Friday, June 30, 2017

June 2017 Bookshelf

Kindle Edition

Thank you to NetGalley and Random House for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

My country, I will build you again,
If need be, with bricks made from my life.
I will build columns to support your roof,
If need be, with my bones.
I will inhale again the perfume of flowers
Favored by your youth.
I will wash again the blood off your body
With torrents of my tears.
(Simin Behbahani)

Ebadi closes her newest title with the above words from Iranian poet Simin Behbahani. It's a fitting wrap up to this book from Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi. Ebadi has spent her adult life fighting for human rights in her home country of Iran. She's accomplished much as a woman in that culture, she's a lawyer, she served as a Judge in Tehran's courts for a number of years, and she has led several different movements fighting for equality. She's a worldwide speaker, being invited to speak at prestigious venues all over. She's also currently in exile from her home country of Iran. If she enters back in they will arrest her. So she continues to fight for her country outside of her country. She is relentless, tireless, and compelling.
I'm grateful to have read this account from Ebadi. To have insight into a country that so often the media I see about it is negative. To hear from someone who loves the nation and reveals its humanity. To read about the fight for human rights and realize, in many ways, the things we fight for in our individual nations are universal. Ebadi has the endurance that is necessary in order for countries to progress. Along with others who possess the same drive and passion, Iran's quest for human rights will one day be realized through Ebadi's tireless efforts.

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

I got 1/3 through. I tried listereading it but found myself zoning out and not really paying attention. Eventually I figured out that perhaps I was bored with the story. Man. I really wanted to like it. There are so many books out there considered classics and beloved that I don't like so I wanted to at least like this one. No go. It's not bad, it's just apparently not for me. I was interested at first but, for me, Verne spent too much time describing and there wasn't enough story to support it. What is impressive about the story is Verne's forward thinking. He was ahead of his time for sure. But alas, that couldn't hold my attention.

Furious (Faith McMann Trilogy #1) by T.R. Ragan
Kindle Edition 318 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Thomas & Mercer for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

After the slump I've been in with reading this book helped revive me! I'm so glad it was next on my list (which is constantly getting rearranged).
Faith McMann needed to grab a couple of things at the store so she dropped her kids off at home once she saw her husband was already home and headed back out. Except she had to turn around to grab the list. As she entered the house something was wrong. It turns out that is the last normal day Faith McMann and her family ever had. Within minutes Faith watched her husband die and her children abducted and almost died herself. Once recovered she begins to search for her children and for answers. Her tenacity leads her to a world she didn't realize existed - the world of human trafficking. With the help of family and new friends she starts knocking down walls in every effort to find her children. Oh, and Faith? Faith went missing the day her husband was murdered and her children abducted. You can just call her Furious.
Loved this story from Ragan, it's the first of any of her titles I've ever read. She tackles a subject that has become a hot topic of conversation in the past few years. A topic that must be talked about more. A topic that must be exposed and addressed. Ragan must have done a lot of research, including talking with rescued girls, in order to create the parts of the story that gives the reader glimpses into a possible traffic situation. Because this is book 1 in a trilogy the ending was done really well, it keeps the reader - at least this reader - hooked and ready for books 2 and 3.

Outrage (Faith McMann Trilogy #2) by T.R. Ragan
Kindle Edition 279 pages

Book 2 picks up at the very place book 1 leaves off and I was so glad Ragan didn't insert any significant time like weeks or months in between. She has done an excellent job of making this reader feel the urgency of the situation she has put her main character, Faith, into.
Faith McMann is a 4th grade teacher. Well, she was until the day her husband was killed in front of her and her children abducted. Then she became Furious and set out to find her children, and in the process expose and take down anyone who tried to get in her way. Faith is a visual of the "Mama Bear" that happens when children are messed with. Her family and new friends have vowed to crusade with her and together they are pissing off local human traffickers. While this puts Faith and her circle of people in danger she can't, she won't, quit until her children are back with her where they belong.
Ragan keeps up the intensity of the human trafficking situation in book 2, going to great lengths to expose some of the ways trafficking might be hiding in plain sight. Bring on book 3.

Wrath (Faith McMann Trilogy #3) by T.R. Ragan
Kindle Edition 258 pages

Faith and her tribe go after Sacramento human traffickers vigilante style, their dogged determination to find her children and rescue others isn't hindered by the casualties and losses sustained, if anything those motivate them to continue fighting the fight. As things wind down for Faith and her family personally she is left to wonder what to do moving forward. Was she only in this fight just to get her children back? Or does she continue to fight on behalf of others?
The final book in the Faith McMann Trilogy brings resolution to the McMann family personally but only continues to highlight the overwhelming problem of human trafficking in the United States, not too mention the rest of the world. In fact, this is one argument offenders will use to try and dissuade people from taking legal action against them. They should be ignored. When one domino is tipped it hits another and so on. If we all took the time to tip the domino we've been given who knows how this tragic situation might change for the better? But we have to be willing to do our part. That's what book 3 is about, in part. It's also about the perseverance we need to have in order to implement change. It takes determination, an unwillingness to listen to the naysayers, and courage to go after what the right thing is.
Ragan said that this trilogy was a break from writing about serial killers but she had no idea what atrocities it would reveal to her - a whole different kind of serial killer. Much like her character Faith, Ragan now has eyes open the the modern day slavery that is prevalent worldwide and she encourages the readers to open their eyes as well.

Talking As Fast As I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls and Everything in Between
by Lauren Graham

I have a girl crush on Lauren Graham. I fell in love with her during her run as Lorelai Gilmore on The Gilmore Girls and went on to love her as Sarah Braverman in Parenthood.
When I saw her newest title, non-fiction this time, I knew I wanted to read it but when I saw she read it herself for the audio version I knew I needed to listeread it. I love hearing authors read their own stuff.
I loved hearing Graham talk about her early jobs and how she started in acting and how she landed Gilmore Girls and, in her words, the role of a lifetime. I loved hearing her thoughts about Parenthood and her extended thoughts of Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life. Lauren Graham is so down to earth and exuberant, it's hard - in my opinion - not to love her.
And yes, she like many of the rest of us Gilmore Girls fans, thinks those last four words were more of a cliffhanger...right?

The Girls by Emma Cline
Kindle Edition 370 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Random House for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

I'm a little confused. The Girls is a fiction book only because, it seems to me, Cline took a real life event and people (Charles Manson) and changed the names and location. But if you are familiar with the story of Manson and his followers then as you read this book you can predict exactly what is coming up. The giveaway was the first time Cline uses the location "the Ranch." I already had felt like it was the story of Charles Manson and his followers and the location of the ranch sealed the deal. So the reason this book is fiction is because it features a girl who we get an insider's view into her backstory and her fringe association with the group led by Russell (aka Charles Manson). Cline even used Manson's musical aspirations and association with a famous musician for her storyline - just changing the names and situation a bit. The writing wasn't bad. I read the story quickly. Cline did a great job with the fringe character and exploring some of the possible reasons people, specifically girls, will join cults. But at the end of the day, so to speak, the story is still a ripped off version of Charles Manson and his group.

The Last Girl (The Dominion Trilogy #1) by Joe Hart
Kindle Edition 386 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Thomas & Mercer for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

The end of the world is a popular topic. How did the world as we know it end? Who is left and how are they governing it? What scientific studies are taking place to try and repopulate the world? And many other questions. Joe Hart's trilogy about the end of the world as we know it and the rebirthing efforts are in a bit of a different vein than the other books I have read. This time the world ceased to repopulate because at some point no more girls were being born. Only boys were coming into the world, at some point the chromosomes quit making girls altogether. Yeah, that's a problem for keeping a population growing.
Zoey lives in a place called ARC. She's about a week away from her 21st birthday and being moved from the place where she has been sequestered for as long as she can remember. She and the other girls held in this facility have been told that when they turn 21 they get to be reunited with their families and can live in the safe zone. But Zoey isn't buying it. As the time nears for her supposed reunion with her family she begins to thread together different events that have happened throughout the years. Her suspicions grow as she gets disciplined, shut up, etc. She decides she has to leave and take the other girls with her, something just isn't right.
I like Joe Hart, I've read another of his titles and he's an author I like to read. He writes fast and well, i.e. it's easy to keep reading his stories - the pace is always just right. I'm excited to see where he takes this series.

The Final Trade (The Dominion Trilogy #2) by Joe Hart
Kindle Edition 352 pages

In this world of almost no women, Zoey and her small group of friends strike out at Fae Trade - a carnival of sorts. The Trade searches out women left in the world and sells them off to the highest bidders. Because women are so scarce they are generally sexually and physically abused and end up dying anyway - depleting the world's population of women even more. Zoey isn't having it. After discovering an installation in Idaho that might hold information about Zoey and her friends that they are longing to know, they make plans to take down Fae Trade. But it's going to be tough. Security is high and the masterminds behind The Trade are just insane enough to keep it all working. But within The Trade is Wen and Robbie and they are making plans to flee. Little do they know that their plans are about to collide with Zoey's and together than can be stronger than apart.
Hart continues his fast-paced and engaging story of this world of no women in book 2. Zoey and her tribe serve as Hart's model for family isn't always blood - sometimes it's created from other circumstances. Zoey is a strong female lead, she's a good character - actually all of them are. The one thing I always wonder about this genre though - where the world ended in some mysterious way and some part of the population is totally wiped out - is would it really be this way? Would the world - with all of its technological advances really step so far back in time that it appears we never made any advances at all? I find that part of this genre hard to believe. For example, in this series Seattle is the only city left in the whole of the United States of America. Really? I just don't know that any rebel or government group would be able to push us so far back in time. Maybe I'm being naive. Regardless, I'm really enjoying this series. On to book 3!

The First City (The Dominion Trilogy #3) by Joe Hart
Kindle Edition 444 pages

Hart's final book in the Dominion Trilogy answers questions and provides some conclusions for Zoey and her tribe. It also paves the way for the world beginning to rebound from the Dearth - the supposed plague that wiped out the majority of the female population of the world. Zoey, in an attempt to keep her tribe safe, keeps leaving them behind as she presses forward to try and take down the NOA. They keep finding her, however, because there's not many places she can go. Zoey is finally learning that this is what families do, they stick together and help each other out. In her travels she runs into another person intent on taking down NOA, except he doesn't want her help - in fact, he'd like to take her captive as well. He claims to have a mutated version of the sperm needed to help revive the female population and Zoey seems to have the right kind of incubator. She isn't having it. When Zoey learns she has a daughter, grown from her egg and Lee's sperm in some tube, she goes after NOA to get her daughter and end this all for good. But the lead scientist isn't having it. She's got some conditions and secrets of her own to share with Zoey. What Zoey discovers changes a lot of things, but the one thing it doesn't change is her determination to take down NOA and begin to make a normal life for she and her tribe.
I am always appreciative when an author ends a series well and in a timely manner. Some authors drag out their series because they can't let go when the readers were ready to let them go a long time ago. But Hart wrapped everything up in a way that leaves the reader, at least this one, satisfied with the conclusions.

The Cry of the Soul: How Our Emotions Reveal Our Deepest Questions about God
by Dan B. Allender, Tremper Longman III
268 pages

A dear friend messaged me one day, "Beth, I'm sending you a copy of one of my favorite books. It really spoke to me, hope it will for you too."
And then I received this title in the mail from said dear friend. It coincided perfectly with another friend and I's plans to read through the book of Psalm together in 90 days.
I'm in a season and it isn't one of laughing and external joy. Timing really is everything and this book - and how I read it at a snail's pace - spoke to some of the same things my counselor and I have been discussing in my sessions. I love a good confirmation from God. I got a lot out of the chapters on anger and contempt. They helped clarify some things for me. I did not dig the chapter on the redemptive power of divine shame - I felt it dismissed and tried to "christianese" the feelings of shame some people have due to their various abuses etc. I'm still thinking through the things said in that chapter but my Spirit isn't jiving with it. We Christians have a guilt problem. We think we are guilty and sinning all.of.the.time. And while we are sinners we aren't doing it all of the time and not every emotion we feel or experience is a result of our sin. Sometimes it's the result of someone else's sin. In fact, it might even be 50/50. Anyway. Overall, the book was very good for me to read in this season I find myself in and dear friend who sent it knows me and my heart well enough to know that it would speak to me as well. This is an older book, I believe out of print even, but if you can locate a copy it's worth the read and consideration.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (The Karla Trilogy #1) by John le Carré
381 pages

The challenge was to read a bestseller from the year you were born. I went one step further and picked a bestseller from the week of the year I was born. And that's how I ended up with Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy in my hands. I had not heard of it before (or the movie that has been made from the book) or of the author before so it's a win-win for new-to-me!

John le Carré is the pen name for David Cornwell who served in British Foreign Intelligence from 1959-1964. So he writes his spy novels with expertise and intimate knowledge of the world in which we actually do seem to have spies. I always feel like the whole spy business is made up, a fantasy of people who have watched too many movies or something. But apparently it is real, heck maybe my next door neighbor is a CIA agent on assignment. (Seriously - could that actually happen? Does it happen? I just find it so hard to actually believe. Anyway.)
George Smiley is trying to adjust to forced retirement from the Circus, aka British Foreign Intelligence, when he is summoned to a meeting that brings him back into the fold of the intelligence world - but secretly. His mission? To spy on the spies. Rumor is there is a mole in the Circus and this mole has been digging tunnels for a very long time. Someone needs to investigate who is no longer there day in and day out. If the mole is from the Russians as thought then there is a very big problem. So Smiley assembles a very small and discreet team to assist in his investigation and gets to work. There are tangles and knots and it's up to George to get everything all straight. Who is the spy within the spies?
This was a bit hard for me to follow but I think I did so successfully enough to understand the investigation and the places George Smiley was leading it to get to the answer. I don't know why I'm such a sucker for crime and spy novels but I am so this was fun to read and try to figure out along with Smiley. I may have to give John le Carré's other titles a try.

Behave by Andromeda Romano-Lax
Kindle Edition 400 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and SoHo Press for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

“The mother begins to destroy the child the moment it’s born,” wrote the founder of behaviorist psychology, John B. Watson, whose 1928 parenting guide was revered as the child-rearing bible. For their dangerous and “mawkish” impulses to kiss and hug their child, “most mothers should be indicted for psychological murder.” Freud would say Watson had "mommy issues", Watson disagreed. And yet, Watson clearly had "mommy issues." This is not the story of Watson, however, so much as it about his second wife, Rosalie Rayner. It's a fiction story based on as much fact the author could dig up. There wasn't a lot as John Watson burned most of his papers which probably held information about Rosalie.
Right before the 1920's John Watson was gaining a reputation for his studies in behavior. He was performing controversial experiments with infants in order to prove, he hoped, his theories about attachment. A graduate of Vassar, Rosalie Rayner landed a plumb post-graduate job helping Watson perform his experiments. But as most well-known scientists, it seems, Watson couldn't keep himself in his pants and soon enough Rosalie became his newest conquest. Their affair led to a public divorce from John's first wife, Mary, and the end of their careers at Johns Hopkins. But just as happened with Einstein and his first wife happened with Watson and Rosalie. Partners in the lab until babies came along and then the women were pushed into a role that they didn't really want or understand. There are a lot of similarities, it seems, between Mileva Einstein and Rosalie Watson. But unlike Einstein, Watson used his children - two from his first marriage and two from his second - as experiments to bolster his theories. Rosalie found out what we all do at some point - there is a whole lot of grey in between the black and the white. She eventually had to draw a line with her husband and refuse to allow the children to simply be his experiments any longer. Again, this is a fiction story based on fact. But it's not hard to imagine that the fiction of this story probably is very close to the truth - based on individual publications from Rosalie later in her life.
I read this book at the same time I was watching Nat Geo's Genius - about the life of Albert Einstein. And it was interesting to read/watch about these supposedly brilliant men who treated people like crap. Let me rephrase - Einstein was brilliant - no two ways about it. I have major doubts about Watson as years later it turns out that the one baby he and Rosalie used to base all of his theories on, Albert, wasn't the best subject due to some health issues. So Albert's responses, or lack thereof, tainted what Watson was trying to prove. It seems to me he was so desperate to prove his "mommy issues" were what made him so narcissistic that he forced findings to emerge. Anyway. This was an interesting, but also deeply frustrating, read. I'm finding myself feeling the same way watching Mileva Einstein. These women are so smart and yet they let these men walk all over them. It's annoying. I don't  know if it was my annoyance with Rosalie's passivity or an overabundance of detail or perhaps a little of both but this book felt more like a chore to read than a pleasure.

The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story by Diane Ackerman
384 pages

Husband: Uh, you know you are reading a book about a zoo?
Me: Yep.
Husband: And you know zoos have animals?
Me: Yep.
Husband: But you don't like either.
He's right. I don't. I'm not a fan of animals or zoos among other things. But this isn't just about a zoo or an animal, this is about so much more. If it were a book strictly about a zoo and animals I wouldn't have picked it up but it's because the role this zoo and even these animals played in the rescue of hundreds of people that compelled me to pick up the book. Based on the true story of Jan and Antonina Zabinski, zookeepers of Warsaw Zoo when Germany invaded Poland in 1939, Ackerman shares this charming story of how a zoo saved lives. Very few things, if anything else, was charming about World War II and the atrocities Germany performed all over Europe. But in an attempt to keep everyone calm Antonina Zabinski performed miracles daily to keep things as light and charming as possible.
I thought this was a fiction book based on a true story. It's actually a non-fiction book telling the true story from Ackerman's research, interviews, Antonina's diary, and other eyewitness accounts. What the Zabinski's did earned them the distinction, "Polish Righteous among the Nations"from the State of Israel along with many other Poles who did the brave and right thing of protecting the Jews, Gypsies, and Slavs from the Third Reich. The zoo served to be a perfect Underground for Jews escaping. It had underground tunnels leading to different animal houses and set ups that were conducive, not ideal mind you but conducive, to aiding people needing to hide. Even while German soldiers roamed the zoo ground on and off duty! The zoo enabled the Zabinski's to hide people in plain sight, so to speak. Warsaw had a large - about 350,000 - resistance effort that tirelessly fought against the Nazi's from 1939 to 1945 when Russia came in and "saved" Poland. This was no rescue but merely a deal that had been struck between Stalin and Hitler. What differed about the Nazi reign of terror in Warsaw (and I'm assuming all of Poland) is the "rules." Hitler seemed to have a special hatred for not just the Jewish, Gypsies, and Slavs of Poland but for Polish people in general. Several times he attempted to completely annihilate the Polish race altogether, regarding them as useless to society. He regarded them to be uneducated and slovenly. Yet in 1939 one of his first orders was to round up all Polish educators and people of intellect and mass murder them - which happened. Very few escaped from that initial massacre. Seems to me he was more threatened than disgusted by the Poles. So the Polish people were not able to escape the terror of the Nazi's if they were not of Jewish or other hatred ethnic backgrounds. It was just the Catholic Poles had a longer timeline than the others. Near the end of the war Hitler issued another strike on Warsaw that spared nobody. He wanted the city - the Nation - decimated.
Yet the Zabinski's managed to survive. And they aided 300 others in surviving as well. Their story highlights the humanity that rose up in the face of such evil, it joins other inspiring stories of bravery and selflessness. As Jan Zabinski said, "I only did my duty - if you can save somebody's life, it's your duty to try" and "We did it because it was the right thing to do."

Thursday, June 1, 2017

April & May 2017 Bookshelf

I started off 2017 on fire. And then my depression stepped up a notch. When I'm depressed I don't lose myself in books - which one might expect. I watch a lot - A LOT - of TV. I have no explanation for this, I just know that's what happens. I have all these great reads calling out to me and I'm binge watching on Netflix and Hulu. And because of my status as unemployed the binge watching has become b.i.n.g.e. watching. So, in summary, I haven't been reading a lot. I read so little in April that I combined April and May's bookshelves. It still wasn't very impressive! *wink*

Without further ado, here are my reads and listereads for April and May.

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
Kindle Edition

Thank you to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

Loosely inspired by his grandfather's story, Cleave crafts a story about the start of World War II in London.
While the story focuses mostly on three characters, it is Mary who I felt like the story was really being told through. Even when it was focused on Alastair and his voice, I still felt Mary weaved in.
In 1939 England entered into the war that was growing in Europe. Mary, young and eager to do more than attend a boarding school and learn how to be a hostess, registers to help in war efforts without informing anyone in her life. But instead of rolling bandages and cooling off the foreheads of soldiers as she imagined, Mary is assigned to teach at a school. Unhappy, at first, with this assignment Mary quickly takes to the children before London ships them off to the countrysides for safety. Except disabled and colored children are kept in London so she begs and pleads with Tom, the man in charge, to keep teaching those children. Tom complies - mostly because of his growing affection for Mary. Tom's roommate, Alastair, reacted much the same way Mary did to the start of war. He jumped at the opportunity to be part of the effort and enlisted, much to Tom's dismay. Off Alastair went and was quickly introduced to the harsh realities of war and the behaviors and bullying it can foster. As war progresses, much to the surprise of England and then the world, Mary becomes entrenched deeper in the efforts to help with the aftermath of the nightly bombings that are taking place in London and the children who have been left behind. War is no respecter of persons and Mary's privileged life doesn't matter. Alastair, stuck on an island - literally - fighting the war - barely - is trying to keep his men together while wondering if he can ever have a normal and real life when this war business is finished. Tom, not willing to engage with the idea of war, tolerates Mary's involvement and longs for the day it will cease and life can be as it is again. Round and round they all go and where they stop nobody knows.
Cleave, who hit a home run with Little Bee, has authored other titles before releasing this one. I've only read Little Bee and now this title. They are vastly different stories and so to compare them in any way is unfair to Cleave and to the books themselves. However, I remember reading Little Bee and being so moved along by the story that I didn't want to put it down. This title I put down on purpose every so often because I was bored at times. It just didn't engage me as I expected it would have, as I think it should have. While Cleave spent time developing the characters, Mary still felt especially empty and flat to me. Perhaps that was the intention, she was after all a entitled, spoiled young woman at the start of the war. There was nothing special enough about the story to keep me thinking about it after I would close it. All in all I am glad to have read it but I don't think I will be able to recall much about it down the road should someone ask.

In the Company of Sherlock Holmes: Stories Inspired by the Holmes Canon (Stories Inspired by the Holmes Canon) by Laurie R. King (Editor), Leslie S. Klinger (Editor)
Audio Book

I may or may not be obsessed with Sherlock Holmes. And this obsession began long before BBC's current take on it - although BBC has definitely fed the obsession. But I digress.
When I was looking for something to listeread in the car during my commutes I came across this on the shelf and thought it would do the job. It is, basically, fan fiction of Sherlock Holmes. The editors of the book explain at the beginning how it came to be and then it was short stories by a variety of authors incorporating Sherlock Holmes and John Watson in some way. Some chose modern storylines, one chose to do it from an animal's point of view, and one even wrote the entire story as if it were a Facebook group. (Which listening to that instead of reading it in print was a bit confusing!) I skipped over one story almost completely because I was about 10 minutes or more into the story and still no point had been made clear what the story was even about or how it had anything to do with Sherlock. Ain't nobody got time for that. *wink*
It was an enjoyable listeread overall and I'm quite glad I found it sitting on the shelf.

Adnan's Story: The Search for Truth and Justice After Serial by Rabia Chaudry
Audio Book

I was introduced to Adnan Syed through the Serial podcast - perhaps you might have heard of it? Adnan was incarcerated at age 18 for the murder of Hae Min Lee in January 1999. Problem is there was no evidence linking him to the crime, a lot of suspicious activity around the investigation, and ineffective assistance of counsel. He got life plus 30 years.
A close family friend of The Syed's, Rabia Chaudry, has tirelessly worked to get Adnan's incarceration to be appealed. In 2013 she was at a dead end and reached out to Sarah Koenig, an investigative journalist. Sarah was interested in Adnan's story and all of the oddities of the case so she agreed to dig in and do her own research. Out of that Serial (Season 1) was born and the world was introduced to Adnan Syed. His case caught fire and all of a sudden his lawyer, Justin Brown, his family and Rabia had a renewed spirit for Adnan's release. Lawyers started investigating on their own - wondering about different aspects of the case and the investigation. Rabia, as the family spokesperson, started speaking and sharing the story - gathering momentum for a request for a new trial for Adnan. Out of Serial the podcast Undisclosed was born due to two lawyers who were researching on their own and contacting Rabia to discuss points of the case and offer help to Justin Brown. Serial ended but the interest in Adnan's case didn't so Rabia, Susan Smith, and Colin Miller joined up to continue dissecting the case and investigation.
Due to Rabia's relationship with the family she had so much insight and information to share, as appropriate. So she wrote a book to share even more of Adnan's story with all of us.
I listeread it because 1) I'm accustomed to Rabia's voice and I wanted to hear her read her book and 2) I had a feeling it might be easier to listen to rather than read. Regarding number 2 - I think I was right. A friend, who is as obsessed with case as I am, tried to read the printed version and couldn't, I think because of the nature of the legal speak. I told her to listen to it, I loved it! I loved listereading it. Rabia shares Adnan's thoughts, given to her through letters written in prison. She gives the reader insight into the kind of life Adnan has made for himself in prison. And she gives more information (adhering of course to guidelines that won't end up hurting his case) about the legal strategies for Adnan's new case. Yes! Adnan and his legal team have been granted a new case. His conviction has been dismissed - although he remains in prison - and he will get a new day in court with an effective assistance of counsel and new evidence discovered. If you are a follower of the Adnan Syed case I highly recommend this book, especially in audio version. If you aren't a follower - you should be! Start with Serial Season 1, move on to Undisclosed Season 1, and then this book and you'll be up to date.

The 9th Hour (The Detective Temeke Crime Series #1) by Claire Stibbe
Kindle Edition

Confession: I didn't feel like reading and I wasn't sure what to read. So I was scanning through my lists (and lists) of books I have put on my Kindle but haven't read yet. I opened this one at random. And it ended up curing me of not wanting to read! I didn't put it down until I finished it. Thank you Claire Stibbe.
Detective Temeke is a London transplant living in Albuquerque, New Mexico and solving crimes in his very unique way - which rubs a lot of people wrong. He's been in the States for about a decade but his accent is strong as ever as is his approach (it's very "stiff upper lip" one might say). Another body has been discovered, and like the others has a silver disk earring in one ear with a number engraved. This body was number 8. Somebody out there is killing young girls and making veiled comments about some ninth hour and such nonsense. Temeke doesn't have time for games but it seems this killer wants him to play anyway. He wants to work solo on this but the powers that be don't think so. He's given a partner - who happens to know a lot about mythology and folklore and the Norwegian language which this killer seems to speak fluently. So the game is afoot (as Sherlock Holmes might say) and everyone who isn't the killer is trying to keep body number 9 from being killed in the first place.
Claire Stibbe has some law enforcement experience so her topic knowledge is (I assume) spot on. Psychological crime is fascinating to me - not fascinating as in I want to do it but as in I want to solve it. The way the brain tells us we should behave or respond due to a life situation is so interesting - and can be very twisted. This was a very interesting look at how us humans can take a myth or a god of some sort and use them to justify what our twisted minds may tell us we need to do. I'm interested in reading further Detective Temeke novels for sure.

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
Kindle Edition

Thank you to NetGalley and Ballantine Books for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

I don't know if it's me or the book or a bit of both but I couldn't get into this title. After almost a month of trying to read it and choosing other titles and things over it I decided to abandon it. I got 14% in and was not engaged, I was bored. And then every time I thought about picking it back up I felt bored. So clearly, this isn't the story for me or this isn't the time for me to read this story.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, inspired by Siobhan Dowd
Audio Book

WOW. Just wow.
I listeread this book for an online book club - I had not heard of it. I actually listeread it twice, I immediately started over the minute the book ended. And then I got a copy of my own, printed, to have and to pass around. Just WOW.
I was also curious about the movie - just done in 2016 - and how it matches up to the book so I watched the movie as well. Excellent! Patrick Ness did the screenplay so it stayed true to the story.
It's really hard for me to give this book a review that compels others to read it but doesn't give away the story. To give away any part of the story would be to rob readers of the story and the journey of when the monster comes calling. But in an attempt to sum it up, the story is about a boy working through grief. It's about a boy who is holding in a truth that he can't speak but needs to. It's about all of us speaking truths that we are holding in. I really am at a loss - just read the book, I promise you will not regret it!

Empty Threat (The Black Pages #1) by Danny Bell
Kindle Edition

Thank you to Danny Bell and Xpresso Book Tours for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

The premise of this book intrigued me. A person can become fiction and enter into books and TV shows. As a voracious reader this idea is fantastic to me! So I had to give this title a try.
Elana Black spends her days working at a bookstore and reading books in her spare time. She also, a couple of years ago, discovered she can somehow enter into books that she's reading. She doesn't really understand it but she really likes it. But her entry and return from Aldous Huxley's Crome Yellow was different. Something changed and she isn't sure what to do about it, if anything. Deciding to shrug it off, Elana goes about her days until someone appears at the bookstore asking for a copy of Crome Yellow. Huh, that seems weird. And that moment sets off a series of events that end with leading Elana to discovering the powers behind her ability to enter into fictional stories and trying to preserve her life along with others.
There is A LOT of promise and potential in this story. Maybe too much for book one. Bell, in an effort (I think) to make Elana seem her age employed a very cheeky attitude - but it ended up getting on my nerves. I found her to be more annoying than the heroine she is supposed to be. And Bell's unpacking of this ability Elana and others have is lacking in development and foundation. I was very confused by what the Gardeners, etc were. There wasn't ever an explanation that brought clarity to the reader - or actually to Elana. It felt like that part of the storyline was many ideas that Bell had, he couldn't pick one or two to focus in on and so he just stitched them all together. For me that made the story and what was happening very disjointed. There were a lot of parts that I would have to re-read and I still couldn't quite follow. The sudden "stardom" of Elana among the people who can do what she does was predictable but not done well. Overall, because of the disjointed sections of the book and Elana's character, I didn't really like the book - which was disappointing because as I said - this is a unique storyline and that has so much promise and potential. I feel like if Bell had slowed the story down a bit and taken more time to provide a better background/explanation on this weird group of people that I might have taken more to the story and maybe even Elana, although the flippant attitude he gave her didn't really work (for me). Bell gets stars for effort and the unique storyline but his execution needs work.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

March 2017 Bookshelf

The Tales of Beedle the Bard (Hogwarts Library)
by J.K. Rowling, Emma Nicholson (Afterword), Hermoine Granger (Translator), Albus Dumbledore (Commentary)
111 pages

The muggles have their fairy tales and the world of magic has theirs. These tales, first recorded by Beedle the Bard, give insight into the lives of the magical world. Hermoine re-wrote them in an updated translation and Professor Dumbledore's personal notes about each tale were found among his things after his demise. This edition is the result of Hermoine's updated translation and Dumbledore's commentary.
Each story in the book contains a lesson to be learned - not just for the witches and wizards but for the muggles as well.
A fun, short book that is a great accompaniment to the wonderful wizarding world of Harry Potter.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts 1 & 2
by John Tiffany (Adaptation), Jack Thorne (Adaptation), J.K. Rowling
309 pages

Because the world, including myself, can't get enough of Harry Potter. The curiosity of Harry as a father, a husband, and working a "normal" job. Is he still special or now that Voldemort is dead is he just like everyone else? This is not a novel, it's a short story that Rowling wrote and has been adapted into a stage production.
We meet Harry and Ginny and their three children as the two boys, Jack and Albus, are boarding the Hogswart Express for the new school year. It's Albus' first year, along with his cousin Rose Granger-Weasley. As Albus and Rose try to find a compartment to spend the train ride to school in, they meet Scorpius. Scorpius Malfoy. Rose refuses to stay but Albus does and he and Scorpius become fast friends. A Potter and a Malfoy - friends? It seems impossible but yet it is true. And as the years progress they remain best mates. As the years progress Albus also comes to resent Harry more and more - hating the fact that his Dad is famous, it carries a weight for Albus himself. In order to prove himself, Albus coerces Scorpius into a great adventure that is dangerous as well.
This was a super easy and quick read because it was written as a play script. It wasn't quite as satisfying as I had hoped it would be. I think it's hard to create such well-loved characters into adults. Most of them were fairly believable but Draco Malfoy I didn't buy as who Rowling created him to be as an adult. In order to believe his adult character I would need to have the history of his transformation since Voldemort's death. It wasn't as tightly written as books 1-7. Although this was, or is, the play adaptation. I haven't read the short story Rowling wrote - has anyone? Is it on Rowling's blog at some point in the past? I would be curious to read it and see what kind of depth it might, or hopefully, have that the play adaptation is lacking in.

The Christian Wallet: Spending, Giving, and Living with a Conscience
by Mike Slaughter, Karen Perry Smith
Kindle Edition

Thank you to NetGalley and Westminster John Knox Press for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

I started reading this book February 5. Sickness derailed me and then I just couldn't get through it. Not because it is bad. It's actually quite good. But I just couldn't get engaged with it for any length of time so it took me f-o-r-e-v-e-r to read, much longer than it should have.
Slaughter leads the reader through several main thoughts about money, stewardship, and generosity. The only chapter that I really couldn't engage with at all was the chapter about investments. My eyes glazed over! That's a lot of numbers talk for someone who doesn't do numbers.
My thoughts/review of the title is less than adequate because it took me so long to read it. I think it is a very well written book with great living examples of each main point. I may try to pick it up again at some point and see if I can wrap my head around it a little more.

Carry On, Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life by Glennon Doyle Melton
320 pages

G's first published book is a series of short essays, so to speak, about life - her stories of her story, motherhood, marriage, and other relationships. Her determination to keep it real and to be real comes through in her writing. G and I are similar in that we are introverts and prefer it that way. We get stressed by hostressing, er hostessing, other people in our homes, and we struggle with depression. I can relate to G on many levels. Throughout the book I highlighted several passages that I want to make sure I remember, insights that G shares that ring true. One that I think is very important is, "People who need help sometimes look a lot like people who don't need help." Another, based off the child's game Chutes & Ladders is the idea that sometimes what feels like a chute might actually be a ladder. As G says, it depends on what perspecticles you are wearing. I loved her thoughts on carpe diem and the two times that exist - chronos and kairos, I'm really thinking through that. Insights about quitting and wading in the faith pool. All of it very good, especially at this time of my life, to read and think about. Melton is an engaging and smart author and what she has to share is stuff we all need to hear. Next up? Her book titled Love Warrior. Carry on.

Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse
Kindle Edition 320 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Little, Brown Books for Young Readers for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

"....I wanted to tell a story of small betrayals in the middle of a big war. I wanted to illustrate the split-second decisions we make of moral courage and cowardice, and how we are all heroes and villains." (Monica Hesse)
Hanneke Bakker lives in Amsterdam and it is the early 1940's. World War II is in full swing and the Germans have occupied the Netherlands. Hanneke has fallen into supporting her family through the black market with ration cards. They are the lucky ones. They have the right last name and the right looks so their lives aren't in danger. On a delivery one day Hanneke is asked to find something that ration cards can't procure. Despite her best efforts to not get involved, Hanneke can't stop herself. The pull of her humanity wins out over her fears. This sets Hanneke on a search for a girl in a blue coat and it sets her on a path she didn't intend to walk.
Hesse writes a story that highlights the tragedies of World War II and the courage it required and called forth in people. She also crafted a story that showed life still moving forward despite the Nazi chaos all around them. People were still going to school, getting married, preferring a certain brand of cigarettes, fighting with their parents, seeing the dentist for a toothache. It was a well-written book that showed yet another side to the war that changed the world forever.

The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett
Kindle Edition 416 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for this free readers edition. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

What an interesting book. In some ways it felt like Barnett couldn't decide which version of Jim and Eva to write about so she decided to write about all three. Even if that is the case it works, or rather Barnett made it work.
Jim and Eva meet three times in 1958, but in the same moment. And each moment takes the story of them on a different path that lasts the rest of their lives. We read their stories as versions - and some details are the same in all three versions, while some details are very different. The idea that they know each other in a way they can't explain runs through all three versions, whether they know each other or not. This reveals itself in Jim's painting titled "The Versions of Us" that is created in version 2 of Jim and Eva's story. To say much more gives away the intricacies of this story.
My only real complaint about the book is keeping straight who was what, etc in each version. When a new chapter started I had to really think for a moment what was going on in that storyline. Otherwise it was an engaging story that explores the "what if" we all have of meeting someone in our younger days and thinking of them later in life. It explores the idea that life doesn't have one clear way, there can be several paths to chose - the choice is ours.

The Legends of King Arthur and His Knights by Sir James Knowles
Kindle Edition - 217 pages

I just recently made my way through the Merlin TV series so when this book was chosen for a book club I am in, I thought it was perfect timing! I think I liked the TV series better. It took me way too long to get through this rather short book of stories about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. When all was said and done it was a book of the same story over and over again with different knights inserted and a few details changed. Basically a knight goes out and fights, or knights fight each other in tournaments, or the knight goes on a quest and fights. The book is about 98% fighting, 2% other descriptive words and names to try and make it a story. No wonder all adaptations of King Arthur and the Knights since this book have been embellished and expanded on. It's amazing to me that someone read this book of stories and thought it should be made into a visual for people to watch - in the case of these stories I am definitely in favor of stepping away from the original story and enhancing it "a bit." Honestly it took me so long to get through the book because I kept falling asleep while reading it! Even now, just writing this review I am yawning widely thinking about the book. Well, I can check it off my list but from now on if I want stories about King Arthur and his Knights I'll be rewatching Merlin or finding other - better and more engaging - stories to watch or read.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay by J.K. Rowling
293 pages

I am fully immersed, once again, in the wizarding world J.K. Rowling created with Harry Potter. While this story takes place years, about 70 or so, before Harry's it does feature the same beasts that Hagrid loves and Harry and his mates are wary of.
This time the wizards are in America and it's in the golden age of the 1920's. Newt has arrived from England to NYC and is carrying a rather beat up case with him. He's seen whispering to the case from time to time which draws a bit of attention. In one moment Newt's case gets mixed up with someone else's and a little chaos ensues since a creature or two may have escaped. So Newt is off on a race around the city to try and contain the creatures before the muggles, er the no-maj's, figure out that there is magic afoot. Tina, from MACUSA, picks up on the clues that Newt isn't a normal human but one with magic and she tails him to get close to him and these creatures she suspects he has. During this time the no-maj's of NYC are making noise about witchcraft and campaigning for strong legislation against it. So the American community of witches and wizards are taking extra precautions and Newt's escaped creatures put them in danger. Meanwhile, Credence - an orphan boy being raised by an anti-magic shrew of a woman is meeting secretly with someone from MACUSA in an attempt to find a child that has special magic. Credence's adoptive mother has no idea but he has magic and if he can get free of her he is ready to join the magical community and finally be who he is. In Newt's attempts to capture his creatures and Credence's attempts to be who he is the two finally meet up. But their meeting isn't quite what anyone thought it would be and the magical community is at danger of being exposed and a war between them and the no-maj's is imminent, unless Newt can contain Credence and the creatures.
I'm American so I feel like I can say what I'm about to. We Americans lack charm and class. We are rough around the edges, even the ones we say are refined are rough around the edges. We have language that lacks meaning and even context. I'm saying this because this crass American way of ours is clear even in the wizarding community of American. Muggles in England are No-Maj's in America. The Ministry of Magic in England is MACUSA. The American versions lack charm. They lack the, well magic, of the wizarding world. This isn't a criticism as much as it is an observation on Rowling's ability to draw the distinctions between cultures even in the wizarding world. This was a weird read because it was the screenplay for the movie. I eventually got into the flow of reading it but I was wishing there was an actual novel of the story. There's the book of the same name written by Newt but it isn't the story, it's just his notes about the creatures - the book used as a textbook at Hogwart's. I'm interested in more stories about the American wizarding community. After finishing this I read the very short story about Ilvermorny, the American School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, because I'm so curious about how Rowling depicts the differences between the American magical community and the rest of the world. Click here if you are curious about the American school as well. But I'm not sure the American wizarding world would be as charming as the rest of the world.

Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton
272 pages

In Carry On, Warrior G mentions marriage problems. Love Warrior is the memoir of her marriage. The book ends with a statement by G, "I do not know whether we will spend our lives married or loving each other from a distance..." and if follow G on Facebook or Instagram or her blog then you know - spoiler alert - that they have chosen to go their own ways but are still trying to remain a family. This doesn't invalidate the lessons G learns and shares with us in this memoir.
I think memoirs are tricky to review. It's a person's story, it is someone's choice to share a part of their life that feels scary or vulnerable and that takes bravery. Some people and their stories we connect with, others we don't. Some people and their stories bother us because of our own insecurities or ignorance - it is those times that we are quick to pass judgment on that person for how they handle their situations - or don't handle them. We can be quick to pass judgement on people when we don't think their reasons for their story are valid or make sense. Just because it doesn't make sense to us doesn't mean it isn't real for them. G received some criticism for her memoir of marriage. A lot of it centered around how centered G seems to be on herself. And maybe that's true. Maybe she is too self-absorbed. Or maybe she's been too self-absorbed in the wrong ways and is trying to correct course now. Honestly, it's not our place to be judge and jury on how another person handles trauma in their life. I believe there are lessons in everyone's story for us to take away and think through.
And the truth is we are all, hopefully, on a journey moving forward through life. As we move forward we leave parts of ourself behind or we pick up parts of ourselves we haven't seen ever or in a long while. We pick up people and we leave some. Whether you have faith or not Ecclesiastes 3 in the Bible is true about all of us and our journeys through life - there is a time and season for everything. All this being said, I can't pretend that I don't scratch my head at a few of the decisions G has made in the past year and has shared with the public but she's only shared the actual decision, there's a whole process that hopefully was careful and intentional behind the end decision. And as she continues to heal and grow and move forward in her journey, as I hope we all do, may she be led by the One who created her. Namaste.

Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris
616 pages (large print)

Yet another book club pick. I've lost track of how many book clubs I am participating in. :)
The focus of this story is St. Oswald's - a boys school for the elite. And by elite I mean those who have money. The Head Porter of the school (a glorified maintenance man) is John Snyde - a single dad and drunk. The story is told from his child's POV and from the POV of Roy Straitley, the school's Latin teacher. John's kid has become fixated on St. Oswald's, they live right outside the grounds in the gatehouse and the more they think about the school the more their anger and longing to be part of it grows. The story is told in equal parts present day and flashbacks to 15 years ago. Mr. Straitley is one of the POV's for the present day telling. Anyway, a new term - in the present day  is about to start and there are 5 new teachers joining the St. Oswald's staff. Right away things start going badly - there is a whiff of something wrong in the air. Things disappear, students start acting in ways they never have before, suspicion of each other is planted. Straitley isn't sure what is happening but something is and he begins to look more carefully at these 5 new teachers. There were no problems before they came along. He's right to suspect one, because one of them is John Snyde's child - grown up and back for a revenge on the school that they equally hate and love. The weird fixation still exists, and has grown through the years, until it has become a target of revenge for every single thing that has gone wrong in their life in the past 15 or so years. As the backstory is told to bring us up to present day a picture is drawn of a child who has never quite grown up - placing blame on anyone else for choices made, for the lot in life dealt them, for the parents given them, etc. Eventually the day of reckoning comes, who will be victorious?
What an interesting book/story. Harris managed to pull the wool over my eyes in several instances and I appreciated it, I love it. I love being twisted and turned just enough that when the path straightens out everything that didn't quite make sense to me is all of a sudden very clear. She draws, with her words, an accurate portrait of a blame-shifter and it's such an interesting story. It's really, I think, a story of a sociopath and how sneaky those types are.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Hogwarts Library) by Newt Scamander (Pseudonym), J.K. Rowling
123 pages

If you are a wizarding family then this title is a must - you need to know what you are dealing with if something comes across your path! As a muggle it's less important to have a copy of this book but it might be important to know about the possibilities of what kind of beasts are out there, just in case.
Fortunately Newt Scamander did the work for everyone by scouting out the world and the beasts in it. He put together this useful guide to the beasts of the wizarding world and where to find them - and what to do with them if you do find them! Some of them, like the dragon, have some really important magical qualities - useful for potions and such. Others are just a nuisance. Either way Scamander informs on how and what to do with these creatures and most especially which ones to walk a wide berth around.

Honorable Mention:

Almost four years ago I read the Harry Potter series for the first time (it won't be my last) and have been hearing how good the audio book versions are - a good narrator/reader makes ALL the difference people.
In October I started listening to the series on audio during my commutes. This month, I squeezed in books 6 and 7 on audio. Now that I'm done listening I feel bereft, I either need to read the books again or watch the movies (not near as good but sufficient) as I'm not quite ready to put down Harry Potter for the time being.