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
Audiobook

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
Audiobook

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."







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