Book Review: No Is Not Enough by Naomi Klein


Author: Naomi Klein
TitleNo Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need
Narrator: Brit Marling
Publication Info:  Blackstone Audio, Inc., 2017
Previously read by same author: The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism

Summary/Review:

Klein’s latest work is aptly summed up by it’s title, the necessity of doing more than just resting Trump but also creating a positive alternative for the future.  Although it was published last summer it feels like it sums up the Trump regime’s first year pretty thoroughly.  Klein elaborates on the conditions in the USA that made Trump’s election possible including: the shift in corporations from manufacturing products to downsizing resources and focusing on creating brand identities, the mainstream news media’s infotainment style of political coverage that focuses on the personality clash of candidates rather than issues, the rise of reality television competitions, and even the culture of professional wrestling.  The Democrats play a role in setting the stage for a Trump Presidency as well with their embrace of neoliberal ideology, their emphasis on wealthy celebrities  having the solutions to world problems, and development of philanthropic organizations enmeshed with access to political leaders, all of which have been reflected in the dark mirror of Trump.

Klein then revisits her earlier book The Shock Doctrine, focusing on how it played out in Pinochet’s Chile, the war in Iraq, and in post-Katrina New Orleans.  Many of the actors involved in the catastrophic decisions in Chile, Iraq, and New Orleans are now major players in the Trump administration, and seem poised to exploit a disaster (natural, financial, or terrorist) to bring the shock doctrine to widespread application in the United States.

Klein revisits the coalition of activists who had success opposing the WTO and economic globalization in the 1990s, but organizational problems lead to its collapse after the September 11th attacks.  Learning lessons from the previous generation of activists, Klein and others have created the Leap Manifesto in Canada as a model for activist coalitions around broad goals of economic equality and stopping/slowing climate change.

Klein’s book seems like a quick summary of other books and ideas put together in one volume, but it’s well-organized and pointed toward the situation we are dealing with today.

Favorite Passages:

“All this work is born on the knowledge that saying no to bad ideas and bad actors is simply not enough.  The firmest of no’s has to be accompanied by a bold and forward-looking yest – a plane for the future that is credible and captivating enough that a great many people will fight to see it realized, no matter the shocks and scare tactics thrown their way.  No – to Trump, to France’s Marine Le Pen, to any number of xenophobic and hypernationallist parties on the rise the world over – may what initially brings millions to the streets.  But it is yes that will keep us in the fight.

Yes is the beacon in the coming storm that will prevent us from losing our way.”

“In this sense, there is an important way in which Trump is not shocking.  He is entirely predictable, indeed cliched outcome of ubiquitous ideas and trends that should have been stopped long ago.  Which is why, even in this nightmarish world, will remain to be confronted. With US vice president Mike Pence or House speaker Paul Ryan waiting in the wings, and a Democratic Party establishment also enmeshed with the billionaire class, the world we need won’t be won just by replacing the current occupant of the Oval Office.”

“[Hillary Clinton’s] failure was not one of messaging but of track record. Specifically, it was the stupid economics of neoliberalism, fully embraced by her, her husband and her party’s establishment that left Clinton without a credible offer to make to those white workers who had voted for Obama (twice) and decided this time to vote Trump”

“Trump’s assertion that he knows how to fix America because he’s rich is nothing more than the uncouth, vulgar echo of a dangerous idea we have been hearing for years; that Bill Gates can fix Africa. Or that Richard Branson and Michael Bloomberg can solve climate change”

“But crises, as we have seen, do not always cause societies to regress and give up.  There is also a second option – that, faced with a grave common threat, we can choose to come together and make an evolutionary leap.  We can choose, as the Reverend William Barber puts it, “to be the moral defibrillators of our time and shock the heart of the nation and build a movement of resistance and hope and justice and love.” We can, in other world, surprise the hell out of ourselves – be being united, focused, and determined.  By refusing to fall for those tired old shock tactics.  By refusing to be afraid, no matter how much we are tested.”

Recommended booksNobody by Marc Lamont Hill, Listen Liberal —or— What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? by Thomas Frank
Rating: ***1/2

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Book Reviews: Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia by Brandon Sanderson


AuthorBrandon Sanderson 
TitleAlcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia
Narrator: Ramon De Ocampo
Publication Info: Recorded Books (2012)
Previously Read By the Same Author:  Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians and Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones
Summary/Review:

The third book in this series sees Alcatraz Smedry finally arrive in the Free Kingdoms where he learns he’s quite a celebrity (lots of not so subtle jabs at Harry Potter here) and that there are currently evil librarians meeting with the kings and queens of the Free Kingdoms on a treaty.  Alcatraz’s frenemy and protector Bastille is stripped of her knighthood due to Alcatraz breaking her sword in the previous book.  Alcatraz and a whacky crew – including a daft prince and a “recovering librarian” – work to uncovers suspicious goings on while the librarians are in town.  Central to the plot is the Royal Archives (Not a Library), a running gag that makes me laugh as an archivist who has attended professional conferences, but maybe won’t be as funny to other readers.  As usual, this addition to the Alcatraz series is clever, witty, funny, and still a rather ripping adventure.

Favorite Passages:

“The love books.  However, to them, books are a little like teenage boys.  Whenever they start congregating they make trouble.”

Recommended booksA Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket, Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer and Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins.
Rating: ***1/2

What are you reading in 2018?


In years past, I’ve made a list of books I plan to read in the coming year.  You can find my current Book List 2018 up in the navigation bar with a drop-down list for previous years.

I’ve made things less complicated this year instead of listing out books to read, I’m just going to use my existing wishlist at LibraryThing.  I will also be trying to keep track of audiobooks, books for my Around the World for a Good Book project, and books for  Book Riot’s 2018 Read Harder Challenge.

I will post the books that I’ve actually completed reading with a link to review and books I’m currently reading on the Book List 2018 page as well.  If you’re reading something good, I’d love to hear about it and I’m always happy to open a discussion of books on this blog.

Book Review: Papi: My Story by David Ortiz


Author: David Ortiz with Michael Holley
Title: Papi: My Story
Publication Info: Boston : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017.
Summary/Review:

I know that David Ortiz is a prodigious slugger, has a big heart, and a potty mouth.  From his baseball memoir, I’ve also learned that he holds a grudge.  A bit too much of this book is full of Ortiz’s resentments against his manager in Minnesota (and two different managers in Boston), the Red Sox front office, the Boston media, and everyone who suspected him of PED use.  Granted he actually is justified in his anger against these people, but it weighs down what is otherwise an insightful book about his life in baseball.  I particularly enjoy what Ortiz says about how he became a student of the game and studied pitchers while on the bench so that he could become a better hitter.  He talks of learning a lot from fellow players, especially Manny Ramirez and Pedro Martinez. And then he passes along that knowledge to younger players from Dustin Pedroia to Andrew Benentendi.  Outside baseball, Ortiz reflects on his marriage to his wife Tiffany and how he was contending with their marriage falling apart right around the same time as the magical 2013 series.  It’s an entertaining book and a must read for fans of Big Papi and the Red Sox, and baseball fans in general.

Favorite Passages:

“I’ve always been amazed at people who criticize baseball players for showing emotion, especially in playoff games. What do they expect when every move you make is with the game on the line?  You’re a competitor.  You want to be sucessful for your team and your city.  You’re not supposed to respond when everyone is losing their minds in the stands, to the point where you really can’t hear anything?

Why not?” – p. 76

“To me, Pedroia is the prototype.  I’d never met anyone like him in baseball.  It’s hard to explain.  For example, I love baseball.  Love it.  But what I saw from Pedroia made it clear to me that his connection to baseball was beyond everyone else’s.  It was so much more than just love for the game.  He was the game. Seriously.  Everything that was good and true about baseball was in Dustin Pedroia.  He breathed it.  He lived it.  He’d do anything to play it, to be around it, to talk about it.He was such a force of energy, talent, and humor that it lifted our entire clubhouse.” – p. 116

“I believe the Boston media is powerful when it comes to the fans and, in some ways, influential when it comes to the way the team is managed.  When the media make a big deal about something, when they create a problem or issue, what are the fans supposed to think?  They figure that these people are around the team 24/7, so they must know what they’re talking about.  But they don’t.” – p. 151

Recommended booksBecoming Manny: Inside the Life of Baseball’s Most Enigmatic Slugger by Jean Rhodes, Pedro, Carlos, and Omar: The Story of a Season in the Big Apple and the Pursuit of Baseball’s Top Latino Stars by Adam Rubin, and Faithful: Two Diehard Boston Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season by Stewart O’Nan
Rating: ***1/2

2017 Year in Review: Favorite Books


Here’s my annual list of my ten favorite books read in the year.  As always, this is merely the best books I read this year and not necessarily books published in 2016.  For previous years see 2016201520142013201220112010200920082007 and 2006. You may also want to check out My Favorite Books of All Time or see Every Book I’ve Ever Read cataloged in Library Thing.

In alphabetical order:

And, here is every book I read this year with rankings.  (A) is for audiobook.

The books are rated on a scale from 1 to 5 stars with links to summary reviews.

Here’s a thumbnail of what the ratings mean:

  • 5 stars – all-time classic (I’m very stingy with these)
  • 4 stars – a particularly interesting, well-written, or important book
  • 3 stars – a good book from start to finish
  • 2 stars – not a good book on the whole but has some good parts
  • 1 star or less – basically a bad book with no redeeming values

January

February

March

April

May

June

July

August

September

October

November

December

Book Review: The Rook by Daniel O’Malley


AuthorDaniel O’Malley
TitleThe Rook
Narrator: Susan Duerden
Publication Info: Dreamscape Media, LLC , 2012
Summary/Review:

This book was recommended to me as being something I might enjoy as a fan of Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series.  While there are similar approaches to a detective novel with supernatural elements sprinkled with humor, I found this book darker and grimmer than anything Fforde has ever written.  The novel begins with a woman waking up in a park surrounded by dead bodies with no memory of who she is.  From letters she finds in her pockets and more letters found elsewhere, it is revealed that she is Myfanwy Thomas (or was Myfanwy Thomas, since the conceit of the book is that she is a new person born into an old body) and that she is part of a covert organization of people with superpowers who protect England from paranormal forces.  She holds the title of Rook in an organization based on chess pieces called the Checquy, hence the title of the book.

It turns out that the old Myfanwy was shy and obedient, but losing her memories has made her forget the traumas of her youth and more willing to explore using her powers to their full extent.  Thus, Myfanwy is set on finding the traitor in her organization who caused her amnesia while simultaneously dealing with the threat of the Grafters, a Belgian group that has learned how to augment and modify human bodies.

This is a very high-concept book, and I feel like at least the first third of the book is a slog because it’s mostly in the form of Myfanwy’s letter to herself that explain her past in a very tell, not show manner.  If you manage to  make it through that part of the book, though, the letters and Myfanwy’s present day adventures both get entertaining with a wry mix of humor, clever concepts, and gross outs.  There’s a sequel to the book I’ll check out, albeit I’m not rushing to get it right away.

Recommended books: The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, The Portable Door by Tom Holt, A Soul to Steal by Rob Blackwell,  Who Could That Be at This Hour?” by Lemony Snicket and Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story by Christopher Moore
Rating: ***

Book Review: The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde


Author: Jasper Fforde
TitleThe Well of Lost Plots
Narrator: Emily Gray
Publication Info: Penguin Audio (2012)

Other Books Read by Same AuthorThe Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good BookShades of GrayThe Last DragonslayerThe Song of the QuarkbeastOne of Our Thursdays is Missing, and The Eye of Zoltar.
Summary/Review:

I’m revisiting the Thursday Next series and struck by how Fforde can keep at least five plots going simultaneously, interweaving them, and somehow bringing them all together at the end.  First there’s Thursday’s apprenticeship with Miss Havisham at Jurisfiction and getting caught up in the Ultraword conspiracy.  Then there’s Aornis Hades’ memory worm, and Granny Next’s efforts to help Thursday remember Landen.  Then there’s the plot within the book Caversham Heights where Thursday gradually reshapes a derivative detective novel into the setting for Fforde’s Nursery Crime novels. And then there’s the the hysterical evolution of the generic characters Lola and Randolph. There are no plots lost here.  I was delighted to read this book again (in Emily Gray’s voice) and surprised to look back at my original review when I didn’t think too highly of this installment in the series.

Rating: ****

Book Review: Dreams to Remember by Mark Ribowsky


Author: Mark Ribowsky
TitleDreams to Remember: Otis Redding, Stax Records, and the Transformation of Southern Soul by
Publication Info: Liveright (2015)
Summary/Review:

It’s hard to believe that Otis Redding was only 26 years old when he died in a plane crash on December 10, 1967.  His accomplishments as a singer, song-writer, and producer left behind a colossal legacy for someone so young. Ribowsky’s biography examines Redding’s life as an artist depicting him not only as a talented singer and musician, but the creator and defining star of soul music (I feel that Ribowsky gets a bit hagiographical in this sense as much as I admire Redding’s musical greatness).

The biography explores Redding’s upbringing in Macon, GA – a city that also gave us Little Richard and James Brown – his rise to fame as a stunning stage performer, recording with Stax records in Memphis, and becoming a soul superstar in the mid-60s.  A lot of key moments in Redding’s life are covered in depth including writing and recording “Respect” and how that song was transformed into a defining hit song by Aretha Franklin, covering the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” even though he wasn’t very familiar with the song and ended up improvising new lyrics, his standout performance at the Monterrey Pop Festival, writing and recording “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,” and his tragic death.  Ribowsky is also interested in detailing Redding’s role in the rise of Stax Records, defining a Southern soul sound grounded in being the music of the black community in contrast to Detroit’s Motown Records attempts to produce crossover hits.  While Redding did not have hit songs on the pop charts in his lifetime, he managed to have great success and wealth by keeping recordings in the charts for long periods of time, and concurrently with The Beatles, using the long-playing album as a vessel for pop music artistry instead of the single.  The Beatles are also Redding’s fans and loaned him and his retinue limousines every time they performed in London.

While Redding is known as a big-hearted and friendly person, Ribowsky doesn’t shy away from his dark side.  The culture of Stax Records involves casually adding one’s own name as a writing credit, swindling other artists from royalties, and in-fighting among the stable of artists, something Redding was not above participating in.  He was also involved in a shoot-out in Macon that somehow miraculously was kept out of the news coverage of the time.  Worst yet, according to at least one women in the band, Redding and his crew were guilty of emotional abuse and sexual misconduct on their tours.

If you’re interested in Otis Redding and soul music, this is an excellent study of the man and his times, and outside the bits of hagiography, and excellent biographical work.

 

Rating: ****

Book Review: Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick


AuthorMatthew Quick
TitleEvery Exquisite Thing 
Narrator: Vanessa Johansson
Publication Info: New York : Hachette Audio, p2016.
Summary/Review:

Not sure what to make of this book. Nanette O’Hare is a good student and star soccer player at her high school, but an outsider who spends her lunch time with her English teacher.  When her teacher introduces her to an out-of-print book about a disaffected teen railing against conformity, Nanette’s life is changed and she finds and befriends the book’s author. While Nigel Booker refuses to discuss his novel, he does encourage Nanette to rethink her life, leading her to quit the soccer team and reconsider going to college.  He also introduces her to a boy her age who is also a fan of the book and a tortured poet, Alex.  Alex is kind of the manic pixie dream boy of the novel which is kind of a tragedy since neither Nanette nor the author seem to want to realize that he is a colossal douche.  I won’t go into any spoilers but a lot of things happen that push Nanette to the edge of her sanity and increase her resentment against everyone she knows.  I think the problem with this book is that so many characters are so one-dimensional and villainous, that it undermines the generally well-rounded and contradictory characterization of Nanette herself.  Maybe I’ve just finally outgrown teenage rebellion?

Recommended booksThe Pigman by Paul Zindel, The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, and The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Rating: **

Book Review: Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson


AuthorLaurie Halse Anderson
Title: Chains 
Publication Info: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, ©2008.
Summary/Review:

This historical novel set during the early days of the American Revolution focuses on 13-year-old Isabel, an enslaved girl promised freedom on the death of her master, but finds she has no recourse when she and her sister Ruth are sold to cruel new masters in New York.  Working a Loyalist household she finds herself drawn into spying for the revolutionaries, but soon learns that despite promises from Loyalists and Patriots alike, that neither side is concerned with freeing Africans from the bonds of slavery.  Anderson captures the anger of Isabel, but doesn’t neglect to also characterize her as having many concerns typical to a young teenager as well.  The author also really captures the uncertainty of the Revolution, the people of New York taking different sides in 1776, with some among them willing to shift loyalties to whomever has the upper hand.  She also doesn’t shy away from the horrors of war on the civilian community from a brutal fire to depictions of captured Americans cruelly held in cold, overcrowded, and disease-ridden prisons.  The book is the first of a trilogy of books called The Seeds of America and ends on a cliffhanger at a momentous occasion in the narrative so I will be sure to read the rest of the series.

Favorite Passages:

“Momma said that ghosts couldn’t move over water. That’s why kidnapped Africans got trapped in the Americas. When Poppa was stolen from Guinea, he said the ancestors howled and raged and sent a thunderstorm to turn the ship back around, but it was too late. The ghosts couldn’t cross the water to help him so he had to make his own way in a strange place, sometimes with an iron collar around his neck. All of Momma’s people had been stolen too, and taken to Jamaica where she was born. Then she got sold to Rhode Island, and the ghosts of her parents couldn’t follow and protect her neither. They kept moving us over the water, stealing us away from our ghosts and our ancestors, who cried salty rivers into the sand. That’s where Momma was now, wailing at the water’s edge, while her girls were pulled out of sight under white sails that cracked in the wind.” – p. 25

The woman in the yellow head cloth worked the pump for Grandfather. “The British promise freedom to slaves but won’t give it to the white rebels,” she said as she pushed the handle up and down. “The rebels want to take freedom, but they won’t share it with us.” She set down the first bucket and picked up the second. “Both sides say one thing and do the other.” – p. 166

Recommended booksThe Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party and The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves by M.T. Anderson
Rating: ****1/2

Book Review: Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick


Author: Anna Kendrick
TitleScrappy Little Nobody
Narrator: Anna Kendrick
Publication Info: Simon & Schuster Audio, 2016
Summary/Review:

Anna Kendrick is a talented actor, singer, dancer, and writer who also happens to be funny and very attractive, so it’s reassuring to read her memoir where she shares her insecurity and feelings that she is a misfit.  On the other hand one my wonder why someone who is a  talented actor, singer, dancer, and writer who also happens to be funny and very attractive has anything to complain about.  Luckily, Kendrick’s memoir is full of humor and perspective on her life story.  She tells of being a child actor on Broadway commuting from Maine to New York for auditions and living in a tar-stained Los Angeles apartment with several roommates even as her fame grew, but she’d still not seen the financial reward.  There’s a lot of insight on her relationship to boys and men and how she’s grown to assert herself.  And then there’s her hilarious takes on celebrity life such as the ridiculous things a woman has to go through for photoshoots and red carpet occasions.  It’s a different type of celebrity memoir, funny, honest, and beneath the surface, a little bit sad, but ultimately persistent.

Recommended books: You’re Never Weird on the Internet (almost) by Felicia Day and Bossypants by Tina Fey
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro


Author: Kazuo Ishiguro
TitleThe Buried Giant
Narrator: David Horovitch
Publication Info: Random House Audio (2015)

Previously read by the same authorA Pale View of HillsAn Artist of the Floating World, and  The Remains of the Day 
Summary/Review:

I went through a phase in the 1990s when I read every Kazuo Ishiguro book up to that point. Since then, I’ve completely failed to read any of his new books as they were released.  I decide to make up for that by reading his most recent novel.  While his earlier works are set in the 20th century and have first-person narrators reflecting on their interior lives, and the melancholy of everyday life, this novel is quite different.  The Buried Giant is set in England at a time after the Saxon invasion when the Britons and Saxons are living side-by-side in an uneasy peace.  The novel focuses on an elderly Briton couple, Axl and Beatrice, who have low social status in their community and are suffering from a forgetfulness that’s plaguing the land.  They decide to visit a son that they vaguely recall living in another community, and as they set off on their journey, the seemingly historical fiction begins to take on elements of fantasy.  King Arthur lived and reigned in recent memory and the meet his aged nephew Sir Gawain as well as a Saxon warrior Wistan, and a boy named Edwin who is feared to have been bitten by an ogre.  Others encountered on their journey are a mysterious ferryman, duplicitous monks, and the she-dragon Querig who is responsible for the mist that is causing the forgetfulness. As memories returns, the characters begin to question if they want to remember as forgetting has helped them heal and put aside guilt.  It’s a deeply meditative and atmospheric book that works as a fantasy story and a highly symbolic parable.

Recommended booksThe Sword in the Stone by T. H. White, Company of Liars by Karen Maitland
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Gypsies of New Rochelle by Ivan Jenson


AuthorIvan Jenson
TitleGypsies of New Rochelle
Publication Info: Michelkin Publishing (2017)
Summary/Review:

I received an advance reading copy of this book through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.

I gave up on reading this novel about 40% through.  The novel set in 1980 is narrated by 17 y.o. Shawn Aldridge, the youngest member of an eccentric family that recently moved from the midwest to the New York City suburb.  All of the children are expected to accomplish something great, but most of the family’s hopes are pinned on Shawn’s sister Nora becoming a concert violinist, leaving the other children to work out their resentment and inadequacy in other (supposedly comic) ways.  Shawn, an irritating narcissist, sees himself as a sensitive poet and spends much of his time taking the train to New York where he dates an exotic dancer, while simultaneously dating a typical middle-class suburban girl in New Rochelle.  The characters frequently stereotype others, and the author’s voice seem to agree with them.  The dialogue is stilted and unbelievable. Really everyone in this book is loathsome, and while it’s possible to have a novel with no sympathetic characters, you have to be a better writer than this.  I’m not surprised to look at Amazon and see this book compared to Augusten Burroughs’ Running With Scissors, because I hated the movie adaptation of that book for many of the same reasons I hate this book.

Favorite Passages:

“Now, there were two sides to this family. One was playful, fun, drunken and the other was desolate and desperate. At any given moment I could not tell which side was going to win out. The dark or the light.” – (Kindle Locations 134-135).

Rating: *

Book Review: The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau


AuthorJeanne DuPrau
TitleThe City of Ember 
Narrator: Wendy Dillon
Publication Info: Listening Library (2004)
Summary/Review:

This book is the first part of a series about a subterranean city built for reasons not yet explained over 240 years before the events of the novel.  By this time, the people of Ember have forgotten about their origins and are dealing with crumbling infrastructure and dwindling supplies (a very clear analogy to climate change).  The protagonists of the novel are Lina and Dina, two young people who have reached the age where they are given their “Assignments,” their jobs they have to do to contribute to the survival of the community (I don’t think the novel specifies their age, but they seem to be around 12 years old).  A curious pair, Lina and Doon piece together instructions left behind by the “Builders” of Ember, and find a way out of the underground city.  They are a clever and likable duo, albeit a bit one-note.  The plot is very simple but it should be readable for it’s target age group.  The book ends on a massive cliffhanger which makes of course makes me want to read the next book, but also a bit resentful because I didn’t find the book engaging enough on its own to want to read more.

Recommended booksGregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins, The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde, and The Inventor’s Secret by Andrea Cremer
Rating: **

Book Review: Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson


AuthorTiffany D. Jackson
Title: Allegedly
Narrator: Bahni Turpin
Publication Info: HarperAudio (2017)
Summary/Review:

Mary is a teenager living in a group home in Brooklyn after several year of serving time for murdering a baby when she was 9-years-old. Allegedly, as is Mary’s frequent refrain.  When she falls in love with a man at the nursing home where she volunteers and becomes pregnant, she begins to reevaluate her past so that she can have a future with her baby and boyfriend.  The incidents of the night of the murder and her mother’s role in it as well as other facet’s of Mary’s past are slowly revealed while in the present time Mary has to deal with case workers, psychiatrists, and her hostile companions in the group home.  The book is good at showing the horrors of the modern day carceral state and Jackson does a great job at developing Mary’s voice.  However, the twists in the story seem unnaturally injected into the narrative to build suspense, especially the biggest twist at the end of the book, make it hard to recommend this book.

Rating: **1/2

Book Review: The Ballet Lover by Barbara L. Baer 


Author: Barbara L. Baer 
TitleThe Ballet Lover
Publication Info: Open Books, 2017
Summary/Review: I received an advance reading copy of this book through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.

This novel begins in 1970 and tells the story of Geneva, a writer for a niche ballet magazine, set against a feud between the great dancers Rudolf Nureyev and Natalia Makarova.  The cruelties and sexism of the ballet world are reflected in Geneva’s life as her publisher squashes her honest accounts to maintain access, her long distance boyfriend plans a future with little concern for Geneva’s interests, and she has to care for her aunt who survived an escape from Nazi Germany.  Geneva’s keen observational skills that make her a talented journalist also seem to be a handicap as she seems to often be observing rather than acting on her own life.  In addition to an interesting fictional narrative there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes segments in ballet drawn from real life. The one thing about the conclusion of the book is that Geneva’s problems aren’t really resolved so much as she grows older and doesn’t find them so important anymore, which I guess is real life, but much of an ending for fiction.

Recommended booksUnder the Net by Iris Murdoch and The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Rating: ***

Book Reviews: The Sisters Are Alright by Tamara Winfrey Harris


AuthorTamara Winfrey Harris
TitleThe Sisters Are Alright
Narrator: Tamberta Perry
Publication Info: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2015

Summary/Review:

This short collection of essays focuses on how Black women in the United States are maligned and held to toxic stereotypes of being oversexed, irresponsible, and irrationally angry.  Winfrey Harris breaks down these stereotypes historically and in the present day, and holds up the beautiful and accomplished reality of Black women.  It’s very short but powerful so it’s worth finding a little time to read or listen to this book.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Reviews: Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by Z.Z. Packer


Author: Z.Z. Packer
TitleDrinking Coffee Elsewhere
Narrator: Shirley Jordan
Publication Info: Highbridge, 2013
Summary/Review:

This is an excellent collection of contemporary short fiction.  Packer is great at quickly establishing characters, and while the stories tend to be more slice-of-life than a traditional beginning-middle-end format, they’re all the better for capturing the nuance of character developments.  Stories range from a conflict among troops of Brownies – one black, one white – to a teenage girl who runs away to Atlanta and is taken in by a pimp, to a boy forced by his father to try to sell birds at the Million Man March.  All the stories are from an outsider’s perspective and thus feel very relatable.  I’ll be looking out for future work from Z.Z. Packer.

Recommended booksKrik? Krak! by Edwidge Danticat, Spunk: The Selected Stories of Zora Neale Hurston by Zora Neale Hurston, and Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell
Rating: ****

Book Review: Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan


Author: J. Courtney Sullivan
TitleSaints for All Occasions
Narrator Susan Denaker
Publication Info: Random House Audio, 2017
Previously read by same author: Maine 
Summary/Review:

The Irish-American family novel has a lot of familiar tropes – resentments, feuding, alcoholism, unexpected pregnancy, Catholicism, generation gaps, poverty to prosperity, et al.  Sullivan (no known relation to yours truly) employs them all, but her great gift in writing is characterization.  The novel is set over a few days in 2009 after the death of the eldest child in the Rafferty family, the 50-year-old bar owner Patrick, in a drunk driving crash.  The family comes together for the wake and funeral with the unexpected arrival of an elderly nun unknown to the children of the family.  In-between descriptions of the few days leading up to the funeral the novel flashes back to fill in the family history, starting with the sisters Nora and Theresa leaving their Irish village to emigrate to Boston, and how Nora takes the conventional course of marrying and raising four children, first in Dorchester, and later in Hull, Massachusetts, while Theresa becomes a cloistered nun. It also explains the falling out to the two sisters and why the children grew up unaware of Theresa’s existence.  Nora and Theresa alternate as point of view characters with wonderful insight into their complex characters.  The reader also gets to learn of the each of the surviving children, John the overachiever who found unexpected success as a political adviser to Republicans in deep blue Massachusetts (including a thinly-veiled Mitt Romney character), Bridget who is never quite sure that Nora has accepted her as lesbian but wishes to inform her mother of her and partner’s plan to have a baby, and Brian, the youngest who has moved back in with his mother and seems directionless after his baseball career flamed out in the minor leagues.  It’s a touching and heartbreaking novel, and not quite all that you’d expect.

Favorite Passages:

“She had long known that in this family, the truth got revealed belatedly, accidentally, drunkenly, or not at all. But still, she felt hurt.”

Recommended booksCharming Billy by Alice McDermott, Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín, and The Gathering by Anne Enright
Rating:

Book Review: The Secret Lives of Bats by Merlin Tuttle


AuthorMerlin Tuttle
TitleThe Secret Lives of Bats 
Publication InfoHoughton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015
Summary/Review:

I remember one time as a child playing lawn darts at dusk in my neighbors’ yard.  I lost sight of the dart and then noticed that it seemed to be flying up, only to realize that it was actually a bat.  My friend and I ran screaming indoors, not realizing that game we were playing was probably more dangerous than our neighborhood bats.  Over time, I grew to admire bats partly for their contributions to a healthy ecosystem, but mostly for being marvelous creatures.  In this wonderful memoir, Merlin Tuttle, founder of Bat Conservation International, details his lifelong love of the flying mammals and constantly running up against the fear and hatred of bats in his fellow humans.  As a child, Tuttle crawled through local caves to tag migrating bats, his descriptions giving me vicarious claustrophobia.  All through the book Tuttle extols the virtues of bats, from consuming tons of pestilent insects to spreading the seeds of plants, and even affecting the mating rituals of frogs.  In addition to traveling the world to study bats, Tuttle taught himself how to photograph the animals, inventing tricks of the trade to create compelling photographs published in National Geographic, or elsewhere.  If you love bats, you’ll love this book, and if you fear bats, well this book may change your mind.

Rating: ****