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.

Review: Field of Flight by Michael T. Flynn

51rxlibe4ll-_sl300_

 

When I started this book, I was fully aware that it isn’t my kind of book. But, I thought, you can’t have a conversation with someone if you don’t know what they’re thinking. You can’t have a conversation with someone if you don’t listen.

So, I listened. And, for starters, this is not well written at all. If this book had an editor, they should give whatever they were paid back because they did not do their job. There was a whole autobiographical part at the beginning that was completely unnecessary (or, it was a different story altogether). I think it was meant to establish Flynn as an authority on military intelligence, but I spent most of this section trying to figure out why he was telling us the things he was telling us. I then spent some of the later chapters trying to figure out how the first chapter related to it. If you’ve read other reviews of this book (I can’t stop myself after I finish a book from seeing how other people liked it on goodreads), you will know that it was full of typos and other copy-editing issues. Audiobooks don’t have problems with typos.  But, even without seeing the errors, this text was still… just not very good. It seems like Flynn has a huge ax to grind against “being politically correct” and “not calling Islam what it is”. Sorry, not calling “Radical Islam” what it is. But, he also seems to not wholly be on board with making a distinction between radicals flying an Islamic flag and non-radical followers of Islam. I mean, he’s willing to say the words that not all Muslims are radical Muslims, but most of the rest of the book I felt like he wasn’t making that distinction. And, I need this to be clear. Just like I’m sure we can all agree that not all Christians are the Westboro Baptist Church and that not all Atheists are Ricky Gervais or Christopher Hitchens. Some of them are really chill people.

He also doesn’t seem to think that Islam as a religion is any different than Nazism and Fascism as belief systems. That is pretty troubling, especially when you can be both Islamist and Fascist. There were more troubling things about the texts. He seems to call for more critique from the Muslim community of the Radical actions of parts of the community. I don’t know what part of the world he’s in, but I’ve seen plenty of critiques coming from the Muslim community. (There’s a facebook group called Muslims against ISIS and there was a convention this summer to reject ISIS in the UK. Back in 2014 a number of Islamic scholars wrote an open letter to the ISIS leadership about why their state was not supported by Islamic texts. Maybe instead of calling for this kind of critique, we should cover it when it happens in the news?) Flynn also is worried about the education system in the Islamic world. He points to the number of schools (madrasas) where children are taught by memorizing passages of Koran, which is a disgusting level of indoctrination. Depending on the actual amount of that that is happening, that is really troubling. But, hooo, boy, if you want to talk about troubling things in education systems, you don’t have to look that far from home to find upsetting things. How many of our students here are being taught one specific line and never to question that? Shouldn’t we be upset by that? (Especially when that’s something we could immediately do something about?) The text also seems to suggest that we’ve been openly hostile to Israel, our best ally in the Middle East, of late. But, I thought we just promised Israel some billion dollar amount of military aid? (With strings, sure, but what agreement doesn’t involve some kind of give and take?)

Anyway, what I got from this book is that there are RADICAL ISLAMIC FORCES in the world that want to destroy America and replace all democracy with an Islamist theocracy and leadership that encourages citizens to spy on each other. To avoid this terrible future, we, the Judeo-Christian democracy-loving West, need to fight Islam, and private citizens/companies should help gather data on these anti-democratic forces.  So, basically, in order to remain Christian and free and not become Islamic and afraid our neighbors are spying on us, we should be anti-Islamic and spy on our neighbors. Of course, I’m reducing and parodying his argument here for effect, but there was a lot of anti-Islamic rhetoric here. I’m for freedom but I know we live in a complex world, so I’m not all that happy when our leaders (and their potential advisers) seem incapable of nuance.

Normally at this point in the review, I tell you, “hey, if you like X kinds of books, then check this one out!” And, I guess I kind of can. If you believe the Islam is everything that is wrong with the world, then this book is for you. It was written to preach to the choir. Or, at least I hope it was written to preach to the choir. If it was written to lay out a reasonable argument and sell people an idea, it failed.  This book was a mess. It was not well-written. It had all kinds of troubling reasoning and it didn’t make any kind of solid case. It played with stereotypes and stated it was making distinction that it then failed to maintain.  Zero out of ten. Do not recommend.

 

I got this book from the wonderful and amazing Buffalo and Erie County Public Library.

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.

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.

First Listen of The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

the raven king
As you know we at Stacks are super excited for the release of The Raven King, the final book in her The Raven Cycle.  We are about a month away!  Today, Maggie Stiefvater posted clips of the Prologue and Chapter 1, read by actor Will Patton on her Tumblr.  There isn’t any spoilers since both excerpts have already been released online but Will does reads a mean book.  So go have a listen and come back and post what you think will happen to Blue and the Boys.  Can you believe it’s only a month away?!

 

http://maggie-stiefvater.tumblr.com/post/141617391621/maggie-stiefvater-heres-will-patton-reading

 

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.

This Month in Reality: Sit Still Already 

I’ve been thinking about starting a meditation practice for awhile now and last month’s Relovution reminded me of that. So, I’ve started one. I’ve been using Stop, Breathe and Think. And, it hasn’t been too bad! 

So, for this month I’m going to talk about two books that are of a the Buddhist/meditation perspective. (One that I just listened to and one that I admittedly read awhile ago).


Awhile back I read When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön. I was having a rough time because it was winter and I had sinus infections that I couldn’t shake and I was pretty bummed out. And, the title just caught me. It seemed pretty apt for my situation (because I’m overly dramatic so, of course, my life was falling apart because I never saw the sun and I was on antibiotics). Two things from the book stuck with me: the idea that even terrible situations have something to offer us (other than their terribleness) and that we should practice loving-kindness. Loving-kindness has a particular meaning here and refers to a practice of gentleness, compassion, flexibility and forgiveness. Mostly I remember that this idea of loving-kindness (maitri is the word Chödrön used for it) means being gentle and as someone who can be sharp tongued, being reminded of the importance of gentleness is always something I need. Chödrön talked for a long while about starting this practice with yourself. Yes, you mess up sometimes. Yes, you are uncomfortable. Yes, things hurt and you can’t always fix them or make them better. But, you can be gentle with yourself. You can be gentle with others. You might not be able to make something better, but you can, at the very least, not make it worse by being hard and inflexible. This book is full of discussions of Buddhist practice and how practice is important in difficult times.

The second book for this month isn’t actually a book. Mindful Living is a series of audio recordings of lectures given by Thich Nhat Hahn at a retreat that have been compiled for our listening pleasure. This audio recording is a nice example of what the audio format can do that you don’t see in books. It is really neat to be able to hear the monk’s words in his own voice. I enjoyed the lectures. My favorite of the lectures talked about thinking about what your face was like before you were born. We, none of us, came from nothing so it is an interesting exercise to ponder where we came from and how we have been influenced by things. I liked all of the little reminders of how to be mindful and how to make reminders to be present and to enjoy the experience of being you.
This is was interesting audiobook and I recommend it if you know a little about mindfulness and you are interested in expanding your understanding of it.

So, there you have it. One book and one lecture series both of which are worth a look! Yay!

Review: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

I downloaded this book from the library and for some reason it downloaded two copies of every file.  So, when I was halfway through the book, I thought I was only a quarter of the way through the book.  This made me very confused about the book and where it was headed right up until it ended.
This is the story of a preacher in Gilead, Iowa who has been diagnosed with heart failure and is reaching the end of his life.  He married and had a son late in life so the entire narrative is told through letters written from the father to the young son.  The father talks about his father and grandfather and the roles that they played in the Civil war.  He talks to his son about his relationships and the wife and child the he had before he met and married his son’s mother.  He talks about how racial issues played out before, during and after the Civil War in Gilead and the rest of the Iowa territories.  And, he talks about his godson Jack and how Jack has recently appeared in town after a long absence.
I really enjoyed this novel.  I liked the narrative pace (even if I was confused about how far I was in the novel).  I was interested in the mystery of why Jack had reappeared and what caused him to disappear in the first place.  I was interested in the tension between the father and grandfather as told by a son to his son.  That is a confusing sentence, but trust me the novel isn’t confusing.  It is an interesting look at how different generations see the same issues.  And, how history sometimes repeats itself.
This is the first book that I’ve read by Marilynne Robinson (which is ridiculous since she’s considered an Iowa treasure and Iowa is my home and it one the Pulitzer Prize in 2004.)  I really liked the prose and I think I will be reading more of her work in the future.
I checked this book out from the Buffalo and Erie County Public Libraries