Saturday, November 4, 2017

Lighter Than My Shadow by Katie Green

genre: non-fiction graphic novel

This graphic novel is a journey through Katie's eating disorders and mental illness into a place of forgivness and understanding with herself.

I need to first note that there is both nudity and sexuality, so it is not for everyone, especially not young teens.

For myself, as the parent and friend of people who have both eating disorders and mental illness, I found this book to be painful and restorative at the same time.  I ached for her. I wanted to shake her.  I wanted to solve it. And yet, just like in life, she had to figure things out for herself. I loved her therapy sessions, especially near the end.  I really liked the metaphoric black cloud of mental illness that would follow her over her head everywhere, that feels so poignant to me. 

There were hard things about reading it, both emotionally (obviously) and because I couldn't always tell people apart. It's hard to keep myself in the narrative when I can't figure out who anybody is.  It was also a bit repetitive - but I get that. An eating disorder is ALL about unhealthy, receptive behaviors that we can't control. But still, as a reader, sometimes I found myself skimming her inner dialogue. 

Overall, though, I didn't really want to put it down.  I'm glad that Katie is in such a healthy place that she could process in this way and share it with us.

The Home Front with Martin Sheen: American Voices During World War II (audiobook)

genre: non-fiction, history

This book was designed as an audiobook, using first hand accounts and oral histories of Americans as they recall their experiences during World War II as they relate to "home" - America.  It was set up into distinct chapters, almost like mini podcasts, about different topics.  I really enjoyed the ones about the social and economic changes that came to our country as a result of the war.  Beyond that, there was definitely a lot I didn't know. I know there was a, vague in my mind, "isolationist movement" but I didn't really understand why or how slowly things changed.  I didn't understand the baggage here from World War I. 

One very disturbing piece, well, two really, was the way that women and, especially, African Americans were treated here both before, during and after the war. It is shameful and painful to learn about. I forced myself to stay attentive and listen to the voices of actual soldiers as they talked about literally being ready to die, some nearly doing so, for a country that refused to let them sit on the same seat on a bus as a white man.  Putting their life and honor on the line for a country that refused to give them a loan to buy a home or give them a decent wage-paying job.  I hate it.  I hated listening to the voices of people who spewed that racist filth.  But I made myself because we need to know, all Americans, what people fought and are still fighting against.   Our aggression against the Japanese, too, both here at home and during the war was interesting to learn about - I get it, most of it anyway, but at the same time, it's complicated, isn't it?   I have read before about the Japanese internment and it's another one of those really uncomfortable, painful things to listen to.  We fought in Europe for ideals that we completely disregarded at home.  That's the ugly truth.

I know so much about the war and how things shook down in Europe that I think it was important for me to put all of that in the context of my own people who stayed here, trying to survive at home where there were shortages and a terrible, terrible fear of invasion. 

I'm glad I listened to this.  Plus, it did help that I got to listen to Martin Sheen, whose voices is so familiar and presidential that I loved my minutes with this audiobook even more.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Last Unspoiled Place: Exploring Utah's Logan Canyon by Michael S Sweeney

genre: non-fiction

In northern Utah there is a smallish city called Logan. Both college town and agricultural area, it sits at the mouth of a huge canyon of the same name. This book takes us through the canyon, mile marker by mile marker, exploring the geography, geology as well as the human interest in the area. It’s not a guide book, although I love that I found in its pages many ideas of places I’d like to visit, it’s more of a tribute, a journey, an introduction to a unique and beautiful part of the world. Little vignettes about fly fishing, mining, skiing and historic figures spice up the narrative that’s written like a National Geographic article. The photography is lovely and while there were a couple typos, I enjoyed what I learned. I will soon be packing up my family and moving to this area next summer and this book really did get me excited for the journey.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller (audiobook)

genre: young adult fantasy

As the daughter of the Pirate King, Alosa knows how to get what she wants - and has no fear of doing whatever it takes to get it.  If she has to purposely let herself get captured so she can find something aboard a rival ship, so be it.  Being a prisoner isn't always a cup of tea, however, and life on this new ship is more frustrating than exciting.  It's going to require all her wit and cunning to both get what she needs and extricate herself from the entire situation.

I liked this audio very much, great narration.  Alosa is snarky and tough but with vulnerability too.  The plot moves pretty quickly and there were twists that surprised me.  In fact, halfway through the book one twist threw me for a bit of a loop and I had to readjust my expectations for the book, but it didn't spoil it.  I ended up finding it quite intriguing and while the romance wasn't perfect, the banter was good and I would love to see how the rest of this story plays out.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Like a River Glorious by Rae Carson

genre: young adult historical fantasy

Second in the Gold Seer Triology, read the first book first :)  Leah Westfall survived her journey across the country from Georgia and is settling into a life in the frontier of California. With her friends around her, she's ready to create a town together but, of course, her Uncle Hiram cannot just leave well enough alone.   It isn't long until she's taken to his mine against her will and what she sees there is appalling.  But what can a girl who senses gold do when she can't even take care of herself?

This book really took me to a place and time I've never really read about.  The Gold Rush has its dark and dirty secrets and I love that these really tough and ugly issues are confronted and laid bare.  Leah cares deeply about things, I like that.  She's strong and capable and WANTS to help.  Sometimes the book moved a bit slow for me and I wanted more from the romantic tension but I did enjoy reading it. I probably won't end up reading the third, I got enough resolution at the end.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie (audiobook)

genre: murder mystery

The Orient Express is traveling through a storm when it is suddenly caught in a snowdrift and stopped. Hercule Poirot, the famous international detective, hardly has time to wonder what's happened before it is clear that there has been a murder on the train - but who could've done it?  Did someone manage to get onto the train at the previous station or is the murderer a passenger on the train?  It will require all his powers of deduction, as well as his excellent grasp of psychology, to figure out what happened, before it's too late.

This is only the second Agatha Christie I've read and I have to say, I did enjoy it.  I actually listened to the audiobook and while it made it a bit confusing to keep the characters straight, Dan Stevens' (Dan Stevens!!) fabulous narration helped a lot, his different voices were incredibly well done.  The story is paced well and there are several interesting characters - caricatures, some of them, but funny none the less.   I found that I didn't really ever guess anything that was going to happen until it was practically handed to me, so that kept me engaged in the story.  Murder mysteries aren't my favorite but this was good fun, probably mostly because of Dan Stevens :)

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (audio)

genre: dystopian fiction

Offred's world is a bleak one, living in a future society where plummeting birth rates and a patriarchal dictatorship have resulted in the rights of women being essentially obliterated.  Those who are fertile are compelled to sire children for those in positions of power and violence towards any rebellion is par for the course. Offred's account of her experiences as a "handmaid" illustrates the depths to which people will sink in order to save their own lives as well as what the world can look like when society decides that women no longer have the right to choose their own destiny.

I read this when I was in college and I liked it okay.  I don't know if I understood the intricacies of it and I for sure wasn't an adult who fully understood the plight of women nor a mother so some of Offred's pain escaped me.  I think it confused me a bit, truthfully, because it's not told particularly chronologically.  But this time, it felt timely in an almost sickening way.  Some of it's graphic scenes bothered me but I think they bothered me exactly the way Atwood intended them to - we are supposed to be shocked, supposed to be outraged and disgusted.  I love how plausible it is, how it's horror is so seeped in what societies and people in our world have already experimented with, with disastrous results.  It made me think.  It had my attention.  The writing is actually really, really beautiful at times, sparse and lyrical and intricate.  Is it pretty?  No. Does it leave you with a bad taste in your mouth?  Yes.  And again, I think that's exactly what it's supposed to be.

Also, I LOVED the audio.  Claire Danes does a great job narrating and I loved the full cast pieces as well.  The essays at the end really fleshed out my reading for me and I found myself as involved in those as the novel itself.  Timely indeed.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson

genre: magical realism, young adult fiction

Leah has a hard but satisfying life with her parents. Living in Georgia in the late 1840s, she's been taught not just how to hunt and work like a boy, but she's also got a secret: she can find gold the way a diviner can find water. This magic sense, though, could obviously cause no end of trouble so she just keeps that little fact all to herself, thank you very much. When tragedy strikes, though, Leah has to make a tough choice: stay and take her chances in Georgia or put her faith in a dream of gold in California.

I picked this one up because I loved the author's precious series and although this is a very different scene and story, some of the big ideas are still there: strong female character choosing her own way and what a pivotal role an independent girl can fill when times are desperate. Her magical realism is mild and situational but it worked for me, I didn't have to stretch to suspend my disbelief.   I enjoyed the arc of the main cast of characters and found myself really invested in their journey. Great pioneer-era story.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly

genre: children's literature, historical fiction

This is a tale set in medieval Poland, a world of alchemists and beggars, kings and professors, where every hour a special tune is played from the tower of an ancient church.  Within the city of Krakow, intrigue is following the family of Joseph Charnetski - his father is hiding something precious and a band of thieves know more than Joseph does and are willing to fight to get it. Where they find sanctuary, how the tower becomes an important part of their story, that is at the crux of this tale.  A winner of the 1929 Newbery medal, it's about the power of the young to help those around them as well as the depths that greed can sink us.  But even more that all of that, it is a love story for Poland, it's majesty and mystery, it's incredibly volatile history full of conquerors and the conquered and it's crowing jewel of a city.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Pianist by Wladyslaw Szpilman

genre: memoir

As the life of a piano-player goes, Szpilman's was a good one.  He lived in Warsaw with his loving and supportive family, making music and enjoying relationships with other musicians.  And then Poland becomes a part of Nazi Germany and Szpilman's entire world turns upside down in the worst way.  His beloved Warsaw is divided into the "Aryan" side and an extensive Ghetto, which bursts at the seams with the Jewish population of the entire city.  Szpilman watches as everything he knows is slowly and systematically destroyed under the thumb of the Nazis.  Soon, Warsaw is no longer the city he knew and there isn't safety anywhere.

This is an incredible, true story.  Written right after the world, apparently while still in shock, Szpilman writes in first person in a detached and yet brutally honest way.  He explores his own emotions as well as he describes all that happens to him and his family.  There is no overarching plot, nothing he is trying to prove.  It's just his story, his own experience, in all its horrifying detail.  What makes it unique among the books I've read of the time period is that he never leaves Warsaw during the war - he manages to escape the concentration camps all together.  It is astonishing to me how he does it and there were a few twists along the way that make his life really feel like a movie.  As a witness to the atrocities of Warsaw as well as to the resilience of the people of this beleaguered city, The Pianist is a very good read.
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