Review: The Reader by Traci Chee

So, Beth already reviewed this book and I wasn’t paying attention at all when I started reading it that we already had a review of it. To be honest, I was just thinking to myself, “crap, I’m going to fail my own challenge! I have to step up my game!” (And, then I did go and fail my own challenge.) This book was totally worth the read. It is a number of stories that are intertwined. The first is the main narrative about Sefia, a young girl who has lived as a nomad with her Aunt Nin since her father was murdered and after her Aunt’s kidnapping has to go it alone in order to find her Aunt and take her revenge against the rescuers. Along the way she meets Archer and is hunted by the kidnappers. The second narrative is the story of Lon, a fast learner and apprentice to the Master Librarian of a Secret Society. And, then there is the story of Captain Reed and his ship and crew that are bound for the edge of the world.

 

I listened to this book on audio and it absolutely sucked me in. The book was read by Kim Mai Guest and she did an amazing job of bringing all of the characters to life. Like Beth, I cannot wait to for the next one to come out!

 

I checked this book out from the Buffalo and Erie County Public Libraries.

Advertisements

Review: Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell

I have become one of those people who decides to read a book, checks the library for it, and then if A. the library doesn’t have it or B. the waitlist is longer than my patience, then I buy it. This isn’t something I do to be virtuous. This is something I do to curb the rate at which I acquire books. Because I own an obscene number of books. And, I pick them up at library sales and bookshops like they’re going out of style. I can’t seem to help it. As an audible subscriber, this means I often have more than one credit in my bank. If the library has it, I check it out. I listen to a lot of audio books, so this is a good system for me. But, having a surplus of credits is often a problem (is it, though?) I have. Audible has a solution for that. They have 3-for-2 sales pretty frequently and I end up picking three things that seem interesting but I don’t always pay really close attention to what they are about. This is how I ended up with Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell. I had read other Sarah Vowell books before and enjoyed them and I needed a third book.

 

 

51s1i4g9ctl-_sl150_

 

I had no idea what it was about (or, at least, I didn’t remember what it was about) when I started listening. It is the story of how Hawaii came to be a state. It is an interesting look starting with traditional Hawaiian culture, looking at the influence of colonial powers, business interests, and religion, and ending with the coup staged by the “Committee of Safety” in 1893 and the subsequent dancing around that eventually ended up with the US taking over Hawaii.

 

It was a really interesting story and one I probably wouldn’t have listened to otherwise. When I think about the American history that I was taught growing up, they really didn’t cover the colonial expansion that netted us Guam, American Samoa, and the Philippines for awhile. Thinking about this expansion and who has rights to what territory seems particularly important now as we currently live in a world where the Standing Rock Sioux are peacefully agitating for their water rights and getting nothing but hell for it. Vowell’s book is thoughtul, well laid out and tells a believable tale about how a people can change based on the influence of those they come in contact with and how other people can use those changes as an excuse to be more involved (and then eventually take over). I’m pretty happy I listened to it. Additionally, the audio format allowed for a really fun presentation. Vowell reads the main body of the text and has other readers in to play historical figures. Why read a quote from Teddy Roosevelt when you can John Hodgman do it? In addition to hearing Vowell, you also get to hear Maya Rudolf, Catherine Keene, John Hodgman, Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, Keanu Reeves, Paul Rudd, and John Slattery.  At one point while I was listening, I actually said out loud, “Oh, no! Paul Rudd, you sound like a racist d-bag!”

 

This book is for you if you are interested in American history and you are ready to hear about America’s colonial expansion through Sarah Vowell’s dry humor. If you’re not American history, dry humor, or feeling a little uncomfortable (if you’re an American) then this book is maybe not for you.

This Month in Reality: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

51sgsv8nol-_sl150_

When I posted my “What I’m Listening to” for this book I said that, just in the first chapters, I kept getting a lot of Tupac lyrics stuck in my head. In particular the line, “Instead of a war on poverty, they got a war on drugs so police can bother me.” This book made me in turns fucking furious, and heartbroken and uncomfortable, and increasingly aware that the U.S. is doing a big thing badly and that big thing is incarcerating citizens.

In this book, Michelle Alexander examines America’s prison systems and makes the argument that mass incarceration is a system of racial control that has taken the place of Jim Crow. And, her argument is pretty convincing. She looks at how, not all at once, but little by little changes have been made that have largely affected poor people and people of color. She looks at changes in the welfare system, changes in policing, the militarization of policing, and changes in drug policy.

Last year, I heard Piper Kerman speak at a local library function and this revisited some of the things that she touched on in her talk (and that at friend of mine touched on in a chat after the talk). We send a lot of people to prison. We send people to prison for murder. We send people to prison for rape (although, not often and not for very long but that’s a topic of discussion for another day). And, we send lots and lots of people to prison for non-violent drug offenses. How are we serving these people by putting them away for non-violent crime? How are we serving their communities by taking them out of the community? How are we serving them and their communities by disenfranchising them after they have served their time? How are we serving them and their communities by making access to welfare and public housing impossible after being convicted of a felony? I get it, if people do “bad” things, you don’t want to feel like you’re rewarding them. But, if you have nothing because you’ve just spent many years in prison and you want to do right and get back into the world, how can you do that with so many avenues closed off to you?

I don’t know.

This book raised way more questions than it answered for me but I am glad that I read it even if it means I now have to spend time thinking about these issues and how I can help set them right.

Review: The Art of Seducing a Naked Werewolf by Molly Harper

61roymmstel-_sl300_

First, I have to start with review by saying that these are fun books. They’re ridiculous books, but they are fun books. This is the second book in a series about a wolf pack in Alaska. Instead of centering on a woman who marries into the pack, it focuses on a woman in the pack, the love interest from the first book’s sister. There is a little drama. There is a little mystery. There’s an unbelievably hot scientist. There’s a happy ending. You know the drill. Amanda Ronconi who narrates the audiobook does a nice job. So, if you’re into fluffy, paranormal romance or if you’re looking for something light, I recommend you give this a go.

 

Potential Spoilers Ahead.

 

And now that I’ve said that, I need to talk about something that bothered me so much in this book. The werewolves are infertile with anyone but the partner they’ve bonded with. I can’t imagine that there is any evolutionary benefit to this. At all. It seems like the stupidest design feature of a creature ever invented and it also perfectly explains why werewolves as a species are dying out. I’d get it if werewolves were monogamous and pretty devoted (possibly to the point of being creepy) to their partners. I mean, I wouldn’t want it, but I’d get it. And, there’s evidence in the animal kingdom of some animals mating monogamously and/or for life (easier done when life is only a few months or years, I’d venture to guess.) But, being fertile with only one partner forever? Whu?? What kind of testing apparatus would the body have to have internally to be able to tell one partner from another? And, what about close genetic matches? I couldn’t stop either questioning how that worked or feeling completely flabbergasted that it happened at all.

 

Anyway, this featured heavily in the plot and it took me right out of the narrative because it was ridiculous. So, if you like fluffy paranormal romance but you also like at least a modicum of believable scientific accuracy, this book is not for you.

 

 

This book is my audio book selection for the Diverse Stacks, Diverse Lives Challenge.

The Past Couple of Months in Reality: I listened to a Feminist Classic

So, I had a moment earlier this year where someone referenced the feminist classic the Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan and I realized that I hadn’t read it. It seems like something I should have read. So, I used one of my audible credits and I picked it up. And, then I spent hours cooking, cleaning and walking on the tread mill while Parker Posey read it to me.

61w3f5ed1vl-_sl150_

Isn’t that the creeepiest image?

Anyway, this classic was originally published in 1963 and it addressed a problem that women who bought (and a society that sold) the fantasy that the most fulfilling thing a woman could do with her life was get married and have children and how that not only affected those women but also had ripple effects within society. I can see, looking back, how this was a revolutionary book. It is important to know and remember that women are people and that women, all women, have capacities and interests and being stuck in and reduced to one or two roles for any person is potentially trapping.

But, this book was definitely written in a different time and was focused on different issues than the feminism is now. For one, every time Friedan wrote “women”, I found it was almost always easier to take if I added “Middle Class White” before “women”. While Friedan was probably trying to write about an ideal (and, a societal image of what a “woman” should be is certainly something everyone woman-identifying person has to contend with much like the idea of what a “man” should be is something all men-identifying people have to contend with.) most of the data she presented was about a very particular kind of woman. As already mentioned, middle class white women. And, that’s fine, but the problems that middle class white women face are not always the same as the problems that working class white women face. Or, Middle class African American women. Or, working class African American women. Or, Trans women. Or, Asian American women. Or, Native American women. I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

I am glad that I read it, though. It is nice to be able to look back and think about how much we have accomplished and to note how much work we still have to do.

This Month in Reality: Shonda Rhimes is my hero. 

A Year of Yes
  

Welcome to a March 32nd tradition. I am posting this month’s in reality on the last day of March! 
This book, man. It’s life changing. Life affirming. It’s… I don’t even know where to begin. Except I do. At the beginning, I had to stop listening halfway through the introduction because I was crying my eyes out. I’ve never felt so seen…by an audiobook. I guess this is why Shonda Rhimes owns Thursday nights. 
This book is a memoir about a year in which Rhimes chose to say yes to everything that scared her. And, it would seem, a bunch of things that scare her also scare me and so hearing about how she faced her fears and won was transformative.  The book is read by the author, so, if like me, you listen to books a lot with headphones on, Shonda Rhimes is literally whispering in your ear telling you how she overcame her fears and leading by example. 
I want to say yes to everything now. I even want to say yes to saying no to things that are bad for me. 
This book, man. I loved it. 

Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

9780553418026_p0_v3_s192x300

I am late to The Martian party, people. I was told by every person I know (and a few people I didn’t) that I would LOVE this book. And, I said, “Yeah, yeah, sure, sure. I’ll put it on the list.” And, I did put it on the list. Then, they made a film out of it and I thought, “Oh, I’ll read it before I see the film.” And, then the film was released and I thought, “That really does look good.”

And, then my friend gave me the audio book to listen to on a road trip. R.C. Bray read the audio book and he nailed the main character. I’m in love with Mark Watney. Seriously. If Mark Watney were a real dude I’d have his poster in my office. He’s like the Chris Hadfield of fictional astronauts. Mark Watney might be my new book boyfriend.

In case you don’t know the story, it’s like this: We’ve gone to Mars! And, Watney is an astronaut on a Mars mission who accidentally gets stranded on the planet. Oops. The whole novel is about how we works to survive on the surface. How he feeds himself, how he makes contact with NASA, how he’s eventually rescued. There were so many tense moments and so many funny moments and so many wonderful, “let’s work this problem” moments. This book reminded me why thirteen year old Kate wanted to work for NASA. (She didn’t want to be an astronaut. She wanted to be one of the nerds on the ground that runs eleven thousand different scenarios so that things don’t explode or go wrong (and so there is a back up plan when things do explode and go wrong.) Thirteen year old Kate, much like [redacted] year old Kate is claustrophobic and could never be an astronaut. Riding on the subway freaks out her a little. Especially when it stops between stations, for the love of god.)

So, this was a really excellent book and I want to sing the praises of the narrator of the audio book for a moment. I can’t say enough good things about them. Bray did such an amazing job that two things have happened. 1. I’ve looked for other audio books they’ve narrated just because they narrated it and 2. I’ve pretty much decided that I’m never going to see the movie because Matt Damon isn’t Mark Watney. He won’t sound right.

I highly recommend this book. If you somehow also missed the hype and you’re interested in space, suspense, and occasional comic relief, she should pick this book up!

This counts as my Audiobook for the Diverse Stacks, Diverse Lives Reading Challenge.