Monday, January 26, 2015

Retaliation: A Novel --by Yasmin Shiraz

fiction / modern, urban  

264 pages / 1043 KB
5 Stars

Oliver Wendell Holmes once said something to the effect of, "A person's mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions." My mind has been so stretched by reading this book.

To get the legalities out of the way, I was given a free copy of Retaliation in exchange for my honest review, which follows.

This is not a book I would have picked up on my own to read, the title did not sound appealing, but it fit the story perfectly; I live about as far from DC as I can get while still being in the Lower Forty-Eight; I live in a relatively peaceful neighborhood totally opposite of Tashera Odom and her neighbors. In short, I had nothing in common with the protagonist; however, by the end of the book, I found I had much in common with her.

Tashera is a good girl, she has seen gang violence up close and personal, and wants nothing to do with it. Her older brother is in a wheel chair because of gang violence.  So when she is jumped on the way home from school by three girls she doesn't know for a reason she doesn't understand, and is put in the hospital with serious injuries, it comes as a total shock.

This beating is the center part of the book, and how all the people in the book look and react at it. Her mother seeks retaliation immediately, rather than let the cops handle it. Her brother puts his old gang on it, and finds out who the girls are. Her boyfriend realizes his part in the beat down due to his past actions (which, by the way, describe today's rape culture very well, and the way it is accepted by way too many people. I think Ms. Shiraz has another book to write with Ahmed as the central character.) The three girls recognize their part and guilt.

There are many characters in here, each deals with the beating and the aftermath in their own, and believable, way. This is a story of mothers who love their children, and mothers who don't; of children who commit atrocities, and are faced with the consequences. It is a story of family—family of blood, family of proximity, family of neighborhood, family of violence.

There are times when the story jumps from one place to another, but the visual clues that a jump has arrived "*****" makes it easy for the reader to make the transition. The ending of the story is satisfactory, everyone gets their just desserts and recognizes their part in the drama. The ending of the book is more than satisfactory, as Ms. Shiraz has a section of Making Peace: Tips on Conflict Management with not only tips on conflict resolution, but information of where to find help if you're caught in a situation where you need it. There is also a Discussion and Bookclub Questions and finally a section on Questions with the Author.

An excellent book on a tough topic, and I highly recommend it for anyone who is in high school, for any parent who has a child in, or entering, high school, whether you live in an area of gang violence or not, and for all you teachers out there. This book would make a great reading and discussion assignment. Copies should be in every High School Library in the country.

Hollywood! Pay attention. This book will make a great movie!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

I Love a Broad Margin to My Life --Maxine Hong Kingston


241 pages / 1051 KB
5 Stars

I read this book in one sitting. I had a hard time putting it down, and found myself not wanting to be interrupted by phone calls, or the vagaries of living. A memoir of reflections on her life as she faces her 65th birthday, the book travels to China, to Washington DC where she was arrested, to the fire that destroyed her home years ago.

This is a gentle book, an inspiring book. Often, when I read such a book, especially as well written as this one, I thrill for having read it, and despair of ever writing anything again. This book has inspired me to write my own memoir as I face my 72d birthday coming sooner than expected ;-)

I Love a Broad Margin to My Life is a free verse poem, filled with music as she writes about her life, where she's been, what she's done, the whys, and the wherefores. There are many tidbits of fun and useful information scattered freely throughout. Did you know the meaning of the word karma is work, not doom? She lists reasons to live and take joy in life.

If you are a reader of Thoreau, as she is, you will recognize the title as a line from one of his books. The saying hangs over her desk. It will soon hang over mine, and this book will always be close to my hand, and bound within my heart. I am not sure what Thoreau meant when he wrote that line, or what MH Kinston meant when she adopted it, let alone what a 'broad margin to my life' means to you, but to me, it means to surround myself with space to think, to write, to create, to quilt, to learn, to be, to live. Thank you, Ms. Kingston for showing the way.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Gulp. Adventures on the Alimentary Canal --by Mary Roach


352 pages / 4991 KB
4 Stars

I loved this book. Why, then, only 4 stars? Because I think Ms. Roach could have put more into the book as to how the alimentary canal works, not just amusing anecdotes from her research. How does the small intestine work? What happens to the food that goes through it? How are the nutrients removed, and where do they go to get to us. This book left me with more questions than answers.

Mary Roach is a marvelous writer. I've read, and enjoyed two of her other books, and as mentioned above, I read and enjoyed this one, but would have appreciated more, not less.

If you have any curiosity about how your body works, from the inside, and have feared too much reading due to the 'ick' factor, fear not. When she talks 'ick' it is with taste (uh, pun intended) and humor. She has a knack for going into areas many of us consider taboo, and bringing those areas to light in a humorous manner. And why are they taboo, anyhow?

She did talk about one thing I'd never considered – death by constipation. Yes, it happens. And it happened to people we knew, at least people in the public eye that we claim to have known. (Royalty, entertainers, etc.) Somehow, she managed to bring humor even to that chapter.

If you've not read any of her books, you might as well start here. Nothing will give you nightmares, honest. Trust me. If you have read other of her books, you'll find this one a delightful addition to your Mary Roach library shelf ;-)

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Sociopath Next Door --by Martha Stout, Ph.D.

Nonfiction / Psychology / Psychiatry /Personality 

256 pages / 542 KB
5 Stars

This is a book I think everyone should read. The topic is heavy, the book is not. According to Stout, approximately 4 per cent of our population is sociopath. What does that mean? It doesn't mean they are all serial killers, for starters. They often blend in, and go unnoticed by the majority of people. They are usually intelligent, manipulative, and charming. Because they lack a conscience, they make perfect con-artists.

Because these people lack a conscience, they are incapable of love, joy, remorse, or guilt. Because they have no fear, they take chances at work, in play, in their personal lives, and are often adrenaline junkies.

How do you recognize one? And when you do, how do you live with one? You don't.

Stout's writing is beautiful, almost lyrical, and most assuredly easily accessible by anyone. The stories she tells of individual people would almost make short stories on their own. But she doesn't just tell us about case histories, she also gives us "Thirteen Rules for Dealing With Sociopaths in Everyday Life." Those rules, alone, make the book worth the investment of both money and time.

This is an extremely interesting book, full of useful information we all can learn from, whether you know, or think you know, a sociopath, or if you're a writer and want to write about one. As one reviewer said, this book needs to be read by every High School student in America before graduating. This kind of knowledge will save many a broken life. It won't necessarily stop the hurt because by the time we're involved with one, it's usually too late. But it can stop the breaking if we recognize it soon enough and end the relationship, whether personal or professional.

Do not think about buying this book, JUST DO IT. Buy your own copy, read it, and if you're one of those people like me, keep a pen handy because you'll want to underline, highlight, and add your own marginalia to it. Highly recommend this for everyone who reads, for everyone who lives in today's world.

Blood Bound (Mercy Thompson Novel #2) --Patricia Briggs

Fiction / Urban Fantasy
306 pages 611 KB
5 Stars

I read Moon Called in two days, it took me 3 to read Blood Bound because life kept getting in the way!

Blood Bound picks up very shortly after Moon Called, and in this book we meet a few more characters of the Other realm that were perhaps introduced in #1, but now we get to meet them. (I closed one book, and immediately opened the next, so the stories sort of blend for me.)

Ms. Briggs has developed a most interesting world, and does not just toss fae, vampires, weres, etc. into it, she has carefully, and deliberately, given us the rules for each of the kinds of Others. The fae made themselves known, and now live, for the most part, on a reservation near Walla Walla, WA. They were the first to come out. Then some of the wolves. It's necessary, as science, especially forensic science, will out them one way or the other, and since many of the wolves, especially, work in high level jobs. Vampires may be another story altogether.

There is logic in the way Ms. Briggs has built this world, this world of fiction in which I live right in the middle in the mundane world. I love a good story where I can enter, and even play with the characters. This is one of those stories. Ms. Briggs doesn't just spin a good yarn, she invites you to come in and play, too. But, be careful, you may meet some playmates you aren't expecting, and, well, blood has been known to make an appearance now and then. Especially when wolves and vampires mix it up.

One of the truly refreshing aspects of this book, and I assume the series, is the romance element. It isn't harlequin—it's real. And Mercy is her own woman, and won't settle for any just any man, she demands love, and respect. Eventually, I'm sure, she will find it, but the chase is going to be interesting, so to speak.

I look forward to reading all the books in this series. Although I'm sure I could read them as stand alone books, especially now that I know the characters, I think I'll read them in order written, and enjoy the unfolding of the various story lines. I highly recommend this book, though if you've yet to read a Mercy Thompson book, I strongly suggest you start with Moon Called.