Thursday, April 12, 2018

Moon Called

Moon Called Moon Called by Patricia Briggs
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a fun supernatural romp, and the first in a series I'm sure I'll need to continue, if only to keep up with Mercy's adventures! I've read a lot of stuff in this genre, but I'm don't think I've read anything with Mercy's particular type of Walker in it. So I'm really curious to know more about her - family history, and what exactly her powers are. She seems to have more than she realizes, and I keep waiting for someone in her family to show up and explain things to her.

The love triangle is also fun, though it kind of annoys me a bit when the supernatural guys are so much older than the aging girls. There's something uncomfortable about the trope of the older man "teaching" the younger woman the ways of the world. I like both the guys, though, and I enjoy their interactions with Mercy. She seems strong enough to maintain her seperate relationships with both Samuel and Adam without them controlling her too much. I would say I lean more to Adam's side because he's technically younger than Mercy and I think he might actually love her. I'm not sure what Samuel's true feelings are. Plus Jesse is adorable, and she, Adam, and Mercy would make the cutest little family.

If I had one criticism, it's that the whole conspiracy plot was way too complicated, and it didn't even make that much sense in the end. Gerry was trying to trick his dad in to killing Bran, so that his dad would be happy to be a werewolf and survive? And because of that dozens of people died and wolves were made and tortured? What did he expect would happen after Bran was dead? His dad would just happily take over as Marrak? For being a smart guy, his plan was ill-conceived, and seemed purposefully confusing.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Let's Pretend This Never Happened

Let's Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir Let's Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir by Jenny Lawson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hilarious at times, heartbreaking at others, Jenny's (mostly true) memoir will make you laugh out loud, and then give Jenny a big hug for all she's been through. The funny moments are incredibly funny, but the sad moments are the ones that truly got to me. 💔 This woman has been through SO much in her life - miscarriages, PTSD, anxiety, rheumatoid arthritis. Sometimes it seem like she just can't catch a break. But somehow, Jenny has maintained a positive attitude and a sense of perspective and humor. Sometimes, all you can do to maintain your sanity is laugh.

Jenny and Victor's lives sound like a challenge, but it's their challenge, and they make it work. I love what Jenny says at the end: "You are defined not by life's imperfect moments, but by your reaction to them. Because there is joy in embracing - rather than running screaming from - the utter absurdity of life."

I loved what Jenny had to say about friendship, particularly with other women. I get it. It's hard to make friends, especially when you get older. But friends are the people who are going to pull you through life's tough moments, and celebrate with you when you achieve your wildest dreams. I love this one thing she said: "Girls make both wonderful and terrible friends - they actually listen to your goals, even when you're too drunk to know what you're talking about." The way my friends listen to me makes me think more about what I am saying, and that's a good thing.

I listened to the audiobook of this one, and it was amazing. Jenny reads it herself, and has the most perfect, dry delivery and comic timing that captures the essence of a Jungle Cruise guide, in the best sort of way. She also sounds a little like Mindy Kaling sometimes. Also, she sings the chapter titles. Also, there's outtakes at the end that are hilarious. If you do listen, though, you absolutely have to at least flip through a print copy of the book, because there are PICTURES.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Belles

The Belles The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!


A fascinating tale from a fantasy world, but one not that far removed from our own in its obsession with youth and beauty. The idea that something like plastic surgery could be done with a sort of magic is intriguing, and the possibilities are truly endless in that world, but I’m glad they left an element of pain, of reality. Nothing comes without a cost, not even if it is “magic.”

The history of the Belles is fascinating, despite the fact that much of it is shrouded in myth and mystery. I’m still entirely sure how their arcana powers work, but I’m also not sure that I’m meant to. As Camille dives deeper into her own history, we learn that things are not as she seems. Not only are the Belles not born in the traditional way, they seem to be grown from a flower bed using the blood of the former generations as the seed. By the end, we know that Camille is a clone of the queen’s favorite, Arabella, who has particularly strong blood they were perhaps trying to replicate. In the same way, there is a new baby Belle named Donna who is clearly another Arabella/Camille clone. I’m especially curious about baby Donna because, according to Valerie, the babies, who at the beginning of the book had just been born, are already 6 years old by the end, when not even 6 months had passed, I’d wager. Something seems to be extra special about the blood of these 3, based on the way Sophia reacted to using Camille’s blood in her experiments and Camille’s own unique use of the Arcana.

What Camille’s mother had desired for her was for her to help the people of Orleans love themselves, for who they are. That hope for the future is diametrically opposed to that of Sophia and her minions, who want power, and the ability to transform independent of the Belles’ work. They want to set free the power to change to the masses, but also, I’m sure, to monetize and profit from it. And worst of all, they want to use those With Belle blood as merely parts for their experiments, property they can chain up and do with what they want.

The heart of the story, which is obviously the first chapter of a series (darn it), is the attempt to wrestle control of the country and the people from a madwoman and the people who support her for their own nefarious reasons. Sophia is cruel, unconscionable, and literally insane. I’m not sure how those on her side don’t see that their time too will one day come to a painful end. One of my biggest irritations is why the Queen didn’t bring Camille to help Charlotte right when Camille said she would. How did it get to the point it did? Did Sophia already have so much power in the palace that her wishes and summons were obeyed before the Queen’s own? It’s either that, or this delay was merely a plot contrivance to get all the characters to the points they are at in the final moments of the book: Sophia as Regent Queen, the Queen dead, Charlotte “missing,” and Camille, Amber, and Rémy on the run.

Let’s talk about Auguste for a minute. I’ve read enough of these style of books to guess from the moment we meet him that he was likely to be one of the bad guys, and end up betraying Camille. I think he truly did fall in love with her, and when he tried to talk her in to running away with him, he was serious, but the second she said no, he was back to Plan A. Auguste saw that refusal as a refusal of love, and didn’t stay around to hear otherwise. Because of that, he set in motion events that have made him unforgivable, no matter how he may try to beg forgiveness one day as this series progresses. I truly hope Camille remembers how his actions, his betrayal of her, caused not only her own physical and mental pain, but that of countless others. Most damningly, it led to the death of Claudette, who didn’t deserve to die, but especially not in that way.

Meanwhile, I’m over here rooting for handsome, stoic Rémy from the moment he refused to crack a smile. Add to that his dry humor, his love and affection for his sisters, and his innate goodness, and I was a goner, even if Camille wasn’t feeling it. He was always clearly the better man, and I’m hopeful that his friendship with Camille will eventually build to love for both of them. But maybe down the road, when they’re not in mortal peril at every turn. What I’m most curious about with Rémy is what’s up with his scar, and the single freckle under his eye? Does he also have to be “fixed” every so often or he’ll go grey? The way he looks seems so distinctive and specific that it makes me extra curious about it.

I loved the stories of sisterhood in this book, of the many things they shared growing up, and the ways they are both alike and different. Amber made me mad quite frequently because, despite being a rule-follower, she was easily antagonized and turned to violence too swiftly. I wish she had been sweeter, and more understanding. The other sisters, I feel like we only got tiny slices of their stories, so I’m looking forward to getting to know them more through the series that follows.

WARNING: This book doesn’t have a definitive ending, and leaves off on a cliff hanger. Book 2 of the series doesn’t have a publish date as of yet. This was an enjoyable read, but definitely read at your own risk!



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Thursday, April 5, 2018

My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, Vol. 1

My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, Vol. 1 My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, Vol. 1 by Emil Ferris
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Such a gorgeous, inventive, intriguing book! It book's styling made it really look like a notebook, complete with realistic-seeming paper clipped in notes. In addition to the intriguing story and characters, there were page after page of gorgeous sketch recreations of famous art. I could spend hours just looking at those.

Karen, an outcast, monster-crazed girl, becomes more and more obsessed with solving her neighbor's murder as her findings become increasingly weird. It doesn't help that she's dealing with not only bullying at school, but her mother's cancer diagnosis. The sicker Karen's mother gets, the more obsessed she becomes with Anka's story and figuring out what really happened to her. The monsters are another way to escape from reality - Karen hates herself, so she would rather be monster. Then, monsters become a way to save her mom and family - if she can turn them all into something like a vampire.

Over the course of her investigation, Karen ends up uncovering a lot of secrets, including ones she'd probably rather not know. There are too many secrets, and eventually Karen gets frustrated and blows up at her brother - in the end, hiding the truth doesn't help anyone. Karen ends up keeping some secrets of her own, though. She finally comes to terms and accepts the fact that she is gay, and tells her brother. Deeze's reaction was not what I expected - although he accepts her, he also cautions her to keep it a secret from others. Deeze seems to have more secrets than anyone. There is this big mysterious thing hanging over their past that no one will talk about - is it their brother Victor, whom Deeze somehow killed? And how was it that only Anka was "there for him" during that time?

Anka's story is both fascinating and truly heartbreaking - growing up poor and abused in Germany, then eventually escaping the WWII death camps because of her connection to child prostitution. It's a messed up story, but it was a messed up world. I can only imagine what more we're going to find of her past in the next volume.

Another character I'm curious to know more about is Karen's "friend" Sandy - that little girl that no one else could see. Who is that supposed to represent? Is she a ghost? Her hugs are cold. She's always hungry, skin and bones, lives in abandoned apartment, floats down hallway... Seems like a ghost to me, but she has to represent something.

I'm definitely looking forward to the fall when volume 2 comes out! Hopefully my questions will be answered!

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Tuesday, April 3, 2018

In-Between Days

In-Between Days: A Memoir About Living with Cancer In-Between Days: A Memoir About Living with Cancer by Teva Harrison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A simple and honest illustrated memoir of Teva's reality of living with cancer. She doesn't shy away from the hard parts, but also takes time to highlight the ways she holds on to her hope and keeps going. Just because you are dying doesn't mean you can't live. Best of all, as she says in the preface, Teva gives voice to the fears that many terminal cancer patients have and encourages them to talk to their family, friends, doctors, and other loved ones. "I've since learned that it's the unspoken that is most frightening. Shining a light on my experiences takes some of the power away from the bogeyman that is my cancer. I'm taking my power back."

On hope, she says: "Hope is a dangerous thing. It's absolutely crucial all the time, or I couldn't go on. I am a naturally optimistic person, and I am inclined to hope for the moon. But I can't put too much hope in any one thing. ...I have to find a way to balance the hope I need to get up every day the pragmatism I need to deal with bad news." So much of what Teva says resonates with me. We are of a similar age (I just turned 37), and her outlook on life and hope feels very similar to mine. It's a constant balance between hopeful optimism and the certainty of impending doom. Reading Teva's words fortifies me, and gives me strength to battle through my own struggles, small as they may be in comparison.

I particularly like what Teva had to say about prayer. As an atheist, she doesn't believe in an afterlife, as much as she tries, and so it would be understandable if she wrote off people when they offer prayers for her. "And yet," she says, "every time someone tells me that they're praying for me, I say thank you, and I mean it. I can't explain how it is that I believe that this will help or the depth of gratitude that I feel for the people who keep me in their thoughts in those personal sacred moments." As a person of faith, that gives me hope that when I tell someone I am praying for them, regardless of their personal beliefs, it means something to them and provides some level of comfort, if nothing else.

I'm so grateful Teva shared moments of her family history with us, as well. The women in her family seem remarkable, and the legacy they have left for her of strength and endurance, of doing everything you can for the world, is strikingly evident. "What is it that we leave when we go, except the impressions we've made on the people we've loved and who loved us?" Of her granny, Teva says, "her memory is a potent reminder that, big and scary as this disease can be, I'm much more than my cancer, too."

I can't say that Teva's personal art style is my favorite, but I'm also sure that doesn't actually matter in a work like this. Her words have so much power and you can feel the strength flowing through the lines of the art of each page. Each drawing holds such truth, and the catharsis that was generated through their creation shines through.

There are so many more things I could share from this book - it really is worth the hour or two of your time it would take to read it. As a final moment of note, and a good thing to remember as we live each day: "So I did what I could. That's what we all do, stumbling through each day as best we can, trying to live up to our own ideals of kindness and caring."

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Saturday, March 31, 2018

Forgiveness

Forgiveness Forgiveness by Mark Sakamoto
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The backbone of this memoir is the alternating stories of Mark Sakamoto's grandparents. On his mother's side, his grandfather, Frank, was a young Canadian soldier who miraculously survived years in prisoner camps in Japan. On his father's side, his grandmother, Mitsue, and her family were forced out of their urban Vancouver homes by a racist government and moved to rural Alberta to work as farm laborers in deplorable conditions.

The true heart of this story is not the tragedies endured, but the markable grace and understanding shown by both Frank and Mitsue. Instead of holding on to bitterness and anger, they chose hope and forgiveness. They chose the more difficult path of moving on instead of living in the past. They became fast friends, and understood each other, without the need to compare or explain their pasts. "Breaking down is the easy part. Anyone, at any time, can break down. The act of coming together again is what makes a hero. Moving on, with an open heart, seems, at times, impossible. But it's not."

I love what Mark writes at the end to his grandparents: "You both fought for your country, your dignity, and your lives. Your victory was not that you lived. Your victory was in the way you both went on to live your lives. You refused to be defined by those most injurious of years. You did not dwell there. You had the strength to move on with hope and optimism. You filled your hearts with faith and forgiveness. You passed that on. Thank God you passed that on." The verse that Frank held to in the prison camp, when he knew he was being rescue, was Mark 11:25: "And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins."

The other part of this book that sneaks up on you at the end is the complicated relationship between Mark and his mother. After her death from addiction complications, Mark was wracked with guilt and fear - could he have done for his mom? Did he abandon her by moving on with his life, and away from the turmoil that her life became? In the end, what pulled him out of the fog was being reminded of where he came from - of the legacy his grandparents began of forgiveness, not just of others but of your own past self. In the end, his mother's death was not his fault, and Mark deserved to do as he had advised others at her funeral, to "remember their delight, not their sorrow, to let those memories - those delights - be her final resting place."

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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Boat People

The Boat People The Boat People by Sharon Bala
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow, what an emotional, impactful, culturally-relevant book. This is a heart-wrenching look at the atrocities of war and radical racism around the world, specifically during the Sri Lankan Civil War, and the process and rationale by which nations and their people choose whom they will and will not save from the punishment that awaits refugees who are returned to their country of persecution. It was eye opening to see how far countries will go in the name of "protection" - detaining refugees indefinitely, separating father from son. But really, who are the ones in need of protection? No one willingly leaves behind their whole lives, their families, all of their possessions, unless their lives are truly at stake.

And as Grace's mom, Kumi, repeatedly tells her, such racial stereotyping and persecution has happened before, and it's happening again now: "In another time and place, we were those people." The internment of people of Japanese decent in both Canada and the US during World War II, along with the theft of their property, their dignity, and their lives, was a travesty. The scale of it was shocking and confounding even to those involved. Kumi says, "How could it happen? ...Certain people felt too rooted, too comfortable. They took it for granted that they deserved to be here more than us. Entitlement closed their hearts."

Grace's perspective has a lot of unique aspects to it: she's a 3rd generation child of Japanese immigrants, but raised to be a Canadian, and only recently is starting to hear the horror stories of her mom and grandparents' past. Her opinions and rulings are shaped largely by her fear of what might happen were she to let someone dangerous in. Of course, the person fueling those fears is her mentor, a right wing government official who placed her in the role of adjudicator, likely so he could assert more influence over the refugee board. Much of the time, I wanted to shake Grace for not having more compassion or sympathy for those in front of her, but I do understand the pressure such a position would cause, and how murky the situation might seem with little to no absolute evidence.

Priya is also in a unique situation: she is Tamil, like the refugees, and as a law student gets roped into working as one of their lawyers, but initially, it seems like she has very little in common with her clients. It's only over time, as she gets to know both them and the secrets of her own family, that Priya realizes how much they have in common. Their story could have been her story. In her conversations with Charlie, and with her uncle, Priya comes to realize that the line between terrorist and coerced prisoner isn't clear at all. What wouldn't you do to protect your family, your child, your own life? In her author's note, Bala says, "How is personal morality maintained in the face of certain death? ...Mahindan is a fictional character, of course, but sometimes I think he is me, or the person I might have become if fate had been different."

That leads us to Mahindan. A man who has had an unfathomably difficult life, and who has definitely done questionable things in the name of survival. My heart breaks for him and his son Sellian, for all they lost: the rest of their family, their home, their livelihood, their morals, their safety, their freedom, their choice. It was a fight for survival, and as far as the last page of the book goes, the jury is still out. As for me, I would personally sit on the side of compassion and forgiveness. This book definitely has some difficult parts to read: graphic descriptions of bodies blown apart after a bombing; a mother describing her daughter being taken from their tent in the detention camp to be gang raped; a refugee hanging himself rather than be deported; and much more. These things are hard to read, but they aren't gratuitous. They are necessary so we can understand that these people didn't merely WANT to leave their homes and travel to a new country, they NEEDED to.

The issue of immigration and refugees has been in the forefront of American (and I'm assuming Canadian) politics and policy debate, especially the last year under our current administration. This is book is extremely relevant reading in this day and age, and really opens ones eyes to not only the atrocities that are being perpetrated around the world, but on what we can do to help people in their most desperate times of need. While Grace worries about protecting the Canadian people, and asks, "Don't you ever worry about letting the wrong person in?", her fellow adjudicator worries more about protecting the refugees: "I worry about sending the wrong person back." As said by former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and repeated by the author, "Canada is not in the business of turning refugees away. If we err, let it be on the side of compassion."

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