Book Review: When They Call You a Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele


Author: Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele
TitleWhen They Call You a Terrorist
Narrator: Patrisse Khan-Cullors
Publication Info: Macmillan Audio, 2018
Summary/Review:

This memoir depicts Patrisse Khan-Cullors life growing up in a poor neighborhood in Los Angeles, where her family and community were under constant surveillance and harassment from the police.  Her father was in and out of prison and her mentally ill brother was also imprisoned and tortured by the police.  As Cullors grows older she also deals with her disillusionment with her mother’s church, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and grows to understand her queer identity.  She became an artist and an activist in her teenage years, advocating for reform and abolition of prisons.  In 2013, responding to her friend Alicia Garza’s post about Treyvon Martin, she created the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag and has been active in shepherding the movement.  This memoir is both harrowing and hopeful in depicting the lives of people of color and LBGT people in America that is under assault, but also the positive gains that come when people stand up for their rights, equality, and dignity. This is definitely required reading for all Americans in 2018.

Favorite Passages:

“I cannot help think that the drug war, the war on gangs, has really been no more than a forced migration project.  From my neighborhood in LA to the Back Bay to Brooklyn, Black and Brown people have been moved out as young white people build exciting new lives standing on the bones of ours.  The drug war as ethnic cleansing.”

Recommended booksThe New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander and  Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Rating:

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Book Review: Year of the Hare by Arto Paasilinna


Around the World for a Good Book selection for Finland
AuthorArto Paasilinna
TitleYear of the Hare
Narrator: Simon Vance
Translator: Herbert Lomas
Publication Info: Blackstone Audio, Inc. (2010), originally published in 1975, translated to English in 1995
Summary/Review:

This delightful novel tells the story of Kaarlo Vatanen, a journalist from Helsinki traveling in the northern countryside of Finlan, whose car hits and injures a young hare. Vatanen finds the hare, nurses it back to health, and adopts it. This prompts him to leave his job, his wife, and sell his boat to fund his life as he and the hare travel farther north in the Finnish wilderness where they have various madcap adventures.  It’s clear that it’s full of satire of Finnish people and culture albeit I don’t know enough about Finland to get the references.  More broadly it has the very 1970s themes of self-discovery, counterculture vs. the emerging globalization of business, and the absurdities of the Cold War.  There is another story from the 1970s, possibly a British one, that this reminds me of but I can’t recall what it is.

Recommended books:
Rating:

Book Reviews: On Bowie by Rob Sheffield


Author: Rob Sheffield
TitleOn Bowie
Narrator: Tristan Morris
Publication Info: New York, NY : Dey Street Books, [2016]

Previously Read By The Same Author:

Summary/Review:

The thing I like about Rob Sheffield’s music writing is that he eschews the distanced approach of music critics, and while he’s writing as a fan, he’s not writing a hagiography of his musical heroes.  Instead, Sheffield writes about how fans engage with music and the artists that create it.  This is particularly significant in Bowie’s case as Bowie himself was a fan who never hid his influences, collaborated with many of his favorite musicians, offered support to young up and coming artists, and even on his final album took some inspiration from the much younger artist Kendrick Lamar.  Bowie also engaged directly with his fans, treating them as special people, and encouraging their creativity.  The funny thing is that Sheffield presents Bowie fans as the outcasts of society whereas I came to Bowie later in my life because when I was young I never felt cool enough to listen to Bowie.  Regardless of how you come to Bowie, this is a great book with stories of his life and how he created his music.

Favorite Passages:

“Nobody enjoyed laughing at his humiliations more than he did.”

“That’s one of the things David Bowie came to show us — we go to music to hear ourselves change.”

Rating: ***1/2

 

Book Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik


AuthorNaomi Novik
Title: Uprooted
NarratorJulia Emelin 
Publication Info: Random House Audio (2015)
Previously Read by the Same Author: His Majesty’s Dragon
Summary/Review:

This epic, high fantasy rooted in the Polish folklore focuses on a land tormented by an evil, sentient forest (the Wood) that can only be held in check by the magic of wizards.  The wizard who lives near the provincial village of Dvernik in the kingdom of Polnya, known as The Dragon, selects one teenage girl every 10 years as a tribute.  The novel begins when the protagonist Agnieszka is unexpectedly selected and brought to the Dragon’s castle, The Tower.  There she’s made to perform domestic chores and the Dragon trains her in simple magical spells, frequently berating her for her clumsiness and unruly appearance.  From this “Beauty and the Beast” scenario it’s not surprising that these two will fall in love.

It turns out that Agnieszka is in fact skilled in magic although not in the way that The Dragon expects.  As she becomes more experienced, her compassion moves her to challenge The Dragon’s pragmatic approach of using magic to simply hold back the approach of the Wood.  Instead she liberally applies magic to rescue people trapped by the Wood and pushes the Dragon toward more aggressively combating the evils of the Wood (yes, this book can totally be read as a metaphor of the 2016 Democratic primary campaign).

Agnieszka ends up finding herself thrown into the politics of the royal family and into the ultimate conflict against the Wood.  It’s grim and gory but with a satisfying ending.  I found the book a bit too long and humorless, but a good example of informing a women-centered heroic narrative with elements of classic folklore.

Recommended booksBaba Yaga Laid an Egg by Dubravka Ugrešić, The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro, American Gods by Neil Gaiman, and Wicked by Gregory Maguire
Rating: ***

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

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: 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: 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: 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: Swing Time by Zadie Smith


Author: Zadie Smith
TitleSwing Time
Narrator: Pippa Bennett-Warner
Publication Info: New York : Penguin Press, 2016
Previously read by the same author: White Teeth
Summary/Review:

An unnamed narrator, whose mother is of Jamaican descent and father is white English working class, tells her life story focusing on her relationships with three women.  First, there’s her mother who is a social activist and later an elected official with whom she feels alienated.  Second, there’s Tracey, the only other nonwhite girl in her dance class who becomes her childhood friend (well, frenemy really) and is a much more talented dance.  Finally, there’s Aimee, an Australian pop superstar (I guess like Kylie Minogue, although Aimee seems more like Madonna) who hires the narrator as a personal assistant.  The narrative moves back and forth in different periods of the narrator’s life filling in details of these relationships.  Smith takes a risk in making the narrator have no name but having characteristics that are autobiographical, and then makes the narrator so driftless and somewhat unlikable.  One her traits is that she rarely is in control of her own life and lets these other women control her narrative, yet when she does take action is usually something petty.

A major plot point in the book is that Aimee builds a girls school in a West African village that the narrator plays a big role in returning to visit the village in what amounts to a parody of the sins of celebrity philanthropy.  Similarly, the narrator’s mother is a parody of the arrogant left-wing activist who only barely emerges as a flesh and blood character.  Tracey is the most fully developed of the three characters as the narrator keeps trying to put her into boxes based on her low-income background, sexuality, and “wildness” but Tracey keeps defying all of that.  I find that I enjoy Smith’s writing style in this book but less interested in what Smith has to write about.  The meandering quality of the narrative fits the aimlessness of the narrator but doesn’t make it enjoyable to read.

Recommended booksBrothers and Keepers by John Edgar Wideman
Rating: **1/2

Book Review: I Was Told to Come Alone by Souad Mekhennet 


Author: Souad Mekhennet
TitleI Was Told to Come Alone
Narrator:  Kirsten Potter
Publication Info: Tantor Audio (2017)
Summary/Review:

Note: I received a free copy of the audiobook for this work through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.

This is the memoir of Souad Mekhennet, a journalist raised in Germany but whose parents are from Turkey and Morocco.  Inspired by All the President’s Men, Mekhennet goes to journalism school and enters into the business just as the September 11th attacks change the way a woman of Islamic heritage will be received in Europe and the United States.  She covers the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the rise of Al Qaeda and Isis, and the major terrorist attacks in Germany, France, and England.  She gains unique access to meet jihadists face to face for interviews, goes into war-torn Iraq, visits the Islamic communities in European cities where the attacks on Paris were planned, and helps people mistakenly captured by the CIA.  It’s an interesting life story and offers a unique perspective of the past 20 years from someone is both western and Muslim.

Recommended booksBaghdad without a Map and Other Misadventures in Arabia by Tony Horwitz
Rating: ***

Book Review: Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein


Author: Carrie Brownstein
Title:  Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl
Narrator: Carrie Brownstein
Publication Info: Penguin Audio (2015)
Summary/Review:

I know Carrie Brownstein as a sometimes music critic on NPR’s All Songs Considered (as well as her work on Portlandia – a show I find only moderately funny) so I knew that her memoir of her life and work with the band Sleater-Kinney would be an interesting work.  Brownstein explores the effect of her childhood in which her mother suffered anorexia, her father repressed homosexuality, and Brownstein herself seeks to entertain as way of transforming the sadness around her.  A lot of this books is about identity and the Brownstein analyzes her own   search for identity in raw detail.  The music of Sleater-Kinney is similar in its naked emotion and self-expression and Brownstein details the autobiographical detail that went into that songs.  Sleater-Kinney also had to deal with the typecasting and prejudice of being an all-woman band, when Brownstein wants people to recognize them as simply a great rock band.  Brownstein also relates her own struggles touring with the band that resulted in anxiety and physical illness.  This a very honest and introspective addition to the rock memoir oeuvre.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain


Author: Mark Twain
TitleThe Prince and the Pauper
Narrator: Kenneth Jay
Publication Info:  Naxos AudioBooks , 2001
Summary/Review:

I remember enjoying this book as a child (although I can’t remember what age) and since my son is interested in Mark Twain, we listened to the audiobook on a recent road trip.  It was a little bit more complicated than I remembered, and frankly we both had trouble following parts of the story, but perhaps that is a challenge of audiobooks compared with print.  The basic story is well-known in which the poor and abused Tom Canty meets Prince Edward and discovering they resemble one another, swap clothing.  Through a comedy of errors, they are separated and end up with Tom unwillingly becoming king and the prince having to live life at the very bottom of society.  All works out in the end, and Twain is probably too kind on Edward VI’s actual legacy as king, but the book delves into some of the gritty realities of impoverished masses and the court intrigues of the elites.

Rating: ****

Book Review: Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne


Author: A.A. Milne
TitleWinnie the Pooh
Narrator: Peter Dennis
Publication Info: Blackstone Audio, Inc., 2005
Summary/Review:

I listened to this audiobook on a recent road trip with my children.  It had been a long time since I read Milne’s book with many viewings of Disney’s The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh in the intervening years.  The surprising thing for me is just how much of the dialogue for the film is taken right from the book.  Of course there are many differences as well.  Rabbit seems to be a meaner character and by the time he plotted to have Kanga and Roo removed from The Hundred Acre Woods, I figured he was the type who voted for Brexit.

The kids enjoyed listening to this book and there was much laughter.  I especially enjoy Milne’s playful narration that has the seemingly omniscient narrator interacting with a child presumably listening to him reading, much as a parent may when making up stories using a child’s toys.  And Peter Dennis’ audiobook narration is delightful.  A forever classic in any format!
Rating: *****

Book Review: Your Song Changed My Life by Bob Boilen


Author: Bob Boilen
TitleYour song changed my life : from Jimmy Page to St. Vincent, Smokey Robinson to Hozier, thirty-five beloved artists on their journey and the music that inspired it
Narrator: Bob Boilen
Publication Info: New York, NY : William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, [2016]
Summary/Review:

Bob Boilen of NPR’s All Songs Considered interviews about three dozen musical artists, focusing on the music that influences those artists.  The subjects are quiet varied in representing different areas of popular music from Jimmy Page to St. Vincent to Smokey Robinson to Iain Mackaye to Phillip Glass to Lucinda Williams.  Some of the influences are what you’d expect, but then they’re surprises like Trey Anastassio of Phish citing Leonard Bernstein or Jenny Lewis drawing on hip-hop.  Some of the best interviews are with artists I otherwise knew nothing about such as Hozier and Fantastic Negrito.  A significant part of this book is also about Boilen’s own experience as a kid first hearing the Beatles, working in a record store, and starting a band.  He frequently relates the artists’ experience back to his own and indirectly to the reader’s as we all have our own experiences of being exposed to music.  This is a good book for music fans, and even if you don’t read it cover to cover, it’s worth checking out some of the interviews.
Recommended booksTalking to girls about Duran Duran by Rob Sheffield, How the Beatles destroyed rock ‘n’ roll by Elijah Wald, and High Fidelity by Nick Hornby.
Rating: ***

Book Review: So Close to Home by Michael J. Tougias and Alison O’Leary


Author: Michael J. Tougias and Alison O’Leary
TitleSo Close to Home
Narrator: Elijah Alexander
Publication Info: Blackstone Audio, 2016
Summary/Review:

The severity of the German u-boat campaign on American ships in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico in the early days of World War II is often overlooked.  Tougias and O’Leary tell that history through the story of the Downs family of Texas as they sail on the cargo ship Heredia from Costa Rica to New Orleans.  The ship is destroyed by torpedoes on the May 19, 1942, and the Downs family are separated in the wreck, each having their own survival journey along with some members of the crew.  It’s a very gripping tale, but Tougias and O’Leary have a bigger story to tell based on the records of u-boat captains and the crews who were big heroes in Nazi Germany.  This means that the Downs’ story is broken up by long sections about the u-boat warfare in general and the experiences of their crew.  Perhaps the Downs’ story was too thin to make a book of its own, but the approach taken here makes the narrative very uneven.  Nevertheless, it is an interesting glimpse into an overlooked period in American history.

Recommended booksUnbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
Rating: ***

Book Review: Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones by Brandon Sanderson


Author: Brandon Sanderson
TitleAlcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones
Narrator: Ramon De Ocampo
Publication Info: Recorded Books (2012)
Previously Read by the Same Author: Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians
Summary/Review:

Six years ago I read the first book in the Alcatraz series and really enjoyed it and meant to continue with the series.  Now at last I’ve read the second book in the series and it was worth the wait.  Sanderson’s Alcatraz Smedry is an unreliable narrator who keeps interrupting the story to deliberately make the reader question everything.  It’s gimmicky but in-universe it works since the concept of this world is that evil librarians control reality.  It’s a funny adventure set in the Library of Alexandria, and Sanderson is committed to the idea of the wraith-like curators persistently trying to trick the human visitors into taking a book in exchange for their soul.  It’s a clever and enjoyable read and I should not wait so long to continue the series.

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

Book Review: George by Alex Gino


Author: Alex Gino
TitleGeorge
Narrator: Jamie Clayton
Publication Info: Scholastic Audio (2015)
Summary/Review:

This novel tells the story of George, a fourth-grader coming to terms with identifying as a girl when presenting as a boy.  It’s set against a class performance of Charlotte’s Web in which George desperately  wants to portray Charlotte.  There are a lot of stock characters in the novel, including the school bully, and the former friend who now hangs with the bully. And there’s a temporary falling out between George and her best friend Kelly, as much over Kelly getting cast in the staring role as George outing herself as transgender.  But the novel shows even how people with good intentions can hurt – from George’s mother who doesn’t want George to put herself at risk of discrimination, to George’s older brother who was more ready to accept a gay sibling, and George’s teacher who hides behind the idea of fairly parceling out roles in the play to boys and girls.  At the end of the novel, George and Kelly get to enjoy a perfect day out with George presenting as a girl for the first time, which is a delightful outcome for the fictional character, and one I hope real life transgender children get to enjoy.

 
Favorite Passages:

“My point is, it takes a special person to cry over a book. It shows compassion as well as imagination…Don’t ever lose that.”

“The play will begin at six sharp. Parents and family, I hope you’ll stay for the PTA meeting that will follow.” A few parents coughed in response. George knew that coughing was the adult equivalent of groaning.”

Recommended booksEvery Day by David Levithan, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell,  and Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White
Rating: ****

Book Review: His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik


Author: Naomi Novik
TitleHis Majesty’s Dragon
NarratorSimon Vance
Publication Info: Books on Tape (2007)
Summary/Review:

I imagine the author read the Aubrey/Maturin series and thought “I’d like to write that same type of book. With dragons.”  Set in the Napoleonic Wars, this is a historic novel for the most part, with the exception that dragons are real and used by the British and French for airborne battles.  It begins when Naval captain Will Laurence captures a dragon egg from a French ship and forms a bond with the young dragon Temeraire after he hatches.  Laurence and Temeraire quickly form a close relationship, but Laurence is forced to resign from the Navy and join the Aerial Corps, which is not only mysterious and dangerous, but has very low social standing.  Laurence learns that life in the Aerial Corps is more relaxed than in other branches of the military, and that women are paired with dragons and afforded equal standing, so the book is also a comedy of manners in many ways.  Plus, there are cool aerial battles.

I’ve learned that this is the first in a series of 9 books, and while I enjoyed this book, I’m not sure I want to commit to the whole series (I couldn’t even get through all of Aubrey/Maturin).  If you’ve read them, let me know if it is worth continuing.

Recommended booksMaster and Commander by Patrick O’Brian
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: The Games by David Goldblatt


Author:  David Goldblatt
Title:   The Games
Narrator: Napoleon Ryan
Publication Info:  Tantor Audio (2016)
Summary/Review:

I received a free audiobook copy of The Games through the Library Things Early Reviewers program.

Goldblatt’s history of the modern Olympic Games from 1896 to the present is a top-down overview of the International Olympic Committee and organizing committees more than the stories of participants in the games and particular events that I had hoped for.  Nevertheless, it’s an interesting look at general trends and growth of the Olympics.  For example, in the early 20th century the Olympics were more of a sideshow to World’s Fairs (Paris, St. Louis, London) held over several months  rather than discrete sporting events.  Yet, the Intercalated Games of 1906 in Athens, which were inline with the Olympic movement’s founder Pierre de Coubertin’s vision of a quasi-religious sporting ceremony, yet Coubertin refused to attend.  The Olympics came into their own in the 1920s and Los Angeles and Berlin used the games to make major vision statements for the future.  After some quieter, austere post-war games, Rome, Tokyo, and Munich all used the Olympics to reintroduce their countries to the world, while Mexico City and Montreal attempted to introduce themselves to the world stage.  The Lake Placid and Moscow games are the clearest examples of how the Olympics being outside politics was never true.  The Los Angeles and Barcelona games showed that the Olympics could make a lot of people a lot of money, but Atlanta, Beijing, Sochi, and Rio showed that the Olympics makes money through the most exploitative and neoliberal practices possible.

Goldblatt’s narrative makes it clear that whatever lofty goals the Olympic movement professes the contemporary games fail to live up to them, and that this is pretty consistent with the Olympics’s history.  Whatever joys the Olympics bring, it does more harm than good.

Recommended books:

Football Against the Enemy by Simon Kuper, How Soccer Explains the World by Franklin Foer, and Eight World Cups by George Vecsey
Rating: ***1/2