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.

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Review: Field of Flight by Michael T. Flynn

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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: The Art of Seducing a Naked Werewolf by Molly Harper

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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.

What I’m Listening to Now: The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

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I have also been listening to a lot of classic Tupac because I keep waking up with the following 2pac lyric in my head, “Instead of a war on poverty, they’ve got a war on drugs so police can bother me.” I feel like it has been bad for a long time and some of us are just now seeing it.

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.

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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.

Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

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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.

Review: Dark Guardian by Christine Feehan

The Carpathians are an immortal race that live off blood, like vampires.  Except, they’re not the undead.  They have souls.  The males lose all emotion and the ability to see color until they find their life mates who restore these to them.  They’re bonded forever.  
I should have stopped reading this book at the prologue and when I heard this explanation and thought, “NOPE!”  
I get that I might not be the audience for mainstream romance.  And, I get that media lets us explore situations and relationships that my interest us, intrigue us, turn us on, or whatever but that we don’t and shouldn’t do in real life.  I get that novels, not just romance novels, are an escape.  I get all of that.  
But, I can’t even think of an appropriate list of swear words to describe how terrible this novel was.  Seriously.  It was so bad that I can’t even swear at it.  
But, I can tell you what I didn’t like about it and why.

Massive Spoilers Ahead!

First, of course, was this idea that men (well, Carpathian men) are emotionless monsters that women have to save.  Nope.  Feelings are a human thing.  We all have amygdalas and emotional centers in our brains and anything that continues to perpetuate the stereotype that women are the ones that feel and men aren’t harms women, harms men, harms us all.  Second, after introducing our immortal badass vampire hunting Carpathian dudebro we’re introduced to Jaxon the heroine by looking into her life at ages 5, 10, 15, adulthood.  Jax was raised on a military base by her Mother (who wasn’t super maternal) and her father, a Navy Seal, and his Seal buddies were very involved in her life.  Until her Dad died and her Mom married his Seal buddy who then turned into an abusive pyscho and the descriptions were awful.  Psycho Step Dad then stalks our fair Jax and torments her by hurting people she loves.  Oh, but before we get there we are treated to these flashbacks where young Jax tells adults that her Step Dad is abusive and no one believes her.  I thought there was mandatory reporting of these sorts of things?  Like, if a kid tells her teacher that her Dad hits her Mom that the teacher had to tell the school and get Child Welfare involved?  Anyway, Jax grows up into an emotionally stunted police officer who has to keep everyone at arms length because Psycho Step Dad might be watching.  (At least that was a fun twist:  for once the psycho step parent wasn’t the mother.)  Then, her Carpathian dudebro inserts himself into her life, removes her from her friends and chosen family, disregards her concerns, commands her to stay in the house in the name of her safety (and gets violently upset when she disregards his commands and asserts her own autonomy), and initiates the life mate binding process without her consent and then completes it without ever explaining anything to her.  Being stalked by a Navy Seal is terrible.  Being swept up by an immortal who needs you to maintain his emotional life for him is also terrible.  
And, folks, I didn’t even get to the end.  I got the completion of the binding ritual and she started freaking out and Carpathian dudebro started mansplaining how they were meant for each other and she just needs to roll with the (irreversible) changes and I was like:
  

So, the only good choice with this book is to just not pick it up.  0/10.  Do not recommend.

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

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!