Saturday, April 28, 2018

The Fifth Season

The Fifth Season The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

BEWARE: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD


Amazing and complex and deeply moving. There is so much going on In this book that it's almost too hard to review it.

Finally, a book where a woman is "the chosen one," the unknown who might be able to save the world by destroying it. And she is a complicated woman, who has lived through unspeakable things like torture, reeducation, becoming a slave not in name but in treatment. Her body is not her own, her life is not her own, her future is not her own. Somehow, she manages to escape time and again, to carve out little pockets of freedom and love. Of course, those moments of happiness always end in almost more anguish and heartbreak than one can bear. Is she could have destroyed herself, she would.

There's a lot I still don't understand, and obviously this book needs the rest of its trilogy to provide answers and satisfaction. Normally that would bother me, but so much of substance happens in this book, that I can't imagine it containing more depths in itself. I'm still not sure what the relationship between the Orogenes and the obelisks is, or the relationship between the orogenes and the stone eaters. Obviously, Hoa has claimed Essun as his own (and fought off others for this privilege), just as Antimony has claimed Alabaster. At first, it seemed like this was a beneficial arrangement for the orogene in question - Antimony is the one who saved them from destruction at Allia - but now seeing him turned mostly to stone, and subsequently literally eaten away, I'm starting to wonder.

Also, I'm really pissed at Alabaster telling Syen that he'll never forgive her for killing Coru, because he TOLD her to do it, he would have done it himself, and she saved him from a miserable life of torture. Also, I'm pretty sure she was trying to kill herself, too, but was somehow protected by the obelisk, so really, she's living a lifetime of self-torture. So back off. Whatever Alabaster wants her to do with the moon, it still feels more important that she track down Jija and find Nassun, because any one who would kill his 3 year old son but abduct his 10 year old daughter instead of killing her... it creeps me out makes me suspicious. Find that girl!

I have to mention, too, I was really wary of a book that forces sexual slavery on people in the name of procreation, and if it had come from any other writer, I probably would have stopped reading right then. I decided to trust the author, though, and I'm glad I did. It's pretty clear that every decent person considers that system abhorrent, and the loving relationship we see most is between a bisexual man, his female partner, and his male partner, who live together with their child as a happy, whole family. There is also a transgender character, and others whose genders aren't clarified. Overall, the gender and sexuality expressed in this book is inclusive and normalizing, which is definitely encouraging and uplifting to read.

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Friday, April 27, 2018

Odd Thomas

Odd Thomas Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD


An inventive and creepy story about a fascinating person. I really liked Odd, and I can imagine his gift is hard to live with sometimes. Not only have to help those who have passed, but dealing with the guilt of not being able to save everyone would be overwhelming.

I'm still not sure what exactly bodachs are, and what that weird light-sucking room in Bob's house was. Maybe it really was the gateway to hell?

I'm so, so sad about Stormy. I originally thought it was unlikely she'd make it, but then, the fact that she was talking to him in the hospital tricked me, though Odd admitted he was being an unreliable narrator at that point, because he couldn't deal with Stormy's loss in addition to his injuries. She seemed to be the perfect balance to Odd, and I wonder now what will become of him. Even if he has lots of options (as his nurse friend implied), it's hard to see him trusting anyone enough to fully drop his guard and tell her his secrets.

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Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Cuckoo's Calling

The Cuckoo's Calling The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

SPOILERS AHEAD


A fun and engaging mystery. I really liked Cormoran, but Robin really steals the show! She is so clever and kind, and I love the dynamic she is building with Cormoran. I'm thrilled (but not surprised) that she'll be staying on as his secretary/assistant/student detective.

This plot was certainly twisty and turny, but by the time it got to the end, everything added up just as Cormoran said. Lula had a lot of issues, but deep down, she seemed like a sweet girl who just wanted someone to connect with, who would love her unconditionally without expecting anything from her. Jonah was exactly that person, and I'm most sad that their relationship never got a chance to grow. Also, poor Charlie.

I'm definitely going to keep reading the series, whenever I need a fun mystery.

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Friday, April 20, 2018

Dark Matter

Dark Matter Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

SPOILERS AHEAD: BEWARE!


A fascinating and suspensefully mind-bending thriller, but the heart of this story is about love, family, identity, and regret.

The science itself is intriguing, and Crouch does an excellent job explaining the quantum mechanics of it all so well that even a non-science person like me can understand. And then go, "WHOA."

My favorite parts of this book are all the introspective moments Jason1 has as he tries to make sense of who he is as a person if he's not UNIQUE in his personhood. Eventually he comes to the conclusion that one's identity isn't binary, it's multifaceted. Who you are isn't just the result of one distinct choice, it's the result ALL the choices you make and experiences you have along the way. All those other Jasons (save Jason2) started out at the same point as Jason1: being stolen from his world. Eventually, they diverged, and became distinct individuals. Daniela decides that Jason1 is the one she wants to be with because, just like the first time they met, it's incredible that they found a way to one another for a second time. Is it fate? Maybe, for these instances of these people, it is.

Regret is something we all live with to varying degrees, and it makes sense. Crouch dedicates this book "for anyone who has wondered what their life might look like at the end of the road not taken." The conclusion Jason comes to is that it's easy to look back and wonder what-if, but we have to live our lives in the moment, and be satisfied with decisions we've made. "We see it macro, like one big story, but when you're in it, it's all just day-to-day, right? And isn't that what you have to make your peace with?" When Jason2 claims he built the box to "eradicate regret," to "let you find worlds where you made the right choice," Daniela sets things straight with clarity and insight many of the Jasons lacked: "Life doesn't work that way. You live with your choices and learn. You don't cheat the system."

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I can't wait to recommend it to people. One of the other quotes I loved from the book was this: "We're all made of the same thing - the blown-out pieces of matter formed in the fires of dead stars." I've read this idea in many other forms over the years ("We are all made of star-stuff" comes to mind), and it always makes me feel such love and connection to my fellow humans, my family and friends. The universe is vast and mysterious, but in the end, we are all made of the same basic things, and we are more alike than we are different. As different as all the various permutations of Jason1s became, in their hearts, they all wanted the same core thing: for Daniela and Charlie to be safe and happy.

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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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Friday, March 23, 2018

Optimists Die First

Optimists Die First Optimists Die First by Susin Nielsen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

SPOILERS AHEAD


A heart breaking story of grief, loss, and guilt. It's hard enough dealing with the death of someone you love, let alone if you blame yourself for their death. It doesn't even really matter if it's *really* your fault, the guilt weighs heavily on you all the same. When I say this book made me cry, I'm not talking about small, gentle tears at a moment of sadness. I'm talking about full-on sobs, with me trying to wipe the tears away so I could see enough to drive, and sitting at my car at red lights hoping no one thinks I'm a crazy person. I was that emotionally invested.

I love this ragtag crew of kids that eventually became not just friends, but family. There's no surprise that they each have their own debilitating issues. The important part, though, is that they each came together to help one another in their own unique ways. Petula, with her constant pessimism, hypochondria, paranoia, and isolationism, might not seem like the kind of person who could provide comfort, but she was holding her family together single-handedly, and when these guys needed her, she was there, despite her fears. When Ivan needed to have a fake funeral for his mom to replace the one he'd been forced to miss, not only did Tula bring a shovel and make a tiny coffin, she went on a bus for him, hopped 2 fences for him, and went into a cemetery for him.

I get why Tula and Ivan were reluctant to trust Jacob again. Not only had he lied to them, it was a BIG lie. Knowing didn't change who Jacob was as a person, but it couldn't help but color their opinion of him, and once someone has lied to you once, it's hard to know if anything they are saying is true. I think what hurt Tula the most was that Jacob originally started hanging out with her to help her, not because he truly liked her. In the end, I'm glad Tula and Jacob decided to give their relationship another shot - end the end, they were really good for one another.

The hardest parts to read were about Tula's sister Max's death, and the aftermath. Her loss not only wrecked Tula, it broke up her friendship with her best friend Rachel and eventually drove her parents apart because they just couldn't grieve in the same ways. Tula and Rachel's fight, once we heard all of it, was so painful. Rachel didn't do anything wrong, and Tula was at fault, but I can understand the anger and pain and jealousy she was lashing out with. One of the best moments in the book was when Tula was able to finally look at Rachel's brother Owen and feel peace. "Owen didn't make me miss Maxine because he wasn't Maxine." That grief never really fades, but it becomes less tender over times.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Marrow Thieves

The Marrow Thieves The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A story about family, love, heritage, survival. As French realizes in the end, "as long as there are dreamers left, there will never be want for a dream. And I understood just what we would do for each other, just what we would do for the ebb and pull of the dream, the bigger dream that held us all. Anything. Everything." Even though this story is set in the future, it feels eminent and real. It's sad to say, but I can picture things turning out this way, and that makes this into an important cautionary tale. It's a warning to be vigilant and watchful about the way we treat others, especially those who are already marginalized as a people group. This is an important book to read, and a story that sucks you in from the very first page.

I loved the different relationships in this group, and the way new families were built, not based on blood, but based on care, devotion, friendship, and love. Watching French and Rose fall in love was tender and sweet, but I also treasured their relationships with each of the others, with Miig, and Wab, and Chi-Boy, and Minerva, and Ri-Ri. It was interesting to see the dynamics of different types of family play out when French found his father again - just because he had found his "real" family, his blood, didn't mean that the gang from the woods that he had spend the last 5 years living with wasn't his family anymore. Where does your loyalty lie when you have more than one allegiance? I appreciated what his father said to him at the end, whenever French was trying to figure out how to tell him he was leaving. Quoting his mother, he said, "...Running only works if you're moving towards something, not away. Otherwise, you'll never get anywhere." Passing down the history of their people was essential to survival and healing, but it was equally important that they look to the future and not live in the past.

Running through this story is French's coming-of-age tale. Through his eyes, we see the disintegration of our society, but we also see the personal side of all the little moments that grow him from a child to an adult. He definitely didn't have an easy childhood, losing his family one by one, and in a way, he lucked out when he stumbled upon a new family in Miig and the others. There are moments through out the story that are real turning points for French - the moose in the woods, grabbing the electric fence, Rose in the hotel, Ri-Ri's death, killing the Indian who wasn't an Indian, finding his father again, Minerva's passing, choosing Rose as his family, finding Isaac - and we can see how his reaction to those moments shaped his character and defined him as a person. French had so much responsibility for someone so young that I occasionally forgot that he was still a teenager. When he's irrationally jealous of anyone who looks at Rose, and blames her for other people's actions, I want to punch him. It helps to remind myself of his youth, and his insecurities that stem from his age, and that Rose can stand up for herself, because she is a strong woman.

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Friday, March 16, 2018

The Best Laid Plans

The Best Laid Plans The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I can't say that any book about politics is my cup of tea, and I especially know nothing about Canadian politics, but one of my friends is actively trying to make me into a Canadian, and she recommended this book to me (in podcast form, read by the author), and so here we are!

This book was definitely funny! There were lots of laugh out loud moments, especially at the beginning when Daniel is using euphemisms to describe catching his girlfriend inflangrante with her boss. The author has certainly mastered the art of a clever turn of phrase.

Angus McLintock is the best. I wish every politician was like him - people who don't necessarily WANT to be in politics, but who are smart, honest, and straightforward, and willing to rise to the occasion and do what is right. For many years I've thought that the people best suited for running government are perhaps people who have no desire for power, and don't want to be "in politics." Unfortunately, that's rarely who we get because those sort of people rarely run for office, and when they do, they rarely succeed. Angus ended up in office through an unexpected twist of fate, and his lack of desire to please anyone put him in the perfect position to not only stand tall and say what he thinks, but to truly act on his beliefs and affect change, both in the government and in real people's lives.

I can't say that Daniel is my favorite person - he's a little too self-centered and self-aware about what people are thinking and saying. In the end, though, he becomes the perfect foil for Angus, providing just enough guidance when necessary, and being easily steamrolled by Angus when he was not.

The experience of listening to this book as a podcast was a little strange, and I'm not sure if I am a fan or not. It was hard to really get into the book sometimes because each episode had a little intro, including the same music each week, an intro to the book by a voiceover person, and then an intro to the chapter by the author before he began reading. The sound mixing was off in some places, too - he used that same music as an interlude at times, and I couldn't always hear the narration very well over the music. He also seemed to feel the need to reintroduce characters every chapter, especially in the beginning. I lost track of how many times we were told who Daniel was, or that Angus was the liberal candidate for Cumberland Prescott. In the end, I'm willing to look over some of these minor annoyances because I realize that some of these things are necessary when you are in the podcasting process and have a week in between each episode. I would be really curious to see how the book compares between the version the author self-published and podcast, and the version that was eventually edited and published by a major company. There might not be that many, as the book was winning awards in it's self-published state, but I can see places were it could use some tightening up.

I'm definitely curious to read/listen to the sequel. I'm hoping that Lindsay maybe plays a larger role in the next book, because she seems amazing and I feel like we only got to see her in the context of how Daniel liked her. And of course, more of Angus is something not to be missed! I want to see that hovercraft in action again - his wild ride down the snowy, icy river was quite the adventure!

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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle in Time A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Full disclosure: Madeleine L'Engle is one of my favorite writers. I devoured her books as a teenager and into my 20s, both her fiction and non-fiction work. A Wrinkle in Time was never one of my favorites (That would be a Ring of Endless Light and An Acceptable Time), but I think that's mostly because it was the most challenging for me to read. It was mind-bending in a way I wasn't used to, blending science and beauty and faith all in one. Even though I still don't fully understand it even now, I can appreciate it's beauty and simplicity more at this age than I personally could as a child.

Meg is a wonderful sort of heroine to look up to - she never pretends to be anyone but herself. As her mom mentions, "You're much too straightforward to be able to pretend to be what you aren't." I love that the one of the gifts given to her is her faults. It challenges us to look at every aspect of ourselves as a positive, as well - you can be stubborn or tenacious, it's all a matter of perspective. Of course, Meg does hold on to her anger for a while when they are trying to figure out how to rescue Charles Wallace, but I think that is mostly due to her overwhelming fear. Meg assumed that when they found her father, he'd have all the solutions, because he'd always HAD all the solutions. Instead, like every human, he doesn't know everything, and he can't do everything himself. Mr. Murray is fallible, and ends up having to rely on his daughter to do the life-saving, which was challenging for him, as well. Once Meg figured out that she had to embrace her fear and move past it, she was able to let go of her anger and resentment, and do what must be done to save Charles Wallace.

Calvin is different from Meg in a lot of ways, but especially in his ability to thrive in any environment. In many ways, though, Calvin and Meg were the same - they never felt liked they truly belonged anywhere, neither in their families nor in society as a whole. When Calvin met the Murrays, it's like he found a whole new world, one that he could only have dreamed of. Meg seemed shocked when he said, "There hasn't been anybody, anybody in the world I could talk to," and it seemed to open her eyes a bit to how great her family was, despite it's drawbacks. This was especially evident when Meg insisted the Happy Medium show them Calvin's mother before their own, and we witness first hand the sadness and violence that is his normal, his homelife.

Charles Wallace is a character I still don't full understand. He's a precocious, extremely intellectual child, with a vast amount of brain power and understand for anyone, let alone a 5 year old. He almost seems more alien than the actual aliens we meet in this book. Are there really kids like this out there? Or do I need to suspend my disbelief a little more? Irregardless of my understand of Charles Wallace, I enjoyed that it was his pride that allowed him to be trapped by IT, despite the fact that he was warned against such an occurrence, and that it was Meg's love and connect to him that allowed him to be saved.

Of course, the greatest power in this book was Love, and that's a concept that will always be applicable to our lives. The evil darkness that we are fighting is hatred, murder, death, conformity, and so on.The dark power seems to think (or maybe just uses the rationale) that life is better under their control, because no one suffers or is unhappy. But I think we can see pretty plainly how the people of Camazotz were suffering - children being tortured, everyone living in fear of reprogramming, neighbor spying upon neighbor. Plus, even if none of those people were unhappy, even if they were truly brainwashed, as Meg says, "Maybe if you aren't unhappy sometimes, you don't know how to be happy." Our human fighters against this darkness are people of the light - not just religious light like Jesus, but also artists, scientists, humanitarians.

If you take nothing else from this book, I would hope you'd remember this: Love people. Be yourself. Don't be afraid to be afraid. Do what is right.

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Saturday, March 10, 2018

Precious Cargo

Precious Cargo: My Year of Driving the Kids on School Bus 3077 Precious Cargo: My Year of Driving the Kids on School Bus 3077 by Craig Davidson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A memoir about connection, and the way the people you meet can have a deep impact on the person you become, regardless of what age you are when you meet them. As Jake says, "You meet people and your life gets its shape by the things that happen when you meet."

Craig had been at a low point in his life when he signed on to be a bus driver, but that decision would ultimately give him not only a year filled with joy, but the self-enlightenment to take a look at his life and change it for the better. He was pushed to step out of his comfort zone and the self-pity he'd been living in and try to reach his goals. At one point, Craig mentions that he's not as deeply satisfied with his life as he expected, but isn't that the way of things? Few things live up to your expectations, and much of the joy in life comes from continually chasing the goals set before you, and never giving up.

The kids Craig spent a year with had certainly faced challenges in their young lives. They were each both unique and also the same as any other kid. They inspired him, with both their own stories and dreams, to take a look at what he was writing and "tell the stories that lie nearest to your heart. That way they're not really fabrications at all. They're hopeful truths."

All the kids had their own endearing qualities, and because Craig loved them, I came to love them, too. Jake especially felt extremely mature for his age, and maybe that's the fact that he had already survived so much, and because he became like family to Craig.

It's sad to think that maybe Craig and Jake didn't spend as much time hanging out together once he wasn't a bus driver anymore, so I'm going to assume their relationship continued. Regardless, the fact remains that Jake and the other kids had a huge impact on Craig's life. As Craig says, "Time gets away from us. It rips some of our friends away. People come together, they fall apart. But what I've realized, and what I hope you understand, too, is this doesn't mean the memories go anywhere or are any less essential."

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Monday, March 5, 2018

The Sun Is Also a Star

The Sun Is Also a Star The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

SPOILERS AHEAD


A sweet story about connection that was somehow both breezy and full of emotional weight. I would have given this one a higher rating, and you can call me a cynic all you want, but I truly don't believe you can fall in love with someone in one day. I won't go so far as to say I agree with Natasha at the beginning of the book - I believe in LOVE. But I think it's something that takes time to develop with any real, lasting depth.

As for the things I did like: Daniel and Natasha were very different from one another, but they were both looking to change their lives, and break away from what was expected of them. I liked the juxtaposition of their different family relationships, and how they morphed and changed over the years.

It was interesting to compare their different immigrant experiences. Natasha's family was here illegally, but her father was desperate to assimilate himself into the American experience, working hard at losing his accent. Meanwhile, Daniel's family were here legally, but his dad seemed focused on his kids dating Koreans and doing what they're told, because the parents know what's best for them.

My favorite thing, perhaps, was how interconnected all the characters were, even the minor ones. It really illustrates the effect one can have on the lives of those around you, even complete strangers that you only see once. The lawyer and his paralegal, the smoking security guard, and especially Irene, the checkpoint scanner - their lives would have been so different had they not met Natasha and Daniel. So is it Fate or merely coincidence? I'm not sure I believe in fate, but I do believe that if you treat others with kindness and respect, you can affect change in their lives.

I'm still debating how I feel about the epilogue section. I was sort of relieved that Natasha and Daniel slowly grew apart as time went on, because that seemed more natural and true to how life actually works. Their reunion on the plane (with Irene!) is an awfully big coincidence of "fate," of which I am extremely skeptical, but I'm willing to accept it in the end because I want them to be happy, and they seem to make one another very happy. And happy endings are necessary in life sometimes.

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Friday, March 2, 2018

The Bright Hour

The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying by Nina Riggs
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A beautiful written memoir, not just about dying, but also about living: how you go on living with terminal illness, with chronic pain, with the death of your mother, with the knowledge your kids will have to go on without you. Nina Riggs tries to work through these and other thoughts as she deals not only with her own diagnosis, but that of her mother, dying of a completely different type of cancer.

2 cancers at the same time in one family is ridiculously, over-the-top unfair. I knew this was going to be about Nina's cancer journey, but I didn't expect to go through her mother's as well, and how she feels and deals with the loss of her mom. It echoes so closely to the fears that live with me about losing my own parents one day, too. How do I live in a world with out my parents? How do I do anything without them?

What I keep going back to is something Nina says early on: "These days are days. We choose how we hold them." And then at the end, she harkens back to that earlier conversation: "My voice: I have to love these days the same as any other. His voice: I'm so afraid I can't breathe. We're making our way like this, though: We are breathless, but we love there days. They are promises. They are the only way to walk from one night to the other."

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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

February Reading Wrap-up


My goal for February was to read books by black authors for #blackhistorymonth, and it was definitely successful! I read books by Roxane Gay (Bad Feminist), Ta-Nahesi Coates (Between the World and Me), and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (We Should All Be Feminists). I also read all 3 March graphic novels by John Lewis, as well as some other good ones, including one of this month's favorites, The Underground Railroad.

My plan for March is to read books by Canada authors, starting with this year's #CanadaReads nominees. I can't wait to start!

The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

SPOILERS AHEAD


Wow. Gorgeously sad and intensely thought-provoking, and in many ways, the true America. I'm still not quite sure where or when this was set - they are in the southern states, sometime in the 1800s, but there's also a literal Underground Railroad, and each state seems to provide a different atmosphere and way of confining the black people. As Cora says, "Whether in the fields or underground or in an attic room, America remained her warden." Everything was a delusion, especially the Valentine's farm and refuge. Every time she relaxed even a little, Cora was reminded over how little authority she truly had over her body and her actions. I can only hope that somehow, out in the west, past the end of this book, Cora has found some sort of peace and happiness.

I really glad there were smaller chapters interspersed, showing us the lives and minds of characters other than Cora. Having read the table of contents, I was eagering awaiting Cora's mother's story, and it was not at all what I expected and also insanely sad. Being abandoned was such a central part of who Cora was, who she believed herself to be, and why she continually held people at arm's length. "She was a stray after all. A stray not only in its plantation meaning - orphaned, with no one to look out for her - but in every other sphere as well. Somewhere, years ago, she had stepped off the path of life and could no longer find her way back to the family of people. " But we come to find out that central truth is a LIE - Mabel never meant to abandon Cora, in fact, she was returning because of Cora, because she loved her and wanted to give her a life of hope. It's so unbearably sad.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

We Should All Be Feminists

We Should All Be Feminists We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is required reading for anyone who believes that the sexes should be treated equally, that there is a problem with gender as it is now, and that we need to fix it. And that should be EVERY person. Feminism is not a bad word, it just needs to be understood for what it truly is.

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Monday, February 26, 2018

The Kitchen Boy

The Kitchen Boy: A Novel of the Last Tsar The Kitchen Boy: A Novel of the Last Tsar by Robert Alexander
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

SPOILERS AHEAD!


A fascinating re-writing of history, filling in the gaps of a terrible tragedy. I was tempted to give up this book in the middle, because the day after day recounting of waiting for rescue and living on pins and needles was tedious after a while. I'm really glad my friend encouraged me to stick with it, though - the ending made it truly worthwhile.

For a century, there has been mystery and rumors surrounding the murders of the last Romanovs. Part of that was intentional on the part of their killers, the Bolsheviks - no proof of death means no martyrs for the royalist cause. The lack of proof allowed rumors to fly - though their deaths were presumed, maybe someone managed to survive and escape? Maybe their are living in exile, in secrecy, the true heir to the throne? There have been books and movies spinning stories about this possibility for decades because the idea is both romantic and idealistic. This family did not deserve death, so surely it would be more poetic, more fitting, if one of them managed to live through the tragedy.

The author paints an fascinating portrait of the royals, and while sympathic to the family as a whole, he doesn't pull punches regarding the blame shouldered Nicolai and Aleksandra in the demise of the Russian empire and their own family. If only Nikolai had been more far-sighted, realized his country was headed to a constitutional monarchy (like much of the world), and agreed to sign over some of his ruling authority. If only Aleksandra's love and obsession over her sick son hadn't consumed her wholly, allowing her to be used by people like Rasputin and villianized by nearly everyone around her. If only they had left the country at the first sign of trouble, instead of naively and stubbornly staying until it was too late. Unfortunately, hindsight can't save lives, it can only inform the future.

Misha/Leonka/Volodya is a fascinating character, and is the epitome of an unreliable narrator. Part of the mystery of this story is we believe what we, as readers, are being told: "Here is the truth. Everything else before was a lie, but now I'm being honest." But where does the lie stop and the truth begin? There were some inklings that perhaps Misha was still concealing someone's identity in his story, but even when he went as far as to say, "She can't know I'm not really Misha," my best guess was that he was, in truth Alexei, the lost prince. Finding out that he was, in truth, Volodya, aka the young blonde guard mentioned several times in passing, was a shock. That reveal definitely made Misha's guilt make more sense. It didn't ring true to me that the Kitchen Boy would truly feel at fault for the murders, even if he did misplace one of Nikolai's notes. But as a guard, as the person who drew close to the family in order to coerce them into an escape, who helped stage a fake rescue correspondence to justify their execution, who was in the room participating in the actual shooting, Misha's guilt is was more reasonable. That is a lot to live with. Yes, he ended up saving Maria, and becoming her protector, her family, her life; but even that is messed up in a way. With her riches, he ended up living a life of luxury, with a beautiful and loving wife who forgave his his misdeeds, a son, a granddaughter. In the end, it's up to the reader to decide whether one can truly be forgiven for their terrible deeds.

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Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Cold Dish

The Cold Dish The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

SPOILERS AHEAD!


A quick, fun read. I am spectacularly bad at guessing who the villain is in mysteries, and this one is no different. I love Walt and Henry's relationship, and how close Walt is to his whole team. There's definitely some funny moments in there, too.

I'm a fan of the TV show based on these books, so of course, thing felt weird to me at times. It almost like the way it feels when you grow up going to Disneyland, know it like the back of your hand, and then visit the Magic Kingdom at Disney World. Everything looks kinda the same, and has the same vibe, but things aren't quite in the right spots, and look a little just different enough to feel "off," and you spend a bit of time confused and lost. I know Walt, but this Walt is slightly different. I know Vic, but this isn't the same Vic (how exactly does one "look Italian"?). Cady doesn't even make an appearance in the books. Branch doesn't even exist, though I think he was partially based on Turk. I definitely want to keep reading the books, so hopefully over time, the characters will solidify in my mind as their book selves, separate from their TV versions.

There were a couple other things that threw me off. For one, Walt spends a lot of time thinking about how attractive the women around him are. I don't see how that's particularly important to the story, and seems to imply that Walt cares more for appearances than character. I feel like that's NOT what the author's trying to say, but he (the author) is so fixated on having his female characters be both attractive and also attracted to his male lead that he needs to have it mentioned continuously. I also didn't appreciate seeing Walt ignore when a woman literally says, "Don't touch me," and continue to hug her. Whether it's because he thinks he knows better than her and she actually wants to be hugged, or becuase hugging her will help assuage his own guilt and make him feel better, it doesn't really matter. It's not okay. Especially considering that this book is centered around a rape case, in which one of the prime points of contention is whether the girl involved could consent to the sexual acts.

The other thing that bothered me was the depth of Vonnie and Walt's feelings for one another. Before she dies, Vonnie says she loves Walt, but they had barely been spending time with one another. They had one, maybe two dates. I can believe that they had started down the path that could eventually lead to love, but here is no way I believe they actually loved each other at that point. Walt's reaction to her death seemed a little disproportionate to his relationship with Vonnie, but i can understand that trauma affects people differently. He had been thinking of actually being with this woman, the first since his wife's death, and been in the room when she killed herself. Needing some time to himself seems rational.

Especially considering he had been in major mourning up until recently for his wife, who, come to find out, hadn't been insanely in love with him, like she is in the TV show. Part of my shock at book!Walt talking about how hot all the women are around him is because TV!Walt deeply loved his wife and was still mourning her intensely when the show began. Granted, we don't know what's going on inside TV!Walt's head, but he doesn't seem interested in even looking at other women until much later in the show.

All in all, I'll happily keep reading these, but hopefully the casual sexism will decrease as time goes on, and I'll be able to separate the book characters from the TV characters more easily.

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Friday, February 23, 2018

The Professor and the Madman

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A detailed account, not only of the remarkable amount of work that went into creating the Oxford English Dictionary, the first of its kind and scale, but also the men who devoted their lives to its development. The depth of detail and intensity of time that it took to read through thousands of books and write down quotations to support every possible definition for a work is mind-boggling. Even thinking of trying to google all those quotes, in this day and age, would take way too much time and effort for my taste.

While I am intellectually grateful for the work that Minor put in to research for the dictionary, for me, more than anything else, his story highlights how incredibly privileged he was as a rich, white man from an affluent family. Minor was known to have dangerous delusions, while he was still in America and in the army, to the point that he was even hospitalized for a time. Despite this fact, and the fact he was basically forced to retire early (aka he still drew a government pension for the rest of his life), Minor was allowed to roam free, travel abroad, and bring his GUN to a place where there was very little gun violence.

After Minor murdered an innocent man, who is largely forgotten in history, he was confined to a hospital for the criminally insane, where he was given an extraordinary number of privileges. Minor had a suite of 2 rooms, his own furniture, as many books as he wanted, and the freedom to roam the grounds, hire fellow inmates as servants, and receive visitors.

I wonder how Minor would have been treated different if he had not been a rich, affluent white man. What if he had been a woman, or a person of color, or (God forbid) poor? Would he have been allowed to live out his days, for more than 40 years, in mansions in the countryside, with rooms to himself and relatively safety? Seems doubtful.

Minor's story is fascinating, and the excellent work and intense focus he put into the dictionary project was a productive use of his confinement. What I'm left with, though, is wondering about all the people from that time who weren't cared for quite so carefully, who were abandoned because their mental illness had become a bother (or injurious) to others. I also want appreciated the history on the evolution of our understanding of mental illness, and the ways Minor would likely have been treated had he been born in a different era.

I did enjoy the friendship between Murray and Minor. Of course, it was frustrating to read that the most commonly known story about their first meeting was essentially #FakeNews (apparently that's existed as long as the media has), but the false reports made me appreciate more the story of their true meeting. In addition to admiring the detailed work he contributed to the OED, Murray seemed to genuinely appreciate Minor's company and be distressed when he was "in a mood." Without Murray and his OED project, I'm not sure what kind of life Minor would have had, with nothing to focus his energy on. Murray gave him something to do with his time, and made sure he was remembered for his work.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Between the World and Me

Between the World and Me Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For me, reading about Coates's life is like looking through a window into another world. It's horrifying, heartbreaking, and eye-opening to hear that a life of constant fear can be the norm, that waking up and thinking, "maybe today is the day the world kills me," can be a daily occurance. It's hard to review this book because I can't analyze it, or pick it apart and say what I liked least or most. Coates has a perspective that is unique from my own, and it's important to listen to voices such as his, so those of us with privilege don't dwell in a rose-colored world and ignore what doesn't affect us personally. What happens to people of color, or anyone who is different, DOES affect us all, because we are all human above all else and share this world with one another.

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Friday, February 16, 2018

Pointe

Pointe Pointe by Brandy Colbert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

SPOILERS AHEAD


This has been such a hard book to read, but it's also really important. Teens need to have books that talk about hard subjects like rape and eating disorders and body dysmorphia and PTSD because they need to know they are not alone, that they are not the only one to ever feel this way. They need to hear a character being told that just because you love someone doesn't mean they're not raping you. That 13 is too young to consent to sex, especially if they are older than you, whether it be 18 or 26. They need to know that they have done NOTHING wrong. I hope that message is conveyed through every word of this book.

My heart breaks for Theo, who has lived with the guilt of her secrets for so many years, so desperately afraid people won't love her if they knew the truth. Because of course, from her perspective, the people she loves the most all leave her - Trent/Chris, Donovan (even if it wasn't by choice), Hosea. There are so many times I want to yell at Theo, shake her, hug her, tell her that she deserves better. She deserves more than being someone's secret, she deserves someone who not only makes her feel special, but is proud of her, and treats her like the center of the universe.

The guys in this book are for the most part, very self-centered and frustrating. You have Hosea, who claims he thinks Theo is "perfect" and "special," but not enough to love her, not enough to choose her. Just enough to use her and shame her and break her. Maybe he had real feelings for her, but it wasn't enough, and it wasn't fair of him to put Theo in that position. Here is Klein, who constantly harasses Theo, is practically a stalker, and in the end is so put out that Theo doesn't want him that he's convinced he's in the right to expose her secrets, no matter whom it hurts. Even Theo's friend Phil is frustating at times. Watching her and telling on her to her parents was a good thing, he was trying to get her help. But when his primary reaction to hearing how his FRIEND Hosea treated Theo was annoyance that he was in the dark about it? Talk about self-centered.

Chris/Trent isn't even worth talking about. He is a pedophile and a rapist and he makes me sick. His lawyer is disgusting as well. The best part of this book is him going to jail.

There were a few exceptions to the annoying men in this book. There's poor, sweet Donovan. We don't know exactly what Donovan has been through because he can't talk about it, not even to Theo. I'm glad that Theo eventually got to see him, and could see that he needed her to speak for him both, but I just wish that could have happened earlier. I can only imagine what he went through, and the time it will take to hear from that.

Theo's dad and mom were great, as well. They have clearly been doing their best in a TOUGH situation. They obviously love Theo and are doing whatever they can to help her, but how do you help someone who is determined to deceive you? They listen to her when she talks, and tell they love her. Sometimes that's all they can do.

The women in Theo's life are excellent. Marisa, her ballet teacher, is such a constant source of support and encouragement, and I was relieved to see that continue after the trial, which I guessed it would. Ruthie, Theo's fellow dancer, had always been competition in some ways, but she knows the strenuous work that goes into ballet, and when she opens up to Theo herself, she allows Theo to open up as well. Ruthie supports her, is clear and honest with her, and is there for her, without trying to coerce her into doing or saying anything she doesn't want to. Sara-Kate is also a good, supportive friend to Theo, even if she does disapprove of what she's doing with Hosea. At least it's for a good reason, though - she wants better for Theo. And she doesn't rub it in her face when it goes exactly as she expected. Their continued friendship is so important for Theo's recovery.

In the end, we are left with this: don't be afraid to speak up if you are uncomfortable in an situation, if something doesn't feel right. Don't just listen to the words people tell you, but judge them by their actions: "Words don't mean anything without actions to back them up." You are special, you are loved, and you deserve the best. Don't settle for less.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Bad Feminist

Bad Feminist Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A great book of essays that focus on not just feminist issues, but also those of race and privilege. As Gay writes, the term "feminist" seems to carry a lot of pressure, and it can be uncomfortable to assume. Accept the idea that no one is perfect, we are human and messy, and you can't expect your feminism to be perfect, either. You just need to try and do whatever you can to effect the change you want to see in the world. I'm trying to be better and do better, and part of that is educating myself by reading books written by smart, intelligent women of color.

I enjoyed hearing the details of Gay's life and experiences - both what it's like to be a black, female college professor in the middle of nowhere, and how one ends up a desperate, loneliness-induced competitive scrabble player. (Who knew there were so many fragile egos in the Scrabble community?) Her reaction to the angry Scrabble-playing man (hold as still as possible and hope the situation diffuses) is so real and true. How many times in your life have you held your breath and hoped nothing happened, because you didn't know how a volatile person was going to react? By the way, if you are doing that regularly, that is not a healthy relationship.

Perhaps my favorite essay was the one entitled "How to Be Friends With Another Woman." These are the BEST guidelines. "Abandon the cultural myth that all female friendships must be bitchy, toxic, or competitive." They might be sometimes, but these are not defining characteristics of female friendships. "If you feel like it's hard to be friends with women, consider that maybe women aren't the problem. Maybe it's just you." If you are writing off female friendships because you don't want drama in your life, then you are missing out! Not all friendships have drama, and your life is not the plot of a TV show or book. I loved this particular advice, and I'm happy and lucky to say, I have friends like this: "Surround yourself with women you can get sloppy drunk with who won't draw stupid things on your face if you pass out, and who will help you puke if you over celebrate, and who will also tell you if you get sloppy drunk too much, or behave badly when you are sloppy drunk." <3 my BFFs.

A good chunk of these essays are about specific pieces of media and their place in our culture as a whole: how they shape the way we see things like gender, sexuality, and race; what they say about their creators; and what things they got "right" or "wrong." What sort of unfair standards are TV shows like "Girls" being subjected to, simply because they are created by and starring women? Yes, it's a show that (supposedly: I've never seen it) expresses just one point of view on girlhood, and ignores issues like race, but SO many shows and moves are the same. Communities are insular, and we all have a tendency to write what we know and watch what we know. Maybe "Girls" is held to higher standard because it was labeled as "groundbreaking," but you can't discount the fact that women are being judged more harshly. The same is true for recent books written by female CEOs: critics say that their advice isn't applicable to the working class woman, struggling to make ends meet. But on the flip side, you don't see people complaining that business and like books written by male CEOs are applicable to the working class man.

I loved the essay on Sweet Valley High. Like Gay, I was a kid with my head in books, and those characters were my friends, regardless of our commonalities (or lack there of). I did read Sweet Valley High, and Sweet Valley Twins, and Sweet Valley University, and the more recent Sweet Valley Confidential, but my true jam when I was a kid was the Babysitters Club. My habits were similar to Gay's - I lived for new books in the series, and would run into Waldenbooks at the mall, hoping for a new one, especially if it was a Super Special. My life was a constant internal debate - am I a Kristy? A Mary Ann? I knew I wasn't cool enough to be a Stacey, or chill enough to be a Dawn, or quirky enough to be a Claudia, so those were my main options, and I had to fit somewhere, right? "Books are often far more than just books." Some stories are universal - a girl is a girl, wherever she grew up. By the way, Gay's analysis of Sweet Valley Confidential was SPOT ON. It is terrible - "the exquisite badness," Gay calls it - but it will at least entertain you if you loved that series.

I've created quite a list of books I want to read based on Gay's essays (and some I absolutely don't). At the top of my list is the duo of "Green Girl" by Kate Zambreno and "Play It As It Lays" by Joan Didion, to analyze the journey a woman in of the cult of beauty and the idea of gender as a performance. I also have on my list "Heroines" also by Kate Zambreno.

Next up is a series of books featuring unlikeable women. Characters need to have flaws to be more human and more interesting, but for some reason, unlikeability isn't tolerated in female characters as it is in male. Readers tend to think, "I would never be friends with this woman," but is that the point of the book? Unlikeable women "aren't pretending; they can't and won't pretend to be someone they're not. They accept the consequences of their actions, and those consequences become stories worth reading." Of the books Gay mentions in this segment, the only one I've read so far is "Gone Girl" by Gillian Flynn, and the rest are new to me: "Treasure Island!!!" by Sara Levine; "You Take It From Here" by Pamela Ribon; "Dare Me" by Megan Abbott; "Magnificence" by Lydia Millet; "Battleborn" by Claire Vaye Watkins; "The Woman Upstairs" by Claire Messed. Interestingly enough, these are all by female authors.

The genre "Women's Fiction" itself is sexist - non-genre fiction written by men is simply called "Literary Fiction." The genres are indication of a bigger problem in the literary world and in our culture as a whole: women will read books by and about men, but men won't read books about women. When did men become the measure? When did "women" become a slur? We can't make male readership become the goal. Female writers who try to distance them self from the term "women's fiction" are as bad as women who rejoice when a man declares she's "not like other girls," whatever that means. This needs to be the focus: "How men as readers, critics, and editors can start to bear the responsibility for becoming better, broader readers."

The hardest essay to read was Gay's rape story. It's so horrific, and so sad, and makes me want to punch things. Those f-ing boys. Those f-ing classmates of hers, calling her a slut. There are people out there that say young adult books shouldn't be violent or dark or upsetting, but teens need dark books because they go through dark things in their lives. As Gay mentions, some of them might one day be the girl in the woods, and they will need a book there to let them know that they're not alone and that what happens of them was not OK. Tying in the Hunger Games, yes these kids in those books go through horrific things, but sometimes that is what happens in real life. In a way, things could've been worse: there's very little sex in the Hunger Games books, and can you imagine if some of that sort of injustice was taking place in District 12? Oddly, it's only in the capital that we get wind that there might be abuse and assault going on,from Finnick, former District 4 champion. "It gets better" has become popular cry of encouragement, but you can't say it gets better without demonstrating what it takes to get better.

The other essay that made me angry was the one about rape humor. Not all jokes are created equal - you can go too far, too soon. I don't know much about Daniel Tosh or his show, Tosh.0, but encouraging men to take and post videos of themselves touching women softly on their stomach is so intrusive and offensive, I'm not even sure how it could be considered humor. If it is, it can only be Frattish humor, rape humor, misogynist humor. Rape humor reminds women they are not quite equal. Women are called "sensitive" or "feminist" (in a bad way). Yes, humor is subjective, but is it THAT subjective? Rape jokes are never funny. "We are free to speak as we choose without fear of prosecution or persecution, but we are not free to speak as we choose without consequence." As Gay says about men like Daniel Tosh, "They have conscience. Sometimes saying what others are afraid or unwilling to say is just being an asshole." It's definitely hard to stand up and speak up when you hear something you're not comfortable with, but it's something we absolutely need to learn to do. "We remain silent because silence is easier...When we say nothing, when we do nothing, we are consenting to these trespasses against us." Men want what they want, and our society caters to them. "It's hard to be told to lighten up, because if you lighten up any more, you're going to float the fuck away." It becomes a case of trickle-down misogyny.

Another essay is an analysis of fairy tales, and how women are forced to do all the work to obtain their happily ever after, in which they sometimes still aren't the center of their own stories. See also Twilight and 50 Shades of Gray: "Ana's sexual awakening is a convenient vehicle for the awakening of Christian's humanity."

A set of further essays examines several popular books and movies ostensibly showcasing the black experience, with various degrees of success. There's the best seller and blockbuster "The Help", which I remember liking it, but I also don't know better. I actually just went back and changed my review on Goodreads, and I'm a little embarrassed I connected with it so much in the first place. More evidence that I need to read more books by POC to expand my perspective and get out of my privilege. There's Django Unchained - "not about a Black man reclaiming his freedom, but about a white man working through his own racial demons and white guilt." I'm not a fan of Tarantino myself, and Gay gives me a reason now. The more things change, the more things stay the same. In addition to these, Gay discusses 12 Years a Slave, a slew of Tyler Perry movies, Fruitvale Station, Red Tails, and Orange is the New Black.

Overall, I really enjoyed this series of essays. I know that I am a feminist, but I also feel better about saying that out loud, because I'm trying to be lenient to myself and others and let go of my perfectionist nature. I can like what I like, even if it is expected of me as a woman, or normative or silly, and that's ok. I can be a feminist without being the best feminist. I don't even have to be a good one. But I'm trying, and I hope that counts for something. I'll keep listening and learning.

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Monday, February 12, 2018

March: Book Three

March: Book Three March: Book Three by John Lewis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book, just as the first two volumes, is absolutely essential reading. This is not just our history, it informs our present day in very real ways. This last volume highlights all the marches in Selma, which directly led passing to the 1965 Voting Right Act. It details all the atrocities of violence perpetrated not only against those working for a fair future, but also against innocent children. More than that, it highlights those who fought so hard for equal rights. There are those who became voices and leaders in the movement. I'm ashamed to say I had never heard of Fannie Lou Hamer before, and now I want to track down everything there is to know about her.

And then there are those who were murdered in the name of anger and fear and bigotry, those who gave their lives fighting for what they knew was right. It is only right to end this review honoring their memories. Say their names: Denise McNair. Addie Mae Collins. Carole Robertson. Cynthia Wesley. Virgil Lamar. Johnny Robinson. Mickey Schwerner. Andy Goodman. James Chaney. Jimmie Lee Jackson. James Reeb. Viola Liuzzo. Malcolm X. Martin Luther King, Jr. And all the nameless, faceless others we don't know of.

It was frustrating to watch Lyndon B Johnson sabotage the equality efforts because they didn't fit into his current plan. Of course, he eventually pushed forth the Voting Rights Act, and he seemed like a generally decent guy, but it just goes to show that even decent people can do indecent things if they feel like their lives or plans are being threatened. That definitely doesn't excuse his actions, but it might go a little ways in explaining them.

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Thursday, February 8, 2018

March: Book Two

March: Book Two March: Book Two by John Lewis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Even more powerful and moving than the first book. The freedom rides, the protests, the arrests, the time spent in jail - it all reminds me of something out of the New Testament. I'm sure Lewis would appreciate the comparison to the early Christians. I knew embarrassingly little about the history of the freedom rides and the marches, and the amount of violence perpetrated on those involved was truly shocking. The most frustrating was the violence supported and endorsed by the police, the local government, and in some cases, the federal government. The determination of the riders, protestors, and marchers is truly something to behold - they fought (figuratively, peacefully) for every inch of progress, and weren't going to slow down no matter how many times it would have been reasonable and understandable to do so. Sometimes this all seems like ancient history, but we keep being reminded of how little some things have changed, which is truly heartbreaking. Leaders like Lewis continue to be vital.

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Wednesday, February 7, 2018

March: Book One

March: Book One March: Book One by John Lewis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fascinating, inspiring, and humbling. I cannot recommend this book more highly - it is a must-read, bringing history to life in vivid detail. John Lewis is a hero - he has been striving his whole life for justice, for a world of peace. We need voices like his even more than ever today, to fight against the bigotry and racism that continues to threaten our culture and our lives. As he describes his training in nonviolent protest from Jim Lawson, Lewis says, "The hardest part to learn -- to truly understand, deep in your heart -- was how to find love for your attacker." Even though it feels like we haven't come very far in the last 60 years, I can only imagine how much worse it would be without the tireless sacrifice, work, and influence of Lewis, Dr. King, and their colleagues.

In addition to the amazing source material, the writing, pacing, style, and art of this book is masterful, and conveys both the energy and tone of the time period.

I am lucky to have a lot of privilege in my life, and I'm trying to do my best to acknowledge that and educate myself, both on our country's history and on what I can do today to help affect change.

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