Warriors Don’t Cry
22 Oct, 2019

Warriors Don’t Cry

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Warriors Don’t Cry Warriors Don't Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock's Central High by Melba Pattillo Beals
on February 1, 1995
Pages: 336
Genres: Historical, Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Washington Square Press
Format: Audiobook
Source: Owned
Setting: United States

The landmark 1954 Supreme Court ruling, Brown v. Board of Education, brought the promise of integration to Little Rock, Arkansas, but it was hard-won for the nine black teenagers chosen to integrate Central High School in 1957. They ran the gauntlet between a rampaging mob and the heavily armed Arkansas National Guard, dispatched by Governor Orval Faubus to subvert federal law and bar them from entering the school. President Dwight D. Eisenhower responded by sending in soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division, the elite "Screaming Eagles" - and transformed Melba Pattillo and her eight friends into reluctant warriors on the battlefield of civil rights. May 17, 1994, marks the fortieth anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, which was argued and won by Thurgood Marshall, whose passion and presence emboldened the Little Rock struggle. Melba Pattillo Beals commemorates the milestone decision in this first-person account of her ordeal at the center of the violent confrontation that helped shape the civil rights movement. Beals takes us from the lynch mob that greeted the terrified fifteen-year-old to a celebrity homecoming with her eight compatriots thirty years later, on October 23, 1987, hosted by Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton in the mansion that Faubus built. As they returned to tour the halls of the school, gathering from myriad professions and all corners of the country, they were greeted by the legacy of their courage - a bespectacled black teenager, the president of the student body at Central High. Beals chronicles her harrowing junior year at Central High, when she began each school day by polishing her saddle shoes and bracing herself for battle.

Goodreads

black-students-integrate-little-rocks-central-high-school-2

You’ve seen the pictures of the Little Rock Nine being escorted into the school by soldiers and the famous picture above of the angry mob around Elizabeth Eckford. What I never heard about or considered was what happened after they got into the school. I guess I thought that everything was fine once they got inside. It absolutely wasn’t. This is that story.

I listened to the audiobook of this story. It is brutal. Every day after listening I was completely disgusted with white people. I’d tell the white people I work with all about what I had learned that day so they could be mad at our fellow white people with us. I proposed a road trip to Arkansas to beat up some elderly white people but no one has taken me up on it so far. That’s only because they haven’t read the book. If they had, they’d get over their reservations and join me in giving some old people some well deserved whuppings.

All day long the white kids in the school tormented the black students. It was completely ignored by the adults. That’s what amazes me the most. The adults seemed to give up control of the school. I understand that most of them wanted the black students gone too but you’d think that they would at least try to keep some order during classes. They didn’t. It seems like the whole school was ruled by packs of students.

On the first day the teenagers were in school a mob was threatening the school. There was actually talk by the adults in charge of giving one of the students to the mob to be lynched in order to settle them down. They discussed this in front of the kids.

Beatings happened daily. They were kicked all the time. White kids tried to set Melba on fire several times and she had acid thrown in her face. Lit dynamite was thrown at them in the hallways. I don’t know how many textbooks they went through because white students destroyed them routinely. This went on EVERY DAY FOR A WHOLE SCHOOL YEAR. I can’t imagine. I can’t imagine living through it and I can’t imagine hating anyone or anything so much that I could keep that level of abuse up for a whole school year.

Melba credits her family with the strength to get through.  This is where I differ with her interpretation a bit.  Her grandmother was a very religious woman who kept saying that god was in control of everything.  As a non-Christian, this grated on me.  I think it would have been better for the adults in her life to help stand up for her in any way they could (which admittedly was very little) instead of spouting platitudes.  Melba did embrace these and gained strength from them so I’m glad it helped her.  As a reader though they made me grind my teeth in frustration.

At the end of the book she talks a little about her perspective on the experience in retrospect.  She says that she would have never put her own kids into that kind of abusive situation.  That was something I wondered about.  The cause was good and just but what they went through was child abuse.  They sacrificed their mental and physical health for integration.  There is a second book that discusses what happened in her life after this hell year.  I’m going to read that.  She was definitely damaged by the experience. 

I would also like to read about this from the perspective of some of the white people.  I kept trying to get into their minds and figure out how they were possibly justifying any of this.  I can’t make that mental leap.  I’d love to just be able to ask, “What the hell were you even thinking?” 

This is a book I want to put into the hands of everyone.  These teenagers were amazing.  They took unimaginable abuse from both the white and black community.  This is history that we can’t forget. 

Cormoran Strike Series
10 Jul, 2019

Cormoran Strike Series

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading by J.K. Rowling, Robert Galbraith
Genres: Crime & Mystery, Fiction
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible

I’d been low key wanting to read the Robert Galbraith mystery books ever since it was revealed that they were written by J.K. Rowling.  I finally started them and then I couldn’t stop.  I’ve listened to the four books on audio one after the other.  Here’s why I think you should read them.

Great Characters

Cormoran is an ex-Army investigator who lost a leg in an IED explosion.  He is now a private investigator whose firm is failing.  When the first book starts he is breaking up with his toxic on again off again girlfriend of 16 years.  He’s also the illegitimate (and unrecognized) son of a major rock star and a famous groupie.  He grew up shuttling between a stable life with his aunt and uncle and a peripatetic life with his drug addicted mother.

Robin is new to London and newly engaged.  She is working at a temp agency who sends her to Cormoran’s firm for a week.  He forgot he signed up for a temp and can’t afford her but she makes herself too useful to get rid of.

Rowling is also still great at secondary characters.  Each person is unique and has a well thought out backstory.  They aren’t just a stock bad guy or witness.

Detailed Stories

Much like the Harry Potter books there is way more detail in these books than you actually need.  I think this is a good thing but I’ve seen some people complain about it.  I think if you are used to very spare mystery writing this will seem excessive.  There are definitely lots of red herrings and clues that never develop into anything just like it would be in real life.  Not everything is important to the story line.  That makes these books pretty long but I like that.  I like exploring the world that she is making and I don’t want them to be over quickly.

There is a TV show (if you like that sort of thing)

There is a film adaptation of the first three books.  The first book is three one hour episodes and the rest are two episodes.  I find them frustrating.  I think the main characters are well done but everything is so condensed.  Secondary characters are dropped.  Secrets that are hours in the teasing out on the audiobook are dropped casually in exposition.

I watched The Cuckoo’s Calling and the first hour of The Silkworm.

Everything you ever wanted to know about London transportation

Transportation is a major consideration in these stories.  That amuses me for some reason.  They are always running around the city but instead of just saying they went here and suddenly they are there, transportation problems are factored in.  The Underground is always used because they can’t afford cabs.  The time it takes to get anywhere is always discussed.  Having to walk far between public transit stops is a problem because Cormoran’s stump hurts and he has multiple untreated injuries during the series that make walking more and more problematic. 

What I’d like to see next

I’d love to see his father need his help.  Cormoran has met his famous father twice and neither time went well.  He has a little bit of a relationship with his father’s other children.  I want to see someone in the family get into trouble and need to come to him to sort it out.  Then he’d have to dive into all the family secrets and relationships whether they want him to or not.

 

 

Have you read any of these books?  What did you think?

The Day The World Came to Town
05 Jul, 2019

The Day The World Came to Town

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Day The World Came to Town The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland by Jim DeFede
Genres: Historical, Nonfiction
Published by HarperCollins
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: Newfoundland, Canada

When 38 jetliners bound for the United States were forced to land at Gander International Airport in Canada by the closing of U.S. airspace on September 11, the population of this small town on Newfoundland Island swelled from 10,300 to nearly 17,000. The citizens of Gander met the stranded passengers with an overwhelming display of friendship and goodwill.

Goodreads

I had heard the story of a small town in Canada where many airplanes had to land on 9/11 but I didn’t know the details.  

The reason all the planes went there was because Gander used to be a major airport.  When planes had to refuel before crossing the Atlantic, they went to Gander.  Private planes still do.  The U.S. military had a lot of planes here.  Because of the history of military use, the runways are long.  This allows it to be listed as a secondary landing area for the space shuttle in case of trouble on takeoff.  

This book details the lengths that people went to when they needed to suddenly accommodate an influx of people on an island.  They weren’t allowed to get their luggage off the planes so medications had to be found.  Clothes and toiletries were in short supply.  Bedding was collected from houses all around the island.  People opened their homes to let travelers take showers.  

All kinds of people were stranded.  There were government and military officials who needed to help coordinate emergency response so they needed to get out of Gander.  An executive for the clothing company Hugo Boss was horrified to have to buy new underwear at WalMart.  Refugees settling in the U.S. were confused to find themselves in a whole different country.  

I was particularly interested in the stories of the animals on the planes.  There were two bonobo apes moving to a new zoo.  They weren’t allowed out of their transport cages but they helped out by cleaning their own cages for the handlers and entertaining themselves by watching the dogs and cats near them.  

I’d recommend reading this book to take a glance at a little known slice of history.


Next week I’m going to see the musical Come From Away which is based on this story.  I wanted to make sure I finished this book ahead of time so I could be properly obnoxious with stories of, “Well, actually, what had happened was…”  I’ll report back with how close the musical is to the real story.

Bringing Columbia Home
25 Apr, 2019

Bringing Columbia Home

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Bringing Columbia Home Bringing Columbia Home: The Untold Story of a Lost Space Shuttle and Her Crew by Michael D. Leinbach, Jonathan H. Ward
on January 2, 2018
Genres: Historical, Nonfiction
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: United States

Mike Leinbach was the launch director of the space shuttle program when Columbia disintegrated on reentry before a nation’s eyes on February 1, 2003. And it would be Mike Leinbach who would be a key leader in the search and recovery effort as NASA, FEMA, the FBI, the US Forest Service, and dozens more federal, state, and local agencies combed an area of rural east Texas the size of Rhode Island for every piece of the shuttle and her crew they could find. Assisted by hundreds of volunteers, it would become the largest ground search operation in US history.

For the first time, here is the definitive inside story of the Columbia disaster and recovery and the inspiring message it ultimately holds. In the aftermath of tragedy, people and communities came together to help bring home the remains of the crew and nearly 40 percent of shuttle, an effort that was instrumental in piecing together what happened so the shuttle program could return to flight and complete the International Space Station. Bringing Columbia Home shares the deeply personal stories that emerged as NASA employees looked for lost colleagues and searchers overcame immense physical, logistical, and emotional challenges and worked together to accomplish the impossible.

Featuring a foreword and epilogue by astronauts Robert Crippen and Eileen Collins, this is an incredible narrative about best of humanity in the darkest of times and about how a failure at the pinnacle of human achievement became a story of cooperation and hope.

Goodreads

I clearly remember aimlessly watching the news that included in passing a brief mention of the landing of Columbia.  There was a pause and then the notification that they had lost contact with the shuttle.  I remember my then husband coming out of the bedroom and telling him about it.  What I don’t remember is any stories about the aftermath.  The Iraq War started and drowned out the findings. 

I found this book for sale on BookBub and decided to give it a try.  It was wonderfully done. It was informative while being extremely respectful of the astronauts who died that day.  It communicates the deep grief everyone at NASA felt for the loss of the crew and also for the loss of the shuttle.  Columbia was over 20 years old. Many of the people who maintained her had been with her for their entire careers.

The author was in charge of the launch.  The book covers that and the immediate concern that something was seen falling and hitting the shuttle.  It doesn’t shy away from talking about how safety concerns were dismissed during the mission.  He was on hand when Columbia was supposed to land.  He describes what it was like to wait for the shuttle to appear in the sky and the gradual realization that it wasn’t coming.

“Our emergency plans assumed that a landing problem would happen within sight of the runway, where a failed landing attempt would be immediately obvious to everyone. Today, there was nothing to see, nothing to hear. We had no idea what to do.”

 

Columbia broke up over rural east Texas.  They were in no way prepared for a disaster of this magnitude.  No one was.  It took a while for people there to figure out what was happening when debris started falling from the sky.  The communities rallied though to host and feed the hoards of recovery workers who came in, to walk through brush and briars looking for the crew and debris, and to mislead the press about where the astronauts were being found.  Even two carpenters who were in the town jail got put to work building cubicles for the recovery team.  I hope they got time off their sentences for community service.

The book tells the story of the many people who came to help in Texas and then switches to sections on laying out the debris to determine the cause of the accident and what that meant for the space program as a whole.  

There was a lot of discussion about what the crew knew.  There was video of them happy in the cabin that stops about a minute and half before the accident.  I personally wouldn’t want my loved one to know that they were about to die.  A lot of NASA people felt that it was better if they did know there was a problem and they were attempting to fix it because that would mean that they weren’t helpless passengers.  I don’t see how that would be comforting for anyone to think about. 

Even if you aren’t into the space program, this is an interesting book about accident recovery and investigation and the toll it takes on people involved. It brings up a lot of issues I never considered like what do you do with a destroyed space shuttle.  I didn’t know that Challenger was sealed in a silo.  Columbia is available for researchers. NASA personnel are instructed to visit her to remember the responsibility they have to the crews that fly.

It is sobering and sad but also funny in parts and ultimately uplifting.

Mercy for Animals
18 Apr, 2019

Mercy for Animals

/ posted in: Book ReviewFoodies ReadReading Mercy for Animals Mercy for Animals: One Man's Quest to Inspire Compassion and Improve the Lives of Farm Animals by Nathan Runkle, Gene Stone
on September 12, 2017
Pages: 336
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Avery Publishing Group
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible, Owned

A compelling look at animal welfare and factory farming in the United States from Mercy For Animals, the leading international force in preventing cruelty to farmed animals and promoting compassionate food choices and policies.

Nathan Runkle would have been a fifth-generation farmer in his small midwestern town. Instead, he founded our nation's leading nonprofit organization for protecting factory farmed animals. In Mercy For Animals, Nathan brings us into the trenches of his organization's work; from MFA's early days in grassroots activism, to dangerous and dramatic experiences doing undercover investigations, to the organization's current large-scale efforts at making sweeping legislative change to protect factory farmed animals and encourage compassionate food choices.

But this isn't just Nathan's story. Mercy For Animals examines how our country moved from a network of small, local farms with more than 50 percent of Americans involved in agriculture to a massive coast-to-coast industrial complex controlled by a mere 1 percent of our population--and the consequences of this drastic change on animals as well as our global and local environments. We also learn how MFA strives to protect farmed animals in behind-the-scenes negotiations with companies like Nestle and other brand names--conglomerates whose policy changes can save countless lives and strengthen our planet. Alongside this unflinching snapshot of our current food system, readers are also offered hope and solutions--big and small--for ending mistreatment of factory farmed animals. From simple diet modifications to a clear explanation of how to contact corporations and legislators efficiently, Mercy For Animals proves that you don't have to be a hardcore vegan or an animal-rights activist to make a powerful difference in the lives of animals.

Goodreads

I’ve had this book on my Audible wishlist for a while but hadn’t gotten around to it.  I’m glad I finally started to listen to it.  I was surprised when it opened with a story of a stealth rescue of chickens from Buckeye Egg Farm in Croton Ohio.  At the time of the story I was living in the area and driving past there a lot.  The place was hugely hated because of its affects on the people living around it.  There would be hoards of flies every summer.  The smell was awful and all the groundwater was contaminated from the feces.  

Mercy for Animals was started by Nathan Runkle as a teenager and has grown into a huge voice in the animal welfare community.  They have sponsored a lot of undercover investigations into abuses at factory farms.  The undercover investigators are tough.  I couldn’t work in slaughterhouses or factory farms for months on end to document abuses.  Sadly, it is getting harder to do this kind of work because of agriculture protection laws that punish investigators more than the people perpetrating the abuse.  

This was a tough book to listen to because of the abuse that it details.  I took a few breaks from it to listen to other books for a day or two.  

The last section of the book discusses how technology might help solve the problems.  Companies that make plant-based meat substitutes like Beyond Beef are profiled in addition to companies making meat out of animal stem cells.  This will allow people to eat meat with any animals being slaughtered.  It was nice that this book ended on an uplifting note after all the horrors that came before.  

Romance Mini Reviews
02 Apr, 2019

Romance Mini Reviews

/ posted in: Book ReviewFoodies ReadReading Romance Mini Reviews Tikka Chance on Me by Suleikha Snyder
on November 3, 2018
Pages: 72
Genres: Fiction, Romance
Published by Avon Impulse
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: United States

He’s the bad-boy biker. She’s the good girl working in her family’s Indian restaurant. On the surface, nothing about Trucker Carrigan and Pinky Grover’s instant, incendiary, attraction makes sense. But when they peel away the layers and the assumptions—and their clothes—everything falls into place. The need. The want. The light. The laughter. They have more in common than they ever could’ve guessed. Is it enough? They won’t know until they take a chance on each other—and on love.

Goodreads

I’d heard good things about this novella on Twitter and it seemed to be perfect for Foodies Read so I had to pick it up.

Pinky got out of her small hometown but had to return to help out in the family restaurant when her mom got sick.  She’s frustrated at the turn her life has taken.  Trucker is the leader of a local biker gang that regularly comes into the restaurant.  They are attracted to each other but know that they have absolutely nothing in common.  Pinky doesn’t want anything to do with the trouble that accompanies the gang.  But a few encounters outside the restaurant lead Pinky to believe that they more have more in common than she thought.

I liked this story even though it had way more sex in it than I generally like in my romances.  The author managed to bring in some good character development in such a short space.


Romance Mini Reviews Can't Escape Love (Reluctant Royals, #3.5) by Alyssa Cole
on March 19, 2019
Pages: 128
Published by Avon Impulse

Regina Hobbs is nerdy by nature, businesswoman by nurture. She's finally taking her pop culture-centered media enterprise, Girls with Glasses, to the next level, but the stress is forcing her to face a familiar supervillain: insomnia. The only thing that helps her sleep when things get this bad is the deep, soothing voice of puzzle-obsessed live streamer Gustave Nguyen. The problem? His archive has been deleted.

Gus has been tasked with creating an escape room themed around a romance anime…except he knows nothing about romance or anime. Then mega-nerd and anime expert Reggie comes calling, and they make a trade: his voice for her knowledge. But when their online friendship has IRL chemistry, will they be able to escape love?

Goodreads


This novella takes place at the same time as A Duke in Disguise, which features Reggie’s sister.  You don’t really need to have read that book in order to understand this novella but it does reference the events in the novel.

I love this whole series so I liked reading Reggie’s story.  No one is royal in this one.  Reggie is considered to be “the good twin” by her parents especially since she had a brain infection that left her disabled.  She is tired of hearing how proud her parents are of her for managing to do the most basic of things while at the same time they nag her sister for not meeting their standards.  She’s stopped working for their company and has built a successful online business but they don’t understand what she does.

Gus is autistic.  He used his livestream to try to find other people as interested in puzzles as he is and to practice speaking.  Reggie was his only follower.  He quit after a while and then deleted his archives.  He didn’t know that Reggie still listened to his soothing voice to fall asleep.

Both characters are a bit prickly because they are used to being misunderstood.  Despite the slightly contrived circumstances of their meeting, I really liked this story.


Romance Mini Reviews Trouble the Water by Jacqueline Friedland
on May 8, 2018
Setting: South Carolina

Abigail Milton was born into the British middle class, but her family has landed in unthinkable debt. To ease their burdens, Abby’s parents send her to America to live off the charity of their old friend, Douglas Elling. When she arrives in Charleston at the age of seventeen, Abigail discovers that the man her parents raved about is a disagreeable widower who wants little to do with her. To her relief, he relegates her care to a governess, leaving her to settle into his enormous estate with little interference. But just as she begins to grow comfortable in her new life, she overhears her benefactor planning the escape of a local slave—and suddenly, everything she thought she knew about Douglas Elling is turned on its head.

Abby’s attempts to learn more about Douglas and his involvement in abolition initiate a circuitous dance of secrets and trust. As Abby and Douglas each attempt to manage their complicated interior lives, readers can’t help but hope that their meandering will lead them straight to each other. Set against the vivid backdrop of Charleston twenty years before the Civil War, Trouble the Water is a captivating tale replete with authentic details about Charleston’s aristocratic planter class, American slavery, and the Underground Railroad.

Goodreads


I really enjoyed this book too.  This is the story of a British man living in South Carolina who is suspected of having anti-slavery views.  His home is burned because of this and his wife and child die in the fire. 

Three years later, an old friend from England who has fallen on hard times asks him to take in one of his daughters.  She is uncomfortable with this change in her circumstances but realizes that there is more going on with her new guardian than she suspected. 

This delves more deeply into the time and events than the romance.  It is straddling the line between historical fiction and romance. 

Internment
27 Mar, 2019

Internment

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Internment Internment by Samira Ahmed
on March 19, 2019
Pages: 386
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Atom
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: United States

Rebellions are built on hope.

Set in a horrifying near-future United States, seventeen-year-old Layla Amin and her parents are forced into an internment camp for Muslim American citizens.

With the help of newly made friends also trapped within the internment camp, her boyfriend on the outside, and an unexpected alliance, Layla begins a journey to fight for freedom, leading a revolution against the internment camp's Director and his guards.

Heart-racing and emotional, Internment challenges readers to fight complicit silence that exists in our society today.

Goodreads

I was really looking forward to reading this book.  I preordered it as soon as I heard about it.  I was interested in a book about Muslim internment from a Muslim author.

The book starts out well.  She captures the fear and suspicion rampant in the main characters community.  She makes a logical case for how the United States would start to round up Muslims.  The early scene where the family is taken out of their house is very realistic and because of that it is very scary.

After they get to the internment camp though, the whole story starts to fall apart.  I think a lot of the problem in my reading of this is that this is a YA book that is trying to celebrate the power of young people to make a difference.  I understand that because of the category it is going to be focused more on action than character development but these characters are particularly weak.   The main character:

  • Has a boyfriend who she loves so very, very much that she can’t think about anything else
  • Except when she is super angry and has ALL THE FEELINGS and is angry at everyone
  • Somehow she is only one in the camp who comes up with ideas to do something

YA books can tell stories of teenage bravery well.  The Hunger Games comes to mind.  This one just doesn’t ever come together.

It really annoyed me that this book painted all the Muslim adults as passive and weak and unwilling to protest.  They were just sitting around waiting to be rallied to action by a teenager?  (I decided to read that as the self-centeredness of a child who couldn’t see what was going on around her.  I’m sure that is not the reading that the author meant but it kept me from hissing at the page when I was reading.)

The villain of the story is an absolute joke.  He reads like a cartoon character.  He is the director of the camp and he stomps around and threatens people until his face turns colors.  Apparently just the sight of the main character makes him sputter and rage and be unable to form coherent thoughts.  In reality the director of a camp like this would more likely be a stone-cold sadist and/or a very efficient bureaucrat who wouldn’t be the least bit flustered by a whiny teenager.

***SPOILERS *** For all his rage every time he sees her he never really does anything about her.  The nastiest he gets is hitting her.  He hides her parents from her for a bit but he gives them back almost immediately when he is confronted.  Also there is almost unlimited surveillance but he never seems to notice any of the guards helping her all the time?  It is explained by the fact that he trusts the guards.  Yeah, not buying it.

I did like the fact that people protesting outside the camp and acting as observers of what was going on inside the camp was a big part of the story.  I think that in these scenarios that will be a major part of the resistance.  I did like some of the resistance ideas from inside the camp, like fasting to protest in front of visitors as well.

Overall, I think this was a wasted opportunity to tell a really important story.  If you want to read a book on a similar subject that I think did a great job with the storyline, pick up Ink. 

InkInk by Sabrina Vourvoulias
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was scarily prescient when it was published a few years ago.  It was just rereleased because events in the U.S. seem to be moving along just like she predicted. 

04 Dec, 2018

Mastering the Art of French Eating

/ posted in: Book ReviewFoodies ReadReading Mastering the Art of French Eating Mastering the Art of French Eating: Lessons in Food and Love from a Year in Paris by Ann Mah
on September 26, 2013
Pages: 288
Genres: Cooking, Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Pamela Dorman Books
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: France

The memoir of a young diplomat’s wife who must reinvent her dream of living in Paris—one dish at a time

"Excellent ingredients, carefully prepared and very elegantly served. A really tasty book."—Peter Mayle, author of The Marseille Caper and A Year in Provence

When journalist Ann Mah’s diplomat husband is given a three-year assignment in Paris, Ann is overjoyed. A lifelong foodie and Francophile, she immediately begins plotting gastronomic adventures à deux. Then her husband is called away to Iraq on a year-long post—alone. Suddenly, Ann’s vision of a romantic sojourn in the City of Lights is turned upside down.

So, not unlike another diplomatic wife, Julia Child, Ann must find a life for herself in a new city. Journeying through Paris and the surrounding regions of France, Ann combats her loneliness by seeking out the perfect pain au chocolat and learning the way the andouillette sausage is really made. She explores the history and taste of everything from boeuf Bourguignon to soupe au pistou to the crispiest of buckwheat crepes. And somewhere between Paris and the south of France, she uncovers a few of life’s truths.

Like Sarah Turnbull’s Almost French and Julie Powell’s New York Times bestseller Julie and Julia, Mastering the Art of French Eating is interwoven with the lively characters Ann meets and the traditional recipes she samples. Both funny and intelligent, this is a story about love—of food, family, and France.

Goodreads

I had this book on my iPad for a long time.  I had started reading it and then wandered off as I so often do.  However, I realized I had this while on my recent riverboat cruise in France, so I decided it was the perfect time to dust it off and finish it up.

I was actually on the outskirts of Lyon when I picked the book back up just in time for the chapter on Lyon. Lyon is known as gastronomic hot spot in France.  Their claim to fame are small restaurants that were started by women catering to working class people.  They are called “bouchons”.  They still exist and are considered some of the best places to eat.  I appreciate this book for explaining that they still feature tripe heavily in their meals.  Vegetarian-friendly is not a concept most of these have grasped.  A few days later I was standing in old town Lyon turning in a circle looking at all the bouchons.

Whispering to the husband – “We aren’t eating anywhere that says bouchon.”

Him – “Why?”

Me, muttering like just saying the word would manifest it in front of me – “Tripe”

Him – “What?””

Me – “It is sort of like restaurants who claim they are Family Restaurants in the U.S.”

He understood my theory that any restaurant that claims that title is using recipes from some old lady who cooked meat and potatoes without any spices and believed that the way to cook vegetables is to boil them until they give up.  Also, the soups are totally made with meat broth and if you order vegetable soup anyway odds are 50/50 that there will be unexpected chunks of meat in it.  Yes, I am a vegetarian foodie snob.

I was inspired by her chapter on beef bourguignon.  Once we got home I made a yummy mushroom version from Smitten Kitchen

I would recommend this book for anyone who likes reading about local food traditions in combination with a memoir.  She decides to write this book to distract her from the fact that she’s been left in France alone for a year.  They just moved there.  She knows no one.  You see her personal growth over the year as she reaches out of her comfort zone to make friends. 


So what did we eat in France?  Stay tuned for that post in a bit.

27 Nov, 2018

Educated

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Educated Educated by Tara Westover
on February 20, 2018
Pages: 334
Length: 12:10
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Random House
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible, Owned
Setting: Idaho

An unforgettable memoir in the tradition of The Glass Castle about a young girl who, kept out of school, leaves her survivalist family and goes on to earn a PhD from Cambridge University

Tara Westover was 17 the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her "head-for-the-hills bag". In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father's junkyard.

Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education and no one to intervene when one of Tara's older brothers became violent.

Then, lacking any formal education, Tara began to educate herself. She taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University, where she studied history, learning for the first time about important world events like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she'd traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

Educated is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty and of the grief that comes with severing the closest of ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one's life through new eyes and the will to change it.

Goodreads

Somehow I completely missed the point of this book from the previews I read.  I thought this was going to be a book about a woman who received a college education after a lifetime of fake homeschool.  What this book is actually about is how a lifetime of psychological and physical abuse leaves scars that no amount of education can heal.

This book is brutal.  Tara is the youngest child of a Morman family whose father believes that they need to prepare constantly for the end times.  The children are kept out of school to keep them out of the hands of the Illuminati.  Half-hearted attempts were occasionally made to teach the children but by the time Tara came along, they weren’t even trying anymore.  She was indoctrinated in her father’s way of thinking which included regressive attitudes about women. 

Her relationship with an older brother, Shawn, was the worst of her problems.  At times he protected her from her father’s plans for her.  Other times he beat her.  In between he manipulated her into believing everything was her fault because she was a weak woman who needed to be disciplined to keep from becoming a whore. The violence and psychological torture escalated as she got older.  Any attempt to stand up for herself was brutally squashed.

Another brother convinced her that she could go to college and get out.  She did but hid everything from the outside world.  She had no idea how to function in society.  Her training in conspiracy theories led her to reject help from the state or the church because she believed any assistance was the way they got you to start participating in their evil. 

I was looking forward to reading about how she got out into the wider world.  This is actually where the story gets worse.  Her family’s attempts to reel her back in are monstrous.  Her mind was so broken by their brainwashing that she couldn’t see who to trust.  All she knew was that it was her duty to do what her family said.

As of the writing of the memoir, she is out and she is alive.  It could have gone the other way many times. 

While this book is extreme, I didn’t see it as far-fetched.  I’ve read several reviews that consider the story suspect.  While I don’t know anyone who has gone through this, I can see parts of people I know in many aspects of this story.  I see the affects of growing up with mentally ill, abusive parents who I would have written off years ago, in loved ones who are still trying to connect with these parents.  I’ve seen people struggle to rid themselves of the ideas that they were exposed to in childhood.  They know they aren’t true but still there is that small voice that asks, “But what if is it is true?” 

This isn’t a happy memoir of the power of education and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.  I think this is an important book but be prepared to be very disturbed by the level of abuse described and then almost immediately discounted as unimportant or worse, deserved.

“Everything I had worked for, all my years of study, had been to purchase for myself this one privilege: to see and experience more truths than those given to me by my father, and to use those truths to construct my own mind. I had come to believe that the ability to evaluate many ideas, many histories, many points of view, was at the heart of what it means to self-create. If I yielded now, I would lose more than an argument. I would lose custody of my own mind. This was the price I was being asked to pay, I understood that now. What my father wanted to cast from me wasn’t a demon: it was me.”
13 Nov, 2018

The Good Neighbor

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Good Neighbor The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers by Maxwell King
on September 4, 2018
Pages: 416
Length: 14:07
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Nonfiction
Published by Harry N. Abrams
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible, Owned
Setting: United States

New York Times bestseller

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.

Goodreads

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.  

 

08 Nov, 2018

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Always Look on the Bright Side of Life Always Look on the Bright Side of Life: A Sortabiography by Eric Idle
on October 2, 2018
Pages: 288
Length: 8:12
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Crown Archetype
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible, Owned

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.

Goodreads

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.

 

04 Oct, 2018

The Ravenmaster

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Ravenmaster The Ravenmaster: Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London by Christopher Skaife
on October 2, 2018
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: England

The first behind-the-scenes account of life with the legendary ravens at the world’s eeriest monument

The ravens at the Tower of London are of mighty importance: rumor has it that if a raven from the Tower should ever leave, the city will fall.

The title of Ravenmaster, therefore, is a serious title indeed, and after decades of serving the Queen, Yeoman Warder Christopher Skaife took on the added responsibility of caring for the infamous ravens. In Ravenmaster, he lets us in on his life as he feeds his birds raw meat and biscuits soaked in blood, buys their food at Smithfield Market, and ensures that these unusual, misunderstood, and utterly brilliant corvids are healthy, happy, and ready to captivate the four million tourists who flock to the Tower every year.

A rewarding, intimate, and inspiring partnership has developed between the ravens and their charismatic and charming human, the Ravenmaster, who shares the folklore, history, and superstitions surrounding the ravens and the Tower. Shining a light on the behavior of the birds, their pecking order and social structure, and the tricks they play on us, Skaife shows who the Tower’s true guardians really are―and the result is a compelling and irreverent narrative that will surprise and enchant.

Goodreads

I’ve been following the author on Twitter for a while so I was familiar with his job and what it entails.  Despite that, this is still a fascinating look at the care of the ravens at the Tower of London.

If you aren’t familiar with the story, there is a legend (which the author casts doubts on) that if the ravens leave the Tower of London, then England will fall.  There are seven ravens who live in the Tower.  They are free during the day to mingle with the tourists, steal food from the tourists, and observe the general hub bub.  At night they have an enclosure to help protect them from the foxes who also live in the tower.  

“In the past the Ravenmasters preferred to put the food out around the Tower, but the problem was that a seagull might take a nice juicy piece of ox liver, say, that was intended for a raven, have a little nibble on it and then casually drop it on a visitor from a great height.”

 

The ravens aren’t pets.  They aren’t tame.  They don’t work on your schedule.  They don’t sit nicely on the bench when David Attenborough wants to film with them.  They are prone to killing and eating pigeons (not always in that order) in front of the tourists.  Most of the Ravenmaster’s time seems to be taken up with getting them where they are supposed to be and getting them out of places where they shouldn’t be. 

“[m]ore than once I’ve seen a raven chasing the Tower’s many resident cats and dogs.” 

 

Readers of this book will find out not only lots about ravens but about what it takes to be a Yeoman Warder.  He discusses The Story – the official tour group talk that takes people about 6 months to learn perfectly before they can start to change it by adding in their own embellishments.  The Story is standardized so any Yeoman Warder can step in and take over a tour if the original guide has to step away to help someone (like if they faint after watching ravens murder other birds.)  

The book is written in short chapters in a very conversational style which makes it a very quick and entertaining read.  I enjoyed this more since I have been to the Tower and could visualize most of the places that he is discussing.  If you haven’t been there, looking at a map of the grounds would be helpful to understanding the story. 

There are several stories of the deaths of some of the ravens from illness, accidents, and old age.  They made me a little teary as did this last line of the acknowledgements about Munin, who hated him from day 1. 

“A very special thank-you to Munin. During the publication of this book, sadly, Raven Munin passed away due to complications of old age. Her presence at the Tower will be greatly missed by her partner, Jubilee; by Team Raven; and by all staff at Historic Royal Palaces.”

 

13 Sep, 2018

The Gin Shack on the Beach

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Gin Shack on the Beach The Gin Shack on the Beach by Catherine Miller
on June 5th 2017
Genres: Fiction
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: England

When octogenarian Olive Turner is persuaded by her son to move into a retirement home, she congratulates herself on finding the secret to an easy life: no washing up, cooking or cleaning. But Olive isn’t one for mindless bingo with her fellow residents, and before the first day is over she's already hatching a plan to escape back to her beloved beach hut and indulge in her secret passion for a very good gin & tonic.

Before long Olive’s secret is out and turning into something wonderful and new. Only a select few are invited, but word spreads quickly about the weekly meetings of The Gin Shack Club. Soon everybody on the beach wants to become a gin connoisseur and join Olive on her journey to never being forced to grow older than you feel.

Goodreads

I picked up this book because it is precisely a genre that I don’t think we can ever have enough of – old lady chick lit!

Give me stories of older women in charge of their own lives; finding new passions; doing whatever they want!  I’ll read them all.  Give me more old ladies defying their fussy children and skinny dipping at the beach. 

This book also made me really, really want a beach hut even though I don’t live by the beach and even if I did, they aren’t a thing here. 

Olive moves into a home where everyone cares about safety to the point of not allowing the residents to live.  This is actually a huge problem for older people.  If you can’t do anything other than what is super-safe, you don’t get to do anything fun.

I was intrigued by the gin combinations that are discussed here.  I wish there were some recipes for the cocktails discussed.  I don’t drink so I have no idea if I like gin or not but this book made me want to try some.  I feel like I wouldn’t like a gin and tonic at all but the gin with violet syrup that tasted like candied violets sounded interesting.  I’m not sure if the rhubarb one sounded good or not but they were fans of it in the book. 

I didn’t care much for the bit of mystery in the book.  I was just here for the characters and their adventures!

21 Aug, 2018

Romance Reviews

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Romance Reviews A Duke by Default by Alyssa Cole
on July 31, 2018
Pages: 384
Series: Reluctant Royals #2
Genres: Romance
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: Scotland


Award-winning author Alyssa Cole’s Reluctant Royals series continues with a woman on a quest to be the heroine of her own story and the duke in shining armor she rescues along the way…

New York City socialite and perpetual hot mess Portia Hobbs is tired of disappointing her family, friends, and—most importantly—herself. An apprenticeship with a struggling swordmaker in Scotland is a chance to use her expertise and discover what she’s capable of. Turns out she excels at aggravating her gruff silver fox boss…when she’s not having inappropriate fantasies about his sexy Scottish burr.

Tavish McKenzie doesn’t need a rich, spoiled American telling him how to run his armory…even if she is infuriatingly good at it. Tav tries to rebuff his apprentice—and his attraction to her—but when Portia accidentally discovers that he’s the secret son of a duke, rough-around-the-edges Tav becomes her newest makeover project.  

Forging metal into weapons and armor is one thing, but when desire burns out of control and the media spotlight gets too hot to bear, can a commoner turned duke and his posh apprentice find lasting love?

Goodreads

Alyssa Cole is an autobuy author for me for both her contemporary and historical romances.  This is book 2 of her contemporary Reluctant Royals series.

Do you have to read the first book to read this one?

Not really as long as you can just accept that her best friend is a Princess. (But you should read the first book because it was wonderful.)

Portia has always felt like she is a failure.  She comes from a highly successful family.  Her twin overcame a life threatening illness and now runs a very successful website.  Her family is pushing her take a job with the family company just so she does something stable.   Instead she took an internship with a Scottish sword maker, because that’s a practical life skill.

Her skills are a big help to the company though.  She increases their social media profiles so they get more business.  She redoes their website.  It is in doing research for the website that she finds out about her boss’s relationship to a former Duke.

I liked that the conflict keeping them apart in the story was a logical one.  He’s her boss and it is inappropriate and wrong to hit on interns.  People should remember that.

This was a fun read that I finished in a few sittings.  I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.


Romance Reviews Primrose and the Dreadful Duke by Emily Larkin
on August 7, 2018
Pages: 355
Series: Garland Cousins,
Setting: England

He's inherited more than just a dukedom...

Oliver Dasenby is the most infuriating man Primrose Garland has ever known. He may be her brother’s best friend, but he has an atrocious sense of humor. Eight years in the cavalry hasn’t taught him solemnity, nor has the unexpected inheritance of a dukedom.

But when Oliver inherited his dukedom, it appears that he also inherited a murderer.

Oliver might be dreadfully annoying, but Primrose doesn’t want him dead. She’s going to make certain he survives his inheritance—and the only way to do that is to help him catch the murderer!

Goodreads


Emily Larkin’s Baleful Godmother books are also autobuys for me.  This is the first book in a new series but it is set in the same world as her previous books.

Do you have to read the other books to read this one?

The premise of these books is that a long time ago a woman helped a fairy.  In exchange all her female descendants are granted their choice of a magical power at some point in their mid-twenties.  Each book can be read as a standalone.

Primrose’s power is teleportation.  That’s a good choice.  That’s the power I would choose.  I like that she is first seen using it to go get a book she forgot at her house.  However, her magic doesn’t really affect the story a lot.  The same story could be told without it.

Oliver was an Army officer who came home after he inherited a title.  He was far out of the line of succession but several relatives have died unexpectedly in the last year.  Now someone seems to be trying to kill Oliver too.  The mystery of who it is the main story of the book.  It is quickly narrowed down to two suspects but the story twists and turns to keep you guessing.  

All the action takes place at a house party where Oliver is the fresh meat being dangled in front of several marriageable ladies and their mothers.  He is trying to stay out of their clutches but the marriage hunt is deadly serious.  

Primrose and her brother are Oliver’s childhood friends who are trying to keep him safe.  Their relationship develops because Primrose is the only woman who likes him for himself instead of his title.

 

26 Jul, 2018

Baker Thief

/ posted in: Book ReviewFoodies ReadReading Baker Thief Baker Thief by Claudie Arseneault
on June 26, 2018
Pages: 424
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Format: eBook
Source: Owned

Adèle has only one goal: catch the purple-haired thief who broke into her home and stole her exocore, thus proving herself to her new police team. Little does she know, her thief is also the local baker.

Claire owns the Croissant-toi, but while her days are filled with pastries and customers, her nights are dedicated to stealing exocores. These new red gems are heralded as the energy of the future, but she knows the truth: they are made of witches’ souls.

When her twin—a powerful witch and prime exocore material—disappears, Claire redoubles in her efforts to investigate. She keeps running into Adèle, however, and whether or not she can save her sister might depend on their conflicted, unstable, but deepening relationship.

---------------BAKER THIEF is the first in a fantasy series meant to reframe romance tropes within non-romantic relationship and centering aromantic characters. Those who love enemies-to-lovers and superheroes should enjoy the story!

Goodreads

I picked this up because it combined a baker and a fantasy mystery.  There really isn’t as much baking content as I would have liked because Claude the baker is off being a superhero and keeps needing to close the bakery.

What I Liked:

  • This is a fantasy world based in a French worldview.  The author is from Quebec and it shows in the French blended into this story.  I don’t know that I’ve seen another book where this is so well combined.  Place names, official titles, etc are French.
  • There are witches in this world but they have been driven underground by persecution in the fairly recent past.  Nonmagical people think they are safe now because witches are gone.  Witches are not gone.
  • The main character is Claude/Claire.  They are genderfluid.  Generally, he is Claude during the day when he is baking and Claire at night when she is a thief.  That schedule of genders was working well until recently when Claude is starting to regret not being comfortable working during the day as Claire or spending the night as Claude depending on which gender feels most comfortable at the time.
  • It tackles issues relating to aromanticism and asexuality.  There are several characters at different places on the spectrum of aromanticism and asexuality so you don’t get a single point of view of these topics.  It shows how aromantic people have relationships which is important if readers aren’t familiar with this aspect of queerness.
  • The rest of the cast is also very diverse.  Many genders, sexualities, disabilities, and races are represented.  It is also very good at body acceptance of various sizes of people.

Things that are slightly off:

  • This isn’t the author’s fault but there is a major part of the plot that is very similar to part of the plot of Witchmark.  I loved that book so much and I read it first, so what should have felt like a surprising plot point felt like, “Oh, this again?”  The books came out about just about the same time so it is just a coincidence but it decreased my enjoyment a bit.

Things that I’ll probably get yelled at on the internet for criticizing:

  • Sometimes the supporting characters were very awkwardly introduced.  The author was working hard to include characters from many different backgrounds which is good but it turned every character introduction into a descriptive list.  It is a case of telling the reader instead of showing the reader through the character’s actions.  For example, you wouldn’t necessarily be told when being introduced to your new boss what her sexual orientation was or that she was polyamorous.  Maybe you would see pictures on her desk or it would come up in conversation later.  
  • Sometimes the plot seemed to be set aside in order for a lesson about identity.  The worst instance of this was when Claire ran into a burning building, past a female-presenting witch who was setting the place on fire, and into a room where other witches were being held captive, in order to rescue them.  The witches inside ask their friend is ok.  Claire refers to her as “Fire girl” in her explanation.  At that point, she is informed that the witch is agender and not a girl.  My thought reading that passage was, “This is why conservatives laugh at us.”  You are being rescued from a building that is literally on fire.  You were trapped and needed a person with super strength to get you out.  Now, while the fire is about to drop the whole ceiling on you, you take the time to admonish your rescuer for misgendering a person they literally saw in passing.  Run first – then figure out the proper pronouns of strangers you’ve never spoken to.  This book sometimes felt like an educational tome on identity more than a fantasy story.  That’s fine if that was the author’s goal but I would have liked to see both aspects blended together more seamlessly. 

 

25 Jul, 2018

Unfit to Print

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Unfit to Print Unfit to Print by K.J. Charles
on July 10, 2018
Pages: 145
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Love & Romance
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: England

When crusading lawyer Vikram Pandey sets out in search of a missing youth, his investigations take him to Holywell Street, London’s most notorious address. He expects to find a disgraceful array of sordid bookshops. He doesn’t expect one of them to be run by the long-lost friend whose disappearance and presumed death he’s been mourning for thirteen years.

Gil Lawless became a Holywell Street bookseller for his own reasons, and he’s damned if he’s going to apologise or listen to moralising from anyone. Not even Vikram; not even if the once-beloved boy has grown into a man who makes his mouth water.

Now the upright lawyer and the illicit bookseller need to work together to track down the missing youth. And on the way, they may even learn if there’s more than just memory and old affection binding them together...

Goodreads

I read this book immediately after A Gentleman Never Keeps Score.  The two fit together nicely because they share the theme of sexual abuse/exploitation of teenage boys due to poverty.

Gil is a bastard child of a rich family.  When his father died, his older half-brother cut off his education and funds.  In order to survive he was a prostitute.  Now he runs a bookstore that sells pornography, which is illegal.

Vikram is a lawyer who takes some pro bono cases in London’s Indian community.  He knew Gil at school where they bonded over being the only dark-skinned people.  He has always wondered what happened to his friend when he suddenly left school but no one would answer his questions.  Vikram is investigating the disappearance of an Indian teen who worked as a prostitute.  The only clue is a studio photo that the boy’s parents had.  There is no way he could afford to have bought it.  Vikram guesses he may have been modeling for erotic photographers and was given the formal portrait as partial payment.

There is a bit of over the top serendipity in the main characters meeting.  It is like, “I’m searching for this lost boy because it reminds me of my former best friend who went missing.  I’ll go to this bookstore.  Oh, look!  There is my missing best friend.  Imagine that!”

Vikram wants to renew his friendship with Gil but has a very hard time accepting the world Gil lives in.  He is uncomfortable with the life his friend was forced to lead while he continued his comfortable life in school and university.  Gil is cynical about Vikram’s desire to help people because in his life he hasn’t seen many people with that motivation.

This is a novella but there is a good amount of character growth in it.  It was interesting to find out all about the Victorian pornography trade.  I haven’t seen that as a basis for a romance before.  

24 Jul, 2018

A Gentleman Never Keeps Score

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading A Gentleman Never Keeps Score A Gentleman Never Keeps Score by Cat Sebastian
on July 10th 2018
Pages: 384
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Love & Romance
Published by Avon Impulse
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: England

Once beloved by London's fashionable elite, Hartley Sedgwick has become a recluse after a spate of salacious gossip exposed his most-private secrets. Rarely venturing from the house whose inheritance is a daily reminder of his downfall, he’s captivated by the exceedingly handsome man who seeks to rob him.

Since retiring from the boxing ring, Sam Fox has made his pub, The Bell, into a haven for those in his Free Black community. But when his best friend Kate implores him to find and destroy a scandalously revealing painting of her, he agrees. Sam would do anything to protect those he loves, even if it means stealing from a wealthy gentleman. But when he encounters Hartley, he soon finds himself wanting to steal more than just a painting from the lovely, lonely man—he wants to steal his heart.

Content Warning from Author: This book includes a main character who was sexually abused in the past; abuse happens off page but is alluded to.

Goodreads

It is not strictly necessary to read the first book in this series to understand this book but it helps to gain understanding of the family background.  Hartley is the oldest brother.  He tried to make a prosperous life for his brothers by attaching himself to a rich man who was interested in him.  At the time Hartley was a teenager and the relationship was abusive.  At the beginning of the book, he has inherited his abuser’s house in London.  Relatives of the abuser let details of the relationship out and Hartley is now shunned in society.  He is living in a house where most of the servants have left because of the scandal.  He is dealing with the psychological aftermath of an abusive relationship.  

I love Cat Sebastian’s writing.  Her plots are original and include people and situations that aren’t often seen in traditional historical romances.  Sam is a black man who formerly was a boxer.  He is trying to make a living running a pub but he is being harassed by a policeman who is convinced that there are illegal boxing matches in the bar.  His brother wants to marry a woman but she is stalling.  She tells Sam that she once posed for a naked painting for a rich man.  She doesn’t feel right marrying a respectable man when that painting is still out there somewhere.  Sam decides to track down the painting to steal and destroy it.  The trail leads him to Hartley’s house because it was painted for his abuser.  

This book highlights found family.  Hartley assembles a rag tag staff of people from London’s underworld who have nowhere else to go.  His valet is a former male prostitute.  The valet brings home a cook/maid who was thrown out of her house for being pregnant.  Slowly he realizes that piecing his life back together doesn’t mean that it has to look the same as it did before.  He looks to rebuild his ability to trust and love that was severely damaged in his previous relationship.  He needs to deal with the anger he has about being forced to prostitute himself for his family, who are uncomfortable with him now because of it. 

I love all the characters in this story.  The author does a wonderful job of making them each well-drawn, three dimensional people.  No one is just a side character there to advance the plot.  I’m looking forward to the next installment of this series.

19 Jul, 2018

Trail of Lightning

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Trail of Lightning Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
on June 26th 2018
Pages: 287
Series: The Sixth World #1
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Published by Saga Press
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: Arizona

While most of the world has drowned beneath the sudden rising waters of a climate apocalypse, Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation) has been reborn. The gods and heroes of legend walk the land, but so do monsters.

Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer. When a small town needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie is their last—and best—hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much larger and more terrifying than anything she could imagine.

Maggie reluctantly enlists the aid of Kai Arviso, an unconventional medicine man, and together they travel to the rez to unravel clues from ancient legends, trade favors with tricksters, and battle dark witchcraft in a patchwork world of deteriorating technology.

As Maggie discovers the truth behind the disappearances, she will have to confront her past—if she wants to survive.

Welcome to the Sixth World.

Goodreads

I’ve been excitedly waiting for this debut novel ever since I read Rebecca Roanhorse’s story, Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience.

The book did not disappoint.

When most of the world flooded, the elders raised a magical wall around Diné land.  The gods and mythological beings are back.  Some people are manifesting clan powers.  Maggie’s clan powers make her a powerful monster killer.  She was taken in and trained by a mythological warrior after a tragedy until he left her a year ago.  Now she is a deeply emotionally damaged monster hunter for hire.

Now she is on the trail of monsters that she has never seen before.  They are wiping out whole towns.

This book reminds me a lot of the early seasons of the TV show Supernatural, if the lead was a no-nonsense Diné woman driving a 1972 pickup.  There are different groups of monster hunters.  There is even a safe house/bar/weapons depot/first aid station run by a older black woman and her children.

I loved a scene in a nightclub where Maggie is able to see the patrons as embodiments of their clan powers.  That is the type of imagination that I love to see in books.

The ending is magnificent and just a little bit of a cliffhanger.  I’m looking forward to the next book in 2019.

(There is a lot of graphic violence depicted including violence against children so if that bothers you a lot you might want to skip this one.)

08 Jun, 2018

Never Stop Walking

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Never Stop Walking Never Stop Walking: A Memoir of Finding Home Across the World by Christina Rickardsson, Tara F. Chace
on June 1, 2018
Pages: 249
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: Brazil, Sweden

Christiana Mara Coelho was born into extreme poverty in Brazil. After spending the first seven years of her life with her loving mother in the forest caves outside São Paulo and then on the city streets, where they begged for food, she and her younger brother were suddenly put up for adoption. When one door closed on the only life Christiana had ever known and on the woman who protected her with all her heart, a new one opened.

As Christina Rickardsson, she’s raised by caring adoptive parents in Sweden, far from the despairing favelas of her childhood. Accomplished and outwardly “normal,” Christina is also filled with rage over what she’s lost and having to adapt to a new reality while struggling with the traumas of her youth. When her world falls apart again as an adult, Christina returns to Brazil to finally confront her past and unlock the truth of what really happened to Christiana Mara Coelho.

Goodreads

This is a heartbreaking story of a child living in extreme poverty on the streets in Brazil.  The things that happen to her are horrific including witnessing the murder of her best friend by the police, seeing numerous rapes, and killing another child in a fight over food. 

Because this all happened as a child she didn’t clearly know or remember the reasons why they lived like they did.  All she knew was that her mother loved her and her little brother but that there were also times when she wasn’t around.  The children were taken to an orphanage where they were eventually not allowed to have contact with their mother and then were adopted by a couple from Sweden. Nothing that was going on was explained to her.

As an adult she decides to go back to Brazil to try to find her mother and to find out what really happened to make sense of her childhood memories. 

She examines the disconnect she feels about being grateful for her good life in Sweden that wouldn’t have happened if she wasn’t forcibly taken from her mother but also being angry about being separated from the person who loved her. 

The book is very simply written or translated.  That makes it a very stark read.  It is very sad but I think it is necessary to know what is going on in the poorest parts of society.  Once again in reading this book I was struck by how often male sexual violence towards women and children is considered to be an everyday thing.  I hate knowing that there are women who have to submit to being raped because they are told that it is her or her child.  Books like this just make me want to have a moratorium on men for a while.

19 Apr, 2018

One Hundred and Four Horses

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading One Hundred and Four Horses One Hundred and Four Horses by Mandy Retzlaff
on August 15th 2013
Pages: 288
Genres: Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by William Collins
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Zimbabwe

‘A letter is handed to you. In broken English, it tells you that you must now vacate your farm; that this is no longer your home, for it now belongs to the crowd on your doorstep. Then the drums begin to beat.’
As the land invasions gather pace, the Retzlaffs begin an epic journey across Zimbabwe, facing eviction after eviction, trying to save the group of animals with whom they feel a deep and enduring bond – the horses.
When their neighbours flee to New Zealand, the Retzlaffs promise to look after their horses, and making similar promises to other farmers along their journey, not knowing whether they will be able to feed or save them, they amass an astonishing herd of over 300 animals. But the final journey to freedom will be arduous, and they can take only 104 horses.
Each with a different personality and story, it is not just the family who rescue the horses, but the horses who rescue the family. Grey, the silver gelding: the leader. Brutus, the untamed colt. Princess, the temperamental mare.
One Hundred and Four Horses is the story of an idyllic existence that falls apart at the seams, and a story of incredible bonds – a love of the land, the strength of a family, and of the connection between man and the most majestic of animals, the horse.

Goodreads

What would you do if you had to leave your home in a few hours?  Could you leave your animals behind knowing that animals left on other farms had been killed?  That was one of the issues facing farmers in Zimbabwe when Robert Mugabe’s government instituted a series of land seizures.

The Retzlaff family didn’t leave Zimbabwe right away like many of the other white farmers they knew did.  They moved farm to farm but the chaos followed them.  As they moved across the country over a series of years, they collected animals.  Eventually, they moved to the neighboring country of Mozambique.

I imagine that this is a book that could have a hard time finding an audience.  Readers who care more deeply about people than animals might be offended by the effort and resources that went into moving and housing the horses when so many people were suffering.  Horse lovers don’t like to read books where horses are mistreated.  Horse lovers do need to be warned.  Most of the horses you meet in this book don’t survive until the end.  Many bad things happen to them regardless of the efforts of the Retzlaffs.

Another issue in this book is historical accuracy versus personal experience.  Reading the book, the land reform movement seems to come on suddenly.  I’ve been looking a bit more into the history because I assumed that there had to have been some colonial shenanigans that resulted in all these large landowners being white people.  Yes, Rhodesia (the former name of Zimbabwe) had favored whites in land distribution.  The black population was put onto the least productive land. 

“Following Rhodesia’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence, land legislation was again amended with the Rhodesian Land Tenure Act of 1969. The Land Tenure Act upended the Land Apportionment Act of 1930 and was designed to rectify the issue of insufficient land available to the rapidly expanding black population.[3] It reduced the amount of land reserved for white ownership to 45 million acres and reserved another 45 million acres for black ownership, introducing parity in theory; however, the most fertile farmland in Regions I, II, and III continued to be included in the white enclave.[3] Abuses of the system continued to abound; some white farmers took advantage of the legislation to shift their property boundaries into land formerly designated for black settlement, often without notifying the other landowners.” 

“In 1977, the Land Tenure Act was amended by the Rhodesian parliament, which further reduced the amount of land reserved for white ownership to 200,000 hectares, or 500,000 acres. Over 15 million hectares were thus opened to purchase by persons of any race.[3]Two years later, as part of the Internal SettlementZimbabwe Rhodesia‘s incoming biracial government under Bishop Abel Muzorewa abolished the reservation of land according to race.[3] White farmers continued to own 73.8% of the most fertile land suited for intensive cash crop cultivation and livestock grazing, in addition to generating 80% of the country’s total agricultural output.[3]”

“The Lancaster House Agreement [1980] stipulated that farms could only be taken from whites on a “willing buyer, willing seller” principle for at least ten years.[4] White farmers were not to be placed under any pressure or intimidation, and if they decided to sell their farms they were allowed to determine their own asking prices”

“Between April 1980 and September 1987, the acreage of land occupied by white-owned commercial farms was reduced by about 20%.” – all quoted from Wikipedia

Ok, so they can’t say they didn’t know this was coming.  They talk a little about the politics of it and how they weren’t paying any attention.  They mention the vote on a referendum in 2000 only because their black workers asked to borrow transportation so they could all vote.   It was the day before voting and they hadn’t really considered it?

The government organised a referendum on the new constitution in February 2000, despite having a sufficiently large majority in parliament to pass any amendment it wished. Had it been approved, the new constitution would have empowered the government to acquire land compulsorily without compensation. Despite vast support in the media, the new constitution was defeated, 55% to 45%.” Wikipedia

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It was after this failed that the government started to encourage mob violence to steal land without compensation.  I understand that they were both born and raised in Africa and felt protected because they legally owned their land but the writing was on the wall.  Things were about to get ugly and they were completely unprepared.  

What happened as a result of the seizure of white-owned farms was a complete disaster.  They were given as gifts to friends and family of powerful people who didn’t know the first thing about farming.  Zimbabwe’s economy was based on farming and when the farms collapsed it collapsed.  So no one is saying that this was a good and just plan but it couldn’t have been completely unexpected.

There are also some other statements that come across as very colonial.  One time when they move to a new farm she discusses her family moving into the farm house and then talks about her workers settling into the huts around the property.  She also has this quote – “John’s was a good old-fashioned cattle ranch of the kind the first pioneers in this part of the world had kept.”  Sure, they were the first people in the area if you ignore millennia of existence before then.  The author has commented negatively on reviews on Goodreads that bring up these aspects of the book.  That’s never a good look.

As a horse person I wish there were more details.  They talk about sometimes transporting horses in trucks.  Where did the trucks come from?  How many trips did you make?  How many horses did you have at any given time?  The synopsis refers to over 300 but the book doesn’t talk about that number.  How are you affording all this?

What happened to this family is bad.  But I can’t muster 100% sympathy for them.  I would have liked to see a bit more self awareness.  This book would have benefited from including the perspectives of the black workers who traveled with them.  A few of these people are mentioned once or twice by name but generally they are described as a faceless group of grooms.  That’s a big oversight in a book that describes many different white horse owners in detail.  

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