Friday, October 19, 2018

American Street

American Street by Ibi Zoboi     324 pages

From Goodreads:

On the corner of American Street and Joy Road, Fabiola Toussaint thought she would finally find une belle vie—a good life.

But after they leave Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Fabiola’s mother is detained by U.S. immigration, leaving Fabiola to navigate her loud American cousins, Chantal, Donna, and Princess; the grittiness of Detroit’s west side; a new school; and a surprising romance, all on her own.

Just as she finds her footing in this strange new world, a dangerous proposition presents itself, and Fabiola soon realizes that freedom comes at a cost. Trapped at the crossroads of an impossible choice, will she pay the price for the American dream?

Wow, this book really packs a punch! I did not have any idea the book would end up where it did. Zoboi does an excellent job of slowly building tension, of taking a single issue and branching it out, weaving it into a network of issues so tangled that you, the reader, can't imagine what the best path would be to take. You can only sit back and hope that Fabiola makes it out okay, and preferably gets her mother back. The writing is excellent, every character with strong, distinct voices creating a tightly woven fabric of family, because, after all, it's what you you do for fam.

I cannot say I enjoyed reading this book because it was so sad. I don't like reading sad books. But it's an important look into immigrant life in America, and of a particular city that has suffered much at the hands of gentrification. Fabiola's story is powerful, evocative, and it demands reading.


ConservatismConservatism: An Invitation to the Great Tradition by Roger Scruton, 155 pages

For Roger Scruton, conservatism is the philosophy of balance - balance between equality and freedom, society and the individual, faith and reason.  This conservatism begins with the virtue of humility, which opens the thinker to the best that has ever been thought.  Conservatism is his introduction to the most seminal writers of the modern anti-ideological tradition, a set of guideposts pointing the way to true community and true freedom.

Scruton's survey of two centuries of conservative thought is surprisingly easy-to-read, although his narrative becomes increasingly frayed as he approaches the present, reflecting contemporary tensions within conservatism.  Unfortunately, Scruton's brief descriptive overview cannot match the depth and wisdom of Russell Kirk's prescriptive The Conservative Mind, a work which he, oddly, goes out of his way to slight.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

What should I do?

What should I do?: Philosophers on the Good, the Bad, and the Puzzling edited by Alexander George and Elisa Mai, 212 pages is a website that allows people to ask for advice from philosophers. The questions are supposed to have some type of philosophical consideration. The book contains questions and answers pulled from the website.

The book is broken up into four sections that have subsections. It starts off with the Personal, continues with the Public, moves on to the Political and wraps up with the Nature of Morality. Each question is presented with a philosopher or philosophers answering. The answers present some philosophical ideas but are pretty short and get to the point relatively quickly.

There are a lot of good questions and accompanying answers. At the end I wasn't as impressed as I had hoped I would be. I think the problem was that the questions and answers are only one to three pages so I would immediately jump from one to the next. It would probably be better to read a limited amount each day and think about them. It might also be better for a teenager or young adult who hasn't considered all the subjects covered by the questions and answers.


A Letter of Mary

A LETTER OF MARY by Laurie R. King  (276 pages)

Audio book 10 audio discs (10 hr.)

Reviewed by Rae C.

The third installment of the Mary Russell series.  She's been Mrs. Sherlock Holmes for two years now, and reminisces at one point that she has "known my husband for one third of my years."  (I think she is mid-twenties in this book.)  The Holmes get a visit from a woman that they met in Palestine, Dorothy Ruskin, and she has a document that will rock the foundations of the Church. Of course, Miss Ruskin dies under mysterious circumstances shortly after visiting the Holmes, and then the Holmes' house is ransacked.  And off they go solving another mystery!

I really enjoyed this more than the previous two!  It wasn't as fast paced, but having read Holy Blood, Holy Grail ages before Dan Brown's Davinci Code showed up, the title fascinated me. The case was filled with many Doyle-esque plot twists and suspects, with a very satisfying ending. And King's knowledge of theological history and archeology and the Ancient world is on full display.

Mary and Sherlock have become a very settled couple at this point, but there is still excitement between them. It also had so many tantalizing tidbits, for example: Mary bumping into a young student at Leeds that enjoys reading Anglo Saxon literature named Tolkien.  

I am so glad I started this as an audio book!  I love this narrator!  I actually prefer her voice in my head to my imagination, which is rare.  Recommended to anyone who enjoys Sherlock Holmes, Victorian and WW1 era fiction, and strong female characters.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018


Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier     441 pages

From Goodreads:

The novel begins in Monte Carlo, where our heroine is swept off her feet by the dashing widower Maxim de Winter and his sudden proposal of marriage. Orphaned and working as a lady's maid, she can barely believe her luck. It is only when they arrive at his massive country estate that she realizes how large a shadow his late wife will cast over their lives--presenting her with a lingering evil that threatens to destroy their marriage from beyond the grave.

My review:

This book is a roller coaster of emotions. It's dark, it's a bit creepy/insidious, it has an air of the mysterious and disturbing. I was thoroughly engrossed, especially because this book provides a slow build to a rather late climax, and the falling action is so full of tension that you can't put it down.

I didn't like any of the characters - so it's out of character for me to be rating this book so high. But the writing is well crafted, the story is so strong, it grips you. I absolutely hated the narrator and her weird infatuation with a man who is twice her age, her longing for him and her willingness to put up with basically anything so long as she can remain his wife. I hated Maxim, the worst kind of snobby, wealthy Man with a capital M. He babies his wife, he definitely doesn't love her, and he's so obsessed with image, he literally doesn't care about anybody. I also hated Rebecca, but only in the way that she's presented by everyone (who knows what she was really like because everyone who describes her has a different bias - she literally has no voice, she's just a symbol, throw any context on her you want because it can't be called wrong). Perhaps the only person I didn't hate was Frank.

In the end, read this book for its writing - the symbolism, the mirroring, the cyclical story-line. The characters feel very much like caricatures, but they are very intense and fascinating in their own way. I can see why this book is considered a classic. I very much respect du Maurier's writing and her book should definitely be considered more than just a "romance" story (if you can call it romance, it's one-sided, whatever, I hated the romance).

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Daughter of Xanadu

Daughter of Xanadu by Dori Jones Yang     352 pages

From Goodreads:

Athletic and strong willed, Princess Emmajin's determined to do what no woman has done before: become a warrior in the army of her grandfather, the Great Khan Khubilai. In the Mongol world the only way to achieve respect is to show bravery and win glory on the battlefield. The last thing she wants is the distraction of the foreigner Marco Polo, who challenges her beliefs in the gardens of Xanadu. Marco has no skills in the "manly arts" of the Mongols: horse racing, archery, and wrestling. Still, he charms the Khan with his wit and story-telling. Emmajin sees a different Marco as they travel across 13th-century China, hunting 'dragons' and fighting elephant-back warriors. Now she faces a different battle as she struggles with her attraction towards Marco and her incredible goal of winning fame as a soldier.


I was very intrigued by this story when I first came across it. I have not really read anything about the Mongolian Empire, nor do I remember much about it from history classes. I was interested to see how the author would make this early empire come to life, especially as its told from a young woman's perspective.

And not just any young woman, but a princess and granddaughter of Khubilai Khan who wants to be a soldier in his army. Emmajin was a fascinating character, full of courage and strength. Even in her moments of fear and "weakness" she still showed a strong sense of self and a desire to be better, to be open minded, to learn. I loved watching her grow over the course of the novel, from a woman fighting for her right to her own future, a position in the army (a place no woman had been allowed before), and a strong desire to prove herself to someone who values peace, the cooperation with peoples of other nations, and a desire to end wars. Not only is Emmajin an excellent example of a strong female protagonist, she is also a really interesting person and seeing the world through her eyes was very enjoyable.

Overall, this was a good historical fiction story. It had twists and turns and a really well written character arc. If you're into historical fiction, or if you really dig character development, this is a good one to pick up.

Real Presences

Real PresencesReal Presences by George Steiner, 232 pages

In Real Presences, philosopher George Steiner considers the causes and effects of the unprecedented postmodern divorce between the word and the world, and seeks for a path of reconciliation.  This path begins with his analysis of the aesthetic experience as not irrational but irreducible to reason - and therefore beyond both positivism and deconstruction - and proceeds with a recovery of the social, ethical, and above all metaphysical dimensions of art.

Steiner's book is neither jeremiad nor screed, but a careful attempt to find a way past the abyss of meaning opened by the deconstructionists.  He neither dismisses nor denounces his opponents, but engages with them.  In this, he models his own understanding of the connection between artist and audience, in which the freedom of creation encounters the freedom of interpretation, the self meets the other, and both are transformed.