  If I baked much, I’d be all over that.

I am going to make the cover recipe this week.  It is a buffalo style baked cauliflower sandwich.  I’m going to make the cauliflower in slices and combine it with salad fixings for dinner. 

This book also has the most delightfully insane recipe I think I’ve ever seen.  It is for a double decker veggie burger topped with both Thousand Island and BBQ sauce (yum) but then, then, the buns are made out of ramen noodles.  Why are the buns made out of ramen noodles?  Because you can.

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I love everything in that recipe. Sure, I’ve only had them separately but what could go wrong? I’m a bit concerned about the ability to fit it in my mouth so I would make a single burger.  You know, it’s healthier that way.  I even bought some ring molds to make the buns.  It will happen someday.  In the meantime, Thousand Island and BBQ may be my go to burger dressing. 

02 Oct, 2018

We Fed an Island

/ posted in: Book ReviewFoodies ReadReading We Fed an Island We Fed an Island: The True Story of Rebuilding Puerto Rico, One Meal at a Time by José Andrés
on September 11th 2018
Pages: 288
Length: 10:35
Genres: Nonfiction
Published by Anthony Bourdain/Ecco
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Setting: Puerto Rico

FOREWORD BY LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA AND LUIS A. MIRANDA, JR.

The true story of how a group of chefs fed hundreds of thousands of hungry Americans after Hurricane Maria and touched the hearts of many more

Chef José Andrés arrived in Puerto Rico four days after Hurricane Maria ripped through the island. The economy was destroyed and for most people there was no clean water, no food, no power, no gas, and no way to communicate with the outside world.

Andrés addressed the humanitarian crisis the only way he knew how: by feeding people, one hot meal at a time. From serving sancocho with his friend José Enrique at Enrique’s ravaged restaurant in San Juan to eventually cooking 100,000 meals a day at more than a dozen kitchens across the island, Andrés and his team fed hundreds of thousands of people, including with massive paellas made to serve thousands of people alone.. At the same time, they also confronted a crisis with deep roots, as well as the broken and wasteful system that helps keep some of the biggest charities and NGOs in business.

Based on Andrés’s insider’s take as well as on meetings, messages, and conversations he had while in Puerto Rico, We Fed an Island movingly describes how a network of community kitchens activated real change and tells an extraordinary story of hope in the face of disasters both natural and man-made, offering suggestions for how to address a crisis like this in the future. 

Beyond that, a portion of the proceeds from the book will be donated to the Chef Relief Network of World Central Kitchen for efforts in Puerto Rico and beyond.

Goodreads

Chef Jose Andres has developed his theories on food relief first by working with a homeless shelter who used restaurant left overs to feed people and then expanding their process after the earthquake in Haiti.  The biggest test so far of his small non-profit came after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico.

His ideas are simple:

  1. Find a working commercial kitchen and chefs.  He started in a friend’s restaurant in San Juan.
  2. Source the ingredients locally to avoid delays and to let businesses in the supply chain start to rebuild.  In Puerto Rico he used the normal suppliers that restaurants would use. 
  3. Make a few simple dishes that can be made in huge quantities.  They started with a stew, pans of chicken and rice, and thousands of ham and cheese sandwiches. 
  4. Use local food trucks to deliver food to the hardest hit areas.  Also partner with whatever group is going into areas and have them deliver food.  Among his best delivery teams in Puerto Rico was Homeland Security.
  5. Open other commercial kitchens in strategic areas around the disaster area and repeat.  Throughout his time in Puerto Rico they used a convention center, school kitchens, culinary school kitchens, and a church. 

One of his major complaints about the food situation in Puerto Rico was that the groups who normally handle this in disasters on the mainland decided that it was too hard to get food to the island so they didn’t.  The Red Cross for example, didn’t bring in the Southern Baptists and their mobile kitchens to cook like they normally do so they didn’t have any food to deliver.  (I had no idea the Southern Baptists have a whole relief cooking operation despite going to a Southern Baptist church for four years.  Never heard of it.)  Food and water distribution was not listed as a priority for most groups.

When food was getting distributed it was MREs.  These are prepared military food packets and they can get you through a few days but you don’t want them long term.  He was also angry that water was being given in bottles only.  He campaigned for tanker trucks of water to be taken to towns and let people fill their own containers instead of adding all the plastic waste to the environment.  That idea didn’t get taken up.

A lot of this book is about his fight with FEMA.  He wanted a government contract to pay for his supplies.  He had started ordering food and supplies on a handshake with the distributor with no idea how he was going to pay for it.  At their peak they were spending over $50,000 a day on food.  Government contracting is a slow business that is doubly hard in a disaster.  He talks about contracts that were given to people who never delivered food.  The husband was a government contract person (not with FEMA).  He listened to some of this part and talked about the other side.  After disasters, FEMA contractors are apparently reviewed and taken to task for working too quickly, for not getting bids even if there is only one supplier in the area, etc.  Careers get ruined because people were trying to do the right or fastest thing in an emergency and now there is a lot of trouble trying to get anyone to do those jobs and those who remain aren’t likely to take risks.  Things are just going to get worse. 

This is a good review of what happened in the disaster from the point of view of an outsider to the government.  His ideas are definitely worth listening to and I’m interested to see where his nonprofit, World Central Kitchen, goes from here.

 

17 Aug, 2018

The New Farm

/ posted in: Book ReviewFoodies ReadReading The New Farm The New Farm: Our Ten Years on the Front Lines of the Good Food Revolution by Brent Preston
on May 2nd 2017
Pages: 336
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Random House Canada
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: Ontario Canada

The inspiring and sometimes hilarious story of a family that quit the rat race and left the city to live out their ideals on an organic farm, and ended up building a model for a new kind of agriculture. When Brent Preston, his wife, Gillian, and their two young children left Toronto ten years ago, they arrived on an empty plot of land with no machinery, no money and not much of a clue. Through a decade of grinding toil, they built a real organic farm, one that is profitable, sustainable, and their family's sole source of income. Along the way they earned the respect and loyalty of some of the best chefs in North America, and created a farm that is a leading light in the good food movement. Told with humour and heart in Preston's unflinchingly honest voice, The New Farm arrives at a time of unprecedented interest in food and farming, with readers keenly aware of the overwhelming environmental, social and moral costs of our industrial food system. The New Farm offers a vision for a hopeful future, a model of agriculture that brings people together around good food, promotes a healthier planet, and celebrates great food and good living."

Goodreads

A lot of the time when you read memoirs about people moving away from the city and starting a farm they stop the story after a few years.  This book chronicles ten years of the ups and downs of a small organic farm.  

What I found most interesting was the multiple times that they found that they needed to stray from small organic farm “orthodoxy” in order to have a viable and profitable business. 

  • They tried growing a large number of crops but realized that most people don’t want the exotic stuff so now they grow mostly greens and cucumbers.
  • They abandoned farmers’ markets and CSAs to sell directly to restaurants
  • They tried using wannabe farmers as interns for farm labor but they were such bad workers that they ended up hiring Mexican workers instead.  

I was interested in the difference between the experience of Mexican migrant farm workers on this farm in Canada versus what I was familiar with in the United States.  In Canada there are worker programs so they are in the country legally and have workers’ rights.  The guidelines seem reasonable and we should have programs like that too.  

I also liked that this book did not shy away from the cruelty involved in animal agriculture.  I found the section about their pigs and chickens hard to read.  They have moved away from raising pigs in part because they had issues with it too.  

There is a truism in farming that you have to go big to survive.  They discuss the conflicts that they have had about this.  At what point do you stop trying to grow so you don’t destroy yourself or your marriage?  They are very honest about the toll that the last ten years have had on their relationships.  

I really enjoyed reading this book.  I think that this is a good book for anyone interested in what it really takes to have a small farm. 

 

15 Aug, 2018

Have Dog, Will Travel

/ posted in: Reading Have Dog, Will Travel Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey with an Exceptional Labrador by Stephen Kuusisto
on March 13th 2018
Pages: 288
Length: 5:24
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Simon Schuster
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Setting: New York

In a lyrical love letter to guide dogs everywhere, a blind poet shares his delightful story of how a guide dog changed his life and helped him discover a newfound appreciation for travel and independence.

At the age of thirty-eight, Stephen Kuusisto—who has managed his whole life without one—gets his first guide dog, a beautiful yellow labrador named Corky. Theirs is a partnership of movement, mutual self-interest, and wanderlust. Walking with Corky in Manhattan for the first time, Steve discovers he’s “living the chaos of joy—you’re in love with your surroundings, loving a barefoot mind, wild to go anyplace.”

Have Dog, Will Travel is the inside story of how a person establishes trust with a dog, how a guide dog is trained. Corky absolutely transforms Steve’s life and his way of being in the world. Profound and deeply moving, theirs is a spiritual journey, during which Steve discovers that joy with a guide dog is both a method and a state of mind. Guaranteed to make you laugh—and cry—this beautiful reflection on the highs, lows, and everyday details that make up life with a guide dog provides a profound exploration of Stephen’s lifelong struggle with disability, identity, and the midlife events that lead to self-acceptance.

Goodreads

The thing that I found absolutely amazing about this memoir is that the author was raised to not let anyone know that he was blind.  How do you even do that?  There is a very scary story about the time he rented a motor scooter and drove around the mountains in Santorini following the red blob that was his friend.  

His mother was adamant that being blind meant that he was defective.  He should never let anyone know.  That meant memorizing the small towns he lived in.  Reading by holding the paper up to his left eye.  Living a life made difficult by a disability but almost impossible by a lie.  Seriously, his mother needed a good whooping. 

At 38 he was forced to make a change.  He got his first guide dog.  He was now open about his blindness.  It changed his entire life.

This book is a tribute to the freedom found in living your true life and the way that is enhanced by his guide dog.  The author is a poet and that is obvious in his lyrical writing style.  He is a very philosophical person who deeply considers things that others may gloss over.

I appreciated the fact that he discussed the professionalism of real service dogs.  He worries about the damage being done by people registering out of control pets as emotional support dogs just so they can take them anywhere.  (One of my major pet peeves!)  He explains that there still is resistance to and ignorance of guide dogs for the blind now.  I wouldn’t have thought it would be so common.  

I was a guide dog puppy raiser.  (My puppy passed his temperment and training tests but failed his physical.)  He talks a lot about the importance of puppy raisers and the trainers who work with the dogs.  You find out how the process works.  

For the dog lovers, this story starts in 1994.  That means that the dog does die before the book was written.  It is discussed but not dwelt on.  

This is a wonderful book for dog lovers everywhere.  All dogs can change your life but Corky the labrador revolutionized her person’s. 

27 Jul, 2018

West of the Revolution

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading West of the Revolution West of the Revolution: An Uncommon History of 1776 by Claudio Saunt
on July 6th 2015
Pages: 288
Genres: History, Nonfiction
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Setting: United States

In this unique history of 1776, Claudio Saunt looks beyond the familiar story of the thirteen colonies to explore the many other revolutions roiling the turbulent American continent. In that fateful year, the Spanish landed in San Francisco, the Russians pushed into Alaska to hunt valuable sea otters, and the Sioux discovered the Black Hills. Hailed by critics for challenging our conventional view of the birth of America, West of the Revolution “[coaxes] our vision away from the Atlantic seaboard” and “exposes a continent seething with peoples and purposes beyond Minutemen and Redcoats” (Wall Street Journal).

Goodreads

American history gets all excited about 1776 without ever considering that for most of the continent the fight with the English wasn’t the main news.

Alaska

The Russians were running the fur trade.  I was interested in the description of the final destination for these furs in the trade capitals of central Mongolia.  They moved all the way from Alaska to present day northern California.  

California

The Spanish got all excited about the Russians being on the northern California coast.  They were convinced that there was a river running from the interior of the continent to the Pacific because based on European geography there should be.  If the Russians had the coast and could find where the river emptied then they could go upstream and control the interior.  The Spanish didn’t want that so they set out to explore everything and claim it for Spain.  

Badlands

I was super skeptical of the claim that the Lakota “discovered” the Badlands in 1776.  First of all, they have origin legends that involve the Badlands.  Second, how did no one trip across this large area previously?  Turns out there was skullduggery afoot.  The Lakota moved west and pushed the people living in the Badlands out in 1776.  They later claimed to have “discovered and settled” the area because “discovered and settled” was working well as an excuse for land grabs by white people.  Good try.  I respect the legal ploy but unfortunately white people are only too comfortable with double standards.

This section also covers other tribes in the middle of the continent.  It gives background on the Osage tribe and their dealings with multiple European powers.  That is great background to Killers of the Flower Moon.  

I had never heard of the extensive trade between natives of Florida and people in Cuba either.  


This book covers a lot in the short period of time.  Because of that it felt like it was hitting highlights of some areas of history that aren’t talked about much, but if you wanted to know a lot about something specific, you’d need to find another book.  It leaves a lot of loose ends where you don’t know what happened next.  

I listened to the audiobook of this and I wasn’t a fan.  The narrator was pretty monotone.  This is a book heavy with dates and names and I would mentally drift off as the narrator droned on.  

Use this book as an introduction to this time in history but don’t expect it to tell you the whole story.

18 Jul, 2018

Witchmark

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Witchmark Witchmark by C.L. Polk
on June 19th 2018
Pages: 272
Series: Witchmark #1
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Published by Tor.com
Format: Paperback
Source: Library

In an original world reminiscent of Edwardian England in the shadow of a World War, cabals of noble families use their unique magical gifts to control the fates of nations, while one young man seeks only to live a life of his own.

Magic marked Miles Singer for suffering the day he was born, doomed either to be enslaved to his family's interest or to be committed to a witches' asylum. He went to war to escape his destiny and came home a different man, but he couldn’t leave his past behind. The war between Aeland and Laneer leaves men changed, strangers to their friends and family, but even after faking his own death and reinventing himself as a doctor at a cash-strapped veterans' hospital, Miles can’t hide what he truly is.

When a fatally poisoned patient exposes Miles’ healing gift and his witchmark, he must put his anonymity and freedom at risk to investigate his patient’s murder. To find the truth he’ll need to rely on the family he despises, and on the kindness of the most gorgeous man he’s ever seen.

Goodreads

I heard about this book on Twitter and was intrigued by its cover.  I didn’t really know what it was about when I picked it up.  I laughed when I realized that it is basically about treatment for war-induced PTSD.  I was reading this during a week when that was a frequent topic of conversation at my house and now my fantasy books were chiming in too.

The world building in this book is extraordinary.  It is vaguely steampunk.  Horses and bicycles are the main modes of transportation.  The super wealthy have some cars.  Just reading about the system of bicycle transportation was fascinating and shows how much the author thought about how the world would work.

In this world some of elite are mages who control the weather.  Other mages have different talents but they are bound against their will to weather mages to be used as an auxillary power supply for their magic.  Miles has healing magic.  He knew he was going to bound to his sister so he ran away and joined the army.  Now he is a psychiatrist working in a veteran’s hospital and dealing with his own PTSD and that of his patients.  He doesn’t want to use his powers because either:

  • He would be found by his powerful family and bound – or
  • People would think he was a low-born witch and he would be incarcerated in an asylum

His carefully planned secret life starts to unravel when a poisoned witch is brought to him by a stranger.  The witch knew who he was and now the stranger does too.

There is so much going on in this book. 

  • There is a very sweet m/m romance with fade to black sex scenes.  (Thank you very much!  I want more romance books without sex scenes please!) 
  • There is the mystery of what the dying witch knew and what he wanted Miles to do about it. 
  • There is the drama with Miles’ family. 
  • There is an usual increase in the number of veterans committing violent acts when they come home.  Can Miles figure out the cause of that?
  • There is hatred from Miles’ colleague who suspects he is a witch and is trying hard to prove it.

This is the start of a series.  I’m looking forward to reading future installments.  Come for the magic.  Stay for the unfortunately-too-realistic treatment of post-war veterans. 

28 Jun, 2018

Djinn City

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Djinn City Djinn City by Saad Hossain
on November 2017
Pages: 413
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Published by Unnamed Press
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Setting: Bangladesh

Indelbed is a lonely kid living in a crumbling mansion in the super dense, super chaotic third world capital of Bangladesh. When he learns that his dead mother was a djinn — more commonly known as a genie — and that his drunken loutish father is a sitting emissary to the djinns (e.g. a magician), his whole world is turned inside out. Suddenly, and for reasons that totally escape him, his father is found in a supernatural coma, and Indelbed is kidnapped by the djinn and delivered to a subterranean prison. Back in the city, his cousin Rais and his family struggle to make sense of it all, as an impending catastrophe threatens to destroy everything they know. Needless to say, everything is resting on Indelbed’s next move — and he’s got a new partner to help him: the world’s most evil djinn.

Goodreads

This book is long.  This book is dense.  Try to just breezily rush through this and you will miss things.  This book is also smart and sarcastic and snarky and everything else I love.

Indelbed is adorable.  He’s from the embarrassing part of a prominent family.  He’s pretty much being ignored by his alcoholic father who is in turn ignored by the extended family.  He’s just going about his life the best he can hoping that maybe someday one of his aunts will notice that things are really not ok in his life when he gets kidnapped by a djinn.

From here there are three stories taking place.

  1. Indelbed is thrown in a murder pit where he lives with a djinn prisoner for 10 years while they plot an ambitious escape.
  2. Indelbed’s father is in a coma and his spirit is watching the history of an epic battle through the memories of the people who were there.
  3. Indelbed’s aunt Juny and cousin Rais find out that djinn are real and set out to figure out what happened to Indelbed.

I liked storylines 3 and 1 the best.  Along the way there are wyrms that the prisoners tame in hopes that one will grow into a dragon to help them escape.  There are also djinn airships and submarines and hidden bases in the sky.  Djinns don’t physically fight amongst themselves any more.  Now they engage in legal wrangling that can go on for decades.  Breach of contract is their greatest sin.

It is a very hard book to describe.  It is one where the pleasure is in the journey, not the destination.  In fact, I’m quite annoyed by the end of this book.  Mostly I’m annoyed by the lack of ending of this book.  Obviously this is set up to have a sequel because the book just stops.  Storyline 3 turns in a whole new direction about to have an adventure in the last pages.  It isn’t even a cliffhanger.  It is a “Hey, let’s go look at this new thing……” and we’re out of pages.  The other two stories are likewise incomplete.  I actually kept looking for more pages of book because it was just, “Now we are done.”

21 Jun, 2018

Robots and Tea Shops and Magical Bakers!

/ posted in: Book ReviewFoodies ReadReading Robots and Tea Shops and Magical Bakers! The Cybernetic Tea Shop by Meredith Katz
on March 16th 2016
Pages: 65
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Fiction
Published by Less Than Three Press
Format: eBook
Source: Library
Setting: Washington

Clara Gutierrez is a highly-skilled technician specializing in the popular 'Raise' AI companions. Her childhood in a migrant worker family has left her uncomfortable with lingering in any one place, so she sticks around just long enough to replenish her funds before she moves on, her only constant companion Joanie, a fierce, energetic Raise hummingbird.

Sal is a fully autonomous robot, the creation of which was declared illegal ages earlier due to ethical concerns. She is older than the law, however, at best out of place in society and at worst hated. Her old master is long dead, but she continues to run the tea shop her master had owned, lost in memories of the past, slowly breaking down, and aiming to fulfill her master's dream for the shop.

When Clara stops by Sal's shop for lunch, she doesn't expect to find a real robot there, let alone one who might need her help. But as they begin to spend time together and learn more about each other, they both start to wrestle with the concept of moving on…

Goodreads

This novella tells the story of a humanoid robot who is keeping her former owner’s beloved tea shop running almost 300 years after her death.  Robots like her have since been outlawed.  Robotics technician Clara is thrilled to meet Sal and offers to help fix up her ailing software.  What does she want to have changed though?  What makes her HER? 

This book features a f/f romantic, asexual relationship.  


Robots and Tea Shops and Magical Bakers! Batter Up by Robyn Neeley
on June 15th 2015
Pages: 172
Setting: New York

Bakeshop owner Emma Stevens has a secret. A delicious premonition she shares every Monday evening with the bachelors of Buttermilk Falls as they gather at the Sugar Spoon bakery for Batter Up night.

Investigative reporter Jason Levine just found himself as the man candy for a bachelorette party in Las Vegas. Roped into attending the Vegas nuptials, was he hearing things when the groom shares that the only reason he’s getting married is because a small town baker conjured up the name of his soulmate in her cake batter?

Sparks fly when Jason tries to expose Emma as a fraud, but reality and logic go out the window as he begins to fall under her spell.

Goodreads

 


This is a fun read that works if you just suspend disbelief and embrace the magical realism of the idea.  Emma knows one spell.  There really isn't an explanation for that. 
I also wondered how they have Batter Up night every week in this very small town and never run out of bachelors who want to commit.
It is a fluffy, light romance with fade to black sex scenes and magical cupcake batter so if you are looking for an escapist quick read this one might be for you.
04 Jun, 2018

Baby Elephant Fighting Crime!

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Baby Elephant Fighting Crime! The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vaseem Khan
on September 15th 2015
Pages: 320
Genres: Fiction, Mystery & Detective
Published by Redhook
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Setting: India

On the day he retires, Inspector Ashwin Chopra inherits two unexpected mysteries.

The first is the case of a drowned boy, whose suspicious death no one seems to want solved. And the second is a baby elephant. As his search for clues takes him across the teeming city of Mumbai, from its grand high rises to its sprawling slums and deep into its murky underworld, Chopra begins to suspect that there may be a great deal more to both his last case and his new ward than he thought. And he soon learns that when the going gets tough, a determined elephant may be exactly what an honest man needs...

Goodreads

I requested the first book of this series from the library as soon as I heard about a baby elephant helping in a detective agency.  Really, what more do you need?  Rush out and read this.

On his last day at work before his unwanted medical retirement, Inspector Chopra gets a letter saying that he has inherited a very special baby elephant from his uncle.  He hasn’t seen his eccentric uncle in years.  He has no idea why he had an elephant or even that his uncle had died.  He also has no idea why he would think Chopra would want an elephant.

That gets put out of his mind when he gets to work and finds a woman leading a protest in front of the station.  Her son died the night before and she knows that the police won’t investigate because they are too poor. He starts to look at the case but doesn’t get very involved because it is his last day and he won’t be able to follow through.

He doesn’t take to retirement well.  (Also the set up for the Indian series that starts with The Marriage Bureau for Rich People.)  He decides to go see what is going on with the case of the boy that died.  He realizes that no one is investigating so he decides to go have a look himself.  Soon he is splitting his time between trying to solve this crime and nursing this very sickly, very sad little elephant that was delivered to his apartment complex.

But how does a baby elephant help solve crimes, you ask?  Well, even a small elephant is an effective battering ram.  Elephants can also find people over long distances.  Ganesha is just a baby but his role increases in each book so far.

I’m not usually a fan of mysteries but this one is ok because even though his reason for investigating is mostly boredom and resentment at being made to give up his career, he is a real investigator and not just a busy body.  Well, I guess he starts out as a busy body but then formalizes it to be a real private investigator.  I’m not a fan of cozy mysteries with busy bodies messing up crime scenes.  I’m perfectly ok with elephants trompsing all over crime scenes.



		
		Baby Elephant Fighting Crime!
			
			
		
	The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown (Baby Ganesh Agency Investigation #2) by Vaseem Khan 
on May 5, 2016
Pages: 353
Setting: India

For centuries the Koh-i-Noor diamond has set man against man and king against king. Now part of the British Crown Jewels, the priceless gem is a prize that many have killed to possess. So when the Crown Jewels go on display in Mumbai, security is everyone's principal concern. And yet, on the very day Inspector Chopra visits the exhibition, the diamond is stolen from under his nose. The heist was daring and seemingly impossible. The hunt is on for the culprits. But it soon becomes clear that only one man - and his elephant - can possibly crack this case...

Goodreads

I love the covers of these books. They are so cute and colorful. I’m usually indifferent to covers but I love these.

20180517_160737.jpg

Mild spoiler for the end of the first book but not really – Chopra ends up opening a restaurant for policemen/detective agency office/place for Ganesha to live in the backyard at the end of book 1. The restaurant itself doesn’t play a huge role here but I’m claiming it for Foodies Read anyway because everyone needs to know about baby elephants.

Speaking of Ganesha, he considers himself a full-fledged part of the agency.  He has a special truck he rides around Mumbai in so he can go on stakeouts.  In this book he gets to go undercover in a circus performance and loves his sparkly costume.  He’s also making new friends at the restaurant and gets to help rescue one when he gets in trouble.

Meanwhile, Chopra is hired by an old colleague who was in charge of security for the Crown Jewels.  He’s been arrested and knows that he’s going to take the fall for this crime if the real criminals can’t be found. 

These books are fun.  I’m looking forward to reading more and seeing how this team learns to work together even more.

29 May, 2018

All Four Stars

/ posted in: Book ReviewFoodies ReadReading All Four Stars All Four Stars by Tara Dairman
on July 10th 2014
Pages: 288
Genres: Fiction
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: New York

Gladys Gatsby has dreamed of becoming a restaurant critic for New York's biggest newspaper--she just didn’t expect to be assigned her first review at age 11. Now, if she wants to meet her deadline and hang on to her dream job, she’ll have to defy her fast-food-loving parents, cook her way into the heart of her sixth-grade archenemy, and battle Manhattan’s meanest maitre d’.

Goodreads

Gladys loves food.  She loves to read about it, cook it, and eat it.  Her parents don’t care about food at all.  They pick up dinner from fast food restaurants every night.  If they do try to cook, they believe that everything can be cooked just as well in a microwave as on a stove or oven.

Because of this Gladys as been cooking in secret for years.  She gets caught the day that her parents come home early just as she sets the kitchen curtains on fire while trying to crisp the top of a creme brulee. 

Now she’s in trouble.  Cooking is forbidden for six months and/or until she makes some friends and gets involved with what her parents consider normal kids’ activities. 

She’s trying to comply but when her entry into a newspaper essay contest in confused for a job application for a freelance food writer, she gets an assignment to review a dessert restaurant.  Now she has to find a way to get to New York City from Long Island for her chance to make it big.

This book was really cute.  It would appeal to anyone who is more into food than the people around them.  If your family doesn’t understand why full fat is better to cook with than nonfat or why you can’t use coffee shop sweetener packets instead of sugar when baking, then you understand Gladys’ troubles. 

My only complaint is that I wish there were recipes for the desserts she made.

22 May, 2018

Girl in Translation

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Girl in Translation Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok
on April 29th 2010
Pages: 290
Genres: Fiction
Published by Riverhead
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: New York

When Kimberly Chang and her mother emigrate from Hong Kong to Brooklyn squalor, she quickly begins a secret double life: exceptional schoolgirl during the day, Chinatown sweatshop worker in the evenings. Disguising the more difficult truths of her life like the staggering degree of her poverty, the weight of her family’s future resting on her shoulders, or her secret love for a factory boy who shares none of her talent or ambition. Kimberly learns to constantly translate not just her language but herself back and forth between the worlds she straddles.
Through Kimberly’s story, author Jean Kwok, who also emigrated from Hong Kong as a young girl, brings to the page the lives of countless immigrants who are caught between the pressure to succeed in America, their duty to their family, and their own personal desires, exposing a world that we rarely hear about.
Written in an indelible voice that dramatizes the tensions of an immigrant girl growing up between two cultures, surrounded by a language and world only half understood, Girl in Translation is an unforgettable and classic novel of an American immigrant-a moving tale of hardship and triumph, heartbreak and love, and all that gets lost in translation.

Goodreads

This book is heartbreaking.  From the beginning you just want to hug these characters and beat up anyone who wants to harm them.  It is immediately obvious that the author is writing about her life.  The details that are included about living in extreme poverty in a condemned building while relying on an illegal job that pays pennies for piecework have to come from lived experience and not research.

I was ready to fight the evil Aunt who oh so generously brings her little sister and niece to the U.S. and then knowingly dumps them in these conditions.  She pretends to be helping them SO MUCH out of the KINDNESS OF HER HEART while leaving them in a building with no heat.  She underpays them and then manages to steal back a lot of the money they earned.  She needed somebody to whup her.

Even people who were nice to them did not have the ability to understand what was happening to them.  One of her friends started to see but asked her wealthy parents and was assured that she must have the situation confused because no one lives like that.

This is a story that anyone who thinks that immigrants get handed new lives in the United States needs to read.  This is a story that wealthy people who think that children and poor people don’t work dangerous jobs that defy labor laws in the U.S. need to read. 

16 May, 2018

Dread Nation

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Dread Nation Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
on April 3rd 2018
Pages: 455
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Balzer + Bray
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville—derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.
But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.

Goodreads

When  the bodies of the dead come back and attack people, the fighting in the Civil War stops. What doesn’t stop is the racism that was inherent in the United States. Now, 20 years after the shamblers first appeared, black children are taken and trained for combat duty.

The system replicates the hierarchy of slavery.  “Better” girls are trained in elite schools to be bodyguards to wealthy white women. They guard them from shamblers and serve as chaperones as the white ladies socialize.  Other girls end up working in the fields clearing shamblers as they approach towns.  Those people don’t have a long life span.

For me the story got most interesting when Jane and some companions are sent west to a planned community run by a pastor and his son, the sheriff.  Everything is set up for the safety and protection of white families but it is all run on the forced labor of black people.  The white overseers are so terrified of their black charges that they deliberately undermine their ability to fight shamblers by not giving them adequate weapons thus weakening the defenses of the whole town.  They won’t listen to the advice and expertise of black women until it is literally life or death.

This book didn’t interest me as a zombie/horror story.  It was at its best when showing off the absurdities of racism.  From phrenology to tell who is white and who is black to medical experimentation on unwilling black people to unequal distribution of assets this book highlights many aspects of systemic racism by placing them in a fantasy setting where people should be more interested in working together for survival than upholding an arbitrary hierarchy.

11 May, 2018

Picture Us in the Light and Mambo in Chinatown

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Picture Us in the Light and Mambo in Chinatown Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert
on April 10th 2018
Pages: 361
Genres: Fiction
Published by Disney-Hyperion
Source: Library
Setting: California

Danny Cheng has always known his parents have secrets. But when he discovers a taped-up box in his father's closet filled with old letters and a file on a powerful Silicon Valley family, he realizes there's much more to his family's past than he ever imagined.
Danny has been an artist for as long as he can remember and it seems his path is set, with a scholarship to RISD and his family's blessing to pursue the career he's always dreamed of. Still, contemplating a future without his best friend, Harry Wong, by his side makes Danny feel a panic he can barely put into words. Harry and Danny's lives are deeply intertwined and as they approach the one-year anniversary of a tragedy that shook their friend group to its core, Danny can't stop asking himself if Harry is truly in love with his girlfriend, Regina Chan.
When Danny digs deeper into his parents' past, he uncovers a secret that disturbs the foundations of his family history and the carefully constructed facade his parents have maintained begins to crumble. With everything he loves in danger of being stripped away, Danny must face the ghosts of the past in order to build a future that belongs to him.

Goodreads

I’ve heard a lot of hype for Picture Us in the Light but I didn’t really know what it was about.  That’s the point, I suppose.  This is a book about mysteries.

For me the main mystery in Danny’s family’s past was obvious from the first few pages of discussion of it.  That contributed to my frustration with this book.  It is hard to listen to people go on and on about how strange it all is and how they can’t figure it out when you, the reader, is sitting there thinking, “Dude, it’s obvious.”

There is another story line about a friend of Danny’s who died of suicide a year before.  There is a lot of good writing about how the different characters deal with survivor’s guilt and their feelings about whether their last interactions with her may have added to her decision to kill herself.

I admit that I was not that interested in this book while I was reading it.  But I had been in a bit of a reading slump where I was only interested in romance and nonfiction.  I was determined to finish something that didn’t fit into those categories.  People like this book.  I was going to finish this book even if I wasted away from boredom in the process.

Then I got to the ending.  I love an unexpected ending.  They make me want to stand up and cheer.  It perked me up and made me pay close attention again.  I loved it.  It made me glad I read the book for the last two chapters.

I would recommend this book to anyone, but especially who don’t tend to get bored to tears reading about teenagers and their angst, just for the ending.



		
		Picture Us in the Light and Mambo in Chinatown
			
			
		
	Mambo in Chinatown by Jean Kwok 
on June 24th 2014
Pages: 384
Published by Riverhead Books
Setting: New York

Twenty-two-year-old Charlie Wong grew up in New York’s Chinatown, the older daughter of a Beijing ballerina and a noodle maker. Though an ABC (America-born Chinese), Charlie’s entire world has been limited to this small area. Now grown, she lives in the same tiny apartment with her widower father and her eleven-year-old sister, and works—miserably—as a dishwasher.
But when she lands a job as a receptionist at a ballroom dance studio, Charlie gains access to a world she hardly knew existed, and everything she once took to be certain turns upside down. Gradually, at the dance studio, awkward Charlie’s natural talents begin to emerge. With them, her perspective, expectations, and sense of self are transformed—something she must take great pains to hide from her father and his suspicion of all things Western. As Charlie blossoms, though, her sister becomes chronically ill. As Pa insists on treating his ailing child exclusively with Eastern practices to no avail, Charlie is forced to try to reconcile her two selves and her two worlds—Eastern and Western, old world and new—to rescue her little sister without sacrificing her newfound confidence and identity.

Goodreads

I’ve had this book on my TBR for a long time. Once I realized that I was going to do AsianLitBingo, I downloaded the ebook from the library.

I loved the main character of this book.  She’s always been told that she isn’t special enough to do anything.  She struggled in school and works as a dishwasher.  She wears hand me down clothes from the old ladies in her neighborhood.  The only skill she has is tai chi.  Her mother was a ballerina in China and she started Charlie in tai chi as a child.  But she doesn’t think of this as a talent.  She just thinks that she was bound to have picked up some skills since she’s been doing it for twenty years.

Her father and uncle tightly control her life.  So when she gets a job as a receptionist at a dance studio outside Chinatown, she keeps it secret.  She wants the extra money to help put her little sister into a private school.

At the school she is thrust into a world where people pay hundreds of dollars a week for dance lessons.  This isn’t a world that she knows.  Her coworkers take her on as a project to find the real person beneath the hand me down clothes and deferential manner.

This book is about branching out beyond what you’ve always been told your limits are.  How far do you go without losing parts of yourself?

09 May, 2018

Find Me Unafraid

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Find Me Unafraid Find Me Unafraid: Love, Loss, and Hope in an African Slum by Kennedy Odede, Jessica Posner
on October 2015
Pages: 272
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: Kenya

his is the story of two young people from completely different worlds: Kennedy Odede from Kibera, the largest slum in Africa, and Jessica Posner from Denver, Colorado. Kennedy foraged for food, lived on the street, and taught himself to read with old newspapers. When an American volunteer gave him the work of Mandela, Garvey, and King, teenaged Kennedy decided he was going to change his life and his community. He bought a soccer ball and started a youth empowerment group he called Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO). Then in 2007, Wesleyan undergraduate Jessica Posner spent a semester abroad in Kenya working with SHOFCO. Breaking all convention, she decided to live in Kibera with Kennedy, and they fell in love.Their connection persisted, and Jessica helped Kennedy to escape political violence and fulfill his lifelong dream of an education, at Wesleyan University.
The alchemy of their remarkable union has drawn the support of community members and celebrities alike—The Clintons, Mia Farrow, and Nicholas Kristof are among their fans—and their work has changed the lives of many of Kibera’s most vulnerable population: its girls. Jess and Kennedy founded Kibera’s first tuition-free school for girls, a large, bright blue building, which stands as a bastion of hope in what once felt like a hopeless place. But Jessica and Kennedy are just getting started—they have expanded their model to connect essential services like health care, clean water, and economic empowerment programs. They’ve opened an identical project in Mathare, Kenya’s second largest slum, and intend to expand their remarkably successful program for change.

Goodreads

I had first heard of SHOFCO in the wonderful book A Path Appears.  It is also featured in the documentary made from that book.  Since reading that, I’ve been contributing monthly to the program. 

I had heard that they had written their own book.  I’m glad that I decided to read it even though I was aware of the basic premise of their story.  This book goes much deeper into Kennedy’s childhood than the previous book did.  It is a brutally honest book.  Content warnings for rape, abuse, genocide.

Kennedy experienced every kind of abuse that a child could. The book goes into detail about his life with an abusive step-father.  He left home at a young age to escape him and lived with a group of homeless kids who lived through crime.  He tried to get out by appealing to the church only to be sexually abused there.  It is amazing that he grew up to try to do something positive for the community.  He wanted something besides crime in people’s lives.  It all started with a 20 cent soccer ball and organized soccer games. That led to a theater group that tried to teach people how to live better lives. That’s how he met Jessica.  She was a rich, white American college student who wanted to help with the theater.  She does just about everything that you’d expect an American to do.  She’s pushy.  She makes many faux pas.  She doesn’t understand the community.  But eventually she learned to fit in and learned to love Kibera and Kennedy.

She went back to college and Kennedy was forced to flee Kenya because of violence.  Jessica was able to get him into college in the U.S. for his own safety.  The book does a good job detailing how difficult it was for him to move back and forth from Ohio to Kenya and function in both places.

It was the epidemic of child rapes around him that led him to decide to open a school for girls to prove that they are valuable.  The school is the center of a whole-life program in Kibera.  There is clean water provided and meals.  There are safe houses if the girls are being sexually or physically abused at home. 

This is an important story and an even more important program to know about.  It shows how grass roots community organizing in places in need can help lift up everyone involved.

08 May, 2018

Abby Spencer Goes To Bollywood

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Abby Spencer Goes To Bollywood Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood by Varsha Bajaj
on March 1st 2014
Pages: 256
Genres: Young Adult
Published by Albert Whitman Company
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Setting: India, United States

What thirteen-year-old Abby wants most is to meet her father. She just never imagined he would be a huge film star--in Bollywood! Now she's traveling to Mumbai to get to know her famous father. Abby is overwhelmed by the culture clash, the pressures of being the daughter of India's most famous celebrity, and the burden of keeping her identity a secret. But as she learns to navigate her new surroundings, she just might discover where she really belongs.

Goodreads

This book was so cute!  I don’t read a lot of middle grade but I loved the sound of this one.

Abby’s mother found out she was pregnant after her college boyfriend moved back to India.  She was able to contact his family but he never returned her calls.  Now thirteen, Abby develops an allergy that starts her asking more questions than ever before about her father’s side of the family.

Her father changed his name and became a famous actor after he returned to India.  Attempts to contact him for his medical history are finally successful.  Now he wants to get to know her but it all needs to be carefully controlled because he is a huge star and he needs to control his image.

 

Abby’s a biracial child who has never had any contact with the Indian part of identity.  There is tension between her parents because of her father being absent for all of her life.  Her father is used to calling the shots in his life and her mother is not about to just go along with his ideas now that he’s back in the picture.  Abby’s also finding out that her wealthy father’s life in India is not typical for the country.

The book does a good job of making each of the characters multidimensional.  All of them have well developed concerns and personalities.  I really hoped that there was a sequel to see what came next in their lives because there is so much to explore but there isn’t a second book. That made me sad.  I didn’t want to leave these characters behind.

28 Mar, 2018

A Princess in Theory

/ posted in: Reading A Princess in Theory A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole
on February 27th 2018
Pages: 360
Series: Reluctant Royals #1
Genres: Fiction, Romance
Published by Avon
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Also in this series: A Duke by Default

Between grad school and multiple jobs, Naledi Smith doesn’t have time for fairy tales…or patience for the constant e-mails claiming she’s betrothed to an African prince. Sure. Right. Delete! As a former foster kid, she’s learned that the only things she can depend on are herself and the scientific method, and a silly e-mail won’t convince her otherwise.
Prince Thabiso is the sole heir to the throne of Thesolo, shouldering the hopes of his parents and his people. At the top of their list? His marriage. Ever dutiful, he tracks down his missing betrothed. When Naledi mistakes the prince for a pauper, Thabiso can’t resist the chance to experience life—and love—without the burden of his crown.
The chemistry between them is instant and irresistible, and flirty friendship quickly evolves into passionate nights. But when the truth is revealed, can a princess in theory become a princess ever after?

Goodreads

I don’t generally read contemporary romance but people have been raving about this book.  I’ve also liked Alyssa Cole’s historical romances so I decided to give it a try.  I’m glad I did.

I laughed out loud to see that this story starts with a variation on the Nigerian Prince email scam.  Naledi receives an email claiming that she may be the long lost betrothed of a prince of an African country.  Now if she’s only send all the necessary information to establish her identity…..

There are many places where this book could have easily gone from entertaining to annoying.  The author did a great job with keeping the mystery/suspense up but allowing pieces of the puzzle to be revealed in a natural way instead of dragging out conflicts. 

There is a lot going on in this book. 

  • There is the Prince and the Pauper aspect as Thabiso tries to live as a normal person for a week.  He gains insights on how he’s been treating all the “little people” in his life. 
  • Naledi is having to deal with white male colleagues who use her for grunt work in their lab.  Any time she speaks up for herself she is afraid of being labeled a “difficult black woman.” I like the way another woman in the department was eventually able to stand up for her.
  • Naledi has a rich friend who overruns any boundaries Naledi tries to set up but who she knows cares about her. 
  • Then there are the mysteries of why her parents ran away from Africa with her and what is the new illness that appearing in Thabiso’s country.

That’s all without adding in the romance aspect. 

I’d recommend this book for anyone who likes romance books.  It is the start of a series.  Somewhere in this series I want a book about what happened with Thabiso’s assistant.  She travels with him to the U.S., starts a whirlwind romance with a woman she meets on Tinder, has some sort of bad break up that she refuses to talk about, and then heads back to Africa with Thabiso and Naledi.  There’s way more to that story than the teasing bit we saw in this book. 

via GIPHY

 

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