Friday, June 15, 2018

The Radium Girls

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women by Kate Moore     496 pages

The Radium Girls fully illuminates the inspiring young women exposed to the "wonder" substance of radium, and their awe-inspiring strength in the face of almost impossible circumstances. Their courage and tenacity led to life-changing regulations, research into nuclear bombing, and ultimately saved hundreds of thousands of lives.


Wow, wow, wow. This story is powerful! Fate brought Kate Moore to this story and thank goodness it did because she has done a great service to woman's history by bringing this story back into the light. This was not a story I was familiar with at all - not even in my periphery - and so with each page, I became more and more incensed at the horrors these women suffered at the hands of ruthless, unfeeling businessmen and their corporations who couldn't be bothered to care about the health and safety of their female workers.

The sheer amount of time Moore spent on this story shows - in her author's note she mentions coming to America to visit with the families of the radium girls and their grave sites, the countless hours of library research, reading everything she could of what the actual women themselves wrote. This book was amazingly researched and delves deeply into the history of the women's lives before and after, not just focusing on the court cases that made them famous. All the key figures are given their due time and it was fascinating to hear so many first-hand accounts of not just the families of these women, but the women themselves, remarking on what was happening to them and how the felt.

Needless to say, I would highly recommend this book to anyone. It's an important story in American history and these women did so much to secure workplace safeties that our modern world enjoys as well as offering themselves up to science for future studies done to better understand radioactive substances and what they can do to the human body.

Though this work is a piece of non-fiction, it's narrative quality makes it a real page-turning story that you only wish was fiction. The devastating illnesses these women suffered make you wish you could go back in time and warn them. This story truly moved me to tears.

I listened to the audiobook of this story, which was well read and I enjoyed listening to it. 

Drawn to Purpose: American Women Illustrators and Cartoonists

Drawn to Purpose: American Women Illustrators and Cartoonists by Martha H Kennedy   255 pages

This book was published in partnership with the Library of Congress and is a presentation of women in American illustration from the late 19th into the 21st century.  The author focuses on forms that haven't received much attention before, including political cartoons, editorial illustrations and cover designs, to show off the contributions of many women whose work has been overlooked.  She breaks down the book into sections, so you read about women who did cover designs, advertising work, etc. The book focuses on 80 women who created these works and you learn about their stories, artistic training, their experiences of gender bias in the workplace and much more.

I found this book fascinating!  I knew about some of these women, but I didn't know about a lot of them ---- and being able to learn about them and their work in the context of the societal norms of their day was really interesting. 

The Other Woman

The Other Woman by Sandie Jones.  294 pages   I read a galley - this book is due out in August, 2018

It's so sweet when a man's close to his mother, right? Unless his mother's the type of women who doesn't like to share.

Emily thinks Adam's the perfect man for her. However, she didn't count on Pammie, Adam's mother, who seems to be doing anything to keep Emily away from Adam. This fast-paced psychological thriller, complete with a huge twist, explores the twisted relationships between Emily, Adam and Pammie. Emily's determined to have Adam for herself; however, Pammie's made it clear that will happen over her dead body. Or is that Emily's dead body?

This is definitely a fast-paced book! I was intrigued by the characters, although admittedly, if I had been Emily, I would have started thinking there was maybe something wrong with Adam or would have just given up.  Emily's got a lot of determination, even when she's up against Pammie, who is all about the psychological, emotional manipulation of both Adam and Emily. You start to wonder after a while if Emily really wants Adam, or if she's just hell-bent on not letting Pammie win.  There is a BIG twist in the book that I didn't see coming and I don't think other readers will, either. 

Every Day

Every Day by David Levithan                 Audio Book:  8 hrs. 30 min        Paperback Book: 352 pages                    Genre:  Young Adult Fiction    Sci-Fi    Possession in a Nice 24 hour kind of way

Good book.   I enjoyed the story and the concept.    It left me with lots of questions, but, I smell a sequel or maybe more here so perhaps the unanswered questions will get answered along the way.   I also have the DVD on request, so,  possibly the film will elucidate more or other details.    The concept of the story is a spirit, soul or being maybe entity would be fairer to describe that which inhabits a different body each day.    The being calls itself “A” since it does not recall any parents though it does remember being a baby and growing up to the 16 years of existing that it is in throughout this book.   Each day of its “life” it inhabits a different body – someone already living who seems to take a backseat psyche-wise while “A” takes up residence within the skin and features of each different human being.   After the 24 hours are up (midnight to midnight) the human regains their body and mind control again with little or no memory of what took place while “a” was inside them.    Kinda like a fuzzy dream memory, or a light hangover, or misty minded leftover pot high nothing outrageous, just a little groggy on what transpired the day before, though, some of the individuals do retain a slight sensory memory of some of what went on though certainly not a clear focused memory of that time span.    “A” finds itself in a different body daily, different life situations with no clear idea of why?   Why not stay a while in one personage?   Why inhabit someone who is already a person – why does “A” not have a body of its own.    Sexuality changes, lifestyle changes – a jock one day, a slight girl the next,  a person with mental issues one day, a star student another, someone gay and proud one day, someone in a big family of lots of siblings, someone who is abused, someone who helps others in need.   “A” has access to the person’s memories though when arriving in a body of another culture often has trouble picking up the language as that takes time to access all that, so, “A” usually keeps a low profile pretending to be sick or having lots of homework or errands, etc. in order to stay away from the people who might be able to discover “A” doesn’t really speak Portugese this morning, though, he appears to be their son or their daughter who spoke it fluently yesterday.    Really interesting concept but like I said I have so many questions and I do feel lots of things were left up in the air so I am going to look for a sequel for sure on this one.    Well written and an excellent story but like “2001: A Space Odyssey,” the reader will love the exploration, love the concept but continue to strive for the meaning of “A’s” existence.    I am looking forward to seeing the film, and I am looking forward defiantly to find out where the story goes from here.  I highly recommend this story for teens on up – note – there are some sensual insinuations so younger kids might best wait to read this one till they hit mid teens at least.

Hank & Jim: The Fifty –Year Friendship of Henry Fonda and James Stewart


Hank & Jim: The Fifty –Year Friendship of Henry Fonda and James Stewart by Scott Eyman          Audio Book: 13 hours     Hardback Book: 384 pages          

I hated to come to the end of this book.   It was that good.   I had no idea what great friends actors Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart were.    This is an absolutely charming book telling the life stories of both men from the time they met during their college days all the way to the end of their lives, every page was a joy making the reader feel so involved in their lives it was like living there right along with them and all of their showbiz pals.   Honestly, you get to see these two fellows grow up before your eyes from kids in their respective home towns, Fonda in Grand Island, Nebraska and Stewart in Indiana, Pennsylvania.   You meet their parents and siblings, get a feel for what their homelife and home training was like then to their childhoods (Jimmy Stewart was putting on plays and charging admission at an early age)  then to young men going to ivy league institutions for their collegiate years afterward soaring to careers on stage in first Summerstock then in New York spiraling to films in Hollywood, California where their legends grew on the big screen.   I learned so many things about each of these guys it was the most pleasureable read I have experienced in a long time.    It was like opening a family album, albeit two families of whom I learned a great deal about but the same kind of feel like looking at snapshots of the past with family elders telling you the story behind each.   I loved this book.    It discusses their military careers – Fonda got the bronze star for decoding info that saved lives and Stewart who entered the Army’s AirForce (they weren’t two different military units yet, during WWII) as an aviator having gotten his pilot’s license while living in Beverly Hills and flying his personal plane out of Burbank Airport.   Stewart remained in the reserves as long as they would let him before retiring him.  During which time, Stewart was promoted to Brigadier General in 1959 and they retired him on May 31, 1968 (he had been drafted for service in 1940).   Neither man would speak to anyone of their time in the military and once when Steart’s step-son had a school project to do on WWII he asked Jimmy about it and Jimmy replied, “There are lots of books on the subject go read them.”   The list of friends the two men shared reads like a who’s who of Hollywood’s golden years.   So fascinating to learn about their get-togethers of family BBQs and playing cards, having each other over for dinner, getting to know their kids and how the celebs inter-acted with them, the elaborate pranks Hank and Jim pulled every chance they got.    Such a fun read.    I recommend this to every fan of biographies, fans of the two stars themselves, fans of Hollywood and the A-Listers back in the day and really, anyone looking for a feel good read, it was so uplifting to see the inner lives behind the celebrity facades that hid a lot of inner turmoil and down to earth fun.    I had no idea what a ladies man Jimmy Stewart was.     Fonda himself had 5 wives but didn’t find his soulmate until the 5th and last wife.   Jimmy Stewart waited to marry until he was 41.   He met the right gal (though he had apparently met a lot of the wrong gals prior from his 20s till then partying with loads of movie queens till then) and once married never strayed till death did them part after which he was a lost man until his death.   The book talks about the hobbies the two men shared – a love for building and flying remote control airplanes and building huge kites to in their later years growing fruit and vegetables on their properties with Fonda getting into Bee-Keeping and sharing the honey produced by his hive as gifts to friends titling it “Hank’s Honey”.    Two totally different personalities that jived so well it was an original bromance.   So many good tales are shared here and their passion for acting – Fonda loved the stage more than film, Stewart loved film more than the stage.    At face value two unique individuals once the layers are peeled in the pages of this book the reader will find out what truly unique individuals they really were.    So good!   I cannot recommend this book enough.   Truly delightful.

The Hamilton Affair

The Hamilton Affair by Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman         Audio Book:  11 hrs. 33 min     Paperback Book:  433 pages             

A really good book.    It is told as though it is truth and if it isn’t it is still enjoyable to think that maybe these were the conversations that took place.    The descriptions of the times and the historical figures are so lifelike the reader will feel they are right there beside them so much so that even during the description of the dual later in the book, you will feel the mist on your face and the muddy ground beneath your feet.   The reader will experience the emotions of each of the characters being portrayed.   This book breaths so much life into the characters, the times, the events that the reader will feel the heart beats and chests rising and falling when the emotion described calls for agitation,  catch the feel of bitter cold on your skin when the scene depicted is during the Revolutionary War in Winter.   The story is veritably tangible it is told that well.   It is so gripping that you will feel the tension within your own body when tempers are flaring, when a Freed Man is doing his best to pay for his wife and her daughter so that they may be free to live together rather than apart even though married.    There are so very many brilliant episodes in the life of Hamilton described here and told with gusto that you literally will not be able to put this one down.   The reader will be caught up in the deception of Hamilton’ affair and the feeling of betrayal when his wife,  Eliza learns of his affair when the truth he has been hiding from her for so long comes out as Hamilton is accused by James Madison and others of pilfering from the U.S. Treasury when in fact he was being blackmailed by the husband of Maria Reynolds, the woman he was having an affair with.    Hamilton was trying to spare his reputation,  which was already a bit tarnished due to he and his brother being declared illegitimate when they arrived in the United States from  the West Indies, and he was also trying to spare his wife the humiliation.   He also loved both women and wanted to believe both loved him.   There is so much that comes out in this book, things not often known about the first Secretary of the Treasury.    Very good book.    Told in such a believable way it will have the reader checking the facts to see if things really did happen as told.  (Spoiler – they did!)   Worthy read.   

Maverick Cats

Maverick Cats by Ellen Perry Berkeley       Hardback Book: 142 pages             

This is the true story of how Ellen Perry Berkeley and her husband Roy befriended a colony of feral cats that lived in the woods on their property in Vermont.   When they moved to their new home, they loved the rustic atmosphere and scenery they could survey on their deck and out every window.    It was such a wonderfully natural setting, yet, not so rural that they couldn’t get in supplies as needed.   They loved watching the deer,  rabbits, owls, and other creatures at play in their element.   Being animal lovers it was their own private paradise.    Then the began to learn about the feral cats in the woods.   First eyes shining among the brush.    Then a cat stepped out tentatively from the trees and into their yard.   As soon as Ellen and Roy stepped out onto their deck, the cat disappeared back into the woods.   Roy decided to befriend the cat and began by setting out an offering of food and water to tempt the kitty to come a little closer.   After a few days the plan worked and while skittish, the cat decided to let craving overcome trepidation as it ventured toward the bowls.    Of course, even the slightest movement or word on their part had the cat scrambling for the safety the forest cover gave.   Eventually a second cat took the chance and strode out.   Interesting, they thought.    They started wondering just how many cats might actually be out in their woods.    Like Christopher Robin in the A.A. Milne book Winnie-The-Pooh,  they decided to explore their own (hundred acre) wood to see what they could find.    Apparently, the cats’ coloring and marketings kept them camouflaged because neither Ellen nor Roy were able to see any on their treak, but, by leaving little bits of food out, they began to become acquainted with different cats as time went on, including repeat visits of some.     Maverick Cats is what Ellen called the feline souls who lived on their own in the wild that she and her husband befriended, fed, nursed, eventually got to pet and hold on their laps, even allowing them to put them in carriers to take to the vet.  Ellen and Roy never considered themselves cat owners, just friends of the cats that came and went over the years until the female tortoise-shell colored cat they named, “Turtle,” came to stay in the house with them.    This is the story of two animal lovers sharing their environment with their many friends of another species and how they all learned to communicate with one another    They share all they learned from their reading,  researching statistical information and in-depth findings and surveys from many different specialists in the field of animal studies.    They conferred often with speakers giving presentations and share the highlights of the multitude of knowledge they gleaned on feral cats.    It is enlightening and an easy read for anyone interested in the lot of feral cats and how we can help them even if cats tend to have an aura of independence.   Their lives are not easy, the lifespan of a feral cat is very short no longer than 2-3 years unless they have a constant food source (abundant indigenous prey or friendly folk offering meals).   Feral cats contend with diseases brought in by vermin if that is their diet, and diseases common in cats – diabetes, liver problems, as well as the tragedy of humans shooting them (feral cats are considered vermin and/or pests in many places),  to being hit by vehicles,  attacked by other animals, and of course subject to the weather which if there is no shelter for  them to get out of the rain, snow, heat, etc. they are subject to dying from exposure and sadly abandonment – many people drop cats off out in the boonies figuring they will be able to fend for themselves, but, it might be a trial for domestic cats taken from a home environment and tossed on the road like so much trash.   These cats do not have the know how to hunt like a predator though hunger and instinct kicks in – many studies have shown cats unschooled at hunting tend to subsist off of bugs and other unlikely fare.    Lots of good information here and lots of genuine love for these often overlooked  creatures.     Explores the reasons some cities welcome cats to curb their rodent problems while others shun cats being in the cities.    Also discusses the love of cats in certain foreign countries (Italy, Turkey, etc.) and how there are cat ladies and cat men who make it their business to see that large colonies of feral cats are fed and watered so that they can flourish even in urban settings.    Good book, very easy read.    I definetly enjoyed this book.

Mishima

Image result for Mishima A Vision of the VoidMishima: A Vision of the Void by Marguerite Yourcenar, translated by Alberto Manguel,152 pages

Early in her short study of the life and works of Yukio Mishima, Marguerite Yourcenar notes how, in our progressively illiterate society, the lives of artists have come to overshadow their works.  In Mishima's case, however, it is impossible to dismiss the former in order to concentrate entirely on the latter, as his life and death were themselves self-consciously artistic.  Indeed, the artist-hero's enthusiasm for traditional Japanese culture has about it an atmosphere of play, not only due to the undeniably strong influence Western culture had on him but, more fundamentally, the patent impossibility of entering voluntarily into a tradition that can only be received, never chosen.  And yet, as Yourcenar maintains, his final gesture was intended as a consummation, an act which fulfilled his desire to enter fully into that tradition.  Throughout his life and work, Mishima treated identity as something transitory and ephemeral, an attitude only reinforced by Buddhist teachings on the illusory nature of the world.  For Yourcenar, Mishima's suicide is the final punctuation on his lifelong existential project of making his own meaning in the void of the absurd, although the interpretation suggests itself that his was a search for something solid on which to rest his faith amidst the great sea of liquid modernity.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Conspiracy

ConspiracyConspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue by Ryan Holiday, 295 pages

In 2007, the website Valleywag, part of the Gawker family of gossip sites, outed Silicon Valley entrepeneur Peter Thiel as gay.  Five years later, Gawker published a "highlight reel" of moments from a sex tape involving Terry Bollea, better known as Hulk Hogan, and the then-wife of his then-best friend, a tape which had been made by said friend without Bollea's knowledge or consent.  Thiel, through intermediaries, secretly paid for Bollea's lawsuit against the website, a suit which ultimately resulted in a nine-figure judgment and the bankruptcy of Gawker.  Conspiracy is the story of how all this transpired, a story involving a determined, methodical billionaire, a company of brash, arrogant bloggers, and an aging sports entertainment superstar with mountains of baggage.  It's the story of why as well as how, and also the story of what happened after, when the conspiracy to bring down Gawker was revealed and a backlash began as the media came more and more to support Gawker's argument that journalists should be entirely free from any form of responsibility or accountability.

Holiday doesn't dwell on that last part, preferring to quote Machiavelli and ruminate on the nature of conspiracies.  It might have been interesting to contrast this case to the lawsuits resulting from Rolling Stone's false accusations of rape by members of a UVA fraternity and the complicity of the college administration, which unfolded simultaneously with the Hogan-Gawker case but involved an establishment publication and lacked a crusading billionaire.  Likewise, although he speculates as to whether the mainstream media would have been as sympathetic to Brietbart as they were to Gawker, he does not mention the demonstrated lack of sympathy when Matt Drudge was sued by Sidney Blumenthal a decade earlier.  Indeed, while he states that "Champerty - the funding of lawsuits you have no direct interest in - dates back to at least medieval times", he cites no other actual instances, preferring to lament the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.

If Holiday seems uninterested in, or blind to, the similarities between this story and other recent legal and journalistic events, he more than makes up for it with his thoroughness telling the story he has chosen to tell.  Remarkably, he was able to secure the cooperation of all of the principals and much of the supporting cast.  One of the major themes of the book is the question of how much empathy a journalist should have with his subjects, and while no definitive answer is given, Holiday himself exhibits considerable empathy and an evident desire to treat his subjects fairly.  At the same time, he keeps the narrative moving forward at a brisk pace, not always easy when dealing with years of interminable legal maneuvers.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Nimona

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson     266 pages
Nimona is an impulsive young shapeshifter with a knack for villainy. Lord Ballister Blackheart is a villain with a vendetta. As sidekick and supervillain, Nimona and Lord Blackheart are about to wreak some serious havoc. Their mission: prove to the kingdom that Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and his buddies at the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics aren't the heroes everyone thinks they are.
But as small acts of mischief escalate into a vicious battle, Lord Blackheart realizes that Nimona's powers are as murky and mysterious as her past. And her unpredictable wild side might be more dangerous than he is willing to admit.
A fun sci-fi/fantasy comic about a "villain" and his quest to take down the Institution, an organization that has nefarious dealings and for which his used-to-be-best-friend works. When he's joined by Nimona, a shape-shifter who wants to become his side-kick, things might be turning around for Ballister. But Nimona turns out to be more than she seems and chaos ensues.

I enjoyed the humorous dialogue between Ballister and Nimona and the "rivalry" between Ballister and Ambrosius (All the character names are hilarious and trope-y). The humor was helpful in balancing out the otherwise dark themes that come up within the story (and the slippery slope of "murder" is addressed, which I appreciated). The coloring was vivid and one of the reasons that attracted me to the book, though I'm not as big a fan of the drawing style as I hoped (though I'm a bit picky on that score, so what doesn't work for me might be satisfactory or very enjoyable to other readers). Suffice to say, it worked well with the style of the book and the characters were distinct from each other.

Overall, I'd give this a medium rating, only because I didn't love it, but I had a good time reading it. It would be something I would recommend to those fond of fantasy, especially where it blends with science fiction. The humor was on point and the story is short enough to be enjoyed in one sitting. Definitely for middle-school through teen and young adult readers due to the violence depicted in the story.

Hell and the Mercy of God

Hell and the Mercy of GodHell and the Mercy of God by Adrian J Reimers, 243 pages

Universalism, the belief that, in the end, everyone is saved, is remarkably popular in contemporary Christianity, given that it is rejected as heretical by virtually every major denomination and tradition.  According to Adrian Reimers, this is the result of a sentimentality that obscures the truth about God, man, heaven, hell, Satan, this world, and the world to come.  These are truths proclaimed most convincingly not by shadowy religious authorities supposedly concocting myths about eternal punishment as an instrument of control, but by the hells men - ordinary men - build in this world, of which the empire of Satan is both inspiration and consummation.  For every action involves a choice of values, and a sin is an action by which a man sets himself up as a rival against God, rejecting truth, goodness, and beauty in favor of pride, power, and subjugation.

Although he is plumbing deep theological waters, Reimers' writing is accessible to everyone.  Refreshingly, he does not attempt to explain away Scripture and Tradition, but embraces their teachings on the existence of fallen angels and the fate of the human soul as presenting the most compelling account of human freedom and the nature of the intellect.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

The Triumph of Christianity

The Triumph of Christianity: How A Forbidden Religion Swept the World by Bart D. Ehrman          Audio Book: 10 hours, 18 min      Hardback Book:  352 pages         

There is a feeling of cynicism to this book.    At times the author comes from a I like the ideas Jesus brought to the world similar to a Ghandi was a pretty cool guy, interpretation.   Other times, the author is very adamant that he doesn’t believe many of the Christian precepts that Jesus and his disciples did not heal the sick, resurrect the dead nor drive demons out of people.   It is a fact that if you ask a crowd of people what they just saw you will get as many different answers as there are people in the crowd you just asked.    There may be some overlapping – the person had on a yellow shirt for instance but each person interprets what they see based on their own background experience.    “He was tall,”  “he was athletically built,”  “he had amazing green eyes,”   “he spoke with a speech impediment,”  “I don’t know, the guy talked funny like he was nervous.”   All equally true or embellished as the case may go, but, everyone saw the same thing, but, in their own way and their description will be based on their own experience or experiences and background.   “He might have been Italian,”  “He was probably Greek, maybe a Gypsy,”  “I believe he was from the Middle East, his accent sounded Arabic.”    We all see things our own way and in describing our perceptions may sound like our stories match within the group, or we or others may come off as being totally contradictory to one another, making one wonder, did we even see the same thing at all?    It is the same with varying accounts down through history from those who were there to those who got the story through hearsay and have come to believe even though they were not necessarily there to witness first-hand.    Ehrman’s writing dismisses people’s belief in many cases throughout the book, though, he gives a thoroughly researched account of the historical background on how Christianity spread throughout Europe and Africa.    He notes little known points along the way – like that early Christians would often meet in cemeteries so they could talk freely about Jesus and His teachings and that the Roman Empire didn’t particularly persecute early Christians.   Ehrman says the Romans didn’t particularly care who someone worshipped, as there were many different gods being offered sacrifices and being prayed to for intervention.    The problem came in, he says, when the Jews or the newly formed Christian groups wouldn’t pay homage by bowing to whoever was in power politically, Caligula comes to mind first, – so- to be particularly violent in driving the point home that Roman emperors demanded to be worshipped as deities themselves, punishment was bitter, cruel and the accused were subject to local ridicule and used to frighten and entertain– ie. Circus Maximus.    Amazing when you think of all the early endured to get to where it is today and how the teachings spread throughout the world, it boggles the mind.   The Roman Emperor Constantine became known as the first Christian ruler over the Roman Empire, building churches, etc.   though he was not baptized until on his deathbed – easier to keep from sinning that way he reasoned.   Lots of good information both pro and con on Christianity here though the author’s bent is definetly agnostic toward atheism all-together.   He holds up the historical records and dismisses tales of the Holy Spirit manifesting tongues of fire over the apostles heads on Pentecost.   There is a lot of good information on how the Church spread out across the land from Jerusalem across the continents, I will be very interested to see if he has a sequel going further into history beginning with how the WORD was spread in the beginning up to current day.    It was a little choppy not knowing if he was a believer just questioning everything or if he is leaning toward atheism with a total skeptic’s attitude.    There are things to learn here though so I will praise the author for the compelling way he brings history to life even if a little unsettling in his assertion that lies were told.    For those with a theological bent I would say this book is for you as it debates every issue giving you differing viewpoints on the bible and the history of the early evangelizers.   I liked learning the facts this book taught but I think the author instead of presenting the information for the reader to make his or her own mind up about tends to poo poo belief and pushes really hard for the reader to come to Ehrman’s way of thinking.   It’s like well believe what you want to but only his position is right.   Yeah, we’ve heard that before, thank God they stopped serving the open minded and believers up to the lions for sport and entertainment.   

The Problem of Pain

The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis             Paperback: 162 pgs.           

     Writers are often said to “spill a lot of ink”, as the saying goes, with their wordy compositions, but Lewis, on the contrary, did his best to conserve ink.  He had a knack for writing short non-fiction books, yet they are chockful of concentrated truth.  This book is a good example of his conciseness.  He manages, in less than 200 pages, to show why suffering in this world is inevitable and why God is justified in allowing it— clearly, no easy feat!  It should be noted that this book is not a manual on developing the patience and fortitude to go through suffering; it is instead an answer to the intellectual objection of pain as a reason for rejecting Christianity.

He methodically discusses all the relevant subjects related to the topic of suffering: God’s omnipotence & goodness, human sin and pain, the Fall, and suffering as it relates to heaven and hell; he even includes an illuminating chapter about why animals suffer.  Every time I read Lewis, it makes me want to pick up Aristotle, Plato, Augustine and other ancient and medieval writers he quotes, as he does in this book.  I may get around to these classics one of these days, but I’m not sure they can summarize their teachings and make them as intelligible to this modern reader as Lewis does.

Not that this is easy to read— Lewis’s writing skill makes it more understandable, but it still is philosophy, which is, of course, challenging to understand, especially for the non-academic.  There are a few other complaints I had in reading it.  For one, Lewis believed in evolution and mentions it here— a fact that will no doubt bother other Christians, as well— but it is only a relatively brief point; he doesn’t talk about it throughout the book.  I also have a problem with how he seems to take apart the argument for God’s existence from nature in the very first chapter, an argument that Scripture itself endorses (Psalm 19).

If you’re looking for a way to escape your troubles & get lost in another world, this may be the worst book to pick up, as it’s all about our troubles in this fallen world.  But if you want answers to questions of why you suffer, why the world is full of pain and how God can be just in allowing it, this book is generally a great read.  Lewis makes a very convincing case— and he only spilled only a little ink in doing so.

The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood  311 pages

Set in the near future, in a place that you understand was once the United States, this is a story of a place where women are suppressed, oppressed, repressed and worse.  In response to a sharply declining birthrate, this new regime has put into place a system where Handmaids, women who are fertile, are the temporary possessions of high-ranking officials.  Handmaids are only valued as long as her ovaries are viable and monthly, she must lie on her back and pray that the Commander she's assigned to impregnates her. Offred lives through her days remembering her life before, when she had a husband and a daughter, a job, money of her own, when she was allowed to read; a world that is gone now.  She is surviving, but with an eye towards some kind of escape from this place.  However, how? And to where?

I have read this book several times over the years and when Hulu started their adaptation of the book, I was pretty excited.  Of course, I didn't have Hulu until last week . . . but have now binge watched the first season and started on the second season.  One of the things that I love about this book is that while my reactions to it may change a little, depending on when I am reading it and what's going on in my life, the main things in it continue to resonate.  The story continues to horrify me --- and indeed, I feel that if elements of this story do not horrify a reader, I would really question what was wrong with them. I may remember some parts of the story and not remember other parts, but I always remember the darkness in this book and how every time I read it, I can see threads of it in real life.

I have my favorite books of Atwood's, and this is one I return to again and again.  This time, I wanted to read it, even though I was watching the series and I knew that the adaptation varied from the book. However, the fact that many elements were the same made me want to give it a re-read before I was finished watching the series.  Now, I'm telling my husband that he needs to read the book (he's watching the series with me) because I want to talk about it with him.  I love that there is wry humor in the story, along with things that are absolutely horrifying.  The story, even now, seems so real ---you can imagine some of these things happening, maybe not to the extent that Atwood took them in the book, but certainly, oppression and attitudes about women exist in the real world.

The Favorite Sister

The Favorite Sister by Jessica Knoll     384 pages

"When five hyper-successful women agree to appear on a reality series set in New York City called Goal Diggers, the producers never expect the season will end in murder…"

Brett, the fan favorite, is dead. Her sister Kelly isn't entirely innocent. Actually, one could say that none of the Goal Diggers are entirely innocent, although someone is definitely guilty. You go into this story knowing that Brett is dead and beginning things with Kelly doing an interview about her sister. From that point forward, you're in the past, reading perspectives from different characters, in the timeline leading up to Brett's death.

This book had a lot of great reviews including this one, "Engrossing...Deliciously savage and wildly entertaining."-- People Magazine (Book of the Week)

I did not find the book engrossing or wildly entertaining. I actually found it pretty annoying at the beginning because I couldn't remember who each character was, how they were connected to Brett, and how their part of the storyline was tied in. I put the book down for about a week and then picked it up and tried again; I kept reading until the end because I was curious about who killed Brett. I had no idea, partly because I had a hard time keeping the characters straight, caring about them, or caring about Brett.  I just didn't find the characters that interesting . . . and in fact, this reminded me of a Real Housewives episode.  For me, that means an episode of one of the Real Housewives story that I happen to be watching because it's late night and nothing else other than infomercials, old reruns and soft core porn are on tv.  Probably that was oversharing --- but that's what this book felt like a lot of time.  Not for me, although I'm sure there are readers who will love it.

The Art of French Kissing

The Art of French Kissing by Brianna R. Shrum     256 pages

Seventeen-year-old Carter Lane has wanted to be a chef since she was old enough to ignore her mom's warnings to stay away from the hot stove. And now she has the chance of a lifetime: a prestigious scholarship competition in Savannah, where students compete all summer in Chopped style challenges for a full-ride to one of the best culinary schools in the country. The only impossible challenge ingredient in her basket: Reid Yamada.

After Reid, her cute but unbearably cocky opponent, goes out of his way to screw her over on day one, Carter vows revenge, and soon they're involved in a full-fledged culinary war. Just as the tension between them reaches its boiling point, Carter and Reid are forced to work together if they want to win, and Carter begins to wonder if Reid's constant presence in her brain is about more than rivalry. And if maybe her desire to smack his mouth doesn't necessarily cancel out her desire to kiss it.


I wanted to love this book, but instead I just enjoyed it for what is: a easy YA romance with a cooking competition thrown into the mix. Why didn't I love it? Well, for starters - some serious sabotage happens, and not the kind that can be laughed off as no big deal. No, it's the kind where it would be really inexcusable if the judges knew that it happened: tripping some one on purpose? Going into their room, going into their phone without their permission? No bueno. And it felt really unbalanced - the kind of sabotage that Reid did verses what Carter did are totally disproportionate. Carter crossed all the lines. I was not okay with what she did.

But the biggest issue I had was the romance between Reid and Carter. There is a strong animosity between them that is somehow crossed over into romantic tension/feelings. I don't buy it. I don't think the author did enough to show that switch between rivalry to camaraderie. And what I find even more problematic is that they cannot go long without blowing up at each other. Almost every encounter between them ends in an argument. And to top it all off - they sleep with each other. After only knowing each other for a few weeks, and starting off sabotaging each other. They decide to have sex. And the very next day, what happens? They blow up again. I just don't see how this is a good message for any teen. 

The author does attempt to be contemporary with her inclusion of comments about "privileged white girl problems," and the inclusion of a diverse cast (not just ethnicity, but also sexual orientation - Reid himself being what he calls "queer" and admitting to having dated a non-binary person). So I appreciate that this book is attempting to exist in a more current environment of inclusion, even if it did feel clunky and trying to hard on that score (a bit like name-dropping). 

Another issue - though I wouldn't call it a deal breaking one - was the writing style. For some reason, I felt the author's way of writing Carter's narrative, her speech, and even the speech of other characters seemed very weird and staccato. Lots of periods and half-sentences, such as "I'm really. Like mad at him." It was a bit difficult to read and it happened a lot. Most of the characters did this at some point, so it took a way, a bit, from the distinction of their voices.

Character-wise, it was a mixed bag. Carter was really hard to like at points, but other times she was relatable. I would be agreeing with her one minute, but within moments I would be shaking my head and completely hate her. It made me feel like the author didn't quite know how to write a character that is supposed to be the one you root for, but also one that would do things that were really despicable, just because it was the whole crux of the story and have it be believable. I still half-hate Carter after everything. And Reid was all over the place as well. At times, I couldn't understand why he'd be willing to put up with everything Carder does and still like her (and by the end, even love her!). Though his decision to sabotage her seems a bit weird, considering he otherwise seems like a likable guy, gives me the feeling that the "assholery" (as the author puts it) exhibited by both of them is purely for plot and doesn't really seem to be the nature of their characters outside of that. All other characters are really just props for the story and aren't really fleshed out, most of them don't even have names.

Overall, I would say I liked reading this story, but I would be hard-pressed to recommend it to anyone unless I knew they were into YA romance stories. This book has a very specific audience and does not really do much to attract outside of that, in my opinion.

They Thought They Were Free

They Thought They Were FreeThey Thought They Were Free: The Germans 1933-45 by Milton Mayer, 378 pages

Journalist Milton Mayer visited Germany in the '30s, reporting on developments there and attempting, unsuccessfully, to get an interview with Hitler.  He returned a decade later to a very different Germany, now occupied by the Allies.  This time, instead of staying in Berlin, he settled in the town of Marburg, where, with some difficulty, he befriended and extensively interviewed ten men who had lived through the Nazi era.  The results form the basis of They Thought They Were Free.  

The first half of the book concentrates on the interview subjects and their experiences, the second half on Mayer's own analysis of Germany and the German people.  The former is far more interesting than the latter, especially given the passage of time.  The personal testimony of the ten men, all of whom had joined the Nazi party at some point, some before but most after Hitler's rise to power, provides a compelling witness to how gradually "decent" men were convinced to accept the unthinkable, how the acceptance of lesser outrages today can lead to the acceptance of greater crimes tomorrow, and how easy it is to ignore injustice when it is happening to someone else.  Movingly, two of the subjects recall moments before the war when they deliberately avoided Jewish acquaintances, not out of fear of being associated with them, but out of shame at their own complicity in the rising tide of anti-Semitism.

The second portion of the book is dominated by Mayer's own views on the effectiveness of the Allied occupation, which are extremely pessimistic.  While the experience of subsequent decades seem to contradict this, it is perhaps worth asking how much the German character has actually changed beyond the rejection of militarism.  Unfortunately, the analysis in this section also raises the suspicion that Mayer's conclusions predated (and therefore partially predetermined) his experiences.