Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Summer Reading 2017 Project

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As a high school student, I hated summer reading. I was a slow reader, and I didn't like anyone telling me I needed to select anything from a list. Also, since my mom was an English major in college, I never was at risk of just reading Stephen King all summer (not that there's anything wrong with that), but the books I chose to read were usually right along the lines of the ones included on the summer reading lists anyway.

These days, a lot of local high schools are making summer reading optional and I agree with that philosophy. I also want to support summer reading for a couple of readings: 1. A lot of people really love it (teens, tweens, and adults). The summer is a great time to catch up on good books. 2. I know it's a vain hope, but I like to think that like a fitness routine, if you get into a good reading routine, we might find it easier to continue that. I can dream, right?

Anyway, my small contribution to all of this is what I am referring to as my Summer Reading 2017 Project.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Dear Envelope-Gate Bigots: Your Cluelessness is Showing

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Like many people across the country, I live-tweeted the Oscars last night. I was born and raised in California, so the Academy Awards are bigger than the Superbowl for me. I wasn't particularly invested in any of the movies, aside from Hidden Figures, but I love the fashion, and it's just a fun, mindless activity. As you probably know, this year's ceremony had a surprise ending when Warren Beatty accidentally read the card for Emma Stone's Oscar win for Best Actress in a Leading Role for La La Land and declared that film winner of Best Picture when the award actually went to Moonlight. The response to everything that happened last night on Twitter? A whole bunch of 45 loyalists claiming that the liberals in California got what they deserved because they were "all" making fun of the president the whole night. Not that it means anything to you, but not everyone in Hollywood is liberal or anti-45, and the only person who roasted the president all night was Jimmy Kimmel, who didn't present an award to anyone.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Review: Hillbilly Elegy

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Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in CrisisHillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hillbilly Elegy was an interesting and entertaining read, especially in the aftermath of the 2016 election. It is now often cited by liberals who are trying to be Trump apologists as a way of explaining the desperation that could lead people to vote for someone like Trump. If anyone is reading this book as a political argument or a road map to providing better social services to the Appalachian population, this is a poor choice. This is a memoir, not a piece of political analysis, and J.D. Vance is not a political scientist. He would make an extremely bad one. He's also not a social worker or social scientist and he makes a point of saying that his memoir is not meant to propose any solutions to the social problems that plague his community in Appalachia and the people from Appalachia who have migrated to towns like Middletown, OH in an effort to escape the poverty.

Hillbilly Elegy is a less poetic version of The House on Mango Street only it's about poor white people instead of poor Hispanic people. Sandra Ciscneros is a much better writer, and that's probably the main reason her book ever received the amount of attention that it did because what is clear from the reception of Hillbilly is America is dying for a reason to feel sorry for poor whites; Hispanics just shouldn't be here in the first place and deserve what they get, right? If they don't like it here they should just go back. I'm sure I'm missing some other choice comment.

In Hillbilly, Vance chronicles his experiences of growing up in a broken home, relying primarily on his grandparents as parental figures. He laments the ways his lower class family failed to prepare him for the art of fine dining, completing the FAFSA (because if you're wealthy, that form is fun), and navigating higher education. He joined the Marines right out of high school, probably because his ASVAB scores wouldn't cut it for any other branch of the military. I'm sure that's more elitism at work there.

I give Hillbilly four stars not because it is well-written because it's okay. It's nothing special. I like it because it is more revealing than the author probably intends when it comes to understanding the true machinations of the minds of this population of whites in our country who feel left behind and are dying for someone to blame. My philosophy is that it is always better to know the ugly truth than to not know. This book helps you know if you are willing to set aside whatever it is you want it to say and really take in how Vance describes his family and his perception of life so far. Approaching this work as that kind of journey will leave you more enlightened as a result.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Review: Once Upon A Lie

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Once Upon A LieOnce Upon A Lie by Michael R. French
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Alex, a teen from a wealthy family in the Toluca Lake neighborhood of L.A. meets Jaleel, a poor African American boy, on the other side of Cahuenga Boulevard and is immediately fascinated by his independence, optimism and impeccable taste in literature. What she doesn't know is he is also wanted for a double murder in Peartree, TX (which he didn't commit.) Alex and Jaleel become fascinated with each other's worlds, but danger lurks beneath the surface for both of them. For Jaleel, it's being on the run from the law for a crime he didn't commit. For Alex, it's a tangled web of dark family secrets that grow darker.

Once Upon a Lie has a lot of Dickensian charm for me. The characters are well developed, and definitely the greatest strength of this novel. It also is filled with chance meetings between people who are fated to meet again, and again. (The parallels go beyond that, but I would be spoiling the story for you if I shared.) French also makes some insightful observations about the limits of personal freedom in our supposedly free society (the story is set in the 1980s, but much of this is just as relevant now.) He touches on racial tensions and class as well, but the two often become conflated in this story since the main characters are from such different backgrounds.

Unlike Dickens, French has a much more concise style, and for the most part, this was clean work. I did spot a few anachronisms and minor usage errors, but since I was reading a digital galley, it's possible these have since been corrected.

Michael R. French has somehow never made it onto my radar, but once I started reading Once Upon a Lie, I found out that he has authored 20 books!

**This review is based on a digital galley that was provided for free by the publisher for review purposes. No form of compensation was provided for this review.**

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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Book Review: Lust & Philosophy by Isham Cook

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Lust & PhilosophyLust & Philosophy by Isham Cook
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ex-Pat in Beijing, Isham Cook, takes us through the mundane life of an adjunct English faculty member that turns out to be not so mundane after all. Isham has a habit of turning every interaction that is supposed to be just between a teacher and student in English into something suggestive. When he isn't doing that; he's setting off the nudity alarms at his massage school that was meant to be an escape from the over-intellectualizing of everything at Univerity of Chicago. Isham has a history of bad luck that precedes all this.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Political Discussions and Pet Names

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A lot of people I know have been asking some version of why would anyone vote for Donald Trump? Normally, it feels like breaking the rules of proper discussion to answer a question without asking it directly, but when tweets from Trump supporters creep into my feed, they often are defending their choice in the face of perceived disapproval. If it stopped there, I'd dismiss this as people on Twitter being people on Twitter. It's always kind of weird on there, and elections take it from weird to downright kinky in all the wrong ways for a while. Here's my problem: I am not going to try to engage in a conversation with someone who uses a slur like "libtard" because someone who is using that sort of a term isn't in a place to have a real discussion about different opinions on issues.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Review: Broken Monsters

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Broken MonstersBroken Monsters by Lauren Beukes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Clayton Broome has spent years with people treating him as an outcast and dismissing him and his art, but now, he and his art are becoming something more; something too awesome for most to behold.

Detective Gabriella "Gabi" Versado is just barely able to hold things together on the job at Detroit PD while her attention-starved daughter, Layla, seems to keep finding new outlets for her frustrations.

Layla sees the dark side of high school life in a way that her mother will never understand, and the other adults at school don't seem to understand either. All she wants is to be a good friend to Cas, a girl who transferred to her charter school and changed her name under mysterious circumstances, and a good cat mommy to NyanCat.

Jonathan "Jonno" Haim came to Detroit to get a fresh start after a bad relationship but has serious doubts about how that can happen in a place that is rotting from the inside out.

Who knew that a string of horrific murders could be just the thing to bring all of these people together and get them closer to the acceptance, or at least, visibility, they thought they wanted?

Lauren Beukes relies a bit more heavily on clich├ęs for her chapter titles than one might prefer, but Broken Monsters still has plenty of good turns of phrase that I found myself highlighting as I read. There's also tons of juicy and disgusting stuff in here to keep the most bloodthirsty horror fan happy. It's like a little burrito of serial killer story and supernatural horror wrapped in a commentary on objective reality and perception.


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Monday, September 19, 2016

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Good as GoneGood as Gone by Amy Gentry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you're a mystery/suspense buff and you are looking for something with a 100% original twist and that's the only reason you read this genre, this probably isn't the book for you. If you enjoy books with likeable characters and an interesting view into the psyches of the main characters, consider checking this one out.

At 13 years old, Julie Whitaker disappeared from her home in the middle of the night. The only witness was her younger sister, Jane, and she only caught a few glimpses through the cracked closet door. Her parents, Professor Anna Davalos and her husband cooperated with law enforcement, paid for billboards, and did all the right things, but they didn't hear anything about their missing daughter for years. Fast forward to one night, eight years later, and a young woman shows up at their front door; it's Julie. Initially, the family enjoys a happy reunion, but hairline cracks appear in the restored happy family picture. Anna can't deny that too many things remain unexplained, and when a private detective reaches out to ask a few questions about her daughter, the cracks spread further. How can someone reappear after 8 years? Could she even be the same person she was then? Was she ever that person? Inquiring minds will just need to read the book to find out.

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