Fire Catcher

Fire Catcher  by CS Quinn

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: Napoleon Ryan

Source: my own collection

Length: 14 hrs 29 min

Publisher: Brilliance Audio

Year: 2015

In this second installment of Quinn’s Thief Taker series, Charlie Tuesday finds himself on the hunt for a sea chest which contains papers that have the potential to bring civil war back to England. He and his reluctant new sidekick, a young Gypsy woman name Lily, have to race to find the papers before they burn in the Great Fire of London.

I cheerfully confess that I began reading this series because the first installment, The Thief Taker, was all about the bubonic plague. We all know I have an unhealthy fascination with plague. But this book was kind of a meandering mess. Charlie and Lily run from one clue to another, the fire destroys stuff, the bad guy Blackstone gets badder and crazier, and eventually they find what they are looking for and figure out the mystery. It was actually quite long and rather boring for what could have been a much more interesting story.

I don’t know a ton about that time period – I’m a medievalist, so the 1660s are too modern for me! – but I think this was not a very accurate book. The descriptions of the city didn’t mesh with what I know of historic London. I also don’t know about the Duke of Clarence.

Also, it’s magnum opus, not magnus opus. Jesus.

The pacing was another problem for me. While I enjoy a fast-paced book as much as anyone, things happened in this book too fast and without any real purpose. It was like that movie Speed, just too much going on and most of it was eye-roll worthy.

The narrator, Napoleon Ryan, literally was all that kept me listening to this. He did a fantastic job, doing different voices and accents. I could listen to him narrate a lot of things, even if the story isn’t all that compelling.

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12 Rules for Life

412z30w2n-l-_sx330_bo1204203200_12 Rules for Life by Jordan B. Peterson

I read it as a: hardback

Source: my own collection

Length: 448 pp

Publisher: Random House

Year:  2018

Jordan Peterson is a clinical psychologist, and this book is his formula for things to do, or not to do, to be a successful human being. He covers, as you may suspect, 12 basic rules, ranging from things such as stand up straight to make your kids act like civilized humans to tell the truth. Generally, it is a fairly standard sort of rule book. 

This is quite long, so I’ll put the rest behind a cut.Read More »

Watch “Patrick Stewart Gets Emotional Announcing Return To Captain Picard Role – 8-4-18” on YouTube

This made me so happy, I cried. TNG was such a big part of my life and there were times when seeing a new episode was the only thing I had to look forward to each week. The characters were not characters, they were real people. Maybe that makes me a geek, or a loser, but I don’t care. I love Star Trek, and I love these people, and I can’t express how happy I am that Patrick Stewart is going to reprise his role as Jean-Luc Picard.

Artemis the Loyal

61tdlmrcvll-_sx334_bo1204203200_Artemis the Loyal by Joan Holub

I read it as a: paperback

Source: my own collection

Length: 288 pp

Publisher: Aladdin

Year: 2011

In Artemis the Loyal, Artemis is on a mission to convince Principal Zeus, King of the Gods and Ruler of the Heavens, that it is not fair that the Olympic Games are for boys only. She is an excellent athlete and wants to compete, as do many other girls. Artemis goes on a mission to convince Zeus to change his mind and allow girls to have their own girls-only Olympics. Simultaneously, he twin Apollo is determined to take on the Python of Parnassus in a battle of wits. Artemis is concerned because the python can read minds and she knows Apollo can’t tell a lie, so she thinks he will lose. She tries to discourage him from entering the contest and inadvertently causes a rift between them, which is heightened when Apollo utterly scorns her attempts to get Zeus to sign off on a girl Olympics. Artemis has to learn when to lean in and when to let others learn lessons on their own in this latest installment of Holub’s GoddessGirl series.

This was a fun and quick read with my daughter at night for a bedtime read. It was a little more progressive and feminist than the other books in the series thus far in that it had a lot of focus on gender equality. I also liked the theme of figuring out when it is ok to be pushy and try to help and when you need to back off and let others figure things out for themselves. That is something a lot of people need to learn.

I still think the books in general are too focused on what other people think and on hetero-normative crushes, but it wasn’t AS big a focus in this one as in others and it provided a couple times to have a good chat with my daughter about a few things.

A Man Called Ove

18774964A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

I read it as a: paperback

Source: my own collection

Length: 337 pp

Publisher: Washington Square Press

Year: 2012

Ove is a stereotypical curmudgeon, which is a terrific word anyway, isn’t it. He is cranky, he feuds with his neighbors for not following the posted signs or the rules of the neighborhood association, and he just wants to be left alone. Really, what he wants is to die, and he has his own reasons for wanting that which are no one else’s business. But things keep happening that piss him off just enough to keep him engaged and living, and he knows from long experience that if he doesn’t handle it, it will never get done right. Such as teaching the new neighbor how to back up a trailer so he doesn’t run over his mailbox. Again. Or teaching the neighbor’s wife how to drive because the neighbor fell off a ladder and broke himself and needs someone to drive him around. Or teaching the local barista how to fix a bike so he can give it to his girlfriend. Or do battle with a corrupt White Shirt (Ove’s version of two by two, hands of blue) determined to forcibly remove a neighbor with Alzheimer’s to a nursing home against the wishes of the family. Along the way, even though Ove is a cranky old sod (he really isn’t), it becomes clear that he has a deep and painful past and that it’s always the quiet ones who are the most interesting, the ones you have to keep your eye on, and who care the deepest even if they don’t make a spectacle about it.

This was such a touching book. People who say nothing much happened didn’t pay attention. The people who disliked it just because Ove didn’t like the cat (or Jimmy, or the kid who couldn’t repair his own bike, etc) totally missed the point. I feel bad for those people. Ove looked past the exterior of people and saw the good in them, despite not being able to do things he thought they should be able to do for themselves. If they didn’t know something, he taught them. He was rough on the outside, but at heart he was a true teacher and went out of his way to help people when he didn’t have to. In the end, the community realized they were the ones who had been wrong about Ove all along.

Also, this book made me miss my grandad, even though he wasn’t a curmudgeon. But in a lot of ways, Ove reminds me of him anyway.

Some of my favorite lines (behind the cut in case of spoilers):Read More »

Small Country

36750086Small Country by Gaël Faye

I read it as a: hardback

Source: my own collection (BOTM selection)

Length: 192 pp

Publisher: Hogarth

Year: 2018

Small Country is Gaël Faye’s debut novel, and it is a gutpunch. The novel is told through the eyes of a ten year old boy, Gaby, who is the child of a French father and Rwandan mother. He and his younger sister, Ama, live a fairly privileged life in a neighborhood of ex-pats, relatively sheltered from much of the political instability and poverty that the rest of the country is subject to. Gaby’s father actively discourages him from listening to or learning about politics and doesn’t believe children should join in adult conversations, so for the first half of the book, most of the political events are filtered through the lens of a child who doesn’t really understand what is going on. Gaby’s main sources of concern are his parents’ fracturing relationship and maintaining his friendships with Gino and the other children in his neighborhood. When the war touches his family, though, Gaby grows up faster than any child should ever have to.

This was a difficult read, obviously. The topic alone would make it so, but seeing it through a child’s eyes made it worse. It was obvious that Gaby had no real idea what was happening and that his life was a lot more sheltered than the lives of many of those around him, including his household staff. Gaby’s home was in a fairly exclusive, guarded, safe-ish area. The cook and gardener who worked at his house everyday lived in a different area and were in danger every time they set foot in their homes. I don’t think Gaby ever fully realized that. It was just that one day, he noticed Donatien and Prothe were not there anymore and he wondered where they were. The political events were similarly vague until near the end of the book. They were all filtered through Gaby’s childish ignorance, which wasn’t all his fault. His father kept his children ignorant of politics, whether for their own safety or for some other reason, we never really know. Clearly, it didn’t work to keep them safe or clear from war. It came to them anyway. It stripped Gaby of his childhood, brutally. The writing reflects the way Gaby tried to cling to his childhood, wanting to keep things the way they were, just wanting to play with his friends and not worry about protecting his street or neighborhood. One of the most poignant lines of the book was when Gaby told his friends Gino and Francis, “You’re my friends because I love you, not because you’re from one ethnic group or another. I don’t want anything to do with all that!” (153). He is clinging to a childhood that has already deserted him, but he has not yet realized it, and it is heartbreaking.

How much of Gaby’s childhood was taken from him is really highlighted in the letters he exchanges with his French pen pal, a ten year old girl named Laure. In one of his letters, Gaby told Laure about the elections held in Burundi and how the people turned out in their droves to vote, told her about the political parties in the country, the candidates, and who ultimately won the election and why it was such a big deal to the people. In return, Laure sent a three-line letter, telling him she was having a fun vacation at the beach and that what he had written to her was funny. What Gaby wrote didn’t even register to Laure as an actual event, or that another child the same age as her could be living through something as impactful as a democratic election, as horrific as a genocide. It makes me think of this when he is thinking to himself, years later, “I used to think I was exiled from my country. But, in retracing the steps of my past, I have understood that I was exiled from my childhood. Which seems so much crueler.” (179).

This is a book that I will be thinking about for a long time.

Dragon’s Code

51m5loezfzl-_sx327_bo1204203200_

Dragon’s Code by Gigi McCaffrey
I read it as a: digital galley
Source: Netgalley
Length: 272 pp
Publisher: Del Rey
Year: 2018

A NEW PERN BOOK!! *FLAILS*

Ahem. Dragon’s Code, set in the Ninth Pass of the Red Star, returns readers to the characters Lady Anne originally wrote – F’lar, Lessa, Master Robinton, the Oldtimers. Here, young harper Piemur, whose voice had previously been glorious until its adolescent break, has been somewhat adrift for the past three years. While waiting for his voice to settle, he has been mapping the Southern Continent for Robinton, but has been pining for his lost voice and his harper’s trade. He feels bereft and useless, something no one enjoys. Robinton, really the Pern equivalent of Francis Walsingham, spymaster extraordinaire, has learned of a plot against Jaxom, the young Lord of Ruatha. This is based in part on the theft of Ramoth’s queen egg by the desperate Oldtimers, an event that could drive dragon to fight dragon, and which is very familiar to long-time Pern fans. In response, Robinton sends Piemur and Sebell, his own journeyman, into Nabol, from whence the threat arises. While there, Piemur and Sebell encounter the worst people Nabol has to offer, enduring abuse and worse. Piemur has to learn the lesson that sometimes revenge serves no justice and can cause further damage. Ultimately, he finds his voice – in an unexpected way.

This was a wonderful addition to the Pern canon. I admit that part of it is pure nostalgia because no one can write Pern as well as Lady Anne herself, not even her daughter. The Ninth Pass is my favorite, mostly because that is what Lady Anne wrote mostly, and what she wrote first, and what most readers were introduced to when first encountering Pern. It’s the “right” time to be in. It felt good to come home to the Ninth Pass.

I also loved seeing Piemur grow from a lost, and let’s face it, kind of whiny kid to a young man full of purpose and drive. There was a lot to be said of his path in this story. It is not just a traditional bildungsroman, which would have been boring, indeed. He learned to lean on his friends and family, to trust himself, and when in doubt, always listen to your mother. I loved the bits of wisdom Ama doled out – it felt like those might have been things Lady Anne said to Ms Gigi and Todd as they grew up. It was like a little bit of Anne coming back to talk to her readers, and whether it is true or not, it was delightful. My favorite was:

I don’t think, my Pie, that any of us could be happy in life by doing just one thing. Through all these long Turns I’ve lived, I’ve grown to see some parts of my life very clearly. It was the unlikely choices I made – where the sights I set my aim at were hardest to reach – that became the most highly valued feats of my life. Maybe it’s because the goals were hard-won. I could not say for certain. … You’ll be fine, my Pie. Just be yourself, and always listen to your instincts…and you’ll be fine. (Kindle loc 3421)

Piemur took these words to heart and managed to find his voice, literally and figuratively, in a way that is perfect for him. I can’t wait to see what the next installment has in store.

The book played on themes of honor and trust throughout, which is directly related to the titular dragon’s code. The code that has to be upheld for Pern’s way of life to work has been violated on both sides – Oldtimer and modern riders alike have acted wrongly. The trust the crafters and holders place in the dragons has been broken. The honor of the dragonfolk has been bent, if not broken as well, and all must learn to work together to repair the code.

At first, there was a little too much telling and not showing, especially for readers already intimately familiar with Pern. It took a little while, but Ms. Gigi did eventually hit her stride and the pacing got much better. Some things are a little inaccurate based on her mother’s previous books. For example, Silvina is the Harper Hall’s headwoman, not Fort’s. The Hall and Fort are separate, though adjacent, so each would have their own headwoman. Totally minor, though, and not anything that took away from the overall story.

Overall, I HIGHLY recommend this book – I already preordered the hardcopy for my own collection – and was absolutely beside myself to see a new Pern book on the market. I devoutly hope there will be more Pern books, and soon, from Ms Gigi. I was fine when Todd was writing Pern books, because any Pern book is better than none. But I didn’t care for his nearly as well as I did for this one. I thought Ms Gigi’s was better written, and I admit that I prefer those that are set in the Ninth Pass.

Dear Ms Gigi – PLEASE write more Pern books! I loved this and miss the people of the Ninth Pass terribly. They are real people, you know, and we need to visit our friends. I can’t wait to see what Piemur’s new career has in store for him! Love, Me.

A Girl Like That

51h8gf05wjl-_sx329_bo1204203200_A Girl Like That  by Tanaz Bhathena

I read it as a: hardback

Source: library

Length: 384 pp

Publisher: Farrar Strauss

Year: 2018

Sixteen year old Zarin Wadia is a girl caught between family, social, and peer pressures. Orphaned at four, being raised by her hateful aunt and spineless uncle, Zarin has never really remembered a time when she felt loved. Her only friend is a boy she sees from her balcony who waves to her as he heads out to school each morning. When her aunt and uncle move her from her hometown of Mumbai to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Zarin has even more rules to follow, for interactions between men and women in Saudi are highly regulated and women are closely guarded. Zarin begins rebelling against the societal boundaries, learning to avoid the religious police as well as her aunt, just for an hour or two of unsupervised freedom. When she encounters Porus, a young man working at the neighborhood deli, they each recognize each other as the balcony friends they had been in Mumbai ten years earlier. Porus, against his mother’s wishes, stands by Zarin through bullying, slandering, assault, and abuse, determined to be everything for her that she never had before. When the two of them die in a horrific car accident (not a spoiler, it happens on the first page), the pieces of their stories come together in astonishing ways, revealing slowly just how Zarin came to be known as “a girl like that,” and how very, terribly wrong rumors and reputations can be.

This book was devastating. Utterly, completely, beautifully devastating. The pain the Zarin endured for so much of her life was tangible and leapt from the page. The bullying the girls at school put her through is something kids today across the world might be familiar with, which is disgusting as it is. Added to that was the way misogyny and violence towards women is codified into so much Arabic law. No, there was no hint of Islamophobia in this novel, as some reviews implied. It doesn’t make the author anti-Muslim to point out that Saudi Arabia actually has plenty of misogynistic laws reinforced by religious police. It was interesting to learn more about the region, and the various other cultural groups that live there besides Muslims. Zarin and her family are Zoroastrians, a small minority within the community. They don’t speak Arabic, or at least not well enough to defend themselves if they had been detained by the religious police. They spoke Hindi and Gujarati, mostly, and a little Arabic and Avestan. In my ignorance, I had never heard of Gujarati or Avestan in my entire life before reading this book. So I learned a few things, which is always good.

There were too many things that were sad and mad me cry in this. I loved the parts that made me happy, too. Porus is such a sweet character. We need more like him. The one thing I wanted more of was to know why her aunt was the way she was. Did she have schizophrenia? Early onset? Was she just an evil person? What happened to make her like that? What happened to Zarin’s uncle to make him lose his balls and not defend a child under his care from abuse? We also only got a little closure with the schoolmates. I get that the story was Zarin’s and not theirs, but they contributed to the misery of her life, so it would have been nice to know what happened to them beyond just a couple. I suppose we had some answers regarding the biggest offender, but I still wanted more about the other girls in the end.

I cannot overstate how much I enjoyed this book, how gutwrenching it was, and how important I think it is that everyone read it. It’s a major discussion on a multitude of topics from bullying to rape culture and toxic masculinity to the long term impact of an abusive home environment. It pulls no punches, nor should it.

We Should All Be Feminists

51uuww2g32l-_sx342_We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Source: library

Length: 45 min

Publisher: Random House Audio

Year: 2017

I’ve meant to read this book the split second it hit the shelves, and I haven’t got around to it until just now. Fail. But that doesn’t change the fact that this is a book I feel should be compulsory reading for every young person entering high school, and given as a graduation gift to every graduating student as well. I don’t mean just handing it to them and hoping they read it. I mean requiring active and participatory discussion. Make them think about what they read. Make your husbands read this with you. Make your daughters and sons read it with you and make them pay attention and make sure they understand that men as well as women can, and should, be feminists. Make sure they know that it is not unmanly, and indeed is a requisite life skill, to be able to cook and feed yourself, not something to depend on another person to do for you. Do not thank a father for participating in the caregiving of his own child – it’s called parenting, and it’s required. Do not ignore a woman when she enters with a man, as though she is a non-entity. Demanding these things does not make a woman an angry feminist or a man-hater. It means she respects herself and her sister women enough to expect that others treat her with respect as well. It is not acceptable that so many people do not understand this, or worse, do understand but simply don’t care or feel it is worthy of consideration. As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie states, we all must do better.